Holding back tears, Gayle Sterm, of Humboldt Park, stood behind the podium Tuesday at a Grassroots Illinois Action news conference. Instead of reading the speech she had prepared, Sterm said she was going to “speak from my heart.”
“I want an elected school board. I want them to listen to us,” Sterm said, as her voice tightened. “I want them to hear our children cry.”
Grassroots Illinois Action, an independent nonprofit working to promote a progressive agenda in city hall, used the news conference to announce its endorsement of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor of Chicago, as well as to endorse 23 aldermanic candidates in the upcoming Feb. 24 election.
Garcia was expected to speak, but he was unable to attend.
Amisha Ptael, GIA’s executive director, said this election is important and added there is a good chance a “progressive champion” could take over the mayor’s office on the fifth floor of city hall.
Patel said voters could elect a city council that would give neighborhood residents a greater voice in government.
“We need to make sure we are advocating for the people and giving the people power,” said Tara Baldridge, who is running for 8th ward alderman.
Anita Caballero, a member of GIA, spoke of the millions of dollars in taxpayer money that was not being spent on better education and programs for students.
“Every day I see vacant houses. I see schools that are being deprived of the resources that they need,” Caballero said.
The candidates voiced support for an elected public school board, more city funds directed to neighborhoods outside the downtown business district and for the Chicago Public School system over charter schools. They criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel for closing 50 public schools in 2013.
Zerlina Smith, aldermanic candidate for the 29th ward, said six schools were closed in the Austin community with no additional services provided for families. She said vacant school lots now have playgrounds for children but the space would be better utilized to “educate the whole family.”
“We have nothing. It is a dry desert for the poor black people,” Smith said. “I’m running because I’m one of those poor black people. And when you think of change, think of me.”
By endorsing 23 aldermanic candidates and Garcia, GIA’s goal is to change the political priorities of the city and state. According to the GIA website, these candidates were chosen because they are capable of defeating those in office who “close schools, cut good jobs, slash human services, and demolish affordable housing.”
“We need a fighter, not another mayoral puppet,” said Pete DeMay, aldermanic candidate for the 12th ward.