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With Ed Burke off the ballot, 14th Ward residents make wish lists for their next alderman

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Brighton Park resident Marta Castro wants a stop sign on the busy intersection where her children’s school, the Columbia Explorers Academy, is located.

On a recent weekday morning, he demonstrated how the mostly volunteer crossing guards must slowly step out into the road to stop cars for the kindergarten lines of children.

“[They] I actually have to go up, e [say] ‘Stop, stop, stop. Slow them down, slow him down. Hey, hey, hey, stop, stop, stop,” Castro said as he waved a stop sign as cars whizzed past, even given the 20 mph speed limit sign about a block away.

Despite recent incidents, including one that saw a seriously injured student in a hit and runCastro said it was difficult to get his current alderman, indicted Edward Burke, 14th Ward, to pay attention.

Calls to Burke’s office, letters from students at the school, requests from community organizations weren’t enough to put up a sign, a group of parents told WBEZ. Burke, who had been one of the city council’s most powerful aldermen, did not return requests for comment on this story. The 14th Department mainly covers Gage Park, Archer Heights, parts of Brighton Park and parts of Marquette Park on the south-west side.

But as part of the once-a-decade ward redeployment process, the Academy will instead fall into the city’s 12th ward starting in May. Still, Castro said he hopes a slate of Latino candidates running on the Southwest Side this election season will work together to bring new ideas and hopefully a road sign to the area.

“[These candidates] are willing to work with us. They have recently been to our meetings, they have listened to us. And we just want that support. We are so tired of trying to fight our battles like we need the help of politics,” she said.

Four years after his federal indictment, Burke made headlines in November when he failed to file paperwork to run for re-election in the Feb. 28 election, quietly marking the end of his 54 years as a city councilman. Two candidates had already shown up to run in the race.

But Burke’s political shadow is still shaping the race among candidates vying to replace him. And residents who say they felt neglected by the once-mighty alderman are making long wish lists for their next representative.

Residents express concern for their ward

In addition to a new stop sign, community members want to see a welcoming neighborhood office where the area’s growing Latino population feels comfortable going, said Joanna Cabrera, a 14-year Gage Park resident and Brighton organizer Park Neighborhood Council. The 14th district is now 88 percent Hispanic, according to the city, and Cabrera wants an alderman who reflects the community.

“If you can’t vote for [Burke], there is no help. There is no help,” Cabrera said of the undocumented residents who cannot vote for Burke in the election. “Or there’s no one who speaks your language. So it’s hard to find someone who can help you in his office.

Burke he’s facing federal charges who used his power in City Hall, as a longtime former chairman of the council’s finance committee, to direct business to his private law firm. He has also been accused by several residents of ignoring heavily Latino parts of the ward while he catered to more white areas which helped get him re-elected.

Burke pleaded not guilty to the charges. And though she momed to her retirement, or inheritance, in the 14th Ward pending a potential federal trial in November, she has publicly proclaimed in the past that she served every corner of her constituency.

However, several residents told WBEZ that they are looking forward to a new chapter.

Resident and organizer Antonio Santos, who was born and raised in Gage Park and now runs the Gage Park Latinx Council, said it wasn’t until he moved to the North Side’s Edgewater neighborhood for college that he realized he how orderly the neighborhoods could be.

“I remember literally asking one of my neighbors, how does Edgewater get this beautiful brand new library? How well maintained is Broadway Street and are there rubbish bins and Christmas decorations? I’ve never seen anything like it growing up in Gage Park,” Santos said.

Santos wants to see an aldermanic candidate with a plan to upgrade the Gage Park library, which, under Burke, he said, has moved from a city-owned country home to a commercial storefront. He also wants to see more options for affordable food. And he wants organizations and residents to have more say in what businesses enter and leave the department.

“Nobody knows what’s coming into the community before it opens — we sort of find out about the grand opening, and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve got another frozen meat factory across the street from two elementary schools.’ .. things that aren’t necessarily the most desirable for a residential neighborhood,” Santos said.

