Illustration by Mell Montezuma

South Side Election Guide

A look at other races on your ballot

3rd U.S. House District

Activist Rush Darwish

Mechanic Charles Hughes

U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski

Nonprofit executive Marie Newman

Second time’s the charm? After coming within 2,500 votes of incumbent U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski in 2018, Marie Newman, a former small business owner and nonprofit executive, is trying once again to win over the Democratic primary voters of the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Bridgeport, parts of Beverly and Mount Greenwood, and several southwest suburbs. On the surface, Lipinski makes an appealing target for any ambitious would-be congressman: one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, Lipinski’s votes against abortion rights, the DREAM Act, and the Affordable Care Act may win him support from anti-abortion groups, but also put him increasingly outside the Democratic mainstream. Newman, accordingly, has taken a similar progressive stance to her last campaign, advocating for Medicare For All and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. While local Democratic ward organizations, including Michael Madigan’s 13th Ward, continue to support Lipinski, he has become a high-profile target for a variety of national progressive groups supporting Newman.

Four major factors are different this time, two likely to help Newman, two to hurt her. The first: her near-success in 2018 made her campaign seem more credible, enticing national and local groups to support her both earlier and more aggressively. In 2018, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and EMILY’s List, two major pro-choice groups, didn’t endorse Newman until February, a month before the election. This time around, both endorsed Newman last May, and have been sending substantial resources to her campaign ever since. She’s won the endorsement of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, which endorsed Lipinski in 2018, and several local unions that either backed Lipinski or stayed neutral. Another factor working in Newman’s favor is the presidential primary between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, which might draw out more occasional voters with little loyalty to the ward organizations working on Lipinski’s behalf.

Unlike 2018, however, this year she won’t get a clean shot at Lipinski. Two other candidates, Rush Darwish and Charles Hughes, will also appear on the ballot. Darwish in particular is running a well-funded campaign that could pull anti-Lipinski voters away from Newman. As a Palestinian American, he may draw strong support from the district’s substantial population of Arab American voters; Newman made substantial inroads with these voters in 2018. (Hughes, a former precinct captain for Lipinski’s father, is running a bare-bones campaign based on $21,000 in loans he made to it.) 

The second factor working against Newman is a more complicated one: unlike in 2018, there is no high-profile contest on the Republican side of the ballot. Last cycle, a competitive gubernatorial primary between Bruce Rauner and Jeanne Ives preoccupied Republican voters; despite this, progressive think tank Data for Progress found that enough regular Republican voters crossed over to provide double Lipinski’s margin of victory. This election, with no gubernatorial contest to vote in, more conservatives who usually vote Republican may be tempted to pull a Democratic ballot in order to save their conservative congressman. (Sam Joyce)

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Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court

Attorney and former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin

Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi

State Senator Iris Martinez

Attorney and activist Jacob Meister

This year, for the first time this millenium, the Clerk of the Circuit Court seat is up for grabs, after longtime officeholder Dorothy Brown decided to step aside instead of seeking a sixth term. Under Brown, the office was notorious for its technological inefficiency—causing delays and confusion across the court system—and corruption, which earned it an FBI probe. But having a functional court clerk office is important: the office is responsible for legal records across all divisions of the court. Domestic violence victims seeking orders of protection; people seeking to expunge their criminal records; inmates filing wrongful conviction claims; journalists looking for court records; drivers paying traffic tickets—all of these categories of county residents, and many more, must engage with the clerk’s office. All four candidates running to replace Brown have pledged to improve customer service, increase transparency, update the office’s digital system, reduce the burden of fees on customers,  and banish corruption. The question for voters, then, is who can best get it done.  

With Brown out of the way, the Cook County Democratic Party—which sought to unseat her in 2016, endorsing 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris’s halfhearted campaign—choice for the seat is Michael Cabonargi: a commissioner on the county Board of Review, which considers property tax assessment appeals, and a former attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Cabonargi, who also has the Sun-Times’s endorsement, says he’s best equipped to take on the job because of his experience converting to an all-digital system and translating materials into more languages on the Board of Review, but opponents complain he’d be part of the same party corruption, pointing to campaign money he used to receive from property tax appeals law firms before the county banned the practice. 

