Candidates ask each other questions at 45th Ward aldermanic debate; negative campaigning, Eris Ciderhouse discussed


The highlight of the 45th Ward aldermanic debate on Feb. 3 came when the candidates were allowed to ask any of their opponents a question. The three challengers, Michelle Baert, Michael Diaz and John Garrido, addressed their question to the incumbent, Alderman John Arena.

The debate, which was held at the Irving Park Baptist Church, 4401 W. Irving Park Road, was sponsored by the Old Irving Park Association, Portage Park Neighborhood Association and Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association.

Baert, a former member of the Beaubien School Local School Council, asked Arena why he continues to accept campaign donations from groups which send out what she described as “negative mailings” which attack his challengers. Baert said that in a recent news article Arena described these type of campaign materials as counterproductive.

The Service Employees International Union Illinois Council, whose political action committee recently donated about $52,000 to Arena’s campaign, has a mailer criticizing Baert for voting “in Republican primaries, even when Obama was on the ballot” and states that Garrido ran for public office as a Republican and attended a Tea Party event. “John Garrido and Michelle Baert have made it clear whose side they’re on,” the mailer states.

Both Baert and Garrido, a Chicago police lieutenant, have said that they consider themselves an independent. Baert has said that she has voted in both Republican and Democratic primaries, and Garrido has said that he has voted in only one Republican primary and about a half-dozen times in Democratic primaries.

“The SEIU is its own master and can make these decisions on its own,” Arena said.

Arena said that he and the SEIU “align on a lot of issues,” including worker’s rights and holding Mayor Rahm Emanuel accountable. “We are working together to try to make the city a better place,” he said.

In response to a question from Diaz, Arena said that within 24 hours he would make public a list of the 80 businesses which have opened in the ward since he became alderman in 2011. “The list is well over 80” and “you will be impressed,” Arena said.

Arena has worked with the community to help bring those businesses to the ward, according to an Arena campaign spokesman. Garrido has charged that at least 200 businesses have left the ward since Arena took office.

Garrido asked Arena what is his view on “up-zoning” in residential neighborhoods, citing a proposed 48-unit apartment complex on a vacant parcel at Long Avenue and Argyle Street. Both Garrido and Diaz oppose the project, and Baert said that she would let the residents who live within three blocks of the site vote on the project and that she would follow their wishes.

Arena said that the project is going through his zoning review process and that the developer has been asked to make revisions. Arena said that one of his criteria for a development proposal is to “make sure it fits in with the community and we have community input in how that project comes into reality.”

Arena asked Diaz, an attorney, to name “the best thing” that he has seen in the ward in the past 4 years, and he responded, “Mariano’s on Elston,” referring to the opening of the upscale grocer. Arena said that he chose to ask Diaz the question because of all of the challengers he most recently moved into the ward and can view the ward with “fresh eyes.”

Also at the debate, moderator and Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn asked the candidates if they support the proposed Eris Ciderhouse inside the former Masonic temple at 4240 W. Irving Park Road. A zoning change is required for the project.

The building would house a restaurant, a bar, a banquet facility and facilities for brewing beer and making cider, and a 17-space parking lot is planned. The Old Irving association supports the project, but some residents who live near the site have expressed concerns about parking and increased congestion in the alley behind their homes and have said that the overall size of the operation is too big for a neighborhood business district where residences are located near the property.

Both Diaz and Arena support the project, and Arena said that the project has the “overwhelming” support of the community. Garrido said that he would review the project with residents before making a decision, and Baert said that her decision would be based on the outcome of a community vote.

Meanwhile, all four candidates said that they would support a casino in Chicago in an effort to raise revenue to address the city’s pension crisis.

Also at the debate, Baert said that as alderman she would not collect a pension and that she would limit herself to two terms in office. She said that she would turn the alderman’s office into a community technology center and that she would to focus on the basics, including city services, public safety and schools.

Diaz said that as alderman he would make it a priority to get the city’s pension crisis addressed because the pension debt facing the city will have a great impact on neighborhoods. Diaz said that he has spent the last 6 years as a state regulator of banks, mortgage companies and pawn shops and that those businesses which did not follow the rules were shut down.

Garrido said that as a police officer he works to improve the quality of life on the Northwest Side on a daily basis but that as alderman he could accomplish more. He said that if residents do not feel safe, “nothing else matters” and that his passion for public safety stems from his early days as an officer when he confronted a car burglar who shot at him twice at close range but “incredibly” missed.

Arena said that “our opportunities (in the 45th Ward) are amazing right now” and that one of his goals has been to make Six Corners the shopping destination it once was so that ward residents do not have to travel to the suburbs for their shopping. The alderman’s office has actively promoted the city’s Small Business Improvement Fund, bringing at least $3.5 million in enhancements to storefronts in the ward, he said.