A community policing beat facilitator and West Side resident has announced his challenge to 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts in next year’s election.

Leroy Duncan announced his candidacy Thursday before family, friends and political supporters at The Word Works Church, 4118 W. Division. Since 2009, Duncan, 62, has been the CAPS (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) facilitator for the 25th District.

An accountant by profession, he currently owns Duncan Business Consultant Services.

“Out of touch” is how Duncan and his supporters described Mitts, who’s represented Austin’s 37th Ward since 2000.

“If, after 14 years, you’re still working on a learning curve, we have a problem,” Duncan said, adding that he’s in the race to implement ideas that go beyond the CAPS level — ideas that he doesn’t believe are being considered by Mitts.

Appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Mitts replaced Percy Giles following his arrest on federal corruption charges. Also in the race is Tara Stamps, a schoolteacher who’s backed by Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis, who’s exploring a run next year against Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As for Duncan, his supporters believe he’ll bring much-needed “new blood” to City Hall.

“We need a change; our community is struggling,” said Catherine Jones, president of the Frederick Douglass High School PTA, and a longtime Local School Council (LSC) member — she’s also a key member of what the 62-year-old candidate calls “Team Duncan.”

Jones and several other Duncan supporters huddled in a heated exchange in the middle of the church sanctuary as they waited for Thursday’s event to begin, each venting a series of grievances against Mitts.

“We have no legitimate businesses, no bakeries, no dry cleaners, no businesses that might draw other businesses,” said 37th Ward resident Cheryl Bailey, adding that Mitts “went right along with that charter [school] nonsense.”

Some grievances were more particular than others.

Renna Thomas, Duncan’s campaign manager, cited the closing of a Walgreens as an example of Mitts’ “ineffectual leadership.” Thomas alleges that Mitts didn’t inform residents about that situation. Thomas believes that if Mitts had informed residents ahead of time, and given the community an opportunity to marshal a response, the store may have been saved.

Both Thomas and Duncan maintain that they were recruited by community leaders and activists who are “fed up with Mitts’ lack of communication with her constituents.” It’s a sentiment Duncan is framing his entire campaign around, with the slogan “Inform to Empower.”

“The number one problem in our community, and in our ward, is not drugs or gangs or loitering — it’s communication and sharing information,” Duncan said. “If we communicate with the people in the community, they will become educated; and when they’re educated, they will participate in keeping our community clean and safe.”

Concerning who those community leaders and activists are, Duncan said he wouldn’t disclose their identities to guard against any possible retribution by the alderman.

While his supporters expressed displeasure with Mitts, Duncan’s rhetoric was more toned down. If elected, Duncan promised to utilize his business savvy in City Hall.

“I have no problems with [Ald. Mitts] being aligned with the mayor,” he said. “I will also align with the mayor. I won’t probably vote 100 percent, but I think what happens is: when you align with the mayor, you should get some return and be able to solve some of your community problems — get increased city services. I’m not sure why it’s not happening now? I just know its not happening.”

Duncan did, however, criticize the mayor’s education policy, particularly as it relates to charter schools. While Mitts has expressed opposition to the school closings proposed last year by Chicago Public Schools and approved by the Chicago Board of Education, the alderman has also expressed support for charter schools. Duncan criticized that stance.  

“When they first talked about charters, the led me to believe that they were going to be a good thing,” Duncan said. “I’m for competition. I thought when they brought in the charters, they would compete with the public schools. Instead, what they did was close the public schools and shift dollars to charter schools. That, I don’t see a point to.

“We also have a situation with turnaround schools,” Duncan said. “They’re coming in and bringing in new people and that’s making our community a little unstable. We like stability. We like the same teachers to be in place.”

Duncan was much more effusive in his praise of former 29th Ward alderman Isaac Carothers. Duncan said that Carothers’s record as alderman “is solid” and thinks the former alderman is “an inspiration” with respect to how he was he able to provide city services and jobs for ward.

“Maybe the people who came behind him didn’t do a very good job, and that’s the community talking, not just me. I don’t talk for myself,” Duncan said.

Duncan also emphasized the need for volunteers and donations for his campaign.  The team, he said, didn’t know how much money they’ll need to run an effective campaign, but he blunted that speculation by keeping to his campaign mantra. 

“We think money is not going to be a key factor,” he said. “We think the key is getting out into the community; communicating with them, telling them we’re making changes and moving forward.”

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Michael Romain is founder and editor of TheVillageFreePress.org

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