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Heliport, City Finances Top Concerns at 11th Ward Candidate Forum

By Casey Cora | January 26, 2015 6:16am
 Patrick Daley Thompson (from left), Maureen Sullivan and John Kozlar address the crowd at Sunday's aldermanic candidate forum. 
Patrick Daley Thompson (from left), Maureen Sullivan and John Kozlar address the crowd at Sunday's aldermanic candidate forum. 
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

BRIDGEPORT — The hundreds who packed into the pews at First Trinity church on Sunday heard specifics and suggestions from their next 11th Ward alderman on everything from dibs to helicopters. 

Sunday's forum, held at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity and sponsored by a host of grassroots organizations, was likely the last time that all three candidates — Patrick Daley Thompson, Maureen Sullivan and John Kozlar — will assemble before voters in advance of the Feb. 24 election. 

As in the Canaryville forum last week, the candidates laid out their priorities, all of which included some form of supporting public schools, making the neighborhood safer and jumpstarting business on Halsted Street. 

Thompson, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner and relative to Bridgeport's famed Daley political family, again touted his government and corporate real estate law credentials, saying those bona fides could help City Hall rescue itself from the ballooning pension mess that dictates Chicago's financial decisions from the number of cops on the street to the staffing levels at neighborhood schools. 

Sullivan, a progressive, said she's "tired of hearing" the city's broke, citing the $1.7 billion in the city's collective tax increment financing balance. (Tax increment financing, or TIF, was largely untouched as a topic, though.)

Often animated with a raised voice, Kozlar continued his attempts to rally the community to participate more in local government. Throughout the night, the 26-year-old law school student said his main priority was to open the dialogue between the alderman's office and the residents of the newly expanded 11th Ward. 

On their candidate websites and in the local press, all three aldermanic hopefuls have laid out their visions for the area's future, but Sunday's forum was partly about how candidates would address decisions made in the past.

For example, Ald. Jim Balcer's decision to support the controversial heliport project at 24th and Halsted Streets was a flashpoint. Many residents have said the project was rushed and they weren't given enough warning. 

Thompson said he was "against the heliport at that location," adding that "the process by which it was approved wasn't the way I would've handled that."

The helicopter tour company, Chicago Helicopter Express, had been presented with a "covenant" to operate within certain guidelines. If they break the pact, "we go after them pursuant to the law," he said. 

Here, Kozlar took a jab at Thompson, who shares office space with Balcer and Cook County Commissioner John Daley at the 11th Ward service office.

"If my office was was inside the alderman's office, I would've said no, we're not going to sign this contract [with Chicago Helicopter Express] ... If that wasn't a wake up call that we needed change in this community, I don't know what is," he said. 

Sullivan, president of the Palmisano nature park's advisory council, remained steadfast in her opposition to the project and slammed the heliport's operators as dishonest.  

"I'm not anti-business. I'm anti-BS. I think we really need to monitor their daily activities," she said. 

And speaking of history, Bridgeport's use of dibs — Chicago's time-honored tradition of reserving shoveled out street parking spots in the winter — served as an unexpected forum topic. 

No one came out to oppose it exactly, but all three candidates said there's room to improve residential parking, including Thompson's suggestions to place restrictions on side streets on certain days to make way for snow plows, much like the way the street cleaning system operates.

Failing that, Sullivan said she wants to see more tchotchkes and less chairs and buckets on the street. 

"Just make it creative, OK?" she asked.

Below is a roundup of reactions from the forum's #Our11thWard hashtag: 

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