I attended today’s debate sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, and came away extremely impressed by the analyses and viewpoints expressed by Shajan Kuriakose. As usual, Debra Silverstein did not speak to any plans or visions for West Ridge but trotted out the same old “How about that street scape!” in response to questions about ward issues. Zehra Quadri did not attend because of a scheduling conflict.
There were 10 questions, ranging from the candidates’ views on red light cameras to their favorite thing about the 50th Ward. Response time was limited to one minute. I’ve summarized the responses below, with ward issues first.
The biggest issue facing the 50th Ward
For Kuriakose, it’s economic development. He noted that his campaign has already catalogued 68 vacancies on major retailing stretches like Devon, Peterson, and California, and said that there are already 130 more foreclosures in the ward this year than last. He wants to engage businesses and residents in economic planning and development.
Silverstein claimed safety and security are residents’ major concerns as indicated to her in polling. She took credit for attending CAPS meeting and helping with police stings to capture criminals.
How do you see West Ridge changing and how would you manage it?
Kuriakose would grow the economy and attract new businesses. He noted specifically that he would do this with the help of the larger community, noting that without buy-in from residents change would be difficult.
Silverstein discussed how she resurfaced streets, updated parks, and is responsible for the Devon street scape. She also took credit for revitalizing Indian Boundary Park. [The truth is that ward residents had to fight her and work directly with the city to ensure that the park would reflect the community’s vision for it].
Litter on Devon
Kuriakose noted that SSA funds should help but that store owners should keep the areas in front of their stores clean. He added that eliminating vacancies would also help.
Silverstein said that she has worked with her ward superintendent and the Chamber of Commerce to keep the street clean, with crews working once a day to clean trash except in summer, when the street is cleaned in the morning and again in the evening.
Construction on Devon and its effect on business
Kuriakose correctly noted that doing the street scape first while other improvements on Devon have to wait four or five years down the road is an important issue. He said he would move festivals to the park and work to develop something for the neighborhood to tout as a reason for people to come here, whether to shop or to live.
Silverstein hopes the streetscape will bring in new businesses. She also took credit for the sale of vacant commercial property on Touhy and notes that a developer is trying to attract tenants to the still-vacant storefronts. [I’ve been advised by a reader that in fact the sale was in process when Silverstein interfered and made it a court issue. He and I both believe this was just an election stunt on her part. Click here for post and comment.]
Favorite thing about the 50th Ward
Kuriakose likes the diversity and the opportunity that it presents for entrepreneurs from around the world to start their own businesses.
Silverstein likes the diversity and the fact that she’s learned about other cultures and religions.
Kuriakose ruled out a property tax increase except as the very last resort. He could support a casino and expos that would make Chicago a destination city and bring in revenues for the pension funds.
Silverstein would first look to the state for funding, but would also support a city casino.
Red light cameras
Kuriakose questioned whether the issue is safety or making money for the City. He notes that right-angle crashes have lessened, and agreed with Silverstein that rear-end crashes have increased.
Silverstein would investigate yellow light timing.
Workforce development, specifically plans for school funding
Kuriakose would return surplus funds to the schools and create internships for students. He would seek active engagement between schools and the business community.
Silverstein said she co-sponsored the TIF bill that returns surplus funds to schools.
Mimimum Wage and its effect on small business
Kuriakose supports the minimum wage but would like to see some corresponding reduction in the cost of doing business in the city.
Silverstein supports the raise and noted she co-sponsored the bill. [She was one of 21 co-sponsors.]
Closing of mental health clinics
Kuriakose would restore the clinics and work to find funding for patient support and treatment. He noted that since the clinics closed there had been an increase in crime.
Silverstein said that patients were directed to other facilities when the clinics closed if they wanted to continue treatment. She also said she would support a program to help displaced patients.