Altgeld Gardens and Phillip Murray Homes sit about as far south as you can go in Chicago. Wedged between Lake Calumet, West Pullman, and South Deering, the almost 1,600-unit CHA-owned development is notably isolated, removed from business districts and most public transportation options. Altgeld also lies in what has become known as the “toxic doughnut”; emissions and lingering waste from former refineries and steel mills in the area have been linked to widespread public health issues in the community, including, historically, some of the highest cancer rates in Chicago.
The energy in the auditorium at Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen on March 20 was charged and heated, at times feeling closer to a pep rally than a political debate. Neighborhood residents and members of various community organizations had packed in to hear the two runoff candidates for 25th Ward alderman, Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Alex Acevedo, present their visions for the next four years of ward leadership.
I met up with Troy Hernandez at his house in Pilsen during the polar vortex in late January. He’s been rehabbing it for the past few years, and workers filed in and out as we sat near a wood burning stove in the living room.
Six months ago, 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis’s grip on power was starting to feel a little shaky. After serving in City Council for twenty-two years, aligning himself closely with Mayor Richard M. Daley and then Rahm Emanuel, criticism of Solis was reaching a fever pitch. While longterm ward residents faced increased property taxes and skyrocketing rates of displacement, Solis greenlit new developments marketed toward young white professionals. Community organizations were fueling a swell of anti-gentrification activism, with Solis cast as the central, money-grubbing villain. And candidates were lining up to run against him in 2019, with five challengers ending up on the ballot.
For the past few years, Byron Sigcho Lopez has been a ubiquitous fixture around Pilsen. As the director of the Pilsen Alliance for the past three years, he’s helped organize a wide range of community meetings, protests, and referendums, with a special emphasis on housing justice. Sigcho Lopez has now taken a leave of absence from the group to run for alderman in the 25th Ward, which stretches from a northeastern corner of McKinley Park, across all of Pilsen, north to parts of the West Loop and South Loop, and south to Chinatown.
For a few hours last Saturday, thousands of people gathered along King Drive in Bronzeville to take part in the annual Bud Billiken Parade. Stretching from Oakwood Boulevard to Washington Park, the street turned into an endless flow of dance troupes, drill teams, and high school marching bands from across the South Side, all there to celebrate education and the upcoming school year—this year’s theme.