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The 30th Ward Deserves More Than A ‘Rubber Stamp’ Alderman, Young Challengers To Reboyras Tell Voters

Jessica W. Gutierrez, daughter of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and Edgar Esparza, a 23-year-old college student, are challenging the longtime alderman.

Candidates Edgar Esparza, Ald. Ariel Reboyras and Jessica Washington Gutierrez are running for 30th Ward alderman.
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IRVING PARK — As development explodes on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square, some Belmont Cragin and Irving Park residents are wondering: are we next?

The impact of rapidly gentrifying neighboring wards is a top concern for 30th Ward voters as two political neophytes try to unseat longtime Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th).

Reboyras’ family, originally from Puerto Rico, moved to Chicago from New York City when he was 12 years old. After earning a degree in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Reobyras taught at Roberto Clemente High School in Humboldt Park.

He began his work with the city as a truck driver, eventually working his way up to become Deputy Commissioner of the Department of General Services — what is now known as the Office of Fleet Management. In 2003, after the ward was remapped to have a Hispanic-majority of voters, then-30th Ward Ald. Mike Wojcik decided to leave City Council for a job with the Chicago Transit Authority.

Out of four candidates, Reboyras won the seat in 2003, and has since represented the 30th Ward, which encompasses parts of Irving Park, Hermosa, Portage Park and Belmont Cragin. During his tenure as alderman, Reboyras has been closely aligned with former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, a leader of the city’s old Democratic machine who lost his seat to Fritz Kaegi last year, and outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Even in crowds that are critical of the mayor, like much of the audience at a recent 30th Ward forum, Reboyras has defended Emanuel on everything from police accountability to the city budget.

Reboyras said voters should re-elect him if they want projects he’s fought for, like a new elementary school planned for Belmont Cragin and an affordable housing complex for seniors, to be completed as planned.

“It’s going to be one of the first senior buildings, 98 one-bedroom units. A beautiful building,” Reboyras said of the project at 5525 W. Diversey Ave. “I’ve been the alderman for almost 16 years now and I want to continue doing this work. Because if I’m not elected, none of the projects we have in the works will be completed.”

Reboyras is chairs City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, which oversees the police department, fire department, and the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. After the release of the Laquan McDonald video and calls for police reform, the alderman was accused of tuning out activists and promoting a watered down review process that includes little-to-no civilian oversight.

Reboyras said there’s a pilot program underway in the Grand Central (25th) Police District that will help improve the relationships between police and neighbors.

“The entire [district] is divided into five sectors and police are assigned to work with community residents, businesses and schools,” Reboyras said. “These assigned officers are not to deviate from any issues within their sector of the ward.”

The program aims for neighbors to get to know the officers in their district outside of an emergency situation.

“A lot of time people don’t get know a police officer until there is something wrong,” he said. “This is going to change how we do community policing.”

Reboyras, whose daughter is a Chicago Police officer, said policing and police accountability has changed dramatically for the better in Chicago in recent years.

“While we do have 98 percent of police officers are out there doing their job, we still have like a 2 percent ratio that unfortunately has made bad decisions to make the entire police department look bad,” Reboyras said. “But I think we’re headed in the right direction on that matter.”

The Chicago Federation of Labor, the Fraternal Order of Police, The Polish National Alliance and The Polish American Police Association all currently endorse Reboyras for re-election.

“I’ve got two opponents right now and I commend them for running, but I’m the most qualified,” he said. “I’ve been a government employee now for 40 years, with the last 16 years being an alderman. And I’m very proud of the work we’ve done, but there’s still work to be done.”

Jessica Washington Gutierrez

The 30th Ward overlaps with part of Illinois’ 4th congressional district, a seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) for more than two decades. His daughter, Jessica Washington Gutierrez, is now making a bid to take the 30th Ward seat from Reboyras.

Jessica Gutierrez, 31, grew up on Chicago’s Northwest Side and graduated from St. Benedict High School. After earning a sociology degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she attended graduate school studying history at Louisiana State University and at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

While in graduate school, Jessica Gutierrez was an organizer in the New Orleans/Baton Rouge Recovery School District, where she helped interpret for Hispanic families who were going through immigration proceedings, she said.

