6th, 21st Ward candidates discuss future of South Side ahead of runoff: Time to ‘resurrect dreams of residents’

Four community leaders vie for City Council seats left open by the departures of longtime alderpersons Sawyer and Brookins.

SHARE 6th, 21st Ward candidates discuss future of South Side ahead of runoff: Time to ‘resurrect dreams of residents’
Richard Wooten and William Hall are running for a 6th Ward City Council post while Cornell Dantzler and Ronnie Mosley are facing off in the 21st Ward.

Richard Wooten and William Hall are running for a 6th Ward City Council post while Cornell Dantzler and Ronnie Mosley are facing off in the 21st Ward.

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Two South Side City Council races put a pair of neighborhood pastors, a retired firefighter and a community activist into runoff contests in wards where longtime alderpersons are exiting their posts.

Ministers William Hall and Richard Wooten are running to represent the 6th Ward, and Ronnie Mosley, a longtime community organizer, will face retired firefighter Cornell Dantzler for the 21st Ward seat.

After more than a decade as 6th Ward alderperson, Roderick Sawyer stepped down from the Council to run an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for mayor. 

Last month, voters in the Chatham and Park Manor neighborhoods narrowed down the field of 11 primary candidates to two South Side pastors in the runoff. 

Hall, 38, lead pastor at St. James Community Church in Chatham and a field director for the Rainbow PUSH social justice organization, narrowly came in first place with 23.82% of the vote during the Feb. 28 election — only about 70 votes ahead of Wooten, an Army veteran and retired police officer. 

Hall has raised more than $140,000 since Dec. 31, with large donations coming from the Chicago Teachers Union. 

He’s also gotten endorsements from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sawyer.

Wooten, the 57-year-old founder of Gathering Point Universal Ministries in Washington Heights and president of the Greater Chatham Alliance, has sought the City Council seat twice before and has not recorded any donations since Dec. 29.

Public safety — especially for seniors — is a top priority for Wooten, who retired from the Chicago Police Department in 2015.

“Mayor Lori Lightfoot put $100 million in the budget for violence prevention and public safety,” Wooten said. “If we can actually get someone to get those funds to come into our own block clubs. … The money is there.”

Wooten said his background working as a beat liaison officer in the Chicago Police Department will help him foster a positive relationship with the police.

“We can’t just rely just strictly on a police department,” he said. “We can’t rely just on community. It’s a partnership; we have to bring all city services together.”

The two candidates overlap on several issues, including economic development and the expansion of mental health services.

Hall says schools in the ward look like “baby prisons,” leading residents to send their kids to schools outside the ward.

“We want to make sure that the schools get their fair share of resources,” Hall said. “Schools on the South Side are overpopulated. ... I have a principal right now that cannot get their marquee to light up.”

Hall said his community ties would make him an ideal alderperson.

His work, for example, with Black-owned Liberty Bank created an education program for first-time homebuyers, he said.

“A lot of people in the ward are people that I’ve known for 20 years,” said Hall. “They partner with me on previous work that I’ve done, and they just partner with me out of respect and because we have the same common goals.”

Hall credits Sawyer with “(laying) the foundation for the ward” over his tenure, but the pastor said he is confident he can provide what ward residents want.

“There’s just so many different projects that (Sawyer) was not boisterous about,” Hall said. “He didn’t leave a blueprint, but he did leave enough building material to work upon.”

In response to residents’ complaints about availability, Hall has planned six ward meetings a month — among them is a ward-wide meeting accessible virtually, and meetings with businesses, principals and seniors.

Both candidates say they are optimistic about the future of the ward.

“Chatham was the stakeholder and a prime place for middle class African Americans to come in,” Wooten said. “We just had so much here. Now for the past 12 years, we’ve got more liquor stores than we got anything else.”

“I hope (April 4) is the day that we resurrect the dreams of residents that have dealt with nightmares for so long,” Hall said. “We don’t want dreams to die another four years.”

21st Ward

In the 21st Ward — encompassing Auburn Gresham and parts of Chatham, Roseland and Washington Heights — longtime alderperson Howard Brookins Jr. announced his retirement in September after nearly 20 years and endorsed Ronnie Mosley — who also won support from Pritzker, City Clerk Anna Valencia and Ald. Michelle Harris — to fill the Council seat.

Mosley, 31, has worked in community engagement since age 14 and received nearly 25% of the vote. He will face 63-year-old Cornell Dantzler, a retired firefighter, in the runoff. 

Since Dec. 31, Mosley has received nearly $175,000 in donations, with large donations from labor unions including the Chicago Teachers Union and Pritzker.

Dantzler has gotten more than $50,000 in donations since the end of last year — the Chicago Firefighters Union contributed over $40,000, and Dantzler himself donated $13,000.

His priority for the ward is initially cleaning the neighborhoods of debilitated and neglected buildings, sidewalks and trash, Dantzler said.

“I’ll be making sure that jobs are … made known to the residents, because a lot of times in the 21st Ward … I still have found myself suffering from a lack of information being put out,” he said.

Dantzler also wants to help residents expunge their criminal records to get employed easier.

Mosley says his connections through community organizing and working in offices like Ald. Harris’ have given the preparation and knowledge to hit the ground running.

Partnering with churches and nonprofit organizations in the community will bring resources and economic opportunities to residents, Mosley said. For example, he says, community growers and fridges can help those experiencing food insecurity while businesses are being brought back into the ward.

“The No. 1 job of an alderman is to expedite those city services,” he said. “I firmly believe that we have everything we need in our own community to make sure that we are thriving more. It’s about the coordination and the leadership that brings that all together.”

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