LINCOLN PARK — Ald. Timmy Knudsen and Brian Comer debted how to best protect the 43rd Ward at a Monday night forum, but they agreed public transportation would be safer with police patrols.
Knudsen and Comer are vying to lead the North Side’s 43rd Ward and will face off in the April 4 runoff.
Knudsen has served as alderperson since August, when he was appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to replace former Ald. Michele Smith, who retired mid-term after representing the 43rd Ward for 11 years.
Comer has been president of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association for three terms, serves as the 18th Police District beat facilitator and has lived in the neighborhood nearly his entire life.
The two answered questions about development, taxes, public safety and infrastructure at Monday’s forum at Lincoln Park High School, 2001 N. Orchard St., which was hosted by the ward’s neighborhood associations and moderated by NBC political reporter Mary Ann Ahern.
To improve public safety throughout the ward, Knudsen installed more security cameras and co-sponsored ordinances that impose higher penalties surrounding illegal guns and further penalize attacks against first responders, he said.
Comer said public safety is “issue one, two and three” within the ward and can only truly be addressed by hiring more police officers. If elected, he said he’d work to restructure the police budget so less is spent on misconduct lawsuits and administrative salaries and more goes toward putting officers on the street, he said.
Comer also hopes to create a pilot program with DePaul University, 2400 N. Sheffield Ave., that would incentivize recent graduates to join the police force by forgiving a portion of their student debt, he said. He would also immediately request more beat officers to patrol around North Avenue Beach.
Knudsen said he’s already working with the police to ensure there are patrols near the beach, particularly officers on foot and on segways because “it’s good for officers to be getting out of their cars and having conversations to resolve issues quickly.” He also wants to bolster security during Lincoln Park ZooLights since the event draws large crowds.
Knudsen questioned why Comer’s public safety budget plan says 42 percent of the police budget is spent on settlements and administrative salaries when his office found that only 6 percent goes toward those things.
“That’s quite a difference in realities, and I would just love if everyone took a look at the public safety platforms on our websites and reviewed the sourcing and amount of detail we each put into them,” Knudsen said. “We’re just really struggling to figure out where you got your numbers on the budget I helped pass.”
Comer said his team “reviewed it a while ago” and “feels comfortable about what was stated in the past.”
Comer promised to promptly notify residents when a crime occurs in the ward, saying he did that March 10 when he posted a video from a crime scene — though the information he shared was incorrect.
During that incident, an officer struggled with a man in the 2100 block of North Cleveland Avenue, and the man grabbed the officer’s gun and fired a shot that didn’t hit anyone, police said. The officer had minor injuries.
“We were very thankful that officer is now recovering and wasn’t shot, but that doesn’t change the fact that that officer came as close to a life-and-death situation as possible,” Comer said at the forum. “As alderman, I’m always going to be on scene to make sure the Police Department knows that they have the backing of the aldermanic office.”
But Knudsen criticized Comer, saying he spread misinformation that Knudsen’s ward office had to correct.
“It caused a lot of confusion in the community that I had to clean up,” Knudsen said. “I’m a steady leader. I’m a pragmatic leader. I think this example is one that really shows our differences in judgment and how we intend to lead the ward.”
Comer questioned if Knudsen was at the scene, saying he didn’t see the incumbent. Knudsen said he was but wasn’t “filming myself.”
Another priority Knudsen and Comer share is improving public transportation and other infrastructure to protect and encourage cyclists and pedestrians.
Both said they don’t feel safe recommending a friend ride the “L” at night and agreed the CTA would be safer if it was patrolled by police instead of a private security force. They commended mayoral candidate Paul Vallas’ public safety plan.
Comer said heavily investing in the police so they can provide this security will make public transportation safer and encourage more people to ride.
In addition to increasing security, Knudsen wants to invest more in CTA services and provide more incentives for people to become CTA employees, he said.
Knudsen co-sponsored an ordinance that called on CTA President Dorval Carter to attend quarterly hearings at City Council so alderpeople can hold CTA leaders accountable for long wait times, deteriorating conditions, security issues and “ghosts”: buses and trains that show up late or not at all.
“We heavily fund CTA but we never get to question them,” Knudsen said. “We need more oversight and accountability within the CTA.”