January 22, 2015

38th Ward Aldermanic Forum Recap includes Willie Wilson

By Mark Wachtler

January 22, 2015. Chicago (ONN) The first of two 38th Ward Aldermanic forums was held last night at St. Pascal school on the northwest side. With seven candidates vying for an open City Council seat, one would think it would make for an exciting event. But unfortunately, the highlight of the night was when Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson entered the school gymnasium, followed by 20 of his well-dressed entourage and a host of news cameras. Below is a recap of the debate.

Chicago Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, seen here at a separate event, stopped by the 38th Ward Aldermanic Forum last night. Image courtesy of Wendell Hutson/Examiner.

It was a packed house at St. Pascal school on Irving Park last night. So much so, that as the candidates forum began, voters were still arriving and being forced to scour the gym for more folding chairs. A veteran of many past Aldermanic debates, last night’s attendance seemed impressive. All seven candidates for 38th Ward Alderman were also in attendance.

Meet the candidates

The opening introduction by candidates is always a prime opportunity to get a feel for each individual. Some read from a script. Some wing it with success. While others wing it and crash and burn. Last night’s forum saw a little of each. Seated along a long table facing the audience, the candidates were positioned in the same order they appear on the ballot - Jerry Paszek, Tom Caravette, Heather Sattler, Nicholas Sposato, Michael Duda, Carmen Hernandez, and Belinda Cadiz.

Jerry Paszek introduced himself first. He was impeccably dressed in a business suit, spoke loud and clear and had confidence and passion. “I believe in democracy,” Paszek answered when asked why he was running for Alderman, “and to give the 38th Ward a choice and a voice.” Tom Caravette, incumbent Alderman Tim Cullerton’s run-off opponent in 2011, was next. He touted how he grew up in the Ward and how the city and Ward need to go in, “a new direction.” “There’s a lack of ethics at City Hall,” he concluded his first-round address.

Heather Sattler went next. She told the audience how she also grew up in the area and graduated from OLV grade school. She reminded them that she’s been a teacher of every level of education from preschool to graduate school. And she concluded by recounting her longtime efforts to help neighborhood adolescent girls with community programs. Current 36th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato followed and probably tied Jerry Paszek for the ‘best dressed candidate’ award.

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Sposato told voters that he was a lifelong resident of the area. And his next sentence provided the first controversy of the evening. Contrary to what every news outlet in Chicago has reported over the  past year, Alderman Sposato claimed last night that he didn’t sell his house in the 36th Ward and move into the neighboring 38th Ward so he could keep his City Council seat. Instead, he insisted he did so because of a mobility need and a problem with the stairs at his old house.

Michael Duda was next. Who you ask? It seems like every reporter in Chicago including us at the Illinois Herald have been asking, ‘Who’s Michael Duda?’ Well, Mr. Duda stole the show last night and provided most of the memorable statements. Dressed casually and acting as if he were comfortably sitting on his couch at home, Michael Duda spoke and acted like you and me. And that made him stand out against the other more rehearsed candidates. Also a lifelong area resident, Duda capped his introduction by somberly telling a nodding crowd, “There’s a lack of trust in politicians these days. They just don’t get it.” He finished by saying, “People are hurting. They need help.”

Carmen Hernandez followed and tied Duda for the title of ‘most relaxed candidate’. Hernandez repeatedly spoke from the position of a father with five sons. He spoke often and fondly of his wife and kids and even garnered one of the biggest laughs of the night when he said he probably wouldn’t keep the Alderman’s office open seven days a week. “My wife would probably divorce me,” he said to laughs and applause.

Last but not least was Belinda Cadiz. She looked great. But the first-time candidate was obviously nervous. Some of the candidates were too far from the microphone, others paused for too long in between thoughts and some even had a slight tremble in their nervous voices. The warm and likable Cadiz exhibited all three characteristics. But she somehow capitalized on it when her nerves suddenly vanished and she looked out at the large audience and sincerely admitted, “It’s hard for a humble woman like me to run for an office like this.”

Small business and vacant storefronts

The next round asked candidates to comment on “commercial corridors in decline” in the 38th Ward. That’s a polite way of asking about all the vacant stores and businesses throughout much of the Ward, especially on the eastern end.

Jerry Paszek went first, which turned out to be a gift from Chicago’s election Gods. Because four of the following six candidates did little more than say, “I agree with Jerry.” What did Jerry say that was so inspiring and spot-on? The three-time Aldermanic candidate and longtime police officer said that we need to invest in the Ward’s infrastructure, and that would lure the small businesses back to the area.

Heather Sattler broke with all the other candidates, as well as the forum moderator Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, by saying she didn’t agree with the premise of the question. She insisted that she’s seen the Alderman’s numbers and accomplishments in luring new businesses to the Ward. According to Sattler, business has been getting better for the past few years.

Mike ‘tell it like it is’ Duda won this round with his answer. In this author’s opinion, his response hit the hushed-up and long overdue nail right on the head. While south side communities are bringing the city to its knees because half-empty and vacant schools are being closed in their neighborhoods, the city’s media blacks out any mention of the fact that the northwest side schools are operating at 150% capacity. Trailers have replaced schools and kids are regularly hit and killed by trains at Taft High School because of the unprecedented congestion of people, cars, kids, busses and trains.

