A crowd of roughly 60 rabid supporters packed the dimly-lit Shrine nightclub and lounge on the near South Side Oct. 5, to hear 26-year-old Marseil Jackson announce his campaign to unseat 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin.
“I’m running for alderman of the 28th Ward because of the vacuum of leadership in Chicago,” said Jackson, a community organizer and entrepreneur. “I’m running for alderman so that our community can get simple services; so our streets can be cleaned and potholes filled. There is no reason our schools should be closed and kids have to walk in gang-infested territories just to get to school.”
Jackson spoke before giddy and enthusiastic crowd that included family members, friends and fellow congregants of his church, Corinthian Temple Church of God in Christ. Jackson said he’s running as a “pragmatic and progressive alternative” for those residents disaffected by what he and his supporters consider Ervin’s “ineffectiveness at delivering basic services and progressive reform.”
Jackson noted the story told at the event by Margaret Smith, whose mother complained about tree limbs that were left haphazardly in front of her home by city workers.
“When they were cutting the tree limbs, they left all the cut tree branches in the street and even in the parking spaces for several days and they didn’t come back and get them,” Smith said. “We made several calls to the city and nothing happened. So my mother had me call Marseil and whatever he did, the people came out within a day and cleaned them up.”
The issue, Jackson said, was when she was calling 311 and wasn’t getting a complaint number in order to keep track of the situation.
“So, once she asked for the complaint number, they sent it out,” he said. “I then told her to call the alderman’s office with the complaint number and consistently call. They finally came out and did something. But residents shouldn’t have to wait like that.”
Supporter Robert Jackson, 45, juxtaposed what he considers to be Jackson’s highly-visible presence in the ward with Ervin’s supposed absence.
“It’s good to see young, positive black men trying to do something,” said Smith, who attends Corinthian Temple with Jackson. “He has a great plan, and it’s easier to support somebody that you know and who has a stake in the community. I never see Jason Ervin in the community and I like to be hands-on with the person I throw my support to. I’m going to be volunteering. I’m totally into the campaign.”
At 15 years old, Jackson started a business when his Xbox video game console broke. He sold it online on eBay for $50 and from that point started importing items wholesale from China. He called his business Off the Radar Discounts.
Before his 16th birthday, Jackson attracted his first investor, who poured $10,000 into the business, and his serial entrepreneurship had begun. After high school, the West Side native attended Illinois Central College and in 2009 founded the Jackson Action Coalition, a community organization with the goal of “bridging generational gaps by empowering community, youth and seniors through outreach, services and events,” according to his campaign website.
Jackson is among several candidates under-30 running for political offices this election cycle. Some, including Jackson, are backed by People for a Better Chicago, an organization that manages progressive candidates at no charge and co-founded by Chris Robinson, 30, who’s also Jackson’s campaign manager.
“We’re a group of young individuals in our 30s who said enough is enough,” said the co-founder.
According to Robinson, who is a full-time teacher by day, People for a Better Chicago is entirely funded through the salaries of his team and the candidates they support, in addition to the money they raise on the campaign trail.
“There’s a turnaround [in Chicago] starting with younger people and people with fresh ideas,” said Janella Curtis, 33, who’s also backed by the organization in her run for 21st Ward alderman.
Robinson, who previously taught in Austin, told the crowd, “We have no PAC [Political Action Committee], nothing. We do this for free because we believe in the cause. Just last year in front of my school, somebody was shot. My kids heard the gunshots. You have kids walking through safe passages in empty lots, in front of foreclosed homes. But the minute I leave the West Side of Chicago and go to the North Side, I don’t see any of that.”
While Jackson’s campaign team is still mulling over how much they’ll need to spend to successfully unseat Ervin, they maintain that their primary focus right now is getting their candidate on the ballot.
Also running for 28th Ward alderman is Chicago special education teacher Tammie Vinson, who is backed by Chicago Teachers’ Union president and possible mayoral candidate, Karen Lewis.