LINCOLN PARK – After a close call in 2015, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) is on much better footing as the campaign for her third term ramps up, her office said.
But that hasn’t stopped a crowd of candidates from entering the race.
The 43rd ward is an affluent one, undergoing significant economic development with both Lincoln Commons and the massive Lincoln Yards development. Still, crime — including recent carjackings — and traffic congestion are among the top issues according to residents.
Smith has everything an incumbent could hope to have: name recognition in the community, a large campaign war chest of more than $275,000 and deep ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other Chicago heavy hitters. A poll released in September showed she would win 53 percent of the vote when put up against the other announced candidates.
But those candidates say there is still time for them to make a case to voters, and some have already raised enough money to stay competitive.
Already raising more than $265,000, Derek Lindblom has the biggest campaign war chest of any Smith challenger. With campaign backers like former Deputy Mayors Steve Koch and Mark Angelson and businessman Matthew Pritzker (cousin to soon-to-be Gov. JB Pritzker), Lindblom is considered to be a significant threat to Smith.
With more than 170 donations — and no amount higher than $5,600 — the Harvard graduate has more individual contributions than his other challengers.
Previously, he was chief of staff for Emanuel’s economic counsel, where he “helped government run more efficiently.”
“I think with the mayor not running, we need someone who is going to have creative policy,” he said. “We need someone who is going to fight for efficiency.”
Lindblom said he has a clear track record of “cutting through the red tape” and he believes that he has significant experience in both the private and public sector to make that happen.
Lindblom is also a venture capitalist who invests in health technology, and said technology could be used to solve some of the biggest issues facing the city.
“We have had too many instances of a criminal committing multiple crimes that could have been stopped with the proper technology,” he said, adding that we could be using traffic cameras to track down stolen vehicles.
When it comes to Lincoln Yards, Lindblom echoed what’s been said at community meetings, citing the need to avoid congestion and add green spaces.
“Let’s make sure we are getting a ton of park space for our community,” he said. “If we are not thoughtful about putting improvements in place, I think we are going to regret it.
Lindblom aims to run a positive campaign, saying that an alderman needs to bring people together and “bring fun to the community.” He said that things like ward bike rides, senior walks and block parties can be extremely valuable to the community.
“I’m a very positive person,” he said. “The more this race is about the people in this community, the better my campaign will do.”
Candidate Leslie Fox said she wants to bring “common sense policy” to Chicago Public Schools and beyond.
Fox has been deeply ingrained in Chicago politics for more than two decades, and although she may not have instant name recognition, she is well known in political circles. She worked with Mayor Richard M. Daley and helped coordinate the World Cup in 1994 and the Democratic National Convention in 1996.
She describes herself as being heavily involved with her family and is proud of her Jewish heritage. Fox is a self-described “politics and news junkie” and her family still gets four print newspapers delivered to their home each morning.
Her campaign reported over $151,000 — $45,000 of which came from her own pocket and $45,000 more from her father, Shayle Fox.
Fox is particularly passionate about Chicago Public Schools and she said it is one of the major reasons she felt compelled to enter the race in a very competitive ward.
“You have to fund your public schools,” she said. “You can’t be building new schools without funding the ones that are there and that work.”
Fox said she is proud of the progress parents have made through their “tireless work” with the schools, but the city is “not doing enough.”
Fox plans to rely heavily on her political circle, which runs deep throughout the city. Her husband Bill Griffin was previously an aid to former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne, and has been a long-time player in Chicago politics.
The longtime politico is not running his wife’s campaign, however.
Fox also has complicated ties to Emanuel. She is a personal friend of Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, and worked with him on Daley’s early campaigns. However, she endorsed Chuy Garcia over Emanuel during the 2015 mayoral election, which surprised many.
“People had told me, ‘expect a lot of money coming to keep you out,’” she said. “So I suppose that’s going to be coming. But I wish Rahm well and I don’t think his political career is over by any stretch.”
Fox said that “crime has become a very real problem” in the 43rd ward. She referenced the recent string of armed robberies and carjackings that have occurred in Lincoln Park and said she has family and friends that have been affected.
Fox said too many police officers in the area get moved to higher-crime neighborhoods.
Concerning the pension crisis, Fox believes that Emanuel’s current proposal to borrow billions in bonds from investment bankers is “kicking the can down the road.”
When it comes to the massive Lincoln Yards development Fox said “there has to be a win for Lincoln Park.” Like the other candidates, she said she’s concerned with congestion and the “lack of park spaces” in the ward.
“I’m not against development,” she said. “But the congestion in Lincoln Park has become landlocked.”
