Ten candidates vying to replace indicted 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran gathered at the Antioch Baptist Church in Englewood to discuss their platforms last week.
In December 2016, Cochran was charged with taking bribes and using 20th Ward money for personal expenses. After Cochran announced his withdrawal from the race for reelection in August, more than 10 candidates quickly jumped in, making it one of the most competitive aldermanic races in Chicago.
At the forum, candidates were divided over policy surrounding the incoming Obama Presidential Center (OPC), but they converged on the policy areas they most prioritized—public safety, education, and economic development. They also agreed that building trust in the community was of importance, especially since two of the past three aldermen in the 20th Ward have been indicted.
When asked by a member of the audience if they would pass the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) ordinance for the OPC, the majority of the candidates replied with a “yes,” but two candidates said “no.” Kevin Bailey, a member of the 20th Ward Democratic Organization and a former engineer on Obama’s high speed rail project, and Maya Hodari, a project manager for Chicago Housing Authority, said they are not willing to commit to passing a CBA ordinance without first having time to review its contents. Bailey and Hodari were not given time to elaborate.
In terms of issues concerning the ward, Andre Smith, a third-time aldermanic candidate and CEO of Chicago Against Violence, said “Out of the 27 years of my life that I have spent in our community, I’ve seen our young men and young women gunned down, seen our schools close, and seen our gas stations becoming our grocery stores.”
Candidates then proposed different ways of tackling these main policy areas. “One of the simplest ways to further economic development is building capacity with churches and nonprofits,” Nicole Johnson said, an education policy worker. “This is a great way we can utilize the University of Chicago as a presence here. They’re not going anywhere; we need to make sure we take advantage of their resources. The Polsky Center can be a great way to build support within these churches and nonprofits, to train people in the community to do the jobs that need to be done. I’m talking about HVAC support, landscaping, maintenance, grounds keeping, and more.”
Addressing safety, Jennifer Maddox, Chicago Police Department veteran and nonprofit leader, believed that training the public on their rights was the first step to better police-public relations and safer neighborhoods. She said, “You can’t expect police to come in with a cape. We have to work together, and be a part of the community.”
In response to the discussion of the ward’s history of corruption, Anthony Driver, the youngest in the race and a political activist, said, “I’ll be an alderman for whom every dollar that comes in from tax funds, you can go online and see where that dollar was spent in my office. I’ll mail it out to you so I can be completely transparent with you about where your money is being spent.”
Multiple candidates went on to explain how they would put checks on themselves should they hold the aldermanic office. Denard Newell, a businessman, Cassius Rudolph, an ordained minister and nonprofit leader, and Clifton Pierce, owner of multiple nightclubs, all cited having alternative occupations as a reason for independence from the alderman salary.
In fact, Driver said he would propose to lower the salaries of aldermen in order to reduce the incentive for people to remain in office for excessively long periods of time.
Similarly, Jeanette Taylor, local school council member, said, “I have an exit plan. I only want to be there for three years. I want young people to be in the office because part of the problem here is we don’t pass it on generationally. I’m not looking to be a career politician.”
These forums will continue to be held until candidate names are placed on the ballot on November 26, 2018. The next forum will take place in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of the 20th Ward.
Charlie Kolodziej and Jack Cruz-Alvarez contributed reporting.