Left to right, top to bottom: Candidates Samantha “Sam” Nugent, Casey Smagala, Joe Duplechin and Robert Murphy are running for 39th Ward alderman. Credit: Submitted

IRVING PARK — Four candidates aiming to replace retiring Ald. Margaret Laurino in the 39th Ward shared their ideas to stop crime — and improve relations with police — at a forum Thursday in Irving Park.

The weather didn’t deter about 600 people from attending the forum organized by nine community groups at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave., last week.

At the forum, three of the four candidates said if elected, they’d work to bring more police officers to the ward to address crime.

When it comes to improving public safety, candidate Robert Murphy, the 39th Ward’s current Democratic committeeman, said crime is being driven by a lack of opportunity. The city needs to invest in development and education opportunities in the neighborhoods, he said, and cops need to have adequate training and staffing to do their jobs effectively.

There’s also too many guns on the street, said Murphy, who has a background as an architect and community organizer.

“We need to really work hard to take as many illegal guns off the street as we can,” Murphy said.

Samantha “Sam” Nugent, an attorney, said she’d work to bring more officers to the ward’s Jefferson Park (16th) and Albany Park (17th) police districts. Deploying “ShotSpotter” technology in the ward could also help police better respond to reports of crime, she said.

Police need to work with the community’s strong churches to improve community policing efforts, too, she said.

“We really have to work to get our officers more involved in the interfaith community and in the houses of worship,” said Nugent, who served as a former chief of staff for the Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “There are many in the community to get their information from the pulpit.”

Casey Smagala, director of community engagement at the Albany Park Community Center, agreed there should be more cops on the ground. He’d also work to build a pipeline for employment for teens in the ward.

“I helped build the advising and counseling program to the career technical programs at Roosevelt High School,” Smagala said.

Joe Duplechin, a Chicago Police officer running for the seat, also thinks deploying more officers in the ward is the answer, specifically teams tasked with addressing robberies and carjackings near the expressway. If elected, he would host safety events with residents so they could learn about the tactics criminals employ so they can better protect themselves.

“You have to recognize some of the tactics the guys are using to initiate these crimes and we have to make everyone aware of them,” said Duplechin, who was previously an engineer with the U.S. Army and did a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

From left to right: Moderator Eric Zorn, 39th Ward candidates Joe Duplechin, Robert Murphy, Samantha “Sam” Nugent and Casey Smagala. Credit: Alex Hernandez/ Block Club Chicago

Tackling Chicago’s budget woes

Regarding the city’s financial problems, Nugent said she would support opening a casino in the city as well as legalizing video gambling and marijuana. The city’s already losing revenue to nearby suburbs who have approved video gambling, she said.

Duplechin said the city has kicked pension obligations down the line since he’s been alive, and the problem won’t be solved overnight — it could take 40 years. In short term, he said the city has to be more fiscally responsible and finding new revenue streams.

“We can’t skip payments,” he said.

Murphy was more optimistic, saying the current pensions are well funded. The problem, he said, is pensions that weren’t paid for past 20 years are the ones causing financial burdens and that the city needs new funding sources to get them healthy again.

Smagala said he would work to reduce the city’s longterm pension obligations, and would sell a municipal bond to help get pensions that have not been paid up to a healthy level.

What would you do differently as alderman?

Murphy said the community needs to be involved in reforming the city’s tax-increment financing (TIF) funds, and he would institute a community-driven process to determine how taxes are spent in the ward.

Nugent said public safety should be the new alderman’s top priority — along with economic development, as the city’s losing valuable tax dollars because people are spending their money in nearby suburbs instead.

If elected, Duplechin said he would focus on reducing crime but would also want to improve the ward’s infrastructure, which in turn would help new businesses open in the area.

Smagala said he’d be more available than Laurino is. Serving on a local school council and other community groups have prepared him to serve as alderman, he said.

Laurino, 66, announced in August she wasn’t going to seek re-election after 24 years in office.

A fifth candidate, Chicago Police officer Jeffery S. La Porte, withdrew his candidacy on Dec. 14. He previously ran for and lost the March Democratic primary for state representative.

The forum was co-organized by the Old Irving Park Association, Forest Glen Community Club, Hollywood-North Park Community Association, Mayfair Civic Association, North Mayfair Improvement Association, Peterson Park Improvement Association, Sauganash Community Association, Sauganash Park Community Association and West Walker Civic Association.

The 39th Ward includes all or parts of Albany Park, North Park, Hollywood Park, Mayfair, Sauganash, Edgebrook, Gladstone Park, Indian Woods and Forest Glen.

A full video of Thursday’s forum can be found below.

Below are highlights from Block Club’s live coverage of the forum. The full tweet thread can be found here.

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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park reporterrnrnalex@blockclubchi.orgnnLincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park reporterrnrnalex@blockclubchi.org Twitter @avhndz