The last 43rd ward election was widely-considered to be a nasty — and expensive — one and although Fox hopes to stick to the issues she said she is unafraid of dirty politics.
“I’ve worked in politics for 25 years,” she said. “Bring it.”
Jacob Ringer is one of the lesser known 43rd ward challengers, but he is in no way unfamiliar to politics — his father ran for alderman in 1967 and lost in a runoff election. His campaign recently opened a headquarters on Halsted Street and a black and white photo of his father on the campaign trail is proudly displayed in the office.
Ringer previously served as president of the Lincoln Park Zoo Auxiliary Board and as chief of staff to former city Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott.
Ringer provided his campaign with an early shot in the arm, campaign finance reports show he gave his campaign $90,000 in June. As of Monday, his campaign has more than $115,ooo in the bank. Why run? Ringer said he wants to battle “unattended bureaucracy” and government inefficiency.
“My job is to advocate for the neighborhood and to understand how the city works, and make it work better.”
Ringer said a digital billboard project he came up with while working for the city highlights his “creative solutions” to city revenue issues.
“Those digital billboards are projected to bring in $200 million in 20 years without cutting services or raising taxes,” he said.
And while he did work for the city, his ties to Emanuel are minimal. He said he wants our next mayor to be more “accessible.”
Another focus of Ringer’s campaign is economic development, particularly vacant storefronts.
When it comes to Lincoln Yards, Ringer said it “isn’t a yes or no,” but rather about determining how to “accommodate growth.” He said the main issue should be building an East West bridge in order to provide easy access to the expressways.
“We should be talking more about infrastructure, and parks are a part of that,” he said.
Ringer hopes that the campaign does not turn negative.
“That really was a personal and brutal election,” he said in reference to the 2015 election.
Ringer said that although he hopes everyone is able to stick to the issues, he is not naive to the arena he has stepped into.
“My eyes are open,” he said. “This ain’t stickball.”
Matthew Roney is 22 years old and will soon be graduating with a bachelors degree in political science from DePaul University. He originally declared his candidacy to run for mayor, but has since decided to run for alderman instead. He admitted that he “did not have the infrastructure in place to sustain a mayoral campaign.”
Why run? Crime, Roney said. Though residents have reported feeling less safe, police say crime is actually down in the area, one of the safest wards in Chicago.
“I am tired of walking past caution tape and vacant lots,” he said.
Roney said he originally came to Chicago with plans to study medicine, but after witnessing firsthand the high price of medication, he decided to run for office. Roney believes that his lack of experience is actually a good thing.
“I am not corrupt and I do not owe any corporations or politicians anything,” he said.
Roney plans to run a campaign heavily based on social media and viral marketing tactics.
After being knocked off the ballot in 2015 for not having enough valid signatures, Steve McClellan is ready to run again. This time, he said he is better equipped for a campaign.
“You have to always be on point,” he said.
A 36-year-old Old Town resident with a business background on the Chicago Board of Trade, McClellan describes himself as a “happy but concerned neighbor.”
McClellan said that he would bring a “fresh perspective” to City Hall. He said the 43rd ward is not being properly utilized and under his leadership he would provide economic opportunity, not just for the ward, but for the entire city.
“We live in a powerful ward,” he said. “It seems like the current administration doesn’t realize the political influence they could have.”
When it comes to crime, he said more investment in youth is the answer.
“We need to be more strategic,” he said, adding that more after school programs could help prevent much of the petty theft that has been occurring in the ward.
McClellan knows he has a long way to go, as his fundraising efforts have just begun and he is far behind his other opponents when it comes to money. But he hopes his experience as an organizer helps.
“I’m just going to keep shaking hands and getting to know people,” he said. “My platform is about the conversations I’ve had with neighbors.”
Attorney Rebecca Janowitz, a Special Assistant for Legal Affairs for the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, has no reported campaign cash on hand and faces formidable challengers, but said she is “not worried” about the money — she wants to connect with 43rd ward voters.
“This is a ward that pays attention,” she said. “I’m going to have a chance to show voters my policy in the upcoming debates.”
Janowitz, who once served as a special assistant to Cook County Board President (and mayoral candidate) Toni Preckwinkle, thinks that the ward needs to pay more attention to “housekeeping items,” such as noise pollution from construction sites or parking issues. She said the spike in crime within the ward can be mitigated through “better communication and collaboration with police.”
Janowitz said that one of the big challenges of the 43rd ward is “voters who don’t actually vote in the ward.” She said she will target her campaign exclusively to those she believes “will actually show up on election day.”