Chicago’s aldermanic races can potentially yield a dramatic shift in the city’s political realm. The coming elections will have two special Black candidates fighting to be the first Black aldermen in North Side wards.
Maria Hadden is currently campaigning in Rogers Park to win the 49th ward over longtime incumbent Joe Moore. A victory means that Hadden will be the first Black queer alderman to have ever been elected in Chicago.
Ugo Okere is a 21-year old Nigerian immigrant hoping to secure the aldermanic seat in the 40th ward. This Loyola student is also a Democratic Socialist hoping to continue the budding progressive vision in Chicago.
The Chicago Defender briefly talked with the two candidates to inquire a little further about their campaigns and their vision of a new Chicago North Side.
Can you tell me who you are and why are you running for alderman?
Okere: My name is Ugo Okere. I’m an organizer. I’m an immigrant. I’m a student at Loyola University in Chicago studying social work and political science.
I got really involved in Bernie Sanders’ campaign and it taught me a lot about the ills of capitalism and how it allows the most marginalized and oppressed people to fall through the cracks.
I’m running because we’re in a moment right now. We are in a moment where people realize that the city of Chicago’s schools are segregated, not just by race but also by economics.
Bernie said throughout the entire campaign that young people need to run for office and people of color need to run for office because when we don’t, we get people like Donald Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell royally screwing up the country in the interest of the capital class.
Hadden: I decided to run because people asked me. Upon consideration, I honestly felt like I had the experience. Not just the work experience and the experience in government, but the experiences from my identity––the type of experiences we need in office. I feel that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from it. I’m running to enable others like me to run too.
I really want to know about the challenges you face on this campaign. What obstacles do you encounter as you run for alderman?
Okere: There is a lot of disdain for Ald. O’Connor. It has been thirty years of disconnected leadership from allowing his wife––his wife is a real estate broker––to make $22 million off of his ability to zone in the ward. He has an incessant record of voting with the mayor. We don’t elect the mayor to be our alderman; Ald. O’Connor was elected.
But as far as obstacles, obviously it’s going to be money. Ald. O’Connor will use more than $200,000 to win this election. I have no doubt about that. But I’m not really concerned. What I’m concerned with is the fact that we can get average working class people engaged. It’s going to take our background in organizing and our grassroots work to pull this off.
Hadden: One of the biggest challenges was just deciding to run, especially considering my work with inclusive civic engagement at the local level. For a couple of years people in my neighborhood, friends, and colleagues would ask, “Hey, when are you going to run?”
There are a huge amount of challenges that are not to be underestimated that longtime incumbents have, and first and foremost is name recognition. At the most basic level, elections are about name recognition and popularity. The first challenge is I’m not going to reach his level of name recognition in one race. I can get close.
Then there are connections, experience, and funds. In Chicago, we have some of the most costly local elections in the country. My opponent has a knowledge base of funders and donors; a lot of that comes with incumbency.
But there is a disadvantage in the fact that Ald. Moore has a 27-year track record of reasons on why he shouldn’t be alderman anymore.
Okere, what do you think winning the 40th ward seat would mean for socialism?
Okere: Right now we’re lucky to have Ald. Rosa (35th) leading the way for democratic socialism in the city of Chicago. But it’s not enough to just have one person. It’s not enough to have one person championing our ideals, championing our ideology, and championing what we want to see on a city-level.
We need to build a movement to ensure he is not the only one there. There are 49 other aldermen and the mayor. He does not have as much leverage as we would like him to. If we had more progressives in office, we can really make a difference in bringing progressives ideas to life.
How long have you been contemplating a run?
Hadden: I found myself falling into the same trap that lots of women and people of color do, and that’s facing marginalization. There was a lot of self-doubt and telling myself that I couldn’t. Before March of 2017, I have never seriously considered running for public office.
Okere: I was thinking about it very heavily in December 2016. I think I made my decision February 2017.
If you are elected, what’s the priority? It’s day one and you have the opportunity to focus on one thing. What is that first thing you address?
Okere: Education. We need an elected school board in the city of Chicago. We as aldermen can’t just make an elected school board. We have to go through the state legislature. But I will be an advocate and supporter of CTU to ensure that it will pass in the state legislature.
Hadden: Formalizing the relationships with our schools, social service partners, and community organizations. I want an Aldermanic Youth Council. First is setting up the structures that is going to further communication and democratic participation between all who are doing community work in the org, so my team and others can collaborate.
Give me one word that defines your campaign?
Okere: “Inclusivity.” I say that because this city has a history of division. If we can build a progressive movement that includes Black, White, queer, the disabled, and so on and so forth, we can adequately address the issue of this city being so segregated.
Hadden: “Community-centered.” I know it’s hyphenated but can I use that? [laughs