EAST VILLAGE — Three challengers clashed with Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) in another emotionally charged debate, with Moreno chastising one candidate for mentioning the alderman's wife.
Moderator Alden Loury, a senior analyst with the Better Government Association, presided over the debates held at a packed auditorium at Wells High School, 939 N. Ashland Ave.
Candidates in the 1st Ward are the incumbent Moreno; Ronda Locke, a former Moreno staffer; Anne Shaw, who previously ran against Moreno in the 2012 1st Ward Committeeman race; and Andrew Hamilton, a lawyer and Ukrainian Village resident.
The 1st Ward encompasses parts of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, East Village, Wicker Park and West Town. (Type in your address to see if you live in the 1st Ward —or another ward — here.)
One light-hearted addition to this debate was a four-legged watchdog — a pooch named @WatsonBGA — who watched from the side.
Schools and Crime
On Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision to close 50 schools, Moreno called the closings an "emotional experience." Of the six schools initially scheduled to close in the 1st Ward, only one school, Von Humboldt, was closed, Moreno said.
Locke pointed out that the shuttered Von Humboldt School is one block away from a charter school that has close ties to Erie Neighborhood House, a social services organization run by Moreno's wife, Celena Roldan-Moreno.
"Keep my wife out of it; talk about me," Moreno interjected.
When asked what they would do to help increase the number of beat police officers in communities and pay for the increased police presence, Shaw said she would hire more police officers using the $100 million the city spends on overtime.
Moreno challenged Shaw's figure of $100 million, saying that $50 million would need to be set aside for pensions, and then said he would work to "come up with a solution to pay for officers and not just give a sound bite."
Developer Donations and Community Group Input
Returning to familiar terrain from earlier this month, Locke pledged to not take developer dollars and described the development process in the 1st Ward as "anything but transparent."
Rebutting Locke's assertion, Moreno said that every zoning change goes before the community for public input and of the 100-plus zoning changes he has introduced to City Council, only two were not supported by community groups.
The controversial zoning changes involved approving a pawn shop, across from the Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave. E-Z Pawn opened in 2012 during the same period of time Moreno had put the theater into a long series of hearings that resulted in owner Eddie Carranza losing his license and selling the theater.
The other controversial zoning was the "upzone" of a parcel of land at 1822-50 W. Chicago Ave in Ukrainian Village. The long empty lot, just east of a new Mariano's, is scheduled to see a new 59-unit apartment building with retail storefronts.
Members of the East Village Association opposed the zoning change in a narrow 17 to 16 vote. Many folks in the group, include Locke, had been advocating to expand a park behind the empty lot rather than develop new residences there.
Shaw called Moreno's acceptance of developer money when matters are pending before him as "pay-to-play."
"This is what Joe believes in, taking as much money as he can," Shaw said.
Moreno defended his practice of taking contributions from developers and businesses in the ward.
"I have put $160,000 back into the ward," Moreno said, before illustrating a few things he has paid for using campaign funds, such as a summer camp for the daughter of a ward resident, buying materials for a graffiti removal program and helping to support the campaign for other candidates such as Will Guzzardi.
Moreno pointed out that Shaw has accepted donations from a hotel developer and from Carranza, who gave her $1,000.
"Eddie [Carranza] is no longer doing business in the 1st Ward, thanks to Joe," Shaw quipped.
Hamilton said, "I would not take developer donations. I personally feel it is a conflict."
Locke said she is a supporter of Transit-Oriented Developments, which, because they are built near mass transit, allows developers to build fewer parking spaces. However, Locke said developers "are making a killing" and she would like to see more affordable housing offered in the buildings rather than the required 10 percent of total units.
Moreno said he was proud to have sponsored the Transit-Oriented Development ordinance, which paved the way for a 99-unit apartment building at 1611 W. Division St. that opened last fall.
"Instead of a dilapidated Pizza Hut, we have a building that is generating $300,000 in new taxes," Moreno said of the southwest corner of Ashland Avenue and Division Street.
Hamilton said he is "not sure if the community is ready for Transit-Oriented developments yet" due to lack or parking and the fact that even if renters do not have cars, people visiting them will have cars and want to park on side streets.
Shaw said, "We cannot move so quickly on something this big with wall-to-wall multi unit buildings with no parking."
"We need to hear the voices of people living around these developments," Shaw added.
Earlier Thursday, all four candidates met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board and answered questions asking for a point-blank yes or no on whether they would support a fully elected school board or a hybrid; a redirection of a TIF surplus in non-blighted areas to return more money to schools; and more.
The election is Feb. 24. In races where no candidate earns 50 percent of the votes cast, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place April 7.
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