According to Mike Duda, fixing the Ward’s infrastructure won’t help as long as incoming families have to send their children to Steinmetz or Forman High Schools. “You can’t get into Taft or Lane,” he told the gathered voters, “We need a new High School. Everything else comes along with it.”

Carmen Hernandez was next and true to form, had the audience laughing with his remarks. After admitting that he believed the current Alderman has done a good job handling the Ward, Hernandez suggested we need real improvements to lure new businesses. “We don’t need more flower boxes in front of vacant stores,” he critically said to a brief round of audience applause.

Belinda Cadiz followed and as relaxed as Carmen Hernandez had just been, that’s how nervous Belinda was. She agreed that there were too many empty businesses in the Ward and took the opportunity to remind the audience that her platform was one hundred percent “small business”. She took a page out of the professional politicians’ handbook and told heartfelt stories of walking the Ward and talking to the area’s small business owners personally, including mentioning some of them by name. Apparently, what Cadiz lacks on the debate stage, she makes up for in the precincts. This author’s noticed that many of those small businesses in the Ward she mentioned are already displaying Belinda Cadiz signs in their store windows.

Budgets, communication and crime

The next question asked about the city’s just-passed $7.3 billion budget. Once again, the candidates echoed each others’ statements with the words “I agree with Jerry” uttered again. Most of the candidates said they would have voted for the budget, including Alderman Sposato who confirmed that he did vote in favor of it. But they all universally agreed that they opposed any more borrowing from our children to pay for today. A few even cited the unusually high interest rates Chicago taxpayers always pay investors and Wall Street banks for the privilege of borrowing their money.

The next question asked candidates how they would communicate with the residents of the Ward if elected. Paszek and Caravette said they would be full time Aldermen and have an open door for constituents. Sattler gave the most detailed answer, citing social media and suggestions for Ward events. Alderman Sposato touted his Ward’s town hall-style gatherings and the fact that his office is open 50-60 hours a week. But Duda captured the audience’s imagination when he promised, “If elected, I will go door to door and introduce myself to every single resident of the Ward.” He then seemed to take a well-aimed shot at Sposato when he told the crowd, “Trust has been lost in the 36th Ward as well as the 38th.”

Meet Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson

It was at this moment in the 38th Ward Candidates Forum that an army of expensively dress black politicians stopped everything by walking into the 100% white and Hispanic filled gymnasium. There, they filed along the back wall until most of the 20-strong parade of political power players had taken a position in the back as the Aldermanic candidates answered a question about less crime and more police.

In the middle of the crowd that reminded this author of the old Harold Washington days stood Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson. They all waited quietly and respectfully until a few minutes later when the entire audience spun around in their chairs at the loud voice of a Wilson supporter saying, “You’re kicking me out because I’m holding a sign?”

To everyone’s credit, the Wilson team was as quiet and patient as could be, especially once the accompanying TV news cameras left. And the forum moderators and host – the Chicago Tribune and the Portage Park Neighborhood Association – were very accommodating to everyone. Four years ago at the 38th Ward candidates forum, the Miguel del Valle campaign stopped by. So, the whole thing probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.

This author has always wondered why debate sponsors don’t give the Mayoral candidates a 60-second opportunity to say hi to the audience and introduce themselves in between questions. Most voters never get the opportunity to meet Mayoral candidates in person. And if they were afforded the opportunity, both the voters and candidates would benefit and it might even encourage attendance and participation at these events in the future.

After patiently waiting over an hour for the forum to end, Mr. Wilson finally took the opportunity to shake hands with 38th Ward voters. But not before this author took a walk with him out in the school halls for a few minutes. I discovered what brought him to the candidates forum last night. Apparently, it’s a tradition Harold Washington started in 1983, by traveling across the entire city to campaign at St. Pascal church and the 38th Ward candidates forum.

Divvy bikes, bike lanes, new high school, flowers, and beautification

This author won’t lie. After an hour and a half of boring questions like “Do you think the 38th Ward is a hidden jewel?” and the candidates actually arguing over how beautiful and how hidden it is, this reporter got bored. Apparently, I wasn’t alone as evidenced by a post from a fellow forum attendee who posted his reaction on Facebook’s 38th Ward Connection page.

“Tonight’s forum definitely took place. There were 7 candidates there and they all said some stuff,” he posted, reiterating the same experience, “It’s hard to evaluate beyond that because most of the questions were milquetoast and garnered general vague agreement. Even the issues which were theoretically controversial didn't seem to be very controversial given the way the questions tended to be answered.”

The group member and forum attendee gave the debate victory to candidate Carmen Hernandez. He posted, “Carmen, you were the only one who positively differentiated yourself at times by being more brash and bold than the others. If I were you I’d stick with that.” While we at the Illinois Herald won’t declare a winner of last night’s 38th Ward candidates forum, we can agree that Carmen Hernandez did exceptionally well.

Here’s how your author summed up his immediate impression after the event last night in the same Facebook group, “Jerry was sharp, but slightly out of touch with the angry voters. Tom was unpolished and too pro-education, but in line with the feelings of residents. Heather thinks everything is so wonderful, nothing will change. Sposato sounded great, but literally sounded like he was running for 36th Ward Alderman. Duda, if not for his unprofessional inexperienced approach, would be our next Alderman. Carmen was really funny and likeable. And Belinda looked good but sounded really nervous. Just my quick take on the night.”



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