Jacob Meister is mounting his second campaign for the position; he challenged Brown in 2016 and received endorsements from the Sun-Times and Tribune then. Meister, a practicing lawyer and founder of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Civil Rights Agenda, frames himself as a political outsider and has a plan to institute opportunities to e-file lawsuits at public libraries around the city. His campaign is largely self-funded. Former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin is also running; endorsed by the Tribune, he proudly celebrates his record of leading the opposition to the pop tax on the County Board and cites his experience growing up in Englewood as a reason he can relate to many of the clerk’s office’s customers. Finally, Northwest Side state Senator Iris Y. Martinez is the only non-attorney running; she says her priority is to reform the office’s customer service at the front end. (Mari Cohen)

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1st State Senate District

Educator Froylan “Froy” Jimenez

State Senator Antonio “Tony” Muñoz

State Senator Tony Muñoz has a viable challenger who is exposing his old ties to elected officials under investigation and to the machine-formed Hispanic Democratic Organization that is long dissolved. CPS teacher Froy Jimenez worked for U.S. Representative Jesus “Chuy” García when he was in the state senate, and claims to represent fresh new leadership—however, he could not secure an endorsement from progressive entities.

Muñoz has been in office twenty-two years, ever since ousting García with the help of the now-disgraced Hispanic Democratic Organization, and has maintained a relatively low-key public profile except for bursts of watchdog media attention, like the time he and then- state Representative Eddie Acevedo passed legislation that had the effect of fattening their cop pensions. He recently appeared in town halls addressing environmental justice and gun violence, although he missed multiple candidate forums that his challenger showed up to. 

Last month, Muñoz pledged $500,000 to fund anti-violence programs in a Pilsen meeting co-sponsored by the local CPD commander, 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, state Representative Theresa Mah, and Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya. The incumbent also supported the newly-formed Southwest Environmental Alliance that is holding the MAT Asphalt plant accountable to residents.

According to Jimenez, Muñoz is running a smear campaign in the form of nasty political mailers, some of which associate Jimenez with 12th ward Alderman George Cardenas. While Muñoz and Cardenas have a similar HDO-influenced political formation, they had a falling out at some point in their careers. 

Recently, Cardenas was criticized for ushering through the MAT Asphalt plant near McKinley Park and also for accepting donations from Novak Construction—the recent buyer of the immigrant-run Discount Mall in Little Village, which reportedly plans to bring in different tenants to the small business incubator—through the 12th Ward Democrats PAC, a top Jimenez donor, records show.

Historically, Muñoz has received political support from former state senator Martin Sandoval, who recently pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges, the real estate industry, and clouted corporations like People’s Energy, Speedway, ComEd, Monsanto, and more recently, Amazon.

Jimenez himself used to be García’s chief-of-staff when he was in the state senate, and they, too, had a falling out. Jimenez wrote last year in a press release that he “has chosen to defy the old political establishment in Springfield and what is seen by some as the new Chuy García progressive machine.”

Jimenez grew in name recognition after enthusiastically appearing solo in candidate forums and placing political commercials in Spanish-language radio. His platform is stressing an end to pay-to-play politics at the state level, local control of TIF funds, term limits, “no red tape” on small businesses, and affordable homeownership.

Democratic Socialist Sigcho-Lopez, whose name or likeness appears in campaign literature for both candidates, has made no endorsement. “I have told both camps that I am staying out of the race and focusing on the constituency services and multiple issues that our ward is facing… The 25th ward IPO had a process and decided not to endorse in the 1st district. I always check with them for their recommendation,” the alderman told the Weekly.

The first district in the Illinois Senate includes the areas of Pilsen, Bridgeport, McKinley Park, Gage Park, and Archer Heights. (Jacqueline Serrato)

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13th State Senate District

State Senator Robert Peters

Attorney Ken Thomas

Since he was appointed to the lakefront seat in 2019 to replace now-Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Robert Peters has quickly carved out a role as one of Springfield’s most progressive—and most active—senators. In his first year in the State Senate, Peters was the chief co-sponsor of thirteen bills, all of which passed both chambers and were signed into law. He chairs the Senate’s Special Committee on Public Safety, and several of the co-sponsored bills he passed focus on criminal justice, including banning private detention centers in Illinois and bringing civics education into prisons. Other legislation he shepherded through the Senate include measures to help low-income college students access SNAP benefits, requiring CPS to publicly report their data on class sizes, and funding additional apprenticeships for youth.

