I’m sure that many of us who attended the Willard/Bateman election forum hoped for informative and lively debates. In some cases, we were not disappointed. But in addition to the speakers and the audience, there was another notable presence in the room: the Willard Courtesy Policy. When invoked, this policy silenced debate and left some of us to go home with our questions unanswered.
My unexpected introduction to the Courtesy Policy came when former Willard Neighborhood Association president, Vincent Casalaina, told me that I had to remove my homemade leaflets from the information table, because they violated the Willard Courtesy Policy. In his opinion, I had called George Beier a liar, and this was not allowed. Well, I did say that Beier was untruthful to my neighbors and myself, but I thought that his words and actions were valid topics of discussion. Apparently, it is not discourteous to be untruthful in Willard, but it is discourteous to mention it. I was allowed to pass the leaflets out at the door, where the First Amendment was still in effect. The contents of the banned leaflet are available as a commentary on the Daily Planet website at:
It didn’t take long for the Courtesy Policy to arise again, once the forum started. District 7 resident, Larry Buckalter, asked Beier a question that seemed to be on quite a few peoples’ minds, judging from the response when he refused to answer. Buckalter asked Beier about his claim, as reported in the Daily Cal, that two City Council members called him and said that they would have voted to save Willard Pool, but they didn’t want to give Council member Kriss Worthington a victory before the election.
As Buckalter spoke, Beier’s face froze in anger. Once it became clear that Beier was avoiding the question, quite a few audience members yelled out for him to answer. The audience outrage was deemed a violation of the Courtesy Policy, but it was not considered discourteous for Beier to duck a question about his own public statements. I asked almost the same question of Beier at his town hall event a week earlier; he also refused to answer me, saying, “There’s always one in a crowd.” The Courtesy Policy may not have been in effect that night. I have continued to wonder why Beier wasn’t more offended by the idea that our community lost Willard Pool over allegedly political reasons. If these calls really did occur, then Southside residents have the right to address the Council members who deprived us of one of our few local sources of recreation. Beier should be defending us, not blowing us off.
Just a few minutes after Beier refused to talk about the pool, another District 7 resident, Bill Schechner, asked a question which Beier also refused to answer.
"It is my view that people in government who do good work should be rewarded by being returned to office. So I would like to ask George and Ces to tell me what 'bad' things Kriss has done during his time on the Council that would make me not want to give him another term."
Rent Board candidate Marcia Levinson came from the back of the room and asked if this was a violation of the Courtesy Policy. Whether it was or not, Beier declined to answer the question, because he didn’t want to be negative.
“You mean you are not going to talk about the incumbent's record?”
Beier was unable to give any specific reasons why Worthington shouldn’t be reelected.
By contrast, the Measure R debate between Mayor Tom Bates and Council member Jesse Arreguin was the most interesting part of the evening. Speaking in favor of Measure R, Bates made few concrete points, except to list the people and organizations who endorse it. This led to a question from Rent Board candidate Asa Dodsworth about Chicago developer Sam Zell, who is the major contributor to the Yes on Measure R campaign. Bates couldn’t answer the question, and he never recovered from it. He seemed unable to keep himself from making personal attacks on Arreguin. Despite this, no one invoked the Courtesy Policy, and the debate went on uncensored.
Throughout it all, Arreguin never wavered, rattling off fact after fact while being attacked by Bates. Arreguin explained that Measure R is a plan to have a plan later. It’s not legally binding, except that it dramatically increases building heights and makes it easier to demolish historic buildings. Measure R would expand the downtown to include surrounding residential neighborhoods without protecting them from increased development; there is no buffer zone, as in earlier plans. Measure R fails to require developers to provide community benefits for increased building sizes, such as affordable housing and open space or in lieu fees.
At the conclusion of the debate, Casalaina took a straw poll of the audience. There was overwhelming opposition to Measure R. I couldn’t help but think how educational it was to ignore the Courtesy Policy, and let the participants have a real debate.