Candidate LaShawn Ford and incumbent State Rep. Calvin Giles (8th District) appeared together for the first time this campaign season last Saturday at the West Side NAACP’s candidates forum, co-sponsored by Wednesday Journal, Inc. and the Austin Weekly News.

Ford is trying to unseat Giles, a four-term state legislator, for the 8th district representative seat.

Frigid temps Saturday didn’t keep candidates and incumbents from showing up and promoting their campaign platforms Saturday.

Candidates running for elected office in Oak Park, Austin, Forest Park and Riverside were in attendance at the West Side’s Columbus Park Refectory.

The four-hour forum included candidates, and in some cases representatives of candidates, running in the state legislative, state treasurer, Cook County Board, U.S Congressional and Cook County judicial races.

More than two-dozen candidates and 50 audience participants braved the sub-zero windchill to attend.

The candidates, who responded to written questions from the audience, weren’t allowed to directly address one another, and most stuck to the script. But the tightly enforced rules didn’t stop some?”mostly the challengers?”from taking a few swipes at opponents during their responses.

Giles referred to talk about education, an issue he said he’s the most passionate about.

Concerning Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 school reorganization plan, both candidates criticized the city’s effort to close under-performing schools.

“I think closing schools is not the answer,” said Giles, chairman of the House Committee on Education. “I don’t believe closing schools will result in higher test scores for our neediest of children.”

Ford said he would target businesses to provide funding and resources for schools, and questioned Giles’ record on education.

“It’s a great thing to have a chairman of education, but when you can’t get a bill passed, then what good are you?” said Ford. “When you live in the community and you do not have schools to serve your kids, what good is it being the chairman of the education committee?”

He also questioned Giles’ presence?”or lack there of, according to Ford?”in the community.

“You cannot represent the community and not be here,” said Ford. “This is not a personal attack on Calvin Giles; this is a run for the community.”

Giles refrained from responding to the attacks, talking instead about community development, touting the Eisenhower Expressway and O’Hare Airport expansion plans as projects impacting the community. He said he’s working to get minority contractors from the community hired for those jobs.

“What I’m trying to do is get individuals that want to participate in government when it comes to securing contracts,” said Giles. “We want people to become certified and pre-qualified.”

A testy moment

Questions from audience members addressed issues such as crime, education, jobs and affordable housing. Ex-offenders and recidivism questions came up throughout. The ex-offender issue led to the testiest moment in the otherwise civil exchanges between State Sen. Don Harmon (39th) and Republican opponent James Rowe, who chided the Democratic incumbent for legislation on registering sex-offenders in Illinois.

Responding to an audience member’s question about crime in Oak Park and Austin, Rowe, an Austin native, responded:

“Senator, you tried to propose a bill that would exempt certain sex offenders from the sex offender registry. I worked around the clock as prosecutor to put these monsters away. We fought to make sure they went to jail for a long time.”

An upset Harmon replied:

“The bill he’s referring to would correct a loophole the [Illinois] Supreme Court asked us to correct that would treat an 8-year-old more harshly than a 20-year-old accused of the same crime,” said Harmon, about Senate Bill 1328, currently in committee in the general assembly, which would alert communities to known registered sex offenders living in the neighborhoods.

In the 7th Congressional District, Democratic candidates Jim Ascot, Robert Dallas and incumbent Cong. Danny Davis addressed a number of issues, including job development.

“My candidacy is about putting all the resources together in this district to make sure that everyone participates equally,” said Ascot.

Robert Dallas, a former political advisor for Harold Washington and Jesse Jackson, and a former Republican candidate for office, said he would propose turning the old downtown post office at 420 W. Van Buren into a complex with a shopping mall, hotels, schools and a high-speed rail system. He said he would lobby Congress and the city for funding.

Davis said the U.S. first has to get out of Iraq before funding new projects.

“The United States is broke,” said Davis. “We just spent $256 billion on the war. Anything is a good idea?”as far as an idea?”but we don’t live off ideas.”