CHATHAM — The South Side’s 6th Ward will get a new leader in May, and 11 people are campaigning for the role.
Ald. Roderick Saywer (6th) is running for mayor after more than a decade representing parts of West Woodlawn, Chatham, Park Manor, West Chesterfield, Grand Crossing, Auburn Gresham and Englewood in City Council.
The hopefuls for his seat include a city planner, two educators, a police officer, a longtime 6th Ward official, an attorney, two pastors, a veteran of Illinois political campaigns, a neighborhood association leader and a former candidate for the sheriff’s office.
Nearly all the candidates agreed that public safety, economic development and education were top priorities. Inadequate street lighting, underfunded schools and a lack of retail are all problems, most candidates said.
The election is Feb. 28. If no one receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two will go to a runoff April 4.
More on the candidates:
Baker, a Democrat, is a former candidate for Cook County Sheriff. He did not respond to requests for comment and does not appear to have an active online campaign presence.
Baker holds a master’s degree in public administration, according to a 2009 article from the Chicago Defender.
A dormant Twitter account from Baker’s 2009 campaign for Cook County sheriff refers to Baker as “The Hip Hop Sheriff” but does not outline any campaign platforms.
Birgans was raised by his great-grandmother in South Shore. He now lives in Greater Grand Crossing with his husband.
As a student at Chicago State University in 2016, Birgans joined two dozen students to march on the Dan Ryan expressway to protest the state budget impasse that would affect the school.
He later graduated and became a 7th and 8th-grade science teacher at Perspectives Charter High School, where he still teaches.
Birgans was among a deep field seeking to replace Rep. Bobby Rush in Congress. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, son of civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson, won the seat in November.
If elected alderperson, Birgans’ top priorities would be gun violence, public safety and housing affordability, he said. He also advocates for LGBTQ rights.
As a teacher, education is at the forefront of his campaign, Birgans said. He would advocate to “expand the alternative school network and fully fund the public school system,” Birgans said. Schools especially on the South Side need more free extracurricular programs and resources, Birgans said.
To prevent crime and boost public safety, he would allocate city funding to mental health services, social services and violence interrupter groups, Birgans said. He’d also work alongside city and state officials to strengthen gun laws and “tighten punishment” for straw purchases, or buying guns for someone otherwise barred from owning a weapon, Birgans said.
The community faces environmental injustices, from the lead water lines to excessive flooding in Chatham, he said.
Housing affordability, and the lack thereof, is another concern, Birgans said. He would advocate for citywide rent stabilization, expanding affordable housing requirements, and the Bring Chicago Home ordinance — which would use the city’s transfer taxes on sales of properties worth $1 million or more to fund homelessness services, Birgans said.
“It’s not about building houses. It’s about making housing affordable,” Birgans said.
A lot needs to change in the 6th Ward, Birgans said.
Sawyer will leave behind a “legacy of making the 6th Ward a staple for Black-owned businesses,” Birgans said. He hopes to continue that momentum and create a space “for entrepreneurship and Black-owned business to thrive,” Birgans said.
“Those that are close to the problems often come up with the best solutions,” Birgans said. “I have always been a champion for those that have been disinvested in and those who have felt left behind because I have been, too. But we can’t continue the same way. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work for the people.”
Briggs, a Chatham resident and school administrator, hopes to focus on education as alderman. Boosting school quality and bringing social-emotional learning curricula to the 6th ward are among his top priorities, he said.
Briggs’s public service experience includes five years on the educational committee of Rep. Danny Davis and work as a community representative on the Ruggles Elementary School council, which was recently awarded a $3 million S.T.E.A.M. grant.
His campaign website declares education inequality “the civil rights issue of our time.”
“I’ve been able to experience up close and personal the lack of resources on a public level that our families have, that our young people have,” Briggs said.
Briggs said strengthening education is key to improving public safety.
Briggs is dean of students with the Learn Public Charter School network. He has over 14 years of education experience and leads adult workshops on restorative justice, he said.
As alderman, he would expand the “safe passage” programs that provide adult chaperones to students walking to and from school campuses, he said. He also hopes to raise the criminal penalties for offenders who target children and seniors, which he calls a “protected class” initiative.
“I would like to have a safe ward for everybody,” Briggs said, adding that local officials have to “step it up in regards to being more supportive and creating a more safe environment for our most vulnerable.”
Briggs’s campaign has not reported any donations, according to publicly available records.
Brutus, a longtime city planner, lives in Greater Grand Crossing.
