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Mayoral candidates forum gets a bit nasty

Mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun held press conference Pho  777 restaurant January 30 2011 near Argyle Broadway Chicago .

Mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun held a press conference at Pho 777 restaurant on January 30, 2011 near Argyle and Broadway in Chicago . | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: May 7, 2011 5:44AM

The gloves came off during a mayoral candidates forum at Trinity United Church of Christ Sunday afternoon when candidate Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins questioned opponent former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun’s commitment to working with Chicago’s African-American communities and Moseley Braun responded by calling her a former crack addict.

“Carol Moseley Braun hasn’t been around for 20 years,” said Watkins, a community activist, prompting a verbal response from the crowd in the church. “We haven’t seen her.”

Moseley Braun, allowed to answer later, listed her public service and told Watkins, “You were strung out on crack. I was starting a business on the South Side. I was hiring people.”

Watkins has said that she used drugs from ages 19 to 21 — more than 30 years ago — but said Sunday she has never used crack.

“She has a way of embellishing her own history and other people’s experiences,” Watkins said.

Watkins and Moseley Braun joined candidates Gery Chico, Daley’s former chief of staff; Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle; and William “Dock” Walls in answering questions at the church at 400 W. 95th about plans for economic development and jobs, public safety and education.

Front-runner Ralm Emanuel did not participate.

Chico was booed when he said he would consider lifting the residency requirements on city employees, including police, firefighters and teachers.

“I am willing to talk about it. I have an open mind,” he said.

“We can at least entertain the conversation. Are we going to do it? I have no idea.”

Watkins agreed the issue should be discussed.

Others opposed even talking about a lift.

Said Moseley Braun to whoops from the crowd, “I stand exactly where I stand on people running for mayor of the city.”

“This city is good enough for everybody in this room, it ought to be good enough for people who earn their paychecks here,” Walls said.

All said they would cut red tape  and “streamline the process” to assist small businesses. Walls said he would have workers provide a checklist of required documents to assure they are completed before the petitioner arrives at City Hall.

“Chicago is not a small business-friendly city” De Valle said. “The mayor has to create a climate that promotes entrepreneurship in neighborhoods.”

He added he would move some responsibilities  -- granting permits to put an awning up, for example -- from aldermen to City Hall.

Chico said he would spend more money on minority-owned businesses, establish a enterprise center within the City Colleges of Chicago system, and use TIF money to finance small business loans.

  Walls would give 2,000 businesses grants, and Moseley Braun said she would call or enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages banks to provide personal and business loans in minority communities.

On ousting Police Supt. Jody Weis despite his efforts to reduce police brutality, an issue of importance in African-American communities, most candidates have said they would give Weis the boot.

“There’s no question that the city should stop standing up for sadists and abusers like John Burge,” Moseley Braun said. “The issue is one of leadership and connection to the community. There’s no communication effectively within the department.”

Chico said, “just because you believe that someone should come from within doesn’t mean I think its OK to beat people up. We’ll never condone abusive practices, and will fight it where ever we see it.”

Watkins, who said she would aim to reduce crime by 20 percent within two years, favored keeping Weis on board. “We need somebody who’s going to put people in check ,” she said.

“We shouldn’t be paying (police officers) to make our sons lay on the ground.”

Walls told the crowd that there was a place for Weis in his administration, just not as police superintendent.

Moseley Braun, Watkins and Walls also talked about creating jobs for young people.

“When we create jobs in the neighborhoods, that will help in crime prevention,” Moseley Braun said.

Walls, who added that social centers also would needed to be created for the young, said, “These young people don’t want to stand on the corners and sling drugs.”

Watkins said she would encourage businesses to support a year-round jobs program and prohibit employers from asking job applicants if they have been convicted of felonies. About 55 percent of adult black men in Chicago have felony records, she said.

DeVlle and Chico both stressed early childhood education. Chico wants the school day increased by up to 2.5 hours, and a longer school year.

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