Challengers in 8th, 9th Wards look to unseat longtime incumbents

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) face challengers who promise revitalization and growth in their South Side wards.

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FROME LEFT: 8th Ward aldermanic candidate Sean Flynn, Ald. Michelle A. Harris (8th), 8th Ward aldermanic candidate Linda Hudson

FROM LEFT: 8th Ward aldermanic candidate Sean Flynn, 8th Ward Ald. Michelle A. Harris, 8th Ward aldermanic candidate Linda Hudson

Provided; Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo; Provided

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Two South Side aldermanic races — in the 8th and 9th Wards — feature contests that aim to unseat longtime incumbents.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), 61, said for 16 years she has invested in both children and seniors in her community with parks and schools in her ward, which includes parts of the South Shore, Grand Crossing, Chatham, Burnside, Pill Hill, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, Cottage Grove Heights and Pullman neighborhoods.

She’s particularly proud of the new indoor state-of-the-art track and field facility at Pullman’s Gately Park opened in 2021.

Harris said she’s worked hard to bring in new Black-owned businesses over the last decade, including the vegan restaurant Plant Based Junkie. She’s also excited about a Fatburger coming to the 87th street corridor.

“If a new alderman comes tomorrow, nobody is gonna be able to do a fraction of the things that I’ve done over a 16-year career, building businesses and business corridors,” she said.

But her challengers, Linda Hudson and Sean Flynn, point to empty and boarded-up storefronts dotting a once-bustling 87th street in Calumet Heights as signs that transformation is taking too long.

Hudson, a tax assistant who ran unsuccessfully for the 8th Ward seat in 2019, wants to bring back the “golden age” of Black businesses in the area and counts safety as her top priority.

“People really want a nice sit-down restaurant with healthy options,” she said. “We want to be able to walk to a nice restaurant. The biggest thing is everyone has to go out of the ward for almost everything.”

Hudson says Harris has been “reactive instead of proactive” about crime in the ward. Over the last year, the ward had some of the highest crime rates on the South Side, and in the city.

The candidate said she wants to increase the police presence in the community and suggests more activities for youth to curb crime.

Sean Flynn, 47, said the ward has been stagnant and neglected for years.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t see more vibrancy and more life on East 79th Street if we have [TIF money to Avalon Park and South Shore] sitting there,” he said.

The Calumet Heights resident spent a year working under Ald. David Moore (17th) as chief of staff and also worked as 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston’s assistant.

Cultivating quality youth programs would be a major step toward decreasing crime, Flynn said. Children are “villainized” and deserve better community care, he said.

Like Hudson, Flynn wants to bring more officers into the area, particularly ones that were relocated to the downtown business district.

WARDRACE_9th.jpg

FROM LEFT: 9th Ward aldermanic candidate Cameron Barnes, 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th Ward aldermanic candidate Cleopatra Draper

Photos by John L. Alexander, Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file, Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Nearby, 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, 55, one of the longest serving members of the City Council, touts a string of developments as markers of revitalization, including Pullman Community Center, bringing major companies like Amazon and Whole Foods Midwest Distribution Center to the area, and rehabbing 100 homes. The first hotel in the ward in the last 40 years breaks ground this summer, and a Walmart and two Black-owned restaurants have come to the area.

Beale’s 9th Ward is one of the largest in the city, spanning parts of Chatham, Roseland, Pullman, Washington Heights, West Pullman and Riverdale.

Among its most popular developments has been the Pullman National Historic Park.

Beale, a vocal critic of Lightfoot, said he plans to “stay the course” if he’s reelected, including getting a Roseland Medical District proposal off the ground.

“Our community is thriving; it’s rebounding,” he said.

Challenger Cleopatra Draper, 35, said the investments Beale touts have been for select precincts — ones that are not a majority Black, like the rest of the ward.

“I do believe that we deserve better,” she said. “Better leadership and an opportunity to live in peace.”

The social worker said she wants to see more than a Walmart as a supermarket and believes small businesses are the way to do it.

Public safety improvements could be as easy as LED lights on blocks that are barely lit, in addition to implementation of a crime alert system, Draper said.

And she wants to focus on revitalizing the Roseland neighborhood by earmarking TIF and Invest South/West dollars, Draper said.

“(Beale) had 24 years to do it,” she said. “Now that the money is here, it needs to be labeled with somebody that has the heart, the honesty and the determination to make it happen.”

Cameron Barnes, a 24-year-old former national youth director for Rainbow PUSH, said he wants to lean into technology advancement to innovate the 9th Ward.

He said he wants to direct students toward STEM work, coding, robotics and tech, but also uplift trade jobs to bring economic prosperity and growth to the area. Barnes said he isn’t sure where the ward’s resources are going — besides to a section of Pullman — and he wants to figure it out and reallocate them.

Before bringing corporations back into the community, he said he wants to “boost morale” through education, violence prevention and investing in small businesses. Barnes also pledged to hold community consultation meetings four times a year.

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