Chicago Elections 2019: April 2
by Lew Rosenbaum
This is more than a guide to the election map of April 2, 2019. Enough people are talking
about how this election could transform city council, how there are some exciting candidates as well as a load of incumbents deserving to be retired. We don’t have 20-20 hindsight yet, so we can’t offer perfect predictions of what will happen. But here’s the deal: a debate about major questions of our survival is raging across the electoral landscape. Whether or not you will have a house or home to return to; whether or not your neighborhood school will be replaced by privatized charters; whether or not mental health clinics will be restored; whether or not police will continue to terrorize our communities; these are real debates taking place from wards on the south side to the north.
The demands that people have been making, for example for police accountability and for housing as a human right, have pushed a new crop of candidates into the electoral arena. As much focus has been on the individual candidates, we should be paying at least as much attention to the movement on whose waves these candidates are riding. And while there is a significant amount of simply populist backlash to turn the long term incumbents out, the real catalyst to the emergence of the new crop of challengers is the anger — righteous and deep — of the people.
Let’s look at some of the wards up for grabs.
Ward 5: Activist William Calloway, best known for his efforts to bring the video of the murder of Laquan McDonald to the public, has forced incumbent Leslie Hairston into a runoff. His main support comes from the South Shore neighborhood, but he has gotten an endorsement from the other Hairston challenger, Gabriel Piemonte, whose base is in Hyde Park. Hairston came close to winning outright, so this will be a difficult one to flip. What makes this race even more interesting is that Willie Wilson endorsed Calloway over Hairston (no love lost between Wilson and Rahm Emanuel). Wilson took more African American majority wards than any other candidate in the February election. A Calloway victory holds the most promise for the workers of the fifth Ward.
Ward 15: Rafa Yanez led 4 other candidates to force Rahm Emanuel rubber stamp Ray Lopez into a runoff, but just barely. Yanez had union support in the first round and continues with union support and the endorsement of United Working Families. A former policeman, he has been vocal in supporting the NoCopAcademy campaign and exposing abuse in the police, not as a matter of bad individuals but as a systemic problem. Rafa Yanez has the movement support that could make a change in the ward.
Ward 20: Nine candidates vied in February to replace retired/indicted alderman Willie
Cochran. Of these, Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson made the runoff. Jeanette, with 29% of the vote, came to the attention of Chicagoans with her participation in a hunger strike to keep Dyett School open. She earned her right to be part of that group, by decades of volunteer work leading the Local School Councils in the neighborhood. Her fight for public education is not a whim; it’s life or death, a matter of survival for her, her children and the families where she grew up. Incidentally, she apparently just joined DSA. Jeanette Taylor shows something about how the programmatic demands of the people are embodied in the candidates themselves.
Ward 25: In 2015, Byron Sigcho-Lopez and other challengers almost forced Danny Solis into a runoff. This year Solis decided not to run, after the FBI got him to wear a wire to establish corruption among the aldermen. Byron is in a runoff this time against Alex Acevedo, a machine hack. Hilario Dominguez, a teacher and one of the other candidates with progressive endorsement, has endorsed Sigcho-Lopez, who has impressive credentials fighting for public education and against charters (he did a lot of the work uncovering the corruption in the UNO charter network). He is also an activist in Pilsen Alliance and embraced the “Five Point Program” of the Concerned Puerto Rican Voters, a model of the fight for basic needs. The movement around Byron Sigcho-Lopez provides an opportunity to develop a citywide network of fighters against gentrification and for public education.
Ward 30: Ariel Reboyras, the incumbent in the ward and Rahm Emanuel shill, is best known this year as the man who went to the West Coast to research police oversight practices, and came back with two proposals to divert from the Chicago Police Accountability Council, or CPAC. Jessica Gutierrez, daughter of former Congressman Luis Gutierrez, is in the runoff challenging Reboyras. To some extent this campaign reflects an opposition to Emanuel and the whole police accountability question. A vote for Gutierrez could solidify that opposition.
Ward 33: Rossana Rodriguez has become the star of the runoff season. She actually polled more votes than the incumbent, but not enough to win outright. Rodriguez has run as a Democratic Socialist; the incumbent, Deb Mell, is the daughter of long time Chicago pol Dick Mell, a loyal follower of Rahm Emanuel. More important than her star quality is that Rodriguez has embraced the NoCopAcademy campaign, supports CPAC, wants an elected school board, and seeks housing as a human right. Endorsed by United Working Families, a citywide movement is coalescing around the Rossana Rodriguez. campaign.
