The first candidate forum for 1st Ward Alderman candidates at Wicker Park Lutheran Church was marked by intense debate, attacks on the record of incumbent Ald. Joe Moreno and several dramatic moments—none more dramatic than candidate Ronda Locke pulling the microphone away from Moreno after he exceeded the allotted time to answer a question.
Boos, Cheers From Raucous Crowd
That moment, and several others in the Jan. 7 debate, led the lively crowd to cheers and boos, with members of the audience calling for moderator Alisa Hauser to cut off the microphone when Moreno exceeded his time. Locke was greeted with boos the next time she spoke, while Moreno announced he would never cut off debate. Locke said she misunderstood the moderator’s gesture when she moved the microphone away from Moreno.
In another crowd-pleasing moment, Moreno started his answer to a question about the needs of the Latino population in the 1st Ward by speaking Spanish. Moreno said he was a Spanish speaker and that his heritage was Mexican. Moreno was the only candidate to claim fluency in Spanish. He chided candidate Andrew Hamilton for his promise to learn Spanish after he was elected, saying that an aldermanic candidate in the 1st Ward should already be conversant in the language.
The incumbent appeared to have the strongest support among the crowd, and it was evident that each of the challengers saw him as their toughest competitor. After the debate, Locke wrote to LoganSquarist, “I was able to share some of the facts on the incumbent’s record that are very concerning to me and to the ward.”
Education, Crime, Development Among Debate Topics
The candidates faced seven questions, from a broad query on the most pressing problem in the ward to specific questions about transit-oriented development, bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue and ways to improve safety and fight crime.
Locke and another challenger, Anne Shaw, each took opportunities to criticize Moreno’s record on several issues. Shaw criticized Moreno for calling the closing of two police stations in the 1st Ward his “proudest moment” as an alderman. Shaw, who has the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Chicago Police Sergeants Association, called police station closings “a tragedy” and said, referring to lower crime statistics, “We know those numbers aren’t real.” Shaw called for the immediate hiring of 1,000 new police officers to improve public safety, which she said could be paid for by reducing overtime for current officers.
Locke, a former staffer for Moreno, led off her criticisms of the incumbent with the charge that he “was not a full-time alderman,” was absent from committee meetings and was unresponsive. She also criticized transit-oriented development (TOD), a type of development that allows for higher density with fewer parking spaces near train stops; Locke said development should “fit the community” and only take place with community approval. She also hit Moreno on public safety, saying that there aren’t enough police officers employed in the 1st Ward.
Hamilton avoided criticism of Moreno on several occasions, including his answer about the Latino community, in which he praised Moreno and other aldermen for supporting a raise in the minimum wage. Hamilton said employment opportunities were the biggest challenge for the Latino community. He also stated he would not accept donations from anyone with business that might come before the city council, a sentiment echoed by Shaw.
Candidates Hazy On Bike Lanes, Rahm Re-Election
Cyclists in Logan Square have good reason to be alarmed after Wednesday’s debate, as none of the candidates appeared ready to answer a question about dedicated bike lanes in the neighborhood. The candidates were asked if they would support a dedicated bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue between Western and Ashland avenues, even if it meant the loss of parking along that corridor.
Moreno, who answered last on the question, ripped the other candidates for calling it a “tough decision,” saying, “When you’re alderman, you have to make tough decisions.” However, he did not offer an answer himself, instead mentioning the Divvy program, describing his wife’s dislike of cyclists and criticizing “cyclists that aren’t obeying the law.” The rest of the candidates said they’d need to confer with experts on traffic and city planning.
Most candidates suggested adding a dedicated bike lane to other streets as a workaround without acknowledging the fact that cyclists, like drivers, use Milwaukee Avenue as a direct line to downtown. None of the candidates addressed the unlikelihood that cyclists would use bike lanes on north-south or east-west streets rather than the direct diagonal route.
Only one candidate, Locke, had a straight answer when the candidates were asked whether they’d like to see Mayor Rahm Emanuel re-elected. Locke said no and called for new leadership, citing a litany of issues. Moreno said he had not endorsed the mayor and would consult with an endorsement committee before making a decision. Shaw said Emanuel’s policies “really critically hurt the 1st Ward” and she is “leaning towards one of the challengers,” but did not openly oppose Emanuel’s re-election. And Hamilton said he likes Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s vision and his plan for education, but he also did not specifically say he was opposed to Emanuel.
The candidates will debate again at 7 pm on Jan. 29 at Wells High School, located at 936 N. Ashland Ave.