11th Ward Candidates All Say The Near South Side Needs A New High School
CHINATOWN – The seven candidates vying to be 11th Ward alderman have very different opinions on housing and crime, but all agree on one thing: The ward needs a new high school.
Incumbent Ald. Nicole Lee (11th) joined challengers Froy Jimenez, Elvira Jimenez, Ambria Taylor, Donald Don, Steve Demitro and Anthony Ciaravino for the first candidates’ forum last week.
Members of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community hosted a two-hour event at the Pui Tak Center, 2216 S. Wentworth Ave.
Chicago Public Schools is moving forward with a controversial plan to build a community high school in the adjacent 3rd Ward on former public housing land. One former proponent, Rep. Theresa Mah, threatens to pull government funding. The Chicago Board of Education is expected to make a final decision on the school in June.
Although there are three high schools nearby — Dunbar, Phillips and Tilden — all have struggled with years of disinvestment and under-enrollment, leaving families to look outside the district for options.
Don, a veteran firefighter, told forum attendees that he fully supports the plan, but is not optimistic about the school’s longevity.
“I told the community and CPS that I believe we need two high schools for the ever-growing South Loop and the Bridgeport and Chinatown communities,” Don said. “You can build it, but eventually they’re going to cut us out. They are not going to serve many of the Chinese residents on this side because they refuse to include English learning skills.”
Don did not explain the “they” he was referring to.
Taylor also supports the idea of a new high school, but not on public housing land.
“A high school is really needed at the northern end of the ward. As a teacher, I also saw that we need good bilingual support that many students do not get, especially Chinese-speaking students.”
Elvira Jimenez, a former bilingual city service representative for the police department, also said two schools are needed, saying “kids need a place to go.”
“Property taxes are high. People leave. We used to have Richards Vocational High School – it was for girls – but that closed and Healy School expanded. We never found another high school other than Tilden,” she said.
Lee credited her efforts to deliver the school, which involved working with fellow Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) to secure tax increment financing for the project. The mother of two told residents that she faced challenges five years ago when deciding on the right high school for her children.
“My role, the role I already play today, is to hold the Chicago Housing Authority and CPS accountable to make sure our community is involved in the planning process, that they were part of the design process,” Lee said.
The candidates were also asked how they would build a “welcoming and inclusive ward”. Neighborhoods like Bridgeport still reckon with their racist histories; a black-owned cafe was vandalized with racist graffiti this month.
Demitro presented his knowledge of several languages and told the audience that his education could help him “unify, not divide” the ward.
“In a nutshell, I want the 11th Ward to be the best ward in Chicago, with all the neighborhoods having one strong voice,” he said.
Don and Ciaravino spoke of their multicultural family ties to the community and their desire to give back to a place that has always felt like home. Ciaravino said his mother taught him “everyone is created equal,” sharing with residents that playing basketball gave him “lifelong friends.”
“We must come together for a common goal. It doesn’t matter if you are Black, Hispanic, Asian. At the end of the day, you knit everything together; you embrace our cultural differences,” Ciaravino said.
Elvira Jimenez denied that there is racism in the 11th ward and blames the media for the mischaracterization.
“I have seen this community change in every possible way… . People say ‘racism’. I say we have no racism in Bridgeport, Chinatown or McKinley Park. I don’t see it. We all respect each other,” the Southwest Side native said.
Some residents also called on city officials to mitigate environmental and public health damage to their neighborhoods. Elvira Jimenez said she plans to hold businesses accountable for how they move their debris.
Lee echoed the call for accountability, adding that she would work with environmental agencies to ensure regular inspections take place.
Froy Jimenez supported bringing back the city’s Department of Environmental Affairs, adding that he was disappointed that there was no such item in the city budget.
“If we had a specific department of the environment, we could do a lot more about these problems,” he said. “We also need to make sure we help those small businesses along those industrial and commercial corridors on 31st Street, 35th Street and more by helping them rezone or with improvements to their current facades.”
The 11th Ward includes Chinatown, Bridgeport, Armor Square and Canaryville.
The election is February 28. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two will be flipped on April 4.
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