Candidates in 39th Ward race debate local issues
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Candidates running for alderman in the 39th Ward discussed issues at a forum held on Jan. 22.
More than 100 residents attended the forum at Elston Avenue United Methodist Church, 5850 N. Elston Ave., that was sponsored by the Indian Woods Community Association and moderated by association president Jonathan Sladek. The candidates are Alderman Margaret Laurino, Robert Murphy and Joseph Laiacona.
Issues that were discussed include airplane noise, economic development, tax increment district financing, spending and issues with the CTA Forest Glen bus yard at Elston and Bryn Mawr avenues
Murphy, who is an architect and a past president of the Forest Glen Community Association, said that he wants to make the ward better by involving residents in the decision-making process. Murphy also worked on Alderman John Arena’s campaign in 2011 when he lived in an area in the 45th Ward that is in the 39th Ward after redistricting.
"The story I keep hearing is that ‘I can’t get a call back and the alderman doesn’t listen. I feel like I’m forgotten,’" Murphy said. "As your alderman you will not be forgotten. The alderman’s job is a service job, and I’m going to be your service alderman."
Laiacona, who ran unsuccessfully against Deb Mell in the 2010 Democratic primary for state representative in the 40th Illinois House District, said that an alderman must listen, be approachable and be present in the ward. He said that city services are not provided in a timely manner in the ward.
Laiacona said that he supports an elected school board and that he cares about public education because he is a retired teacher. He said that he was a part-time professor of computer science at Columbia College and that he has been a member of the Roosevelt High School Local School Council.
"Emanuel has closed 55 schools that they said were underutilized, but in that time he has opened 37 charter schools," Laiacona said. "We need strong public schools so we have people who are educated who can get good jobs."
Laurino said that she has a record of accomplishment in the areas of public safety and education. "Public safety is the most important part of quality of life, and we need to get a fair share of officers and support to keep the officers in the ward," she said.
"I support taking officers from behind desks to go out on the streets, off desk jobs and onto the streets, and replace those officers with qualified civilians for those jobs," Laurino said.
Laurino said that she has clamped down on liquor licenses, supported tougher gun laws and harsher penalties for gun crimes, and worked to help seniors. She said that she also has worked to relieve overcrowding in schools by lobbying for mobile units and school additions in the ward.
"I look forward to continue to address these issues," Laurino said. "Infrastructure and service delivery are essential to our quality of life, and we need to invest in our neighborhoods and the business corridor."
Also discussed at the forum was the increase in jet noise due to the opening of new runways at O’Hare International Airport in October.
"I understand what a huge problem the O’Hare Modernization Plan has caused for our neighborhoods," Laurino said. "The runway configurations were something that we haven’t anticipated, and they are very difficult to deal with.
"The FAA was very misleading with the information they provided to the ward. They did not make their public meetings known, they didn’t reach out to the neighborhoods they needed to reach out to, and the information was not disseminated to us."
Laurino said that she has worked on getting more noise monitors installed and on expediting the elimination of older, noisier airplanes, and that she has worked with U.S. Representative Mike Quigley for a stronger voice in Washington.
Laiacona said that more monitors are needed to document jet noise and that the city can present that information to the Federal Aviation Administration and demand that they use the diagonal runways at O’Hare as well as the new east-west runways.
"Remember, we own the airport, so we have the power to tell them, use the diagonals," Laiacona said. "Its time we get loud and forceful about our demands because our property values are skyrocketing."
Murphy said that residents need an advocate on the issue. He criticized Laurino for voting for the airport modernization plan.
Murphy said that he is a co-founder of the Fair Allocation In Runways Coalition. "When Laurino signed the letter of support of FAIR, I asked that she get a meeting with the mayor because we need him in this conversation to get the solutions you need and she said, ‘You get a meeting with the mayor.’ I said, ‘The mayor doesn’t know me, he won’t call me back, you are my alderman’ and she just said ‘Well,’" Murphy said.
"This is why I’m running," Murphy said. "Not because of the planes, but because you are not being served by your alderman who says she has taken care of the police, she has taken care of the airplanes.
"Every district in the city got a new police station. There’s nothing unique here. You haven’t gotten anything special in the 39th Ward despite all the money you pay in your taxes."
The candidates all said that more should be done to address noise and pollution at the CTA storage facility at 5601 N. Elston Ave.
Laiacona said that an alderman has to meet with an executive in the administration at the agency and not a local manager to fix the problem. "I don’t see why we can’t turn off those buses at night," he said. "I’m sure firing up in the morning is better than all night long."
Murphy said that he would work with CTA management to work out the problems.
"I don’t believe that the CTA is a good neighbor, and we have to work with them that they live up to what we expect out of a good neighbor," Laurino said. "My superintendent had a terrible time with them to get them to shovel their sidewalk."
The candidates also discussed economic development in the ward and the vacant properties on Central Avenue north of Elston Avenue.
Murphy said that the alderman should have a plan to bring in businesses to the area. He said that he would advocate for businesses and show them how the demographics of the ward suit them.
"I would show them the empty storefronts," Murphy said. "We will go out and show them what a great place this is. Right now there is no plan for economic development in the ward. It is all scattershot."
Laurino said that she is working with the owner of the empty storefronts on Central to obtain a Small Business Improvement Grant so that he can improve the facades.
"We had also worked with Colletti’s on their expansion there," Laurino said. "Mariano’s has been a wonderful addition to our neighborhood, but who wouldn’t want to see a traffic signal there? This is what I am working on right now."
The candidates also discussed the Elston/Armstrong Tax Increment Financing District and how to improve the business corridor.
"Businesses are important not only for the services they provide but the employees they hire and the taxes they pay," Laiacona said. "We need to be on the ground and walking the streets to see what needs to be changed."
"The tax increment financing districts are an interesting phenomenon, and they certainly can be of value to the city and to the neighborhoods," Laiacona said. "I would like you to notice there is one particular neighborhood that has benefited from TIFs the most, and it’s called the Loop. I will insist that all TIF money stays in the district that they were collected in so that the neighborhood will get the furnishing and buffing that the Loop got."
Murphy said that Laurino has used funds from the TIF district only to install street lights along Elston. "Light fixtures won’t drive development," he said.
Murphy also said that the distribution of the annual $1.3 million in discretionary funds known as "menu" money that each ward gets is unfair.
"I think that the 39th Ward is one of the largest wards in the city and also one of the wealthiest wards," Murphy said. "You are being stung because of this large size and you are not having enough money to fix all of your streets.
"Every ward gets the same out amount of menu money. It’s hard for us to take care of all the streets. We need some kind of a multiplication factor that says the amount of streets you have equals this amount."
Laurino said that she allocated all of the discretionary funds the ward got this year to street resurfacing because of the harsh winter last year.
Murphy and Laiacona said that they support participatory budgeting, a system used by some aldermen in which residents vote on how to spend the discretionary funds.
The three candidates all said that they would vote against increasing property taxes to cover the shortfall in city pension payments.
The challengers also discussed how they would represent the ward in the City Council.
"Her family has been in charge for 50 years; its time to have a turnover," Laiacona said. "As for why things get approved in City Hall? It’s because somebody’s cousin is getting the benefit of it. I don’t work that way."
Murphy said that the 39th Ward has had the least amount of economic development among Northwest Side wards. "You are not getting the value of your tax dollars," he said. "Your alderman is not fighting for you."