Indiana officials let Arena's 'third world' comments slide, but alderman faces opposition from 45th Ward residents
Indiana might be too far away to care what a Chicago alderman has to say about the state, but alienating residents of the neighborhood where he wants to put a housing complex might not be the best sales pitch for Chicago 45th Ward Alderman John Arena.
"Go ahead ... Move to Indiana and live in a Third-World economy with (expletive) schools and low wages," Arena taunted one resident in a heated Facebook exchange not long ago.
His remarks were in reaction to local opposition to his support of a proposed seven-story, 100-unit low-income subsidized housing project that was originally expected to break ground at the corner of Northwest Highway and Milwaukee Avenue this summer.
But the Chicago Committee on Zoning appeared to think otherwise when it at least temporarily put the project on hold recently.
The development would nearly double the number of Section 8 residents residing in the largely middle-class neighborhood, triggering heated protests, including a group attending the zoning panel's meeting that applauded the committee's decision not to decide on the matter right now.
As for Illinois' neighbor to the east, Indiana representatives appeared to take the high road regarding Arena's less-than-flattering comments.
“We think the facts speak for themselves," Stephanie Wilson, a spokesperson for Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb told the Chicago City Wire in an email.
Wilson attached a link to a state website highlighting much of what Indiana has to offer.
Representatives for U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) and U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) told the Chicago Wire they had no comment on Arena's remarks as well.
Meanwhile, a group of 45th Ward residents have formed the Citizens Against John Arena PAC, hoping to raise money and field a candidate against him in 2019.
“We want to do something that goes beyond just protesting,” Matt Podgorski, one of the PAC’s leaders, told the Chicago City Wire. “We want to send the alderman a message and at the same time set up a candidate to run against him.”
Protesters have become a regular feature outside Arena's ward office. Like Podgorski, many of them have expressed fears of increased crime and decreased property values following the influx of residents taking advantage of apartments that will rent for as little as $300 per month.
Podgorski, also a member of the Northwest Side GOP club, claims Arena previously assured group members and area residents that all housing developments would be limited to four stories.
Arena, though, is not backing down.
“I am not ready to cead (sic) this country to the racist, classist, knuckle-dragging and generally subhuman puddle of DNA that makes up the base of (President Donald) Trump supporters," he posted. "We have made too much progress since scrubbing the (George) Bush idiocy from the Oval Office.”
Podgorski said he's become accustomed to Arena's verbal attacks.
“He has a bad pattern of showing contempt toward those who don’t agree with him,” he said. “He doesn’t respect his constituents and standing behind the Jefferson Park project is just the thing that put everything over the top for a lot of people.”