ASSAULT?: This photo, taken by Shannice Jackson, shows Fred Wallace, who Jackson and another volunteer for one of Ald. Jason Ervin's challengers allege assaulted them. Ervin denies having any part in the alleged attack. | Photo provided

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) strongly denied that he had anything to do with an alleged attack on two campaign petition circulators who were collecting signatures for rival 28th Ward candidates.

The alleged incident took place in Nov. 6. Loukessa Hawkins, who was collecting signatures for 28th ward candidate Justina Winfrey, said that she and Shannice Jackson, who has been collecting signatures for 28th Ward candidate Beverly Miles, were assaulted by a man who tried to snatch away their nominating petitions and campaign literature.  

Hawkins was able to get a picture of the man leaving with the petitions and campaign literature in his arms. Once he saw Hawkins taking the photo, he returned the clipboards, but not the petition sheets. 

Hawkins and Winfrey both said that they believed the man acted on Ervin’s orders. Hawkins and some of her supporters confronted the alderman during his Nov. 13 community meeting, which was held at the Golden Dome fieldhouse, 100 N. Central Park Ave. Ervin insisted that he had nothing to do with the incident and that he welcomed political debates.

In order to run for alderman, a candidate must collect at least 473 signatures from registered voters living in their ward by Nov. 19. Once the signatures are turned in, any candidate has a right to challenge the validity of any of their rival’s signatures. 

Many incumbents, including Ervin, have been known to use those challenges to knock opponents out of the race, so the general rule of thumb is that candidates try to collect at least twice as many signatures as legally required.

Hawkins said that she and Jackson were canvassing in front of Spencer Technology Academy, 214 N. Lavergne Ave. Ervin was there and so was his precinct captain. She said that she saw Ervin staring at her menacingly, so she called Rev. Steven Shultz, the head of the D20 Army Community Battle Group—a West Side-based anti-gentrification organization —  for advice. 

Shultz said that he advised her to stay put and keep collecting signatures. The alderman drove away shortly thereafter.  

Hawkins claims that she saw Fred Wallace talk to Ervin’s precinct captain, and that the precinct captain pointed out both her and Jackson. About 10 to 12 minutes after Ervin left, Wallace allegedly walked up to them and snatched away Jackson’s clipboard, which had petition sheets and campaign materials. Figuring she might be next, Hawkins said she clinched her own clipboard to her chest, but the man grabbed the clip anyway. 

As he walked away, Hawkins took pictures of him, with the clipboards and campaign literature clearly visible in his arms, and phoned the police. The man returned the clipboards, but he left before the police arrived. Hawkins said that she filed the police report.

Shultz said after the Nov. 13 meeting that he didn’t arrive at the scene until the police was already there, but he said that he identified Wallace from the photo that Hawkins took. Shultz said that Wallace’s wife was once part of one of the programs he runs. 

Block Club Chicago reported that Ervin’s spokesman, Tim Bowen, confirmed that Wallace worked for his employer’s campaign more than two years ago. 

During the Nov. 13 meeting, Hawkins confronted Ervin, asking the alderman if he was “willing to stop using gang members to take our petitions.”

“Number one, I had nothing to do with that issue,” the alderman responded. “Number two, I believe that people have got a right to participate in this [election] process and they have a right to ballot access. It’s a fundamental right.”

At one point during a back-and-forth between Ervin and Hawkins, the alderman told her that he wasn’t okay with her “trying to campaign on the BS like that.” 

Resident Kyle Warner argued that the response wasn’t good enough.

“I’m looking for a sympathetic response,” he said. “Saying that it’s BS, when my sister is a pastor in the community, a well-known pastor, is not an okay response to a woman being attacked in your ward in front of a grammar school, even if you [had nothing to do with it].”

“What you’re saying is that everything that happens in my community is my responsibility,” Ervin responded. “I disagree with that.” 

While an alderman can’t be responsible for every single thing happening in his ward, he should nonetheless take seriously the grievances that residents bring to him, said resident Kevin Williams. 

Ernest Cato, the commander of the 15th Police District, which includes Spencer, said that he didn’t know anything about the incident.

In an interview after the meeting, Hawkins said that she was dismayed by Ervin’s response.

“I think that it was horrible the way he responded, saying that what I was saying was BS,” she said. “And he was unwilling to apologize, unwilling to help. It was no sympathy, it was no understanding, like it was another walk in the park.”

Winfrey said that when Hawkins told her what happened, she was shocked. She said she had no doubt that Ervin was the one who gave the order to the alleged assailant. And Winfrey said that the fact that the incident happened near the school where she helped setup a parental support program made it feel more personal.

“It makes us think that he was trying to send a message,” she said. 

Winfrey said that she deliberately stayed away from the Nov. 13 meeting, because she didn’t want to bring a political grievance to the community event. And she indicated that her campaign would file a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections. 

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