The 40th Ward is “under attack” by people who “think differently” from the people of this ward, 36-year incumbent alderman Pat O’Connor said at the March 18 Amundsen High School League of Women Voters of Chicago forum in preparation for the April 2 runoff election in which he is opposed by the Democratic Socialist candidate Andre Vasquez.
Some people “say things,” he added in his opening remarks, referring to Vasquez’s history as a “battle rapper” (ending “about eight years ago”) whose lyrics became an important focus of the O’Connor counter-message as the evening ran on. (It is presented in alarming detail on the “Truth about Andre” site.)
Vasquez, 39, apologized for the offensive lyrics and said he would continue to do so, noting his age at the time (from his days at Lane Tech in the mid-’90s — by his count “more than 1,000 battles,” only seven losses — to 2011 or so) as partial explanation but also taking offense and marveling at O’Connor’s using the words in a public forum. His audience in the packed auditorium burst into laughter at this.
Also in his opening remarks, O’Connor touched on the main portion of his theme arguments, his achievements as an alderman, by citing the $28 million he (“we”) had gotten for this high school in the heart of the ward.
Vasquez, on the other hand, first runner-up in the crowded Feb. 26 primary election, as the son of immigrants (from Guatemala), married father of two, now an AT&T field manager after a relatively short career as entrepreneur and other jobs leading to his present position.
He was to feature during the forum his background as immigrant son, born in the U.S., and his wife and children as motivation for running for office and serving “the community” — a term he was to use frequently in this forum as focus for his future efforts.
Early on, he announced his eagerness to promote “affordable housing,” even to the point of using rent control to achieve it. He was to embrace other phrases and policies of standard “progressive” usage and goals. His campaign is endorsed by Democrat Socialists, of which he is a member.
O’Connor on the other hand spoke repeatedly of working for the same goals systematically, using means at hand in a city and state where the leaning is palpably leftward and government stands ready — to a fault, some say — to meet citizen needs.
Vasquez called for frequent town hall meetings, wants TIF money to go to schools, not to a mayor’s “slush fund.” Applause at this from a supporter brought immediate reminder by the alert and businesslike League of Women Voters chair that applause was to be held to the end. She further noted that such applause reflected badly on the candidate applauded.
On zoning changes, for instance, as a community-outreach example, O’Connor said all changes are decided with “the advice and consent” of residents. Vasquez replied that “the community” should decide such matters, implying that such is not currently the case and (apparently) that there was need for a sort of regular plebiscite (popular vote) to decide even small issues. As it is, he said, the Chicago “political system” is “not fair.”
Vasquez declared himself opposed to giving money to the proposed new Police Academy — first responders training academy, O’Connor called it, for firefighters and paramedics in addition to police. He declared opposition also to the Lincoln Yards development, also not a 40th Ward matter, instead wanting such funds to be “invested in neighborhoods,” rather than used to support “administrative bloat.” He sprinkled his commentary with such blanket analyses and accusations, O’Connor in each case offering at least plausible rebuttal. This was the last mention of bloat, however, Vasquez perhaps realizing it smacked more of slogan than argument.
Vasquez furthermore was opposed to “aldermanic prerogative” — which oddly enough reduces power of the citywide body in favor of the local. (Oddly in that his predilection for “community” is more likely to signal preference for locally based governance than citywide, in effect giving more “power to the people,” to use a populist battle cry of the ’60s that once inspired activists throughout the nation.)
He argued that wards are not “fifedoms,” meaning fiefdoms, and added that as alderman he would “speak out” against other city council members who he thought abused their authority. (Ever in protest mode, coming across as a scrappy, if genial, fellow.)
Discussing water testing, O’Connor detailed the numbers of tests sent to building owners and the numbers returned with results, arguing that the city was paying for such testing, if not doing it for owners.
He further objected to Vasquez’s making blanket statements and citing figures without telling where he got the figures. It’s a basic requirement learned in any debate class, he said: you have to give your sources.
To which Vasquez replied that since his parents were repeatedly “priced out” of a neighborhood and having to move every two years, he had attended as many as four schools in eight years and had never been in a debate class. He said nothing about the need to source data.
On the importance of recycling, he again brought up his two children, saying it was in part for their future that he promoted recycling. As alderman he would offer “help to the community” in this and “would advocate with landlords,” presumably recalcitrant ones, sounding a warning of sorts from a community organizer, such as he was at one time, according to his campaign web site.
“We need to do this,” he said.
Asked about LGBTQ issues, Vasquez bemoaned their plight in search for “meaningful lives,” receiving some forbidden applause again. These are people, he said, who “feel sad to be left out” of the greater society.
Not so, said O’Connor. “I work with them all the time. They are not sad but happy and energetic, involved. Gays are not unhappy in this ward, including my three lesbian daughters. We celebrate that, as in the recent wedding of one to her wife. I celebrate diversity, I live it every day.”
About the racial divide and how make blacks feel at home, Vasquez offered a “little history lesson” about segregation and discrimination, then listed percentages of racial and ethnic groups in the ward, the least of which was 16 per cent black and concluding there was “room for improving that.”
As for availability to the community, O’Connor pointed to his being at his office every Monday night.
V: He should be out “in the community,” said Vasquez, and not expect people to come to him, should have regular meetings with groups “on the ground.”
On charter schools, O’Connor said he supports good schools, public or otherwise, called it “a canard” that TIF takes money from schools, as Vasquez had said earlier.
Vasquez said the recently opened Waldorf school — in a major public school building that had been empty for many months — was an improvement. But for whom? he asked. For those who could afford it, he said, adding that in general, resources are taken away from public schools.
He did not connect this with charter (public) schools or Waldorf, a private school that provided a much needed market for a major school property, in effect adding to resources for public schools.
He also called for “small farmers’ markets . . . have a committee established” to achieve that.
In final comments, Vasquez, saying, “I’d better stand up,” half way thru his closing three minutes, criticized O’Connor for his support 30-plus years ago for the Vrdolyak 29, a mostly white bloc of aldermen who opposed Mayor Harold Washington during Washington’s first term.
“He knows nothing about the timeframe,” O’Connor told the Sun-Times after this forum. “When Harold Washington was re-elected he put me into a leadership position . . . Mayor Washington had dinner at my house. [Vasquez] comes from a time where if you disagree you have to hate one another — I come from a time where you can disagree but you can be friends, you can still have a dialogue and what’s what we had back then.”