CHATHAM — Two South Side pastors are vying to fill Ald. Roderick Sawyer’s City Council seat and steer the 6th Ward in a new direction.
William Hall and Richard Wooten will go toe-to-toe April 4 to represent parts of West Woodlawn, Chatham, Park Manor, West Chesterfield, Grand Crossing, Auburn Gresham and Englewood. The candidates bested nine hopefuls in a crowded race in the Feb. 28 election, with Hall getting about 23.8 percent of the vote to Wooten’s 23.1 percent.
Since no one received at least 50 percent of the vote, the race goes to a runoff.
Sawyer announced in June he’d step down as alderman to run for mayor, aiming to follow in the footsteps of his father, Eugene Sawyer, who served as mayor after Harold Washington’s death in 1987.
Hall and Wooten have listed public safety, economic development and funding local schools as top priorities if elected. Both candidates have also pledged to support block clubs to reinvest in the community.
More on the candidates:
Willam Hall has lived on the same block in Chatham for 38 years, he said.
Hall grew up as neighbors with Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, who taught him about her son’s life and her fight for justice, Hall said. Till-Mobley moved to Chatham in the ’60s after her son was murdered, according to a city report.
Hall has been senior pastor at St. James Community Church in Chatham for nearly a decade. He’s also the director of faith and community partnerships for the child welfare advocacy group at UCAN Chicago, which supports youth who have suffered trauma, Hall said. He’s traveled worldwide as a field director for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition under Rev. Jesse Jackson, Hall said.
Hall’s top priorities as alderperson will be public safety, education, economic growth and equitable city services, he said.
To combat public safety, Hall’s top priority, he will partner with Rep. Elgie Sims to create an infrastructure development plan that improves lighting throughout the ward and cleans up the streets, Hall said.
Hall was a “block club baby,” he said. He witnessed the impact block clubs can have on a community if properly resourced and, if elected, he will “bring back microgrants for block clubs” and expand his office hours to include their meeting times, Hall said.
In the “first 90 days,” Hall will also organize a summit where members of the community’s block clubs can “voice concerns and identity solutions,” Hall said. He’ll take the meeting’s findings to the local police commander and the new superintendent, Hall said.
“We can’t let the dream of a safe neighborhood, quality education and profitable businesses die,” Hall said. “Let’s resurrect the ward that was built on hard work and the dedication of 6th Ward residents. The 4th is a day to dream again.”
Rather than more police, the ward needs mental health services to prevent crime and promote safety, Hall said. He will work with the city to allocate funding to mental health centers and violence prevention groups in the community, Hall said.
Local police officers need sensitivity training before they patrol the community and mental health professionals on the force to help them as they combat everyday stressors, Hall said.
Hall will also introduce “community therapy” in the 6th Ward, he said. Neighborhood sessions will function as a “means for people to discuss pains and fears they have together in a safe, non-threatening environment led by counselors that live in the ward who know how to do group therapy,” Hall said.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter in the 6th Ward and building upon the work of my predecessor,” Hall said. “I’m grateful for [Sawyer’s] service and his dedication, and I want to build upon what the 6th Ward has so we can prepare for its future.”
To spur economic growth in the ward, Hall said he’ll work alongside 6th Ward business owners to help them apply for city funding opportunities and “implement strategies” that would attract more local customers. He said he’ll also partner with the Chatham Business Association and other organizations to encourage local entrepreneurs to build within their communities.
Schools in the 6th Ward should be “fully funded and equitable,” Hall said. As a member of City Council, he’ll advocate for fair pay and working conditions for staff and funding for after-school and mentorship programs for students, Hall said.
“We want our schools funded and looking like other parts of the city,” Hall said.
Hall has been endorsed by Gov. JB Pritzker, former state Sen. Roland Burris, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Sawyer. His campaign has more than $86,000 in contributions since December 2022. His biggest donor, SEIU, has donated $80,000.
Richard Wooten was born in Englewood, raised in Auburn Gresham and lives in Chatham. He served in the U.S. Army and was a police officer for 23 years. He is the pastor at Gather Point Universal Ministries in Brainerd and president of the Greater Chatham Alliance.
This is Wooten’s third consecutive bid for the 6th Ward seat, having challenged Sawyer in 2015 and 2019.
If elected, Wooten will dedicate his time in office to tackling public safety, education, economic development, community engagement and health and wellness, he said.
Public safety is top of mind for 6th Ward residents, and it’s Wooten’s “day one priority,” he said.
To prevent crime, Wooten will work to restore foot patrol and “beat integrity,” where officers are deployed to the same communities consistently to inspire “better interaction and safer streets,” Wooten said. He’ll also demand a seat for neighbors on the Civilian Office of Police Accountability board, Wooten said.
Wooten will make neighbors part of restoring public safety by funding block clubs and community organizations and creating a neighborhood watch program, he said. His newly developed app, Eyes Witness, will serve as a communication platform and a training program that “teaches neighbors how to communicate to deter crime,” Wooten said.
To place the community’s voice “front and center,” Wooten will establish a senior and youth advisory council in the ward, he said. He’ll host community meetings where neighbors can weigh in on how the $1.5 million of discretionary money each alderperson receives is budgeted throughout the ward, Wooten said.
Area schools deserve to be fully funded and equipped with academic resources, Wooten said. He’ll demand more funding for local school programs and partner with CPS officials to try to transform nearby vacant schools into resource and recreation centers for students, Wooten said.
With projects like the Obama Center, Regal Mile Film Studios and the Pullman Porter Museum sprouting around the 6th Ward, the community has a chance to “generate revenue off of tourism,” Wooten said. To do so, the ward needs developments, like restaurants and grocery stores, to bring people to the community, Wooten said.
If elected, Wooten will open a co-op grocery store that “is owned by and sustains our communities,” Wooten said. He’ll also welcome more sit-down restaurants and businesses to the ward by “sponsoring an ordinance that creates a commission” responsible for evaluating and repurposing vacant, city-owned buildings for public and private use, he said.
The goal will be to repurpose the former Chatham Food Market at 327 E. 79th St., Wooten said. The store, which was once Black-owned, closed some years ago, Wooten said.
Wooten will “utilize the knowledge and skills” of 6th Ward residents to open a co-op grocery store at the former market, he said. Several neighbors that he’s spoken with “understand the initiative of establishing a co-op, and he’s “been in talks” with other co-ops in the city “that are going to show us the way,” Wooten said.
“I’m driven by the power of the people in the ward,” Wooten said. “What the people desire, I’m there to give them. We grow together. I want the 6th Ward to become one of the most powerful wards in the city so our people can receive the resources they need.”