An Election Day Primer: The Aldermanic Races (Progress Illinois)

By Robert Dietz

February 21, 2011

There's a lot at stake in the City Council races. Retirements in wards throughout the city have led to an explosion of interest in running for the council. All tolled the ballots tomorrow will have 239 different candidates running for City Council. There will be 11 new alderman on the council after voting is completed and possibly as many as 20 to 25, meaning that half of the council could be made up of new faces.

Progress Illinois has been all over the city, covering the different races up close. Here is a look back at the campaigns we covered, and a look ahead to the possible make up of the new City Council.

Wards 1-25

The race for Chicago's 3rd ward city council seat has been somewhat of a dramatic one, with Ebony Tillman vying for the same seat her mother, Dorothy Tillman, held for 20 years before losing to current alderman Pat Dowell in 2007. The younger Tillman says residents of the ward asked her to run for alderman and told the Chicago Sun-Times that her mother's notoriety has followed her along the campaign trail. "I would say that people ask about my mom every other door, but really it’s more like every door. It’s the first question they ask everywhere I go," she said. "Even at the train station. It makes me feel very proud."

Although Tillman may get a boost from fans of her mother, famous for wearing big, flashy hats, Dowell is winning the popularity contest when it comes to endorsements. The incumbent has won the backing of the Sun-Times, SEIU (whose Illinois council sponsors this site), the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Chicago Firefighters Union, AFSCME, UNITE Here, For a Better Chicago, Gazette Chicago, Chicago Tribune, Citizen Action, CFL, Teamsters Joint Council 25, the Chicago Teachers' Union, IVI-IPO, and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. Watch video of Dowell and Tillman discussing the major issues facing the ward here:

The wards that cover Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood -- currently the 4th and 5th -- historically have occupied a very specific sort of place in the city's political life. "Just about everything good to emerge from the miserable swamp of Chicago politics has some connection to the communities lodged roughly in the area between 43rd and 60th streets on the north and south and from the lake to Cottage Grove," the Reader's Ben Joravsky wrote last March. Politicos with independent streaks have long tended to emerge from this part of town, Joravsky noted, including Ald. Leon Despres and former Mayor Harold Washington. Toni Preckwinkle represented the 4th Ward in City Council between 1991 and late last year, when she was elected president of the Cook County board.

This election cycle, seven candidates have lined up to challenge for the 4th Ward seat (Shirley Newsome, appointed to serve out Preckwinkle's term, isn't running). Progressives from around the city will probably recognize at least one of the contenders, 26th District State Rep. Will Burns, who has garnered endorsements from major business and labor groups, including SEIU. Brian Scott, who works in finance, affordable housing advocate George Rumsey, Adam Miguest, Norman Bolden, James Williams, and Lori Yokoyama round out the candidate list.

Although voters in the 6th Ward will see six names on the ballot in the race for alderman, the real contest seems to be between incumbent Freddrenna Lyle and Roderick T. Sawyer. The son of former mayor Eugene Sawyer, Roderick has been included in the class of City Council candidates hoping to stay in the family business of politics. Lyle, who spoke at the elder Sawyer's funeral in 2008, told the Chicago Sun-Times that she was surprised that Roderick jumped into the race to run for her council seat, especially since he used to be a Lyle supporter, “I thought we were friends. Do I hate him? Nah. But I’m going to beat him. And then we can be friends again, I guess," she said.

Lyle, who has been endorsed by SEIU, went on to say that there is a slight concern that older voters could go for Sawyer due to their familiarity with his father. But Lyle thinks younger people in her ward "don’t subscribe to that at all. There’s fatigue with family dynasties."

For his part, Sawyer says he is not looking to bank on the family name and isn't running to further future political aspirations -- or to irk Lyle. He says he is running because he doesn't agree with the alderman's voting history, citing her 'yes' vote for the parking meter deal as one of those instances. He also explained some more localized reasons for his run.

Battle lines between progressive-leaning Latinos and regular Democrats seem to be forming in the 12th Ward aldermanic race, where four people are challenging George Cardenas, the area's alderman since 2003. Some of the same individuals involved in recent Southwest Side upsets are weighing in on this campaign too. Candidate Jesse Iniguez, the United Southwest Chamber of Commerce executive director, has garnered Garcia's endorsement, for example (as well backing from 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz, one of the more outspoken council progressives, and SEIU).

Other challengers, meanwhile, are touting endorsements from organized labor and leading community activists. Business operator and Green Party leader Alberto Bocanegra is supported by water district commissioner Frank Avila, immigrant rights organizer Jorge Mujica, and other groups, while Teamsters Local 700 and the Chicago Firefighters Union are with Streets and Sanitation employee Jose Guereca. Maria Ortiz is also listed on the ballot.

The 12th Ward covers several heavily Latino neighborhoods, including Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, and parts of Little Village. The two police districts that cover the ward, the 9th and 10th, saw rising crime last year versus 2009 (PDF), with overall incidents up 0.4 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively. Like other areas, foreclosure filings and repossessions have risen following the burst of the housing bubble, according to the Woodstock Institute's latest report.

