The first-ever police district council races saw several progressive candidates do well on the West Side, while none of the candidates endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 labor union got in.
On Feb. 28, voters in every Chicago police district elected three people to serve on their local police district councils. Those councils will be responsible for improving collaboration between the community and police, as well as nominating candidates to the city-wide Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which will be taking over the Chicago Police Board’s role of selecting police superintendent candidates, as well as selecting candidates for the police board and the head of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. While the 11th police district, which includes all of West Garfield Park, the section of North Lawndale north of Roosevelt Road, the part of West Humboldt Park south of Division Street and most of East Garfield Park, the election became noncompetitive after two out of five candidates were kicked off the ballot, three other West Side districts faced challenges.
The results still need to be finalized as the Chicago Board of Elections reviews mail-in ballots, and there are several races where the margins are close enough that mail-in ballots could make a difference. But based on the results so far, activists with years of community presence tended to do well, while emphasis on public safety hasn’t been an asset. In police districts that span multiple communities, the 10th District ended up being dominated by candidates from Little Village, while the 25th District has a mix from multiple communities, with an Austinite getting the highest number of votes.
The 10th District includes the section of North Lawndale south of Roosevelt Road, the entire Little Village and parts of Pilsen. Community organizer Rosemarie Dominguez and Elianne Bahena, director of policy and community engagement at the 22nd Ward office, live in Little Village. Public school teacher and former police officer Simeon Henderson, pastor Larry Lawrence and youth advocate Kisha Smith live in North Lawndale. Leo Guzman, founder of Little Lawndale Neighborhood Studio, a community gathering space, grew up in Little Village and currently lives near the border between Little Village and North Lawndale.
Bahena and Dominguez got the first and second highest totals, respectively, with Smith coming in third. While Smith did significantly better in the majority-Black wards of the district, Bahena and Dominguez won on the strength of the majority-Hispanic wards. They showed some cross-demographic appeal, winning over 1,000 votes in majority-Black wards.
Smith said that she ran on the slate with Guzman and Henderson, which had their plan and priorities. Since she is the only one that made it, she plans to get together with Dominguez and Bahena to figure out their priorities.
Smith said she already knew Bahena, and she got to know Dominguez during the campaign – and she was confident that they would be able to work together.
“Rosemarie and I have some similar background things, as far as family values and things,” she said. “[The council will have] three headstrong women, and we represent both sides, so I’m very grateful.”
The 15th District is the only West Side police district contained within a single community – namely, the section of Austin south of Division Street. While some candidates faced election eligibility challenges, all seven candidates ultimately stayed on the ballot.
Activist Arewa Karen Winters, who was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-7), got 3,381 votes, or 22.48% of the vote. She credited her name recognition after all her years of community activism with helping put her over the top.
Deondre Rutues, the community engagement specialist for New York University’s Policing Project, is projected to come in second, earning 2,382 votes, or 15.84% of the vote. Resident Darius Newsome is on track to come in third, gathering 2,161 votes, or 14.37% of the vote. Retired Chicago Fire Department chief Carmelita Ears, who was endorsed by FOP, came in a close fourth at 2,140 votes, or 14.23% of the vote.
Rutues told Austin Weekly News that he was cautious about declaring victory because the total number of votes was close enough that the mail-in votes could shift percentages. Nonetheless, he said he was optimistic that he would still be in the top three.
Rutues said that, if his hopes bear out, he plans to focus on both improving community relations, making sure officers are held accountable for any misconduct and improving response times to police calls – a regular complaint at community meetings throughout the West Side. He believes that his day job will make him more effective.
“My job is to build relations with community, and I bring people together and build [public safety] initiatives for the community.” Rutues said. “If nothing else, I’m going to continue to do that work [in a slightly different way].”
Winters said one thing that disappointed her was that, even on Election Day, many voters she spoke to had no idea what the police district councils were. One of her major priorities, she said, will be to get the word out.
“[Some voters I talked to] didn’t know they could vote for three people, so I think a lot of people undervoted,” she added. “It’s unfortunate, because there wasn’t a widespread information campaign.”
Newsome told Austin Weekly News that he didn’t want to comment until the mail-in votes are counted.
The 25th police district is the largest police district that falls within the West Side, and it is by far most demographically diverse. Galewood, North 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 race featured candidates from all across the district, with attorney Pericles Abbasi, of Galewood, attracting particular controversy after his racist and sexist social media posts – which he insisted were either jokes or careless resharing – got media attention.
Abbasi and elementary school teacher Edgar Esparza, of Belmont-Cragin, both got FOP endorsements, and neither made the top three, getting 8.74% of the vote and 17.63% of the vote, respectively.
Special needs healthcare professional Angelica Green, who hails from North Austin, got the top spot, earning 28.07% of the vote. She did well across the board – even in wards that aren’t majority-Black, she consistently made second place.
Activist and college student Saul Arellano, of West Humboldt Park, came in second, earning 24.06% of the vote. While he led in majority-Hispanic wards, he came in third in majority-Black wards.
Event organizer Jacob Arena got third place, earning 20.5% of the vote. He came in second in majority-Black wards and third in majority-Hispanic wards.
Green attributed her success to all the canvasing she did.
“There was not one day that I didn’t knock on doors and canvas,” she said.
Green and Arellano ran as a mini slate, with their volunteers working together to get the word out. Green said that, while she didn’t know Arena well enough to form an opinion one way or another, she was glad Arellano got in.
“I feel really, really proud for Saul,” Green said. “He put in a lot of work, we put in work together. I think it was deserved.”
Arellano said he was happy to see both Green and Arena win. He said he owed his victory to the supporters who believed in him and his reform-orientated platform.
“And it was due to a youth-led movement that led for us to continue to knock on doors and continue to make sure that we’re connecting with the community members,” he said. “We spread the message of reimagining what public safety looks like in our community, and 10,000 people [believed in] this message.”
Out of all the candidates in the 25th District, Arellano was the most skeptical about whether police are even necessary for public safety. He said police do have a role – but it should be more limited than it is now, and that public safety can’t really be addressed without investment in schools, housing and mental health services.
“We want to see units on police that are focused solely on violent crime and things of that nature, but when it comes to mental health calls, we want to make sure that communities are involved in that and police is not involved in that,” he said.
Arena said that he was “humbled” by the victory.
“[I] am ready to start building towards a safer 25th District and ultimately the whole City of Chicago,” he said.
Esparza said that, while he was disappointed he didn’t win, he had no hard feelings.
“[Now that the election is over], I take it easy now, and focus on other things, such as teaching and helping to elect other candidates who are in run-offs,” he said. “I’m also hopeful because I know that the district elected three genuine residents who care deeply about the issues within this council’s purview. I want to congratulate them. It was an honor to be in the same race as them. I wish them the best of luck in fixing and tackling issues of public safety, oversight and reform.”