Aldermanic candidates for the 46th Ward, including incumbent Ald. James Cappleman, debated Thursday night in the Uptown neighborhood and discussed their platforms for the Feb. 24 municipal election.
Those challenging Cappleman, who was first elected alderman of the North Side ward in 2011, include attorney Amy Crawford and Denice Davis, former chief of staff to Ald. Helen Shiller, who served as alderman of the 46th Ward from 1987 to 2001.
The forum, which was hosted by the Buena Park Neighbors Association, saw attendance from nearly 100 people at the Hollywood Club. The ward includes portions of the Uptown, Buena Park and Lake View neighborhoods.
During the forum, each of the candidates was asked about their highest priority for the ward.
Cappleman said he intends to continue focusing on economic development and public safety, while Crawford said crime reduction in the ward is the most important issue. Davis said she would concentrate on an open-door policy for the alderman's office.
Cappleman, who has been endorsed by U.S. Reps Jan Schakowsky (D, IL-9) and Mike Quigley (D, IL-5), as well as several local officials, boasted that, under his leadership, the 46th Ward has seen almost one new business open each month.
He also touted the $6 million streetscaping project on North Broadway in Uptown's entertainment district as an "exciting new change" for the ward.
"Businesses know I have their back," Cappleman said. "But it also must tie in with addressing criminal activity. In some of the targeted tasks forces that I've done--for instance at Lawrence and Sheridan, crime has dropped 80 percent in that area."
Decrying the ward's crime rate, Crawford took the opportunity to point out that she has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, adding that she would call for a reallocation of police officers in the area.
"Our violent crime in this neighborhood is still too high, we had more murders in the last four years than we did in the prior four years in Uptown," she said, claiming that shooting incidents are also on the rise.
Crawford pointed to the merger of the 19th and 23rd police districts in 2011, which was referred to as a cost-saving initiative at the time, as a contributor to the 46th Ward's crime rate. More than 100 officers were reportedly lost in the merger.
"This isn't just budget cuts across the city. Our district has lost more cops than any other district in the city, and that's wrong. So the alderman needs to get together with all the other aldermen across the 19th [Police] District and really call for a reallocation of police," she said. "It doesn't take more budget funds citywide, but why did we get short-shrifted with the number of police we have?"
Davis, for her part, said that if elected she will implement an open-door policy with 24-hour accessibility for constituents as well as a newsletter.
"I would bring services back to the people, you guys pay taxes, you guys so deserve that," she said. "I would make sure -- in addition to making sure your voices are being heard -- I would make sure that we follow up on anything that you guys are calling about, I don't care if it's a pothole or whatever, you can call us."
Here's more from each of 46th Ward candidates:
A member of the audience asked each candidate how they would stem the loss of affordable housing in the ward.
Community activists have claimed that roughly 1,800 affordable housing units have been eliminated from Uptown since Cappleman took office in 2011, largely attributed to the closure of several single-room occupancy hotels (SROs), such as the Chateau Hotel, the Lawrence House and the Norman Hotel.
Crawford referred to affordable housing as a "wedge issue in this neighborhood."
If elected, she would strive to preserve and improve the affordable housing that already exists in the ward, but added that "a lot of folks are not really prepared to have more."
Davis took the opportunity to criticize Cappleman's office for not assisting displaced residents from shuttered buildings in finding replacement housing.
But Cappleman claimed outright that, under his leadership, the 46th Ward has lost "zero supportive, government subsidized housing" and boasted that Uptown "has the highest number of affordable, government subsidized housing units in the city."
He also defended the SRO closures in his ward.
"The Norman, when I came in office, was 40 percent vacant because of the horrible living conditions there and it was going into bankruptcy. The Lawrence House had over 100 code violations, the area was so bad -- the bed bug infestation -- that we had to move a polling place ... The Chateau, the same thing, it was on its way to receivership," Cappleman said.
Cappleman reports of having supported an amendment to strengthen the Affordable Requirement Ordinance, designed to expand affordable housing in the city. The amendment was derailed during a Chicago City Council meeting earlier this week. According to city data, the alderman was not a co-sponsor of the amendment.
Several times throughout the forum, Cappleman highlighted the $203 million renovation project for the CTA Red Line Wilson station. The project broke ground in December and is scheduled for completion in 2017.
"The Wilson 'L' station, I'm very proud of it," he said. "We were promised $25 million over 10 years ago as a failed promise. To get over $200 million, I'm very delighted by that."
But Crawford was quick to accuse Cappleman of not being solely responsible for the Wilson station's makeover.
"The alderman does take quite a bit of credit for the Wilson Red Line stop... It's really complex track design took years [to make] and was a long time in the making. So, he's not the first elected official to claim credit for something. He did have something to do with it, but I think it's worth setting the record a little bit straight on that."
Each of the candidates was also asked whether they support raising the city's minimum wage.
Davis said she supports "$15 for '15."
"If you have to wait until 2019 for $13, you're going to need $25 or $30 because the cost of living will be that high... 2019 is too late. What we need is $15 per hour for 2015," she said.
Crawford said she's "glad it's increased to $13," but would have supported a $15 minimum wage.
"Being from the business community, I realize raising the minimum wage is controversial with small businesses, but there are things that we can do," she said. "Illinois has a small business job creation tax credit, I'd like to see something like that here in the city, so that we're providing relief for small businesses that are creating jobs."
Cappleman pointed out that he voted "yes" to bump the minimum wage up to $13 by 2019.
"It's a win-win for everyone that's why I'm very proud to support it," he said.
Although Cappleman said he is in favor of raising the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour, the alderman never signed on to legislation pending in the Chicago City Council that would have done exactly that by 2018.
When it comes to the mayoral election, Davis supports Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. Neither Cappleman nor Crawford provided a specific answer, but the incumbent alderman did say that he's been "impressed" with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.