On April 7, voters in 18 city wards will choose an alderman in a runoff election. Early voting begins Monday, March 23. No candidate in these 18 wards won more than 50 percent of the vote on Feb. 24.
In 11 of the 18 races, the Sun-Times is sticking with the candidates we endorsed before the February election. These include: Alyx S. Pattison (2nd); Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); Toni L. Foulkes (16th); Kevin Bailey (20th); Michael Scott Jr. (24th), Milagros “Milly” Santiago (31st); Emma Mitts (37th), Mary O’Connor (41st); Caroline Vickrey (43rd); John Arena (45th); and Amy Crawford (46th).
In the seven races in which the Sun-Times endorsed a candidate who did not make the runoff, we offer the following endorsements:
A crowded field of seven candidates has now cleared, giving voters two solid choices for a ward that includes South Shore, Calumet Heights and Jeffrey Manor. Ald. Natashia Holmes was appointed two years ago to fill the spot after Ald. Sandi Jackson and husband U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. resigned. As we said previously, we like Holmes’ background in economic development and urban planning, but she has failed to make an impact during her short time on the City Council. We recommend Greg Mitchell, who impresses with his strong skills in finance, accounting and information technology gained during his years at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He has practical and sensible ideas for improving the ward and is honest about the city’s dire finances, acknowledging that pension restructuring and a property tax hike must be considered. We’re impressed by the collegiality between the candidates and hope they will work on ward issues together, no matter who wins April 7.
Far Southeast Side
Residents of this industrial ward, which includes Calumet Heights, the East Side, Hegewisch, South Chicago and South Deering, have waged a spirited battle against environmental problems, including petcoke, a petroleum refining byproduct that in 2013 piled up into huge mounds along the Calumet River. Many think their alderman, John A. Pope, was too late to join the battle. But Pope cites a list of environmental initiatives he has led, and he is a firm supporter of strong regulations curtailing petcoke. His opponent, public school counselor Sue Sadlowski Garza, hasn’t made the case she would improve on his record. Pope gets our endorsement.
Near Southwest Side
Raymond Lopez is primed to make things happen for his ward, earning him our endorsement for this open seat. He earns a living as a skycap for Southwest Airlines but he’s also the 15th Ward committeeman and carves out free time to help secure abandoned buildings and to fight for neighborhood schools. Lopez knows the ward inside and out, and we expect he’ll be tightly focused on providing quality service to residents who need it. We wish he had fewer ties to the Democratic party regulars. The onus is on him to prove that he truly can be independent. He faces Rafael Yanez, a crime-prevention specialist with the Chicago Police Department. Yanez does valuable community work and we hope he continues, but Lopez is best suited to lead a ward that straddles Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, Gage Park and West Englewood.
Four years ago, Ald. Lona Lane stepped down as Democratic committeeman of the 18th Ward and urged support for the political ally who replaced her, Derrick G. Curtis. It is rare that an alderman gives up the position, but Lane said she wanted to focus on just one job, alderman, and Curtis would make a fine committeeman. As the ward’s superintendent for streets and sanitation, he knew the streets and the people. Now Curtis hopes to replace Lane as alderman, too, and he has our endorsement. Lane has little to show by way of accomplishments in her nine years in the job, and it’s time for a new leader. Curtis’ experience as ward superintendent should serve him well. On the issues, we don’t see great differences. Lane was a reliable vote for the mayor — whether Rich Daley or Rahm Emanuel — while Curtis vows to be more independent. But Curtis, like Lane, worked his way up within the regular Democratic organization.
Howard B. Brookins Jr. has been an able alderman for this ward, which includes part of Beverly, Brainerd, Gresham, Longwood Manor and West Chatham. For example, he led a successful battle to bring a Wal-Mart to the ward. But at a time when political corruption absolutely must be curtailed, the 2014 bribery conviction of his former longtime chief of staff, Curtis Thompson Jr., cannot be overlooked. Brookins has not been accused of wrongdoing, but as alderman he must take responsibility for his top aides’ misdeeds. We endorse Marvin McNeil, a retired city zoning code enforcer.
This is another race with two solid candidates hoping to represent a remapped and reshaped ward that includes Austin, Galewood and parts of Montclare, Belmont Heights and West Garfield Park. We did not endorse Ald. Deborah Graham for the general election, but Graham gets our nod in her runoff race against Chris Taliaferro as the best candidate to lead this ward. Focused and direct, Graham is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in and to defend her decisions. We still question her judgment on two controversial decisions — supporting the opening of another pawn shop and another convenience/liquor store in the ward — but she owned those decisions. She has a fine opponent in Chris Taliaferro, a police officer and lawyer, but Graham gets our vote because of her legislative experience and her more realistic assessment of what must be done to solve the city’s financial problems.
We like both candidates in this open-seat ward, which includes Dunning, Montclare and Portage Park, but we prefer Gilbert Villegas, who works as a government affairs and business consultant, because of his greater experience. As chief of staff at the Illinois Capital Development Board from 2011 to 2014, Villegas, 44, supervised about 140 employees. Previously, he was deputy director of the Office of Business and Workforce Diversity at the Illinois Department of Transportation. He also sits on the boards of his local school council and several nonprofits. Like the nearby 31st Ward, this has been described as a proxy battle between state Rep. Luis Arroyo, who backs Villegas, and Cook County Democratic Party Chairman and county Assessor Joseph Berrios. Berrios supports Omar Aquino, 27, who until recently was an outreach coordinator for U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Each candidate has pointed a finger at the other’s campaign for a skirmish among campaign workers on March 7.