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Mayoral, aldermanic candidates discuss Chicago’s future at DePaul Theatre School

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Two mayoral hopefuls and several aldermanic candidates discussed topics ranging from the future of the city to the nuts and bolts of running a ward at The Theatre School Tuesday night, a little over a month away from Election Day.

The event, organized by the DePaul Student Government Association, featured mayoral candidates Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, as well as candidates from the 2nd, 32nd, 43rd and 44th wards. Representatives from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign were scheduled to appear as well, but no one showed up to speak on behalf of him.

Fioretti and Garcia, both running to the left of the mayor, have tried to present themselves as the progressive candidate in the race. Fioretti, however, struck a more conciliatory tone in his comments, acknowledging that their goals line up at the end of the day.

“When we say we’re in competition, we’re really not,” Fioretti said. “Because you know what, we’re here for one purpose, and we’re both running for the same purpose, to make sure that Rahm Emanuel does not occupy the fifth floor come the middle of May. That’s why we’re here today, and that’s why we’re running.”

In running for Chicago’s highest office, Fioretti spoke of his love for the city as well as the values he learned growing up in an ethnic neighborhood on the city’s South Side.

“My values were shaped on the South Side by my working class Italian immigrant father and my Polish-American mother,” he said. “I became a civil rights attorney here in this city, I led the fight to move a progressive agenda in the city council.”

Fioretti, a leader of the progressive caucus on the city council, has been in office since 2007.

“We need a leader that is both tough and fair, and that is why I am asking for your vote,” Fioretti said.

Garcia, on the other hand, said that he is the best candidate to bring communities together, citing his days as a community organizer and coalition-builder.

“I think of all the candidates in the race, I have the longest history of community-building, from being an organizer at the ripe age of 18 through the years many social justice causes, I’ve been a coalition-builder across the Chicago neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “That’s why when I announced my candidacy, within three weeks, I collected 63,000 signatures to put my name on the ballot.”

Garcia is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s floor leader on the board, and he previously served in the city council and in the state legislature. He also has the support of the Chicago Teacher’s Union and its charismatic president Karen Lewis.

“I’m in this race because I am the candidate that can pull people together from all over Chicagoland to put the city on a different course ensuring that there will be greater equity, that people all over the city of Chicago will be treated with respect, that it will be a government that is inclusive and one that will provide a shared prosperity to everyone in the city of Chicago,” Garcia said. “Not just for the one percent, but for the 100 percent.”
Garcia was ran unopposed for re-election on the Cook County Board last November. Fioretti, on the other hand, represents the second ward, which was completely dismantled by his colleagues during the redistricting process.

While the ward Fioretti represents is rooted in the South Loop and Near West Side, the new ward stretches along North Avenue through parts of the Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and Bucktown. Five candidates, Bita Buenrostro, Steve Niketopoulos, Alyx Pattison, Stacy Pfingsten, and Cornell Wilson, appeared, while a sixth, Brian Hopkins, sent a representative in his place.

With such a crowded field, the race will likely go into a runoff, which would occur on April 7.

As for the race in DePaul’s backyard, the 43rd ward, every candidate attended and spoke. While every candidate received a warm welcome, incumbent Ald. Michele Smith stole the show by enthusiastically encouraging young people to get involved with her campaign as well as going into why participating at the city level is important.

“Municipal government is where it’s at in America today. We are all concerned that there’s gridlock in Washington, but where are things happening? Here,” Smith said. “Where’s the place that put in Divvy bikes, bike lanes, full access to public transportation? Chicago.”

Smith is not without her challengers, however. Three candidates, former employee in the Mayor’s Office for Special Events Jen Kramer, businessman Jerry Quandt, attorney Caroline Vickrey, will appear on the ballot, while another candidate, Steve McClellan, is running as a write-in.

Quandt, a DePaul alum, said that his background in business distinguishes him from his competitors.

“One of the key things that I’ll have the ability to do is working with our chamber of commerce at developing our business districts in a new and unique way, not do it in the way our current alderman is doing it with stick trying to take people and litigate them out into doing things,” Quandt said. “I’m in a much better position to actually facilitate bringing more and more consumers to the table.”

Quandt, who describes himself as an independent, also pledged to beholden to no one besides his constituents, while calling Smith a “rubber stamp” for the mayor. In addition to her duties as alderman, Smith serves as Democratic committeewoman for the ward and is supporting the mayor in his re-election bid.

When asked about whether they support the mayor, however, several of the challengers would not give a direct yes or no answer. Quandt said that he wishes the mayor were less political. Caroline Vickrey, who touts her experience in the community dating back 20 years as a member of the Oz Park advisory council and as a member of the Local School Council for Lincoln Elementary, said that she is undecided on the race and will determine her vote after the debates.

Vickrey would also support the creation of a zoning board for the ward to oversee development.

“This is a concept that’s been used before around the city and what it does is improve transparency, improve the process, give a seat at the table to those most affected by development in making those zoning decisions,” Vickrey said.

Development in the ward has been a huge point of discussion throughout the race, with many candidates objecting to the way the Children’s Memorial Hospital site development was handled.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd ward) was also present and spoke, while two candidates for 44th ward alderman, business owner Mark Thomas and red light camera activist Scott Davis came and spoke as well.

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Mayoral, aldermanic candidates discuss Chicago’s future at DePaul Theatre School