Defender, NAACP forum offered voters last looks at candidates

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Five days before voters would head to the polls in the 2nd Congressional District special election, dozens of constituents and other concerned citizens turned out for the candidates forum co-hosted by the Chicago Southside chapter of the NAACP and the Chicago Defender.

The Feb. 21 event was held on the Far South Side of the city at St. John Church, 211 E. 115th St., and included Republican and Democratic candidates. Noticeably absent was Robin Kelly. Other candidates who did attend – including Ald. Anthony Beale and Debbie Halvorson – made sure to lambaste Kelly’s campaign support from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC which paid for anti-gun ads for Kelly.

The mayor of New York “wants to buy this seat … and we can’t let that happen,” said Halvorson, who lost to Jesse Jackson Jr. in the March 2012 primary. “What they’re trying to do … is not fair.”

The candidates discussed Thursday the environmental issues facing the district including landfills, health issues including the prevalence of asthma among children in the district and even the foul smells that emanate from the water treatment facility.

Education issues were squarely focused on the need for early childhood education programs, access to vocational training, support for programs that lead to GEDs and how students are being prepared for a globally competitive marketplace. 

 The 2nd Dist. is historically Democratic-loyal and made up mostly of African Americans. It includes parts of the South Shore community and the Far South Side in Chicago, the south suburbs – all in Cook County, parts of Will County and all of Kankakee County.

The city portion of the district faces gun violence problems and almost all of the district is heavily impacted by unemployment and health care concerns, and some leaders say it is starved for economic development. Candidates spelled out their plans to deal with the issues – with only one minute each to speak.

The special election is a result of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigning in November, weeks after being re-elected. He cited health issues in his resignation, but this week he pled guilty in federal court to charges of misusing $750,000 in campaign funds. He awaits sentencing, expected this summer. 

 Would-be voters at Thursday’s forum told the Defender they are ready for change.

Delilah Stidwell said the pool of 20 candidates makes it difficult for voters to sort things out. She attended this and other forums listening for candidates’ plans and solutions. 

 “Education, gun violence, no jobs, all of those are issues I want hear somebody talk about,” she said.

Stidwell said she’s attended at least four forums and continues to hear “the same thing.” The educator explained that she is ready for a representative who isn’t beholden to another political or other entity.

“I think it’s time for a change and that’s what I want,” she said. “I think it’s time for us to put ‘the little man’ in, give somebody a real chance” to bring change.

Candidate Joyce Washington may have Stidwell’s vote.

William Payton Sr. said it is “unfair for the people to have go this” special election in the first place. He expressed further concerned about how the race is going.

“I’m really concerned about Robin Kelly with the Bloomberg PAC … how people are buying this election,” he told the Defender after the forum. “I don’t think it’s fair.”

Still, the suburban South Holland resident said issues in the district are more important to him.

“The issues are greater than guns,” he said. “The issue is better health care, better jobs, the rail system, the (proposed) Peotone airport.”

The forum brought him closer to a decision for the Feb. 26 election. He said he’s considering Beale and Halvorson.

Thursday’s forum was the fourth in a series sponsored by the Southside NAACP. The organization, itself, is re-emerging in the community after contending with its own leadership and other issues. Last fall the chapter held elections for new chapter leaders and earlier this month it announced the kick off of preparation for the NAACP ACT-SO youth competition.

The forums were about educating voters and giving them a chance to see the candidates for themselves, said Brenda Sheriff who moderated the forum. Roosevelt University Associate Professor Nona M. Burney, journalist and non-profit executive Sylvia Ewing, NAACP leader Jacqui Patterson and environmentalist Michael T. Thomas served as panelists.

“Many people do not participate in the (voting) process because they don’t know what’s at stake, they don’t understand the process. So in our own way, we were hoping that in hosting these four forums … people had the opportunity to hear for themselves those things that were being purported by the candidates and not be dependent on news media,” said Sheriff, first vice-president of the Southside NAACP chapter.

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