By Lizz Giordano and Sarah Kramer
Candidates for Chicago’s 10th Ward aldermanic seat called for more jobs and more police presence for the economically depressed Southeast Side at an open forum in Hegewisch.
Five of the seven candidates running in the upcoming citywide elections on February 24 appeared Thursday night before an audience of activists, residents and supporters. The contenders voiced frustration with City Hall and the current Ald. John Pope while calling for greater transparency in municipal politics.
Pope and candidate Juan Huizar did not attend the forum, sponsored by Hegewisch Opportunities for Positive Enrichment, a neighborhood nonprofit. Pope’s campaign said he was unable to attend due to a previous commitment.
Candidate Susan Sadlowski Garza called for a complete ban of petcoke due to the unacceptable conditions created by the 30-foot pet coke piles along the Calumet River.
“It’s not by accident that the pet coke company came to the 10th ward, instead of the richer, shinier wards on the North Side,” Garza said during the forum. “It’s not by accident that smells of Agri-Fine plants surround our neighborhoods and turn our stomachs with the smell.”
Public safety, economic development and environmental concerns were at the forefront of the debate. Some candidates blamed Pope for allowing the storage petroleum coke, a byproduct of crude oil refining, to continue despite outcry from community members and environmentalists. Several candidates called for the outright ban of the material, commonly called pet coke.
Olga Bautista, an activist with the Southeast Side Coalition Against Petcoke, criticized Pope for allowing the tax incremental financing program to divert property taxes to fund private development.
Garza, a counselor at Jane Addams Elementary School on the East Side, said she had seen area youth ensnared in “gangs, drugs and despair” as a result of the neighborhood’s economic atrophy. She called for unity in combating these problems.
Retired firefighter Frank Corona highlighted his lack of ties to the entrenched Chicago political machine.
Second-time candidate and compliance officer with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, Richard Martinez, Jr., said he would put career in the public sector to make his ward “a gem” that would attract new blood.
Chicago police officer Samantha Webb heavily emphasized her public-safety credentials. She said that rising crime combined with a lack of economic opportunity has weakened the community since her Hegewisch childhood.
Pope defended his record in an email Friday: “We put more police on the streets, created hundreds of new jobs and now we are building a new public school on the Southeast Side. I’ve been able to work with the community to strengthen our neighborhoods and I will continue to do so as alderman.”