Four candidates discuss issues in 45th Ward race
by BRIAN NADIG
The highlight of the 45th Ward aldermanic debate on Feb. 3 came when the candidates were allowed to ask their opponents a question. The three challengers, Michelle Baert, Michael Diaz and John Garrido, addressed their questions to the incumbent, John Arena.
The debate, which was held at Irving Park Baptist Church, 4401 W. Irving Park Road, was sponsored by the Old Irving Park Association, the Portage Park Neighborhood Association and the Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association.
Baert, a former member of the Beaubien School Local School Council, asked Arena why he accepts campaign donations from groups which send out what she described as "negative mailings" that attack his challengers. Baert said that in a recent news article Arena described that type of campaign material as counterproductive.
The Service Employees International Union Illinois Council political action committee sent a mailer that criticizes Baert for voting "in Republican primaries, even when Obama was on the ballot" and that 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. The PAC recently donated about $52,000 to Arena’s campaign.
Both Baert and Garrido, a Chicago police lieutenant, have said that they consider themselves to be an independent. Baert has said that she has voted in both Republican and Democratic primaries, and Garrido has said that he has voted in one Republican primary and in about a six 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 workers’ 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 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," Arena said. "You will be impressed."
Two days after the debate Arena began releasing a list of 10 businesses which he said he has helped bring to the ward each day.
Arena has worked to bring those businesses to the ward, an Arena campaign spokesman said after the debate. Garrido has charged that at least 200 businesses have left the ward since Arena took office.
Garrido asked Arena what is his view on upzoning parcels 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 ask the residents who live within three blocks of the site vote on the project and that she would follow their direction.
Arena said that the proposal is going through his zoning review process and that the developer has been asked to make revisions to the project. 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 grocery story. Arena said that he chose to ask Diaz the question because among the challengers he most recently moved into the ward and can view the ward with "fresh eyes."
Also at the debate, moderator Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune asked the candidates if they support a proposal to open the Eris Ciderhouse in 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 Park Association supports the project, but some residents who live near the site have expressed concern about parking and increased congestion in the alley behind their homes and have said that the size of the operation is too big for a neighborhood commercial district near residences.
Both Diaz and Arena support the project, and Arena said that the project has the overwhelming support of area residents. 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 vote by residents.
All four candidates said that would support the opening of a casino in Chicago in an effort to raise revenue to address the city’s pension crisis.
Baert also 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 make the alderman’s office a community technology center and that she would to focus on basic city services, public safety and schools.
Diaz said that as alderman he would make it a priority to address the city’s pension crisis because the pension debt facing the city will have a great effect 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 businesses which did not follow the rules were closed.
Garrido said that as a police officer he works to improve the quality of life daily but that as an 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 but missed.
Arena said that "our opportunities are amazing right now" and that one of his goals has been to make the Six Corners shopping district the destination it once was so that residents do not have to travel to the suburbs to shop. He said that his office has promoted the city’s Small Business Improvement Fund, bringing at least $3.5 million in improvements to storefronts in the ward.