Jessie Fuentes was the policy director for the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. Credit: Jessie Fuentes for 26th Ward/Facebook

HUMBOLDT PARK — A Humboldt Park activist who’s played a role in local politics as a volunteer, policy director and educator is running to unseat Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th).

Jessie Fuentes, director of policy and youth advocacy for the Humboldt Park-based Puerto Rican Cultural Center, announced her candidacy for 26th Ward alderperson over the weekend with a campaign kickoff event. Fuentes is also the co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda, another local group.

Fuentes is the latest candidate vying to represent the 26th Ward, which includes Humboldt Park and parts of Logan Square, West Humboldt Park, Hermosa and West Town.

Angee Gonzalez, a longtime Humboldt Park resident and the 26th Ward Democratic Committeeperson, and popular DJ Julian “Jumpin” Perez are also running for Humboldt Park’s top political position.

Maldonado, who’s held the seat since 2009, announced his reelection campaign last month.

Fuentes has worked closely with Maldonado over the years in her roles at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and the Puerto Rican Agenda; she and Maldonado have appeared side by side at news conferences.

The 31-year-old said “there’s no tension” with Maldonado, but she believes she’s better suited to represent residents of the 26th Ward in the years to come.

“I think that Maldonado, throughout his term, has done the job he’s needed to do around community sustainability,” Fuentes said. “I’m running because I think the office deserves someone who’s energized, brings their lived experiences and can carry out this work.

“I think there is a shift in politics … of being able to transition to younger organizers, leaders and activists.”

Fuentes wants to be the ward’s first queer Latina leader.

Jessie Fuentes (at podium) and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (to the right of podium) at a recent Humboldt Park press conference. Credit: Ald. Roberto Maldonado/Facebook

Prior to landing at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, where she’s worked for two years, Fuentes spent a decade as the dean of students for two Humboldt Park schools: Pedro Albizu Campos High School, 2739 W. Division St., and Roberto Clemente Community Academy, 1147 N. Western Ave. Before that, she was the program director at youth center Café Teatro Batey Urbano, 2620 W. Division St.

For seven years, Fuentes has helped lead the Puerto Rican Agenda, a group pushing for the self-determination of Puerto Rico.

Fuentes grew up in Humboldt Park, and she is known as a fierce advocate for the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican community. She often leads news conferences around Puerto Rican disaster relief and other Puerto Rican-focused events, such as Humboldt Park’s annual Puerto Rican festival.

If elected alderperson, Fuentes said she’d push for more affordable housing to combat displacement of Humboldt Park’s longtime Latino residents and for well-funded social services and public school programs to “address public safety in a real way.”

Helping small businesses ravaged by the pandemic and lifting the ban on rent control are also priorities, Fuentes said.

“I am the daughter of drug addiction. I am the daughter of an incarcerated parent,” Fuentes said. “I truly understand what it means to be at the center of some of these systems of oppression, and I also know what it means to be on the policy side and really work to create a system that undoes systems of oppression, particularly for families of color.

“My campaign will seek to address the root causes [of the ward’s issues], not just create policies that are Band-Aids.”

Aldermanic hopeful Jessie Fuentes (right) out talking to residents of the 26th Ward. Credit: Jessie Fuentes for 26th Ward/Facebook

Last month, Maldonado announced his reelection campaign with a Facebook post and video, saying gentrification — not crime — is the most pressing issue in Humboldt Park.

Maldonado said violent crime has dropped in the 26th Ward since he was appointed alderperson by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley 13 years ago. He also touted his work bringing more than 400 affordable housing units to the ward and his commitment to build hundreds more to help the area’s working families.

A 2021 Block Club analysis of police data show shootings and murders in Humboldt Park have remained largely steady over the past decade.

“The real threat to our 26th District can be seen in the most recent Census. Did you know that in the past 10 years our district has lost nearly 6,000 Latinos residents, and nearly 2,000 African Americans residents? That equates to the displacement of 8,000 Latino individuals and black from District 26,” Maldonado said on Facebook.

“This commute is not by choice. Each year, hundreds of our Latinos and African American working families have been forced out of their homes by the insidious threat of gentrification and excessive high taxes faced by low-income families. This is the real crime we face.”

Maldonado didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on Fuentes’ candidacy.

The election is Feb. 28.

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_