Ward 40: Alderman Pat O’Connor was part of the Vrdolyak 29 that obstructed Mayor Harold Washington’s program in 1983. He never apologized for his participation in this racist, anti-working class cabal. As the floor leader in city council for Mayor Emanuel, O’Connor did Emanuel’s bidding for the last eight years. When Alderman Ed Burke was indicted 6 months ago for extortion and then stripped of his chairmanship of the powerful finance committee, Emanuel placed O’Connor in his place. In that role just last week he prevented a referendum from reaching the floor of the Council that would tax sales of homes more than $1 million. That tax would provide funds for services for the homeless. Andre Vasquez was the first among challengers to O’Connor’s seat and will face him in the runoff. Coming out of the hip-hop movement, Vasquez has embraced everything decent that O’Connor opposes. He’s endorsed by United Working Families and points out that his winning this office would allow for the further development of a Socialist Caucus of aldermen. Ousting O’Connor by itself would be a worthy achievement. As with a number of other wards, here too the movement for affordable housing for all, for public schools, for police accountability could be solidified with the victory of Andre
Ward 46:When the votes were counted after the February 26 election, less than 300 votes separated the three top challengers to incumbent Jim Cappleman, gentrifier extraordinaire. Any of the three would have been a vast improvement over the man Emanuel tapped to take Danny Solis’s (the alderman who wore the wire, ward 25) position on the Zoning Committee. That lot fell to Marianne Lalonde, a PhD chemist who is also on the Board of a shelter for homeless women, Sarah’s Circle. She is a fierce advocate for people experiencing homelessness, a big problem in Uptown where this ward is located. Cappleman gained about 44% of the vote in February; Lalonde’s chances are improved by the fact that the other challenger candidates have endorsed her. Getting rid of Cappleman would be advantageous by itself. A victory for Lalonde could strengthen an already strong movement for housing and education in this ward.
Ward 47: Alderman Pawar decided not to run for re-election and instead to run for treasurer. Nine candidates vied for this office. Matt Martin won 40% of the vote and will face Michael Negron in the runoff. Martin is endorsed by United Working Families and has a good chance of winning this seat.
We should at least note that Democratic Socialist Daniel LaSpata beat incumbent Proco “Joe” Moreno by a 2 to 1 margin; and Democratic Socialist Carlos Ramirez Rosa retained his seat with 60% of the vote. Maria Hadden ousted incumbent Joe Moore by an almost 2 to 1 margin; Moore held his seat for 28 years and operated as a gatekeeper for Rahm Emanuel. But we should also note that John Arena, a champion of affordable housing, lost his seat because of racist and anti-homeless smear by his challenger. Most of the African American incumbents on the South and West side retained their seats regardless of their sycophant connection to the Democratic Party machine.
The Mayor: If you have read this far, you are perhaps wondering if we are ever going to discuss the mayoral race. For a race between deeply flawed candidates, this campaign has ignited considerable passion. Of the original 14 candidates, few would have predicted that two African-American women would face off against each other. That the next mayor will be an African American woman is pretty remarkable in this city. One, Lori Lightfoot, is best known as a Rahm Emanuel appointee to the police review board as well as a federal prosecutor and a lawyer for one of the most connected law firms in the city. Her defense of police in, for example, the Rekia Boyd murder, has earned her the enmity of the police accountability movement. The other, Toni Preckwinkle, chairs the Cook County Democratic Party. She is the ultimate insider with scads of experience as an alderman and also as the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Anyone in politics as long as Preckwinkle would have to have ties to the corrupt (ties to the recently indicted Ed Burke and the disgraced Joe Berrios).
Preckwinkle has raised over $8 million for her campaign, while Lightfoot in excess of $4 million. Preckwinkle’s top donors include various branches of SEIU for about half of her donations (teachers’ unions have contributed about $400,000). Lightfoot has gotten about $500,000 from the Laborers Union and has been endorsed by the Plumbers. It appears that the Building Trades have more confidence in a Lightfoot administration, while public workers and service workers unions think they have more to gain from Preckwinkle winning. The newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Sun Times, Crain’s) have endorsed Lightfoot. Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle style themselves as progressive and independent, though their claims make one wonder if we are speaking the same language.
As we said above, the passions are running high in this campaign among activists. The opinions on both sides are understandable, and the objectives (stopping a cop supporter vs dealing a blow to “the machine”) are worthy. A number of the activists on both sides of the divide recognize that, no matter who wins, the movement is going to have to fight like hell. And, with respect for the passions of those involved, that is the word we want to leave you with: no matter who wins, we are going to have to fight like hell. Thankfully, with the rising movement in the wards around the fight for survival, a citywide movement of those at the bottom will be much more possible.