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February 25, 2011

SSA student voted alderman; Rahm, Hairston, Burns win

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The race for mayor wasn’t the only contentious election on Tuesday.

Two U of C students were on the ballot for the Chicago alderman elections—one winning in an unexpected victory. Leslie Hairston of the fifth ward and Will Burns of the fourth ward will also serve as the local aldermans this year. The winner of the 20th ward election will be decided in an April run-off.

University graduate student Ameya Pawar will become Chicago’s first Asian-American alderman following an upset for the Lincoln Park seat Tuesday. Pawar beat out Tom O’Donnell to represent the 47th Ward in an unexpected victory.

Pawar is currently a second-year graduate student at the University’s School of Social Service Administration (SSA), and will finish the program this year. He plans to apply his SSA coursework—including his studies in clinical social work—to his new role as alderman.

Following former 47th ward alderman Gene Schulter’s unexpected retirement in January, Pawar ran to fill the vacant seat with the campaign “Renew Chicago.” He ran on a platform of public service and gained endorsements from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Pawar won 50.8 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a run-off against O’Donnell. A candidate must secure over 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off election.

He received a Masters of Science from the U of C in Threat & Response Management—a program which he said changed his life. Following his graduation, he continued studying disasters and local impact.

He currently works as a program assistant at Northwestern University in the Office of Emergency Management.

For fourth-year undergraduate Johnny Kozlar, Tuesday meant the return to student life. The Chicago native lost in the race for the 11th Ward alderman seat, but he hasn’t given up on politics.

“Running was just a breathtaking experience,” Kozlar said. “There are so many opportunities in politics.”

Kozlar secured 22 percent of the votes, beating out Carl Segvich. Both candidates lost to incumbent James A. Balcer, who won the seat with 61 percent of the vote.

He plans to spend the rest of his final year at the University applying to medical schools and finishing his B.A. paper, which includes his own experiences in Chicago politics.

The next 11th ward election will be in 2015, a year Kozlar plans to spend studying medicine—not knocking on doors.

Still, he said the possibility shouldn’t be counted out entirely. “You don’t know until the time comes in three and half years,” he said. At 22 years old, he would’ve been the youngest alderman to serve.

Other University students took part in the other aspects of the political process Tuesday—as volunteers, not candidates.

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel received 55 percent of the vote on Tuesday, thanks in part to student support, including the work of U of C first-year Benjamin Field, a fellow for the campaign.

“These last four days, from Saturday to Tuesday, have been absolutely insane,” Field said. He worked 12 hours each day, canvassing the neighborhoods and making phone calls.

According to Field, the hours of work will pay off for years. “I’m sure that [his election] will bring about a new era in Chicago’s development.”

In the second Ward, incumbent Bob Fioretti held on to his alderman seat with 55 percent of the vote. Among the five opponents, Fioretti faced Genita Robinson (J.D. ’96), the former assistant dean for admissions at the U of C Law School. Robinson garnered 31 percent of the vote.

Incumbent Leslie Hairston secured her seat in the fifth ward following a controversial campaign. With 61 percent, Hairston beat out AnneMarie Miles—the closest opponent with 21 percent of the vote.

Hairston has held the seat since 1999 and plans to continue her efforts to bring retailers to Hyde Park.

In the fourth ward, State Representative Will Burns will assume the vacant seat left by Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle was elected President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in November and the seat has since been filled by interim alderman Shirley Newsome.

Fourteen of the 50 alderman elections will end in a run-off on April 5, since no candidate won over 50 percent of the vote. Che “Rhymefest” Smith and incumbent Willie Cochran will face off in the 20th Ward for the alderman’s seat in April.

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