WEST RIDGE — A political newcomer hopes to end Ald. Debra Silverstein’s 12 years representing the Far North Side’s 50th Ward.
Community organizer Mueze Bawany is running for office for the first time while Silverstein seeks a fourth term in office.
Bawany announced his bid for the seat in April. Weeks later, his portion of West Ridge was drawn out of the 50th Ward in the new ward map, which goes into effect in May. Silverstein was among the alderpeople who voted to ratify that map, but she said she was not aware of Bawany’s campaign at the time. She favored the map because it kept most of the neighborhood’s communities intact, she said at the time.
Election law allows Bawany to stay in the race because he lived within the old ward boundaries.
The 50th Ward comprises West Ridge. The election is Feb. 28.
More on the two candidates:
Bawany moved to Chicago from Karachi, Pakistan, with his family when he was 3 years old and has lived in West Ridge most of his life.
“This neighborhood is fundamental to my story,” he said. “It’s just a neighborhood where … we’re at peace, despite rising Islamophobia. It’s just always been a place of rest for us.”
Bawany teaches at North-Grand High School and has spent years doing community organizing, especially during the pandemic, he said. Neighbors encouraged him to run for office, he said.
Bawany has four main priorities should he be elected: funding public safety, working on affordable housing, emphasizing ward democracy and ensuring ward services are rooted in being transparent and accountable.
Bawany thinks public safety is holistic, and he plans to ensure there are more mental health resources and non-armed police responses to crime in the neighborhood, he said. He also hopes the alderperson’s office can work with schools to create safe spaces for youth, he said.
“Public safety isn’t just policing,” he said.
Bawany hopes to increase the public’s ability to participate in political decisions through practices such as participatory budgeting and community-based zoning processes, he said.
As someone from a Muslim immigrant household, Bawany said there is often a disconnect between immigrant groups and the alderperson’s office. He thinks there should be more translations and greater language accessibility, especially in a neighborhood where residents speak more than 40 languages and people are of many different ethnicities, races and backgrounds, he said.
“I want to help working people,” Bawany said. “Not the city’s insistence on corporate welfare.”
Bawany also plans to support small businesses and evaluate the area for affordable housing.
Bawany has about $121,000 in campaign cash, including over $58,000 in contributions from the Chicago Teachers Union, records show.
Silverstein took office in 2011, forcing 38-year incumbent Bernard Stone into a runoff and winning the head-to-head with more than 61 percent of the vote. She easily won reelection bids in 2015 and 2019.
As several alderpeople call it quits, Silverstein said she didn’t think twice about running for a fourth term.
“There’s still more work that needs to be done,” Silverstein said. “I love my job. I love serving the community. I love working with people.”
One of Silverstein’s favorite projects when she first became alderman was finding money for the streetscape on Devon Avenue, she said. The avenues were widened for restaurants and outdoor cafes, the streets were cleaned up and beautified and bump-outs were added to make it safer for pedestrians.
Silverstein also helped get funding for the Northtown library branch on Pratt and Western, $68 million for Chicago Public Schools and $10 million for parks.
But Silverstein’s involvement in a deal to sell the old Northtown branch at 6435 N. California Ave. caused controversy in 2022. A neighborhood group pushed the city to halt plans to sell the building to a Jewish development disabilities service organization, which planned to lease a part of the building to a Jewish organization Silverstein co-founded.
At the time, Silverstein said a city agency was handling the sale, and she’d spoken with the Board of Ethics to ensure there was no conflict of interest for her.
But after neighbors protested and Block Club Chicago raised questions about the deal, city leaders scrapped the proposal and launched a public bid for the building. Nonprofit Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America offered $962,786, more than double the original deal.
Going forward, Silverstein is concentrating on developing Western Avenue by attracting business while still keeping it safe for pedestrians, she said.
Silverstein said transparency and communication have been a priority throughout her time in office, as she puts out a newsletter at least once a week. She also started hosting office hours outdoors last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she plans to continue hosting those.
“As I knock on doors, I don’t even have to introduce myself,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, the alderman is here.'”
Public safety remains a priority for Silverstein’s office, she said. She’s advocating for 20 additional police officers in the area and recently called for a meeting with the mayor and police superintendent about getting more resources.
Silverstein has about $286,000 in campaign cash on hand, including a $29,000 contribution from an Orthodox Jewish political action committee.
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