Two candidates in the 20th Ward have made their way to the runoff election with historical comparisons to the mayor’s race.
Not only did the mayoral race make history with the highest ever number of candidates running — 14 — the 20th Ward, with nine on the ballot, also had a record number of candidates in its aldermanic race.
The 20th Ward covers much of Woodlawn and reaches west toward parts of Englewood, Washington Park and Back of the Yards. The ward generally struggles economically, but is moving forward.
In addition to its economic challenges, the aldermanic seat is plagued by the shadow of corruption. The last three aldermen have been indicted on corruption charges, with two of them serving time in prison.
In the wake of these scandals, Nicole Johnson and Jeanette Taylor will face off in the April 2 aldermanic runoff. These two women of color will compete for the same seat, in some ways reflecting the mayoral race between Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Johnson and Taylor have similar positions on key issues in the ward. Both support a Community Benefits Agreement to protect citizens from higher rents and displacement due to the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
“One of the biggest issues in the ward right now is affordable housing because the advent of the Obama Presidential Center,” said Delmarie Cobb, Nicole Johnson’s campaign manager.
Cobb said people in the community are afraid of being displaced as they see a rise in property value due to the development of the center. The benefits agreement was a hot topic in the community prior to the Feb. 26 election, with the issue often taking center stage at debates and forums in the ward.
“We share a deep belief in the strength of the South Side and the need to bring opportunity to a community that has been overlooked and underinvested,” said Obama Foundation spokesperson Courtney Williams via email.
Although The Obama Foundation says it wants to help rebuild the community, it was made clear that the foundation is opposed to a benefits agreement in statements they have made, causing a deeper conflict between them and aldermanic authority.
Williams said the Obama Foundation looks forward to working with the next elected mayor and aldermen on efforts related to housing, education and other issues it sees as vital to the revitalization of the community.
“We are working toward fulfilling our written commitments to ensure the presidential center provides our neighbors jobs, spaces for our children to learn and play, and an opportunity to draw people from all over the world to the South Side,” Williams said.
Taylor and Johnson face the challenge of rebuilding both the reputation of the aldermanic seat and the relationship with the community that has been lost.
Cobb said Johnson plans to introduce a community land trust, which would allow residents to get together, become developers and build infill housing to stabilize their community. It would also give residents a say in who moves into the community.
Naomi Davis, founder of the Blacks in Green organization, is a long-time advocate and activist in the Woodlawn community and was chosen by the Obama Foundation, the University of Chicago and the Obama Presidential Center to be part of the Woodlawn Committee, an initiative to redevelop the community.
In addition to her concern about the need of a benefits agreement, Davis is also concerned about the alderman having too tight of a grip on power in the ward.
Often the position of committeeman is held by the alderman, who helps fill vacant seats. A committeeman is essentially a leadership position for a partisan political jurisdiction.
“The committeeman and the aldermanic spot need to have a firewall between them,” Davis said. “You cannot have a committeeman who’s running for alderman in charge of the vote.”
Taylor and Davis did not state their positions on people holding both posts as committeeman and alderman simultaneously, but previous alderman Willie Cochran did hold both positions from 2008 to 2016.
Both candidates bring their own personal experiences to the plate and handle issues by referring back to their roots. The story of how Taylor came to live in Woodlawn in part explains her campaign positions regarding displacement and rising rents.
A few years ago, Taylor moved from the Bronzeville neighborhood to Woodlawn, in the 20th Ward, in search of affordable housing. Now, as a candidate in the aldermanic runoff election, Taylor is again facing the harsh realities of rising rent prices.
“There are definitely similarities between the two candidates,” said Candice Castillo, Jeanette Taylor’s campaign manager. “How we get to the bottom of the issues presented though are very different.”
Cobb said the candidates are similar in that they call themselves progressives in terms of the issues that affect the people in the community. She said displacement in the ward has been a major issue, especially seeing as African Americans are leaving the area in droves.
Castillo said rent prices have increased in the 20th Ward due to the number of housing developments and other projects in the area, including the presidential center.
“No matter who gets elected in the runoff, Jeanette has a commitment to still work and fight for the people of the 20th Ward,” said Castillo.
Castillo said while the community is fighting for a benefits agreement, it also needs to fight for economic development.
When comparing the 20th Ward aldermanic race to the mayoral race, Castillo said both candidates have similar and reformative views on issues for Chicago. Just like the mayoral candidates, Taylor and Johnson are about twenty years apart in age.
“The 20th Ward cannot sustain a community on the issues of economic development or a Community Benefits Agreement,” said Castillo. “[We] need balance.”
Cobb said both candidates have an immense amount of integrity and are in the race for the right reasons. They’re trying to change the ward’s reputation from a legacy of poverty and corruption.
“This election is about change,” said Cobb. “One of the reasons Bill Daley did not make the runoff is because he was not considered a change [candidate] and clearly people decided they wanted something different.”