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South Side incumbent clings to lead as Dyett hunger striker poised to win 20th

5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston votes Tuesday at O'Keefe Elementary School, 6940. S. Merrill. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

Facing strong showings from their challengers, two incumbent South Side aldermen were poised to retain their seats while another was holding on by just a slim margin late Tuesday.

And while Ald. Leslie Hairston clung to a lead of 206 votes over activist William Calloway in the 5th Ward, another activist, Jeanette Taylor, ran away in the 20th Ward race to replace disgraced ex-Ald. Willie Cochran.

A confident hum buzzed at Hairston’s Election Night party in South Shore, despite a lead that narrowed to just 50.8 percent of the vote to Calloway’s 49.2 percent with all but one precinct reporting.

Spirits were at least as high Calloway’s election night party just two blocks away, with joyous eruptions as returns beamed from a projector showed the gap narrowing between the challenger and the 20-year incumbent.

“We’re going to wait until every vote is counted,” said Calloway, the activist whose court fight led to the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video and who forced Hairston into her first-ever runoff. “The people of the 5th ward have spoken, and no matter how this turns out, it’s clear people want change. The status quo will not be accepted.”

Supporters cheer for 5th Ward candidate William Calloway (wearing Bulls jacket). | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times
Supporters cheer for 5th Ward candidate William Calloway (wearing Bulls jacket). | Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

A central wedge between Hairston and Calloway was the future of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. She switched gears last week to support a community benefits agreement on the project.

Asked if she was surprised by Tuesday’s results, Hairston was upbeat while awaiting the final tally.

“I’m feeling good. You never know how these runoff elections will turn out,” she said.

In the 20th Ward, Taylor — who led the 2015 hunger strike that helped save Dyett High School from district closure — emerged from a nine-candidate field last month alongside former Chicago Public Schools teacher Nicole Johnson in the race to replace Cochran, who stepped down in late March after pleading guilty to wire fraud in a federal corruption case. That made him the third alderman to face prison time out of the last four to hold that seat in a ward that has weathered decades of disinvestment and high poverty rates.

Taylor took a commanding lead early in the night and finished with 59.6 percent of the vote to Johnson’s 40.4 percent, with all precincts counted.

“We’ve got work to do to protect our community, and I’m ready for the fight,” Taylor said. “Everyone deserves a seat at the table. People around the city, regardless of their color, felt that tonight.”

20th Ward aldermanic candidate Jeanette Taylor addresses the Sun-Times Editorial Board earlier this year. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
20th Ward aldermanic candidate Jeanette Taylor addresses the Sun-Times Editorial Board earlier this year. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) appeared assured of a third term over challenger Deborah Foster-Bonner. He led with 53.5 percent of the vote to Foster-Bonner’s 46.5 percent, with all but one precinct counted.

At a low-key Election Night party at his ward offices on 79th Street and Cottage Grove, a small crowd of supporters were visibly hesitant to start celebrating early.

In February, Sawyer — the son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer and head of the City Council’s Black Caucus — fell just 14 votes short of avoiding a runoff — and he acknowledged a lackadaisical campaign effort likely landed him a second round against Foster-Bonner, an accountant and entrepreneur.

“Going to the runoff made me appreciate even more each vote,” Sawyer said. “It also made me aware of how we need to do a better job of making sure residents know what our office has been up to these last eight years. If people don’t know about it, it doesn’t happen.”

Earlier in the day, a scuffle marred voting at one 6th Ward polling place, where Chicago police and election officials investigated a report that a Sawyer campaign worker attacked Foster-Bonner’s 26-year-old son. Sawyer’s campaign condemned the “overzealous” worker seen in a video shared widely across Facebook, saying they had told him to go home.

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In the 21st Ward, incumbent Ald. Howard Brookins squared off against retired zoning official Marvin McNeil, in a rematch of their 2015 contest.

By the end of the night, Brookins held 53.2 percent of the vote over 46.8 percent for McNeil, who during the campaign again tried to paint Brookins as a negligent steward more focused on failed bids for judge and Congress since first being elected in 2003.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.