DOWNTOWN — Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) is eager to serve his next term under a new mayor, bring a bigger library to Streeterville and overhaul how City Council draws its wards.
Hopkins is the sole candidate in the 2nd Ward race, assuring him his third City Council term. Hopkins won a tight runoff to succeed former Ald. Bob Fioretti in 2015, and he has been unopposed in both his reelection bids.
Hopkins announced his reelection bid in September, leaving open the possibility of challenging Mayor Lori Lightfoot himself. A vocal critical of the mayor, he said at the time he would back someone running against her if he opted not to enter the crowded contest.
Hopkins endorsed former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas for mayor last week, calling him the “best candidate in this race.”
Though Hopkins doesn’t need to worry about an election, his ward will look different for through his next term and beyond.
The 2nd Ward was moved east of the Chicago River during the city’s ward remapping last year, so the ward now includes parts of Streeterville, Near North Side, Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park.
That meant Hopkins, a fervent supporter of Lincoln Yards, lost a contentious battle to retain oversight of the megadevelopment straddling Lincoln Park and Bucktown. The $6 billion project will shift to the 32nd Ward under Ald. Scott Waguespack, who also is unopposed for reelection and has opposed the development.
With the possibility of a new mayor and 16 open seats on City Council as a result of mass aldermanic retirements, Hopkins hopes to enact legislation to take aldermanic meddling out of the redistricting process.
“I say that as someone who represents arguably the most gerrymandered ward in the history of the city, and I think we have an opportunity now to possibly change that,” Hopkins said.
Chicago’s redistricting process takes place every 10 years to adapt to population shifts with the U.S. Census.
Critics have slammed the process for excluding the public and for gerrymandering. A prominent example includes Ald. Gilbert Villegas’ 36th Ward, which has been compared to a pool noodle as it was redistricted as a 7-mile-long line tracing Grand Avenue.
Hopkins voted against the new map. Besides Lincoln Yards, it also no longer includes portions of Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and Noble Square.
“You can’t deny that it’s the result of gerrymandering. However, having said that, it still works for me. … I’m willing to put that aside. I’m willing to forego that and to arguably go against my self-interest because an independent map commission cannot be controlled by the incumbents,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins introduced a resolution in 2021 to overhaul the process with the support of Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th). The legislation was kicked back to the council’s Rules Committee, where legislation historically stalls or dies. But a wave of new council members could be the key to its success, Hopkins said.
“I think at this point, we have a chance to get a 26-vote majority in the council and pass it,” Hopkins said.
During this next term, Hopkins plans to advocate for a new library in Streeterville, saying the current one is “just too small” for one of the busiest library branches in the city.
The branch, 163 E. Pearson St., is inside the Water Works building. Hopkins called it “the size of the average living room.”
Hopkins also plans to explore ideas for a “post-retail identity” for Michigan Avenue. There is interest in adding entertainment and other types of experiential attractions to the popular strip, and the city could use direct subsidies to support small businesses, he said.
Downtown’s Michigan Avenue has seen an exodus in retail tenants during the pandemic. Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, David’s Tea and Papyrus have all left Water Tower Place, while Uniqlo, Gap, Topshop, Banana Republic and Cartier have closed their doors on the stretch.
“There’s definitely a cost to Chicago city government that’s going to be required for some of the things that will help launch Michigan Avenue into the future. … It’s a conversation that we need to be having right now,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said some of the work he’s most proud of from this past term is repaving “pretty much every arterial street” in his ward. That process that took nearly eight years, he said.
Hopkins has consistently spoke out against crime in the area. Last year, he threatened to yank late-night licenses for River North bars during an uptick in shootings.
Hopkins also moved to temporarily shut down a Division Street sports bar last year because of late-night crime.
Hopkins said he’s also proud of adding several license plate readers and police observation cameras using the ward’s discretionary funds.
“That’s … made a difference in terms of neighborhood safety. So, yeah, I’m proud of that,” Hopkins said.
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