Attendees at Thursday's 37th Ward candidates forum hosted by the Westside Branch NAACP. Robert Felton.

Otis Percy was a petition paperwork snafu away from joining the other candidates for 37th ward alderman at the table in front of the audience of about 60.

In the fall, the Austin resident decided to throw his hat in the ring feeling that a change was needed to “move the district forward.”

However, hindered by a clerical error, he was now looking to find the best candidate to represent his interest for the next four years.

“I was not able to run in this cycle, so I’m here to see what the candidates have to offer,” said Percy.
“I was to know how they would go about funding the area if elected. No matter where you go in the world, if funding for communal sustenance is depleted in the area, chaos will exist in that area,” he said.

Percy was hoping to obtain answers to his questions at the 37th ward Alderman candidates forum on Thursday, Jan. 29.

The event was hosted by the Westside Branch NAACP inside Bethel New Life’s Amberg Hall auditorium, located at 1140 N. Lamon Ave.

The symposium allowed candidates Tara Stamps, Leroy Duncan and Maretta Brown-Miller, who are challenging 15-year incumbent Emma Mitts, to face off against each other and Mitts’ record.

Noticeably absent from the proceedings was Mitts herself. The alderman was expected to attend, but a “constituent-related emergency” caused her to cancel prior to the event.

In their openings, the candidates talked briefly about their careers and deep affection for the 37th ward.
Stamps is an elementary school teacher whose career began at Leslie Lewis Elementary 18 years ago. She’s running, because as a teacher she sees what “disinvestment in the community looks like,” adding that as the daughter of late Cabrini Green activist Marion Stamps, she knows what it’s like to fight for the betterment of her community.

Duncan, a Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) beat facilitator for the 25th police district, has been an Austin resident since 1973. He has worked as president of the 1500 N. Lotus Block Club, as well as stints with BP Amoco, PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM as a senior financial analyst.

Brown-Miller is currently a staff assistant with the Chicago Park District. She has lived in the Austin community for 32 years and considers herself a “stakeholder in the community.” She says that she is passionate about “education, youth empowerment and public safety.”

On the question of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy’s job performance and whether the four year incumbent should be replaced, the candidates were divided.

“We know there should be major improvements in McCarthy’s position and the job that he’s doing,” said Duncan. “We need to restructure the CAPS implementation team and improve the community-police relationship.”

Stamps bluntly asserted that, “McCarthy needs to go,” adding that, “[McCarthy’s] not a Chicagoan and doesn’t understand the particulars of Chicago.”

“He is a desk sergeant, not really a street sergeant, which requires street knowledge. He is continuing the policy of punishing community people for minor misdemeanor offenses while dropping the ball on real crime in the community.”

Brown-Miller essentially repeated Stamps’ sentiments by calling for McCarthy’s departure and for a veteran Chicago police officer to be appointed in the position.

When asked what the candidates would bring to the 37th ward that doesn’t currently exist, Stamps says she would bring, “un-bought, un-bossed, un-bowed, visionary leadership,” as well as personal accountability.

Duncan said he would work with each commander of the 11th, 15th and 25th districts to develop a “plan for safety” to “keep our community clean and safe.”

Brown-Miller said that members of the community have already benefited from some of the programs, including coat drives and assorted resources she’s championed in the past ,even if residents are unaware of her input. She added, “[I’m like] air, you may not see it, but you know air is there.”

However, while the candidates successfully navigated the forum’s challenging questions with answers that seemed at times thoughtful and at other times maddeningly vague, each candidate committed a gaffe that reverberated throughout the auditorium.

For Stamps, it was her answer to whether a pharmacy that sells legal, medical marijuana should be opened in the 37th ward.

“Absolutely not. There isn’t even a Walgreens for our seniors in the ward,” she said.
When the audience refuted her assertion with chants of “there’s a Walgreens on Cicero and North Ave!” Stamps immediately retracted her statement saying that she meant there were not many Walgreens that were within walking distance of her neighbors who are seniors.

Duncan, when asked how he would pay for his communal pet projects if elected, said that all options of obtaining revenues would be considered and that he would “take it from you guys if I have to,” as he gestured toward the audience.

The crowd was unsurprisingly unhappy with this option and Duncan walked it back, suggesting that he was only being facetious.

On a question of whether the candidates supported “right-to-work”
initiatives in the 37th ward, Brown-Miller was visibly unclear about the question and said that although she wasn’t sure what “right-to-work” meant, if elected, she would surely become well versed on all issues that she doesn’t understand.

Near the end of the event, a question was posed about whether the candidates would be willing to part with the mayor and City Council if their constituents would be negatively affected by a specific legislation that both parties supported.

This question was clearly inspired by a recent study conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago, which found that, since he took office in 2011, Ald. Mitts has voted with Mayor Emanuel 97 percent of the time.

Each candidate stated emphatically that he or she would not be a “rubber stamp” and that they would always consider the interest of their constituents as their most important priority.

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