In 3 Wards, Chicago Voters Oust Incumbents, Opt for Newcomers

Voters ousted three incumbent aldermen in Tuesday’s election and chose political newcomers to fill their seats. Among them, the first openly gay black woman to be elected to the Chicago City Council. 

Another big aldermanic winner was the victor in the race to replace retiring Ald. Ricardo Munoz in the largely Latino 22nd Ward on the city’s Southwest Side.

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We speak with Alds.-elect Jim Gardiner, Daniel La Spata, Maria Hadden and Michael Rodriguez.

1st Ward: La Spata defeats longtime Ald. Joe Moreno.

Tell us a little about your background.

I’m originally from New Jersey, but have lived and worked in Chicago as a community organizer for 20 years. I’ve worked on housing issues with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and on policy for Friends of the Park. I’m working on getting my master’s degree in public policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

What made you decide to run?

As a community organizer, I have long worked with people in the neighborhood, fighting for better schools and parks while they had an absentee aldermen. That was a break of trust. I witnessed the good deeds of my neighbors, as well as the bad deeds of a corrupt alderman.

Why do you think you won?

I talked to a lot of people. I knocked on lots of doors and over and over people said their alderman didn’t respond to their needs and damaged their faith in the political process.

Election night happened to be my 38th birthday. Definitely a birthday party I will never forget!

45th Ward: Gardiner defeats two-term incumbent Ald. John Arena.

What is your background?

My parents are immigrants from Ireland. My father worked in construction and I worked construction out of high school. Didn’t think I’d ever go to college. But I’ve always wanted to do as much as I could for my community.

I went to St. Xavier University on the Southwest Side, then taught special education at Marie Curie High School near Midway. I moved to the South Side to be closer to my teaching jobs. I took the Fire Department exam in 1995 and was finally contacted by the Fire Department in 2005. I’ve been a firefighter in the West Garfield Park neighborhood since then. I also substitute teach at Taft and Schurz High Schools. I also coach and mentor kids. I now live on the same block where I was raised, just a few doors down from the house where I was born, in which my parents still live.

Will you continue working as a fireman while being an alderman?

No. I’m taking a leave of absence from the Fire Department and will not be substitute teaching.

Why did you run?

My answer to the question of “what do I want to do” has always been to have an impact on the city, whether I was working for the park district or the schools. I’ve never been involved in politics, neither has my family. In terms of financial means, we were far outweighed.

I think our community has had turmoil over the last eight years, feeling their voices weren’t properly heard. For the last six months I’ve been knocking on doors for four hours every night. I’ve knocked on over 12,000 doors. What I’ve heard over and over is that residents feel they’re not being listened to. I saw there was a need for the community and wanted to fill it.

What are your priorities as an alderman?

People aren’t feeling as safe. People are getting their homes and cars broken into. People feel in danger in a way they haven’t in the past. They feel there needs to be somebody there who’s going to be more hands on. 

We also need to attract more businesses because that additional revenue could translate into more resources from the police department. For a long time we’ve been dealing with a police district that isn’t properly manned.

49th Ward: Hadden ousts longtime Ald. Joe Moore, who’s been in office since 1991.

What made you want to run?

I’ve been doing civic engagement for a decade, working with community groups and elected officials to redesign how government works. I’m passionate about making government more inclusive. Like a lot of folks after the Trump election I just reprioritized where my talents could be put to use. I live in an area with a lot of immigrants who were inordinately impacted by the priorities of the Trump administration.   With so much instability at the federal level, I thought it was important to bring some stability to our local government.

Why do you think you won?

A combination of what I did right and Ald. Joe Moore did wrong. I voted for Moore in 2015, but this time around I was looking for something more. This is a community with a history of independent leadership and progressive politics. Moore’s rubber-stamping of Rahm Emmanuel’s initiatives, the closing of mental health facilities and schools, were all problems for me.

What are your priorities as alderman?

Development without displacement. We need to keep things fresh and growing, but not to the point where people can’t afford it. I support an elected school board and want to see strong public neighborhood schools.

Why do you think you won?

We ran a community campaign. We had over 700 volunteers. More than 70 percent of the $200,000 we raised came from people in our community. This is a community win. Along the way, I made sure to get lots of community feedback and that impacted my campaign agenda and how I’ll govern.

Will you keep your day job while being an alderman?

No, I plan to be a full time alderman and am in the process of transitioning out of my role as executive director of the nonprofit I founded, Our City Our Voice. 

22nd Ward: Rodriguez replaces longtime retiring Ald. Ricardo Munoz.

Why do you think you won?

I think we won because we had a huge volunteer base, over 100 people, knocking on doors. Made more than 4,000 phone calls. Our message was positive, pro working class families.

What are your top priorities?

Crime and violence prevention is my top concern. We need to hold the police accountable. I support the consent decree of the police department. Secondly, bringing city resources to our community is a priority. Whether it’s filling potholes or taking care of garbage, I want to make sure we get the resources we deserve. Thirdly, our schools are assets for our communities. We need to invest in them and use them as community hubs for our youth.

Biggest challenges for our city?

Justice in taxation. We need to make sure the working class aren’t getting a bum deal. The super-rich need to pay their fair share. And we need to make sure our communities remain affordable, so people and families can stay there.

Follow Andrea Guthmann on Twitter @AndreaGuthmann

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