WEST RIDGE — A West Ridge teacher’s quest to become the neighborhood’s next alderperson was thrown for a loop this week when the newly approved ward map moved him out of the 50th Ward.
Mueze Bawany announced his campaign for the 50th Ward seat in late April at the headquarters of Taxi Town, 6500 N. Western Ave. A high school teacher who is active in progressive political movements, Bawany said friends and political allies encouraged him to challenge three-term incumbent Ald. Debra Silverstein.
But Bawany’s portion of West Ridge was moved out of the 50th Ward and into the neighboring 40th Ward overseen by Ald. Andre Vasquez in a ward map overwhelmingly approved Monday by the City Council. Silverstein was among the 43 alderpeople who voted to ratify the map.
State law allows aldermanic candidates to run for a City Council seat even if their homes are drawn out of that ward. Were Bawany to win in 2023 and run for re-election in 2027, he would be required to move into the 50th ward.
Bawany said he is continuing his campaign.
“I felt bad for a day,” he said. “The next day, I knocked on doors.”
The remapping also has made Bawany more determined to change what he called politics as usual in Chicago, he said.
“I think a lot about how communities need to be united, right?” Bawany said. “And West Ridge was united, and now it’s not. … No map is going to stop us.”
Silverstein said she did not know of Bawany or his intentions to run for alderperson when talks over the ward boundaries were ongoing, and the new map keeps most of West Ridge’s communities intact.
“These maps were done months ago,” Silverstein said. “I never heard of [Bawany] before. He just kind of popped up.”
Bawany, 34, was born in Pakistan and moved with his family to West Ridge when he was 3. His dad worked as a taxi driver to support the family.
Besides moving to the suburbs in high school, Bawany has lived most of his life in West Ridge, he said.
Bawany has been a teacher for five years, now working at North-Grand High School in Hermosa.
Bawany is the chair of the Chicago Teachers Union’s housing committee and is an active member of United Work Families 50, the West Ridge-based subgroup of the progressive political organization.
Bawany has been involved in local political movements, including efforts to overturn the state’s rent control ban, creating coronavirus safety protocols in schools and tackling food justice.
Being a teacher and coming from an immigrant family informs Bawany’s political activity, he said.
“It is heartbreaking, watching your parents struggle,” he said. “The blessing for me always was, somebody always showed up for us. The community did. And that’s always made me love community.”
Bawany launched his campaign despite the possibility he’d be redistricted out of the ward he hoped to lead. In the months-long political battle, competing versions of the maps drew the neighborhood just north of Warren Park into the 50th, 40th or the territory aligning with the 49th ward.
Bawany concedes Silverstein and others involved may not have known of his candidacy while map negotiations were in the early stages, but he questioned if areas was carved out to remove other activists and political opponents of Silverstein.
Halle Quezada, who ran against Silverstein in the 2019 Democratic committeeperson race, and other political organizers also were drawn out of the ward, Quezada and Bawany said.
“I didn’t know if they knew about our campaign or our intentions. But they know about” United Working Families, Bawany said. “It hurts that someone who so wants to preserve their political power would do that to people who are fierce advocates who just cared for the community.”
In an email to constituents, Silverstein said the 50th Ward needed to lose some of its size to accommodate population growth elsewhere on the North Side. She said she worked with North Side alderpeople to find a solution, and the approved map keeps West Ridge’s Jewish and South Asian populations intact.
“It required a lot of give and take between all of the neighboring communities, and like all good compromises, no one was completely satisfied,” Silverstein said in the email.
Silverstein said she is running for re-election and is ramping up her campaign.
“I’m talking to my constituents and knocking on doors,” she said. “We’re ready to go.”
The redistricting means some of Bawany’s immediate neighbors can’t vote for him in the February 2023 election. But being drawn out of the ward could be a benefit to his campaign, Bawany said.
Some of Bawany’s supporters who were also mapped out will still help his campaign, he said. That includes Quezada, who said she supports Bawany’s candidacy.
Other neighbors upset over the redistricting will also be galvanized to vote, Bawany and Quezada said.
“People are still going to come out for us,” Bawany said. “People have gotten angry about this. It’s already backfired, and it’s going to continue to.”
If Bawany wins, he hopes to install more community-based processes in the 50th Ward and be a progressive voice on the city’s biggest issues, he said.
Bawany would also become the first Muslim alderperson in city history, he said.
“It’d be emotional for me, that my parents, people who felt so small in this city, would see their son in the history books,” he said. “It would mean something to the Muslim boys and girls in the city.”
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