For the last 17 years, he’s worked with the city’s Department of Planning and Development, where he helped pioneer investments like the Lawndale Christian Health Center and the $38 million Morgan Street CTA station, he said.
Brutus worked with the Department of Housing’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which rehabilitated vacant and foreclosed properties on the South Side and “stabilized blocks in citywide neighborhoods,” he said.
He’s also worked with the TIFWorks Program — which funds training costs for local businesses — and the Special Service Area Program, where the city partners with nonprofit organizations to help offer additional services and programs in the community.
Brutus is currently the INVEST South/West Planner and manages projects in Auburn Gresham, Englewood and Chatham, he said.
He often led discussions around the $43 million Auburn Gresham Apartments, a controversial affordable housing development that generated months of pushback from residents who wanted options like a grocery store or bank brought to their community first.
Evergreen Imagine JV, LLC, a joint venture between the Imagine Group and Evergreen Redevelopment, was the only bidder for the site.
Brutus’s campaign has more than $20,000 in available funds, some of which have come from Torrey Barrett and Frederick Spencer with the Imagine Group, Phil DeGeratto with Buddy Bear Car Cash and Nia Architects, who helped design the Auburn Gresham apartments.
This is his third run for elected office. He withdrew his bid for Congress in 2013 and challenged Rush for his seat in 2016.
More than two decades in City Hall have prepared Brutus for the role of alderperson, he said. He’ll be “ready on the first day,” he said.
“I’ve been able to see and do a lot across the city,” Brutus said. “With that perspective, that experience, I’ll be able to bring a vision of economic development transformation and a get-it-done attitude.”
His top priorities are education, public safety, economic development and environmental justice, he said.
“Under a Brutus administration,” he would create a 6th Ward Education Advisory Council that invites neighbors from every corner to share input on transforming local schools, he said.
His strategy will be to “reduce, reform, restore and reinvest” to foster public safety in the area, he said. He will fund local violence prevention organizations “who know our people very well” to create sustainable programs that help curb crime, Brutus said.
Brutus also would create a 6th Ward Environment justice and Sustainability Task Force, which will join community members and experts to prevent issues like flooding and pollution and replace the lead lines in the ward, he said.
The 6th Ward is “one of Chicago’s Black middle-class neighborhoods that produced a lot of talent,” Brutus said. As alderperson, he will “restore this community to its past greatness” by investing in retail and repurposing vacant properties for new local businesses, Brutus said. He’ll use the Chicago Recovery Grant to help entrepreneurs receive the funding they need to bring their dreams to the South Side, Brutus said.
“This is not a dream. This is a big job,” Brutus said. “We have serious issues, and we need serious people to solve those issues. I think I’m the best-positioned candidate. I think the experience does matter, and I’m here to help.”
Dr. Barbara Bunville
Bunville, a longtime Chicago police officer and therapist, said she’s running for one simple reason: service.
“I believe service is the heart of getting things done,” Bunville said.
As alderwoman, Bunville said that her first priority would be to strengthen the ward’s mental health resources, an initiative informed by 10 years of experience as a practicing mental health counselor. She said an ongoing mental health crisis is one of the primary causes of crime in the ward.
“You have a lot of parents as well as children [in the ward] that are suffering from different trauma,” she said.
One of her efforts to improve public safety would include gun buybacks, she said. Her campaign website says she would pursue crime reduction by “working with the community and police,” although it does not provide further specifics.
Economic and business literacy among residents is another cause Bunville hopes to champion by sponsoring community workshops and encouraging longtime business owners to mentor newcomers, she said. She also hopes to establish programs that build trade skills, noting that not everyone has the resources to attend college or start their own business.
In addition to her work as a counselor, Bunville has been a Chicago police officer for 23 years and previously worked as a teacher.
Bunville’s campaign reported slightly more than $2,500 in donations at the end of 2022, according to publicly available records.
Bryson, a longtime Chatham resident, has been a fixture of Sawyer’s office for the last 12 years.
Bryson was Sawyer’s campaign manager in 2011 before becoming ward superintendent of streets and sanitation for nearly eight years, he said. Most recently, he served as Sawyer’s aldermanic assistant, he said.
More than a decade of experience in the alderman’s office has prepared Bryson for “the next step,” he said.
“I know the people. The people know me,” Bryson said. “I’ve been on every block over the years as a superintendent. I’ve been serving this ward for 12 years, and my heart is still in it.”
As alderperson, Bryson will focus on cleaning up the ward, building stronger relationships with local businesses, boosting public safety with “cameras on every block” and creating programs for youth at the local parks, he said.
