“Change” has been a buzzword this campaign season, with hundreds of challengers promising a transformation while mounting campaigns against old guards in the Chicago City Council.
But on Tuesday, Austin’s voters made one thing clear: They like the leaders they’ve got.
Incumbent aldermen for the 28th, 29th and 37th Wards easily retained their seats in the 50-member council, winning enough votes to avoid an April 5th run-off election.
Alds. Jason Ervin and Deborah Graham won in their own right, both having been appointed to their seats within the last year by Mayor Richard M. Daley. Ald. Emma Mitts, also appointed by Daley back in 2000, won a third term Tuesday.
Even in the tightest of the three races, Graham in the 29th Ward made it past the required 50 percent mark, according to preliminary results. With all precincts reporting late Tuesday night, Graham had tallied 52 percent (or 5,474 votes) in a field of eight candidates.
Graham’s closest rival, Thomas E. Simmons, founder of Citizens for a Better Westside, had 12 percent (1,253). Her next closest rival was CB Johnson, with 11.8 percent (1,236) of the vote.
The rest of her competitors-Mary Russell Gardner, Jill R. Bush, Oddis Johnson, Roman Morrow and Beverly Rogers-tallied percentages in the single digits.
With the victory, Graham, who was appointed in March to complete the term of convicted Ald. Isaac Carothers, appears to have sidestepped lingering allegations that she still has ties to the disgraced former alderman.
Graham, who served in the Illinois House before moving to the City Council, partly attributed her win Tuesday to her name recognition and her eight years of work in the General Assembly.
“We’ve done all we know how to do,” Graham said, surrounded by supporters Tuesday night as she watched results come in at her campaign headquarters at 5753 W. Division. “We represented the issues, we spoke to the voters’ concerns.”
At about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, the alderman was joined at her campaign office by campaign manager Doug Price, state Sen. Don Harmon, and about two dozen supporters and campaign staff. A celebration was scheduled to follow at a nearby banquet hall.
‘He is his own man’
A bit farther east in the 28th Ward, recently-appointed Ald. Jason Ervin had much to celebrate at the JLM Community Center, 2622 W. Jackson.
Ervin won by a huge margin over his sole competitor, William Siegmund. With all precincts reporting as of 11 p.m., Ervin had received about 85 percent (5,673), compared to Siegmund’s 15 percent (1,025).
“This is a good day for the 28th Ward,” Ervin said, inside the noisy community center, after a day of visiting each of the 61 polling places in the ward. “We feel this is a mandate to move our community forward to the next level.”
Ervin, the former village manager of Maywood and also a longtime aide to former Ald. Ed Smith, was appointed last month to fulfill the remainder of Smith’s term-the longtime alderman resigned from his seat after 27 years in office.
The 36-year-old Ervin faced some criticism for his ties to Smith, who some claimed didn’t do enough to advance the ward over his tenure. But his campaign staff fought back with a message: “Jason has a lot of respect for Ald. Smith,” said Ervin’s press secretary, Larry Shapiro, “but he is his own man.”
Ervin’s numbers likely got a boost from last Friday’s appellate court ruling, which removed competitor Carmelita Earls from the ballot and declined to reinstate Rev. Michael Stinson.
Though she had been knocked off the ballot, Earls’ supporters still stood outside polling places Tuesday, bouncing in the cold with signs bearing the veteran firefighter’s name. Earls-who was removed from the ballot for owing a property tax debt-has vowed to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Siegmund, the sole challenger Tuesday to Ald. Ervin, declined comment.
Numbers were not available Tuesday evening for 28th Ward write-in candidate Carol Johnson.
Although voter turnout was down citywide in Tuesday’s election, it was up in the West Side wards.
In the 28th Ward, 29 percent of voters went to the polls, up from 25 percent four years ago. In the 29th, turnout was nearly 40 percent, compared to 38 percent last time; and in the 37th, 31 percent voted this election, compared to less than 27 percent in 2007.
In a six-candidate battle in the 37th Ward, Ald. Emma Mitts easily retained the seat she has held for the past 11 years. Mitts won 58 percent of the vote (4,972), more than twice that of her closest competitor, Chicago Park District employee Maretta Brown-Miller, who won about 24 percent (2,029).
Despite arguments that Mitts has not done enough to clean up her ward, the alderman received slightly more votes than four years ago. In that election, she received 57 percent.
Mitts did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The remaining four hopefuls – Minerva V. Orozco, Steven Pleasant, Tommy Abina and Shanika Finley-each won less than 6 percent of the vote.
Deborah Kadin contributed this story.