AUSTIN — Two community activists are trying to unseat a West Side alderman.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro is seeking a third term as the 29th Ward alderman after an unsuccessful bid for a Cook County judge post in June. He faces challenges from CB Johnson, a veteran community organizer, and 25-year-old Corey Dooley.
The 29th Ward covers parts of Austin, Belmont Cragin, Galewood, Dunning and Montclare.
The election is Feb. 28. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two will go to a runoff April 4.
More on the candidates:
‘Community’ Corey Dooley
At 25, “Community” Corey Dooley will be one of the youngest people ever elected alderman if he wins.
The community activist is a member of the Austin African American Business Association and a corridor manager for the Soul City project.
Dooley said he’s connected with government agencies and engaged residents to keep development moving.
“I’ve been immersed in this cross-network puzzle, and being able to put all those pieces together gave me a good idea of what it will be like to be an alderman on a larger scale,” Dooley said. “I want to continue to use our hyperlocal cultural economy to build up the community.”
Dooley said his story starts as a survivor gun violence.
Dooley was shot by his then-stepfather in 2013 and given less than a 1 percent chance to live, he said. He had to relearn how to walk and went on to play football at Concordia University Chicago.
Dooley’s survival sparked an interest in public service and combating domestic violence, he said. He has been a mentor for youth at Chicago Public Schools and a committee chairman on domestic violence for the 15th Police District, he said.
Originally from Dallas, Texas, Dooley said he’s been involved with Austin initiatives since college and has lived in the neighborhood for about a year.
Dooley will “continue working on our neighborhood revitalization and development,” he said. That includes “building out the business district,” streamlining small lot sales and shifting towards renewable energy, he said.
“I stand for the community,” Dooley said. “With so many alderman not seeking reelection, this is the perfect opportunity to empower a new generation of city leaders. I’m running to give our youth a voice and an ally in City Council.”
Johnson, an Austin native, is making his third bid for the 29th Ward seat with the backing of Congressman Danny Davis.
A local businessman and veteran community organizer, Johnson has been the leader of Campaign For a Drug Free West Side since 1999. The nonprofit has matched thousands of people with mentors and case managers, helping them get clean and keep out of jail, Johnson said.
Johnson was in crowded races for the West Side council seat in 2011 and 1999, which were won by Taliaferro’s predecessors: Deborah Graham and Isaac Carothers.
If elected this time, Johnson will “work like a full-time alderman” and prioritize community engagement, he said.
“I won’t be looking up from a high mountain. People won’t wonder where to find me, because I’ve always been around,” Johnson said. “This job requires someone who has a commitment to the community, and I’ve shown that.”
Johnson said he’d host regular community meetings and “be available to address problems 24/7.”
In line with his work at the Drug Free West Side, Johnson said he’d speak out about the community’s fentanyl crisis and call for more resources to local nonprofits addressing addiction and mental health.
The Police Department is “overworked” and needs increased funding, Johnson said. Schools on the West Side also need more equitable tech supplies, Johnson said.
“This community deserves better,” Johnson said. “I never left. I’ll always be a resident and your neighbor. If it was good enough for my mother to raise us here, it’s good enough to raise my children here, too.”
Taliaferro was a marine sergeant and a 23-year veteran of the Police Department before running for elected office. He forced Graham to a runoff in 2015 and narrowly won the seat with about 52 percent of the vote.
Taliaferro easily won reelection in 2019.
Considered an ally of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Taliaferro has been chair of the city’s public safety committee during her time as mayor.
Taliaferro is a member of the council’s Progressive Caucus and an active trial attorney for his eponymous law group.
Taliaferro ran and lost an election for 11th Subcircuit judge, which covers parts of the West Side and nearby suburbs. Despite setting his eyes on another seat, Taliaferro said he’s “always been fully committed” to serving as alderman.
“I ran for the other position because of something we need on the judicial side of things — and that’s more Black judges,” Taliaferro said.
Taliaferro said a third term as alderman would allow him to keep pushing on major development projects.
That includes efforts to build the Aspire Center — a central hub for workforce training, job placement, banking and affordable housing resources — on the site of vacant Robert Emmett School, 5500 W. Madison St.
Other projects include the expansion of mental health facilities at Hartgrove Hospital on The Island and plans to open a public library, Taliaferro said.
Construction started late last year on the long-anticipated Soul City Corridor along Austin’s stretch of Chicago Avenue. Soul City promises to open or remodel nearly 20 small businesses as part of Mayor Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative.
Taliaferro said the ward has gotten a Black-owned grocery store, Forty Acres Fresh Market; a commercial kitchen warehouse for small businesses and a performing arts center, The Kehrein Center, under his watch.
“We’re building things that are putting people in great jobs,” Taliaferro said. “We’ve had some great opportunities to grow in the 29th Ward, and we’ve taken them and run with it.”
As public safety chair, Taliaferro said he’s proud to have overseen the passing of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety ordinance, which created police district councils. Taliaferro supported the creation of police council positions but initially opposed parts of the ordinance, saying it stripped the mayor’s oversight of the Police Department.
The Police Department needs more manpower to increase patrols, “one of the greatest deterrents to crime,” Taliaferro said. Greater investments in technology and staffing would help stop officers from leaving the city to join suburban districts, he said.
Taliaferro recently joined community members to call for the firing of a police officer with ties to white nationalist hate group Proud Boys. Supt. David Brown and Lightfoot have defended the decision to suspend the officer instead of fire him.
Taliferro opposes Lightfoot’s decision to delay police scanners and said a more reasonable compromise would be “just encrypting to some degree,” so people can’t broadcast over police transmissions.
Editor’s note: Block Club Chicago is among several media organizations that have appealed to the mayor’s office to maintain access to live scanner broadcasts for reporting purposes.
Still, Taliaferro is backing Lightfoot for reelection.
“The mayor is paying attention to the West Side,” Taliaferro said. “We’ve seen great development to the point our communities are thriving. People are getting jobs, properties are being built. You can’t ask for a better trajectory.”
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