Mayoral Forum Reaction: Bridgeport Residents Seek Answers on Environmental Justice, Plans for High School

Safety concerns, environmental justice, taxes and the rising cost of rent and food were among the most important topics for community members who gathered Tuesday for the WTTW News mayoral forum watch party at the Bridgeport Art Center. Also top of mind for attendees were the prospect of a high school on the Near South Side and language and other barriers faced by immigrants who need access to social services.

Among those in attendance were members of community organizations such as the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, People Matter, Bridgeport Alliance and the Chinese American Service League. 

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Matt Malec, a member of the Bridgeport Alliance, said he wants Chicago mayoral candidates to address environmental justice, especially regarding concerns of industrial corridors and heavy polluters in the city being heavily concentrated in areas like Bridgeport and its surrounding neighborhoods. 

“How do they balance that to make sure that all areas are impacted evenly, so it’s not just going to areas that maybe are not as organized or don’t have the ability to pay for lawsuits to stop the polluters from going in?” Malec said. 

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Attendees also had concerns about safety.

“I would want the next mayor to focus more on the public safety, especially in Chinatown, and I want our city to be a city of culture, not a city of crime,” said Ben Lau, executive director of the Chinese American Museum of Chicago. 

Lau said he wants city leaders to advocate for Chinatown and to help support businesses that still haven’t recovered.

“It’s not just downtown (dealing with retail vacancies),” Lau said. “Our Chinese communities need more visitors, too. Chinese restaurants and businesses were heavily impacted. They need more support, to help them weather the storms and get back on their feet.” 

Lau is among residents who have been fighting for years for a non-selective high school on the Near South Side; he is frustrated that after countless town halls it “still has not finalized.” 

Chicago Public Schools is expected this summer to finalize plans for a $150 million facility at the former site of the Chicago Housing Authority’s Harold L. Ickes homes. 

David Wu of the Pui Tak Center backs the plan. 

Near the end of the forum, Wu posed a question to the mayoral candidates about whether they would move forward with a school at that location, whether they would push for another site or whether they would shut down plans to build the new school altogether given underenrollment at other nearby schools. 

Some community members in the audience were frustrated that Wu didn’t get a clear response beyond the following from Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward): 

“I think it should be built at an alternative site,” King said. “This school is already over-subscribed. Everybody’s trying to get in because it’s supposed to be a good, viable school. We have to have good, viable options all over the city, not just in certain places. So under a Sophia King mayorship, we would move selective-enrollments with strong neighborhood components to the neighborhood. Much like Kenwood High School.” 

King said “that’s how you grow communities.” 

Although other candidates didn’t have a chance to weigh in, Wu said he was glad at least to have brought more attention to the issue. 

“We’re committed to a high school, and we just want it to be in the best location,” Wu said. “Chinatown is really interested in a neighborhood high school for our community that’s been growing; we’re probably over 30,000 people in the greater Chinatown area.” 

Wu said many Chinatown residents are immigrants. Other nearby schools that serve primarily non-immigrant populations don’t have established ESL (English as a second language) services.

“And so every immigrant family has been searching for good bilingual services for their immigrant kids,” Wu said. “So that’s why we’re hoping that there could be a close, nearby neighborhood high school option for our community.” 

Consuela Hendricks, co-president of People Matter, said her issue with the forum is that she felt many of the candidates didn’t answer the questions, especially the one posed about plans to build the high school. 

“There a lot of concerns about the Black and Asian community being pit against each other with this high school, so that’s also an important reason why it should be addressed,” said Angela Lin, co-president of People Matter.

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