As the first police district council elections in Chicago history get underway, three West Side candidates have already received endorsements from long-time West Side elected officials – though only two of them are running in competitive races.

According to Deondre Rutues, who is running for the 15th District council, the endorsement came about because he and 11th District candidate Alees Edwards and 25th District candidate Angelica Green all worked in the community for years and knew U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7th) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) thanks to that work. The three candidates agreed to support each other and collaborate with each other if they’re elected. During a Jan. 15 endorsement session at the Northwest Austin Council headquarters, 5730 W. Division St., Mitts and Davis said that it was precisely because of the trio’s work in the community that they offered support.

In July 2021, the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance revamping police oversight. It called for Chicagoans to elect three-member district councils in each of the city’s 22 police districts. The councils will act as liaisons between residents and the police districts, and they will be able to nominate members to the city-wide Community Commission on Public Safety and Accountability. Chicago mayors must choose the members from the pool of nominees the district councils submit. Once appointed, the commission will have oversight over police policies, develop a short list of candidates for police superintendent and members of the Chicago Police Board, which makes the final decision on whether police officers should be fired, and review the police department’s budget.

Originally, all four West Side districts – 10th, 11th, 15th and 25thhad competitive races. But several candidates, mostly in the 11th and 15th districts, had their nominating petitions challenged. While all 15th and 25th District candidates remained on the ballot, two out of five 11th District candidates – Tamiko Holt and Martin Coffer – were knocked off the ballot on Jan. 13. This means that, unlike Rutues and Green, Edwards will win by default.

All three districts fall fully within Davis’s congressional district, and partially within Mitts’ ward.

Edwards founded Drawn Out Ministries, a transitional home for women coming out of prison, and she currently sits on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s African American Engagement Council. Green describes herself as an advocate for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. She works in programming development at Misericordia Heart of Mercy, a care home for people with such disabilities located in Chicago North Side’s West Ridge community.

Rutues works as a community engagement specialist for the Chicago Policing Project, the New York University School of Law initiative that aims to improve public safety by making police’s public safety priority more community-driven and improving communication between the community and police. He ran against Mitts in 2019 – something that the alderman acknowledged in her endorsement.

“My [endorsement] process was simple — because of the amount of work that they do all the time, because, when you have community people who are there long before the commission of public safety came along,” she said. “Deondre challenged me in my last election. Now, we’re working together on things that we can work on.”

In a follow-up interview with the Austin Weekly News, Rutues said there are no hard feelings on either side.

“I made some disparaging comments about Ald. Mitts that didn’t sit too kind with her,” he said, “It took us time for us to work out our relationship from that standpoint.”

Ultimately, Mitts said the choice came down to people who she knows are engaged and would still be engaged whether they win the election or not.

“They care about the neighborhood, they care about public safety, they want to talk issues, they’re at the meetings, they’re out in the community, and you can recognize that those are the types of people we need to see in these roles, who has the ear of the community,” she said. “They have a brave mind, who want to move things forward. Even in the pandemic time, they’re more determined in their mission to try to make things right in our community.”

Davis said he endorsed the three for similar reasons – as well as because he is “a long-time advocate for a civilian engagement and oversight over law enforcement.”

“All of these individuals are what we call activists in the community,” he said. “I mean, they’re engaged and involved and if you got your ear to the ground and your eyes open, then you can see them and you can know them, and I pride myself on knowing a lot of things.”

During the endorsement session, the candidates emphasized that weren’t “anti-police” — if elected, they will pursue fairness and equity.

“We want to make sure that the Chicago police is definitely held accountable, so every time mistreatment towards our community happens, we will be the voice for the community, we will speak for the community, because the community will empower us to do so,” Rutues said. “But we also want to make clear that we want to work with our Chicago police to make sure that our communities are adequately policed, that we receive the attention when we need it, and that the people who want to work with us actually works with us, and we build community with our Chicago police, because we can’t get it done without them.”

“We’re not anti-police — we are anti-police brutality, anti-Proud Boys,” said Green. “We’re for the community. We’re giving the voice back to the community.”

She said she believed their ability to nominate police commission members shows that their offices will have real influence. Edwards said the fact that Chicago is trying a different approach than anyone else is a good sign.

“This is something no other state has,” she said. “We’re working together, and we’re addressing the issue on one level and bringing it to another level. It’s why we hope that what we’re creating is unique and different. This system may be rocky, in the first couple of months and the first couple of years, but I believe in the process that they’ve set up.”

Davis chimed in to say that the new structure was a move in the right direction.

“I take the position that, if I want to go south is I turn and face in this direction,” he said, gesturing south, “I get a little closer to my destination. But if I face north, toward Evanston or if I’m going around in circles, I’m never going to get to the south end.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...