New voices were heard at a recent aldermanic candidates forum held on the West Side. The event, sponsored by the West Side branch of the NAACP, provided a venue for many new and young voices to state how they would govern the West Side if given the opportunity by voters in the upcoming primary election to be held Tuesday, Feb. 27.
“A long time ago you could get away with not knowing the issues,” said Karl Brinson, president of the Westside NAACP. “These candidates are well-informed and articulate. Here you have great quality,” he added. “You’re not talking about hacks,” Brinson said referring to many of the newcomers.
Candidates from the 2nd, 24th, 28th, and 37th ward races were present, with only one incumbent, Emma Mitts (37th Ward), showing up to defend her seat.
The hopefuls were given several minutes to state their political agendas and take questions from the audience. They touched on issues such as reparations, the use of TIF funding (Tax Increment Financing), the conduct of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, and how they would attract economic development to their wards.
Shawn Walker, 33, who is running for the second time in the 28th Ward race, said one of his primary issues would be to introduce legislation for term limits in both the mayoral and aldermanic offices.
“This would eliminate the possibility of corruption and city officials becoming complacent,” said Walker, adding that it would also go a long way in leveling the political playing field. “When a politician is in office for a long time, they’re able to build both a financial war chest and strategic relations, making them difficult to beat,” he said. Walker ran in 2003 and gathered 31 percent of the vote in that ward.
The 28th Ward incumbent, Ald. Ed Smith, fail to respond to inquiries as to why he didn’t attend the forum.
Eric McKennie, running in the 37th Ward race, said one of his key duties would be to physically clean up the ward. “Our ward is in a filthy state. I want to connect with the businesses that are here, the real businesses and bring new businesses on a tour” to see who we are, he said.
Incumbent Ald. Mitts, defended her record stating that she has brought in big business with the arrival of the new Wal-Mart store. She stated that the deal created 450 jobs in her ward, jobs that were sorely needed, as indicated by the 15,000 people who applied, she said. “Something beats nothing,” she added.
Mark Carter, 32, candidate for the 24th Ward, views big business as a major stumbling block to empowering the community, especially when it comes to the state of schools on the West Side. He referenced the closing of Collins High School, a closing that residents fought against. “Closing schools down is another indication of big business coming in and taking over,” he said, “There’s no study that shows that test scores have risen once these schools are shut down and turned into smaller schools,” he added. “It’s just another source to benefit business people.” Carter said he supports grass roots organizations governing their own communities.
The 24th ward incumbent, Michael Chandler, also failed to respond about his absence at the event.
Cong. Danny Davis (D-7th), the highest ranking official to attend the venue, said he was delighted to see so many young candidates seeking office on the West Side, yet he expressed doubt about their ability to secure office. “I’m delighted to see the young candidates throughout the West Side,” the congressman said. “There are a lot of people running, but they’re not going to be elected.” he added.
The congressman was endorsing experience over youth. “If somebody has a good record, why would I want to replace them?” he said, “If I thought Ed Smith was spent, I would back somebody else.”
Brinson said he believes that some of the new candidates might be more effective at speaking to a new generation of voters. He believes that the current West Side leadership is ineffective at speaking to the younger masses. “They’re not putting it in hip-hop terms,” he said of the some of the current officials. “They ain’t feeling you. We need somebody who can energize these young people. They don’t hear what some of the current politicians are saying,” Brinson said. “These politicians used to be activists. They’ve become politicians,” he added.
Davis said he would be endorsing, Ed Smith in the 28th Ward, Michael Chandler in the 24th, and was undecided about an endorsement in the 37th Ward race.