BRIDGEPORT — There is a definitive moment in the "woman vs. The Machine" narrative on which Maureen Sullivan has hinged her campaign.
Considered for a full-time job to help run the South Loop Chamber of Commerce, a Bridgeport-based business group filled with local politicians and their appointees, Sullivan — already battling out of bankruptcy protection — turned it down.
"I didn't take it because I didn't want work with the Machine. If [I took] that job while I was in dire straits financially, why wouldn't it look like I wouldn't be swayed by a developer coming in with a large bundle of cash to sell out the neighborhood?" said Sullivan as she sipped a can of Diet Coke inside her new campaign office at 3440 S. Morgan St.
Casey Cora profiles Sullivan's platform:
A political newcomer, Sullivan, 52, finally decided to run for 11th Ward alderman about the same time the controversial deal to bring a tourist helicopter hub near Halsted Street and Archer Avenue was OK'd last year.
The public got its first notice of the potentially disruptive project about a month before it was ultimately approved at City Hall, leading to vocal criticism of longtime Ald. James Balcer, who backed the project.
"The way that was handled pushed me in this direction," she said. "After years of people saying 'you should run,' I said 'OK, I'm in.'"
Sullivan's road to the campaign differs sharply from the political paths already blazed by her opponents.
Patrick Daley Thompson — the MWRD commissioner, corporate real estate attorney and lobbyist— has arguably been groomed for the job for a while now, with his uncles Richard M. and John Daley doubtless offering counsel.
John Kozlar, meanwhile, is finishing up his final term at The John Marshall Law School. It's the second time he's running.
Sullivan says her political knowledge hasn't been gleaned through family ties or law school seminars.
She's counting on her working-class bona fides to connect with voters in the 11th Ward, which includes parts of Pilsen, University Village, Bridgeport, Canaryville and Armour Square.
"I know what it's like to have money and then not have money, what that feels like when that rug gets pulled out from underneath you," she said.
After graduating from the now-shuttered Maria High School, she went straight into the workforce, with stints in customer service, waiting tables at Connie's Pizza, managing the showroom for furniture companies and recruiting workers to technology firms.
With hopes to one day design restaurants and club, she earned a bachelor's degree from Ray College of Design at the Illinois Institute of Art.
When most of her jobs dried up — she said they were lost to outsourcing and downsizing — she turned to volunteering at the now-defunct St. Rose Center, helping out at Benton House and forming the Bridgeport Alliance grassroots group, with a focus on restoring the CTA's 31st Street bus route.
She now runs a pet sitting and walking service, collects antique jewelry and still hits a few punk rock shows to support her longtime partner and campaign manager, guitarist and Web developer Rob Warmowski.
Last year, she won a seat on the local school council and McClellan Elementary School and reformed the Bridgeport Business Association, a networking group.
With the campaign in full swing, the candidates continue to hit the phones and knock on doors.
Thompson has endorsements from heavy-hitting labor groups and politicians like U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Sullivan's endorsements, meanwhile, are coming from the grassroots.
She recently won the backing of the Chicago Teachers Union, which yanked its support for Thompson in favor of Sullivan.
She's allied her campaign with that of mayoral hopeful Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). If elected, she'd likely vote with the City Council's progressive caucus, an eight-member group aligned with progressive causes.
No fan of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she's blasted him as a wealthy suburbanite who's out of touch with the neighborhoods. Asked to grade Emanuel's tenure in Chicago, Sullivan thought for a moment and answered "D."
Why not an F?
"I like his bike program," she said.
As much as she's eyeing a chair at the the City Council's chambers, Sullivan said she's focused on bringing a new level of service to the ward, which she said currently hovers between "blank stares" and "lip service."
She said she's ready to help in any way she can, whether it's settling a dispute between beefing neighbors, paving the way for new business owners or whatever else might happen in the ward.
"I believe the alderman's office should be a service office. It's a catch-all, so you touch people's lives in a variety of ways. It requires more than the ability to read a budget. Most of the job is service-oriented and you need to be able to deliver for people and care about what's going on in their lives," she said.
This is the final installment of a three-part DNAinfo Chicago series looking at aldermanic candidates in the 11th Ward. You can read the interview with Patrick Daley Thompson here and the interview with John Kozlar here.
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