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New boundaries but familiar concerns in 15th Ward

A Chicago Police officer faces a former Southwest Airlines skycap turned Democratic committeeman in the race for 15th Ward alderman — a ward left without an alderman following a remap.

Public safety, economic development and education are high on the list of residents’ concerns in the redrawn 15th Ward, which includes Brighton Park, Gage Park, Canaryville, West Englewood and Back of the Yards.

New boundaries led incumbent Toni Foulkes to run in the neighboring 16th Ward, where she also faces a runoff on April 7.

Raymond Lopez, a Democratic committeeman and former Southwest Airlines skycap, faces Rafael Yanez, a Chicago Police officer, in the runoff April 7.

Lopez wants more money for the ward’s schools, many of which are overcrowded.

He fought against the 2013 closing of Earle Elementary in West Englewood; Earle relocated into Goodlow Elementary School while adding a STEM program. Lopez said he wants “something of worth” put into the shuttered school.

“Schools are more than just a building that teach. They’re anchors in the community.”

He suggests converting it into an agricultural academy, one that would certify its students in the urban agricultural market.

“The 15th Ward is home to two urban farms. . . . Urban agriculture is going to be one of the economic engines of our future as well look at how to grow more sustainable foods, more locally grown items. I want my residents to have a foothold in the market, and by converting Earle into an agricultural academy, it would give our residents a leg up.”

Lopez says his work as a Democratic committeeman will benefit him as alderman.

“My opponent sees that as a weakness,” Lopez said. “But in a ward such as ours . . . you need someone who knows how to reach out to all these individuals and work with them to bring resources to the community, especially when we are struggling to provide what our residents need. That is not something I will shy away from.”

Lopez, who lives with his partner in Brighton Park, has received contributions from the Equality Illinois Political Action Committee, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Chicago Association of Realtors and the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Yanez has received $27,500 in contributions from the Chicago Teachers Union, records show. He supports an elected school board, which the CTU has recognized in endorsing dozens of aldermen in runoff elections. Yanez is also a former Local School Council member. He has been with the Chicago Police Department for 11 years, most recently as a crime-prevention specialist.

Yanez, endorsed by mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, favors community policing over hiring more police officers in the ward. He also favors re-using Earle Elementary: “I want to see the school be innovative. Let’s bring in some of the organizations that are already getting grants to give services. That building is [costing] more money to keep it up than when it was open.”