Crowded field battles in 45th Ward

By Abdon M. Pallasch Political Reporter/apallasch@suntimes.com Feb 11, 2011

Just about everybody sitting at the dais at the 45th Ward candidate forum at the Copernicus Center on the Northwest Side brings a longer resume to the job than outgoing Ald. Patrick Levar.

Levar is old-school, a former employee of the Clerk of the Court’s office who worked his way up through the ranks.

Most of his seven would-be replacements went to college, some to grad school, then out into the business world. Many of them are focused on bringing business back to the ward.

Don Blair, an economist for Sears Roebuck with a University of Chicago MBA, says he would not wait for the mayor’s administration but would personally recruit businesses to the struggling Milwaukee & Lawrence and “Six Corners” business hubs.

“You benchmark against other successful communities: Edison Park, Andersonville, Logan Square,” he said. “We will attract businesses aggressively. You have to lead. This is what I do.”

Police Lt. John Garrido, a practicing lawyer who ran as a Republican for Cook County Board president, jokes that as soon as he announced his intention to run for alderman, he was transferred to a South Side district.

“That’s Chicago politics for ya,” he said. Garrido said he would fight moving police from the Northwest Side. He said recruiting a Starbucks or a Panera to Milwaukee & Lawrence would be a good start to reviving Jefferson Park.

Marina Faz-Huppert, a lobbyist for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union running with the blessing of Levar and financial backing from Chicago’s unions, worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., while she completed her master’s degree in political management at George Washington University.

“How does that make you qualified for the ward? You’ve only lived in the ward for a year,” one resident shouted to Faz-Huppert at a forum Monday night.

“I walk the ward every single day, and I have been talking to people for a long time about the needs of the community,” she said.

“I live in the ward and I never even hear of you until you were endorsed by Ald. Pat Levar. I’d like to know how you got endorsed by the alderman,” another resident shouted to her.

Faz-Huppert, a Mexican immigrant, explained she got to know the alderman testifying in the City Council against allowing Wal-Mart to open in Chicago without paying workers a living wage

“I represent the people that work at Jewel and Dominicks,” Faz-Huppert said. She also has represented them in Springfield, where she worked for former Senate President Emil Jones.

On the opposite side of the Wal-Mart issue is Michael Fitzgerald Ward, a former commodities trader and chef who spent the last weekend using his campaign fund to hire private snow plows to dig snow out of the ward’s alleys.

Ward said he’s tired of aldermen telling business owners what to pay or restaurant owners that they can’t serve goose liver. Ward would take recycling into his own hands, just as he did with the snow plows.

“I am not going to wait for downtown to do it. I will do it with volunteers if need be. Private companies might be interested in doing this. Let’s take the lead,” he said.

Real estate agent Anna Klocek, a Polish immigrant, is a familiar sight around the ward, driving her trademark white PT Cruiser with her name and real estate business number emblazoned on it.

She is a regular presence at community government meetings and Local School Council meetings, where she challenges officials the same way she promises she will challenge city officials as an alderman.

“You want an example of recycling? I recycled my ‘Anna Klocek for alderman’ signs from the last time I ran four years ago,’ ” Klocek said.

John Arena owns a graphic design company and has been active with the Portage Park Neighborhood Association. He shares Blair’s focus on business recruitment.

“I don’t believe it’s any harder to bring businesses here than anywhere else in the city,” he said. “We need to reduce taxes and fees for first-year businesses, then reduce them for future years.”

Accountant Bruno Bellissimo, working on his master’s degree in public administration at UIC, was an auditor for the city and an official with the City Colleges of Chicago. He also coaches soccer part-time. He agrees with Arena on the need for property tax relief for new businesses.

All seven candidates display a command of the city’s Tax Increment Financing program and all say it needs to be reformed and made more transparent. For an example of what’s wrong with the program, they need look no further than across the street from Copernicus where Levar used TIF money to clear out businesses in hopes of a development that never materialized.

“We don’t want something to happen like what happened across the street here,” said Garrido, who advocates abolishing all TIFs.

“A TIF is a hefty tax hike,” Klocek said.

“I audited every single TIF in the city last year and none of the TIF balances matched. They were off by an average of 28 percent,” said Blair.

TIF districts divert money from the city, Chicago’s public schools, libraries and other taxing districts to be used improving the “blighted area” they are supposed to be fixing, all of the candidates except Bellissimo said.

Arena said the $250 million diverted from the schools every year must be made up for by other taxpayers and he would exempt the schools budget from TIF diversion.

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