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Aldermanic race in the Gold Coast heats up

Submitted on Wed, 02/21/2007 – 23:38.
Story by Eleanor Murray

A high-profile race for control of the 42nd Ward will end this month with an election that may put the second-longest serving alderman in the city out of office.

Incumbent Burton Natarus faces challenger Brendan Reilly; up until recently, the race featured a third candidate, Michael Libert, who bowed out, preferring instead to endorse Reilly.

Libert, a former owner of a Near North Side club, said it was the mutual concerns about the ward he shares with Natarus’ opponent that led him to endorse Reilly.

Libert, 51, had raised only about $15,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the city, and was waiting to secure more funding after finding out whether his nomination would be challenged. Although he is no longer in the running, his name will still appear on the ballot, but any votes for him will not be counted, according to the Chicago Board of Elections.

Natarus, who declined to be interviewed for this story, began his career as a lawyer, first winning his aldermanic seat in 1971. He has sponsored many legislative proposals, including Chicago’s first handgun ordinance in the early 1970’s and the recent ordinance outlawing the use of hand-held cellular phones in moving vehicles.

Natarus has long prided himself on being accessible, according to Neighbors for Natarus, and keeping the ward clean and functional. Recently, he held public forum on issues from mail delivery to panhandlers. If he wins, it would be the 73-year-old Natarus’ tenth consecutive term as alderman who represents some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, including the Loop, River North, the Gold Coast and Streeterville.

Reilly says for all the hype that the 42nd Ward receives, the area is being critically underserved.

The 35-year-old former aide to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan argues that the alderman has “lost touch with priorities” in the 42nd Ward. Reilly also claims that the incumbent’s lack of communication with his constituents is leaving residents out of the loop on major decisions that affect the neighborhood. One example, according to Reilly, is development.

Reilly has made a call for serious reforms, even going so far as to list the residents’ complaints on his web site. On the site, Reilly claims that aldermen focus on “marginal issues” and “have failed to address the issues that impact our daily lives like new development, traffic congestion, scarce neighborhood parking and wasteful government corruption.”

For the residents of the 42nd Ward, these problems are a part of their everyday lives.

Fannie O’Donnell, the associate director of the River North Association, says that some of their largest issues come in the form of everyday problems. The association, which has not endorsed a candidate, receives many calls regarding these issues on a weekly basis from its members, O’Donnell said.

“There are panhandlers everywhere,” she said. “Particularly if you’re walking by State and Kinsey, near Illinois. They’re all over, and although it may not seem like a big deal, we come home to it. It’s a real concern for us.”

O’Donnell says that aggressive panhandlers are becoming more common, on occasion even following residents or screaming at them when they refuse to hand over money.

On top of panhandlers, says O’Donnell, many residents are having to deal with misdelivered, damaged, or delayed mail. In some cases, the mail wasn’t delivered at all. This was particularly common in larger buildings, she said.

“They can’t cope with how fast buildings change down here, and customer service there [at USPS] hasn’t been helpful at all,” O’Donnell said.

City Life Local Politics North Side Public
aldermen elections gold coast natarus reilly

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