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Guns, Pensions and Gay Marriage. Our Elected Officials Talk Issues

stateofedgewaterThe Edgewater Chamber, who hosted last Friday’s State of Edgewater event, couldn’t have picked a nicer morning. The event was held at the Breakers, 5333 N Sheridan, in their sunlit dining atrium. After a fantastic breakfast and the usual mingling, it was time to get down to business. Edgewater Chamber Executive Director Katrina Balog and Executive Vice Chair Brian Koester, Bark Bark Club started things off and eventually introduced the guests.

Each elected official was given 5 minutes to update the attendees on how they have been working to get things done for the community. State Representative Kelly Cassidy 14th District talked first. She spoke about the drug diversion programs she is supporting. She also talked about anti-bullying programs which seemed relevant because of current school reports. Most interestingly, Ms. Cassidy spoke in length on her dismay about a new Illinois law allowing concealed weapons to be carried on individuals. We are the last state in the Union to do so. She did however work hard to make sure the law did not include schools, government buildings, healthcare facilities, airports, sports stadiums, playgrounds and places which serve alcoholic beverages. Any business can also be added to the list by displaying a sign in their window stating they do not allow concealed firearms.

Next on the Agenda was Alderman Harry Osterman who spoke largely about Edgewater’s current progress, namely along the Broadway corridor from Foster to Devon. He said,”Our neighborhood is going through a revival. The vibrancy is because we are all working together.” He also talked about the usual high crime rise in the summer months and that neighbors and businesses all need to work together to stop problems before they happen. He made his vision clear by simply stating, “Our primary focus is school safety and economic development.”

Alderman Pat O’Connor spoke next and focused mostly on the Edgewater hospital. He spoke of the previous property owner (who is now a fugitive living outside the USA) and how his negligence created the hospital’s demise. His future vision of the property would consist of 1/3 green space, a condo tower and 19 single family homes. He elaborated on why the process has taken so long due to 18 million dollars owed on back taxes. Those interested in the development have been put off because of this large amount, but a settlement is currently being negotiated so that a buyer can be found.

Next was Bridget Gainer, 10th District Cook County Commissioner. She had much to say including her endless work with people on property tax issues and explaining that half of her budget is on public safety. She also spoke about pension reform and stated the fact that if we do not reach some agreement, Illinois will be bankrupt in 22 years. She plans on working with labor unions to find a system that is fair to both them and the tax payers. She concluded with her worries about the spike in vacant housing in Chicago, namely the South and West sides. A committee has been created to tackle this issue to build healthier blocks and neighborhoods, she stated” I want to take the current architecture of communities and make them work as they are now.”

Our own Heather Steans, State Senator representing the 7th district then spoke about the Uptown theatre and how it just drew in 10 million from the state. That statement drew a huge round of applause. She progressed to state fiscal responsibility and how they have began to make big budget cuts. She expressed her bewilderment about how the poorest in our state pay some of the nation’s highest taxes for that income level, while the Illinois’ richest residents pay some of the least taxes nationwide.

Greg Harris, Illinois House of Representatives 13th district came to the podium with joy as he celebrated Illinois finally allowing same sex couples to be married in this state. Unfortunately, that happiness changed direction as he spoke about fiscal responsibility in Illinois. He stated that we must deal with the issue of revenue now or we will go back into a state of insolvency. He spoke about the 24,000 homeless youth in Illinois and how they are having issues getting proper healthcare. He worked to change state law to allow a responsible adult to accompany them to a hospital to get care. He is also working to get advanced substance abuse treatment for these individuals if needed. He concluded with how a new million dollars was given for HIV/AIDS education and how full Medicaid for those with mental illness was restored.

Lastly, Jan Schakowsky U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 9th congressional district spoke with passion as she explained that this has been the least productive session of congress ever. She blamed Republicans and how they have made it a point to say “no” to whatever President Obama supports. She feels that the American people are ready for change but congress is not there yet. She spoke largely about passing comprehensive immigration reform. That reform, she stated, could boost the economy by 10 billion dollars. She said we have enough votes to pass the bill, but John Boehner refuses to bring it up for that vote. She concluded on how women are still not receiving equal pay, earning just .77 to the dollar. Minority women make even less.

It was a full morning filled with lots of topics. Luckily, the Edgewater Chamber kept things to a set time limit which made everything flow nicely.

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