In his quarter century on the Chicago City Council, Ald. Ricardo Muñoz was known for his independence, his progressive politics and his alliance with mentor Jesus ‘Chuy” Garcia, the former mayoral candidate and Bernie Sanders supporter who is now a congressman.
The past few months, though, Muñoz has made news for the domestic violence allegations his wife has lodged against him and his battle with alcoholism.
Muñoz’s announcement that he would retire from the council has opened the 22nd Ward to new representation for the first time in 25 years.
But it also has ignited debate about whether the Southwest Side ward — which spans parts of South Lawndale, Little Village and Archer Heights — has been dominated by what one candidate calls the “Chuy machine” or whether it needs to become even more progressive.
Michael Rodriguez, an organizer who has had leadership roles in the Democratic Party and the 22nd Ward Independent Political Organization, says he is “excited to move the party left.”
Rodriguez opposes opening new charter schools in the ward and wants to eliminate the Chicago Police Department’s gang database and strengthen the city’s sanctuary status. In a ward associated with gang violence, Rodriguez wants to move more toward a community-centered style of policing.
He has raised the most campaign money in the race by far, backed by labor groups including the Chicago Teachers Union and the SEIU Illinois Council PAC Fund, a union with an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Rodriguez, the ward’s Democratic committeeman, has a close relationship with Garcia and Muñoz, though he and Garcia — and the other three candidates — have called on the alderman to step down because of the allegations against him. Muñoz refuses, though he’s been absent while getting treatment at an Indiana rehabilitation center.
“We’re members of the same political organization . . . and he’s been at the forefront of progressive reforms, I give him a lot of credit for that,” Rodriguez says of Muñoz. “But certainly over the last couple years, we’ve seen a lack of attention to detail when it comes to city services.”
Lisette “Liz” Lopez, who’s seeking office for the first time, sees Rodriguez as the handpicked candidate of the “Chuy machine.”
“We’re used to this machine politics, and unfortunately our community has seen the same leadership for years,” Lopez says. “You’re either part of the [Ald. Edward] Burke machine, but now things have shifted, so now you’re part of this Chuy machine.”
Lopez, who grew up in Little Village, says she wants to be a “social worker for the community.” She works for Oak Street Health and says she has struggled with finding nearby healthcare, going to Northwestern Memorial Hospital when her mother became ill. She wants to bring more resources to the ward and greater transparency around the massive plan for the new Saint Anthony Hospital.
Richard Juarez, another first-time candidate, has a background in public health. He is an empty-nester who raised his three children in Little Village after moving from Acapulco in 1980. He works for Lawndale Christian Health Center, providing medical services and social programming to seniors.
Juarez says he decided to run because of frustrations over the health consequences of industry in the ward, such as the Unilever factory next to Zapata Elementary Academy and the planned Hilco distribution warehouse.
“I got angry that those of us who are in healthcare who are trying to do what is right for our community, and there are external factors that are working against us,” Juarez says. “They’re killing us.”
Neftalie Gonzalez, a 54-year-old former police officer who owns a music shop, ran unsuccessfully twice against Muñoz and is recycling some of his signs from the previous election.ds
“I’m a candidate that does not ask for and will not accept campaign contributions,” Gonzalez says. “I don’t squander unnecessarily. With my signs, I just erased the date.”
His small music shop on 26th Street is lined with CDs of mostly Mexican artists.
Gonzalez says his priority is dealing with gang violence. He started the nonprofit Opportunity-Oportunidad to provide mentoring for young people and says he’ll push for more cops and cameras.
“What makes people feel safe? Police make you feel safe. We need more police,” Gonzalez says.
Still, he says: “The police department protects their own … The brass has no integrity.”