Recently Ward Room sent a questionnaire to every member of the City Council, with the aim of learning more about every ward. One of Chicago’s strengths is that we’re a city of strong neighborhood identities. One of our weaknesses is that we don’t spend enough time in each others’ neighborhoods. South Siders don’t visit the North Side. North Siders don’t venture west of Western Avenue or south of Roosevelt Road. Northwest and Southwest Siders do their shopping in the suburbs. This series aims to correct that by inviting aldermen to tell you about the neighborhoods they represent -- and about themselves.
The first to respond to our questionnaire was Ald. Rey Colon, whose 35th Ward encompasses the Logan Square neighborhood.
1. How would you spend an ideal Saturday afternoon in your ward?
Riding my bicycle to visit different block parties, events and garage sales.
2. Why and when did you decide to run for the City Council?
I was encouraged by local residents to run in 1999 when I was a Park District Area Manager over a conflict with the last alderman [Vilma Colom]. She refused to build a basketball court that the community demanded. I lost the 1999 election with 40% of the vote, but returned in 2003 to win with 60%.
3. Do you have a political mentor? Why do you admire this person, and how did he or she influence you?
Grasping how City zoning works is something an Alderman must know well. I was fortunate as the 35th Ward Alderman to sit next to the 36th Ward Alderman William Banks. He is now retired from elected office, but chaired the Zoning Committee and authored the rewrite of the City’s Zoning Code while he was there. As a seat mate he gave me a great insight and an orientation of Chicago Zoning.
4. What project is your ward most in need of?
My greatest unmet challenge is the redevelopment of 2500 N. Milwaukee which is a site known as the Mega Mall. I secured City Acquisition authority for a public market there, then later was in discussion for a year and a half to construct a Jewel Supermarket. Both plans have fell through due to the economy. While I have succeeded in attracting many new small businesses throughout the ward, I have not yet leveraged the redevelopment of that site.
5. Has crime increased in your ward this year? What do you think are the causes of, and the solutions, for the citywide increase in violence?
While there has been a recent uptick in violent crimes City-wide this year, crime has consistently gone down in my area and throughout the entire City in recent years. Gang violence is cyclical and the major source of violent crime. Police intelligence and community residents must be in good communication to anticipate and address illegal activity. Residents need to build local relationships by planning social events like block parties and neighborhood clean-ups. Crime cannot thrive in an area where people are organized.
6. Have the installation of parking meters affected traffic or commerce in your ward? What could Chicago Parking LLC do to make things easier for business in your ward?
I was one of only 5 Aldermen to vote against the parking meter deal; however I always supported increasing parking meter rates to support the high cost of infrastructure and parking spaces. Parking meters benefit local businesses. Some businesses would argue that paying for parking hurts business, but that’s because they want it for free. Without meters parked cars would never move and there would be no parking at all which greatly hurts business.
7. What feature is your ward best known for?
There are many. The historic Centennial Monument of the State of Illinois, historic boulevards, thriving neighborhood, great restaurants, cycling, festivals, last local movie theater [The Logan Theatre], budding arts district, I could go on.
8. How do you feel about transferring street sweeping and garbage pickup to a grid system, rather than leaving them under the control of the alderman?
I don’t have a problem with efficiencies in service delivery with the Department of Streets & Sanitation or any City Department. Aldermen still need resources and the flexibility to address the “specials” in their wards based on unique local needs. For example, I have the expressway running through the ward. This attracts homeless people living under it. We need the resources to clean-up after them.
9. What has been your most significant achievement as an alderman?
Reviving my community during the worst of economic times.
10. What is your favorite book, television show and meal?
33 Strategies of War, Boardwalk Empire, Sashimi.
11. Do you have a tattoo?
No. After 50 years, I am still thinking about it. I have an internal moral struggle about defacing my skin, but would consider a work of art that represents me. It is just not a priority for me.
12. What are your thoughts on social media?
Like everything else, it is a 2-edged sword. It’s great affordable tool for getting a message to everyone quickly, but people need to get a life and remember to spend more time in the real world. We must balance actually living life with documenting every moment of it or only talking about living life.
13. How do you feel about food trucks?
I’m a big fan. We use them locally as part of our festivals, farmer’s markets, etc. I look forward to helping make them legal in Chicago.
14. Will you vote for Obama or Romney?
Obama. Romney hasn’t clearly articulated any specific plans. I saw them both live at the NALEO [National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials] Conference in Florida last week where both addressed Latinos about immigration reform. Romney spent half his time criticizing the President’s record, but offered no specific plan of his own.
15. Have you ever bought a Groupon, and what was it?
No. Groupon promotions exploit local business by giving them temporary exposure but the promotion costs them their profits. Business owners need to calculate and examine if a Groupon promotion is really worth their while. I would argue that it is not.