Finish line near in heated 43rd Ward runoff


43rd Ward election results • Michele Smith – 41.7 percent (red) • Caroline Vickrey – 35.8 (blue) • Jen Kramer – 16.7 • Jerry Quandt – 5.9 *Outlined precincts indicate where candidate won more than 50 percent of vote

The runoff campaign for mayor and 18 seats on the city council is near the end as voters go to the polls this Tuesday. In the 43rd Ward, this will mean the end of a bitter and personal campaign between incumbent Ald. Michele Smith and challenger Caroline Vickrey.

Smith attracted several challengers after pushing through a controversial redevelopment plan for the former site of Children’s Memorial Hospital. After falling well short of the 50 percent plus one needed to avoid a runoff, Smith and second-place vote-getter Vickrey have gone head-to-head in one of the hottest races in the city.

With little time left, both candidates are feeling good.

“I’m feeling very excited,” Smith said. “Turnout is great, our voters are coming out, we’re very very excited.”

For Smith, this is her third straight runoff as a candidate, losing in a close race to Vi Daley in 2007 and barely eking out a win against Tim Egan four years ago. Smith has learned much from being in so many close contests.

“Well, you have to work very hard at your job and talk to as many people as possible and hear what they have to say, and talk about how we can move the ward forward together,” Smith said.

The latest poll, released by Aldertrack last week, shows Smith with a 12 point advantage over Vickrey, with the pollsters citing property taxes as a huge concern. Smith has ruled out an increase. The incumbent has also secured the endorsements of Egan as well as Jen Kramer and Jerry Quandt, who finished third and fourth respectively in February’s election. Former 43rd Ward aldermen are divided, with Marty Oberman and Chuck Bernadini backing Smith and Bill Singer and Edwin Eisendrath going with Vickrey.

Vi Daley, a Jen Kramer supporter in the first round, has not officially endorsed either candidate, but sources have said that she is giving advice to Vickrey.

Despite being down in the polls and in the money race, Vickrey is confident heading into Tuesday.

“I feel really good. I’ve been at the library, I’ve been at the bus stops, I’ve been out in the neighborhood, I’ve been knocking on doors and the reception has been tremendous, so I am very encouraged and hopeful,” Vickrey said.

Throughout the race, Smith and her allies have accused organizations that back Vickrey of holding the community back regarding the Children’s redevelopment through lawsuits, while Vickrey accuses the alderman of entangling the process with that of the Lincoln Elementary School annex.

“I represent 58,000 people, and I respect every one of those opinions,” Smith said. “But they often disagree. And so one’s job as alderman is to sort through all that and eventually listen and then make a decision.”

“Unfortunately though, if a group of people disagree with this decision and decide not to abide by the wishes of the majority, well then we end up with where we are today: people very angry, lawsuits being filed, and on a project as important as this, it’s important that we pull together and move on, which a majority of our community has and I think they’re expressing that opinion that we want to go forward, not backward,” Smith said.

While Smith has said that campaigns are meant to be a “vigorous discussion of the issue,” the attacks levied by both sides have grown personal as the runoff has heated up. Smith has accused Vickrey of misclassifying her home in property tax appeals, and Vickrey has suggested that Smith is involved in shady dealings regarding her part-time consulting gig for an arts foundation run by a campaign donor.

Both have said that they want to talk about the important issues, accusing the other of employing smear tactics.

“She’s accused me of property tax fraud, she has repeated over and over and blown out of proportion and mischaracterized my revenue idea, and I don’t appreciate the personal attacks on my family that were baseless and false,” Vickrey said. “But I’m proud of the campaign I’ve run. I have done no negative campaigning, and I’ve talked about issues that are of concern to voters.”

Smith has also accused Vickrey of flip-flopping on many key issues in the race, including whether she will vote to raise property taxes and tax cars that come into the ward. Vickrey hit back hard on these claims.

“They’re just false. She’s just looking for an issue that she can talk about because she’s desperate. I’m not flip-flopping on the issue, I listen to residents,” Vickrey said. “Some people thought that it would reduce traffic and increase public transportation, and some people suggested that it be used for public transportation, and other people thought that it wouldn’t result in the same goal that it was intended to reach.”

“And I’m not pursuing it, but I don’t think that having ideas and listening to input is flip-flopping,” Vickrey said. “I’ve never flip-flopped on my position on pensions. I do not know what Michele is talking about when she says that.”

Smith stands by the attack ads her campaign has aired regarding the Lincoln Park tax, and also the accusation regarding Vickrey’s property taxes.

“What we have said is that if you have a 4,700 square foot luxury single-family home, one has a choice on whether to compare it to three flats for the purpose of getting property tax reductions,” Smith said. “That is a voluntary choice. And we think that the voters ought to know how their alderman deals with her own taxes when getting ready to increase ours.”

Vickrey has said that she “in no way” wants to increase taxes, but has not ruled out an increase as a last resort.

The challenger has questioned Smith for her consulting position with an arts foundation that paid her $72,000 last year. Since the foundation is run by Smith supporters, Vickrey has alleged in previous debates that it could be a way for Smith to circumvent campaign finance laws, something Smith vehemently denies.

“First of all, let me say this, I am shocked that the she continues to press this claim. After all this time, if there had been truth to what she was saying, she could have proven it,” Smith said. “There is none. None. We have the documentation to show.”

“If you’re just going to talk about smear tactics, then what does that say about your campaign?” Smith said. “I’m just hear to talk about the substance of the issues.”

If re-elected, Smith said that she would focus on the city’s financial crisis, improving the ward’s schools, especially Lincoln Park High School, and getting Lincoln Park “on the map” by making it a cultural hub.

For Vickrey, the first thing she would do is set up a meeting with the developer of the Children’s site, the property owner, and the plaintiffs of the lawsuit to attempt a compromise and agreement to move the project forward.

“I’m not going to reopen any process, we’re not going back to square one, I will not be going back to the zoning department, but there is a lawsuit that is on file and until that lawsuit is dismissed and there’s no more appeals, the purchaser is not going to purchase the property until the zoning is in place,” Vickrey said.

Despite the heated nature of the campaign, both have said that should they win, they would be willing to listen to the other.

“We’ll always be reaching out to all of our neighbors, of course Caroline included,” Smith said.

“I will seek her out for advice if she’s willing to give it,” Vickrey said.

The 43rd Ward consists of the majority of Lincoln Park and parts of Old Town and the Gold Coast.