Several days after the February 26 election, as the last votes trickled in, it was revealed that financial advisor and Chatham community activist Deborah Foster-Bonner had forced two-term 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer, the son of former 6th Ward alderman and, briefly, mayor Eugene Sawyer, into a runoff. Running on a platform of community engagement, and assisted by, judging from precinct-level election data, widespread dissatisfaction with Sawyer’s tenure in the Chatham part of the ward (which is also made up of parts of Park Manor and Englewood), Foster-Bonner’s has been a small, mostly self-funded campaign—though she has picked up the endorsements of both the Sun-Times and the Tribune. It remains to be seen whether she can make inroads in the parts of the ward where Sawyer did well, but the act of forcing a family dynasty into a runoff in Chicago is no small feat in and of itself. This interview, conducted at Foster-Bonner’s Chatham campaign office before the February 26 election, has been edited for length and clarity.
Berto Aguayo, a twenty-four-year-old organizer from Back of the Yards, was the first of four challengers to 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez to announce their candidacy, and is by far the youngest. All four candidates work in anti-violence—the group includes a CPD crime prevention specialist, a minister, and a violence interrupter—but Aguayo may have come to his profession the most directly. He is a former gang member who, after becoming involved with the Mikva Challenge youth civic engagement program, went on to graduate from Dominican University, intern for U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, co-found the Resurrection Project’s #IncreaseThePeace initiative, and serve as a national leadership trainer with the Obama Foundation.
In 1971, civil rights lawyer Anna Langford became the first Black woman to serve in Chicago’s City Council. An independent, she was elected to represent the 16th Ward, which at the time encompassed much of Englewood, roughly spanning from Stewart over to Ashland, and Garfield down to Marquette. Langford frequently clashed with Mayor Richard J. Daley and became known as a thorn in the side of the machine.
For one reason or another, Englewood has never had its own alderman. The Greater Englewood area, like many parts of Chicago outside of the city center, was developed piecemeal by land speculators attracted to the marshy swampland because of its proximity to rail infrastructure and later, the Union Stock Yards. The neighborhood wasn’t annexed into Chicago until its construction had been humming along for about forty years, in 1889. The city’s ward maps for 1900 show the area split into two wards, the 30th and 31st (both of which are now on the Northwest Side). The number of wards slicing up Englewood has only risen since then, a trend which has hamstrung the neighborhood’s chances at political power or self-determination.
This week, candidates running to replace outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel condemned his decision to hire Eddie Johnson, a Chicago Police Department insider, to reform the department after the release of the Laquan McDonald video. Several criticized the convoluted system by which Emanuel selected his handpicked police superintendent, with one calling for an independent investigation into Johnson’s track record as a police supervisor.
I met with David Mihalyfy on a warm summer night in Bridgeport. We were originally supposed to conduct our interview at First Base, a now-closed sports bar, but realized soon after arriving it would be too loud to conduct an interview there. We relocated to some chairs outside Scoops Ice Cream on 31st Street and continued over a strawberry Italian ice (for me) and a chocolate-covered frozen banana (for him).