The race to replace Burke

Candidate Jeylú Gutiérrez is running a campaign that she hopes will appeal to people who have felt neglected under Burke’s tenure. Gutiérrez is currently the district director for Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya.

“I too had a couple of experiences where I went to that office and was overlooked because I wasn’t a registered voter. I couldn’t get my trash cans because I wasn’t a registered voter, and I couldn’t get a sticker for my truck because my husband was undocumented,” she said.

If elected, Gutiérrez says her top priority will be to transform the 14th ward office into a welcoming community space where residents can come for city and non-city services. She also notes public safety and education as priorities, but with little detail on how she will prosecute those platforms, reiterating only that she wants to cooperate with police and listen to residents.

Gutiérrez was endorsed in September by US Representative Jesús G. “Chuy” García, who is running for mayor and has already backed Burke’s opponents in the 14th Ward. García and Burke served on city council together in the 1980s, after an era of racial strife known as the “Council Wars” when a majority group of white aldermen, including Burke, stymied the agenda of the first black mayor of the city, Harold Washington, with whom García was allied.

Gutiérrez said she would join the Progressive and Latino caucuses if elected to city council. She has won the support of several unions, including SEIU Local 73, which represents more than 31,000 workers in public service and publicly funded positions, according to her website.

It doesn’t have the stamp of approval of the progressive political organization United Working Families, which it’s spending half a million dollars on the candidates for aldermanico and mayor. Nor does it have the backing of the progressive Chicago Teachers Union, which backs Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson for mayor.

While Gutiérrez said she was relieved to learn that Burke would no longer run as a candidate, she is running against a Burke family ally, who has been hard to reach and doesn’t have much publicly available information about her campaign.

Raul Reyes is a longtime City Clerk at the Clerk’s Office and received $50,000 from Ed Burke’s brother to help him campaign.

Reyes doesn’t have a campaign website, though she does have a Facebook page boasting “community advocate for 25 years!” and union membership with AFSCME. He has not returned multiple interview requests.

This isn’t Reyes’ first campaign. In a questionnaire for the Chicago Sun Times in the 2015 election cycle, Reyes sheds light on his priorities as a potential alderman.

he told the newspaper for example, it would bring in more police while simultaneously increasing opportunities for children at risk of violence in the nearby 15th Ward where it was running at the time.

Burke’s Retreat

Along a bungalow-lined road not far from Burke’s home, signs from his 2019 campaign still line a few yards: “Estoy para Concejal Ed Burke” or “I’m for Councilman Ed Burke,” reads one sign, dated February 26 . — the date of the 2019 elections.

Burke won the seat that year, despite being federally indicted the month before, with over 70% in some ward districts.

Those compound, tucked away in the Garfield Ridge area near Midway International Airport, are home to residents like John O’Malley, a retired firefighter who testified to Burke’s hard work in an ad campaign for him in the last election.

“I walk safe streets and new sidewalks because of Ed Burke,” said O’Malley, a 12-year Garfield Ridge resident. “He transformed our neighborhoods and made a real difference in our lives.”

But large swathes of that neighborhood were wrested from the department during the recent once-in-a-decade remapping process, reducing Burke’s chances of reelection.

Elected in 1969, Burke is the city’s longest-serving alderman. He has served under nine mayors of Chicago.

But, if the amount of legislation he’s passed is any sign, his federal prosecution largely suppressed it in his last four years on the board. In the run-up to the indictment, from 2015 to 2019, Burke sponsored and passed more than 1,000 single pieces of legislation, according to the City Clerk’s website. While a lot of those ordinances are little things like company awnings, handicapped permits, and other technicalities, there’s also been substantial work, like adding the sexual harassment as a violation of the Chicago government’s ethics ordinance.

In his last term the number of ordinances he sponsored and passed fell by 60%, to around 380 pieces of legislation, some of a technical nature, but others perhaps more significant, such as adding stop signs at five different intersections.

Mariah Woefel covers Chicago city government and politics. You can follow her on @Mariah Woefel.

Read more of WBEZ’s coverage of Chicago elections 2023.

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