NORTH LAWNDALE — For almost 40 years, the Illinois House’s 9th District has been served by someone bearing the name Turner. First came Arthur L. Turner, who joined the legislature in 1981 and served as Deputy Majority Leader for a time.
When the senior Turner retired in 2010, his son Art Turner won the seat. Now with Art Turner stepping down, a field of seven Democratic candidates, including another Turner — his brother — aim to succeed him.
All seven candidates appeared at a candidate forum at Collins Academy High School Thursday night, sharing their vision for the district with residents.
Aaron Turner, who touted his affordable housing expertise as a Legislative Liaison for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, made a point to distance himself from his family’s legacy.
“This seat is not about my father, or about my brother being there,” he said. “…I don’t treat it as a family seat,” but rather a seat for the community’s interests to be reflected in the state government, he said.
As chief of staff to Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), candidate Trina Mangrum’s emphasized public safety and her experiences fighting for West Side residents to get their fair share of city resources.
Ty Cratic also spent some time in Ervin’s office, and brands himself as a “middle of the ballot” candidate prioritizing local entrepreneurship and housing.
A longtime Lawndale resident, Nikki Harvey said she has deep relationships with the residents and organizations that developed the North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan. Quality, accessibility and affordability in health care and housing are priorities for her campaign, she said.
A former Lawndale resident, Sandi Schneller said more equity needs to be created in the 9th District between the West Side and the Near North Side where she currently lives. Like many other candidates, Schneller argued for zero-tolerance on gun violence, and also listed mental health and the ever-present vacant lots in the area as top concerns.
Maurice Edwards arrived towards the end of the forum, but used his time to talk about fully funding neighborhood schools. If elected, Edwards said he would push for more vocational programs in schools that would build more pathways for skilled employment on the West Side.
Union organizer Lakesia Collins’s campaign is backed by the Chicago Teacher Union and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. Her positions at the forum emphasized the connections between multiple issues, and she proposed fully funded mental health clinics and neighborhood schools as the best way to tackle gun violence on the West Side.
Though the candidates agreed on most issues, like legislation that would create more equity in the rising legal weed industry for communities ravaged by the War on Drugs, the candidates had different ideas when it came to charter schools.
Harvey said school choice should be a priority. In 2017, the state revised its school funding formula to follow an evidence-based model that would funnel more money into struggling districts, while making sure that charters receive equal funding.
“Parents need a choice,” she said.
Cratic also said it is important for parents to be able to choose their kids’ schools. He also said he would support an elected Chicago Public Schools school board.
According to Cratic, many including Mayor Lori Lightfoot agree that the city’s school board should be elected by the public, but there are many disagreements on how the state’s legislature should change the law to allow for it. Parent associations, Local School Councils, charter schools, and neighborhood schools should all have a say in deciding what an elected school board should look like, Cratic said.
Schneller and Turner both avoided taking a solid stance on whether or not they support charters, and instead focused on equitable outcomes for students enrolled at neighborhood schools and charter schools.
“We need to have equitable education across the board. No child should be left out because of their zip code,” Schneller said.
Other candidates characterized charter schools as a band-aid solution, or as Collins put it, “Some whipped cream slapped on top of a pie to make it look good.”
“We wouldn’t have to talk about choice if our schools were fully funded in the first place,” Collins said, a sentiment echoed by Mangrum and Edwards.
Mangrum said neighborhood schools are an anchor for a community, and without investing in them, the surrounding community dwindles.
Many candidates also agreed that tackling gun violence is a top priority. Across the board, all candidates said jobs and increased economic opportunity would help stop the violence in the area, but they differed in other strategies for increasing safety.
Mangrum spoke from her experience with facilitating the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program through the alderman’s office, which is designed to foster trust between residents and strengthen community policing.
“It works. We just need to fund it,” she said. Mangrum supports a more progressive graduated property tax to bring in more revenue to fund CAPS and other public safety programs.
Harvey and Turner said keeping guns off of the streets are an achievable first-step to preventing shootings out west. Harvey proposed a ban on military-grade weapons and said she would back Illinois House Bill 1586, which aims to curb gun violence by controlling the sale of ammunition.
Turner also suggested that more violence intervention programs and restorative justice pathways would be beneficial for the area.
Collins said her approach to public safety will be about more than gun violence, she said. Increased investment in affordable housing, reopening closed mental health clinics, and fully funding public schools are all need so people don’t get wrapped up in situations of joblessness, trauma and poverty.
“Why is it that in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods that education is second on the list?” she asked.
The candidate forum was organized by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, and Ald. Michael Scott (24th), who said more forums were to come to help residents decide who they would vote for in the March 17 primary election.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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