If Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) has her way she will be representing the Southwest Side, which includes portions of the West Englewood community, at City Hall for a long time.

If Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) has her way she will be representing the Southwest Side, which includes portions of the West Englewood community, at City Hall for a long time.

“I love my job. Working for the residents of the 15th Ward is what I enjoy doing,” Foulkes told the Defender. “I consider this community my family.”

Never mind she was unsuccessful last month at garnering enough votes to avoid Tuesday’s runoff. Foulkes, who faced six candidates in the Feb. 22 election, received 44 percent of the 7,059 votes cast while her opponent in the runoff, Raymond Lopez, received 15 percent. To win a candidate needed 50 percent plus one vote, but for the runoff only a simple majority is needed.

Since first being elected in 2007 Foulkes said the ward’s population has become more diverse and includes Blacks, Hispanics, Polish, and Lithuanians. Lopez is Hispanic but Foulkes, who is Black, said demographics would not work against her.

“My Hispanic counterparts tell me they are loyal to me. I have a tremendous amount of Hispanic support,” Foulkes said.

In addition to support from Hispanic voters Foulkes said she also has the support of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who she said paid for one mail campaign.

With a goal of raising $100,000 in order to put up a formidable race Foulkes said fundraising has been good although she did not know how much money had been raised so far. Her support, she said, also includes unions, such as the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“Labor unions have shown me a lot of love,” said Foulkes, who also received endorsements from Secretary of State Jesse White and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle,

Crime, foreclosure, education and economic development are the top challenges facing the 15th Ward, according to the alderman.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest retailer, plans to open several dozen stores throughout Chicago over the next five years including two in the 17th ward, which borders Foulkes’ ward.

But residents living in the 15th Ward should not expect a Wal-mart to pop up anytime soon because “we do not have the space for a big-box retailer,” she said. “My ward is very dense.”

So instead of relying on a big-box retailer to spur economic development Foulkes is concentrating on bringing more small businesses to the area.

Each month she meets with Chicago police, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office and the FBI to discuss ways of combating crime in her ward. And Foulkes said with foreclosure steadily rising in the ward she hopes in her second term to identify more ways to help homeowners.

Lopez said after four years it is time for Foulkes to step aside and allow new leadership to take a stab at improving crime, education and foreclosures.

“She’s had four years to make improvements and not much has been done,” Lopez, 32, told the Defender. “We have a 25 percent unemployment rate in our ward. We have potholes all over the place and no sign of economic development.”

If not re-elected next month the former Jewel grocery store bakery employee said she has not decided what to do next. “I am not even thinking along those lines. I am thinking about how I can improve my ward over the next four years,” added Foulkes.

Lopez said Foulkes should be thinking about an exit plan because he plans to win Tuesday.

Under his leadership Lopez said he would deliver better city services to the ward. A resident of the ward for the last five years and currently employed as a skycap with Southwest Airlines, Lopez is mostly self-financing his campaign.

“No, I never met Rahm Emanuel and I do not have union support or endorsements from big name politicians either,” he admits. “But I do have the support of the 15th Ward and that’s all the support I need to win this race.”

One thing that Lopez said would help him win is low voter turnout.

“If voter turnout is low like last month I think that will play in my favor because 65 percent of those who voted in the Feb. 22 election voted for someone other than Toni Foulkes,” he said. “We have seen the leadership she provides and it has not been good. The residents of this ward expect more and deserve better.”

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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