Next session, Peters isn’t planning to slow down. He’s sponsoring legislation to abolish cash bail in Illinois, pay prisoners the state minimum wage, and test drinking fountains in public parks across the state for lead contamination. He has also been a fierce advocate of other progressive causes—he is a co-sponsor, for example, of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would commit the state to sourcing one hundred percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Reflecting his progressive platform, Peters, the former political director of grassroots group Reclaim Chicago, has won endorsement from a wide range of labor and grassroots organizing groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union, Planned Parenthood Action Illinois, United Working Families, and the Chicago chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental organization that advocates for the Green New Deal.

His opponent, attorney Ken Thomas, doesn’t take issue with many of Peters’s policy positions; like Peters, Thomas supports ending cash bail and passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Thomas has an impressive record of pro bono work, representing defendants in eviction court and at immigrants at O’Hare after Trump’s travel ban, and many of his proposed policies—requiring a verbatim record of all proceedings in eviction court, for instance—draw on this personal experience.

Where Thomas draws a contrast with Peters is their relationship to the political system. At a recent forum hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) at the Montgomery Place retirement community in Hyde Park, for instance, Thomas criticized Peters for the process by which he was appointed to the seat, as well as donations Peters received from corporations and special interests like AT&T, Comcast, and the Illinois Realtors Association. Peters was appointed by the Democratic committeepeople whose wards overlap with the district, rather than elected through a special election to fill the remainder of Raoul’s term.

Peters, for his part, urges voters who might have doubts to evaluate him on his record in office. He notes that the vast majority of his fundraising is from unions and individual donors, and offers the progressive legislation he’s passed as evidence that he’s not owned by corporate interests. At the LWV forum, he also mentioned that being appointed made him “feel I had to earn this seat,” citing his legislative work—both the bills he’s passed and the issues he wants to work on during his next term—as the primary reason voters should send him back to Springfield. (Sam Joyce)

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1st State House District & 14th Ward Democratic Committeeperson

14th Ward Alderman and Democratic Committeeperson Ed Burke

State Representative Aarón Ortíz

Former Burke intern and employee Alicia Elena Martinez

In the 2018 Democratic primary, Aarón Ortíz ousted Daniel J. Burke—brother to infamous 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke—from the Illinois House of Representatives, where Burke had represented the 1st District, which wraps around Midway Airport on the Southwest Side, since 2013. Burke resigned his seat ten days before Ortiz was sworn in, walking away from the statehouse after nearly thirty years spent downstate (he represented the 23rd District from 1991 to 2013).
Ortíz, at the time of his election a twenty-six-year-old college and career coach at Back of the Yards High School, was backed by U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” García. García was once part of the coalition of aldermen who supported Mayor Harold Washington during the Council Wars of the 1980s, when a bloc of white aldermen led by Ed Burke gridlocked the city council rather than cede any power to the city’s first Black mayor. (García has more recently thrown his support behind unsuccessful Burke challenger Tanya Patiño, who is also Ortíz’s girlfriend.)

While in office, Ortíz successfully sponsored legislation that reinstated the right of noncitizen students at the University of Illinois to run for university office as student trustees. He has also sponsored bills that would establish rent control boards, protect undocumented immigrants from eviction based on immigration status, and create a task force to study gang databases.

Now, Ortíz has set his sights on Burke’s 14th Ward Democratic Committeeperson seat. When the Democratic Machine was at the height of its power under Richard J. Daley, ward committeemen, as they were then known, were the patronage purveyors who pulled the strings in all ward-level matters. Though their power has been diminished as the Machine’s declined, ward committepeople still help decide who the Cook County Democratic Party endorses, which gives them some political sway. Should he manage to oust Burke, Ortíz will have dealt a serious blow to what remains of the embattled alderman’s influence.

