By Micah Maidenberg

February 11, 2011

Ed Smith’s retirement last November means voters in Chicago’s 28th ward, which includes Garfield Park as well as parts of Austin, will head to the polls on February 22 and not see his name on the ballot for the first time in 27 years.

The turnover comes at a serious time for the area. Hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis, the ward is facing troubling issues with struggling schools, crime, and a lack of jobs and affordable housing.

Candidates — those both on the ballot and not — met on Wednesday night at the Legler Public Library to discuss the issues as part of a set of aldermanic forums hosted by the West Side NAACP. Jason Ervin, a longtime aide to Smith, and Mayor Richard Daley’s choice as Smith’s successor, plays the role of the incumbent. He is facing Carmelita Earls, a firefighter of 20 years and bar manager William Siegmund. Two others appeared at the forum, though they are not on the ballot — Carol Johnson, a community activist who touted herself as a write-in candidate; and Michael Stinson, a pastor who was ordered off the ballot for having unpaid parking tickets.

Ervin, with his long experience in the ward, is considered the candidate to beat. He has the support of Smith, local state representatives, and has won the endorsement of unions (SEIU State Council, a sponsor of this site; AFSCME; UNITE HERE), business interests (For A Better Chicago, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce), and the major newspapers.

The forum got under way without Ervin, who arrived late. One of the first questions from the audience concerned education. An elementary school student asked about charter and turn-around schools. All the candidates agreed that schools need to be better, and Siegmund even vowed to donate half his salary to Chicago Public Schools. Speaking directly about the role of charters, Johnson, a CPS volunteer said, “Just because you have a charter school or a turn-around school doesn’t mean you’re getting a quality education.”

The experience of Ervin on issues such as education became apparent when the candidates were asked about Renaissance 2010, a controversial program which attempted to restructure CPS by shuttering low-performing schools and replacing them with charter schools or giving them over to be run by other outside operators. Stinson, referring to it as Renaissance 2020, said it was “an unfunded mandate” from the federal government; Earls said she needed to study the issue more.

Ervin said Stinson was “totally incorrect in his statement” and that the program has had “serious successes” and “serious failures,” noting that it “allowed many schools in this ward to be renovated or newly constructed.” He pointed to Westinghouse High School as a success.

Foreclosures and affordable housing were other major issues of the forum. A recent report by the Woodstock Institute found the rate of foreclosures in the 28th Ward higher than any other area of the city. Earls pointed to predatory lending and promised to hold banks accountable. Stinson said there are 997 foreclosures and 234 boarded-up buildings in the ward. Ervin highlighted the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, which he had voted in favor of at a City Council meeting earlier in the day. Watch his response to the ward’s foreclosure crisis here:

Johnson also offered solutions to the foreclosure crisis. Take a look:

Several questions focused on crime and how police treat neighborhood residents. All candidates agreed with redeploying officers from lower- to higher-crime areas with Siegmund saying, “If you have more crime in one area, it’s common sense that that area would have more police officers.”

Stinson called for an independent police review board because, he said, “People don’t feel safe.” Watch the rest of his response here:

Another issue was jobs. Ervin suggested that one way in which jobs can be brought to the ward was to take advantage of the expansion of O’Hare Airport. He said, “The expansion of the airport, even though there will be some debt involved in doing it, will be beneficial for people that work there, as well as people who actually live in the ward who work at the airport.”

Siegmund said that there’s no reason the 28th Ward shouldn’t be able to attract more jobs and that he would advocate bringing some of the city’s tourist attractions to the ward. Watch:

Earls addressed the law that requires city workers to live in the city. Watch her answer here:

After the forum, Ervin told Progress Illinois that the most important thing the ward needs right now is leadership because “leadership can lead people to action.” Given the issues raised on Wednesday, there’s no question that is indeed the case.

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