BELMONT CRAGIN – Longtime community activist hopes to deny Ald. Felix Cardona Jr. a second term representing the Northwest Side’s 31st Ward.
Organizer and veteran Esteban Burgoa Ontañon is challenging Cardona for the city council seat in next month’s election. The department covers parts of Belmont Cragin, Hermosa and Portage Park.
Another candidate, community activist Patrick J. Gibbons, withdrew from the race earlier this month, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
The elections are on February 28th.
More on the two candidates:
Felix Cardona Jr.
Cardona, a Logan Square native, took office in 2019 after forcing former Ald. Milly Santiago on the ballot and winning with about 54 percent of the vote.
Prior to becoming an alderman, Cardona worked for the Cook County Assessor’s Office and served on the Cook County Board of Auditors.
Cardona’s main goals, if re-elected, would be to protect and support young people, reduce crime and bring more small businesses to the neighborhood, especially along Cicero Avenue, he said.
Cardona also pledged to bring commercial programs to schools — “not all kids should go to college,” he said — and work with the Park District to create more after-school programs for teens and children, he said.
During her first term, Cardona helped bring kids together at parks to play softball and kickball, and the group “continues to grow every year,” she said.
“I’m choosing to race again because I love serving and helping people,” Cardona said. “I’m here to serve my interns to the best of my ability and I hope they give me the opportunity to do it again.”
One of Cardona’s major accomplishments was to help raise the city minimum wage at $15 per hour, he said.
“We’re trying to be one step ahead of the state,” as the cost of living in Chicago is higher than the rest of Illinois, he said.
Cardona also worked with Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) to fight for the rights of the elderly in retirement flats.
Cardona was among the four aldermen who blocked a vote to approve a $1.67 million deal for Mia Wright and four others who were beaten by police on their way shopping at the Brickyard Mall in 2020. The board approved the payment in March, with Cardona voting for it.
When asked about it, Cardona declined to comment further.
“I was dealing with my own issues in my ward,” Cardona said.
Cardona also voted in favor of the new city ward map, breaking away from the Latino Caucus to support the version advocated by the Black Caucus.
Cardona also backed the controversial proposal for the fire training facility at Hanson Park in Belmont Cragin. The stadium would have been in the nearby 36th neighborhood, but Cardona said it would lead to more development in the area, bring more people to the neighborhoods and help local businesses.
The $90 million proposal was scrapped and the center is now slated to be built on former public housing land on the Near West Side.
Esteban Burgoa Ontanon
Ontañon, originally from Mexico, moved to Chicago when he was 16, he said.
Burgoa Ontañon has been active in the community for decades, serving on local school boards in the 1980s and 1990s and as president of the Springfield Student Advisory Council in 2001. He also deployed overseas in 2003 to serve during the war in Iraq.
The Navy Veterinarian has garnered attention during the pandemic after teaching himself how to sew masks overnight. He and other Latino immigrants donated masks to neighbors in need.
Alder also made headlines in 2019 after filming the inside of the home of 30th Ward aldermanic candidate Jessica Gutiérrez and posting the footage and her address on Facebook.
The official campaign page for Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), whom Gutiérrez had challenged in that election, re-shared the video and described Ontañon as one of the alderman’s supporters.
Gutiérrez told Block Club at the time that he had filed a police complaint and planned to seek a restraining order against Ontañon.
Ontañon defended his actions in an interview with Block Club, saying he believes Gutiérrez never lived in the community and simply moved to the ward to run.
There is no record of anyone challenging the validity of Gutiérrez’s residency at the electoral council in 2019, according to a decision index.
Ontañon said his actions were taken “out of context” and he shouldn’t be judged for this incident considering his years of community service.
“My thing is not to try to vilify her; my goal is to fight corruption,” Ontañon said. “To be a public servant, it’s about truth and honesty. You have to be honest with the community, and I think that’s what I did at the time. … I have no regrets in exposing corruption.
If elected, Ontañon said his priorities as city councilor would be public safety, affordable housing, education and mental health resources.
One way Ontañon hopes to reduce violence in the neighborhood is by banning guns from bars, because he believes mixing guns and alcohol is dangerous, he said.
Ontañon also plans to create “business incubators” or communal office spaces where residents can gather to practice their crafts and attend workshops for anything from painting to computing, he said.
Ontañon hopes the community will be involved in every decision that affects them if he is elected, he said.
“It’s a shame that only 11% of registered voters come to vote,” Ontañon said. “This election is underway [the community], not me. I don’t want to be the boss; I want us to be a team.”
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