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39th Ward Aldermanic Candidates Debate NEIU Expansion Plans

By Heather Cherone | February 5, 2015 6:11am
  Retired college professor Joe Laiacona, Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) and architect Robert Murphy debated a variety of issues Wednesday night.
Retired college professor Joe Laiacona, Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) and architect Robert Murphy debated a variety of issues Wednesday night.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

ALBANY PARK — All three candidates vying to represent the 39th Ward on the City Council said Wednesday they oppose plans by Northeastern Illinois University to ask a judge to allow the college to take property on Bryn Mawr Avenue to build student housing.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) said the university should be able to reach an agreement to buy the six properties it needs for a $50 million, 280,000-square-foot residential and retail development directly, as the city did when it built a new Albany Park branch of the Chicago Public Library and a new Albany Park Police District headquarters.

But Laurino — who said she has urged the university to improve its communication with the owners of the properties on Bryn Mawr Avenue — did not say she opposed the project.

 A guide to all the aldermanic candidates running in the 39th Ward race.
A guide to all the aldermanic candidates running in the 39th Ward race.
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Heather Cherone breaks down the debate:

Retired college professor Joe Laiacona and architect Robert Murphy said courts should not be allowed to give property to a private developer through eminent domain, which can force the sale of property deemed critical for the public good.

"That's a twisted use of eminent domain," said Murphy, who used Twitter during the forum to criticize many of Laurino's responses. "I oppose this project."

A standing-room only crowd packed into the Albany Park Police District community room, 4650 N. Pulaski Road, to hear the candidates field a variety of questions on issues.

The forum, moderated by Patty Wetli of DNAinfo Chicago, was sponsored by the Albany Park Neighbors, Hollywood-North Park Community Association, Old Irving Park Association and North Mayfair Improvement Association.

The candidates were pressed about what they would do to reduce the jet noise that has blanketed the Northwest Side since a new east-west runway opened at O'Hare Airport in 2013. 

Before launching his campaign, Murphy was one of the leaders of the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition, which has protested the new flight patterns to and from O'Hare that have sent hundreds of flights daily over Northwest Side neighborhoods that in previous years heard little to no jet noise.

"The city created this mess," Murphy said. "The mayor needs to come to the table. As your alderman, I'd make that happen."

Laurino said she would work to stop plans to decommission one of the airport's diagonal runways in August as the airport prepares to open the next east-west runway in October.

In addition, Laurino said the city's next aviation department head should be "a better communicator." Former Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino stepped down several months ago.

But Laiacona said this issue makes it clear the 39th Ward needs an alderman who is not a "rubber stamp" — echoing a charge made earlier by Murphy.

"We need to tell the mayor to shut up that noise," Laiacona said.

The 39th Ward encompasses all or portions of Albany Park, North Park, Hollywood Park, Mayfair, Sauganash, Edgebrook, Old Edgebrook, Gladstone Park, Indian Woods and Forest Glen.

Laurino has represented the ward since 1994, when she was appointed to the council by former Mayor Richard M. Daley after her father, Ald. Anthony Laurino, was indicted in a ghost payroll scheme and resigned. He was first elected to the council in 1965.

A close ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Laurino is president pro tem of the council, and presides over its meetings when the mayor is absent.

Laurino won more than 75 percent of the vote in the 2007 and 2011 elections.

Laiacona, of Albany Park, who recently retired after teaching computer programming at Columbia College Chicago for 22 years, said he would be an alderman who was "present, listening and just."

The empty storefronts along Elston Avenue make it clear that new leadership is needed in the 39th Ward, Laiacona said.

"That area needs tender loving care," Laiacona said. "I will be an alderman who will walk up and down the streets to figure out what is needed."

Murphy said "too much money flows out of the 39th Ward" where "development has been flat" for many years, despite a flurry of activity in nearby wards.

Laurino said she found that claim "somewhat odd" saying she was proud of the new developments in the ward and her role in cutting through the "red tape" at City Hall to help businesses.

Both Murphy and Laiacona said they would hire more police officers, with Murphy pledging to add 1,000 officers to the force.

"We are punished for being a safe part of town," Murphy said.

Laiacona said the city needs 2,000 more officers — and to reopen the mental health clinics that were shut down in 2012.

Both Murphy and Laiacona said they would allow residents to spend the ward's $1.3 million discretionary budget through a participatory budgeting process and rein in the use of money from the ward's tax increment financing districts for projects outside the area.

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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