Sun-Times endorsements in contested races for alderman in Chicago continue below, this time for wards 26 through 39. Our endorsement in the 32nd Ward will appear Monday. If you missed our endorsements on Wednesday and Thursday for wards 1 through 25, please go to chicago.suntimes.com. Early voting begins Monday.
Humboldt Park, West Town, Logan Square
Four years ago, we offered a measured endorsement of incumbent Ald. Roberto Maldonado, wishing the residents of his gentrifying ward had a better choice. Now they do. Juanita Irizarry, who most recently worked for the State of Illinois as a coordinator of housing services for people in need of long-term care, is as promising a newcomer to elective office as we’ve seen, perhaps because she’s been involved in grassroots community development for years. She gets on top of an issue, has a striking ability in debate to get to the heart of a matter, and shows a pragmatic streak. Irizarry also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, which can’t hurt. Maldonado is no slouch of an alderman. He knows what he wants for his ward — such as a military academy for middle and high school kids — and gets it. Sometimes without checking in with his constituents first. Irizarry has the potential to be a real leader not only in the 26th Ward, but in the City Council.
Near West Side, Near North Side
We endorse Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., once a protégé and now a grown-up ally of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. His sole opponent, small business lending specialist Gabe Beukinga, essentially took himself out of the running for an endorsement in November when he sent injudicious emails in the middle of the night to a major developer in the ward, threatening to “crush” the fellow for giving campaign donations to Burnett. We’re pretty sure Burnett is a likely vote, should the next mayor ask, in support of the painful pension reforms and tax increases necessary to set right the city’s finances. Burnett has voted with Mayor Rahm Emanuel 100 percent of the time. The 27th Ward includes all or parts of the West Loop, Greek Town, Garfield Park, Old Town, the Medical District and Goose Island.
Austin, Northwest Side
The city’s remap gave Ald. Deborah Graham new swaths of unfamiliar territory, causing problems for her re-election bid. The Austin neighborhood remains in her ward but the new 29th runs farther north and west to cover a larger section of Galewood and parts of Montclare, Belmont heights and West Garfield Park. Seven candidates are opposing Graham, suggesting some dissatisfaction with her. We’re going with a new face, public defender Bob Galhotra, a long-time Galewood resident with a strong analytical mind and fresh ideas. Graham has been a solid and focused alderman, but we question her judgment in opting for another pawnshop in the ward and her support for a convenience store that sells liquor in an area were liquor wasn’t supposed to be allowed. Also, Graham’s not thinking about the larger city issues in the way Galhotra is. Galhotra knows the city’s pensions issues exceptionally well, and we hope as he learns more about the depths of the city’s financial problems he’ll come to see that reductions in pension benefits, along with new revenue, are inevitable. Among the other candidates, Chris Taliaferro also looks promising. But Galhotra, who defends clients in homicide cases and has a long history of volunteerism, is our pick.
Six-term incumbent Regner “Ray” Suarez has too closely followed the insular lead of Cook County Democratic Party Chairman and county Assessor Joseph Berrios. Our choice is former Spanish-language City Hall reporter Milagros “Milly” Santiago for this ward, which runs through Albany Park, Avondale, Belmont-Cragin, Hermosa, Irving Park, Kelvyn Park and Logan Square. Santiago, who was chief of staff for former Ald. Billy Ocasio, has run a vigorous knocking-on-doors campaign and vows to do away with what she calls Suarez’s uneven services in the ward. She resists the idea of restructuring pensions or touching property taxes but says she is “open to compromise.” The other candidates are community outreach leader Irma Cornier and attorney and English associate professor Sean C. Starr.
If we were endorsing on the basis of constituent services, incumbent Deborah L. Mell would be our choice. But at a time when the city faces stark financial choices, consultant Annisa Wanat earns our endorsement over Mell, whose family has dominated politics for decades in this ward, which runs through Albany Park, Avondale and Irving Park. Wanat opposes pension restructuring, an unrealistic stance, but says she would be open to raising property taxes after other avenues are exhausted. In her previous job as state representative, Mell supported pension reform, but she won’t touch property taxes and offers no workable alternative to restoring city pensions to health. Roosevelt High School teacher Tim Meegan also is running.
