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.
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.
The same day that City Council voted to approve the new $95 million police academy plan in West Garfield Park, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot spoke at the University of Chicago about the need to build an even more expensive and expansive police academy. Lightfoot clarified that she does not support the current proposal “as is,” but that “we absolutely need a new training facility,” and “to do it right it would cost far more than” $95 million. She cited the New York Police Department’s new $750 million training center as an example. To Lightfoot, a police training center done right should involve more community engagement and “academic development.” Notably, she said the city should consider turning some of the thirty-eight remaining vacant schools of the fifty closed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel into police training facilities.
Last month, Alex Acevedo came in second of the five candidates vying to replace disgraced 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solís. Providing a more conservative, homeowner-focused foil to his runoff companion Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s DSA-endorsed platform, Acevedo often reminds voters of his work as a nurse and with a neighborhood watch group.
After last week’s citywide election, much was made of the fact that several City Council incumbents had been ousted—in some cases quite unceremoniously—from their posts. (Maria Hadden, for instance, defeated Joe Moore by twenty-seven percent in the northernmost 49th Ward.) On the South Side, however, sitting aldermen fared a little better. Most of those who will go to a runoff, like Leslie Hairston (5th) and Raymond Lopez (15th), look as if they’ll win comfortably in the April follow-up election; in fact, only Toni Foulkes (16th) trailed a challenger in the initial round of voting. But despite relatively successful end results, even some long-time aldermen only scraped through to reelection by the skin of their teeth. Here, the Weekly analyzes four close races in which the incumbent prevailed.
Joseph Ziegler lives and owns an insurance business in the same neighborhood he grew up in, in the 21st Ward. The ward, which includes parts of Auburn Gresham, Brainerd, and Washington Heights, has been run by Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. since 2004. Ziegler once worked with the alderman but parted ways with him years ago. The times he’s spent outside of Chicago was when he was a student at Southern University in Louisiana.
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.
The 3rd Ward—where Alexandria Willis hopes to be the next alderman—stretches from Washington Park, Fuller Park, and a small corner of Englewood through Bronzeville to the South Loop. Willis grew up in Chicago and moved to the 3rd Ward four years ago, to a spot in Bronzeville not too far from where her father grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes. A policy analyst with a background in public health, nursing, and advocating for nursing home safety, Willis has been excited to contribute to the community’s momentum as a resident and through work like serving on the board of nonprofit developer The Renaissance Collaborative and helping with the Englewood Quality of Life Plan.
Chicago is considered the birthplace of the environmental justice movement—but mayoral candidates have never really been grilled about how they would address the issue.