Is this the next 43rd Ward alderman?
RedEye sat down with Michele Smith, one of the candidates hoping to replace Vi Daley as 43rd Ward alderman. Smith, the Democratic ward committeeman, faces hospital administrator Tim Egan in an April 5 runoff election. Here’s what Smith said about her plans for the ward, and we’re hoping to get an interview with Egan too.
Tell readers a bit about your background, and why you’re running for alderman.
I moved to Lincoln Park when I was 24 years old and working as a law clerk and just fell in love with the neighborhood—like everyone else—and have never left. I’m running because of this wonderful neighborhood that I love and this city that I love. This place that I love so much is in a jam right now. We’ve got job problems, the city’s budget is a mess, and we need to fix it so we can move forward again and grow our economy.
I’m a lawyer, a former federal prosecutor who worked for U.S. attorney’s office, until I became a corporate lawyer at Navistar. I was asked to run for alderman by my neighbors. When I first moved here, Clark Street was thriving. Now I look at all the empty stores. We also need to fix the city budget with all of these legacy cost issues. Your readers’ generation will bear the brunt of all these costs and get none of the benefits.
How long have you been a part of the community in Lincoln Park?
I’ve been here since 1979, and my first apartment was at the corner of Clark and Fullerton. It was just the best place to be, right in the middle of everything.
What would you say is the most important issue in the 43rd Ward?
Crime and job creation are the two. Everyone always wants one but life is not that simple.
Personal safety is important to me. I moved here as a single woman because I wanted to be in a safe neighborhood, as many young people do. There have been some incidents of violent crime in the last year like armed robberies and armed assaults—at least anecdotaly—that the neighborhood hasn’t seen in a while. But also there’s all this exciting stuff going on like the redevelopment of Children’s Memorial Hospital, and I can’t wait to get started.
What’s the most important issue facing the city of Chicago?
Our financial crisis. With my background in a Fortune 500 company, I understand some of those issues the city is facing. We need to fix the cost structure of the city so it remains competitive, so jobs are created, so people can afford to live here. We want you to stay in Chicago—not flee to the suburbs when you get married and have kids.
There are three big things we’ll need to do. We have to change the way we do the budget, reform TIF financing [Tax Increment Financing] and give the city government a top-to-bottom restructuring. For instance, streets and sanitation is organized along the wards, which means garbage trucks and snowplows will do one side of the street and not the other because it’s a ward boundary. That inefficiency alone costs $30 million. Businesses pay up to 15 different license fees a year at different times to different departments, and none of it is online. Nobody runs a business like that anymore. Just modernizing, we can get a lot of low-hanging fruit in our city.
Do you support the plan to turn Lincoln Park Hospital into a grocery store and condominiums?
When you’re a homeowner in Lincoln Park, you’ve invested quite a lot in your home. Putting a large-scale retail development is inconsistent with that neighborhood. I believe that the people who’ve made the most substantial investment have rejected that development. I support the neighborhood in that. I did a study in the 60614 zip code, and there are 750,000 ground feet of available retail space. We’re overbuilt on retail, and we need to concentrate our efforts and make sure our retail areas are supported. That development at [the Lincoln Park Hosptial site] should heavily favor residential. Otherwise, it essentially creates a competing retail neighborhood. A reason Clark Street has fallen on hard times is the leadership in the ward hasn’t focused on business development, and developments are being built away from core retail areas. It’s step-by-step, though, and the plan still has to go to the zoning committee and then before the whole city council, which won’t happen till after the April election.
What’s your favorite thing about Lincoln Park?
The food, with the lakefront a close second.
Where’s your favorite place to eat, and favorite place to get a glass of wine in the ward?
You’re making me choose unfairly. I’ll give you my top three. Pars Cove on Diversey—try anything with pomegrante sauce. Simply It, the Vietnamese place on Lincoln Avenue—just fantastic. The Mexican place Las Fuentes at Wrightwood and Halsted.
And for a glass of wine, the Doc Wine Bar, Clark and Wrightwood.
What are you watching on TV right now?
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert—absolutely. Everything else is guilty pleasure. “Glee,” I’ll admit it.
If we looked at “Recently Played” in your iPod what would we find?
I don’t have an iPod. I’m a late adopter, technologically. I just got a Blackberry. I’m an Old Town School of Folk Music person, personally.
Anything else you want RedEye readers to know?
Everyone in Lincoln Park is very busy with shaping their lives and their careers. I know I was. As part of that, I want to invite people to start to own the city, either through civic engagement to getting involved in the political process. Our city and our ward in particular is really the heart of the cultural center of our city. Come get involved.
Before March 8 you can still register to vote in Chicago. That’s something your readers need to know. Chicagoelections.com.
This is the talent center of the city, a talent pool that as alderman I want to draw on.