Forum held for 41st Ward race
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Candidates for 41st Ward alderman discussed issues such as airplane noise, participatory budgeting and how they would run the ward at a forum sponsored by the Edgebrook Community Association on Jan. 21 at the Edgebrook Library, 5331 W. Devon Ave.
Running for the post are Alderman Mary O’Connor, firefighter Anthony Napolitano and Ace Hardware store owner Joe Lomanto.
O’Connor, who owns O’Connor’s Deli and Market, 7280 W. Devon Ave., said that since she was elected in 2011 she has worked to relieve crowded schools, improve the ward’s infrastructure and parks and bring businesses to the ward.
"Every playground in our ward is getting a new playlot," O’Connor said. "We invested $30 million into our infrastructure." O’Connor said that she also has worked to maintain police presence in the ward.
Napolitano said that before he became a firefighter he was a police officer in the 15th (Austin) Police District. "I know what’s it’s like to strap that vest on and go to work every day," Napolitano said.
Napolitano said that that he is concerned about the city pension system. "It’s my pension too, and it’s an important issue," he said. He said that as alderman he would advocate on residents’ behalf and have an open door policy with ward nights so he could listen to residents’ concerns.
"I’m not an aspiring politician. All I am is one of you and I’m hoping to do a good job for you," Napolitano said.
Lomanto said that because he is a store owner he sees the services that the city provides in his ward but he feels that more should be done. "We pay a lot of taxes for various issues and it’s not getting done," he said.
Lomanto and Napolitano said that they support participatory budgeting, a system used by some alderman under which residents can vote on how to spend the alderman’s annual $1.3 million in discretionary funding, known as "menu" funds.
O’Connor said that she does not support participatory budgeting because only a select few residents get to say how the funds should be spent.
"Our ward is made up of 55,000 residents, and the only people who are showing up voting (on the budget) is 300, so what that means is that an organized group can come together and choose what they would like to see done and it’s not a full representation of the ward," O’Connor said.
The candidates also discussed how to revitalize Downtown Edgebrook, with Lomanto and Napolitano saying that they would use the "menu" funds to help businesses.
"The problem here in Edgebrook is that we have a weak chamber of commerce," O’Connor said. "The chamber of commerce has not been reaching out and being in touch with their business members, and we try to address it through the proper procedure, but we hit a dead end."
Regarding the issue of the increase in jet noise since the opening of a new runway at O’Hare International Airport in October of 2013, the candidates said that the issue is complicated because the federal government led the airport expansion effort.
"This expansion program was mandated by the federal government, so it’s not an easy fix," O’Connor said. She said that a solution to the noise problem is to get noise insulation for residents who are not currently on the noise map. She also said that she would like to decrease the 65-decibel level threshold that is required for federal noise insulations.
Napolitano said that O’Hare is "the machine behind the city" but that the jet noise is "driving everyone crazy." Lomanto said that he supports better usage of runways, as proposed by the Fair Allocation in Runways Coalition.
Lomanto and Napolitano both said that Edgebrook is under-represented in police presence. O’Connor said that crime is down in the ward.
The candidates also said that there is a need for a new high school on the Northwest Side and that city services such as tree trimming to deal with the emerald ash borer should be improved.
"I would like to be on the public safety committee to advocate for more police equipment," Napolitano said. "Times are changing, and people are not looking at police the way they did in the past. I’d like for these police officers to have more training in how they deal with these issues, because it also affects them."
Lomanto said that he would focus on cutting waste as an alderman. "There is so much waste that goes on in this city," he said. "There are repairs that get done over and over for the same project, and it’s not going in the right direction."
Napolitano said in his closing statement that he would like to be an alderman because the "little guy" needs to be heard and that an alderman makes tough decisions that sometimes are unpopular.
"I want the elitists out of this," Napolitano said. "I want the neighborhood people to be a part of this."
"The mayor has not been very good to us, but he needs to understand that in order to get my vote he needs to take care of the 41st Ward, and that’s what’s it’s all about," Lomanto said.
"Since I’ve come into office I’ve done a lot," O’Connor said. "I have listened to your concerns, and hopefully I have earned your respect.
"I’ve worked on your schools, your parks and invested $30 million in infrastructures. There is always a list to be done and we need to continue to learn and improve on that."