EDGEWATER — The moderator for the 40th ward candidate forum on Tuesday night called longtime Ald. Pat O’Connor a “racist troll” following the contentious event.
Perlstein wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning: “Now that I’m not moderator, I can immoderately report that Ald. Pat O’Connor of the 40th ward is a racist troll who’s morally unfit for public office for accusing his Nigerian-American opponent of not being for ‘the community,’ but for ‘Nigerians.'”
Perlstein’s comment came after Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), defended his tenure overseeing the ward. He also brought up race several times during the forum, prompting “boos” from the audience.
While touting his voting record, O’Connor said the day the City Council approved the police department’s controversial new training facility and the Obama Presidential Library was “a historic day in the African-American community.”
The audience audibly gasped at the comment and began to boo.
Challenger Okere responded by saying the last thing the police department needs is a new $95 million training facility, adding that the department already has a facility and the money could be better spent addressing the lead levels in city water.
“The African-American community does not want a police academy,” said Okere, who is of Nigerian descent and the only black candidate in the 40th ward race.
O’Connor tried to respond to Okere but Perlstein said he’d have a chance to respond later at a bar most of the audience intended to go to following the forum.
The crowd continued to boo during this exchange and Perlstein also asked them to quiet down so the forum could continue into closing statements.
At this point, O’Connor decided to push back at Okere, saying he knew very little about how Chicago works while also defending his support of the new police academy as an investment in the city’s West Side.
He then attacked Okere over a fundraising flyer.
“This is your fundraising invitation. It doesn’t talk about community, it talks about building Nigerian power in Chicago,” O’Connor said. “For God’s sake, if you want to talk about being part of a community, and this is how you’re going to raise your money?”
O’Connor was shouted down by the audience while he made this comment and as he tried to defend the city’s current handling of the lead issue.
“I would like you to reread what was on that flyer,” Okere said. “Because what it said on that flyer was Nigerian political power. Guess what? There are different constituencies across the City of Chicago. Every single one deserves political power.”
Okere also chastised O’Connor’s handling of race issues during his long tenure as alderman. Specifically, during the city’s “Council Wars,” which pitted a group of all-white aldermen — nicknamed the “Vrdolyak 29” — against then-Mayor Harold Washington — the city’s first black mayor. O’Connor was part of the all-white group.
“So for you to attack me to when I’m trying to give communities across the city of Chicago political power that they have historically not [had] is disgusting,” Okere said.
Okere: ‘This Is Racism’
On Wednesday afternoon, Okere issued a statement calling the alderman’s comments at the forum “racist.”
“Let me be clear, this is racism,” he wrote. “Last night, O’Connor attempted to cast me as the black boogeyman, someone who only wants to build power for Nigerians and nobody else.”
Calling the alderman “out of touch” and “cruel,” he said O’Connor sneered at a “marginalized group” for cheap political points.
“This is not who we should have representing our Ward,” Okere wrote.
Earlier in the forum, the first question Perlstein asked O’Connor was whether his presence at the event meant he intended to run for office. O’Connor, who has been dodging this question for months, read a prepared statement for a few minutes discussing his more than 30 years in office and said he’s committed to the ward and cares deeply about its neighbors.
Since he didn’t answer the question definitively, Perlstein asked again toward the end of the event.
“Are you running?,” Perlstein asked.
“Am I here?” O’Connor responded with a shrug.
O’Connor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the moderator’s statement or his plans for the future.
On Tuesday, O’Connor told The Daily Line that he has not yet decided whether to run for another term, but was keeping his options open by attending the debate.
The 40th Ward candidate forum was organized by the Bowmanville Community Organization, West Andersonville Neighbors Together, Lincoln Square North Neighbors and West Edgewater Area Residents.
Questions were submitted online ahead of the event and the five candidates were given two minutes to respond. The questions were designed so candidates would focus their answers at audience instead of debating one another, but candidates still took swipes at each other during the event.
The 40th Ward includes parts of Lincoln Square, Bowmanville, West Ridge, Edgewater and West Andersonville.
Video of the 40th ward candidate forum can be found here.
Below are highlights from Block Club’s live coverage of Tuesday night’s forum. The full tweet thread can be found here.
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