About ten years ago, Maya Hodari says, she noticed an uptick in burglaries on her block, 65th Street and Drexel Avenue. In response, she and several other people living on her street formed a neighbors’ association, which began a series of projects—beautification, Clean and Green days, homeownership promotion—in an attempt to change the street for the better. One product of the group’s work with other Woodlawn residents was the Woodlawn Community Summit, an annual one-day neighborhood gathering entering its tenth year.
At the intersection of 51st Street and Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park rests the political fate of the 14th Ward. The northeast corner is home to the office of its alderman, Edward Burke, who holds a number of other important distinctions: longest-serving alderman in Chicago history (since 1969), largest stash of aldermanic campaign funds ($12 million), until recently chair of City Council’s Finance Committee (considered by many to be one of the most powerful positions in city government), and, as of a couple weeks ago, the latest Chicago alderman to be charged with corruption by the federal government. A towering, two-story sign reads “14th Ward Regular Democratic Organization,” lest you forget who still runs this place.
Nicole Johnson is one of between five and twelve candidates (depending on how petition challenges shake out) running to replace outgoing Alderman Willie Cochran in the 20th Ward, who has been indicted on corruption charges. The ward is made up of parts of Woodlawn, Washington Park, Englewood, and Back of the Yards. Johnson lives a block west of Halsted in Englewood—in the same house she grew up in—and has worked across the city: as a third grade math teacher on the South and West Sides, a consultant at Magic Johnson’s education nonprofit the Academy Group, and at community development nonprofit Teamwork Englewood. She’s also a peer advisor at the Obama Foundation, and volunteers with Alpha Kappa Alpha and the Chicago YMCA.
Jeanette Taylor first began thinking about a run for alderman after a September 2017 event with the Obama Foundation. Taylor, a local activist with the coalition calling for the Obama Foundation to accept a Community Benefits Agreement for its Presidential Center, asked the first question of Obama himself. (It came as a surprise: she didn’t know he’d be showing up to talk to the audience by video call.) The former president’s response to her request for a CBA was disappointing. If the center announced they might sign one, he said, “next thing I know I’ve got twenty organizations that are coming out of the woodwork.” “He got a lot of nerve saying that,” Taylor told Politico last year.
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.
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.
At twenty-five, Pilsen native Hilario Dominguez is the youngest candidate in the crowded race for alderman in the 25th Ward, which covers Pilsen, Chinatown, and parts of Tri-Taylor, McKinley Park, the West Loop, and the South Loop. The incumbent, Danny Solis, has held the position since 1996 — three years after Dominguez was born.
With the Obama Presidential Center proposed for Jackson Park, the University of Chicago’s continuing development along 61st Street, and a myriad of other projects large and small, residents are asking: what will Woodlawn become? This is the first article in a series investigating the past, present, and future of the neighborhood.