Candidates voting in the 25th Police District Council elections will face choices from every corner of the district, representing a wide spectrum of opinions on the police role in public safety.
The 25th police district is by far the largest police district that falls within the West Side, and it is by far most demographically diverse. Galewood, Austin and West Humboldt Park only account for about a third of the district. It also encompasses all of Montclare, Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa community areas, about a fourth of Logan Square and small portions of Avondale and Dunning.
The candidates reflect that diversity – special needs healthcare professional Angelica Green hails from North Austin, attorney Pericles “Perry” Abbasi lives in Galewood, elementary school teacher Edgar “Edek” Esparza lives in Belmont-Cragin, activist and college student Saul Arellano lives in West Humboldt Park and event organizer Jacob Arena lives in Avondale. Their opinions on police range from active support to questions about whether police are even necessary – though most fall somewhere in between.
The race has also seen controversies, all which revolve around Abbasi. A Chicago Reader profile exposed a history of racist and sexist social media posts – which he insisted were jokes. Abbasi was one of the attorneys the Fraternal Order of Police labor union paid to try to throw candidates off the ballot. And he is being accused of forging activist Thomas Simmons’ name on his own effort to throw Arena off the ballot. While Abbasi said that Simmons authorized him to sign the objection in his name, Simmons said he never gave that authorization.
Why they’re running
Green said she wanted to run because she “care[s] about the community thriving and growing” and because she wanted to make sure the police do right by the community, whether it’s in terms of how the community is treated and how many officers are allocated.
“It’s a right thing to do, it’s my part,” said Green. “And I’m the only one from Austin that’s running, so I would like us to have a representative in this district.”
Abbasi said that, as a lifelong Galewood resident who’s been involved in politics as an election attorney for many years, he thought it would be a good opportunity to run for public office.
Both Arellano and Arena decided to run for similar reasons – they were young men who’ve been involved in community activism and local politicians reached out to them to run when nobody else was in the race. They were both inspired by their experiences growing up and the ongoing national conversations about the use of force and alternatives to policing.
Arellano got his start in activism early. In August 2006, his mother, Elvira Arellano, then an undocumented immigrant, sought sanctuary in a Logan Square church to try to avoid being deported and separated from then-seven-year-old Saul because he is a U.S. citizen. Saul Arellano is currently finishing his Bachelor of Arts in Justice Studies degree at Northeastern Illinois University and he was a long-time mentor at his local Boys & Girls Club.
Arena said that “being a guy some people may describe as a troubled youth,” he distrusted the police growing up. He currently runs an events production company.
“I felt personally affected by what’s going on, and I decided to take initiative for myself and be one of the [candidates],” Arena said.
Esparza ran for 30th Ward alderman in 2019, and he said that Jessica Gutierrez, who ran in the same race and is running again this year, suggested that he run for district council. He was also motivated by concerns about crime he heard in his community.
The council’s role
Several candidates noted that the council doesn’t have many powers. Its primary ability to influence city policy is the ability to nominate candidates for the city-wide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which will play a direct role in hiring the police superintendent and heads of police accountability bodies, as well as shaping policy. On a more regular basis, they are charged with serving as intermediaries between police and the community in shaping local policing strategies.
Arellano said that, while he believed that some police officers may be good people, the way policing is set up in United States is built on the foundation of racism and fundamentally fails to make communities safe.
“Policing is not the solution,” he said. “We’re always told policing is the only solution to public safety. It does not prevent crime, and right now, we have $1 billion invested in the police department, and the only thing they have as result of that is higher crime and police violence.”
If elected, Arellano wants to use the perch afforded by his position to work with progressive politicians and like-minded council members to support other investments that he believes would make community stronger and safer, including putting more resources into mental health services and schools.
“When you invest in people, invest in students, that’s when you really started to create real change,” he said. “That is something that I have started to learn – when you invest in someone, there would be bigger, greater things, and they would be more successful.”
Esparza said his major priority would be to make sure all the beats are properly staffed and that officers are consistently assigned to those beats instead of being called away to provide extra manpower elsewhere. He also said he would lobby to have officers more involved in schools, parks and other civic institutions.’
“I talked to a lot of [Chicago Public Schools district] students from elementary to high schools,” Esparza said. “I feel like there’s this misperception, that youth and police are sort of antagonist to each other, and it isn’t the message I’m getting, and I want to correct that image.”
He said that, while there is police misconduct and it should be punished appropriately, he compared the attitude toward police to attitudes toward teachers – the fact that some teachers do something wrong doesn’t affect the reputation of teaching as a profession.
Green summed up her priorities in two words – transparency and accountability. She said that, as an Austinite, she is conscious of the history of police misconduct and understands the mistrust. But she is also just as conscious of complaints that response to police calls is slow to non-existent, as well as the concerns that the police don’t respond to the community’s public safety concerns and priorities.
“[I want police officers to be] treating people from all areas with dignity and respect,” Green said. “Some people feel like they’re ignored, they’re disrespected, some people feel abused. When you go to Galewood, when there are many residents who are police officers, they feel it’s great, they should be given more power. And when you go in our community, it goes it’s not great, they abuse the power.”
Abbasi said his priorities are relatively modest – he would try to make sure that residents’ concerns, whether they are about crime or police misconduct, get heard.
Arena said he supported more investments in the community, while also making sure that the police are held accountable. He would also want to see “maybe more ways for police and community members to interact on the positive level” as opposed to only meeting officers when they respond to calls. Arena also believes police should work with the community on addressing pressing issues, and not just crime issues.
All five candidates said they would try to hear from as many people as possible by setting up regular meetings.
Abbasi vs Arena
Board of Election Commissioners of Chicago records state that Abbasi filed the objection against Arena on Simmons’s behalf, alleging that Arena didn’t have enough valid signatures. The objection was withdrawn on Dec. 15, 2022 after a single hearing.
But Arena, Abbasi’s and Simmons’ accounts and legal documents provided to the Austin Weekly News paint a different picture. Abbasi said he was looking through the 25th District candidate petitions and noticed some issues with Arena’s signatures. He said he asked Simmons, whom he’s done some legal work for in the past, if he could file the objection on Simmons’ behalf.
Simmons said that Abbasi talked to him about objecting to candidates, but he didn’t specify which one. The objection had Simmons’ signature, but Simmons said he never signed the document. Abbasi insisted that simply signed on the document on his client’s behalf – something that Simmons said he never authorized Abbasi to do. Simmons signed an affidavit to that effect on Dec. 12, 2022.
The objection also listed the address for former 29th Ward Ald. Ike Carothers, whom Abbasi represented in a different election objection case rather than Simmons’. Abbasi said it was a mistake.
On Dec. 14, 2022, Joao Costa, Arena’s attorney, filed a motion to strike the objection on the basis that it was fraudulent. Arena said this is why Abbasi withdrew the objection. Abbasi said he only withdrew the objection because the wrong address rendered it invalid.
On Feb. 14, Arena filed a complaint with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, a disciplinary body for Illinois lawyers, arguing that what Abbasi allegedly did amounted to forgery and conflict of interest.
Arena said he and his attorney haven’t received any indication as to when the ARDC might consider their complaint.