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Millennials challenge incumbent in 46th Ward alderman race

In Chicago’s 46th Ward, five challenging candidates to Ald. James Cappleman’s City Council seat fall under one category: millennial. If elected the candidate would become one of a handful of city councilmen under 40.

Cappleman has served as the alderman for the 46th Ward in Chicago since 2011. He won against Helen Shiller who until 2011 had served as the ward’s alderman since 1987.

The youngest candidate on the ballot, Angela Clay, 27, is three years younger than Chicago’s youngest alderman, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of the 35th ward.

“Our ward is predominantly young people, 25 to 35,” Clay said at a recent challengers forum in the 46th Ward. “And we currently have a 66 going on 67 year old alderman.”

In Uptown, the neighborhood that makes up most of the 46th ward, 18 to 39-year-olds make up 39.7% of the neighborhood. The millennial generation comprises almost half of the voting block there according to Statistical Atlas information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Clay, along with the other candidates in the Ward, hopes that she can provide representation for the growing population of millennials and families in the area. Other candidates include CPS teacher Erika Wozniak Francis, 36, scientist and block club president Marianne Lalonde, 32, Justin Kreindler, 38, and Jon-Robert McDowell, 37.

Their candidacy could signal a generational shift in Chicago leadership. At last week’s 46th ward challenger’s forum at the Preston Bradley Center in Uptown, candidates focused on issues millennial voters prioritize, such as environmental stability, gentrification, diversity, community arts resources and social equality.

“I think that people are tired of, you know, all of our elected officials being 50 to 60-year-old white guys,” McDowell said.

McDowell said he would champion the issues he believes young people care about the most: affordable housing and the environment.

The challenger’s forum discussion brought about mentions of the popular television show “Game of Thrones,” alternative gender-inclusive job titles like “alderperson” and “alderwoman” and the Green New Deal touted by democratic freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The forum itself was technology-forward and digitally interactive. Constituents in attendance had their eyes glued to their smartphones, but they were anything but disengaged. Everyone was encouraged to log on to Mentimeter,  an interactive presentation tool that allowed everyone to ask their own questions of the candidates, vote on what issues to discuss and share their opinions on their neighborhood.

Users could even send emojis through Mentimeter to pop up on the presentation screen behind the candidates on stage to show support. Candidates hoped this kind of digital interactive platform at local political forums would be engaging to a young voter base.

The forum moderator asked what everyone’s favorite thing was about the 46th ward and participants quickly typed in their answers. The platform created a collage of their answers with words like food, culture, block clubs, lake front and, at number one, diversity.

“I think that if we had more technology savvy ways to connect with people who are always on their phone, and who always have something to say on Facebook, that we could get the correct answers we need,” Clay said.

Candidates are also relying on technology to reach out to young voters through social media and online advertising.

“I think that’s the biggest tool that we could be using right now is to be more engaged in social media, and not just using it as a squabble space,” Clay said.

“I do Facebook live every Sunday,” Lalonde said. She has found that traditional uses of social media has not been her greatest tool, but getting creative with digital ways to campaign has proved to be successful. To her surprise, a YouTube advertisement for her campaign received better response than other platforms.

The 46th ward challengers hope to improve sustainability the ward and lead the way for other communities to become more environmentally aware on a local level. Environmental sustainability was the second most important issues to attendees of the forum right behind affordable housing.

“It’s kind of shameful that we’re lacking so far behind in sustainability,” Lalonde said. She previously served as a legislative fellow in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office covering energy and the environment.

Lalonde was in favor of signing on as a city to the Green New Deal and thinks the 46th ward has a long way to go in going green. She pointed out that the ward is still in a contract with a recycling company that also owns a for-profit landfill on the south side of the city.

Kreindler suggested trying to discourage car ownership. He said the ward has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in Chicago at 0.5 cars per household and he thinks this will keep decreasing as the community gets younger.

“We should be a pioneer in Chicago and have electric car charging stations in our community,” Kreindler said. He said he would require new developers to have a triple bottom line being environment, community and lastly profit.

Wozniak said she wants to make composting an option for the 46th ward. Some of Chicago’s wards are beginning to participate in a blue bin recycling and composting program.

Preserving diversity in a time of rapid gentrification has become a major issue for residents of the 46th ward. Lalonde believes that the ward has the potential to be a model community not only for Chicago, but for the country by creating a “truly integrated community.” She said that crossing income barriers could help the ward come together.

“It’s so rare and unusual to have such diverse, multicultural backgrounds, different income backgrounds already living in the same place,” Lalonde said.

Clay said the 46th ward’s overlooked assets were her neighbors. She said that coming together as a ward and getting to know each other would be a priority to her as alderwoman in order to make sure her neighbors had a voice in their community.

“Our young people are depending on us,” Clay said. “And if we aren’t making sound decisions for their future, we are doing our entire community a disservice.”

Participants through Mentimeter thought the most overlooked assets of the 46th ward were its diversity, parks, people, small businesses, artists and the lake front.

Putting it plainly in his answer McDowell said, “how about the alderman’s office?”

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