PORTAGE PARK — The seven candidates running for 38th Ward alderman grappled Thursday night with some of the big issues facing the city during a debate hosted by several neighborhood organizations.
During the debate moderated by Jeff Steele of the Friends of Portage Park, the candidates agreed on many issues — including the need for more police officers to be assigned to the Jefferson Park Police District to address property crimes and new schools built to relieve overcrowding — but differed on whether they supported charter schools, an elected school board and a higher minimum wage.
"Charter schools are a scam, a sham that get away with murder," Sposato said, adding that he also opposes vouchers to allow parents to pay for private school with public money. "They destroy our community schools."
But nonprofit executive Heather Sattler, who has been endorsed by Ald. Tim Cullerton and the 38th Ward Democratic Organization, said she supported calls for a moratorium on new charter schools in Chicago because of the school district's budget crunch and corruption allegations, but was open to allowing more charters to open if the economy improves.
Sposato, a firefighter, said the Chicago Public Schools needed an elected school board "big time" because the "system is broke."
An advisory referendum that will be on the ballot in 37 wards — although not in the 38th Ward — urging the City Council to end Mayor Rahm Emanuel's ability to appoint all the members of the school board will pass overwhelmingly throughout the city, Sposato said.
But Sattler said she was not convinced an elected school board would address the school board's problems.
"The status quo is not palatable," Sattler said. "We need a more engaged and collaborative board."
But schools in Portage Park and Dunning "might get lost in the middle" if the board isn't geographically balanced, Sattler said.
The city would be broken up into districts or areas to ensure all parts of the city are represented, Sposato said.
Sposato and Sattler also differed on efforts to raise the minimum wage in Chicago, with Sposato crediting the progressive caucus with pushing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to agree to raise it from $8.25 to $13 an hour during the next five years, although the caucus had been campaigning for a $15 minimum wage.
"The minimum wage has not remotely kept pace with the cost of living," Sposato said. "This will stimulate our economy. It will give it a big boost."
Cook County Forest Preserve District Sgt. Jerry Paszek said raising the minimum wage to $13 would "strengthen families."
Sattler said the minimum wage should not be raised to $15 because it would threaten small businesses in Chicago.
The other candidates in the race are Chicago City Council legislative aide Belinda Cadiz; Realtor Tom Caravette; retired city employee Michael Duda and Carmen Hernandez, a city water department investigator.
Sponsored by the Friends of Portage Park, the Portage Park Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Side Housing Center, the debate took place at the Stahl Family Theatre at St. Patrick High School, 5900 W. Belmont Ave.
The Feb. 24 election will be the the first under a new City Council map that moved most of Dunning from the 36th Ward into the 38th Ward along with Portage Park. The candidates are vying to replace Cullerton, whose family has represented Portage Park and Dunning since 1973, and plans to retire in May.
Sposato, who has multiple sclerosis and used a cane Thursday night, said he and his wife sold their home in Galewood — in the 36th Ward — because he could no longer easily climb stairs because of the effects of the disease.
In races where no candidate earns 50 percent of the votes cast on Feb. 24, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place April 7.
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