Ortíz is being challenged in both the state house and committeperson primaries by Alicia Elena Martinez, a former intern in Burke’s ward office and former employee of the City Council Finance Committee, which the alderman controlled until he stepped down upon being indicted—directly, for his state house seat, and indirectly, in what is a likely attempt to draw Latinx votes away from him in the committeeperson race. Martinez also worked for Burke’s reelection campaign last year. Among her backers is Burke ally and 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez, who chairs Martinez’s campaign committee. Are her dual campaigns a last-gasp kingmaker’s play by Burke? Martinez told the Sun-Times the accusation, which Ortíz leveled at her, was “offensive.” (Jim Daley)

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2nd State House District

Former research gas specialist Kenneth Kozlar

State Representative Theresa Mah

Attorney Bobby Martinez Olson

After winning a contentious open primary for the state house district representing Chinatown, Pilsen, Bridgeport, and parts of the Southwest Side to become the first Asian-American legislator in the state, Theresa Mah faced no opposition in her first bid for reelection. This time around, she faces two newcomers to electoral politics, as she was when she ran: Kenneth Kozlar, a retired research technician who does not have a campaign committee and told the Sun-Times his recent civic work includes giving “gardening advice” and that a state historical figure he admires is former mayor Richard J. Daley—“a people person”; and Bobby Martinez Olson, a twenty-seven-year-old attorney.

Olson—whose platform includes support for the Universal Basic Income proposal championed by former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, increased environmental protections, and a lock-em-up law-and-order anti-crime plank—has been running an anti-corruption campaign against Mah, attacking her for, among other things, accepting donations from the state Democratic Party, which is controlled by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. It’s a tact often used by anti-corruption candidates, often legitimately. The only problem is that Olson has a much more direct tie to Madigan: he was on the speaker’s legal staff for a few months in 2016, according to his LinkedIn.

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9th State House District

SEIU Healthcare organizer Lakesia Collins

Political consultant Ty Cratic

Maurice Edwards

U.S. Representative Danny Davis aide Nikki Harvey

28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin chief of staff Trina Mangrum

Healthcare consultant Sandra “Sandi” Schneller

Illinois Housing Development Authority official Aaron Turner

The retirement of state Representative Art Turner has resulted in a competitive primary in this district, which is based in North Lawndale but stretches to include parts of the West Loop and Lincoln Park. Turner was first elected in 2011, replacing his father, Art Turner Jr., who held the seat for nearly three decades. Turner’s brother Aaron, who works for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, is running to succeed him. Aaron Turner has the advantage of name recognition and financial support from his brother’s campaign account, but a messy primary may upset any chance of a smooth family handoff. Most labor unions have coalesced behind SEIU Healthcare organizer Lakesia Collins, allowing her to raise more money than her opponents combined—though the manner in which money has flowed from union groups through progressive elected officials to Collins’s campaign account has raised questions.

Five other candidates have also jumped in: Ty Cratic, a political consultant and former aide to 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin, Ervin chief of staff Trina Mangrum, Danny Davis aide Nikki Harvey, healthcare consultant Sandra “Sandi” Schneller, and county employee Maurice Edwards. One major difference among the candidates, mentioned in a Block Club Chicago article that covered a candidate’s forum in North Lawndale, is charter schools: Harvey and Cratic advocated for parents to have more choice in deciding which schools their child attends (Cratic also advocated for an elected school board for CPS), while Collins, Mangrum, and Edwards criticized charter schools as a band-aid that fail to directly address the problem of underfunded schools. They also differed on the best strategies to address gun violence: Mangrum promoted policing programs like CAPS, while Harvey and Turner focused on gun control measures and Collins prioritized investments in housing, schools, and mental health. (Sam Joyce)

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10th State House District

U.S. Representative Danny Davis aide Gerard Moorer

State Representative Jawaharial “Omar” Williams

The election in the 10th, which stretches from Garfield Park up through the West Loop into Bucktown and Lincoln Park, is a family affair. Incumbent Jawaharial “Omar” Williams was appointed to the seat last year to replace Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who was elected city treasurer. Williams was appointed by the ward committeepeople whose wards include parts of the 10th District; the committeeperson who controlled the largest share of the committee’s vote in making that decision was 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Williams’s stepfather. The Gazette reported that Burnett argued that Williams was qualified for the job by pointing out that he “grew up around politics and around politicians,” referring to politics as a “family business” in an interview with the Daily Line. Certainly true, but not a line that blunts the charge of nepotism. 

