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Development debate sparks race in Chicago’s 45th Ward

John Aren(left) John Garrido are vying become alderman 45th Ward Tuesday's run-off.

John Arena (left) and John Garrido are vying to become alderman of the 45th Ward in Tuesday's run-off.

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Updated: May 5, 2011 12:19AM

Voters in the Northwest Side 45th Ward have a clear choice in Tuesday’s aldermanic runoff.

John Arena, 44, who owns a graphic design company, has been active in the Portage Park Neighborhood Association for more than a decade, trying to steer what he thinks is the right kind of pedestrian-friendly development to the Six Corners business district. Arena is a Democrat running with strong support from unions.

John Garrido, 43, a police lieutenant and lawyer, says he would be far less picky about development in the ward, green-lighting just about any business that wants to come in. A Republican, Garrido is endorsed by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

“For the past 10 years, we have been recruiting businesses to the ward — Six Corners is a model for where we need to go. It is in a process of transition. A new restaurant is opening just behind the Klee Building,” Arena said at a forum Thursday at the Copernicus Center.

“Well, I don’t know if I would use Six Corners as a model for the ward — we’ve got a 40 percent vacancy rate, Garrido said. “They wanted to put a curb cut in there so you could actually get to parking from Milwaukee Avenue. That was blocked by my opponent. That caused businesses like Chipotle, FedEx and Caribou Coffee to pull out of there and now those storefronts still sit vacant.”

Nothing the neighborhood group did scared any business away, Arena said. And he has been involved in recruiting businesses to Six Corners for 10 years, while Garrido has not been involved. While Garrido talks about bringing a Starbucks to the ward, Arena said he has actually been talking to Starbucks for 10 years. Arena said city transportation officials rejected the curb cut because it would have created a traffic jam.

“Six corners is a pedestrian-friendly model, people first and cars second,” Arena said. “Putting parking lots in the middle of that intersection [would not work as well as] perimeter parking. What the community was advocating for was to maintain the plan.”

When CVS proposed to tear down a historic abandoned building at Milwaukee and Montrose to open a store, Arena’s group collected 600 signatures to oppose that plan and instead steer CVS to Milwaukee and Lawrence. When CVS proposed a “generic” storefront there, Arena said his group succeeded in pressuring them to use a more aesthetically pleasing design.

“You never start a negotiation by saying, ‘What’s your first offer?’ and then say ‘Yes’ to it,” Arena said. “John has consistently shown himself to not have any understanding of these issues.”

But some of Garrido’s business-owner supporters such as Galvin’s Pub owner Kathy Galvin say the extensive questioning they faced from Arena’s group over such issues as what items would be on the restaurant menu or what color tablecloths they’d use led them to abandon plans to open businesses at Six Corners.

Arena has hit Garrido for his Republican partisanship, especially for crossing over to vote in the Democratic primary election against Barack Obama in 2008.

“He did vote for Hillary Clinton to follow Rush Limbaugh’s questionable plan to destabilize the Democratic primary system, so this is about integrity,” Arena said.

Garrido said that by taking more than $200,000 in help from the Service Employees International Union and other unions, Arena was signaling that he would not be able to make tough votes against the unions.

“I know where that money came from: hardworking union members in the city of Chicago,” Arena responded. Pointing to Garrido, he said, “Just today he accepted 10,000 from ‘For a Better Chicago,’ a group that will not tell you who their donors are. For John to say he’s about transparency and then take money from a group that’s hypocritical about transparency puts that label on him as well.”

Garrido dismissed the city’s red-light cameras as moneymakers for the city he would get rid of. Arena said they make streets safer, and the city could use the money.

Asked the last book he read, Garrido said, “How to win a local election by Lawrence Grey.” As attendees at the forum laughed, Garrido added, “Seems to be working.”

Arena countered, “You should have read the ending, John.”

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