“I’ve always wanted to run for office, for me politically it had to be the right time. As someone’s daughter I wanted to build my career on my own,” she said. “When I traveled and went out of the state for grad school, I got to see how public education works in other countries, and also how we’ve dismantled the public school system in Louisiana.”

She returned to Chicago after President Donald Trump was elected, and immediately jumped into politics, she said as a means to combat the anti-immigrant sentiment that dominated the 2016 election.

Jessica Gutierrez worked as a North Side field coordinator for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s campaign, who was elected to her father’s seat in Congress last year. She also helped Delia Ramirez’s campaign in her successful bid for for 4th District state representative.

“I asked about her campaign and with my background in research she let me jump back into grassroots organizing for her,” Jessica Gutierrez said of Ramirez. “And she really became a mentor for me.”

On education issues, Jessica Gutierrez said she supports charter school teachers’ effort to unionize and believes Chicago Public Schools should have an elected school board.

“We can just look a couple miles away from where I’m at right now and they have an elected school board that works,” she said. “If the suburbs can do it, we can, too.”

If elected, Jessica Gutierrez said she will create a transparent process that shows how all of the ward’s menu money is spent and will allow residents to give feedback on issues affecting the ward in public meetings – two things she said R

Other areas she’d like to focus on if elected having more transparency regarding how the ward’s menu money is used and more events to allow residents to give feedback on community issues, two things she says Reboyras could be doing more.

“The 30th Ward is unorganized right now,” she said. “Our campaign has been going on for the past 10 months and we’ve been creating those community spaces and open culture. It’s not hard to do, it’s just talking to people and that’s a humbling experience.”

As for the legislative responsibilities of an alderman, Jessica Gutierrez said she’ll work to make sure residents in the city’s wards get the same type of attention that tourists do when they visit Downtown.

“We’re at a crossroads in Chicago and we don’t have time for rubber stamp aldermen,” Jessica Gutierrez said. “If we want that, we can save our tax dollars and just send a robot to vote Downtown.”

Reboyras has voted with Emanuel more than 96 percent of the time.

Jessica Gutierrez is endorsed by Garcia, the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

Edgar “Edek” Esparza

This isn’t the first time Edgar “Edek” Esparza has taken on Reboyras. In 2014, at just 19 year old, he ran for 30th Ward alderman, only to be removed from the ballot because 2,000 of his petition signatures were deemed to be improperly bound.

He ran as a write-in candidate anyway and was defeated. But this year he’s older — 23 — and has a better handle on the issues facing the ward, he said.

Esparza attended St. Genevieve Elementary School and graduated from Notre Dame College Prep in 2014.

“The first time I ran, I hadn’t been that politically active,” he said. “But my parents were always complaining about certain things.”

Growing up in Belmont Cragin, those complaints included a lack of vibrancy in the ward’s business district and crime.

Esparza said he’s running again because Reboyras has failed to address basic neighborhood concerns like sidewalk and street maintenance. He’s currently enrolled at Columbia University in New York studying history and is expected to graduate in May.

Regarding his age, Esparza said his lack of professional experience shouldn’t be an issue because he’s lived in the ward and knows what neighbors are concerned about.

Middle-class families are concerned gentrification will continue to spillover from Logan Square, displacing them as rents and property taxes increase.

“The people that created the problems that Chicago has right now there are like age 50 and up,” Esparza said. “Not be ageist or anything, but you can’t really say that I’m too young to address the problems happening in the ward every day. The old way of doing things in Chicago isn’t working.”

He added that not all of the city’s current aldermen started out with a political background — including Reboyras himself.

“To really go out there with residents and be involved, that’s another thing that I’m already doing,” Esparza said.

Esparza is endorsed by Dr. Willie Wilson, one of the candidates running for mayor.

RELATED: Everything You Need To Vote On Feb. 26

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