In a pair of South Side aldermanic runoff races, voters in the 6th Ward will choose between two ministers while those in the 21st are deciding between a community organizer backed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and a retired firefighter.
Neither race has drawn the spotlight of higher profile aldermanic races, let alone the mayor’s race, but both have generated controversies.
In the 6th Ward, former police Officer Richard Wooten accused opponent William Hall of hiding his arrest record from voters, pointing to two misdemeanor arrests and numerous traffic citations.
In the 21st Ward, questions over candidate Ronnie Mosley’s educational and work resume have arisen as he squares off against Cornell Dantzler.
All four candidates have pledged to renew communities that were once the hub of the city’s Black middle class but which have in recent years fallen on hard times.
The race between St. James Community Church senior pastor William Hall and Gathering Point Universal Ministries pastor Richard Wooten, the top vote-getters in a crowded field in February’s election, has been unexpectedly tense.
Much of the bad blood has centered on a mailer sent to voters that included criminal case numbers for two misdemeanor arrests Hall faced.
The full color mailer, which had no listed creator, called on early voters to reject Hall, claiming the former Rainbow/PUSH field director lied about having an arrest record and refused to be open about his past.
Court records show two misdemeanor cases for Hall, one when he was a teenager in 2001 for criminal damage to property, and the second in 2008 for reckless conduct.
Both cases were ultimately dropped. Court records also showed Hall received about 16 traffic tickets between 2002 and 2021, some of which were mentioned in the mailer.
“The people deserve someone with integrity, that’s truthful and that has experience and my opponent doesn’t have the experience, nor is he truthful, nor does he actually show integrity and the people will speak at the poll on April 4,” Wooten said while greeting early voters recently outside the Whitney M. Young Jr. branch library.
In an interview with the Tribune earlier that day, Hall, denied trying to hide his past arrests, which he said were wrongfully made by overzealous officers.
He said the 2001 case was the result of him being incorrectly identified as a person who egged a neighbor’s home. He did not offer details on the 2008 arrest beyond saying he was a student at DePaul University at the time.
“An arrest doesn’t mean a conviction and it doesn’t mean criminal,” Hall said in an interview at his Chatham home. “That’s the story of a lot of Black men in this neighborhood and in this country. Yes, I’ve been arrested.”
He said has he has used his run-ins with the law to connect with other young men in the community.
Despite his experiences with law enforcement, Hall is proposing bringing more officers into the ward with an increased focus on improving relations between cops and crime-weary residents.
Hall is pitching a “North Side strategy” in the ward — the sort he said he sees in use in other parts of the city. He describes it as a combination of police walking beats, bicycle officers and patrols near expressway exits that would allow officers to more quickly respond to crime and improve relations between officers and skeptical residents.
“There is a divide of, ‘OK, if I work with police, there might be retaliation from criminals because word gets out.’ And the younger people go ‘I don’t want to talk to police. I don’t want to snitch.’” Hall said.
“A police presence that is connected to serving and being friendly to people is key to that because the same way you know your mail person, you can begin to know your beat and patrol officers and that’s the culture that we had back in the day,” he said.
Wooten, a former beat liaison officer with the Gresham District who has lost three prior bids for alderman, said his community policing background puts him in a better position to bring police and the community together.
“I have the experience and I have the ability to do things with the department that (Hall) doesn’t understand. I have relationships already that is positioned to make our ward a better ward and make the police and the community become better engaged,” Wooten said.
An Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Wooten is a native of Englewood and said that as a teenager he longed to live in the more vibrant Chatham community. He moved there with his family more than two decades ago.
“After being here for over 20-plus years, I’ve seen the direction this ward has actually taken for a turn and this community that I (aspired) to be a part of,” he said. “I’d like to see it go back to those glory days.”
Chatham, Park Manor and West Chesterfield were among the first Black middle-class neighborhoods on the South Side, and the communities became a popular home for notable Black residents, from microbiologist and early Black Chatham settler Welton Taylor and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson to rappers Che “Rhymefest” Smith and Chance the Rapper.
Both Hall and Wooten say they see hope for a rebirth of their community through nearby large-scale projects and attractions such as the Obama Presidential Center, the Pullman historic district, and a potential CTA Red Line expansion.
“We have all the things in the making surrounding us to help our area become more … more economically developed,” Wooten said.
Hall added that the area near the 95th Street Red Line terminal is a prime target for business expansion. “The 95th Street corridor is a gateway to possibilities,” Hall said. “What we see now is not what we will see in the next four years.”
Hall supports Brandon Johnson for mayor, while Wooten has remained neutral, saying he’d work with the mayoral runoff winner.
Backed by big donations from the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU, Hall has outraised Wooten, by a total of $217,618 compared with Wooten’s $67,088, according to state records.
The winner will replace Ald. Roderick Sawyer, who resigned his seat to make an unsuccessful bid for mayor, and will be only the fourth 6th Ward alderman since 1989.
With the retirement of Ald. Howard Brookins after 20 years, the future of the 21st Ward will be in the hands of either retired firefighter Cornell Dantzler or community organizer Ronnie Mosley.
