Nineteen years ago, a young and hopeful Iranian immigrant came to Chicago looking for the American dream. Now she is running for a major political position: 43rd ward alderman.
Bita Buenrostro never intended to enter politics, but one afternoon while driving in her car with her husband, she had an epiphany. “We have to speak up,” she said. And it is this statement that continues to motivate her.
Buenrostro said politics is more than a paycheck to her. She said she truly wants to make a difference in her community and make it safer for everyone.
“This is a democracy. That means a majority wins,” she said. “How can the majority win if they don’t know what’s going on?”
About a year ago, Buenrostro started a group called Neighborhood Watch. She wanted the program to bring the police to people — not the other way around. She noticed residents weren’t attending as many CAPS meetings as they once did, so she started Neighborhood Watch to bring police awareness back to the 43rd Ward. Neighborhood Watch has also worked with police officers from the 18th and 19th districts.
In addition to working with the police force, Buenrostro has distributed 2,000 brochures to residents in order to educate them on using the 9-1-1 emergency number. She has made sure that emergency numbers are posted on garages and alleys. On some occasions, Buenrostro has even invested her own money to bring safety into these neighborhoods.
She is running against eight other candidates for a chance to represent the 43rd ward on Chicago’s North Side. Long-time Ald. Vi Daley is not seeking re-election and has announced she will not endorse any candidate.
Buenrostro’s husband, Marcus, is her campaign manager and a senior Chicago police officer. He said she is doing a “better than adequate job” and expects his wife to win the election. He also said that since Neighborhood Watch began, he and his wife are frequently emailed and called by people in the community who thank them for making district information more easily available.
“She’s gone above and beyond what any other citizen in our area has really done,” he said.
Buenrostro was a political refugee before arriving in the United States. When she was 8, her family was forced to leave Iran. She said her father came home one night and instructed the family to pack everything and leave for Pakistan. Instead, they contacted the United Nations for aid and moved to Sweden, leaving her father behind. Her father was not able to join them in Sweden and was later executed.
When Buenrostro was 19, she was granted a scholarship to study in Europe or America. “I always heard about the American dream,” said Buenrostro, so she chose Chicago because she found it to be a world-class city. Buenrostro said she had never felt at home outside of Iran until she arrived to Chicago. She said the first time she saw Lake Shore Drive, her reaction was simply, “Wow.”
She graduated from North Park University in Chicago with a bachelor of arts degree in political science. Buenrostro has also been involved with food distribution to the poor and breast cancer research.
If Buenrostro is elected, she will be the first Persian-American on Chicago City Council.
“I’m going to bring some common sense to our city council,” she said.