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.
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.
The evening of January 28 was cold and snowy, but around 150 people made their way up four flights of stairs to the grand auditorium in the Pui Tak Center in Chinatown for a 25th Ward aldermanic forum. The center serves as one of the hubs of the community, hosting English and computer classes, services for new immigrants, and a Christian school. With its terra cotta facade and handsome, finely detailed interiors, the building is listed on the register of Chicago Landmarks and in 2007 placed first among twenty-five sites across Chicagoland to win a $110,000 preservation grant through wide community support.
On February 12, students, teachers, and staff gathered in the auditorium of Kenwood Academy High School to listen to five mayoral candidates discuss their campaign platforms and answer students’ questions. The town hall was planned and organized by students in the school’s Global Issues class, and students were responsible for not only thoroughly researching each candidate’s platform and crafting detailed questions, but also reaching out to candidates and their campaign staff, moderating the forum, and staffing the event. While only five of the fourteen mayoral candidates—La Shawn Ford, Lori Lightfoot, John Kozlar, Neal Sáles-Griffin, and Willie Wilson (who arrived halfway through the event)—attended the town hall, the event drew a sizeable audience of engaged students.
Raynetta Greenleaf was born and raised in Auburn Gresham and attended John W. Cook elementary school and Simeon Career Academy. She works as a patient care facilitator at Rush University Medical Center, and is the founder of an organization called Greenleaf Motivation Inc., geared towards engaging youth and preventing violence in her neighborhood.
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.
Chicago’s political history sometimes reads more like a House of Cards script than it does a civics lesson. Terms like “Chicago-style” politics and “the machine” have become ubiquitous nationwide to evoke corruption, quid-pro-quo arrangements, and nepotism. Of course “the machine” is not actually a machine—it is a shorthand for the relationships and strictly enforced loyalties that allowed the Democratic Party to consolidate power in Chicago over the course of the twentieth century. While the machine enjoyed its heyday under the father-son duo of Mayors Richard J. and Richard M. Daley, many of today’s elected officials remain beholden to this power structure or employ its tactics: rewarding supporters with contracts and city jobs, intimidating dissenters, and backing legislation which will line their own pockets.
Part II of a special joint report of the Weekly and the Hyde Park Herald