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Hate the Parking Meter Rates? Run for Alderman

Angry about meters. Photo by Rossaroni

Two candidates challenging Gene Schulter for 47th Ward alderman cited the city’s privatization of the parking meters as a leading factor in their decision to run for alderman.

Both Ameya Pawar, a 30-year-old independent, and Matt Reichl, a 29-year-old who is seeking endorsement from the Green party, said the privatization of the meters was a mistake; Reichl said he would actually attempt to reverse the private deal.

With the deadline for petition filling for the 2011 municipal elections coming up this Monday, both candidates are campaigning door-to-door to get a sense of the issues in the 47th Ward, which includes the Lincoln Square, Ravenswood and North Center neighborhoods.

Pawar, who is on the board of directors at Common Pantry, a food pantry in the 47th Ward, said he wants to initiate campaign finance reform.

If elected, he said he will not serve more than two terms as alderman and he plans to cut his annual salary from $100,000 to $60,000. He also said he will not seek endorsements or donations from political groups.

“It’s unfortunate that the size of one’s campaign account becomes a deterrent for good public policy or public discussion. To me, that is emblematic of Chicago politics,” Pawar said.

He said one of his first priorities would be to create more transparency for residents of the 47th Ward. He has already set up a free app, available through iTunes, called Chicago Works. The app allows Chicago residents to report problems and provide direct feedback to their aldermen.

Pawar also wants set up a ward council, which is a committee made up of community members who meet regularly with the alderman and discuss the issues facing the ward as well as reviewing city legislation. The 47th Ward currently does not have a ward council.

Dick Simpson, who was alderman of the 44th Ward from 1971 to 1979, had a ward council during his time as alderman. He said a ward council can provide direct feedback from the community, but that many aldermen don’t have one because it can be time-consuming to set up and because the aldermen don’t necessarily want to feel bound to honor the council’s decisions.

“It’s a way of getting a consensus and an agreement in the community that makes it much easier for the alderman to vote the will of the community,” he said. “More aldermen don’t have it because they don’t want to be hemmed in, as they think of it.”

Schulter said he believes transparency is important as well. Currently, the 47th Ward’s website has a weekly newsletter and a link to a ward Facebook page.

Reichl, who recently lost to Rep. Mike Quigley for the 5th District congressional seat, said his priorities if elected include updating Chicago’s transit system and shutting down TIF districts.

“What we’ve found is that TIF funds are basically toxic slush funds for the machine to obtain all sorts of power,” Reichl said.

Reichl said he will find alternative ways to generate city revenue without tapping into residents’ property taxes. He suggested a pollution tax for commuters coming into the city and a financial transaction tax, which would affect money traded in stocks.

In his 35 years as alderman, Schulter said he has brought many businesses into the 47th Ward. He facilitated the Old Town School of Folk Music’s move into the ward in the mid-90s and  just recently announced plans for a $14 million privately funded renovation of the shopping center at Roscoe Street and Western Avenue.

Schulter said he works closely with the chambers of commerce and with the Retail 47 Committee, a 47th Ward committee that works with commercial businesses in the ward, to keep bringing those businesses in.

“We’re dealing with some really hard economic times right now, but economic development is really very important to us,” Schulter said.

The city budget proposal currently includes a $3.4 million dollar proposal to cut Chamber of Commerce funding. The 47th Ward would lose $200,000 in funding as a result. Schulter said he would not approve the budget with those proposed cuts included.

But Pawar said he worries that Schulter is not coming up with alternative solutions to budget problems like these.

“My reaction was, ‘Well that’s great. We need to protect small businesses, we need to make sure they can survive,’” Pawar said. “But you’re going to vote no on a $6.1 billion budget over $200,000 in cuts?”

Pawar recommended cutting waste out of other areas in the budget “so that you never even have to talk about cutting funding to the chambers of commerce.”

But Patricia Martinelli, executive director for the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, said Schulter has been very helpful to the small businesses in the ward, especially when the city budget cuts were initially proposed.

“He is a fighter for the chambers, because if we had lost the funding we would have closed our doors,” she said.

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