The ward has a surplus of vacant lots and buildings that “sit in limbo for years because there’s a problem finding owners of these properties,” Bryson said. His office would press property owners to be clear with their plans for the space, and recruit prospective owners committed to rehabbing buildings.
Sixth Ward neighbors are too disconnected because of how many neighborhoods the area includes, Bryson said. To eliminate that problem, he would create a satellite office “to make it more convenient for residents to reach me,” Bryson said.
Bryson’s office will also have a resume station that coaches residents on how to format a resume and get dressed for work, he said. When local businesses are hiring, he’ll have a pool of resumes they can pull from to guarantee jobs stay in the community, he said. His dream is to bring a trade school or training facility to the ward that boosts jobs.
Bryson would also host quarterly town hall meetings and reinvigorate block clubs, he said.
“The 6th Ward has the potential to be the role model ward for the entire city, especially under my direction and leadership,” Bryson said.
Kimberley “Kim” Egonmwan
Egonmwan, an attorney, has lived in Park Manor/Greater Grand Crossing her entire life. She lives in the two-flat her great-grandparents moved into in 1955 and is the fourth generation to live in the neighborhood, she said.
Egonmwan hosts an afternoon show with WVON, where she “listens to what people want to happen in their communities,” Egonmwan said.
She previously worked for the Illinois Senate’s office, the Illinois Department of Health and the Chicago Department of Aviation, where she served as an assistant commissioner and executive manager for O’Hare and Midway airports.
Running for alderperson is Egonmwan’s “life calling,” she said.
“I’ve had an opportunity to watch over the decades the disintegration of our community,” Egonmwan said. “I feel like it’s time to move forward and put someone in that role who has a public policy background and knows how to do the job.”
Egonmwan would focus on education, economic development, crime and “being a voice for the community,” she said.
There isn’t a “litmus test” to determine what businesses can move into the ward, so communities are overflowing with fast food restaurants, liquor stores and other “non-life-sustaining businesses,” Egonmwan said.
As alderperson, she would hire an urban planner in her office to decide what businesses are best for the ward and what the community needs, and entice developers to come into the ward, Egonmwan said. Neighbors shouldn’t have to travel outside of the community to meet their basic needs, Egonmwan said.
Streetlights need to be brighter to curb violence, and the response time for police officers needs to be faster, she said.
Local schools are also failing youth, Egonmwan said. She would prioritize bringing trade options to high schools and create hiring opportunities for Black teachers, Egonmwan said.
The ward also needs transparency, Egonmwan said. Her office will have a mandatory 24-hour response time, Egonmwan said. She’ll also create local boards for youth, seniors and block clubs where they can “reflect on what they want to see changed in the community,” Egonmwan said. The boards can also voice how they want the $1.5 million in annual city funds allocated across the ward, Egonmwan said.
“We have a lot of choices in this race, but I have a track record of getting things done,” Egonmwan said. “I have a vision for what this ward has been and what it should be in the future. I am a fighter. I don’t say the things people want to hear, but I tell them the truth.”
Hall has lived on the same block in Chatham for 38 years, he said.
He grew up as neighbors with Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, who taught him about her son’s life and her fight for justice, Hall said. Till-Mobley moved to Chatham in the 1960s after her son was murdered, according to a city report.
“I was the project of six homes of nice, gentle caring neighbors that invested in my life through acts of charity and love,” Hall said. “They helped raise me to be who I am. President Kennedy raised the question, ‘What can we do for our country?’ I woke up thinking, ‘What can I do for my neighborhood.’”
Hall has been senior pastor at St. James Community Church in Chatham for nearly a decade. He’s also the director of faith and community partnerships for the child welfare advocacy group at UCAN Chicago, which supports youth who have suffered trauma, Hall said.
He’s traveled worldwide as a field director for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition under Rev. Jesse Jackson, Hall said. He’s been endorsed by Gov. JB Pritzker and former state Sen. Roland Burris.
Hall’s campaign has more than $75,000 available in funds, including $50,000 in donations from SEIU.
Hall’s top priorities as alderperson will be public safety, education, economic growth and equitable city services, he said.
As a child, Hall used to walk from his home to 87th Street, he said. These days, the ward is dangerous and dark, Hall said. As alderperson, he will partner with Rep. Elgie Sims to create an infrastructure development plan that improves lighting throughout the ward and cleans up the streets, Hall said.
