PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday January 8th, 2015, 6:23pm

Progressive Women In Chicago Aldermanic Races To Take Center Stage At Political Forum

Progress Illinois previews an upcoming "Women Against the Machine" town hall meeting featuring progressive female candidates running for alderman in Chicago.

A number of progressive, female candidates running grassroots political campaigns are vying for a Chicago City Council seat in the February municipal election.

Women Organizing Women (WOW), a newly-formed group comprised primarily of female Chicago public education activists, has identified 16 women for alderman who are progressive and independent from the "machine."

WOW is hosting a "Women Against the Machine" town hall meeting on January 10 to hear from the 16 aldermanic hopefuls, many of whom have been active in progressive fights for a $15 minimum wage and against school closings and privatization, to name a few issues. 

"We want people to know that these (female candidates) were out there taking the hits for our (causes)," said Chicago parent and education activist Rousemary Vega, who launched WOW with a few other like-minded organizers in October in an effort to amplify the voices of women pushing against policies that put corporate interests over working families.

WOW, Vega added, wants to highlight the female city council seekers who are not taking money "from the machine." That includes funding from Chicago Forward, a super political action committee (PAC) supportive of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is running for a second term, and his council allies. Candidates who have pledged to turn down an endorsement or campaign donations from Chicago Forward, if offered, have criticized Emanuel over the closure of community mental health clinics and 50 public schools, among other things.

Those who made WOW's list, meanwhile, have promised to be an independent voice on the council if elected, Vega said.

"We have (many) aldermen who vote almost 100 percent 'yes' for what the mayor wants," she explained. "And that's why we consider (these 16 women candidates) progressive, because they have vowed not to vote for whatever the mayor wants if it's to harm their communities."

Former candidate for Chicago mayor Amara Enyia, who will moderate Saturday's "Women Against the Machine" discussion, said WOW-backed female candidates are committed to "being the voices of residents in their wards."

"And we need much more of that," she said. "We have a history [of] pledging allegiance to the mayor, not to the people of this city. And these women are at the forefront of changing that."

The non-incumbent, female candidates for alderman deemed progressive and independent by WOW include: Ronda Locke and Anne Shaw in the 1st Ward; Stacey Pfingsten (2nd Ward); Tara Baldridge (8th Ward); Olga Bautista (10th Ward); Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th Ward); Maureen Sullivan (11th Ward); Guadalupe Rivera (16th Ward); CM Winters (21st Ward); Juanita Irizarry (26th Ward); Tammie Vinson (28th Ward); Zerlina Smith (29th Ward); Irma Cornier (31st Ward); Tara Stamps (37th Ward); Dianne Daleiden (40th Ward); and Denice Davis (46th Ward).

Pfingsten is the only aldermanic hopeful on WOW's list that is not challenging an incumbent. She is one of six candidates running for the open 2nd Ward seat being vacated by Ald. Bob Fioretti, a Chicago mayoral contender. Pfingsten is a former Fioretti aide.

All 50 aldermanic seats are up for election on February 24. Currently, 16 out of Chicago's 50 aldermen are women.

Progressive candidate Smith, one of seven competitors looking to unseat incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham in the 29th Ward on the West Side, said the Chicago City Council has much room for improvement in terms of gender diversity. 

"Sixteen women out of 50 seats. It just shows you that we still live in a society where women feel intimidated to stand up, speak out and do things," she stressed. "Look at the title, 'alderman.' That says enough. And with the intimidating tactics that's running around throughout the city, not just on women candidates, on men candidates that are [also] running as progressives, this is something scary to jump into."

Despite the challenges, Smith, an Action Now member, said she's running for office in part to stand up for those "living in the 99.9 percent community."

"I want the people to know that they have someone like them who's going to work for them," she said.

Enyia said she understands the "unique challenges" women running for public office can face. The municipal development consultant said issues involving her gender, but also her race and age, emerged during her mayoral bid, which she ended last month, citing her campaign's lack of resources needed to fight a petition challenge. In announcing her withdrawal from the race, Enyia threw her support behind Fioretti. 

"One of the things that has really stood out for me in my experience is, yes, there are unique challenges being a woman running for office, especially being a fairly younger woman. I know my age often came up, regardless of the fact that I have the qualifications," she said. "Those are barriers that constantly need to be pushed against. My run in and of itself was as statement: Being a 31-year-old black woman who lives on the West Side who's decided to run for mayor in a male-dominated field."

Enyia said she hopes her political efforts inspire other women to become civic leaders.

"My campaign wasn't about me. It was about women, especially in the neighborhoods where I live," she said. "They need to see it's possible. It is a phrase that we use a lot: You can't be what you can't see ... They need to see women moving forward, women running for office, women being trailblazers. We blaze that trail not for us, but for them."

Juanita Irizarry, a 26th Ward candidate set to appear at WOW's event, said the overall number of women running for alderman on a progressive platform this election cycle is impressive, but not surprising, as "there's an exciting movement for change generally" in the city and a "movement to have more female voices" on the council.

"In the Latino community, there's also a movement to have Latina voices," noted Irizarry, one of two challengers to incumbent Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th). "There is currently no female, Hispanic city council person. I think it's an exciting time in terms of thinking about the difference that it would make to have more female voices on the city council."

A key factor that prompted Irizarry to enter the 26th Ward race on the Near Northwest Side was the recent Maldonado-backed conversion of Ames Middle School into a "Marine-affiliated school," which was met with strong community opposition.

"That's been a really big issue in our community, and it's why people asked me to run, and it's definitely a big part of my platform," she said. "We need neighborhood schools that are good for everybody. We need an elected, representative school board and lots of parent engagement in the process."

Public education policy is expected to be a hot topic at the January 10 "Women Against the Machine" town hall, which will run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but attendees must RSVP. Find the details here.


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