Candidates in neighboring South Side wards aim to build business to reduce crime

Seven candidates in the 21st Ward are pushing alternatives to conventional policing, while in the nearby 18th Ward, only one candidate is challenging incumbent Ald. Derrick Curtis.

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21st Ward candidates (clockwise from top left) Preston Brown, Kweli Kwaza, Daliah Goree, Ayana Clark, Cornell Dantzler, Ronnie Mosley and Larry Lloyd.

21st Ward candidates (clockwise from top left): Preston Brown, Kweli Kwaza, Daliah Goree, Ayana Clark, Cornell Dantzler, Ronnie Mosley and Larry Lloyd.

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So many candidates filed to run in the South Side’s 21st Ward that even though half were ultimately knocked from the ballot or withdrew in the face of challenges, seven remain to battle it out for a City Council seat that has not been open for at least 40 years.

That’s more than three times as many candidates as in the nearby 18th Ward, where only one challenger filed to run against the incumbent fighting for a third term.

Despite the different levels of competition, what the two South Side wards share are calls for a revival in businesses, specifically those tied to entertainment, and healthy family eating, including both sit-down restaurants and grocery stores. 

In the 18th Ward, Ald. Derrick Curtis has held the City Council seat for eight years and the post of Democratic committeeperson for 12.

The former Chicago Housing Authority police officer made headlines last year when he accidentally shot himself in the wrist while helping a neighbor with a malfunctioning gun. He made news again last month when he said he was reconsidering his role as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “No. 1 cheerleader,” because the mayor failed to reach out to him after the accident or during a subsequent hospitalization for a low blood count. 

“I deserved some type of call or conversation just to see how I was doing,” he said at the time. “That’s what friends do.”

18th Ward candidates Derrick Curtis and Heather Wills.

18th Ward candidates Derrick Curtis and Heather Wills.

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But as he seeks a third term on the Council, Curtis is touting other relationships, those he says he’s built with nearby trucking companies and other businesses in the ward, which includes the Ashburn, Scottsdale and Wrightwood neighborhoods and parts of Beverly, West Lawn and Chicago Lawn.

“It takes time to build what you want to see,” Curtis said. 

Curtis, 54, touts the Pete’s Fresh Market slated to open this summer, saying it means the ward will no longer be a “food desert.” The company contributed $2,500 to Curtis’ campaign. 

He said there are plans to create housing and lure “uppity brands” like Starbucks around the incoming grocery store near 87th Street and Kedzie. He also is exploring ideas to revitalize Ford City Mall, including revisiting the idea of extending the Orange Line to the mall in the nearby West Lawn neighborhood.

Challenging him is Heather Wills, a labor organizer who supports mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green’s public bank idea to ensure residents can get loans to start businesses. She envisions them spread throughout the ward, so residents don’t have to travel as far to shop or dine. 

The 36-year-old Wills also is pitching implementing participatory budgeting to involve the community in government by giving residents more power over spending plans.

“People feel they don’t have a voice,” Will said. “When you give them a voice, when you empower them, that’s how a community grows.”

Curtis argues the ward is too big for that to work. And he suspects constituents would just push to have their own streets repaved first.

Rare open seat in 21st

Just to the southeast, the race in the 21st Ward is much more crowded. 

When Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. announced his pending retirement in August after nearly 20 years on the Council and a failed run for judge, it set off a stampede for a seat that has been filled by an incumbent in Council races dating back to at least the early 1980s.

With the path clear for the first time in decades, 14 candidates filed to run in November. But after a series of challenges and voluntarily withdrawals, seven candidates are left.

If no one wins a majority next week, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff election April 4. 

Both Brookins and his father, a mortician and former state legislator, joined Gov. J.B. Pritzker, City Clerk Anna Valencia and the Rev. Michael Pfleger in endorsing Ronnie Mosley, whose campaign has also received contributions from organized labor. 

Like in the rest of the city, public safety is a major campaign issue, but many of the 21st Ward’s candidates see alternatives to policing as the best path forward in the ward, which includes the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and parts of Chatham, Roseland and Washington Heights.

21st Ward candidates (clockwise from top left) Preston Brown, Kweli Kwaza, Daliah Goree, Ayana Clark, Cornell Dantzler, Ronnie Mosley and Larry Lloyd.

21st Ward candidates (clockwise from top left) Preston Brown, Kweli Kwaza, Daliah Goree, Ayana Clark, Cornell Dantzler, Ronnie Mosley and Larry Lloyd.

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“Policing is not enough,” Mosley, 31, said, after talking about plans to return retired officers to the community as part of a public safety plan. “It’s identifying the root cause of the problem.”

Mosley and other candidates are pushing for more economic development, including more sit-down restaurants.

“Crime is tied to poverty,” said rival candidates Ayana Clark, 28, a community advocate. “A clean, opportunity-filled community is a safe community.”

Clark also said she wants to increase funding for mental health services in the city, citing the need for trauma-informed treatment for Chicago’s youth. 

Some in the race remain advocates for the return of beat patrols to reduce crime, including Daliah Goree, 50, who has been a Chicago police officer for more than 20 years. 

Goree also said she wants more resources for youth, such as more trades-based job training, while 63-year-old retired Chicago firefighter Cornell Dantzler said he wants to use the ward office to help residents expunge their criminal records and get back to work. 

Candidate Kweli Kwaza, 60, a nonprofit director, said he wants to use facial recognition cameras and drones to fight crime and “stop the bleeding,” though he argues they should be operated by violence-reduction groups in their own neighborhoods. 

Also running are attorneys Larry Lloyd, 49, and Preston Brown, 50.

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