As you may know, last week three of the candidates for 50th ward alderman appeared at the West Rogers Park Community Organization's Candidates Forum - Salman Aftab, Greg Brewer, and Naisy Dolar. I thought I would post lasting impressions from the event, for those who were unable to attend.
The room (auditorium) was full, but not packed. A good turnout.
Rather than a blow-by-blow, I'll just jump to the biggest takeaways, mostly sorted by candidate. After all, that's the choice everyone has to make.
Unfortunately for Brewer, I have the most to say about him. He was disappointing. For a guy who is pitches himself as a change of pace from Stone, he sure did not sound like it. For starters, he did not answer the issue questions at times, preferring to talk about an issue that was on his mind but not raised by the question itself. For example, when asked about youth opportunities, he quickly turned the discussion to safety rather than focusing his answer on the prompted subject. During a series of "yes or no" questions, Brewer had to be reminded he had to answer the question properly by stating "yes," "no," or "I can't answer that." At times, he seemed to simply prefer not to follow the rules. In such a situation as a candidates' forum, this behavior is pretty inappropriate. Questions are asked in a manner that is supposed to allow an apples-to-apples comparison of each candidate's position on various subjects. In my opinion, to give a non-responsive answer to a question belies an arrogance in Brewer. It's like, "I heard your question, but I'd rather talk about something else, so here is what I'll give you." Isn't this kind of "Take it or leave it" attitude supposed to be the opposite of what Brewer stands for?
Second, the candidates were asked whether they would support one of the other challengers if one of the others ended up in a run-off with Stone. Of the three candidates, Brewer handled this question the worst. He hemmed and hawed about putting enough work into the primary that he expects to be in the run-off. Only in the end did he say tentatively that he would support another challenger in the run-off. Both Dolar and Aftab handled this well, with Aftab saying "ABS - Anyone But Stone." This, again, left me wondering about whether Brewer's motives were genuine.
Finally, Brewer's (and his whole campaign's) biggest faux pas was on everyone's minds, as Dolar highlighted it in her closing comments. In case you are unfamiliar, it was uncertain until just before the forum whether Brewer would be attending. His campaign manager Alan Cottrell alleged there was "bias" and said Brewer would not walk into such a "trap." After an uproar about a candidate actually refusing an opportunity to speak to voters at a candidates' forum, Brewer changed his mind and attended. Dolar capitalized well on Brewer's actions and brought to everyone's minds how unfortunately similar the behavior was to the status quo - indeed, Berny Stone also refused to attend the forum (but did not change his mind about it).
Aftab is a funny guy. He is definitely entertaining, and he does well speaking in public (I still laugh about "I don't wanna go in that City Council and somebody call me ho - no.") On the whole, his answers were more graceful than Brewer's, but my concern with him is that he doesn't actually seem to know what an alderman's powers are. He mentioned at one point that he wanted to raise the salaries of school teachers. But that is outside the power of an alderman, because school districts are an independent unit of government and outside aldermanic domain. Prior to the forum, Aftab has also been known to say, "No more TIFs," but it has never been clear whether Aftab thinks aldermen can outlaw TIFs (they can't), or whether he simply means to end all instances of TIF financing in the ward. Even if it's the latter, I question the wisdom of that - as shady as Chicago's TIF practices are, the TIF financing structure does help grow business and turn neighborhoods around.
So, even though I would like to have Aftab for a friend, I don't know that I would want to have him for an alderman. There is also the unaddressed issue of his assault of Ifti Nasim, a gay writer whom Aftab attempted to attack in a restaurant with a kitchen knife while yelling that Nasim was an "embarrassment" to South Asians.
Last but certainly not least, there was Naisy Dolar. She has improved immensely in her public speaking skills. She has learned to command a room and is much better at suppressing the urge to fill every pause with a sound (I can be guilty of the same behavior when I speak publicly). Unfortunately, she drank too much coffee during the forum, and while her energy started out at a good level, by the end of it she was way too caffeinated. But she provided a responsive answer to every issue question and had well-thought-out, sensible platforms -- though, at one or two points, she provided a relatively generic answer (not that unusual for a politician). Of the three, she also came off as the most genuine, sincere, and accessible to any ward resident. Brewer did mention her faux pas with exactly how many years she has lived in the ward - saying something like "You don't get points for pretending to live in the ward all your life." But that attack seemed to fall flat with the audience, as it does not appear many people are buying his conspiracy theory that her "lie" about living in the ward for 30 years versus some 26 indicates some unknown, darker intent to deceive the voters. As one commenter on this blog has already pointed out, Rich Miller, who runs the renowned Capitol Fax Blog, also put his foot down on unsubstantiated speculation about some devious intent on Dolar's part. The more distasteful aspect to Brewer's "You don't get points" comment was that he immediately followed it up with praise for his own "worldly" and "international" experience, implying that Dolar's home-grown familiarity with Chicago/the ward was beneath his more "cosmopolitan" perspective -- i.e., attempting to portray her as "provincial" or a "small-town girl." This, too, fell flat considering Dolar answered the prepared issue questions better than Brewer.
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There will likely not be another opportunity to get all the candidates in one room for debate, as this was the last candidates' forum before the election. Appropriately enough, for me, the forum solidified my support for Naisy Dolar. I hope my disclosure of this support does not overly taint my future posts to this blog; I intend to continue to be as fair as possible. And I do welcome people to try and change my mind with coherent points and, where relevant, citations to evidence. But, there you have it, as of a few days ago, I believe I support Naisy Dolar.