PULLMAN — Two of the three candidates vying to be 9th Ward alderperson pledge to spearhead development in overlooked parts of the Far South Side ward, address public safety concerns and bring mental health and other constituent services to the area.
Candidates Cameron Barnes and Cleopatra Draper appeared at a forum Sunday at Greenstone United Methodist Church. The League of Women Voters of Chicago organized the event.
Barnes and Draper are challenging longtime Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) in February’s election. Beale did not attend the forum.
Barnes said he would prioritize community involvement as alderman and make sure constituents have “a voice and a seat at the table” for decision-making.
“We’ve got to have a conversation with the constituents, and your alderman ought to come to you and say, ‘This what I plan to do. What do you think of this? Do you think this can work?’ and go with the majority,” Barnes said. “They should be able to have effective conversation between the constituents and the office to be able to come up with a viable plan that everyone walks away from the table happy with.”
Barnes would hold quarterly meetings to discuss what is in the budget, what the alderman’s proposed priorities are and what the community’s financial concerns are, he said.
“I’m just a candidate who’s going to continue to speak to the people,” Barnes said. “I’m not here to make your agenda for you. You’re supposed to tell me, ‘Cameron, we need our potholes filled. We need a tree cut down next door.’ One lady told me her sidewalk has been broken up for 30 years. That’s allocation of money. We gatekeep that money.”
Draper said while she’s excited for developments like a proposed hotel in Pullman, Roseland and its coming medical district should be the focal point for the ward’s growth.
“Where I call home is Pullman, but I bring roses to Roseland, and I do that because it’s a special place,” Draper said. “It’s the central [location] in the 9th Ward that brings us together and has so much potential to be vital factor to contribute to our crumbling life that desperately needs to be improved.
“I’m running this platform because I believe and know we deserve better.”
Draper said tax-increment financing districts have been used as “slush funds” at times in the 9th Ward and in other areas, and that funding need to be reallocated equitably.
Participatory budgeting would allow 9th Ward residents to have “a seat at the table,” Draper said.
“The sole autonomy of that decision of how we spend the menu money and the TIF money will not just rest on the heels of just the alderman,” Draper said. “I am here to be the next alderperson with that mindset because that is the progressive vision that I have.”
Barnes and Draper said they believed increased mental health and other constituent services should be brought to the area and could be a potential solution to issues like public safety.
Using vacant lots for community-owned buildings could create safe havens, computer labs and where students can receive help with homework and spots for mentorship, internship and apprenticeship opportunities, Barnes said.
“Everything goes back to consulting with the community and coming in and saying, ‘Do we prioritize bringing in more mental health services that address these needs, or do we continue to let our money kind of go to whoever the alderman allocates it to who then misappropriates those funds and then we bare the brunt of it?’” Barnes said.
Affordable housing and mental health clinics, rapid-response community alerts and community policing could address public safety concerns, Draper said.
Mental health services should be funded by the city, not the alderman’s office, so 9th Ward residents can access care for free, Draper said.
Lack of mental health services is “funnel tool for the penal system” that needs to be addressed, Draper said.
“Holistically and comprehensively, our families are under attack. And when you’re under attack, how do you fight back if you don’t have the tools?” Draper said. “So I’m not interested in taking that from my menu budget. I’m not interested in taking that from a TIF.
“I’m interested in the city paying their fair share for what’s rightfully ours in the City of Chicago, which is our mental health.”
Violent crime also is a key concern, both candidates said. Draper said she does not support the relaunch of the much-maligned gang database used by police as a crime-fighting tool. Barnes said the system could be used, but authorities need to devote more attention toward preventing crime, not criminalizing people for trying to survive.
Election Day is Feb. 28. If no one candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will go to a runoff April 4.
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