Skip to contents
Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

After Years As An Organizer, New 46th Ward Ald. Angela Clay Wants To Keep Building Community In Office

Clay won one of the most expensive City Council races this year and will succeed retiring Ald. James Cappleman. She said her background in organizing helped her prevail in a tough election.

Angela Clay, a longtime organizer, will replace retiring Ald. James Cappleman to lead the 46th Ward.
  • Credibility:

UPTOWN — Angela Clay spent years as a community organizer before jumping into a hotly contested race to become Uptown’s next alderperson.

That experience proved critical, as Clay prevailed over stiff opposition and heavy spending to win the 46th Ward seat in City Council, which she will formally take today.

Clay, making her second run for office, beat out five rivals to replace retiring Ald. James Cappleman. The Uptown native secured the most votes in the Feb. 28 election before winning her runoff — where special interests spent $250,000 to oppose her candidacy — against Kim Walz.

At Clay’s election night party, she praised supporters for rejecting outside influence and seeing through the noise. She will be the first person of color to represent Uptown on the City Council.

“I’ve just been consistently making sure that I’m in front of our neighbors so that they don’t think that, now I’m in this office, we just get to frolic off into the sunset,” Clay said in a recent interview.

Clay’s years spent building community will also serve as the ethos behind her time in office.

“Just showing people that this is a title that comes from the people,” she said. “I don’t ever want to feel like I, as alderperson, am the queen of this castle, because it’s not like that.”

Credit: Michelle Gan
Angela Clay speaks at the launch of her aldermanic campaign July 9, 2022.

Clay got into community organizing at an early age.

At Uptown’s Uplift High School, Clay was a founding member of Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, a youth-led group that looks to foster racial justice. At 22, she was also the youngest president in the history of Voice of the People, an affordable housing nonprofit in Uptown.

Clay has also worked as a housing and community organizer for groups like Northside Action For Justice, helping tenants organize against problem landlords.

Clay has been critical of developments in Uptown and participated in efforts to thwart turning a parking lot at Weiss Hospital into 314 apartments.

After 10 years of community organizing, Clay said she was “burnt out” from the work and moved over to a corporate career. With a public policy degree from DePaul University, Clay started her own hair product business and worked for the Federal Bank of Chicago.

Eventually, Clay was approached by fellow organizers to run for office, she said. She was an emphatic “no” before coming around to the idea, she said. Clay ran in the 2019 against Cappleman and six others, coming in fourth place.

Clay’s runs for office were a return of sorts to political organizing, which she thought she had left behind.

“After seeing everybody throw their hat in the ring and feeling like, as a person of color in one of the most diverse places on the planet, not having representation in City Council in a ward like Uptown?” Clay said. “That was kind of the push to say, ‘Let’s do this.'”

This time, Clay joined a slew of hopefuls eyeing an open City Council seat as several longtime alderpeople planned to retire.

Backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, Clay campaigned on building affordable housing, lifting the ban on rent control and funding for homelessness initiatives. She also supported a public safety strategy geared toward crime prevention, including the funding of the violence prevention Peace Book initiative.

The 46th Ward runoff was the only ward-level election to see its campaign contribution limits lifted by the state after outside groups spent more than $100,000 on the race — the threshold by which donation caps are removed.

The contest turned heated at times.

Clay painted Walz as being the preferred candidate of corporate or special interests and highlighted the Walz campaign’s use of “redboxing,” or including on her website political messaging meant for political action groups that can’t explicitly coordinate with candidates.

Walz slammed Clay over her support of “defund the police” initiatives and criticized Clay’s acceptance of federal Paycheck Protection Program loans and her need to correct statement of economic interest forms to reflect the loans.

To win, Clay helped organize a robust coalition of progressive political groups and voters that helped carry left-leaning aldermanic candidates to victory on the Far North Side and in the mayor’s race. A coalition of local political groups logged more than 400 volunteer efforts on behalf of Clay and Johnson, and the groups made 4,000 calls to voters the day before Election Day.

“We just had all of the right people and some pretty amazing, dedicated neighbors who were open and eager to bring their knowledge to this victory,” Clay said. “I’m still pinching myself.”

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
Angela Clay at her victory party Tuesday.

Clay, 32, is among 13 new City Council members. She is also the newest member of the city’s Democratic Socialist caucus, which is likely to have more influence in the new council.

As such, Clay said she is working to absorb as much information as she needs as she takes office.

On top of learning from City Council colleagues, city officials and her predecessor in Cappleman, Clay said she is doing a listening tour of the ward and is looking to hold town hall-style meetings to hear from as many constituents as possible. She is also looking to gear up advisory committees, including one to weigh in on zoning and development proposals, a hot topic in the neighborhood.

“I really want to have the entire community’s perspective,” Clay said.

As for early goals, Clay said she wants to work with Uptown leaders to make sure young people have safe places to congregate this summer. She said she also wants to focus her first days in office on tackling the city’s humanitarian crisis stemming from the mass arrival of migrants bussed to Chicago from the border with Mexico.

“I had to choose something that I think that we could kind of rally around and really show our collaboration and strength it would be that,” Clay said of the humanitarian crisis.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: