THE ‘WRIT­TEN OFF’ WARD

2015 ri­val, 3 oth­ers chal­leng­ing in­cum­bent Lopez in 15th over po­lice academy, re­sponse to vi­o­lence

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - Ald. Ray Lopez BY ALEXAN­DRA ARRIAGA, DIG­I­TAL CON­TENT PRO­DUCER aar­[email protected]­times.com | @alexar­ria­ga__ Rafael Yañez Berto Aguayo Joseph Wil­liams Otis Davis Jr.

Res­i­dents are mov­ing out of the South Side’s 15th Ward. A neigh­bor­hood high school is be­ing phased out. Even the pre­vi­ous al­der­man opted to run in another ward four years ago af­ter the bound­aries were re­drawn.

Cur­rent Ald. Ray Lopez says the ward has been “writ­ten off by Chicago pol­i­tics at large.”

But you wouldn’t know it from the spir­ited battle un­der­way for stew­ard­ship of the gu­nand-gang-chal­lenged ward — com­posed of West Englewood, Gage Park, Brighton Park and Back of the Yards.

Lopez is fac­ing four chal­lengers in the Feb. 26 elec­tion. And on top of that, a City Coun­cil col­league has also got­ten in­volved, call­ing for Lopez’s ouster in a rare show of crosstown elec­toral war­fare.

Lopez was the ward com­mit­tee­man four years ago af­ter the ward was re­drawn to 68 per­cent His­panic, and in­cum­bent Ald. Toni Foulkes chose to run for the 16th Ward to rep­re­sent Englewood, win­ning in a runoff. Lopez won in his own runoff elec­tion, against Chicago Po­lice Of­fi­cer Rafael Yañez. Yañez is wag­ing a re­match.

“The al­der­man is talk­ing about gen­er­a­tional gun vi­o­lence, and I’m talk­ing about gen­er­a­tional dis­in­vest­ment,” Yañez said. “Since white flight, the re­sources fled along with the fam­i­lies.”

Yañez has po­si­tioned him­self as a pro­gres­sive, with the back­ing of U.S. Rep. Je­sus “Chuy” Gar­cia, for­mer Cook County Clerk David Orr, the Chicago Teach­ers Union and the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union Illi­nois Coun­cil, one of the unions with an own­er­ship stake in Sun-Times Me­dia.

De­spite his back­ground as a po­lice of­fi­cer, he’s run­ning on a cri­tique of Lopez’s vote in fa­vor of the $95 mil­lion po­lice train­ing academy.

“I’m a po­lice of­fi­cer, I know we need train­ing, we need bet­ter man­age­ment, we need bet­ter ac­count­abil­ity in the po­lice depart­ment, there’s many things we have to re­form,” Yañez said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re gonna put $95 mil­lion there right now when our schools are strug­gling.”

Lopez’s vote in sup­port of build­ing the po­lice academy on the West Side also helped prompt North­west Side Ald. Car­los RamirezRosa (35th) to sup­port a group call­ing for Lopez’s ouster, dubbed “Fuera Lopez” (“Lopez Out”).

Lopez has sug­gested Ramirez-Rosa stick to his own ward. The two rookie al­der­men have traded in­sults, with each com­par­ing the other to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

On the is­sue of gun vi­o­lence, Lopez un­apolo­get­i­cally takes a hard stance against gang mem­bers. Lopez has no re­grets about a com­ment that prompted a no­to­ri­ous Chicago street gang to make threats against him. Af­ter a rash of vi­o­lence in his ward in 2017 that in­cluded the fa­tal shoot­ings of re­puted gang mem­bers, Lopez told re­porters he was “thank­ful to­day that no in­no­cent lives were lost.”

Lopez and Yañez agree that gun reg­u­la­tion must oc­cur at the state and fed­eral level, but Lopez said he has no plans to stop fo­cus­ing on the role of the gang mem­bers pulling the trig­gers.

“What I can do is make sure I’m call­ing out the in­di­vid­u­als who are try­ing to use those weapons in our com­mu­nity . . . . If it makes life un­com­fort­able for gang-bangers, so be it,” Lopez said.

Lopez also makes no apolo­gies for $5,250 in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions he re­ceived from Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who is fac­ing fed­eral charges of at­tempted ex­tor­tion.

Lopez says if Burke is con­victed, “I would con­sider re­turn­ing that money.”

Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors built their case against Burke with the help of Ald. Danny So­lis (25th), who se­cretly recorded more than a dozen con­ver­sa­tions with Burke.

“I’m sure I’m recorded, I’ve talked to Danny So­lis, I’ve talked to Ed Burke,” Lopez said. “I know 100 per­cent with­out a doubt I have noth­ing to worry about when it comes to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Another can­di­date has been open about his own gang-af­fil­i­ated youth.

Berto Aguayo grew up in Back of the Yards. Af­ter pulling away from gang in­volve­ment, he be­came a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer and worked with The Res­ur­rec­tion Project and co-founded the In­crease the Peace Ini­tia­tive, bring­ing peace marches and cam­pouts to the neigh­bor­hood in re­sponse to the fa­tal shoot­ing of a 16-year-old girl.

Aguayo pro­poses ex­pand­ing pro­grams such as One Sum­mer Chicago into a year­round pro­gram and con­vert­ing un­der­uti­lized schools into com­mu­nity cen­ters.

Joseph Wil­liams worked on the ground as a vi­o­lence in­ter­rupter through Cease­Fire. Though he’s a first-time can­di­date, he’s vol­un­teered on cam­paigns with his fam­ily in­clud­ing Barack Obama’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Kim Foxx’s 2016 cam­paign, where he ap­peared in her cam­paign ad.

“When you talk about gun vi­o­lence, that’s a big thing for me, I’ve lost friends to gun vi­o­lence,” Wil­liams said. “Even through­out the cam­paign, one of my cam­paign work­ers was shot.”

Wil­iams has had to re­tract state­ments he made sug­gest­ing Lopez was re­spon­si­ble.

Otis Davis Jr., another can­di­date who ran in 2015, is a min­is­ter and com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer who wants to ex­pand the One Sum­mer Chicago pro­gram, open­ing job op­por­tu­ni­ties to youth year-round.

“Once they learn a new skill they can get a job, pro­vide for their fam­ily, they can get off the street sell­ing drugs.”

RICH HEIN/SUN-TIMES FILE PHO­TOS

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