Mosley had a slight edge in the Feb. 25 election, garnering 25% of the vote to Dantzler’s 22%. With the potential for construction on the long-sought extension of the CTA Red Line starting in the next four years, the promise of economic development comes with concerns about gentrification.
“Development helps,” Mosley said. “We want to make sure we’ve got development without displacement. ”
The CTA is still trying to secure funding for the estimated $3.6 billion project. Two of the extension’s four stops would land in the 21st Ward.
Both candidates stressed the need for Black-owned businesses to benefit from the potential project.
“It’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the community,” Dantzler said of the Red Line extension. “We want to make sure that a lot of those jobs are provided and open to the constituents that live inside the community.”
The Washington Heights neighborhood, which is almost entirely in the 21st Ward, has an unemployment rate of 14%, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. This is almost twice as much as the overall unemployment rate in Chicago, and other neighborhoods in the ward fare even worse.
“The unemployment inside of this ward is larger than it should be,” Dantzler said. “We have to make sure that we provide jobs set aside for those that not only live in the ward but for those that hopefully will be coming through some of the trade schools that we plan on inventing also. ”
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Crime is another big issue, and both candidates said they would push for more investment in community engagement and for an increase in unarmed responses to incidents. But at the same time, they agree on the need for a strong, appropriately staffed police force.
“We got to be smart on crime,” Mosley said. “We have to address the root causes of it which means poverty. ”
While an alderman has the power to affect citywide legislation through their City Council vote, much of the job is taking care of details in the community — the late Ald. Burton Natarus family described his job as a “junior janitor.” Mosley has criticized his opponent for failing to show up at several community forums.
“I’ve been always available, open to communicate,” Dantzler said in response to Mosley’s charge. “But not able to attend all forums. Some of them were last minute.”
The candidates have said that they are running in part to write a new chapter for the ward, one without corruption. Brookins’ chief of staff was sentenced to 15 years for accepting bribes in 2014. In 1997, Ald. Jesse Evans was brought down by the federal Operation Silver Shovel corruption probe.
“Folks in the 21st Ward want a new day,” Mosley said. “They want to move past that. They want to know that you are going to be working on the issues that are important to them.”
Mosley has accused Dantzler of surrounding himself with “folks from the old 34th Ward,” where former Ald. Carrie Austin and her chief of staff Chester Wilson are under indictment on federal bribery charges. Dantzler denies the connection.
“I took a picture with Carrie Austin,” Dantzler said. “And they took that picture and put it on a negative piece of mail and said I am supported by Carrie Austin and Chester. ”
Mosley’s campaign website states that he “completed his studies at Simeon Career Academy and Morehouse College.” Mosley also told the Tribune Editorial Board that he received a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse. After the Chicago Crusader reported that he did not graduate from the college, Mosely apologized for the description of his education.
“I took a second and heard just directly from the community and they said ‘when you said completed studies, I took that as you graduated,’” Mosley said in an interview. Mosely said he then “asked for forgiveness for that and chose to use clearer language going forward. ”
As of Friday, however, his website’s language was unchanged.
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Dantzler has likened the situation to the resume fabrications of New York Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos.
“Our ward has been through enough as it is,” Dantzler said. “We don’t need anybody to be sitting in this seat to be representing a ward that’s in desperate need who’s a liar. ”
Mosley’s political experience includes working as a legislative aide to former Democratic Georgia state Sen. Vincent Fort, and as an adviser to Prtitzker’s 2022 reelection campaign.
Mosley was a “fellow” with President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. On his website, Mosley writes “coordinated successful campaigns” for office seekers including U.S. president.
When the Tribune sent this line as well as his title to the Obama Foundation, a spokesperson responded by saying “a fellowship was not a high-level position and while helpful to a campaign would not determine its overall success. ”
Dantzler received GED from Fenger High School after being honorably discharged from Navy, and has taken classes at Chicago State University.
As a teenager, he was caught as a passenger in a car he said was stolen by a friend. A judge pointed him in the direction of a mentor he credits with guiding him toward the Navy, and eventually a 25-year career as a Chicago firefighter. Dantzler said that background has led him to mentor neighborhood youths who are struggling as he once was.
Dantzler has not come out in support of either mayoral candidate, while Mosley is backing Brandon Johnson, saying that’s who the ward’s voters are supporting.
Dantzler’s campaign has raised a total of $70,425, more than half of that from firefighter unions, while Mosley’s campaign has raised a total of $274,625, almost half of that from SEIU.
Mosley’s has also received $20,000 from Pritzker’s campaign fund, along with the governor’s endorsement.
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Driving down Halsted Street through the heart of the ward, the community’s struggles are visible in the number of shuttered storefronts.
“We’re far behind where we should be as a functioning ward,” Dantzler said, adding that expungement programs for pot and other minor crimes need to be ramped up so more young people can participate in the economy.
“We also have to make sure that our youth are being mentored,” he said.
Mosley also said increasing jobs and employment in the community is the top priority.
“The big, big thing is making sure that we have the workforce here,” he said. “With those great projects on the horizon starting in about 2025 or so, I want to make sure that we have the opportunity for our folks to work there.”
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