LOGAN SQUARE — Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) — both incumbent aldermen serving parts of Logan Square — typically don’t see eye-to-eye.
Ramirez-Rosa, one of City Council’s loudest progressive voices, often stands Moreno up as his opposite, saying he allows too much dense development to be built in the 1st Ward, particularly along Logan Square’s Milwaukee Avenue.
While Moreno, known for his upfront style, has called Ramirez-Rosa a hypocrite and “Mr. Champion leftist and Mr. Champion progressive.”
But the two found themselves in a similar position at an aldermanic debate Tuesday evening. Both facing challengers who are first-time candidates, the incumbent aldermen spent much of the nearly three-hour debate, held at Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, highlighting the inexperience of their opponents.
Moreno did so more overtly, constantly drawing attention to the fact that 1st Ward challenger Daniel La Spata has never held elected office before.
“I got into this because I wanted to actually have results,” Moreno said.”I wanted to say this is what I’ve actually done, not what I’m thinking about, but what I’ve actually done.”
Ramirez-Rosa was careful not to draw any direct comparisons between himself and 35th Ward challenger Amanda Yu Dieterich. But he did rattle off his accomplishments, which stand in contrast to Yu Dieterich’s, who has also never held elected office before.
All four candidates answered a host of questions touching on both local and citywide issues including gentrification, economic development, affordable housing, public safety, education and aldermanic prerogative.
Ald. Scott Waguespack, whose 32nd Ward covers a portion of Logan Square, also answered questions, though he’s running unopposed.
Logan Square Preservation, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and beautification of the neighborhood, hosted the debate. The group did not make any endorsements.
Here are some of the highlights from each discussion, by ward:
The question of how to preserve affordable housing in gentrifying Logan Square took center stage at Tuesday night’s debate.
Moreno defended his record, saying under his watch the 1st Ward now ranks second in the city for the most affordable housing units under the city’s amended Affordable Requirements Ordinance.
The incumbent alderman also said he was proud to have introduced a $1 million grant program that allows homeowners along The 606 to “stay in their neighborhoods.”
“That’s real progress. We can hold signs and talk outside and protest, but if you want results, I’m your candidate,” Moreno said.
La Spata said he supports a law proposed by community groups like Logan Square Neighborhood Association, where he served as a board member. The law, which is currently collecting dust in committee, is designed to curb gentrification along The 606 by imposing hefty fees on developers and new land owners.
La Spata pledged not to take campaign contributions from developers, saying, “Otherwise, how can you trust me to be a fair alderman [to determine] what is the right path for development in our community?”
In response, Moreno said, “Daniel, you better check your contributions. Your largest contributor — you know what he does? Tears down houses, like we talked about, kicks the people out. … Calling it like it is.”
Moreno’s chief of staff said the alderman was referring to Brian Strauss, who has a demolition business, however, Strauss is not La Spata’s largest contributor, according to Illinois Sunshine, which tracks donations.
A spokesperson for La Spata called Moreno’s statement at the debate “totally false.”
“Daniel’s largest contributor, his wife Alicia, does not work in real estate. Brian Strauss is a firefighter and landlord who has supported Daniel’s campaign because he believes in Daniel’s progressive vision of community-driven development,” the spokesperson said.
When asked how they’d change the culture of aldermanic prerogative while still representing their constituents, Moreno again touted his commitment to not only building affordable housing, but ensuring developers building the units on-site.
Aldermanic prerogative, recently explored in a Shriver Center study, gives aldermen virtually unchecked control over their wards, allows housing and community development decision-making to be hindered by political influence and opposition to neighborhood racial change.
“[In the 1st Ward], no developer buys out of the responsibility. … period. If every alderman did that, I don’t think we’d need to get rid of aldermanic prerogative,” Moreno said.
He added: “There are some benefits, but it’s been abused, and we have to get rid of that abuse.”
La Spata said he wants to make sure that every resident in the ward — whether they’re members of a dedicated neighborhood group or not — has a voice.
“The value of aldermanic prerogative only goes as far as the quality of the alderman. You need to know that your alderman is going to have a truly inclusive process,” La Spata said.
On the topic of transportation and congestion, both candidates said they support regulating rideshare companies including Uber and Lyft, though Moreno cautioned against “over-regulating.”
“We have to embrace the new economy as something that helps move Chicagoans around our great city,” the alderman said.
Moreno also pointed to transit-oriented development as a tool to ease congestion. La Spata, on the other hand, said “ignoring the impact [transit-oriented] developments have on parking is irresponsible.”
Asked how they’d mitigate displacement in Logan Square, Yu Dieterich said as a mother and member of Monroe Elementary’s Local School Council, she is committed to keeping kids — and their families — in their schools.
Ramirez-Rosa pointed to affordable housing, saying developers in other parts of Logan Square, namely the 1st Ward, have been given a “blank check” to build whatever they want, when what the community desperately needs is more affordable housing.
“If we’re going to keep Logan Square diverse, we need to build affordable housing. We’re going to get it done in the next four years,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
Ramirez-Rosa defended his attempt at down-zoning an Avondale stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, which was met with community resistance.
“I’m not an architect. I’m not a planner. I cannot speak for every single person in the community. The only way you can actually say you’re a representative is to listen,” adding that he introduced the down-zoning “because the community requested it.”
Yu Dieterich shot back, saying, “To think that down-zoning is something that we can use to [enforce] affordable housing is upsetting to me.”
The aldermanic challenger took a couple more shots at Ramirez-Rosa throughout the debate, one for running for higher offices while he was alderman and another for not showing up to community events.
Addressing the former, Ramirez-Rosa said he ran for lieutenant governor and congressman because he wanted to “advance the causes of the community.”
“I think people in this community should be proud that you have an alderman that people in other offices are seeking to represent them,” he said.
Ramirez-Rosa denied not showing up to community events. He’s faced similar criticism from Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) for missing City Council meetings.
Both candidates support TIF reform and an elected school board.
In her closing statement, Yu Dieterich said it’s troubling when elected officials aren’t answering the calls of their constituents or showing up to community events.
“It is necessary for women and women of color to have a seat at the table. It is necessary for mothers to have a seat at the table. I’m running for all of our kids’ future. I see everyday the struggles of our working families,” the first-time candidate said.
Ramirez-Rosa ended his remarks by listing off all of the pre-election lists his name has appeared on — aldermen who pushed forward racial and gender equity, alderman who voted against the cop academy and aldermen who voted to empower the inspector general’s office, to name a few.
“I’m really proud, and everyone should be proud, that the 35th Ward is the only ward that had an alderman on every one of those lists,” he said.
Though he’s running unopposed, Waguespack answered the same number of questions as the incumbent aldermen and their challengers at the beginning of the debate.
Asked about the future of the CTA-owned land at 2525 N. Kedzie Blvd., the 32nd Ward alderman said he doesn’t support the current proposal, first reported by Block Club.
“We want to see family-sized units there, less density,” he said. “The CTA — their bottom line is, ‘We want to make money off the properties we own.’ That’s not what the neighborhood wants. Right now, that proposal is DOA.”
Now that Ald. Ed Burke (14th) is out as finance committee chair after getting hit with federal corruption charges, some in City Council are calling on Waguespack to take over the position long-term.
If given the opportunity, Waguespack said he would run the committee “openly and transparently.”
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