Some of the faultlines in the race revolve around Wal-Mart. Ingiuez said allowing a branch of the retailing giant to open near the 47th Street business district would hurt stores "that are already struggling. They're going to shut down shops," he said of Wal-Mart. "I don't think that's a solution."

In the days leading to Election Day, the environment became a key issue in the 25th Ward. An unofficial hearing about the stalled Clean Power Ordinance drew a big crowd out to City Hall recently, and mingling among the environmental campaigners were more than a few would-be elected officials on the ballot in Chicago's municipal elections. Two candidates challenging Danny Solis for the 25th Ward aldermanic seat came out to show their support for the bill -- and to hit Solis for failing to lend his support for the Clean Power Ordinance. The Fisk Generating Station, one of the two plants targeted for clean-up in the proposed bill, sits south of Pilsen in Solis' ward.

Cuauhtemoc Morfin, of the challengers in the 25th, said the Clean Power bill is "one of my priority issues and it should be a priority issue for the current alderman" while candidate Ambrosio "Ambi" Medrano, Jr., asked, "How come these aldermen are making this a big issue and our alderman is not?" (SEIU has endorsed Medrano Jr.'s campaign.)

Solis, who as of last fall had accepted nearly $50,000 in political contributions from the owners of the Fisk and Crawford plants, has been on board with previous legislative efforts to rein in some of the pollution coming out of Fisk and Crawford. A spokeperson for him is on record calling for more federal regulation -- rather than city rules -- to deal with the plants. Community and environmental advocates say the issue demands a response now. However, 25th Ward voters have the most immediate say. On the Clean Power Ordinance, there is a clear-cut choice between Solis and his challengers.

Wards 26-50

Of the 11 aldermanic seats left open by departing members of the City Council, nine are located in wards 26 to 50.

In the 28th Ward, two people are on the ballot to replace Ald. Ed Smith who held the seat for 27 years. The ward, which includes Garfield Park as well as parts of Austin, has been hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis, and is facing troubling issues with struggling schools, crime, and a lack of jobs and affordable housing.

Progress Illinois was on hand as candidates -- those both on the ballot and not -- met at the Legler Public Library to discuss the issues as part of a set of aldermanic forums hosted by the West Side NAACP. Jason Ervin, a longtime aide to Smith, and Mayor Richard Daley’s choice as Smith’s successor, played the role of the incumbent. He is facing Carmelita Earls, a firefighter of 20 years who has since been removed from the ballot, and bar manager William Siegmund. Two others appeared at the forum, though they are not on the ballot -- Carol Johnson, a community activist who touted herself as a write-in candidate; and Michael Stinson, a pastor who was ordered off the ballot for having unpaid parking tickets.

Ervin, with his long experience in the ward, is considered the candidate to beat. He has the support of Smith, local state representatives, and has won the endorsement of unions (SEIU; AFSCME; UNITE HERE), business interests (For A Better Chicago, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce), and the major newspapers.

On a chilly evening, around 15 people filled chairs arranged in a barber shop in the 29th Ward to hear the three candidates who showed up to talk about the ward, its issues, and their campaigns. The 29th Ward is a rectangular-shaped territory that hugs a vertical swath of Chicago's West Side, from Barry Avenue on the north to Roosevelt Road on the South, covering parts of the Austin and Belmont-Cragin neighborhoods.

Its last elected alderman was Isaac Carothers, an ally of Mayor Daley who was sentenced in the summer of 2010 to 28 months in federal jail for accepting bribes related to a development project in the ward. Daley appointed Deborah Graham (who has been endorsed by SEIU) to serve out Carothers' term last spring. She previously represented the 78th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Another ward revisiting a recent change of its representative is the 32nd Ward. In 2007, Scott Waguespack defeated Ted Matlak in the aldermanic race, ending decades of machine control over the territory, which covers sections of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Roscoe Village, and Lincoln Park. The hard-fought campaign went to a run-off in April '07, when Waguespack bested Matlak in the final round of voting by a tiny margin.

A major issue four years ago was how Matlak handled (or failed to handle) the rapid pace of residential development seen in the area in the run-up to his defeat. These days, proposals for new-construction condominium buildings, and the complex community processes and zoning battles they often inspire, are not as much of an immediate concern given the struggling state of the housing market. Instead, the issues in the race for 32nd Ward alderman include a mixture of ward-level concerns and broader questions that affect every part of Chicago.

Three 32nd Ward residents -- Brian Gorman, Bryan Lynch, and David Pavlik -- are challenging Waguespack (who has been endorsed by SEIU) for the seat. At a candidates forum held in Lincoln Park, Waguespack argued the race was about which candidate was best equipped to tackle big issues -- he mentioned city finances, education, business services, among others -- the mayor and City Council have left unaddressed for years. "We have to work on city budgets, we have to work on the issues that affect us citywide," he said.

