AUSTIN — A business consultant, a teacher and a police officer hope to oust longtime West Side Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) as she seeks her seventh City Council term.
Corey Braddock, Howard Ray and Jake Towers are challenging Mitts for the council seat she’s held since 2000. The 37th Ward encompasses Austin, West Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park.
The election is Feb. 28. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff April 4.
More on each candidate:
Braddock, a substitute teacher and business consultant who’s served in law enforcement, announced his campaign in November.
The community activist has lived in the ward for most of his life and serves on the local school council, according to his website. He was an investigator and police officer for 10 years.
If elected, Braddock will prioritize the issues his constituents care most about and consistently involve them in decision-making, he said.
“When you ask people the biggest problems they can think of, the answers are different on every block, in every home,” Braddock said. “I want to listen to individuals and ensure there’s a system in place to make sure they’re heard and their problems are addressed.”
Braddock plans to focus on improving safety, introducing economic developments, bettering education and eliminating government corruption, he said. He believes the key to improving people’s lives lies in ensuring they have access to educational opportunities, mental health support and other resources.
“The massive issues our communities are facing, like lack of safety, are caused in part by the trauma people experience from the conditions they’re living in,” Braddock said. “They have no place to go for help and there’s few resources set aside to heal.
“I’m a former police officer, but we can’t solve these problems by locking everybody up. We have to look at it from a different perspective.”
Braddock does not have an active campaign fundraising organization but previously was paid about $2,700 for consulting when former Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis considered a run for mayor in 2014, public records show.
Mitts was appointed to her council seat in the wake of the Operation Silver Shovel scandal, which saw her predecessor, former Ald. Percy Giles, sent to prison for taking bribes. She easily won election to her first full term in 2003 and has been reelected four times.
Mitts is from Arkansas but has lived in Austin for more than 20 years and held a number of positions within city government before becoming alderperson, according to her website. She did not respond to requests for comment.
Mitts has focused on improving education, reducing crime, enhancing economic development and increasing access to affordable housing, according to her website.
In the 2000s, Mitts brought the ward its first public library, and the area has seen the opening of small businesses — including the popular Brown Sugar Bakery — under her leadership. The ward has also welcomed facilities from various companies, including Walmart, Menards Coca-Cola.
Mitts’ office co-sponsors town hall meetings, the annual 37th Ward Gospel Fest, the Christmas in the Wards giveaway and other community events, according to her website.
Mitts has over $134,000 in campaign contributions, including more than $38,000 she loaned herself in December, public records show. Other major donors include DoorDash and the Service Employees International Union.
Lifelong civil servant Howard Ray announced his plans to run for alderperson in November.
Ray was born in the 37th Ward and has lived and worked on the West Side for about 25 years, according to his website. He has spent 32 years working as a government employee, including five years within the postal service, two years with the CTA and 25 years as a police officer.
Ray has interacted with a variety of Chicagoans, which has given him a solid understanding of the people he hopes to represent, he said.
“I know this community: I’ve been in nearly everyone’s house, definitely everybody’s porch,” Ray said. “I know what people want. And through my job, I’ve seen the government aspect of it, too.”
Ray decided to run for office after collaborating with neighbors and hosting town halls to create a community agreement with Amazon.
Ray’s biggest priority is increasing transparency within city government. He plans to host town hall meetings to discuss and create community agreements before allowing developments in the ward.
Ray’s main initiatives include preventing crime, providing more educational and recreational opportunities for young people, beautifying the neighborhood and improving people’s overall quality of life.
Ray wants to provide community members with opportunities to become stakeholders and investors in the businesses that enter the ward. He also wants to work with residents and businesses to create a plan to provide property tax relief.
If elected, Ray plans to implement programs for young people to learn vocational skills, like how to code, and ensure kids have access to recreational sports by creating a sports ministry to offset the cost of youth teams, he said.
Ray has about $5,200 in campaign cash, according to public records.
Jake Towers, a kindergarten teacher who’s lived in the ward his entire life, announced his candidacy in November because he feels the community’s needs aren’t being met, he said.
Towers plans to start improving the neighborhood by first acting as “a listening ear,” he said.
“Especially through working with young people and also in the church, I’ve been trained to really hear people — not just their voice, but their heart,” Towers said. “Within politics, some leaders have lost touch with people. I’m not a politician; I just care about the community and the next generation.”
Tower’s biggest priority is ensuring people have access to jobs that pay living wages by bringing in developments that offer higher-paying positions and encouraging entrepreneurship, he said. He also wants to focus on making the community safer by providing more resources for young people.
If elected, Towers wants to make sure schools are open for students 24/7 and equipped with an array of extracurricular activities to keep young people engaged and out of trouble, he said.
“You go to other neighborhoods, and they have everything they need to be successful, which is why there’s less crime,” Towers said. “I want to make sure our community has access to everything we need. I believe that crime and carjacking and all of that can be reduced if people have more options.”
Towers has reported no campaign contributions, according to public records.
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