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2nd Ward candidates face off

Submitted on 4/10/2007

Story by Brian Matos

Editor’s note:Bob Fioretti is the winner See video Candidates’ Forum of Candidates’ Forum

By Brian Matos

The candidates running for 2nd Ward alderman traded accusations during a two-hour forum April 9 as they discussed crime, schools and the ever-growing development in the South Loop. It’s expected to be their last joint public appearance before the April 17 runoff.

Incumbent Madeline L. Haithcock spent a good part of the evening defending her 14-year record in office as challenger Bob Fioretti accused her of being out of touch with her residents.

Fioretti criticized the alderman for accepting campaign contributions from real estate developers. If elected, he pledged to introduce an ordinance to stop what he called the system of “pay-to-play” politics.

The alderman highlighted the positive changes she’s seen in the ward since 1993, when Mayor Daley appointed her.

“This area used to be desolate,” she said. Haithcock took credit for helping revitalize the South Loop, naming several businesses that have opened in the area, including Target, Jewel and Walgreen’s.

Fioretti also criticized Haithcock’s handling of crime, citing a recent drug bust of an open-air market outside a local school. He also said she is not doing enough for schools.

The alderman responded that she is doing as much as she can with local pastors, business leaders, principals and police commanders. She also defended her work with the ward’s schools, saying there are now more computers in the classroom thanks to money from developers.

Before the forum, sponsored by the Greater South Loop Association, Printers Row Presidents and Columbia College’s Journalism Department, Fioretti spent about half an hour shaking hands with the nearly 300 people who gathered at Soka Gakkai Chicago, a Buddhist temple at 1455 S. Wabash Ave.

Fioretti, a lawyer, finished first in the Feb. 27th primary, winning 28 percent of the vote. Haithcock, who finished second with 21 percent, arrived just a few minutes before the debate, stopping to chat with some in the audience.

As they waited for the event to begin, a group of residents living in an apartment building at 1250 S. State St. expressed concern about development.

“The construction across the street from us goes well into the night,” said Lee Benish. “We complain, but no one listens.”

“Where is my alderman?” asked Mike Casey, a retired Marine and resident of the same building. “No one I know has seen her or talked to her in a long time, and she doesn’t get back to any of us.”

“Where are the stoplights?” asked Kathy Benish. “It’s dangerous on many of our streets.”

Others in the audience said the alderman has helped them, and several times during the forum they shouted out their support for Haithcock. Two of the unsuccessful primary candidates – Kenny Johnson and David Askew – attended. Johnson has endorsed Fioretti, while Askew is backing the alderman.

The issue of development came up several times during the evening, and it underscored some of the dramatic differences between the two candidates.

The alderman called the Near South Loop Plan, which seeks to limit the height of new developments, “suggestions to go by, not written in stone.” Fioretti pledged that he would stick by the plan, which was created by a group of organizations, and not allow any development that violated it.

The issue of accessibility also came up, with Fioretti saying the alderman had finally accepted his idea of Neighborhood Advisory Councils. Haithcock replied the idea to meet regularly with the constituents of the 2nd Ward came from David Askew, one of her former competitors now helping her campaign.

on the accessibility issue in his April 9 story.

Fioretti said the alderman kept residents in the dark over a proposed 80-story tower to be built at 9th Street and Wabash Avenue, saying she promised to organize a community meeting then failed to do so.

Haithcock responded: “The building has not been approved yet. A meeting will take place at the appropriate time.”

The alderman said she was surprised to hear that constituents were unhappy. “My office will be more accountable than ever in the next four years,” she said.

The two also disagreed about parking and traffic in the growing South Loop. Haithcock said she has done as much as she can to ease congestion by ordering of various intersections. Fioretti replied that anyone who walks the neighborhood knows where the problems are and can get them fixed. He pointed to several intersections where problems are apparent, including speeding by vehicles coming off the Congress Parkway.

In his closing remarks, Fioretti expressed outrage that construction work in the South Loop was being done by people living outside the ward.

“I go by sites, and see Indiana license plates,” said Fioretti. “I talk to people driving four and a half hours to work on these sites. Those are jobs that belong to people in the ward.”

Haithcock pledged she would continue to help make the ward a better place.

After the debate, John McGuire, 72, said he believes it’s time for a change.

“I’ve voted for Haithcock in the past, but there weren’t many good alternatives,” McGuire said. “I just don’t feel as safe as I should.”

UIC student Butler Adams, 26, said he didn’t get much out of the debate.

“They both skirted the questions,” Adams said. “I was surprised to hear Haithcock say that the South Loop plan was just a suggestion.”

Haithcock said she was pleased with the forum. “I wanted to stay above the negative, and I think I did that,” said Haithcock.

Fioretti, however, said he wished there had been more of these events, noting that he had challenged the alderman to 12 debates. “I wish she would come out and talk about the issues more often.”

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