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By most accounts, Barrett ran the alderman's office for six years while Jackson commuted back and forth from Washington, D.C., where her children attended school. But in 2013 Jackson and her husband, former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., were convicted on federal charges stemming from the misuse of campaign funds, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Holmes to finish the term.
Holmes's two years in office didn't exactly scare off opponents: 15 filed to run against her. The nine challengers still left include Joseph Moseley, a retired Chicago police sergeant and brother of former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun; and Gregory Mitchell, who lost to Jackson in 2011 and was on the mayor's short list to replace Jackson.
But it's not even clear that Holmes is going to be a candidate herself. Her ballot petitions have been contested by several ward residents allied with challengers.
Holmes didn't return calls for comment. Neither did Barrett.
This marks the first Seventh Ward election in more than three decades in which neither a Beavers nor a Jackson will be on the ballot. William Beavers, a former cop, served as alderman from 1983 to 2006, when he left for the Cook County board and got former Mayor Richard M. Daley to appoint his daughter and chief of staff Darcel to take his place. But Darcel Beavers was ousted by Jackson a year later.
In 2013 William Beavers was himself convicted of federal tax evasion and sentenced to six months in prison.
Many Seventh Ward voters are understandably wary of candidates making promises at election time. "People want changes, but they're skeptical," says Margie Reid, one of the challengers, who works as a community organizer with the police department.
The ward has more resources than many, starting with a lakefront lined with parks and beaches. A huge new development is slated for the site of the former U.S. Steel South Works mill along the lake south of 79th Street.
Yet there are stretches of the ward "where nothing exists. No pharmacy, no grocery store, nothing," says candidate Shonda "Shonnie" Curry.
Both Curry and Reid count the high number of unemployed among the untapped resources. "There is an entire segment of the population that doesn't have job training or job skills. We need those programs in our neighborhoods," Curry says. "We need workforce development, job training. We need to get the unions involved to set up some apprenticeships."
Reid says she imagines a Seventh Ward with thriving commercial corridors, especially along the Metra tracks. "There's no major companies. There's not even a lot of mom and pop stores. There is nothing on 75th Street and on 79th Street there's really nothing. There's so much that could be done that hasn't been done."
Reid adds, "I would love to be able to walk from my house and have lunch or get coffee or a donut on the way to the train."