The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

43rd Ward Debate Gets Personal Between Ald. Michele Smith, Caroline Vickrey

By Paul Biasco | March 17, 2015 8:55am
 Caroline Vickrey (l.) and Michele Smith battled over a number of issues during a debate Monday night at Steppenwolf Theatre.
Caroline Vickrey (l.) and Michele Smith battled over a number of issues during a debate Monday night at Steppenwolf Theatre.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Things got testy during the first runoff debate in the 43rd Ward Monday night with both candidates teeing off against each other more often than they discussed ward issues.

Incumbent Ald. Michele Smith, during a question on the influx of megamansions spanning several lots, accused opponent Caroline Vickrey of improperly paying her property taxes.

Smith claims that Vickrey and her husband's home, which they converted from a three-flat to a single-family residence, was appealed for two years as a three-flat, thus undervaluing the home.

"How can you expect people in our ward to trust your decisions on property taxes for them when you don’t pay your appropriate share as a single-family home?" Smith asked Vickrey during the debate.

Vickrey said she was not aware of the discrepancy.

"If there's something that we are doing that's illegal, it will be corrected," she said. "I honestly cannot give you an answer and I'm not going to talk about personal finances."

In attacking Smith, Vickrey cited a private email Smith sent to a select inner circle of Lincoln Elementary parents who were pushing for the construction of a new school to prevent the possibility of redrawing school boundaries.

In that email, which was sent in 2013 during the discussion over the overcrowding at Lincoln, Smith told the group who had been publicly pushing for the new school to "go dark" and "stop doing public things" as their actions faced some backlash following the closings of 50 CPS schools.

Those included on the email were from the WALE, We are Lincoln Elementary, parent group that lead the push for a new school.

Vickrey brought up the newly surfaced email during the debate, and cited it as an example of Smith's lack of transparency and community involvement in the Lincoln annex and Children's Memorial Hospital redevelopment cases.

Vickrey said the email came while she was serving on the Lincoln Local School Council and was trying to go into other parts of the ward to have a broader discussion on the overcrowded school situation.

"I would never as your alderman tell someone to go dark and stop talking about things," Vickrey said. "That is not transparency. That is the antithesis of transparency."

The $30 million annex to Lincoln is under construction and is expected to be completed for the 2015-2016 school year.

Later, Vickrey blasted Smith's missed ethics vote in July that resulted in the gutting of the city council's inspector general's office.

Smith was the only absentee vote, yet earlier in the day she voted "yes" on the measure in committee.

During Monday's debate, Smith said she was called off the floor "to do important ward work" and when she came back she had missed the vote. 

In an email to constituents, Smith said she fully intended to vote "no" on the ordinance despite the committee vote of "yes."

"We can talk all day about missing one vote out of hundreds of votes and we can talk about my personal finances," Smith said.


During the debate, Smith tied Vickrey to the two lawsuits that sought to block both the Lincoln school annex and Children's Memorial Hospital redevelopment. A judge ruled against the Lincoln Elementary annex earlier this month.

Vickrey said she was not a party in either lawsuit, but was part of the Mid North Association when the neighborhood group filed suit against the rezoning that was granted to construct two 21-story apartment units on the Children's Memorial site.

"When you have to consider a project that has to do with really, the future of the entire neighborhood, we have to listen to everyone and we have to make a decision," Smith said in support of the hospital redevelopment.

Over the course of the election, Vickrey has been arguing that Smith's community process was lacking in both projects. She is seeking to bring the neighborhood groups back to the table with the developer to seek further compromise on the hospital project.

The developer of Children's Memorial, Dan McCaffrey, CEO of McCaffrey Interests, sent an email to both Smith and Vickrey Saturday night indicating he has no plans to make any further changes.

"It's going to move forward," Smith said.

Vickrey argued that Smith mislead McCaffrey into believing the neighborhood was all in support the plans, despite two neighborhood groups' refusal to sign a community agreement on the project.

Smith said she planned to again ask Mid North and Park West to sign the agreement.

"The decision has been made. The compromises have been reached," Smith said. "Extensive changes were made to the plan to accommodate Park West, Mid North and many other people."


How to solve the city pension crisis was another issue raised during the debate, with both candidates saying they oppose a property tax increase.

Vickrey backtracked on an earlier proposal of a commuter-type tax such as an increased fee at two lakefront parking lots.

"I'm not pursuing it," she said. "But will continue to approach ideas that will ease congestion."

Vickrey said she was personally opposed to a casino, but would consider it as an option before raising property taxes.

Smith said she would look at service charges as a possible solution, but as the moderator Kenneth Dotson, president of the Lincoln Central association, pointed out, those fall under the state legislature.

Monday night's debate was co-sponsored by the Lincoln Central, Sheffield Neighbors, Ranch Triangle and Wrightwood Neighbors associations at Steppenwolf Theatre.

The next debate before the April 7 runoff election is set for Thursday at the Old Town Triangle.

A full schedule of the remaining debates can be found at DNAinfo.com.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: