LINCOLN PARK — Two-term Ald. Michele Smith is expected to face off against a crowd of 43rd Ward challengers at a debate Thursday night in Lincoln Park.
The debate Thursday kicks off at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Park High School, 2001 N. Orchard St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
In a ward that quietly yields enormous power and influence covering Lincoln Park, Gold Coast and Old Town, incumbent Smith is working to fend off five challengers — Leslie Fox, Rebecca Janowitz, Derek Lindblom, Steve McClellan and Jacob Ringer — with deep pockets and extensive community experience.
The deepest of those pockets belongs to Lindblom, former chief of staff of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s economic counsel. He has leapfrogged Smith in campaign cash on hand with more than $287,000 on hand as of the end of the year, according to Illinois Sunshine, a website that tracks political contributions. Smith had $271,000 on hand as of the end of the year.
Fox is running a campaign centered around education. After being involved in Chicago politics for decades, she’s raised more than $175,000 as of the end of the year, according to Illinois Sunshine.
Ringer, former president of the Lincoln Park Zoo Auxiliary Board and chief of staff to former city Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott, is an active force in the community. Ringer has more than $66,000 cash on hand, according to Illinois Sunshine.
Janowitz, attorney and Special Assistant for Legal Affairs for the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, has raised more than $32,000, according to Illinois Sunshine. Janowitz also served as a special assistant to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
After being knocked off the ballot in 2015 and facing a petition challenge again this year, the Board of Elections earlier ruled that candidate McClellan’s name should appear on the ballot. He has raised $1,225 as of the end of the year, according to Illinois Sunshine.
First-time candidate Matthew Roney, a DePaul University student, was knocked off the ballot after facing a petition challenge on “signature technicalities,” he said. Roney said that he spent “too much time talking to people about the issues” and not enough time fundraising.
Candidates on Lincoln Yards and TIFs
Congestion and public safety are expected to be primary issues in 43rd Ward race.
Although the proposed Lincoln Yards development is mostly in Ald. Brian Hopkins’ 2nd Ward, the development will undoubtedly affect the 43rd Ward, too, and candidates are likely to field questions on whether they support the proposed Cortland/Chicago River tax-increment financing district (TIF) that would generate $900 million to build the infrastructure for Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards development.
Ald. Smith’s campaign was unavailable to comment on TIFs earlier this week, but in November she challenged the need for a TIF District in the area.
“Legally, a TIF is only permissible if there is a ‘public benefit,’ so we must understand whether these infrastructure needs benefit all Chicagoans and not just Sterling Bay — including true traffic mitigation and a public park,” she said at the time.
Fox said she strongly opposes the city’s TIF program as it currently stands, calling for a moratorium on all TIFs “until transparency is restored.” She aims to stop the Cortland/Chicago River TIF, saying that the project has moved too quickly.
“I’m not against TIFs,” she said. “But I’m against what they have become and we need to get it under control.”
Fox said her stance on TIFs has cost her campaign greatly.
“I’m losing a lot of developer money because they are not happy with me,” she said.
Lindblom agrees that the city’s TIF program is in need of “real change.” He wants to limit TIF spending to public infrastructure, parks and public schools, and ban TIF dollars from being given to private companies and developers.
Lindblom is still supportive of the Lincoln Yards development, if it meets specific conditions.
“We need to make sure any development on the Lincoln Yards site has extensive infrastructure built around it to protect our neighborhood from a potential traffic nightmare,” he said.
Ringer said he hopes to be able to support the Cortland/Chicago River TIF, but would want to review exactly what the project entails. He also wants to see a school included in the TIF.
“That is my position on all TIFs,” he said. “Clearly defined projects that wouldn’t happen ‘but for’ the existence of a TIF.”
Janowitz said that she had too many questions surrounding the proposed Cortland/Chicago River TIF. She is unsure how to make the TIF process more transparent to the community after trying to implement an advisory council related to another TIF District.
“If there is a good way to handle the TIF that would better involve the public, I don’t know what it is,” she said.
McClellan believes the TIF program is in need of reform in. And he questioned the need for a TIF in the Lincoln Yards district.
“I thought it was suspect that it went from $800 million to 900 million,” he said. “I do not believe it is the proper use of TIF funds. I’m not for it.”
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