WOODLAWN — As sitting Ald. Willie Cochran readies for his corruption trial, a batch of candidates vying for his soon-to-be-open seat are pitching their plans for the sprawling 20th Ward to voters.
Housing, economic development and the Obama Presidential Library were at the top of the list of concerns 20th Ward aldermanic hopefuls addressed Thursday night at the Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) forum, hosted at the Harris Park Fieldhouse, 6200 S. Drexel Ave.
Six of the 12 candidates vying for the seat showed up to field questions from community members in what was, at times, an emotional event. Among those not present was 2oth Ward Committeeman Kevin Bailey, who was recently under fire for filing challenges against nearly all of his opponents in the hotly contested race.
When asked about their economic plan to help unemployed and underemployed residents who were formerly incarcerated, candidates pitched a number of ideas.
Candidate Maya Hodari, director of development at the Chicago Housing Authority, suggested a harder push to secure construction jobs for ward residents.
Anthony Driver, 25, proposed creating a credit union that would allow renters access to capital to buy homes and use his office’s expense account to fund a job training program.
Chicago Police Officer Jennifer Maddox stressed the importance of helping parents and supporting existing job training programs.
Nicole Johnson — a former teacher and the biggest fundraiser in the race so far — said she would work to create a pipeline that would offer residents to go from apprenticeships to unionized jobs.
Former Rev. Denard Newell suggested a “mover platform” that connects people who want to work with people who have jobs.
Community organizer Jeanette Taylor argued for more union jobs, living wages and a stricter community benefits agreement with the University of Chicago.
“They [the university] have a 70-year history of displacing residents in the community,” said Taylor, who will learn if she’s been booted from the ballot Friday afternoon. “Cranes go up in the Woodlawn community but none of us are working on them. We have a lot of people building in our community who are not from our community.”
The candidates were split on the idea of withholding construction permits from the Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago to hold them to their promise of hiring a percentage of community residents for various positions.
Driver, Taylor and Johnson said the plan should be stalled until these commitments are honored. Newell, Hodari and Maddox preferred to focus on strengthening community benefits agreements and finding other ways of holding the two entities accountable.
Taylor was in the spotlight last year, when she questioned former President Barack Obama himself about a community benefits agreement (CBA) for the Obama Presidential Center campus.
“Committing publicly isn’t enough, as far as I’m concerned,” said Driver, who accused the university of funding candidates and politicians like Cochran who rubberstamp their projects. “We need an ordinance, a law that says if you’re not doing it, we can hold you accountable.”
“I’m for a community benefits agreement; however, we don’t have one yet,” Newell said. “I want to do everything in my power as alderman to make sure the 20th Ward benefits from any and all development. I’m just not so sure if I want to go down Ald. Burke’s path and start withholding permits because, as we see, that’s illegal.”
Hodari said that proof comes during the construction period.
“That’s when promises change,” she said, adding that residents should hold the Obama Presidential Center to the promises they made. “We don’t even need an agreement. You said you would it and we’re going to hold you to that right now.”
All the candidates were onboard with maintaining neighborhood healing circles, reopening mental health clinics and establishing new ones in the ward, each promising to do what they could to make it happen.
“We need to create the facilities so that people can get the help they need,” said Maddox, whose candidacy is also being challenged by Bailey.
Johnson suggested a property tax add-on to create a mental health facility, similar to a Logan Square initiative recently on the ballot, an idea Hodari nixed.
“We need to lean on the city and state for funding,” Hodari said.
Driver suggested wraparound services for CPS students who have experienced trauma, drawing from his own personal experience after losing two friends to gun violence.
“If we can find $95 million for a new police academy, we can find money for mental health facilities,” he said.
Candidates also addressed affordable housing, with nearly all expressing support for both the Homes For All ordinance, which calls for more CHA transparency and a 1:1 replacement for public housing demolished during the plans for transformation, and the Development For All ordinance, a proposal that aims to withdraw the option for developers to pay in-lieu fees instead of building affordable units.
Johnson pitched the idea of creating a community land trust, a nonprofit that could develop and promote affordable housing. Hodari believes that the focus should be on housing choice vouchers instead of building a public housing development, noting that it is a preference among CHA residents.
The candidate answers prompted an emotional testimony from an attendee who said she’s been unable to find a landlord who will take her Section 8 voucher.
“I see all these new buildings being built and I’m thinking that they’ll accept Section 8, but they’ll tell me they don’t take it like that, and they’ll take my information but never get back in touch with me,” said resident Terri Fitzpatrick. “But I’m here to tell you that I’m standing my ground, and I will not be pushed out. I am making my voice heard.”
A total of 12 candidates are running for 20th Ward alderman: Bailey, Driver, Charles Hillard, Hodari, Johnson, Maddox, Newell, Cassius Rudolph, Sheila R. Scott, Andre Smith
Quandra Speights and Taylor. Several face pending petition challenges.
The 20th Ward includes all or parts of Washington Park, Woodlawn, Englewood and Back of the Yards.
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