The race has seen its fair share of shenanigans. In an e-blast, Waguespack said a Florida-based firm was "push polling" 32nd Ward residents, distorting his positions. And just last week, a 36-second phone call caused quite a stir in Chicago's 32nd Ward. A police officer recorded a robo-call, paid for by Bryan Lynch, criticizing Ald. Scott Waguespack. The police officer, James Moriarty, says Waguespack "has not made public safety a priority in the 32nd Ward."

The problem with the call is that police officers are not permitted to campaign for candidates. The Chicago News Cooperative talked (subscription required) to Chicago Police Sergeant Antoinette Ursitti who said, "The department’s rules and regulations do prohibit participating in any partisan, political campaign or activity." Lynch has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. The report also got the attention of the local CBS station.

For Ald. Rey Colon, whose 35th Ward encompasses much of the Logan Square community, a bevy of splashy new restaurants, bars, and small retail outlets -- along with park improvements and school construction -- are campaign touchstones, concrete examples of what he argued at an aldermanic candidates' forum was his successful stewardship of the ward.

"[W]e're being recognized not only in the city of Chicago, but around the country as a community and as a destination that people want to come to," Colon told the audience of several dozen neighborhood residents yesterday. "So, I'd like to believe I had something to do with that."

If new, local developments are a critical part of the alchemy that makes any aldermanic re-election campaign a successful one, Colon (who has been endorsed by SEIU) appears well positioned to win a third term to City Council this year over Nancy Schiavone, an attorney, and Miguel Sotomayor, who works for the state tollway authority, the two people challenging him. Watch a portion of a forum dealing with affordable housing:

The race for the 41st Ward seat on Chicago's City Council is a crowded one, with 11 candidates vying to take the place of Ald. Brian Doherty, Chicago's only Republican councilman, who lost a race for State Senate last fall. Located on the city's far Northwest Side, the ward encompasses Edison Park, a popular place to live amongst firefighters, police officers, and other city workers. The ward includes O'Hare Airport as well as the Wildwood, Oriole Park, Norwood Park and Edgebrook neighborhoods. According to an article in the Chicago Reader, "the 41st is notable for Doherty, the lone Republican on the City Council, and Edison Park is notable for its racial makeup: at 95 percent, it's the whitest neighborhood in town. Its median household income is $83,000, its family poverty rate 2 percent."

The area is heavily populated with people of Irish and Polish descent, which can be affirmed by the names of the candidates clamoring for Doherty's spot: Mary O'Connor, Jim Mullen, Thomas Patrick Murphey, John Joseph Quinn, Daniel T. Lapinski, Brock Merck, James J. Shamne, George Banna, Barbara Ateca, Maurita E. Gavin, and Richard Gonzalez. Although the ward is far from diverse, Gonzalez, who is Puerto Rican, told the Reader that racial tensions in the area have quelled since he moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago.

In a profile of the 43rd Ward race, an open race to replace Ald. Vi Daley, the Chicago Tribune noted that whoever wins the seat will have to hit the ground running, dealing with several major development projects that will have a lasting impact. These include the former Children's Memorial Hospital campus and the A. Finkl and Sons steel plant, as well as what to do with the empty Lincoln Park Hospital. Nine candidates are vying for that responsibility, including Tim Egan, a hospital executive who ran in 2007 against Ald. Daley and currently has the support of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce as well as Citizen Action. Michele Smith, the ward's Democratic committeeman, took a shot at the seat four years ago and is running again as well. Carmen Olmetti, another candidate in the race, has the support of the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Chicago Teachers Union.

In the 45th ward, there's a battle to replace Ald. Patrick Levar. Last week, shots were fired at a campaign office of Marina Faz-Huppert on the 5300 block of N. Milwaukee. While no one was hit, workers were present during the shooting.

In the crowded campaign to replace retiring 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller, one major issue keeps rearing its head as the hot topic of the race: crime. After a rash of recent daylight shootings, voters in the 46th are taking the timing of the city elections, and Shiller's retirement, as an opportunity to voice their concerns about safety in their neighborhoods. The Chicago News Cooperative took a look at the race for Shiller's council seat and found that "there are few areas where the debate on crime and police staffing is more impassioned than in the 46th Ward."

At a candidate forum on January 24, the candidates seemed to all agree that crime was a target issue for the next 46th Ward alderman, and they all had varying opinions on how to best address the problem. According to Gay Chicago, the 11 candidates agreed that Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis should be fired, but not everyone knocked his idea to redeploy police from safer areas to those with more crime.

Another ward spotlighted by a major daily is the 50th, which Bernard Stone has represented since 1973. Stone, who's 83 years old, is running again. In her Sun-Times column today, Carol Marin wrote that this will be Stone's "toughest race of all" as he battles against Debra Silverstein, the wife of State Sen. Ira Silverstein, and three other candidates. Stone has received significant criticism for his support of the controversial parking meter deal, and Silverstein has won the support of organized labor, including AFSCME, UNITE HERE, and SEIU.

*These clippings are provided for "fair use" not-for-profit, educational purposes (and other related purposes). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use," you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Please contact Woodstock Institute for more information.