Incumbent 29th Ward alderman Deborah Graham recently defended her record and responded to various charges lodged by the seven challengers vying for her position. Recently, the race to replace Graham has intensified, with three of the alderman’s biggest threats all hailing from Austin’s Galewood neighborhood.
In early February, the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed attorney Bob Galhotra; last week, the Chicago Tribune endorsed attorney Lawrence Andolino; and attorney and Chicago police officer Chris Taliaferro has gotten much local support from prominent West Side clergymen and Rep. Danny K. Davis.
Among her challengers’ main critiques of Graham’s tenure is that her development priorities have been scattershot, with too much leniency granted to pawn shops and liquor stores. But Graham aggressively countered that argument, touting the millions of dollars spent rehabbing and renovating local parks; her push to bring a Mariano’s Fresh Market to North Avenue; potential Madison Street development; and attempts to make Chicago Avenue an African American business district.
Graham, who has been in office since 2010, also highlighted federal dollars allocated to some of Austin’s main economic arterials, such as North Avenue, Chicago Avenue and Lake Street, under her watch.
Addressing the relationship between the Galewood neighborhood, Graham cited her frequent collaboration with the Austin-Galewood Sustainability group, a community planning initiative she helped launch in 2013.
“We’ve had several opportunities to continue to move the 29th Ward forward by working with various groups along North Avenue to bring in businesses the community wants to see,” she said. “The Austin-Galewood sustainability group will focus on that as we continue to move forward.”
Graham also countered claims among some in the community that she hasn’t been accessible to her constituency. She noted that she holds a community meeting the first Wednesday of each month and that every Monday, except for holidays, is ward night. The meetings are well attended, she said. She also touted her talks on economic development at the neighborhood level.
“We’re organizing meetings on the further north end of the ward, talking to constituents over there, working with Grand Crossing in Galewood, teaming up with them to address Harlem and Grand Avenue,” she said. “Grand is probably the most crucial of streets we’re addressing and we will continue to take a look at that area and work with the Department of Planning and Development to move 29th ward forward.”
Addressing complaints lodged by her opponents that her staff is unprofessional, Graham said that she hasn’t “had a stream of people telling me about the staff, but hearing any concerns we’ll go forward and address them.”
Graham was also careful to qualify her support for an embattled and unpopular Mayor Rahm Emanuel, noting that she hasn’t always agreed with him in the past.
“I have not agreed with all of the mayor’s decisions, especially on school closings,” she said. “I was at every board hearing speaking out against closures, working with teachers. I let the mayor know hot the closings pit the community against [itself].”
The alderman nonetheless said that she’s excited about “what we’ve been able to pull out of the frustration over the school closings,” notably improved receiving schools and educational facilities she’s described as “state of the art.”
When asked about how confident she is of her reelection chances, Graham cited her own electoral history.
“We’ve survived challengers before,” she said. “My first election as alderman, I had nine contenders and didn’t have a runoff. We’re putting in all our effort to avoid a runoff.”