Two of the past four aldermen in the 20th ward have gone to prison, and the incumbent, Ald. Willie Cochran, is hoping to avoid the same fight, fighting federal fraud charges but not seeking another term.
Nine candidates are on the Feb. 26 ballot to succeed Cochran, and, not surprisingly, all say a key goal is to benefit residents of the South Side ward, not fill their own pockets.
“I’m tired of elected officials who don’t represent the community, who don’t advocate on our behalf and don’t bring us to the table but are using our tax dollars,” says aldermanic hopeful Jeanette Taylor, a community organizer. “The last three aldermen have been indicted because they’re not listening — they organized around what they want, not what we want. There’s no room for us to get this wrong in this election.”
The ward’s losing streak dates to 1987, when former Ald. Cliff Kelley admitted taking $30,000 in bribes.
Ward residents got a break from corruption with his successor, Ernest Jones, a Chicago cop known as “Lock ‘Em Up Jones.” But he died in office, and his successor Arenda Troutman got a four-year prison sentence in 2009 for shaking down developers, despite tearfully insisting, “I am not a criminal ,and I never helped criminals.”
Cochran was elected in 2007, promising change after ousting Troutman.
“Everybody is embarrassed by her,” Cochran said after Troutman was charged. “She violated the trust.”
Some of those aiming to replace Cochran say the same of him. Mostly, though, they are focusing on changing the state of politics in a ward that includes swaths of Woodlawn, Englewood, Back of the Yards and Washington Park.
Taylor — known for her role in leading a hunger strike that led to the reopening of Walter Dyett High School — is pushing for rent control and a community benefits agreement ordinance for the area near the future Obama Presidential Center to help keep people from being displaced.
Kevin Bailey, an engineer who is 20th Ward Democratic committeeman and who previously ran against Cochran in 2015, says more needs to be done to provide positive outlets for teenagers and help steer them away from crime, as well as to train them in how to de-escalate potentially dangerous situations.
Bailey challenged the nominating petitions of everyone on the ballot except Andre Smith because. “if they’re not willing to fight [challenges], they likely won’t have the fight to get resources and fight other entities that have been robbing us for years.”
Smith, who is running for a third time and founded an organization called Chicago Against Violence, favors legalizing marijuana to benefit from the tax revenue and forming an advisory committee to make sure that so-called aldermanic prerogative — the unwritten rule that gives aldermen control over zoning and development in their wards — isn’t abused.
Another candidate, Jennifer Maddox, is a Chicago police officer whose Parkway Gardens after-school and summer nonprofit Future Ties won her a CNN “Hero Award.” She’s calling for tax-increment financing reform to “provide funding for after-school programming or things affecting residents right now instead of giving that money to big businesses coming in.”
Nicole Johnson, a third-grade math teacher, says she wants a strong economic engine for the ward, possibly from a south suburban airport.
To fight crime, Dernard Newell, a pastor and former investigator with the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, says more “financial and human” resources need to be provided to improve the community.
Quandra Speights, who’s on the board of directors for the groups SheVotes Illinois and No Shots Fired, says she wants to develop strong retail and commercial corridors and provide better accountability on crime and government services.
Anthony Driver, who lost two close friends to gun violence, says he aims to “keep dollars circulating in our community and build on vacant lots and hire from the community.” He’s hoping to put his experience and ties from working in DC to use in the role.
Maya Hodari, who cofounded the Woodlawn Neighbors Association, says attracting mixed-use developments is part of her vision for the ward.
“The challenges that address the 20th Ward didn’t start last year, 10 years ago,” Hodari says. “They’ve been happening for the last 60 years.”