Candidates running for the 49th Ward squared off during a candidate forum Feb. 23 at Loyola’s Crown Center.
Candidates for 49th Ward Alderperson Square Off in Forum at Loyola
In a packed auditorium on Tuesday night, candidates for the 49th Ward aldermanic election pitched their ideas for how to improve the neighborhood during a candidate forum run by the League of Women Voters of Chicago.
The forum took place in Loyola’s Crown Center Auditorium Feb. 21 and was sponsored by Loyola and other community organizations. The event featured incumbent alderwoman Maria Hadden and challengers William “Bill” Morton and Belia Rodriguez.
Questions were gathered by moderator Jeannee Turner of the League of Women Voters from a pool of predetermined topics, audience index cards and questions submitted in advance during registration. Topics included housing, crime, climate change, as well as park maintenance.
Before the aldermanic candidates took the stage, six candidates running for the 24th Police District Council in Rogers Park spoke briefly to the audience. This is the first year the position will be on the ballot, The Phoenix previously reported.
Affordable Housing and Commercial Development
Affordable housing was one of the main topics discussed during the forum, with special attention paid to the affordable housing development planned for West Howard Street.
Candidates offered a range of solutions. Hadden supports the 110-unit proposal for below-market housing on the corner of West Howard and North Paulina Streets, warning of Rogers Park’s gentrification. She said she wants housing, at all income levels, to maintain the area’s economic diversity.
“I talk to people every day who are having to leave the 49th Ward because they can’t afford their rent anymore,” Hadden said during the forum. “There’s a lot of building rehab that’s eliminating our naturally occurring affordable housing.”
Morton said issues between tenants and landlords are the biggest threat to housing. He said people in the neighborhood have come to him as president of the Rogers Park Chamber of Commerce (RPCC) with concerns about being evicted unfairly.
However, Morton said he opposed the 110-unit building, claiming it was being built in a violent area and would remove a post office. He said affordable housing should be less concentrated on West Howard Street and be more evenly distributed.
Rodriguez said the ward needs to increase the supply of available units to keep housing prices low. She said without the supply, landlords will refurbish current units and increase rent. She is also opposed to the 110-unit building for its location in an unsafe part of West Howard Street.
Morton and Hadden agreed to support the Bring Chicago Home ordinance, a tax on property sales over $1 million to provide funding for combatting homelessness, while Rodriguez did not.
Touhy Park, the location of an unhoused encampment that closed the park, was also brought up in the forum. Both Morton and Rodriguez expressed dissatisfaction with the way it was handled.
“If I were alderman at the time, I wouldn’t have let it happen,” Morton said during the forum. “I would have nipped it in the bud. I would have found the first couple people housing so it wouldn’t become a thing.”
Rodriguez said while the number of residents in Touhy Park is currently down, she expects it to increase when the weather gets warmer.
“In winter, it goes down,” Rodriguez said. “Come warm weather, they will come back. We need to have a definitive plan that houses people.”
This claim was disputed by the Hadden campaign in a tweet during the forum which said tents are abandoned, and park programming will be restored in the spring. There are still two unhoused residents of Touhy Park, The Phoenix reported.
Candidates were also asked about expanding Chicago’s Additional Dwelling Ordinance, allowing for existing houses to be divided into smaller units, city-wide. Hadden and Rodrigez both said they supported expanding the ordinance, while Morton said he would handle it on an individual case by case basis.
As for development, all three candidates talked about the need to fill empty storefronts and bring businesses and shoppers back to Rogers Park, with a special focus on West Howard Street.
Hadden spoke about the need to develop without displacing residents. She also spoke about the need for affordable commercial lots, something that will be offered on the ground floor of the 110-unit building on West Howard Street.
“We struggle with finding affordable quality commercial spaces for a lot of our entrepreneurs,” Hadden said. “It’s our number one request.”
Rodriguez said she plans on tracking funding and addressing safety to entice shoppers to the area. She said good relationships with property owners can help them align with the goals of the community and create new job opportunities.
Morton said his focus is on attracting businesses from outside the neighborhood to employ Rogers Park residents. He said he introduced the idea of job fairs to the RPCC, which are now held every two weeks.
Crime and Public Safety
As one of the top concerns in the ward, crime came up at several points throughout the night. From causes to enforcement, each candidate had their own idea of how to confront the issue.
Hadden said she has worked with Communities Partnering 4 Peace, a violence prevention and community outreach program, by giving them grants and helping them apply for state funding applications. She was also a co-sponsor for Empowering Communities for Public Safety, the ordinance which implemented the new Police District Councils position.
Rodriguez said she would prioritize locals, businesses and their needs.
“I would start with a taskforce with communication with the business community, with the resident community and certainly the Chicago Police Department,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of conversations with [Commander Joseph Brennan] to see what we can do to start having an action plan towards that.”
Brennan is the commander of the 24th Police District. Morton said he plans on daily briefings with Brennan, the Chicago Transit Authority and community groups to solve public safety issues.
He said he has a meeting planned with Arne Duncan, founder of Chicago Create Real Economic Destiny, a gun violence prevention organization, along with Angalia Bianca, an author and anti-violence activist, to engage with violence prevention groups.
Morton said he plans on going to the 24th Police District Council’s meetings and consulting with them regularly.
Rodriguez said she also has a meeting booked with Duncan to address local crime. She said she’s already in conversation with the candidates for the 24th Police District Council about building community relationships.
Candidates were unanimous in their support for the Peace Book Ordinance — a youth-led violence prevention proposal — and the Treatment not Trauma Ordinance, which established a non-police mental health response team.
During the forum, candidates were asked a series of yes or no questions about specific policy items. Some issues received unanimous support from the candidates, including plowing the sidewalks, the renaming of Paschen Park to the Pollard Family Park and adding dog-safe areas to existing parks.
When candidates were asked about topics not mentioned during the debate, Morton talked about Chicago’s rat problem in local apartments. In 2022, Chicago ranked as the rattiest city in the country, according to pest control service Orkin.
Rodrigez said she wanted to see more eco-friendly infrastructure such as solar panels and vertical farming. Hadden also spoke about climate change, stating she would make it a priority in her second term and referenced specific projects such as beach repairs and fossil fuel divestment.
The forum provided an opportunity for students and Rogers Park residents to make a final assessment of the candidates before heading to the polls on Feb. 28.
This story was written by Aidan Cahill and Maddie Franz
Featured image by Hunter Minne