18 Feb 19
Block Club Chicago
IRVING PARK — As development explodes on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, some Avondale and Irving Park residents are wondering: are we next?
Changing demographics and rapidly gentrifying neighboring wards and the have been big issues so far as two political neophytes try to unseat longtime Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) next week.
Reboyras’ family, originally from Puerto Rico, moved to Chicago from New York City when he was 12 years old and he ended up studying at the University of Illinois at Chicago, earning a B.A. in Education. Before getting into politics, he taught at Roberto Clemente High School in Humboldt Park.
He began his work with the city as a truck driver, eventually working his way up to become Deputy Commissioner of the Department of General Services — what is now known as the Office of Fleet Management. In 2003, after the ward was remapped to have a Hispanic-majority of voters, then-30th Ward Ald. Mike Wojcik decided to leave City Council for a job at the CTA.
Out of four candidates, Reboyras won and since 2003 has represented the 30th Ward, which currently encompasses parts of Irving Park, Hermosa, Portage Park and Belmont Cragin. During his tenure as alderman, Reboyras has been closely allied with former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, a leader of the city’s old Democratic machine who lost his seat to Fritz Kaegi last year, and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Even in crowds that are critical of the mayor, like a 30th ward forum this past weekend, Reboyras has defended Emanuel on everything from police accountability to the city budget.
Reboyras said voters should re-elect him if they want projects he’s fought for, like a new elementary school planned for Belmont Cragin and an affordable housing complex for seniors, to be completed as planned.
“It’s going to be one of the first senior buildings, 98 one-bedroom units. A beautiful building,” Reboyras said of the project at 5525 W. Diversey Ave. “I’ve been the alderman for almost 16 years now and I want to continue doing this work because if I’m not elected, none of the projects we have in the works will be completed.”
Reboyras is also the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, which oversees the police department, fire department, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications. After the release of the Laquan McDonald video and calls for police reform, the alderman was accused of tuning out activists and promoting a watered down review process that includes little to no civilian oversight.
“Community policing has changed,” Reboyras said. “As the chairman of Public Safety I sat on a panel that looked at how we were going to move forward on the new CAPS program.”
Reboyras said there’s currently a pilot program underway in the 25th police district that will help improve the relationships between police and neighbors.
“The entire [district] is divided into five sectors and police are assigned to work with community residents, businesses and schools,” Reboyras said. “These assigned officers are not to deviate from any issues within their sector of the ward.”
The idea behind the program is to have residents speak to and get to know officers in situations that aren’t related to 911 calls.
“A lot of time people don’t get know a police officer until there is something wrong,” he said. “This is going to change how we do community policing.”
Reboyras said policing and police accountability in the city has changed dramatically for the better in recent years.
“It’s very difficult, while we do have 98 percent of police officers are out there doing their job, we still have like a 2 percent ratio that unfortunately has made bad decisions to make the entire police department look bad,” Reboyras said. “But I think we’re headed in the right direction on that matter.”
Reboyras’ daughter is also a Chicago police officer.
The Chicago Federation of Labor, The Fraternal Order of Police, The Polish National Alliance and The Polish American Police Association all currently endorse Reboyras for reelection.
“I’ve got two opponents right now and I commend them for running, but I’m the most qualified,” he said. “I’ve been a government employee now for 40 years, with the last 16 years being an alderman. And I’m very proud of the work we’ve done, but there’s still work to be done. That’s why I’m running again.”
Jessica Washington Gutierrez
The 30th Ward has some overlap with the northern part of the 4th congressional district of Illinois, the seat held by retiring U. S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) for nearly 25 years. His daughter, Jessica Washington Gutierrez is making a bid to take the 30th Ward seat from Reboyras.
