Left to right: Jane Lucius, Christian Blume and Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) at a Feb. 7, 2023 aldermanic forum. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN SQUARE — Candidates vying to represent the 40th Ward in City Council detailed policy proposals around policing, transportation and property taxes for neighbors this week.

Incumbent Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) and challengers Christian Blume and Jane Lucius appeared at the Wednesday night forum at Amundsen High School.

The 40th Ward covers parts of Lincoln Square, Andersonville, Ravenswood, Edgewater, Rogers Park, Budlong Woods, North Park and Ravenswood Manor. 

Election Day is Feb. 28. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff April 4.

Here’s more from the candidates on key topics:

Bike Safety

Bicyclist and pedestrian safety has become a top concern for some neighbors, especially after drivers killed toddlers in separate incidents just days apart in Lincoln Square and Uptown in June.

Instead of lanes that place bicyclists next to drivers, Lucius said she wants the city to install lanes putting bicyclists between the sidewalk and parked cars on the street. She also supports other infrastructure changes to slow down traffic and promote pedestrian safety, she said.

“People still drive cars. And maybe that’s not going to be popular with some of the younger people who ride bikes. And I’ve said to them, jokingly, ‘One of these days when you grow up, you’ll get a car,’” she said. “But we can’t ignore that we need parking.”

It’s an “elitist attitude” to think everyone rides a bike because older people still drive cars, Lucius said.

“Bicycles don’t belong on extremely busy streets. It makes no sense. It’s dangerous,” Lucius said.

Blume, a lifelong bicyclist, said he would advocate for more protected bike lanes. Riding in painted bike lanes is very dangerous, as drivers think “the rest of the road is theirs,” he said. 

If elected, Blume would support Bike Grid Now’s plan to make 10 percent of city streets part of a larger bike path network with 10 mph speed limits, he said.

Vasquez learned to ride a bike for the first time last year, and the experience helped him better understand the challenges bicyclists face, he said. 

As alderman, Vasquez has advocated for the Leland Avenue Greenway, worked to increase penalties for drivers who block bike lanes and teamed with neighboring Ald. Matt Martin (47th) on street infrastructure to slow drivers, he said.

“We have to acknowledge the fact that people commute differently now. There’s more pedestrians and more cyclists,” Vasquez said. “We also have to make sure our public transportation is better. That way, people aren’t relying on vehicles as much.”

Children bike on Leland Avenue in May 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Public Safety

The trio shared different strategies for addressing crime in the area, from improving communication with police, hiring more officers to investing in more social services in order to reduce reliance on police.

Blume would push for recruitment efforts to fill police vacancies and would want officers to walk their beats to get to know neighbors instead of patrolling neighborhoods from their cars, he said.

“They do not need to be speeding up and down Western Avenue like we’re living in a war zone, like this is Baghdad. It’s not,” Blume said. 

Blume also cited the increase in catalytic converter thefts, saying his mother and brother had theirs stolen. After asking the audience how many of them also had their catalytic converters stolen, Blume tied the uptick in property crimes to changes in city rules around how police can chase suspects in their patrol cars.

“My understanding, speaking with the [police] commander, was that the Chicago Police Department was prohibited from pursuing individuals involved in property crimes. All right, I don’t know where that came from,” he said. “I’m guessing that came down from the Mayor’s Office. I don’t know if that was the right policy to take at the time. And I don’t know what message we’re sending.”

Neighbors attend the aldermanic forum at Amundsen High School’s auditorium. Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago

The alderman responded that the vehicle pursuit policy was changed in 2020 after the city was repeatedly sued over innocent people bring hurt or killed during high-speed police chases

The policy does forbid vehicle pursuits for crimes like theft, but more broadly requires officers to “consider the need for immediate apprehension of an eluding suspect and the requirement to protect the public from the danger created by eluding offenders.”

“That ultimately caused the city to change the policy, because your tax dollars are paying for settlements. This past year alone, your tax dollars paid for $91 million worth for police misconduct settlements,” Vasquez said.  

Vasquez said the department is stretched thin because officers have to address issues outside their core responsibilities of investigating crimes, apprehending people and responding to emergencies.

He also cited growing mental health strains on officers and the lack of regular days off, which also forced a policy change last year.

“…Currently if an officer needs to get mental health treatment, after 10 sessions they have to prove they need more. We’re not treating our officers like people, we need to stop overwhelming them so they can do their core functions,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez has advocated for violence interruptors to help address the root causes of violent crime. Federal funding during the pandemic helped the city offer more youth employment, mental health and homelessness prevention services which are other ways to help improve public safety and reduce the burden on police.

Now, the city has to figure out how to continue to offer and expand those programs in a sustainable way, which is why he supports the Bring Chicago Home campaign to raise real estate tax for homelessness services, he said.

Vasquez also said adding license plate cameras to the ward helps officers investigate the property crimes. Vasquez also wants figure out a rebate program to help car owners cover the cost of installing catalytic converter cases to make the part harder to steal, he said.

Lucius is a CAPS beat facilitator and said she’d build on that experience to be a “bridge” between neighbors and police.

Increasing communication between neighbors and police is key to making the ward safer, Lucius said.

“The police, you have to have communication as an alderman,” she said. “You have to have a friendship with them.”

Chicago police Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Rising Taxes, Costs

To address rising property taxes, Blume said he’d push Cook County to change its senior freeze and homeowners tax exemptions to help people with their everyday cost of living

He said the taxes on his family’s home jumped from $8,000 to $11,000 last year.

He’d also encourage commercial landlords fill vacancies in the ward’s business districts to help add new tax revenue to the ward and increase taxes for property owners converting three- or two-flats into single-family homes.

“Single-family homes shouldn’t be getting a great reduction just because they have one unit there,” Blume said. “All right, we’re lowering density. We’re decreasing the number of places for people to live. And then we’re giving them a tax break. That doesn’t make sense.”

Vasquez touted getting the 40th Ward included in the accessory dwelling unit pilot program during his first term as a win for increasing housing and improving affordability.

“When you look at some of your major arterials, adding more density means that you can disperse that tax amongst more people,” Vasquez said. 

Vasquez would keep pushing for more affordable housing in the ward as a way to disburse the tax burden among more people, he said.

“So your additional dwelling units, these make your basements legal and put them on the [tax] rolls, as well as coach houses. We’re also working to expand that citywide,” Vasquez said.  

Vasquez would also pursue new taxes on corporations to help further offset the tax burden on neighbors, he said.

Lucius also said she’d advocate for alternatives to increased property taxes but did not elaborate on what those would be.

Two-flat homes across the street from Winnemac Park in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood on January 29, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

In more lighthearted policy positions:

All three candidates are Cubs fans, but Vasquez and Lucius also back the Sox.

All are anti-dibs.

Favorite restaurants in the 40th Ward?

Vasquez go-to’s are BryAnna’s Restaurant, 5695 N. Lincoln Ave., and Fireside,5739 N. Ravenswood Ave.

Blume’s haunts are are Quick Bite, 5155 N. Western Ave., and Hub’s, 5540 N. Lincoln Ave.

Lucius’s mainstay is Taste of Lebanon, 1509 W. Foster Ave.

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