Freshman alderman and past rival battle over who is doing less for 18th Ward
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Four years ago, Derrick Curtis unseated 18th Ward Ald. Lona Lane in a run-off election by arguing that the incumbent couldn’t be reached, and couldn’t be bothered, to handle residents’ complaints in the Southwest Side ward.
Now, Curtis is facing a rematch, not against Lane, but against Chuks Onyezia, who ran in 2015, but failed to make the run-off.
And the freshman alderman is using a similar playbook, arguing that Onyezia is “a loser,” who is missing in action in the ward.
“This is his third run — he comes in, he runs, he loses, he disappears and he comes back … and most of our voters know that,” Curtis said.
“I know this ward backward and forward,” Curtis said. “That’s why in the last election you saw a landslide for me against the incumbent.”
But Onyezia argues Curtis is the one who is asleep at the switch, missing nearly half of the City Council and committee meetings in the past four years.
“We elect our representatives to represent us, which is impossible if you don’t show up for work,” Onyezia said.
Onyezia, a real estate attorney, says he decided to run again while spending two years working as chief of staff to Ald. Greg Mitchell in the 7th Ward. Onyezia said he noticed that what he was fighting to bring to that ward wasn’t happening in his own home ward. He said claims that he’s not in the 18th Ward are Curtis’ attempts to “distract people” with false rhetoric instead of addressing the community’s needs.
“People want a grocery store, someone who will be honest with them … economic development — we don’t have business in our corridors or there are a lot of failing and empty businesses,” Onyezia said. “You have to fight for the whole community. The entire ward is suffering from a lack of development, and one side gets more attention in terms of resources and attention.”
The west side of the ward, where Onyezia lives, receives much of Curtis’ attention, Onyezia said. And, since the Ultra Foods in the ward closed, bringing a new grocery store to the ward is also a main concern.
He says there needs to be a focus on programs for youth and young families. Most of what the ward offers is geared toward seniors, he says.
Onyezia also pointed to a WBEZ report with The Daily Line that showed Curtis attended 55 percent of City Council and committee meetings — the average was 65 percent.
“The report shows a gross violation of trust to the constituents of the 18th Ward,” Onyezia said.
Curtis said Onyezia “is a loser, and I’ll see him on Election Day.” As for his 55 percent attendance rating, he says he’s only missed one full Council meeting and, since committee meetings are often held at the “exact same time, on the same day, you have to jump in and out.”
“Maybe you go, and maybe you don’t,” Curtis said. “But something has to be wrong, because everyone on the Council had almost the same [average].”
Curtis said he’s working on the grocery store vacancy, but has already brought in new stores, restaurants and a manufacturing center to boost the ward, and he’s looking to do more if re-elected.
“I would tell people to trust what I’ve done already and look forward to more,” Curtis said. “I’ve already built relationships in the community. I don’t know who the mayor might be, but I feel that a ward with a new alderman and a new mayor might suffer at the beginning because both will be feeling their way around.”
Onyezia says he’s used his tax knowledge and skillset to help people, hosting educational property tax exemption seminars. And he says his time as chief of staff, as part of an alderman’s support staff, gave him hands-on experience to be a better fit for his own ward.
“I bust my tail to get the … truthful information out there,” Onyezia said. “I want the residents to look at my qualifications and know the role of alderman … is a legislator, and when I say I’m a lawyer, a businessman, an engineer, these are skillsets that will make me a better legislator — we can’t keep electing people who don’t have the ability to get us where we need to go.”