Duly appointed, Williams now faces a challenge from Gerard Moorer, who currently works as an aide to U.S. Representative Danny Davis. The race has effectively become a proxy war between Davis and Burnett: two of Williams’s largest donors are Burnett’s campaign committee and the 27th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, which Burnett controls, while Davis has bought TV ads to promote Moorer. Moorer was one of the handful of candidates who the committee considered, but ultimately rejected, during the appointment process last year. A third candidate in the race, Gina Zuccaro, doesn’t seem to be running an active campaign. Notably, Zuccaro has her own ties to powerful political families: according to the Sun-Times, she’s previously worked for both Conyears-Ervin and 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin, her husband. The seat, of course, is only open because Conyears-Ervin became treasurer, a promotion she won with the help of a hefty contribution from Ervin’s campaign account. (Sam Joyce)

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29th State House District

State Representative Thaddeus Jones

Calumet City Alderman DeAndre Tillman

Thaddeus Jones has represented this district, which stretches from West Pullman and Altgeld Gardens south into rural Will County, since 2011. In their endorsement of him, the Sun-Times noted Jones’s work to pass a law installing more cameras on expressways to record shootings. Jones has also been a long-time advocate of a plan to reopen the Balmoral Park racetrack. He’s facing DeAndre Tillman, an attorney and alderman in south suburban Calumet City who helped close the city’s substantial budget deficit. In its closing days, the race has gotten intense: in a mailer, Tillman claims Jones, who voted against a bill to create a state board that could cap prescription drug prices, “voted against lowering the cost of prescription drugs.” Jones co-sponsored the bill, but failed to show up for a committee vote where the bill died, and refused to allow a substitute to attend the committee in his place. That wasn’t Jones’s only controversial decision in the last legislative session: Jones also voted against the Reproductive Health Act, which repealed the state’s ban on certain abortion procedures and requires insurers to cover abortion. Personal PAC, a pro-choice group, has spent nearly $50,000 in support of Tillman. Jones, for his part, is not going quietly, spending nearly $70,000 last quarter. (Sam Joyce)

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31st State House District

State Representative Mary Flowers

Consultant Samantha Simpson

Incumbent Mary Flowers, who represents large parts of Ashburn and Auburn Gresham out to Countryside, has been around longer than almost anyone else in Springfield. This year marks her thirty-fifth year of service in the General Assembly, a tenure bested only by Speaker Michael Madigan. But Flowers’s impressive record in Springfield goes beyond the length of her tenure; in its endorsement of her, the Chicago Tribune cited her critical oversight of the Department of Children and Family Services.

This time around, she faces a thirty-five year-old challenger: former Deloitte consulting manager Samantha Simpson. Simpson has a fairly lengthy record of public service in her own right, working for two years in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and six years with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where she helped write regulations to protect consumers from corporate abuse. Despite her work in DC and Ohio, she also boasts substantial ties to the South Side: she was born and raised in Englewood, earned a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, and now owns a home in Auburn Gresham. While her background is impressive, she faces an uphill battle against a long-serving and generally well-respected incumbent. (Sam Joyce)

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32nd State House District

Economist Ricky Gandhi

State Representative André Thapedi

Incumbent Representative André Thapedi seems likely to retain his position in the 32nd District, which stretches from Englewood west to suburban Hickory Hills. Thapedi, who has represented the district since 2009, has made vocational education a priority during his time in the House, pushing for legislation to open new trade schools in Chicago and in downstate Metro East. He has the endorsement of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. His only opponent is economist Ricky Gandhi of southwest suburban Burbank. Gandhi seems to be running an active campaign, hiring staff and beating a petition challenge from Thapedi in order to make the ballot, but Thapedi doesn’t seem particularly concerned: he didn’t report spending anything on his campaign last quarter. (Sam Joyce)

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10th Ward Democratic Committeeperson

Former South Chicago Chamber of Commerce secretary Yessenia Carreon

10th Ward Alderwoman and Committeewoman Susan Sadlowski Garza

Incumbent committeewoman Susan Sadlowski Garza, who also serves as 10th Ward Alderwoman, has drawn a challenge from Yessenia Carreon. Carreon previously worked for longtime Alderman John Pope, whom Garza unseated by just twenty votes in 2015. She filed to run for Pope’s old job against Garza last year, but was tossed off the ballot for insufficient signatures. The candidates come from different corners of the ward: Garza lives on the East Side, while Carreon is a South Chicago resident and previously served as secretary of the board for the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce. The race has been fairly quiet, but Carreon has picked up a notable endorsement from MWRD Commissioner Frank Avila. (Sam Joyce)

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12th Ward Democratic Committeeperson

12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas

State Senator and 12th Ward Democratic Committeeperson Antonio “Tony” Muñoz

In a rematch of the 2016 election for the same office, 12th Ward committeeperson Antonio Muñoz, who serves as Assistant Majority Leader in the state Senate, faces a challenge from 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas. The feud between the two extends beyond this election: Cardenas has also endorsed Froy Jimenez, who is attempting to kick Muñoz out of the Senate. Muñoz beat Cardenas 53–47 in 2016, but now faces the added pressure of defending his Senate seat.

