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46th Ward Challengers Talk Affordable Housing, Human Services and Education

By Mina Bloom | February 16, 2015 5:51am

UPTOWN — Affordable housing, human services and improving public schools dominated the debate between two candidates vying to unseat Ald. James Cappleman (46th) in the upcoming aldermanic election.

Cappleman declined to attend Sunday's debate, which left challengers Amy Crawford and Denice Davis to battle it out at Alternatives Inc., 4730 N. Sheridan Road. The pair answered pre-written questions from residents ranging from CPS students to longtime low-income residents at the debate, which was put on by local nonprofit ONE Northside.

Even though Cappleman didn't attend, Crawford spent most of her time attacking the incumbent, while Davis focused on criticizing Crawford.

"I think it's shameful that we have an alderman who was a social worker but supported slashing mental health clinics," said Crawford, an attorney who has lived in Uptown for 10 years.

She also accused Cappleman of "bragging about how he's on the CHA task force," which she said has had minimal impact.

"Our alderman says we can't mandate, we can only incentivize," she said. "There's a lot you can do short of a mandate to get more affordable housing units like working with developers." 

Davis, who worked as former Uptown alderman Helen Shiller's longtime chief of staff, said she's been "pounding the pavement for 30 years" and repeatedly accused Crawford of not being as involved in the community.

"I was at The Chateau [Hotel] demonstrating with you guys, along with The Lawrence House," Davis said, referring to troubled and dilapidated single-room occupancy buildings that were shut down in recent years. "I didn't see Amy there."

Both candidates said they would fight to preserve affordable housing in the ward. 

Crawford said she's been "very distressed" over the past four years because the ward has lost thousands of affordable housing units.

"Diversity is vital and we need to work hard to preserve it," she said. "If we want to lose our identity, let's vote for four years of the same. I think there's a clear choice: We need someone who is going to fight for everyone across the economic spectrum."

Predicting what some of her critics might say, Davis said: "all she's going to do is fight for affordable housing." But she's comfortable with that reputation. 

"Damn straight, that's who I am," she said.

They both showed strong support for preserving human services as well as increasing crisis intervention training for Chicago Police officers.

Crawford said her experience representing clients living with mental illness and the fact that her mother was a psychiatric nurse has shown her that "anyone is vulnerable to disability and mental illness." She said she "completely supports" restoring funding to properly train officers. 

The funds are there, Davis said, they're just not being allocated. To help fix this, Davis said she'd bring participatory democracy to the ward, in which constituents would be able to weigh in on the budget. 

When asked how they would "interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline" in the ward, Crawford said "we need to strengthen the schools that are left in this ward." She'd do that by using the Tax Increment Financing surplus to help fund Chicago Public Schools. She also said she supports an elected school board and TIF reform.

Davis stressed that young people should have a voice, and said she would've fought to keep Lyman Trumbull, Joseph Stockton and Graeme Stewart schools open; they were among 49 schools citywide that were closed in 2013.

Later, when asked how she'd keep the ward's public schools open and funded, Davis said she does not support Decatur Classical School moving to Uptown. In November, some residents objected to Uptown's TIF district funding the move of another neighborhood's school.

"I can tell you as of now, because of me putting my feet to the fire, we are not going to have Decatur Classical in the Uptown area," Davis said, adding that she will "continue to fight" the move.

Crawford believes the city needs a moratorium on charter schools because they "drain talented schools out of the system and leave public schools as a last resort."

In her closing argument, she likened the 46th ward race to the "Ghost of Christmas Past," saying Davis worked for the former administration, Cappleman is the present alderman and she represents the future. 

The "most important thing is that everyone votes so we can force a run-off," said Crawford, who called herself the most "viable" candidate.

Davis said she was a part of the effort to prevent the construction of a new 745-unit building proposed across the street from Clarendon Park, which is falling apart. She's also demonstrated against shootings and school closings, among other issues facing the ward.

"I was out here, and I've been here," Davis said. "I know the services you need."

The aldermanic election is Feb 24.

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