‘Written off’ 15 Ward in the thick of it — over gangs, guns and Burke
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Residents are moving out of the South Side’s 15th Ward. A neighborhood high school is being phased out. Even the previous alderman opted to run in another ward four years ago after the boundaries were redrawn.
Current Ald. Ray Lopez says the ward has been “written off by Chicago politics at large.”
But you wouldn’t know it from the spirited battle underway for stewardship of the gun-and-gang-challenged ward — composed of West Englewood, Gage Park, Brighton Park and Back of the Yards.
Lopez is facing four challengers in the Feb. 26 election. And on top of that, a City Council colleague has also gotten involved, calling for Lopez’s ouster in a rare show of crosstown electoral warfare.
Yañez is waging a rematch.
“The alderman is talking about generational gun violence, and I’m talking about generational disinvestment,” Yañez said. “Since white flight, the resources fled along with the families.”
Yañez has positioned himself as a progressive, with the backing of U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, former Cook County Clerk David Orr, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union Illinois Council, one of the unions with an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.
Despite his background as a police officer, he’s running on a critique of Lopez’s vote in favor of the $95 million police training academy.
“I’m a police officer, I know we need training, we need better management, we need better accountability in the police department, there’s many things we have to reform,” Yañez said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re gonna put $95 million there right now when our schools are struggling.”
Lopez’s vote in support of building the police academy on the West Side also helped prompt Northwest Side Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) to support a group calling for Lopez’s ouster, dubbed “Fuera Lopez” (“Lopez Out”).
Lopez has suggested Ramirez-Rosa stick to his own ward. The two rookie aldermen have traded insults, with each comparing the other to President Donald Trump.
On the issue of gun violence, Lopez unapologetically takes a hard stance against gang members. Lopez has no regrets about a comment that prompted a notorious Chicago street gang to make threats against him. After a rash of violence in his ward in 2017 that included the fatal shootings of reputed gang members, Lopez told reporters he was “thankful today that no innocent lives were lost.”
Lopez and Yañez agree that gun regulation must occur at the state and federal level, but Lopez said he has no plans to stop focusing on the role of the gang members pulling the triggers.
“What I can do is make sure I’m calling out the individuals who are trying to use those weapons in our community. … If it makes life uncomfortable for gang-bangers, so be it,” Lopez said.
Lopez also makes no apologies for $5,250 in campaign contributions he received from Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who is facing federal charges of attempted extortion.
Lopez says if Burke is convicted, “I would consider returning that money.”
Federal investigators built their case against Burke with the help of Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who secretly recorded more than a dozen conversations with Burke.
“I’m sure I’m recorded, I’ve talked to Danny Solis, I’ve talked to Ed Burke,” Lopez said. “I know 100 percent without a doubt I have nothing to worry about when it comes to the investigation.”
Another candidate has been open about his own gang-affiliated youth.
Berto Aguayo grew up in Back of the Yards. After pulling away from gang involvement, he became a community organizer and worked with The Resurrection Project and co-founded the Increase the Peace Initiative, bringing peace marches and campouts to the neighborhood in response to the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old girl.
Aguayo proposes expanding programs such as One Summer Chicago into a year-round program and converting underutilized schools into community centers.
Joseph Williams worked on the ground as a violence interrupter through CeaseFire. Though he’s a first-time candidate, he’s volunteered on campaigns with his family including Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s 2016 campaign, where he appeared in her campaign ad.
“When you talk about gun violence, that’s a big thing for me, I’ve lost friends to gun violence,” Williams said. “Even throughout the campaign, one of my campaign workers was shot.”
Wiliams has had to retract statements he made suggesting Lopez was responsible.
Otis Davis Jr., another candidate who ran in 2015, is a minister and community organizer who wants to expand the One Summer Chicago program, opening job opportunities to youth year-round.
“Once they learn a new skill they can get a job, provide for their family, they can get off the street selling drugs.”