Both men have a background in the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a powerful political operation that helped elect pro-Daley candidates in the 1990s and early 2000s before a federal patronage investigation caused it to wither and eventually shut down. They fell out, however, over the 2015 mayoral election, when Muñoz backed now-U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” García—whom he ousted from the state senate in the late ‘90s—while Cardenas supported Rahm Emanuel. One critical issue in the ward: a new asphalt plant in McKinley Park, which has drawn criticism from environmental advocates. Muñoz has seemed skeptical, holding town halls in the neighborhood and filing legislation that would require the state EPA to notify legislators about permit applications that could affect air quality in their district. Cardenas, on the other hand, has advocated for the new plant, citing the potential economic impact of new jobs and new tax revenue. Emails provided to the Weekly in January show that Cardenas had supported the plant for longer than he claims to have known about it; while Cardenas’s spokesperson claimed he was “surprised” by the development, the emails show that he had discussed the plant with its developer as long ago as February of 2017. (He has also received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the developer of the plant.) (Sam Joyce)

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15th Ward Democratic Committeeperson

Activist Edgar Flores

15th Ward Alderman and Committeeperson Raymond Lopez

15th Ward Alderman Ray Lopez held his seat fairly comfortably in 2019, winning close to fifty percent of the vote in the first round and defeating Chicago police officer Rafael Yañez by nearly twenty points in the runoff. Lopez, however, faces a fight for his committeeperson post, drawing a challenge from political activist and lifelong Back of the Yards resident Edgar Flores. Flores was previously the field director for community organizer Berto Aguayo, who placed third in the 2019 aldermanic election with sixteen percent. (Sam Joyce)

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20th Ward Democratic Committeeperson

State Senator Mattie Hunter

Police officer Jennifer Maddox

This story was reprinted with the permission of the Hyde Park Herald, a weekly newspaper in Hyde Park. Originally published March 9.

Last February, a month before former 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran entered a guilty plea in his corruption case, he predicted that one of his occasional rivals would soon follow him into the political afterlife. 

“He’ll be giving up everything, including committeeman,” Cochran said in an interview with the Weekly and Hyde Park Herald. “He should be enjoying that.”

The “he” Cochran was referring to was Kevin Bailey, then the 20th Ward Democratic Committeeperson and viewed as a leading candidate for alderman. At that point, Bailey had already come under fire during the election for his conduct in office. The Reader reported that Bailey and his mother—elected as the Republican committeeperson a few years earlier—had packed the polls with their own hand-picked, incompetent election judges, and threatened not to reappoint other long-time judges unless they agreed to circulate petitions for Bailey’s aldermanic campaign.

Bailey also attracted attention for challenging many of the other aldermanic candidates’s petition signatures. While Bailey succeeded in knocking some of the people running off the ballot, Bailey was widely criticized for the strategy. In one case, a Chicago Board of Elections official wrote that his challenges “(appear) to have been conceived in fraud, false pleading and bad faith.” 

A year later, Cochran’s prediction has, more or less, come true—Kevin Bailey is not running for reelection as Democratic Committeeperson. (Cochran himself is in the middle of serving a year-long prison sentence for felony wire fraud.) Instead, two women are vying to take his place: state Senator Mattie Hunter and police officer and nonprofit worker Jennifer Maddox are both on the March 17 ballot. Each is vowing, in her own way, to clean up the Democratic party in a ward that has been plagued by allegations of corruption against its elected officials.  

Both Maddox and Hunter say they would have deferred to current 20th Ward Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor, who beat Bailey, Maddox, and five other candidates in last year’s election. (Hunter’s campaign committee gave $7,000 to Nicole Johnson, Taylor’s opponent in the April runoff.) But Taylor decided not to run.

“I wasn’t interested in the position because we really need to build a base of new voters, to get new people to vote. So, in this position, I didn’t think it was something that I could take on,” she told the Herald ahead of the City Council meeting on February 19. 

