JEFFERSON PARK — An attorney running for the Chicago City Council said Tuesday it is unfair to tag him as the "mayor's guy" in the 45th Ward race.
Michael S. Diaz, who works as an attorney for the state of Illinois in the department that regulates banks, said he jumped into the race to represent Jefferson Park, Old Irving Park and parts of Portage Park, Gladstone Park and Forest Glen at the last minute to continue his career of public service.
"I'm not a pawn," Diaz said. "I can stand on my own two feet."
Diaz said he didn't seriously consider running for alderman until October, and didn't decide to jump into the race until meeting Thomas Bowen of New Chicago Consulting, who served as Emanuel's top aide before leaving City Hall in 2012 to work as a political consultant, while working on Gov. Pat Quinn's unsuccessful re-election campaign.
"I realized I wasn't satisfied with my choices," Diaz said. "There is too much bickering. I asked myself whether I thought I could do a better job, and I decided I could."
The four-candidate race in the 45th Ward means an April 7 runoff between the top two vote-getters after the Feb. 24 general election is inevitable, Diaz said.
Diaz will face Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, Michelle Baert, who publishes a website of family friendly activities, and Ald. John Arena (45th) has opposed the mayor's initiatives more than any other alderman, according to a study of council votes by University of Illinois political science professor Dick Simpson.
"You have to work with people, for people," Diaz said. "I don't make enemies. I'm not going to agree with the mayor all the time, but there's no point in digging in my heels. I don't need a soapbox, either."
Diaz said he was proud of his work in the banking division of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation helping to close 50 poorly managed banks and "protect consumers" from unscrupulous lenders.
Diaz, who moved to Jefferson Park in 2012 with his wife, Jessica, and 13-year-old stepdaughter, is expecting a baby in January.
A native of Humboldt Park, Diaz said playing football at Portage Park changed his life by showing him a different part of Chicago "with green lawns" where he could walk down the street "without being harassed."
His experience of living all over Chicago — in Logan Square, Bridgeport and Roscoe Village — will benefit the residents of the 45th Ward if he is elected, Diaz said.
"I appreciate what government did for my family," said Diaz, who was raised by his mother after she and his father — an alcoholic and drug addict, he said — divorced when he was 3 years old. "I decided to dedicate my life to something greater."
Diaz said he would work to bring more light manufacturing jobs to the ward in order to shore up the area's base of good-paying middle class jobs.
"That will keep gentrification at bay," Diaz said. "And help people keep their houses and pay their property taxes."
State and local educational officials should put plans for new charter schools on hold while a diagnostic audit is performed to determine whether they offer a better education than traditional public schools, Diaz said.
"I'm not sure they've lived up to the promises made," Diaz said.
While collecting signatures on his nominating petitions, Diaz said he heard many complaints about the jet noise created by planes using a new east-west runway at O'Hare Airport that has sent hundreds of more flights over the Far Northwest Side.
Diaz said he would cultivate a relationship with the mayor and present him a plan to address the skyrocketing number of complaints and urge Emanuel to use his relationships in the federal government to make changes in the flight paths.
"There has to be give and take," Diaz said. "As an alderman, you just can't say no."
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