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Former Obama Employee And A Union Organizer Running To Unseat Ald. George Cardenas

The 12th Ward includes parts of Little Village, Back of the Yards, Brighton Park and McKinley Park neighborhoods.

Pete DeMay, left, and Jose Rico, center, Ald. George Cardenas, right.
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LITTLE VILLAGE — A former Chicago Public School’s principal who worked for the Obama Administration and a union organizer will run for 12th Ward alderman on the city’s Southwest Side — a seat currently held by Ald. George Cardenas.

Longtime La Villita resident Jose Rico and McKinley Park resident Pete DeMay have recently announced their campaigns for the 12th Ward City Council seat.

In interviews with Block Club Chicago, the two candidates criticized Cardenas for not being a fierce advocate for the communities of 12th Ward residents.

Cardenas, the chairman of the Health and Environmental Protection Committee, said in a statement he is “entrenched in the day-to-day operations of my community and fully engaged in the obstacles we face on the Southwest Side.”

The 12th Ward alderman said he is thankful for what he and his constituents have accomplished together during his four terms. He said he hopes to continue to “battle fiercely for equitable resources, and sound economic decisions.” 

“Years of hard work have brought us here, and we are on our way to having a thriving, economically viable, sustainable and safer environment for our families,” Cardenas said. 

Meet the candidates that are challenging Cardenas.

The 12th Ward includes parts of Little Village, Back of the Yards, Brighton Park and McKinley Park neighborhoods.

Pete DeMay

DeMay, a union organizer for Workers United — a Service Employees International Union affiliate — promises to put 12th Ward residents “in the driver’s seat and in control of [the] destiny of the ward.”

“We’ve been rattling in the back seat for far too long,” DeMay said. “Under George Cardenas and Rahm Emanuel, our Southwest Side neighborhoods have been largely forgotten.”

The 47-year old candidate, who has been living in McKinley Park for 16 years, aims to address public safety concerns and bring more funding to neighborhood schools and parks by working to eliminate the tax-increment financing (TIF) program that he says allows tax dollars to be “siphoned” from the wards. 

DeMay also looks to tackle environmental justice issues, pointing to the highly contentious MAT Asphalt Plant across from McKinley Park. The aldermanic candidate said the asphalt plant has compromised air quality in the neighborhood, and he aims to get the company to move out.

DeMay, who has worked “on and off” for 20 years at Workers United, has also worked as representative for United Automobile Workers (UAW), as a central regional director for Actors’ Equity Association and as a field organizer for Elevate Energy, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing environmental issues.

“I want to make sure we have someone in office that is going to put residents first, who is going to be concerned with clean air, and clean water…the education of our youth, and will fight for resources for our ward,” DeMay said.

DeMay previously ran against Cardenas in 2015, but was removed from the ballot after the Chicago’s Board of Election Commissioners ruled signatures were invalid. 

“We learned some hard lessons last time,” DeMay said. “We are going to be much better prepared and we will be on the ballot this time.” 

Jose Rico

Rico, a senior vice president for community impact at United Way Metro Chicago and former executive director of the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics under the Obama administration, said the lack of change across the ward inspired him to run for the 12th Ward seat. 

“I’ve seen over the last decade or so, like the rest of the city, a lot of issues have not improved, especially in my ‘hood,” Rico said. 

Rico, 48, has also worked as a principal at the Multicultural Arts School at Little Village High School, a director of community organizing for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and a teacher at the Latino Youth Alternative School in the early ’90s. 

The La Villita resident points to crime, cuts to education funding and a lack of living wage jobs as challenges facing the 12th ward and the city as a whole. Rico said Cardenas has not done enough to bring “folks together and try to solve these issues.”

Nearly a year ago, Rico’s son was shot. He said he saw firsthand how the city is “ill-equipped to address the issues of trauma.”

“I couldn’t get a psychiatrist to see [my son] near my house,” Rico said, who pointed to the closing of mental health facilities among the reasons.

He aims to improve the “livability and opportunity” of the ward by creating vibrant business districts around Archer Avenue and Cermak Road and will work to improve the quality of schools by ensuring they are fully funded. 

Rico also aims to tackle environmental pollution in the ward including the recently opened asphalt plant in McKinley Park, which he said has “seriously damaged the air quality.”

“We really need a progressive voice to raise some of these issues,” Rico said. “I want to be involved in finding systematic and policy solutions to the issues that affect my neighbors.”

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