CB Johnson (left) and Corey Dooley (right) are the two candidates challenging Ald. Chris Taliaferro (middle) in the 29th Ward election. | Provided; Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago; Provided

All three candidates on the ballot for the 29th Ward aldermanic seat shared their key priorities for the ward during a forum on Feb. 4.

Incumbent Ald. Chris Taliaferro and community development manager Corey Dooley said economic development, public safety and education are priorities for the ward.

CB Johnson, a longtime community organizer, said he would seek the community’s input to identify the ward’s priorities, adding the last strategic plan in Austin dates to 1995. Later in the forum, Dooley said he was surprised Johnson did not know about the five-year quality-of-life plan created in 2019 by Austin Coming Together.

Housing was among the most discussed topics with questions covering affordable housing, rent controls, home ownership and measures to ensure absentee landlords keep up properties they own.

Taliaferro said he supports laws to control rent prices and will continue to work toward building affordable housing and increasing pathways to home ownership. He also said he supports requiring inspections of properties owned by people outside the community and meeting with owners to ensure they provide decent living conditions.

Dooley said homeownership is the key to wealth, proposing ordinances that allow community members to develop small lots, as well as creating renter councils and capping rent increases to maintain affordable housing. He also said he would push to sanction owners who don’t live in the community and don’t maintain their properties.

Johnson said he would call absentee landlords to the table and teach residents about home ownership and real estate.

Tensions rose when Dooley said he reached out to Taliaferro before announcing his candidacy to the 29th Ward and didn’t get any response.

“For a young man who’s wanting to change the narrative, I would’ve taught that the leader of my ward would’ve at least invested in me and at least called me,” he said.

Taliaferro responded he had not seen or heard Dooley’s name until he announced he was running but apologized for not calling him back.

Another issue where candidates expressed varying opinions was how they would address the opioid overdose crisis. Johnson said for the last 30 years he has worked with the nonprofit Campaign For a Drug Free Westside to prevent substance abuse. But during the pandemic, many people relapsed because they lacked the support they needed while being isolated.

Taliaferro said he co-sponsored a resolution in the Chicago City Council to “start conversations” about opening safe-consumption sites on the West Side, as proposed in the Illinois Legislature by state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford. On Feb. 1, Taliaferro was one of the sponsors of a resolution calling on the Illinois General Assembly to approve legislation to allow community-based organizations and healthcare providers to operate overdose prevention sites.

Dooley said he worked with the West Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force to look into the causes of opioid use. “It is happening because we have untreated trauma,” he said stressing the need for mental health services as a way to reduce drug use.

Lisa Brown Newman, who is not on the Feb. 28 ballot as she did not register as a candidate for the 29th Ward before the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, also participated in Saturday’s forum.

On flyers posted on her Facebook page and pamphlets distributed at the event, she encourages voters to write in her name on the ballot. According to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, write-in candidates are not registered before the board, but voters can write in a candidate’s name “if there is a write-in space for that office” or the option is provided on electronic ballots.

Among other remarks, Newman said one of her priorities is to increase residents’ disposable income. She said she “believes if the police do their job [and] they clean up the streets,” the opioid crisis can be resolved. When asked about her experience working with youth, she said she would like to “spark a movement” encouraging young people “to pull their pants up.”

West Side resident Chris Thomas, founder of the nonprofit YourPassion1st, said the forum was a good opportunity to hear the candidates’ perspectives.

“I really enjoyed the diversity of thinking,” he said. “I appreciate the conversation about these important topics.”