11 candidates fight to fill open seat in South Side’s historic 6th Ward ‘so that we can become what we once were’

Former home of civil rights and gospel icons needs new investment, crowded field to replace mayoral candidate Ald. Roderick Sawyer says.

SHARE 11 candidates fight to fill open seat in South Side’s historic 6th Ward ‘so that we can become what we once were’
 Candidates in the 6th Ward race (top row, left to right) Tavares Briggs, Kirby Birgans, Aja Kearney, (center row left to right) Richard Wooten, Patrick Brutus, Barbara Bunville, (bottom row, left to right) Sharon Pincham, Kimberly Egonmwan and William Hall. 

Candidates in the 6th Ward race (top row, from left) Tavares Briggs, Kirby Birgans, Aja Kearney, (center row, from left) Richard Wooten, Patrick Brutus, Barbara Bunville, (bottom row, from left) Sharon Pincham, Kimberly Egonmwan and William Hall. Not shown are candidates Paul Bryson Sr. and Sylvester Baker.

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It’s a proud ward with a rich, storied history, home to the famous Brown Sugar Bakery, Lem’s Bar-B-Q and the Woodshop Art Gallery, which has featured the works of some of Chicago’s most acclaimed Black artists, including Annie Lee and Margaret Burroughs.

Past residents have included civil rights icon Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till; the late Mayor Eugene Sawyer and Mahalia Jackson, considered by many to be the greatest gospel singer of all time.

And now the South Side’s 6th Ward is looking for new leadership, after Sawyer’s son, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, opted to run for mayor himself rather than reelection, leaving the City Council seat open for the first time in 12 years. 

With 11 candidates, it’s one of the most crowded ward races on the ballot. 

But many of those hoping to succeed Sawyer temper their pride with calls to revitalize a ward they say is now struggling and needs new investment.

“We are still striving, and we want better for our ward,” candidate Kimberly Egonmwan said. 

The candidates all speak fondly of the ward, describing a strong and proud Black community, a mix of middle- and working-class families and a large senior population. The ward includes Chatham, Park Manor, Grand Crossing and parts of Englewood, West Woodlawn and West Chesterfield. 

But they all point to how neglect and disinvestment has harmed the ward. 

Nine of them outlined similar plans to revitalize the ward by encouraging business growth, reviving block clubs, strengthening public safety, directing more support to underperforming schools and improving infrastructure, such as fixing sidewalks, cleaning up vacant land and installing street lights. 

They want political power to return to the 6th — many noting the ward’s history of influential alderpersons. 

“There is an extremely strong African American ward here in the city of Chicago that is fighting for what is right and fighting to have the resources brought home, so that we can become what we once were,” said Egonmwan, 46, a public policy attorney and radio host. 

Endorsed by the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 241, she vowed to bring in an urban planner to see where structural issues lie in the ward and identify how to make improvements. 

Rival candidate William Hall, 38, pastor at St. James Community Church, has spent his whole life in the 6th Ward. 

The ward’s public safety problem, he said, can’t be addressed without bringing in more resources, including social services, mental health clinics and violence prevention programs. 

Hall said he would also rely on regular input from monthly wardwide meetings and separate discussions with business owners, senior residents, school principals and faith leaders. 

“I don’t believe that an alderman should do this work by themselves,” Hall said, vowing to go beyond the mayor’s office looking for help. “I’m looking to bring together federal, state and county — not just the fifth floor — to get our equitable share and resources for the 6th Ward.”

Hall outpaces his opponents in campaign funds and endorsements, which include Gov. J.B. Pritzker, United Working Families and the Chicago Teachers Union. His campaign has raised over $100,000, the majority coming from the CTU and the Service Employees International Union.

Patrick Brutus, 53, on leave from the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, said he wants to create programs to encourage more home ownership in the ward and invest to retain businesses and build up the local economy. 

“I envision having multiple commercial corridors fired up at the same time, giving us leverage to work with our developers to achieve as many local hires as possible, whether it be through construction or through job placements in those businesses,” Brutus said. 

Brutus was endorsed by the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2. His campaign has raised the second largest amount of funds — nearly $40,000. 

Kirby Birgans, 39, a science teacher at Perspectives Charter High School, and Aja Kearney, 44, a community organizer, also want to fix the ward’s infrastructure. 

Birgans said one of his priorities is improving housing, such as expanding affordable housing requirements and replacing aging and dangerous infrastructure. Kearney — with endorsements from the Chicago Laborers District Council and state Reps. Mary Flowers, Lakeisha Collins and Robyn Gabel — would clean up neglected land in the ward, converting vacant lots into community gardens. 

Barbara Bunville, 51, a Chicago police officer who was once a beat cop in the ward, said she would prioritize improving mental health services and advocate for more community programs for youth and seniors. 

Tavares Briggs, 41, the dean of students for LEARN Charter Network and Sharon Pincham, 72, on leave from the 17th Senate District’s office, both said they would push for more equitable funding for the ward’s schools and bring in more programs and curriculum for students. 

Richard Wooten, 57 — an Army veteran, retired police officer and founder of Gathering Point Universal Ministries — said he would focus on improving public safety, including directing city funds for violence prevention to the ward and encouraging beat cops to build trust and relationships with residents.

Also running are Paul Bryson Sr., a business owner and Sawyer’s former campaign manager, and Sylvester Baker, a retired Cook County sheriff’s sergeant.

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