Growing up, Hall was a “block club baby,” he said. He witnessed the impact block clubs can have on a community if properly resourced, Hall said. If elected, he will “bring back microgrants for block clubs” and expand his office hours to include their meeting times, Hall said.
Rather than more police, the ward needs mental health services to curb crime and promote safety, Hall said. He will work with the city to allocate funding to mental health centers and violence prevention groups in the community, Hall said.
Local police officers need sensitivity training before they enter the community and mental health professionals on the force to help them as they combat everyday stressors, Hall said.
“We need tactics and strategies that don’t cause Black men and women to live in fear,” Hall said.
Whether he’s elected or not, “the door knocking won’t stop,” Hall said.
“This is a dignity movement. This is not a popularity contest,” Hall said. “While others will spend thousands of dollars for visibility, I will continue to work and listen. My vision is to build a multi-generational ward rooted in wisdom and filled with creativity and energy around young people with respect for all people.”
Aja Kearney is a lifelong South Side resident and lives in West Chesterfield.
Kearney has dedicated her life to public service, starting when she would attend community meetings with her mother at the late Ald. Lorraine Dixon’s (8th) office, she said. In college, she served as treasurer for the 8th Ward Young Democrats.
Most recently, she worked as the district director for Rep. Marcus C. Evans Jr. and South Side field coordinator for the Alexi Giannoulias secretary of state campaign.
Kearney has been endorsed by Reps. Mary Flowers and Lakesia Collins.
“My passion for public service has grown over the years as a teenager,” Kearney said. “An opportunity presented itself, and this was the next step in continuing to serve my community as an adult, mother and wife, and to become engaged in making sure that our community thrives and moves forward.”
Kearney will focus on public safety and education if elected, she said. Kearney will also advocate for working-class families and increase service response times in the ward, she said.
She will equip neighbors with doorbell cameras and add more street lighting to the ward, Kearney said.
“I want us to get back to being neighbors again and having that strong support so that we can start building our communities back and making it a safe place for our families and our seniors,” Kearney said.
Neighbors need a public servant who will be transparent and accountable for their actions, Kearney said. She will support local block clubs with the resources they need to solve everyday problems but also make her office accessible at all times to neighbors’ needs, Kearney said.
“I’m a public servant at heart,” Kearney said. “This is close and dear to my heart, and I will work hard to be of service to neighbors in any way I can. I will be available, I care and they will know that from my actions. I’m going to walk the walk and talk the talk.”
Pincham has lived in West Chesterfield most of her life, she said.
She is president of the West Chesterfield Community Association, a member of the Far South Community Action Council and on the Board of Directors of the Ada S. McKinley Services.
For more than two decades, Pincham was a rehabilitation counselor in the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services. Most recently, she served as the constituent services coordinator in Rep. Elgie Sims’s office. She is the daughter-in-law of the honorable R. Eugene Pincham.
Watching how local officials failed neighbors during the pandemic motivated Pincham to run for office, she said. People didn’t receive the information or resources they needed, or opportunities for help weren’t communicated at all, Pincham said.
Transparency would be her top priority, Pincham said. Neighbors won’t have to “jump through hoops” to receive assistance, and they will see how their tax dollars are being allocated, Pincham said.
Education, economic development, community empowerment and supporting local businesses will also be her top concerns, Pincham said.
All problems can be traced back to the lack of resources at local schools, Pincham said. Students need a “21st-century education” equipped with the programs they’ll need to succeed and bring economic opportunities to the community, Pincham said.
She will work with the Chicago Schools Board to fund resources in the school, Pincham said.
“I have a vision,” Pincham said. “Based on my history, I am the most qualified candidate, and I will be out there fighting for changes.”
Richard Wooten was born in Englewood, raised in Auburn Gresham and lives in Chatham. He served in the U.S. Army and was a police officer for 23 years.
He did not respond to requests for comment.
Wooten is the pastor at Gather Point Universal Ministries in Brainerd and president of the Greater Chatham Alliance.
In 2019, Wooten created an app called Crime Agitator, which allowed neighbors to call 911 and five personal contacts simultaneously. In 2022, he advocated for local liquor stores to close early to curb crime.
This is Wooten’s third consecutive bid for the 6th Ward seat, having challenged Sawyer in 2015 and 2019.
Wooten’s priorities will center around improving education and reducing crime, he previously told WTTW. As a former police officer, he will foster relationships with the commanders of the police district and support legislation that charges repeat offenders with gun charges.
He’ll also bring trade programs back to local schools, and support grants for social-emotional learning in the classroom, Wooten said.
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