Incumbent Carrie M. Austin has taken stands we don’t favor, including essentially helping to block the creation of a much-needed City Council financial analysis office. Austin, who was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley to replace her late husband, also has opposed a sensible plan to merge the ineffective office of City Council inspector general into the respected City of Chicago inspector general’s office. But she gains our endorsement for this ward, which runs through Morgan Park, Roseland, Washington Heights and West Pullman, because the other candidates — Henry Moses, Shirley J. White and Charles R. Thomas Sr. — are not mounting credible challenges.
This ward, which runs through Albany Park, Avondale, Hermosa, Irving Park and Logan Square, is not the same as the one three-term incumbent Rey Colon won in 2011 with about 51 percent of the vote. Of 31 precincts in the old ward, only 13 were carried over in remapping, and even the boundaries of those 13 have changed. Colon — one of only three aldermen to oppose the infamous parking meter deal — has been unresponsive at times to residents, has been criticized for ties to developer Mark Fishman, and last summer was arrested for driving while intoxicated on the Eisenhower Expy. – without a valid driver’s license, to boot. Challenger Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, backed by SEIU and the Chicago Teachers Union, is running an energetic campaign, but his rigid opposition to restructuring pensions and raising property taxes makes him an unlikely partner in ending the city’s pension crisis. Ramirez-Rosa, on leave from a job as a community organizer for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, even opposes the new tax on cellphone users that was part of a negotiated deal to fix two of the city’s major pension funds. Colon gets our endorsement.
Of the four candidates running in this ward, which includes Dunning, Montclare and Portage Park, DJ-company owner and lifelong ward resident Christopher M. Vittorio has the best grasp of what the ward and the city need. Vittorio would resist raising property taxes until all other options are exhausted, but he understands that property taxes might have to go up as a last resort. The other candidates are small business owner Gilbert Villegas, reference librarian Alonso Zaragoza and Omar Aquino, outreach coordinator for U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth. The incumbent in this ward, Ald. Nicholas Sposato, is moving to the 38th Ward because of remapping.
In ordinary times, we might be tempted to endorse school teacher Tara Stamps, this year’s challenger to Ald. Emma Mitts. The incumbent alderman can boast achievements, such as bringing the city’s first Wal-Mart to her ward — she stood up to union pressure — but she’s a generally passive alderman, inclined to follow the leader. That said, these are not ordinary times. The most pressing issue of these city elections is the crisis of underfunded public pension systems, and we believe Mitts is far more likely than newcomer Stamps to support the distasteful medicine necessary — reduced pension benefits and higher taxes. That said, Stamps has high ideals and real fire and we predict Chicago will see more of her.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato, who moved over from the remapped 36th Ward, deserves to be returned to the City Council by voters in this ward, which runs through Dunning, O’Hare and Portage Park. Nonprofit executive Heather Sattler understands what the city needs to do to fix its pensions. But Sposato, a retired firefighter, has been a strong independent voice on the Council and a member of the Progressive Caucus, and his voice is needed on what too often is a rubber-stamp body. The other candidates in this ward, which has no incumbent, are forest preserve police sergeant Jerry Paszek, Water Department investigator Carmen Hernandez, Realtor Tom Caravette, Council legislative aide Belinda Cadiz and retired city worker Michael C. Duda.
We’re not sure Ald. Margaret Laurino is much of an urban planner, as her detractors say, but she can lay claim to quite a few tangible accomplishments in her ward — a new Whole Foods here, a big Costco-like store just for restaurant supplies there, that sort of thing. Maybe she’s just a doer. Laurino, alderman since 1995, represents a relatively comfortable ward that includes all or parts of Sauganash, Edgebrook, Forest Glen and Albany Park, so the biggest gripe tends to be that a very nice ward could be even nicer. That doesn’t sound like grounds for dismissal. We endorse Laurino.