ROGERS PARK — At Sol Cafe on Howard Street, Alderman-elect Maria Hadden can’t go five minutes without being stopped by a supporter.
“In no time you will be ready for mayor,” one woman said as she shook Hadden’s hand.
But Hadden balks at the idea of using her new position as a springboard.
“They expect that you are going to want to run for something else, because that’s what they are used to” said Hadden. “This is where I want to be.”
As someone who refused to take developer dollars or resort to negative campaign tactics, Chicago’s first openly gay black female alderman hopes to change the city’s long-broken political system.
After garnering more than 63 percent of the vote in defeating 28-year incumbent Ald. Joe Moore (49th), many are saying Hadden’s win marks a shift in voter sentiment. As evidenced by Moore’s defeat, it’s no longer enough for candidates to claim they are progressive.
On the night of her victory, Hadden told her supporters that it was time to turn their attention to other key ward races heading to a run-off.
“How are we going to bring more independent progressive voices to Chicago?” she asked the crowd.
She has set her sights on two key aldermanic races in the 40th and 47th wards.
In the 40th, Hadden is endorsing political newcomer Andre Vasquez over Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), who has been in office since 1983.
In the 47th Ward battle for outgoing Ald. Ameya Pawar’s (47th) seat, Hadden is endorsing civil rights attorney Matt Martin.
When it comes to Chicago’s first mayoral race with two black female candidates, many expect Hadden’s voice as a black female progressive to be an important endorsement. But Hadden doesn’t see it that way, and she does not plan on endorsing either candidate.
“I think it would be irresponsible of me,” she said. “The people in the ward just elected me. People here are pretty divided [between Lightfoot and Preckwinkle] and I don’t think it would be wise or responsible of me as a representative of the ward to put a voice on that. Not to mention, I promised to be an independent alderman.”
Hadden said with either candidate, it’s a win for Chicago. But if Bill Daley had made the run-off it would have been a different story, she said.
“I was dreading a bit that we would have a Daley,” she said. “I am thrilled that we do not, and I think that’s a win in and of itself.”
Although Moore’s campaign went negative during the race, Hadden never played in the mud. She said the decision was intentional and her campaign had opposition research they chose to sit on.
“Certainly like a lot of campaigns we had access to some opposition research,” she said. “There were some things that we could have used, but we didn’t need to is the short story. It was not in line with our message.”
Hadden said Moore’s record and “the way he comported himself” provided plenty of negatives without her help.
“28 years is a long time to get to know somebody,” she said, referring to Moore’s seven terms in office.
Despite the tone of Moore’s campaign, Hadden believes his team is committed to ensuring a smooth transition.
“Both publicly and privately he has been supportive,” she said.
Hadden said that “radical inclusion” will be a cornerstone of her leadership plan. Making government more inclusive is high on her to-do list. She said marginalized voices, particularly undocumented immigrants, “need to have a seat at the decision making table.”
“Immigrants are active members of the community and this is their home,” she said. “They need a representative who is listening to their voices.”
The participatory budgeting process, piloted by Moore, is something Hadden hopes to continue and improve. Hadden said it would be great to expand the program by including some of those voices.
Hadden has committed to running an office free from corruption. She said her practice of refusing developer dollars will continue and she is pledging to be a full-time alderman, stepping down from her position as executive director of Our City Our Voice, a nonprofit that enables community and government to redesign democracy.
Things won’t be easy for Hadden. As a freshman alderman who will not chair committees, her budget will be tighter and she will have to be frugal.
Hadden, who will make $120,383 a year as alderman, said she will hire three full-time staffers and hopefully have room for two part-time staffers as well. Those positions have yet to be named by Hadden but she is in the process of conducting interviews. She’s hoping to convert her campaign office on Morse Avenue into the 49th Ward office, but is still figuring out the logistics with Moore regarding his remaining lease.
Although she will be unable to chair committees in her first term, her dream committees to work on, she said, are the Budget Committee, Cultural Affairs Committee and Human Relations Committee.
Hadden does not have any immediate plans to introduce new legislation, but she is excited to back some existing work from other progressive alderman.
She supports the “Homes for All” ordinance, the “Back to Basics” TIF ordinance and the “Welcoming City” ordinance.
She also is eager to support anti-corruption measures from Day One. Hadden said one of the best ways to check the power of the mayor is to require committee members to elect their chair, rather than having the chair appointed by the mayor. She also supports expanding the power of the city inspector general.
“It would make sure those alderman have real accountability with teeth from an inspector general,” she said.
Joining multiple aldermanic caucuses will be crucial to Hadden’s ability to have an impact at City Hall right out of the gate. She pledges to join the progressive, black, LGBT and women’s caucus.
“I think it’s going to be key to my own learning process and building more collaborative relationships with people across the city.”
When it comes to aldermanic prerogative, Hadden said the most important thing is to find a way to curb its effects on affordable housing. She lamented Ald. John Arena’s (45th) loss in the recent election.
“His support of an affordable housing development, specifically for veterans, was still met with such NIMBYism,” she said.
Long-term and big-scale projects should not be left to aldermanic prerogative, she said, citing both the controversial police and fire academy and the Lincoln Yards development as perfect examples. Hadden opposes both projects.
A WBEZ/Daily Line investigation found that alderman, on average, attend just 65 percent of their meetings at City Hall. That’s not good enough, according to Hadden. While recognizing that alderman can’t be everywhere at once, she thinks that an 80 percent attendance figure is a fair number.
“I’m gonna aim for being a B student,” she said. “I’m particularly motivated to attend as many of these committee meetings as possible because I want to learn and bring that information back to residents in the 49th Ward.”
Unlike many of her predecessors, she said there is no reason an alderman can’t legislate while also providing ward services. She said the decades long policy of alderman staying in their wards gives too much power to the mayor.
Within the 49th Ward, Hadden said she is excited to continue many of the long-standing traditions of Rogers Park’s cultural scene. She mentioned the Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival, the Artists of the Wall at Loyola Park, Jarvis Square Festivals and Pride North as good examples.
But she has new ideas as well. Some of her new constituents have suggested a Rogers Park parade.
“I want to work on all of these ideas in a more participatory way,” she said.
Hadden’s supporters consistently call her alderwoman and they sometimes become upset when reporters refer to her as alderman. She has to remind them that the legal term is alderman, but she said she supports more inclusive language.
“I’ll still use alderwoman for fun sometimes,” she said.
There is an excited energy buzzing around Rogers Park. For the first time in almost three decades they will have fresh blood representing them at City Hall. Now, it’s up to Hadden to deliver on her lofty campaign promises.
“I hope to be the [ward’s] chief resident who brings a representative voice to advocate for the 49th ward.”
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