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Aldermania!

Thrills and Spills of the Current Races

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Focus on the Family

Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. says campaigners for Rickey Hendon made a little girl cry.

Before we get into the details, some background: The showdown in the 27th Ward is no ordinary race. Burnett and Hendon represent rival near-west-side political factions and they hate each other's guts. At least Hendon hates Burnett. Burnett says he's "praying for" Hendon.

A few days ago some Hendon supporters knocked at the door of Burnett's mother while campaigning in Cabrini-Green, where Burnett grew up. "They were telling people they might want to take down their Burnett signs," says Burnett. "[My mother] told 'em, 'No, it's my son, I'm gonna keep the sign up there.' And they continued to try to convince her to take the sign down. And they made my little niece cry."

Hendon says most of the story's true, and he adds a few details of his own: "I also heard that [Burnett's] sister came to the door. She said she was voting for me and not voting for him."

Are you sure about that?

"I'm positive about that. His half brother is working in my campaign. So some of Walter's family isn't even supporting Walter. She said, 'I'm his sister, but I ain't votin' for him.'"

Hendon's assertion does not "deserve an answer," counters Burnett. "He's crazy. I'm praying for him, I tell you."

And the half brother working for Hendon's campaign?

"What half brother? I have a half brother who happens to be incarcerated, so I don't know who he's talking about."

Burnett's mother stands by her son. "They were saying nasty things and some of my grandchildren started crying," she says. "So I got my cap on with Walter's name and got my poster. They told me they understood he was my son but they wanted somebody better in there. And I told them I simply didn't want to hear it."

Did Burnett's sister say she was voting for Hendon? "No, she did not. She told them, 'Do not even come my way, because Walter's my brother, so you know where my vote is goin' automatically.'"

And is his half brother working for Hendon?

"What half brother? He couldn't be talking about [the half brother who's incarcerated]. And his brother Jerome isn't working for Hendon. And his stepbrother, he's in school all day and he don't even live in the neighborhood and he's a teenager, so they can't be talkin' about him. So they're just puttin' together a lot of lies about the family." --Cate Plys

He's Got a Bridge to Sell

Alderman Theodore Matlak's been blitzing the 32nd Ward with glossy flyers giving him credit for building a new bridge at Damen and Diversey.

Not just any new bridge, but an "American landmark...unique to all of North America...an elegant structure that will accommodate a new river walk and an open space for public use."

There's only one problem: the bridge isn't fully working, at least not as fully as Matlak would have one believe. Two of the four lanes remain closed to traffic, even as the project enters its fourth year. "It took less time to build the pyramids than this bridge," says challenger Peter Donoghue, who's having a field day with the issue. "Maybe Ted doesn't know it's not working. Maybe we should tell him, 'Hey, Ted, the bridge is still down to two lanes!'"

In contrast, says Donoghue, the bridge at Addison and the river was rebuilt in less than a year: "With the Damen bridge, first they cut the lanes from four to two while they prepared to repair the bridge. Then they diverted traffic down Clybourn while they tore the old bridge down. Then they built a new bridge and it's still only got two working lanes. Why bother to open it at all? You got workers up there working around cars going 45 miles an hour. Are they putting their lives at risk so Ted can have a pretty backdrop for a campaign picture?"

Donoghue's got the story wrong, says Matlak: "What's he talking about? The bridge is open. If he wants to cross the bridge, he can cross the bridge."

--Ben Joravsky

Presumed Guilty

A campaign flyer's also an issue in the 26th Ward, where challenger Ray Rubio faces a possible lawsuit for his efforts to make himself look tough on crime.

Rubio, running against Alderman Billy Ocasio, put out a flyer with a photograph of four boys and the headline, "What are you lookin' at?" When opened, the flyer says, "Rubio will be tough on the gangs."

But the kids in the photo aren't gangbangers. One of their moms says they're four kids rounded up by a Rubio campaign aide who asked them to pose for a shot about a youth program. "The boys were lied to," says Elizabeth Velasquez. "They had no right to use my son's picture like that without my consent."

Two of the families have hired a lawyer who wrote Rubio a letter saying that "the ad has portrayed them in a false light and has caused harm to them and their families."

Asked if Rubio had anything to say, campaign manager Marco Morales said, "No, not really."

--Carlos Hernandez Gomez

Swimming With Sharks

In the 29th Ward, Darnetta Tyus is trying to do things a little differently. She actually attends public meetings, even if they have nothing to do with the election, and listens to what's said. Last Saturday, for instance, found her taking notes at a three-hour workshop on the problems of ex-prisoners. "We talked about harsh sentencing and acknowledging your wrongs, and we had a ball," she says.

Tyus thinks folks should spend less time arguing and more time listening. "Segregation used to be racial," she says. "If I had clear eyes, I could discriminate against you. Now people discriminate differently. People who live in CHA, businessmen, the gang population, ex-offenders, and gays all carry out their agendas in isolation--they don't pay attention to what other groups are saying. Some community organization will rail against gangs like they are alien beings, when they're actually somebody's children. Folks in Austin aren't bad people--they do this unconsciously."

Most observers figure Tyus, a deputy planning commissioner, has no chance to win in a ward where politics are rough-and-tumble. "I'm not someone who jumps on top of tables and flips," she says. "I'm not an activist in that sense. It's better, I think, to understand the process." --Grant Pick

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Walter Burnette Jr., Rickey Hendon, Peter Donoghue photo by Jon Randolph, Darnetta Tyus.

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