Uptown in the News
February 19, 2003
Former League of Women Voters President Carol Maier chaperoned the wild ride that was Monday night's debate between Ald. Helen Shiller (46) and her challenger, Sandra Reed. It was a noisy, back and forth affair full of dramatic yet predictable twists and one surprising bump in the road that threatened to throw everyone off track, if only for a moment.
"Ms. Reed, I have to ask this. Did you see these questions in advance?" Maier asked Reed between the 13th and 14th prepared questions.
"No," Reed said. And the debate rolled on. But after the debate several angry citizens asked Maier why she asked Reed this question and who, if anyone, had told her to do so. Maier seemed flustered, saying that the answers sounded prepared. Perhaps, but the questions were closely related to subjects addressed on Reed's Web site. Reed may have been prepared, but only for the obvious.
Reed appeared more prepared overall; she had succinct opening and closing statements, while Shiller rambled and could not complete her thoughts in the allotted time, even admitting, "I didn't prepare a closing statement."
But Shiller's deficient preparation belied her more grounded command of the facts. Shiller supported her claims with concrete examples, such as the "virtual basket of ideas" model for listening to and respecting all opinions about the Wilson Yard development. And she refuted Reed's accusations with similar precision, challenging Reed to produce a source for her purported low figure of city service requests from Shiller's office. Reed did not name a source.
Also, after Reed chastised Shiller for the high crime rate at the Wilson CTA station — echoing statements in Reed's campaign literature — Shiller quoted police statistics listing the station as safest among red line stops when turnstile hopping is removed as a variable from crime calculations. "It's lowest in robberies, batteries, assaults, thefts, criminal damage, sex crimes and drugs," Shiller said.
But the crowd of more than 500 people cheered louder for Reed. Her message of change and inclusion may have struck a chord. Whether the strings tugged were of the heart or mind is still up for debate.
The players and the game
Between three-minute opening and closing statements, the panel of sponsors asked eight questions, as did the audience. The panel included members of the League of Women Voters, the Organization of the NorthEast, Buena Park Neighbors, other Uptown neighborhood associations and Lerner Newspapers. The faces of the full house reflected the diversity of the ward.
Shiller has been alderman since 1987. Reed, a veteran public school teacher, has been a Democratic Committeewoman for the 46th Ward since 1996.
The Independent Voters of Illinois, who have endorsed the Rev. Paul Jakes over Mayor Richard Daley, have endorsed Shiller. But Daley and Shiller have also cordially exchanged endorsements.
She said / She said
Question one asked how the candidates would build a better working relationship with the police. Shiller lauded the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program, which Reed had helped to establish several years ago as a member of the Truman Square Neighborhood Association. Shiller said that either she or a staff person was "out almost every night" at beat meetings to address community concerns.
Reed called for more community/police sensitivity training, promised to organize anti-crime walks and create jobs, and challenged Shiller to better aid the police in combating neighborhood drug dealing. Question two asked if the candidates supported Ald. Toni Preckwinkle's (4th) proposed 25 percent set-aside for affordable housing in new developments. Reed said building affordable housing is only part of the problem, adding that the selection process has to make these homes available to people in the 46th Ward. She also said that an across-the-board 25 percent set aside could affect the tax base, which funds the schools.
Shiller said she has been discussing affordable housing with Mayor Daley. She said she is confident that money can be found in the city budget to establish a citywide affordable housing plan. Question three asked how the candidates would help to coordinate social services in the ward. Shiller praised the tireless efforts of the many social service providers in the 46th Ward, but again called for a citywide program to best care for needy Chicagoans.
Reed called for a social service task force to check on the conditions of shelters and services and to fight for more support from the rest of the city. She said the 46th Ward has unfairly become a social services "dumping ground" for the entire city.
Questions four and five asked about plans for economic development. Reed said she envisions Uptown as a "downtown for the North Side" with retail stores and an emphasis on pedestrian traffic. Shiller said she expects big things from the Wilson Yard development, including a movie theater or large retail store and a combination of market rate and affordable housing.
Question six asked how the candidates would improve the overall infrastructure of the ward. Reed reiterated her desire to emphasize pedestrian traffic and promised to go after more capital improvement funds.
Shiller said she would continue to improve the ward as she has for 16 years, citing a new sewer system and improvements to street lighting, parks and schools. "We're trying to get money to replace windows for this school right now," Shiller said.
Question seven asked how the candidates would support collaboration between youth groups and public schools. Shiller said she has helped the Park District and Public Schools work out agreements to share facilities.
Reed praised the existing after-school programs but added that she would attempt to provide more programs by raising funds from the business community.
Question eight asked how the candidates would achieve consensus in the diverse ward. Reed said she would host monthly town hall meetings and promised to attend neighborhood meetings "not only at election time, but all the time."
"I take issue with this harping on division," Shiller said. She characterized the polarization of issues as people fighting for their different perspectives.
These differing perspectives were manifest in eight questions from the crowd. The first asked what the candidates would do to help seniors stay in Uptown. Shiller said senior housing has been built and more will be built. She also mentioned the Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze Exemption Program run by the City Assessors, which informs seniors about property tax breaks and related benefits.
Reed agreed with Shiller, praising the Assessors program.
Question 10 asked what the candidates would do to hold city officials accountable for irresponsible spending. Reed noted the recent announcement that more than 600 city jobs may be cut to balance the budget and said she would work hard to avoid repeating such cuts.
Shiller said because she is just one vote she tries to influence decisions of the City Council before they go to a vote. She voted for Daley's budget this year but has been the lone dissenter numerous times.
Question 11 asked if the candidates support gay domestic partnerships. Both do. Reed criticized Shiller for not acting to create a registry similar to that of Oak Park. Such lists can help surviving partners receive insurance benefits, for example.
Shiller responded that she is waiting for the right time and alliance in City Hall to pass a bill with the necessary legal authority to help people.
Question 12 asked if the candidates favor requiring verbatim transcripts of City Council meetings. Reed does.
Shiller said the meetings should be on cable TV.
Question 13 asked what the candidates would do to help the citizens of the ward with childcare needs. Shiller said she is fighting for more funding for nighttime childcare, adding that she helped to change the rules to make nighttime facilities eligible for government money.
Reed agreed that more government funding is necessary but added that she would attempt to tap the business community for additional funding, a theme Reed expands on her campaign Web site.
This is where Maier asked Reed if she had seen the questions in advance.
Question 14 asked about dogs on Montrose Beach. This question was less a campaign issue than it was old business. Shiller said a fence will separate the dogs from the human beachcombers, and she hopes that the migratory bird wing of the 46th Ward will be satisfied with "a section for the birds."
Question 15 asked what the candidates would do to improve the relationship between black youths and the police. Shiller said she goes directly to the district police commander when she learns of a problem. She said she also negotiated to amend the most recent police contract to prevent seniority rules from sending the least experienced officers out together on unfamiliar beats.
Reed said the people of the ward must get behind community policing efforts, and the young people must obey the curfew. "The young people should be home doing their homework," Reed said.
The final question asked where the candidates stand on historic preservation. Both candidates said they value the historic architecture of the community.
Remember to Vote
Like first dates, debates often raise more questions than they answer, but the people of the 46th Ward are going home with one of these ladies on Election Day, Feb. 25. So get to know them quickly.
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