Large crowd shows up at Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park to hear 45th Ward candidates discuss key issues facing Northwest Side communities
Editor’s note: This article includes a few highlights of the 45th Ward aldermanic forum Thursday night at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. Watch for additional coverage in the coming days on our Facebook page or at www.nadignewspapers.com
by BRIAN NADIG
About 600 people came out on Feb. 2 to the Copernicus Center to hear the six candidates in the 45th Ward aldermanic race explain why they are the most qualified to address the needs of the Northwest Side ward.
Running are incumbent James Gardiner, attorney Megan Mathias, Northwest Chicago Historical Society president Susanna Ernst, local business owner James Suh, librarian Ana Santoyo and finance and accounting manager Marija Tomic. Gardiner, a firefighter, is seeking his second term.
The questions covered a variety of topics, including public safety, development and transportation.
Here are some quick highlights:
Santoyo: She stressed the need for more affordable housing in the ward and said that she would not support a candidate for alderperson who calls for more police on the streets. She added that her socialist-focused campaign is about helping minimum wage, working class residents and that the CTA should be free for all.
Ernst: She said that she has been active in the community for 20 years and that her goal is to engage all community groups when in comes to zoning decisions, criticizing Gardiner for ignoring some groups in the community input process. Ernst also called for removing “the dust” off the existing revitalization plans for several commercial districts in the ward which ware sitting on shelves and use these plans as a starting point for how best bring new development to the ward. She said that there is not a one size fits all solution to all neighborhoods, which have different needs.
Tomic: She said that some of the commercial areas in the ward look like “a dead zone” and that as alderperson she would work with chambers and other groups to address the issue. She said that there is a consensus that the ward needs new leadership and that she is running because she does not want to be the person on the sidelines complaining instead of the person trying to fix the problem.
Mathias: She said that her campaign has knocked on more than 15,000 doors, listening to residents’ concerns, and that none of the ward’s major problems have one easy solution, adding that as an attorney she has the experience to “solve big complex problems.” She said that she would consider “innovative”‘solutions, such as the “tiny home” concept to help the unhoused and services to help bring more pop-up businesses to the ward.
Gardiner: He said that he has helped to bring $460 million worth of development to the ward and that his second term would focus on public safety, curtailing property taxes and economic development. He said that his series of public safety meetings in the ward have given residents an opportunity to meet with police officers and discuss their concerns about crime. He said that none of challengers have attended any of these meetings and that his experience as a first responder would continue to help address crime issues.
Suh: He said that he would have an open and transparent zoning review process, with details posted on the ward website and that individual issues in the ward should not be viewed “in a vacuum,” as they impact each other. He said that his experience as a small business owner and work on a local school council have helped prepare him for the job.
Perhaps the most interesting exchange occurred between Suh and Gardiner.
When asked who he would support for alderperson if he weren’t running, Suh said “anyone who’s not under investigation by the FBI” in reference to published reports about Gardiner.
Gardiner responded he’d be afraid of being sued if he do not support Suh in reference to the fact that Suh is a plaintiff in two lawsuits against Gardiner.
The forum, whose moderator was Justin Kaufmann of WTTW and Axios, was held at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
Sponsors were the Old Irving Park Association, Six Corners Association, Six Corners Chamber of Commerce, Portage Park Neighborhood Association, Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, Jefferson Park Forward, Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson Park Sunday Market, Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association, Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce, Everyday Edgebrook, Copernicus Foundation and Nadig Newspapers.
Under the remap, the 45th Ward gained Wildwood and all of Edgebrook north of Devon Avenue in addition to some sections of Norwood Park just west of Nagle Avenue. It also lost sections of Old Irving Park.
If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the Feb. 28 municipal election, the top two vote-getters in the race will face off in a runoff election in April. In 2019, Gardiner defeated incumbent John Arena in the municipal election by receiving just over 50 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff.
The 45th Ward early voting location will be at the Kolping Society, 5826 N. Elston Ave., starting Monday, Feb. 13. Chicago voters can use any early voting site in the city.