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UPDATED 20th Ward Candidates Weigh In Before Election

Che "Rhymefest" Smith, one of the aldermanic candidates in the 20th Ward: Image by Jeremy M Farmer via Flickr

The runoff race for alderman of the 20th Ward is underway, as its two candidates, Alderman Willie B. Cochran at 46 percent, and Grammy Award winning rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith at 20 percent face off.

Named after the revolutionary Che Guevara, Smith believes that it is him who is going to help his community make a come back by focusing on important community issues that encompass the 20th Ward.  If elected, he plans to decrease the amount of vacant lots and foreclosed homes, which is a huge issue in his ward, as well as using arts and music as a medium to effectively promote education.

“I think the mischaracterization of who I am as an artist comes from opponents; comes from people who want to discredit the youth movement,” said Smith.

Cochran has a tough run against the Chicago-based celebrity, but stands strong on the progress he has made throughout the ward.

“He brings nothing as far as leadership to the race, no education, no political experience, and he himself has indicated that this is a job above his pay grade,” said Cochran.

Smith believes that in order for his ward to really prosper there must be a better control on crime and as alderman he would like to see more police walking the beat and community policing by volunteer residents.

“The 20th Ward is the fifth most violent ward in the city, and the incumbent is a retired police officer and the violence didn’t go down under an officer,” said Smith.

Cochran has already instituted 24 additional blue-light cameras, in addition to the 600 community gardens, making him the “greenest” alderman, according to Senior Campaign Consultant, David Robinson.

“He’s one of these guys that says let the work speak for itself, and if people are really interested they’ll see the development all along Cottage Grove, the housing, the gardening, the greening programs he’s put in place, and the crime and safety initiatives that he has instituted,” said Robinson.

Smith plans to continue his music career, but only on a local level, so he can maintain his duties as alderman, and if elected, he would give back $15,000 of his over $100,000 aldermanic salary in the form of micro lending to small businesses in his ward.

“I’m not running because I need money, I’m not running because I need fans or love like that, I’m running because, like I said in the beginning, I really believe through the experience I’ve gone through that I can make a positive difference in my community, said Smith.

Cochran stands strong on the programs he has initiated, such as the Circle of Hope, which employs ex offenders, but says his opponent has yet to do anything for the ward.

“When he was popular, more popular than he is now, he met people in the ward and he gave them wrong numbers because he didn’t want to be connected, but now he’s over in the community saying he wants to be connected,” said Cochran, “Accessibility is something that I pride myself on.”

Cynthia Howard, a patron at Davey’s Restaurant on East 63rd Street, just blocks away from Cochran’s office, plans to vote for Cochran again in the runoff, but would like to see some changes occur in her ward.

“Basically change more cleanup in the area and make it look more beautified,” said Howard.

After living in the ward for 10 years, Howard feels that getting the drug dealers and addicts off the street would make a major difference.

Marcey Handy, an employee at Davey’s, who lived in the ward for 40 years until 1999, still sees the violence and insolence that occurs daily outside her place of employment.

“They can stand right here and sell cigarettes, shoot each other, and everything, and the alderman is right there and he don’t know nothing about it unless he read it in the paper,” said Handy.

Handy believes that Smith has a good chance of winning in the runoff because he is more engaged with the youth in his community than Cochran.

“He comes in here and he don’t speak to none of the customers, they walk up, and he’ll tell them I’m eating right now,” said Handy.

Cochran believes his biggest challenge will be to bring employment and economic development to his ward in order to rejuvenate a sense of community.

“I’ve done tremendous amount of work for a freshman alderman; look at the work that I’ve done, I don’t think you’ll see anything in history that will say that in the 20th Ward,” said Cochran.


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This entry was originally posted on February 22, 2011 at 4:54 pm and is filed under All Politics is Local, The Editor’s Choice, Today’s Talk. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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