HYDE PARK — The five candidates in the 4th Ward aldermanic race began a monthlong gauntlet of forums Wednesday night with each trying to strike a lasting impression on voters in the quick and crowded race.
All five candidates — interim Ald. Sophia King, Ebony Lucas, Gerald Scott McCarthy, Gregory Seal Livingston and Marcellus Moore Jr. — came into Wednesday’s forum at the Newport Condominium Association, 4800 S. Chicago Beach Drive, with the cordiality of first-time campaigners.
King has clear advantages. She’s the incumbent and has by far the largest campaign fund. She has an endorsement from Barack Obama and the political backing of Cook County Board President and 4th Ward Committeeman Toni Preckwinkle and a slew of other powerful south lakefront politicians.
But King is as inexperienced a campaigner as the other four candidates and that gave all of them some time and space to try to stake out territory.
Ebony Lucas, a real estate attorney, focused on improving educational opportunities as a tool to fight crime and poverty and promised to deliver more property tax revenues to schools from TIF districts.
“Our biggest problem in Chicago is that we don’t prioritize public education,” Lucas said.
Organizer Gregory Seal Livingston staked out a position as the candidate who would stand up to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“You have to stand up to him and tell him respectfully we have to do things differently,” Livingston said. “You’ve got to have some [courage] to deal with him because that’s how he comes at you.”
Like King, attorney Marcellus Moore Jr. said he had a long track record of service in the community. He promised not to pretend he knew all the details of complicated issues like the city’s budget.
“We have to get beyond the sound bites and be more thoughtful about our decisions,” Moore said.
McCarthy drew the most perplexed looks from the audience.
When asked how he had given back to the ward in the last five years, he listed taxes he had paid and the businesses he frequented, while other candidates explained their charity work and community organizing.
“Job No. 1 is getting people to care about the alderman’s office,” McCarthy said when asked the most pressing issue in the ward.
King, who was appointed by Emanuel in April to serve as interim alderman until the election, seemed poised to face criticism for being too close to the mayor and other entrenched political interests. But for most of the first hour, her opponents took only light jabs at the issue until the gathering of about 50 people showed the political opening was there to be exploited.
Ripples ran through the crowd as King answered a question about how each candidate would keep their independence from the mayor when political pressures went against the interests of the ward’s constituents.
“I’ve worked for the community for years and have shown my independence,” King said.
It was the only portion of the two-hour forum where people openly heckled King, yelling back, “Wrong!”
With five more forums to go, all the candidates will face more questioning from voters as the Feb. 28 election approaches.
The remaining forums are:
• Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference forum, 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
• South Loop Neighbors forum, 7 p.m. Wednesday at Grace Episcopal Church, 637 S. Dearborn Ave.
• Gap Community Association and League of Women Voters forum, 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Hartzell Memorial Methodist Church, 3330 S. Martin Luther King Drive.
• Bronzeville Neighborhood Collective, 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at Kenicott Park field house, 4434 S. Lake Park Ave.
• Chicago Votes and University of Chicago Democracy Initiative Circle forum, 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at Chapin Hall, 1313 E. 60th St.