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6th Ward Candidates Butt Heads at Community Forum

 (L-R) Richard Wooten, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, Brian Garner and Tio Hardiman on Feb. 7, 2015 at a debate forum for the 6th Ward.
(L-R) Richard Wooten, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, Brian Garner and Tio Hardiman on Feb. 7, 2015 at a debate forum for the 6th Ward.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

WEST CHATHAM — Barbs flew between 6th Ward aldermanic candidates Saturday, perhaps a sign of shorter fuses as the electoral calendar shrinks.

Incumbent Roderick Sawyer and challengers Brian Garner and Richard Wooten met at Simeon Career Academy, 8147 S. Vincennes Avenue, on Saturday for a forum hosted by Communities Organized to Win and SEIU Local 73. The debates were moderated by community organizer Tio Hardiman.

The 6th Ward candidates shared their plans for the vacant CPS buildings, creating transparency for TIFs, addressing homelessness, and more. But tension swelled when a question was posed about a proposed hotel for the 7600 block of South State Street.

Wooten said that Sawyer supports the hotel in the ward despite the community’s outcry against it. If it’s built, the community wants it to be a flagship hotel, he said.

“When a community doesn’t want something, don’t put it there,” he said.  “You have to listen to what they want; remember they're the ones who put you in office,” he said.

Sawyer quickly addressed the accusation with a rebuttal that listed off some of his recent actions with the State street corridor, as well as his plans.

“Wooten is misinformed,” he said. “Yes, I rezoned certain sections, Wooten was there when I was there and I said it had nothing to do with the hotel. If they want to do that, they still need my approval which I haven’t given yet."

After the forum, Sawyer told DNAinfo Chicago that Wooten’s “assertions were inaccurate,” and that neither he nor the city have approved the proposal.

“When noise goes out, people sometime listen to the noise and I want to make sure people know the accurate truth and nothing but it, so there is no hotel development currently happening,” he said, adding that his focus is on retail development.

He did say that he's willing to listen to the proposal. 

Sawyer and Wooten butted heads on the topic of school closings. Wooten said he was opposed and made sure he attended almost every town hall meeting on the topic.

“Very rarely did we see the alderman there,” he said. “We have no time to put our kids behind the scenes...we won’t keep taking crumbs when there is a steak at the table."

Wooten wasn’t the only candidate with the attacks. Garner had some of his own, and directed them at Wooten.

When the candidates were asked how they would bridge the gap between the alderman and the community, Garner responded first.

“Is it Police Officer Wooten or Pastor Wooten?”

“God gave me both jobs and I can do both well,” said Wooten, a Chicago police officer and pastor at Faith-Walk International Church.

Eventually Garner, a former Streets and Sanitation ward superintendent, answered the question by saying that it’s important to have the kind of meetings people had in the “old days.”

Garner, who said he wants more transparency when it comes to tax increment financing, said he hopes vacant school buildings can be turned into social centers to give young people a safe haven.

Sawyer said he introduced an ordinance to require more transparency for TIFs. He said he supports a call center in Englewood that would bring 2,000 jobs, and agreed with Garner about turning schools into social centers. He said funding is an issue, however.

And lastly, Wooten wants to turn the closed schools into trade centers to teach youths carpentry and plumbing skills. He said he will also engage the ward by having representatives from Chatham, Englewood, Park Manor, and Chesterfield sit down with business owners and investors.

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