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Michelle Schaefer/MEDILL

A large crowd attended the forum on environmental issues for the top four mayoral candidates, though Rahm Emanuel did not attend.

Mayoral candidates tackle plans to save green while going green

by Chris Bentley and Michelle M. Schaefer
Jan 20, 2011

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Chris Bentley/MEDILL

From top: Mayoral candidates Miguel del Valle, Gery Chico and  Carol Moseley Braun say they are committed to environmental issues. 

From green jobs to public transit, three of the four leading mayoral candidates focused on community and environmental issues at a Wednesday night forum.

Environmental groups look to the candidates to continue outgoing Mayor Richard Daley’s legacy as an advocate for open space and a strong proponent of the city’s Climate Action Plan to address climate change.

But with a “broken” budget, as candidate Gery Chico called it, Chicagoans are worried about the next mayor's ability to do more with less.

Carol Moseley Braun restated her opposition to any new taxes, while candidate and City Clerk Miguel del Valle eschewed what he called “pie in the sky” talk about questionable campaign promises.

“There will be pain,” del Valle said. When asked by moderator Andy Shaw how he would finance his plans for a greener Chicago, del Valle alluded to “tough choices.” The winner of this election, he said, “may well be a one-term mayor.”

Notably absent was presumptive front-runner Rahm Emanuel, whose campaign declined an invitation to attend, Shaw said.

The forum, organized by a partnership of more than 15 community and environmental non-profits, drew almost 1,000 people. Shaw, a former TV reporter and executive director of the Better Government Association, paraphrased questions posed by the groups.

Chico, del Valle and Moseley Braun said they would work with the U.S. EPA to compel the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants to clean up or close down. The two old Midwest Generation-owned plants in Pilsen and Little Village were grandfathered in, exempting them from many Clean Air Act standards because of their age.

Candidates also addressed sewage disinfection and treatment, a hot-button water quality issue that has pitted local environmental groups against the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
Moseley Braun, who runs an organic food company, said she was particularly concerned about unregulated water contaminants, such as trace pharmacological compounds.

Chico called for an “audit of the entire water system,” and said water meters should be installed in every home and business.

While del Valle echoed Braun and Chico in his support for water meters, he said their dissemination “would not be free,” but did not offer a price tag.

This pattern played out elsewhere, as when Shaw asked the candidates about the city’s beleaguered recycling program, which collects just 8 percent of the waste from homes with city garbage service, according to a 2010 study commissioned by the city’s Department of Environment. Chico stated his plan to replace the city’s outdated ward-based pick-up system with a larger grid system at no cost to the taxpayer; del Valle supported expanding recycling citywide but said promising it for free was wishful thinking.

Moseley Braun and del Valle criticized the city’s parking meter plan, calling for an expansion of bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly streets. Chico backed the completion of the Bloomingdale trail — a nearly 3-mile-long park reclaiming a former rail line on the Northwest Side.

Christine Williamson, chair of the Sierra Club’s Chicago group, said she was satisfied with the candidates’ “unequivocal” answers on issues such as closing the Fisk and Crawford power plants and expanding bicycle access.

“I appreciate practicality,” she said. “We can’t wait on these issues.”