Pollution, public safety drive ward races in Southeast Side’s 10th, Southwest Side’s 12th

In the 10th, Yessenia Carreón, Peter Chico, Ana Guajardo, Óscar Sanchez and Jessica Venegas are running to succeed Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza. And in the 12th, newly appointed Ald. Anabel Abarca is challenged by Julia Ramirez.

SHARE Pollution, public safety drive ward races in Southeast Side’s 10th, Southwest Side’s 12th
Ana Guajardo (from left), Peter Chico and Óscar Sanchez are among five candidates running for the Chicago City Council in the 10th ward.

Ana Guajardo (from left), Peter Chico and Óscar Sanchez are among five candidates running for the Chicago City Council in the 10th ward.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times, provided

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Crime, jobs, schools and pollution top voters’ list as important issues in the 10th Ward on the Southeast Side, say the five candidates who want to succeed Susan Sadlowski Garza, who isn’t seeking reelection after two terms.

The candidates include two cops, a social and environmental justice activist, a labor and immigrant advocate and a former staffer to Garza’s predecessor, John Pope.

Environmental issues and public safety are also top concerns in the Southwest Side’s 12th Ward, where Ald. Anabel Abarca is facing voters for the first time since she was appointed to succeed her old boss, former Ald. George Cardenas.

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In the 10th, Yessenia Carreón, Peter Chico, Ana Guajardo, Óscar Sanchez and Jessica Venegas are running.

Four of the candidates rank public safety as the top issue in the ward, which includes all or parts of the Hegewisch, South Chicago, South Deering and East Side neighborhoods.

“Sometimes, it’s the only thing I’m asked about,” said Chico, 40, who is a cousin of Gery Chico, a former Chicago Board of Education president.

“We’re at a minimum 50 officers short in the 4th District,” Peter Chico said of the Chicago Police Department’s South Chicago District, which represents most of the 10th Ward and where he works as an intelligence officer.

Venegas, 41, the other Chicago police officer in the race, also wants more cops on the street and said she believes police reform has gone too far.

“You are no longer allowed to do your job effectively,” Venegas said. “Police are already putting our lives on the line.”

Venegas, who has a desk job after street-level stints, refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I felt strongly we should have a choice on the vaccine,” she said.

Yessenia Carreón (left) and Jessica Venegas are running to succeed Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza in the 10th Ward.

Yessenia Carreón (left) and Jessica Venegas are running to succeed Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza in the 10th Ward.

Provided

The ward once bustled with thousands of workers at steel mills, which have long been shut down. Bringing in jobs is important but not at the cost of worsening pollution that already affects health in a community with poor air quality, all five candidates said.

Three years into the pandemic, funeral homes are among the only “thriving businesses,” said Sanchez, who said the city needs to attract green jobs to the area.

“We need to talk about economic opportunity but in a way so it doesn’t displace our health,” said Sanchez, 25, who protested the planned move of car-shredder General Iron to the 10th Ward with a month-long hunger strike in 2021.

Other candidates agreed.

Said Guajardo: “If companies come to our community, they have to be companies that don’t hurt us.”

Tenth Ward candidate Ana Guajardo canvasses in her ward near 91st Street and Burley Avenue.

Tenth Ward candidate Ana Guajardo canvasses in her ward near 91st Street and Burley Avenue.

Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

An Army National Guard veteran and labor organizer, Guajardo, 44, founded Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, an advocacy group for low-income and immigrant workers. Guajardo said she sees public safety as a major issue and wants more anti-violence, mental health and youth programs to help curb crime. She also wants police to mend fences.

“We need to be able to work with the police department and build trust with the community,” said Guajardo, who has the endorsements of Garza and U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., who’s running for mayor.

Guajardo’s position on policing is similar to Sanchez’s, though in recent days she’s been calling for more cops on the street.

Carreón, 40, ranks economic development as the top issue. She has worked for business groups since leaving Pope’s staff in 2015 and said the ward needs to attract big warehouses.

“There’s so much land opportunity,” Carreón said. “It could be a mixture of the small businesses and warehouses.”

The area never recovered from the loss of jobs from the closing of the steel mills nor found uses for the abandoned land. More than half of the 10th Ward’s 12,600 acres are zoned for manufacturing. None of the candidates has a comprehensive economic development plan.

All five agreed that public schools in the area are overcrowded and “falling apart,” citing George Washington High School and nearby Washington Elementary.

Two seek Cardenas’ old seat in 12th Ward

Crime is top of mind for voters in the 12th Ward as well, say the two candidates running in the Southwest Side community, which includes the McKinley Park and Brighton Park neighborhoods.

Abarca, 37, was appointed to fill the seat of Cardenas in December after he was elected to the Cook County Board of Review. A lawyer, Abarca was Cardenas’ chief of staff.

Julia Ramirez (left) is challenging Anabel Abarca, who was appointed in December to fill the 12th Ward seat on the Chicago City Council.

Julia Ramirez (left) is challenging Anabel Abarca, who was appointed in December to fill the 12th Ward seat on the Chicago City Council.

Provided

Challenging Abarca is Julia Ramirez, 31, a community organizer and social worker who has made fighting violence a priority. Her brother was shot to death in 2014.

While the 10th Ward has the General Iron fight, which has seen community residents pitted against a polluting business, the MAT Asphalt plant that opened directly across from McKinley Park five years ago has been a lightning rod in the 12th.

“You don’t have to sacrifice clean air for jobs,” said Abarca, who has asthma. “And you don’t have to have jobs at the expense of children or adults who have asthma.”

Ramirez said she would “continue to fight to prevent another MAT Asphalt.”

But both candidates acknowledge that the business is unlikely to move from 2055 W. Pershing St.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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