Jessica Gutierrez, 31, grew up on Chicago’s Northwest side and graduated from St. Benedict High School. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned a B.A. in Sociology and later was a graduate student in history at Louisiana State University and at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
While in graduate school, Jessica Gutierrez was an organizer in the New Orleans/Baton Rouge Recovery School District said she helped interpret for Hispanic families in the state who were going through immigration proceedings through Catholic Charities
“I’ve always wanted to run for office, for me politically it had to be the right time. As someone’s daughter I wanted to build my career on my own,” she said. “So when I traveled and went out of the state for grad school. I got to see how public education works in other countries, and also how we’ve dismantled the public school system in Louisiana.”
She returned to Chicago after President Trump’s election, and immediately jumped into politics as a way to combat the anti-immigrant sentiment that dominated the 2016 election.
During Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s campaign to win her father’s seat in Congress last year, she worked as his North Side field coordinator. She also helped Delia Ramirez’s campaign in her successful bid for for 4th district state representative.
“Delia was coming by the house after I had just returned to meet with my father for an endorsement session and there was an immediate connection with her,” she said. “I asked about her campaign and with my background in research she let me jump back into grassroots organizing for her. And she really became a mentor for me.”
Regarding her campaign platforms, Jessica Gutierrez said education is an issue dear to her. Specifically, she supports charter school teachers who want to unionize and believes Chicago Public Schools should have an elected school board.
“We can just look a couple miles away from where I’m at right now and they have an elected school board that works,” she said. “If the suburbs can do it, we can too.”
Other areas she’d like to focus on if elected having more transparency regarding how the ward’s menu money is used and more events to allow residents to give feedback on community issues, two things she says the current alderman isn’t doing a good enough job of.
“I think we need to create those spaces and promote that culture of transparency,” she said. “The 30th ward is unorganized right now. … Our campaign has been going on for the past 10 months and we’ve been creating those community spaces and open culture. It’s not hard to do, it’s just talking to people and that’s a humbling experience.”
As for the legislative responsibilities of an alderman, if elected she wants to make sure residents in the city’s wards get the same type of attention that tourists currently do when they visit downtown.
“We’re at a crossroads in Chicago and we don’t have time for rubber stamp aldermen,” Jessica Gutierrez said. “If we want that we can save our tax dollars and just send a robot to vote downtown.”
Reboyras has voted with Emanuel more than 96 percent of the time
“City Council needs strong legislators to hold the mayor accountable. So if the mayor wants to buy a pack of pencils, well the mayor’s going to need 26 votes,” she said.
Her endorsements currently include SEIU Healthcare Illinois.
This isn’t the first time Edgar Esparza has taken on Reboyras. At just 19 year old, he ran for 30th ward alderman in 2014, only to be removed from the ballot because 2,000 of his petition signatures were deemed to be improperly bound.
He ran as a write-in candidate anyway and was defeated. But this year he’s older — 23 — and said he has a better handle on the issues facing the ward.
Esparza attended St. Genevieve Elementary School and graduated from Notre Dame College Prep in 2014.
“The first time I ran, I hadn’t been that politically active,” he said. “But my parents were always complaining about certain things.”
Growing up in Belmont Cragin, those complaints included a lack of vibrancy in the ward’s business district and crime.
Esparza said he’s running again because Reboyras has failed to address basic neighborhood concerns like sidewalk and street maintenance. He’s currently enrolled at Columbia University in New York studying history and is expected to graduate in May.
Regarding his age, Esparza says his lack of professional experience wouldn’t be an issue because he’s lived in the ward and knows what neighbors are concerned about.
Specifically, he said middle-class families in the ward are concerned about gentrification spillover from Logan Square displacing them as rents and property taxes go up.
“The people that created the problems that Chicago has right now there are like age 50 and up,” Esparza said. “Not be ageist or anything, but you can’t really say that I’m too young to address the problems happening in the ward every day. The old way of doing things in Chicago isn’t working.”
He added that not all of the city’s current aldermen started out with a political background —including Reboyras himself.
“To really go out there with residents and be involved, that’s another thing that I’m already doing,” Esparza said.
Esparza’s endorsements include Dr. Willie Wilson, one of the candidates running for mayor.
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