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.
This is Greenleaf’s first run for elected office. As she said during our phone interview, she is not a politician, but a community service worker who is running to serve her community—which she says makes her different from Alderman David Moore, whom she is taking on to represent the parts of Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, and Englewood in the 17th Ward. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to run for alderman of the 17th Ward?
I was born and raised in Auburn Gresham, and I see a change that is not positive. Over the last few years, I formed Greenleaf Motivation Inc., [which] is geared towards giving back to the community and giving hope for a different environment. The organization has launched community outreach programs like Don’t Shoot, Let’s Hoop, is a festival that hosts a basketball tournament to get youth involved in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. I think that there is an opportunity to actually do more for my community than what I’m doing through my organization. The time has come where I can utilize the city to do what it is I’ve been doing through my organization, but at a different level.
What are some issues that are impacting the 17th Ward that is important to you?
Since [beginning] campaigning in late August, early September, I’ve had the chance to walk in different neighborhoods. Normally, I wouldn’t go down certain streets if it wasn’t a direct route to my home. As I have been campaigning in the neighborhood, I have seen a lot of vacant areas. Not just homes, but businesses too. Businesses that were started recently, are not running. They have just become another vacant lot. I would like to see businesses coming to our ward that is going to benefit our community. For example, we don’t have a bookstore here. We should have a small bookstore for our kids. We need jobs for our families. We need to regenerate homeownership, entrepreneurship, we need jobs, we need trade and we need property.
I want to see more home ownership versus renters over here. With families that own property, [they] take care of it differently… instead of letting people come from north, east, south, west area to buy up the property and rehab it and then rent it out to individuals who that’s not from here. Or Section 8-ing the environment out. It’s treated just like a Section 8 environment. We need to regenerate home ownership over here, entrepreneurship we need jobs, we need trade, we need property and we need to orchestrate that into our community and that’s what I want to see again. I want to see Black ownership that’s in our community over here.
Also, we have to tackle the violence issue that is going on. I want to work on that with the Chicago Police Department and our community. People are afraid to talk and speak up. We have to let people know that their voices need to be heard.
What kinds of businesses are you hoping to attract to the 17th Ward?
Small businesses that are able to provide community needs and service. It is very important to me to see businesses that that are providing nutrients to our bodies for our health, like a community grocery store. Businesses should provide a school day or trade day where kids from the community can come in and learn about business. Teach kids about a trade, help certify them, so they can build up a trade under their name so they can carry on and help start a business.
Since you are new to politics, what events have you participated in to introduce yourself to voters in the 17th Ward?
I’ve been to different churches to introduce myself. There was a candidate meet at the Woodson Regional Library for the ward which I attended. Since the library is city property, we were allowed to introduce ourselves but couldn’t speak about issues. It helped the community to know about my organization.
I am working on holding my own as a candidate meet so that people can get to know me. Right now, I’ve joined the 17th Ward Chicago on Facebook, so that I can put my face out there and let people see my name and let them know that I am running. Other than that, it’s me walking, door to door, talking to people and put up my flyers.
Recently, you survived a petition challenge. What was that process like for you as someone who is new to politics?
On the challenge sheet, there are four different areas that can be marked on the whole sheet. The incumbent marked every last one. That is considered a [“shotgun”]. So, we challenged it. On the sheet, it says: this person is not a resident, this person does not live here, this person did not sign or this person signed multiple times. Things of that nature.
Now, it’s okay if there were some. But it was purposely done to take time away from me being out on the street or doing other things. Now that I’m challenged, that’s money being taken away from me because people are looking and will say, “Look, she is being challenged, and what are the odds of her coming out of this challenge before we can give her this endorsement.” You can’t go to people with businesses and companies with your argument. The odds of it, to the naked eye. probably looks really bad. Also, I had to spend money on parking and a lawyer.
I won. Now, I’m on the ballot. [Ed. note: A Board of Elections hearing officer denied an attempt by Greenleaf have Moore’s objections dismissed on the grounds of them being “shotgun” and in bad faith; ultimately, 581 of the 1,233 signatures she turned in were deemed valid.]
Speaking of endorsements, you were endorsed by the Teamsters Union. How did that happen, and how will that help you while campaigning?
If I were to become aldermen of the 17th Ward, I want to see trade and union reform jobs and entrepreneurship in the community. Those are my top three things that I feel that our community need. I’m a proud union member and my union team is standing behind me one hundred percent. These are the first people that I went to when I decided that I was going to run to see if they would stand behind me with my vision. They said, “absolutely.” Even though I was being challenged, I was still someone of their choice. I know that during the last election cycle, they supported David Moore. But not this time around. So, I’m excited about that. That’s a huge win for me that they are able to support.
Once in office, how will you maintain communication and transparency between your office and the communities that you will serve?
One thing I would like to start is a twenty-four-hour service line. Where constituents can call with someone paying attention and trying to get to their needs immediately met. Not a four or five-day turnaround, but a twenty-four-hour one. Especially for our seniors, so that their needs can be met immediately.
I really want to put together a community magazine or newsletter so that people can stay informed on things that are happening.
Samantha Smylie is a contributor to the Weekly.