Lincoln Park residents crowded the small stage at the St. Vincent DePaul Center last Tuesday for the 43rd ward alderman debate, just weeks before the city election Feb. 24.
Representatives from The Ranch Triangle, Sheffield Neighbors, and the Lincoln Central Association hosted the debate, where remaining candidates Jerry Quandt, Jen Kramer, Caroline Vickrey, and incumbent Michele Smith discussed property taxes, pensions, development projects, and the mayoral election.
Incumbent Michele Smith, a supporter of Rahm Emanuel, gave development projects in Lincoln Park special attention.
The Children’s Memorial development site, where locals have contested the lack of transparency with the project and its intrusion to Lincoln Park, is a “transformational opportunity to change our neighborhood,” Smith said.
According to the Chicago Monitor, the plaintiffs against the project argued that the plans violated zoning rules by building structures too tall for Lincoln Park.
The plaintiffs for the case included the Park West Community Association and the Mid-North Association, of whom candidate Caroline Vickrey is a board member.
“We worked with an open, transparent, thorough process,” Smith said. “The only thing holding up (the development) is this lawsuit.”
The DePaulia recently reported that the lawsuit has been dropped and plans to develop the site have continued.
“If we resort to a lawsuit every time we don’t get what we want, then we won’t get very far in a democracy,” Smith said.
Vickrey marketed her idea to create a community board, comprised of eight neighborhood groups, a representative from the chamber of commerce, a zoning expert, and an architect to “(outline) a master plan for ward.”
The board would, “proactively set up guidelines and goals that we want for our ward as residents,” Vickrey said.
The debate drew attention to residents’ concern for overdevelopment, who some say would diminish the character of Lincoln Park.
Jen Kramer, the former event coordinator for Navy Pier, said, “We love the historic preservation of (Lincoln Park’s) buildings and the way the ward feels and looks.
“When a developer is looking to build, it is important that the people most affected be communicated with before (the plan) even comes to the alderman.”
Candidates also pitched their ideas for the development of the A. Finkl & Co. property that sits on the north branch of the Chicago River between Clybourn and Ashland Avenue.
“You betcha we’re going to have a lot to say about it, it’s right in our backyard,” Smith said.
Demolition of the 112-year-old steel factory will leave 40 acres (almost seven times the size of Children Memorial’s six acres) open to developers, a Crain’s Chicago Business report said.
Smith called the Finkl property “one of the most important development opportunities in Chicago,” but did not specify what would occupy the space.
“We don’t need another strip mall,” Smith said.
Smith, Vickery, and Kramer vaguely supported revamping the river and installing green spaces around it.
Residential development, however, would only make the congested area more chaotic, DePaul alum and businessman, Jerry Quandt, said.
Emphasizing his experience in brand-redevelopment and global business, Quandt supported the preservation of a manufacturing district on the Finkl site.
“I can see what’s happening in the world of micro-craft manufacturing,” Quandt said.
The Finkl property, Quandt said, would provide a hub for a “new age” of manufacturing jobs.
“Spirits, 3D-printing, boutique food prep – all these businesses could spark life into Chicago’s economy,” Quandt said.
Residents questioned Quandt’s experience however, contrasting his four years residency in Lincoln Park compared with Vickery’s positions in neighborhood associations and Kramer’s employment by the city of Chicago.
“I’m no stranger to hard work. I had a 24-hour pager when I worked for City Hall,” Kramer said.
Kramer insisted that her position with the city of Chicago would not give her an unfair advantage in the race, addressing concerns of Chicagoans who are all too familiar with the infamous workings of the “Chicago machine,” benefitting those loyal to party politics with promotions and pay raises.
Residents took notes throughout the debate and even called out retorts to candidates when they avoided answering questions.
When asked about raised property taxes, a strategy to generate revenue for pensions, and that many officials are reluctant to support, Quandt claimed only that the pension system was of vital importance and would be addressed.
“So what’s your answer to the question?” a resident called out.
Based on the atmosphere of the debate and with the election only weeks away, candidates will have to brace themselves for the scrutiny of residents and influential northside neighborhood associations.