Arena, Garrido trade jabs at 45th Ward aldermanic debate; early voting starts March 23
by BRIAN NADIG
Each of the candidates in the 45th Ward aldermanic runoff election did his best to discredit his opponent with a barrage of attacks during an 80-minute debate on March 17 in front of about 225 people at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido is vying to unseat incumbent Alderman John Arena, who is completing his first term in office. The race is a rematch of the runoff election in 2011 when Arena defeated Garrido by 30 votes.
In the Feb. 24 municipal election, none of the four candidates received more than 50 percent of the 13,008 votes cast in the race, forcing Arena (45.46 percent) and Garrido (39.70 percent) into a runoff. In third place was Michelle Baert (13.27 percent), who has since endorsed Garrido, and in fourth place was Michael Diaz (1.57 percent).
The most heated exchange at the debate came when the candidates were allowed to ask the other one question.
Garrido went first and asked Arena if his “combative and dishonest behavior” led to 55 percent of the voters choosing a candidate other than the incumbent, while Arena asked Garrido why he violated election law by promoting store discounts to voters.
Garrido said that Arena made a false accusation when the alderman tweeted on election day that his opponent placed fish bait at the entrance of Arena’s campaign office and that on Feb. 21the alderman confused voters by telling them in an e-mail message that he was leading in the early voting results with 49.2 percent of the vote. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners did not start to tabulate votes until the polls closed on Feb. 24.
Garrido also read a list of newspaper headlines, including one from a story claiming Arena was at odds with the Jefferson Park Advisory Council, and a portion of a Chicago Sun-Times endorsement of Arena in which the newspaper stated that Arena’s combative nature hurts his effectiveness “in the ward and at City Hall.”
Arena said that as alderman his job requires him to question city policies and to examine the performance of city-funded agencies, including local chambers of commerce, to ensure that the taxpayers are receiving the proper services. “I will demand from them the best,” he said.
Arena said that the years of stagnation which the ward faced for two decades before his election in 2011 are no longer, citing the 80 new businesses which have opened in the ward in the past 4 years. “It is not about conflict. It’s about results,” he said.
Meanwhile, Arena charged that as an attorney and police officer Garrido should have known that it is illegal to offer anything of monetary value to voters and that the error in judgment brings into question Garrido’s ability to evaluate the tough issues which aldermen face. “If he didn’t know, he should have asked. It is perfectly clear in the statute,” Arena said.
Garrido said that the election code on the matter is unclear and that it is not unusual to see businesses offering discounts to those who have voted. He said that the flier promoting the 10-percent discounts was removed from his Facebook page after a short time and that he is unaware of anyone who went into a business listed on the flier and received a discount by presenting their voting receipt.
Several days after the flier was pulled, the Cook County State’s Attorney issued cease and desist orders to halt the discounts. However, Garrido said after the debate that he is not under investigation by the state’s attorney, the elections board or the Chicago Police Department and that the vote-buying accusation is an attempt to distract voters from the real issues.
Also at the debate, the candidates were asked if the contributions they receive from unions would affect their ability to resolve the pension crisis in the best interest of the city. Each pointed out a potential conflict for his challenger.
Garrido said that the Service Employees International Council Political Action Committee has spent close to $750,000 on Arena’s campaigns in 2011 and 2015. “That’s a lot of money. Whose interest is he protecting?” Garrido said.
The largest political contribution to Garrido’s 2015 campaign is $20,000 from the Fraternal Order of Police. “I’m sure they want a police officer representing their interest,” Arena said.
Arena said that he has voted against three of the last four city budgets because they failed to adequately address the pension problem and that the Progressive Caucus which he belongs to has annually presented proposals for alternative revenue streams for the city. Arena said that one option is the “LaSalle Street Tax,” which would create a service fee on financial transactions at the city’s options and mercantile exchange markets
Garrido said that the city should explore using tax increment financing funds to help meet its pension obligation and that a casino could be established in which “100 percent” of the net revenue would go toward pension funds. “Some of the pensions are as low as 27 percent funded. They should be up to around 90 percent,” he said.
Garrido said that he does not support a property tax increase as a measure of addressing the pension crisis. “(Arena) is on record of saying property taxes is on the table, and that is definitely a problem as far as I’m concerned,” Garrido said.
In the published article, Arena did not rule out a property tax increase, but he has said that the pension problem should not be resolved on the backs of working- class Chicagoans and that a suburban commuter tax and a higher tax on the wealthy should be examined.
On development issues, Garrido said that the owner of several gravel parking lots near Lawrence and Laramie avenues in the Jefferson Park business district should “fix the lots up, make them presentable and either do something with them or sell them.” Buildings on the lots were demolished about 10 years ago, and there are reports that a four-story retail-residential project is being planned for some of the lots.
Arena said that Garrido has not offered any vision of his own for the parcels. “Going to the developer and saying ‘pave this, put plants on it,’ does nothing for us,” and “what does that do from a property tax standpoint?” Arena said.
Garrido responded that paving the lots is not the long-term solution but the city needs to hold the owner accountable and motivate him to build on the lots. “They have been sitting empty for the 3 ½ years (Arena) has been here,” Garrido said.
Arena said that a mixed-use development for the properties makes sense and that he has had conversations with the owner and with residents who live behind the lots about the appropriate scale of any project that would be built there.
The redevelopment of the Six Corners business district has been helped by the creation of a “master plan” that included community participation, Arena said. “Here, we need to do that in Jefferson Park,” he said.
Another option for the parcels is selling them to a group which has expressed interest in building a photography museum on Lawrence, Garrido said. Some of the lots are owned by the city, but most of the vacant land is owned by the Mega Group, which also owns the 10-story Veterans Square building at 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave.
In other issues, both Arena and Garrido said that they did not plan to endorse a candidate in the mayoral race.
Also, Garrido said that he opposes a proposed 48-unit apartment building at Long Avenue and Argyle Street and has signed a pledge not to rezone the property. Arena said that he has worked with the developer to reduce the project from its original 60 units and that he has asked for further revisions based on feedback from the community.
The runoff election will be held on Tuesday, April 7, with early voting available from March 23 to April 4. The election will occur during spring break for many schools, and the candidates have said that getting their supporters out for early voting could be key to winning the election.
The debate was moderated by Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader. The debate sponsors were the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, Portage Park Neighborhood Association, Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce, Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce, Six Corners Association and Nadig Newspapers.