She also declined to pick a favorite. “You’ve got two good candidates, and we’ll see who the community chooses,” she said. “I wish both of them well, and whoever the person [is] who ultimately gets the seat, I’m going to work with.”

The committeeperson presides over the political party within a ward. That means they administer elections: appointing election judges, running voter registration drives, and trying to increase turnout. When there’s a vacancy in office somewhere, they also have the power to appoint a replacement. That practice came under scrutiny in Hyde Park last year, when residents and aldermanic candidates protested the appointment of state Senator Robert Peters by a panel of Democratic committeepeople that included Bailey, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, and 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston. 

Of the two people running for the position, Maddox is the less conventional candidate: she’s never held any kind of elected office before. Outside of her work as a police officer, she runs Future Ties, a nonprofit that provides after-school programs for children. 

Maddox ran for alderman last year, ending up with a little over six percent of the vote. In the time since then, she’s been growing Future Ties, training young people to know their rights when interacting with police officers and starting a parent-mentor program with the Southwest Organizing Project. 

If elected committeeperson, Maddox seems set on continuing in much the same vein as her community activism, focusing on voter outreach and education within the ward. 

“I wanted to change the narrative, and actually get people to understand who’s on your ballot. Why should you vote for them? And how is your vote going to impact what they do in our community?” she said. “There were a lot of judges on the ballot. How many have come out to speak to you? And [residents are] like, ‘None.’ … I think that’s unfortunate in our community, because we should have an idea of who’s on the bench.” 

Maddox also emphasized that, because people aren’t always sure who the more local officials up for election are, they only tend to vote for those offices that have the least effect on their everyday lives. 

“In our community, we normally don’t vote for all those people or only vote for the ones who are high-profile—president, state’s attorney, senator, something like that,” she said. “After they reach the first three or four people, they’re done voting. And so then they lose out on the services that should be given to them within the ward. That’s why I’m running.” 

“Senator Hunter has a long track record in politics and has done a lot of great things. I just feel that she’s not in the community as much as she would have to be to do the role of committeeman,” she said, citing the fact that Hunter sits on six different committees in the state Senate. “I would rather her take care of what we need going on in Springfield and leave this piece to me.” 

Hunter, for her part, sees the fact she’s in office as a bonus—if elected, she says she would use the position to improve relationships between city and state officials for the betterment of the ward. 

“There has always been some friction between the city and the state. I’m hoping, I’m really seriously hoping that I can help communications,” she said. “To me, it looks like there’s a turf war going on. And it’s always been a turf war.” (By way of example, she said that when state officials are invited to “ribbon-cuttings and grand openings,” they’re always seated “way back in the room.”) 

She said her own relationship with Taylor is good, but could be better: “I would like for her to put her guard down a little and begin to trust me.” 

It’s not the first time Hunter has considered the position. Four years ago, a group of residents asked her to run, telling her they “were not satisfied with the condition of the 20th Ward.” She deferred out of respect for Cochran. 

“I didn’t really want to dump on him like that. I kept watching to see if he was going to file for committeeman. That week of filing—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I was like, ‘What the heck, what is he doing?’” said Hunter. “Then at 4:55 that Friday, Kevin Bailey filed for committeeman. They had set that up from the very beginning.” 

Hunter said that she reached out to Bailey and asked to meet, but he never responded. Over the next few years, she said, people complained to her that Bailey did not attend committeeperson meetings. Once she got confirmation that Taylor wouldn’t file, she decided to file for the office. 

Hunter said she sees the position as a way to help improve conditions in the ward, and cited the example of former state legislator, city treasurer, and Cook County State’s Attorney Cecil Partee, who served as Democratic committeeman when the area was a “middle-class ward.” 

“Then, over the years, different people got in. Everyone said they wanted to turn things around and improve the quality of life,” Hunter said. “But the community looks old and dilapidated. No government resources are coming in, as well as business development.” 

“I am hoping that the alderman and I can work together, as well as the Cook County Commissioner and other elected officials throughout the district to improve the quality of life and to bring some economic development,” she added. “We need the person that can knock on the door, have a cup of coffee with community leaders to see if we can come together and pull some projects together … We don’t owe anybody there other than voters.” (Christian Belanger; Aaron Gettinger contributed reporting)

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