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Candidates discuss West Side’s future at Garfield Park mayoral forum

Mayoral candidates Ja'Mal Green, Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas, Catherine Brown D'Tycoon, Willie Wilson, Amara Enyia, Bob Fioretti and Dorothy Brown participate in a mayoral forum hosted by the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce on Monday. | Nader Issa, Sun-Times

Eight mayoral candidates came to Garfield Park on Monday night to pitch their strategies on how to bring more job opportunities to the West Side.

The forum, hosted by the nascent Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce at the Golden Dome Field House, was attended by more than  80 area residents and by candidates Dorothy Brown, Catherine Brown D’Tycoon, Amara Enyia, Ja’Mal Green, Bob Fioretti, Lori Lightfoot, Paul Vallas and Willie Wilson.

All of the candidates derided outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel during their opening statements for not doing enough to spur economic development in the West Side throughout his tenure.

D’Tycoon, an activist affiliated with many religious groups, noted it’s not hard to notice differences between Garfield Park and other neighborhoods along Madison Street.

“We don’t have enough jobs in our communities, but what do we see when we drive five minutes to the West Loop and Fulton Market?” she asked the crowd. “Everything.”

Enyia, who spent two years in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Policy Department until he left office in 2011, argued the West Side has been treated as the city’s “stepchild” for decades.

“Throughout my time at City Hall we never talked about the West Side,” Enyia said. “It seems like there was always a blank spot between Ashland Avenue and Austin Boulevard.”

Some candidates cautioned the audience to note which of their competitors chose not to attend Monday’s forum.

“Anyone who isn’t here tonight isn’t worth your consideration,” Lightfoot said in her opening statement.

Several candidates complained the city’s TIF program has failed to benefit many of Chicago’s struggling neighborhoods, especially those on the West Side.

Green, the youngest candidate in the race, said he’d like to “abolish” TIFs all together and redirect all of the program’s funds to Chicago Public Schools.

Vallas, who served as chief executive of CPS from 1996 to 2001, said the city needed to take advantage of all funding sources to help bring new development to struggling neighborhoods.

One such revenue source for Vallas is the federal Opportunity Zone program, designed to attract new investments in economically distressed areas by providing tax cuts to developers.

There are 135 so-called “opportunity zones” in Chicago; 28 of them are on the West Side. All have an unemployment rate of 20 percent or higher, a median family income lower than $38,000 and a poverty rate at or above 30 percent of all households.

Vallas hopes to attract billions of dollars in capital investments to Chicago zones to create jobs and revitalize dormant economic corridors.

“It’s not just about finding new funds — it’s about redirecting existing funds to serve our communities,” he said.