WEST ENGLEWOOD — The 15th Ward is in a runoff, and both candidates say they have been involved closely in the neighborhood as the current alderman set her sights on a different ward.
And both say fighting crime is the No. 1 issue facing the ward.
When Ald. Toni Foulkes decided to leave the 15th Ward and run in the 16th Ward after the remapping, the seat went up for grabs.
The candidates that survived the runoff are Raymond Lopez, the local Democratic ward committeeman and a skycap for Southwest Airlines who started the 15th Ward Neighborhood Watch. He faces Rafael Yanez, a crime prevention officer for the Chicago Police Department who started the UNION Impact Center in 2007, a nonprofit that has worked with more than 1,500 youths.
Lopez said he was confident he would win. In February’s election, he gained 47.1 percent of the vote compared to Yanez, who was able to pull 22.9 percent.
A poll released in late March found Lopez favored by 34 percent of respondents, while Yanez won 18.4 percent.
About 47 percent of those polled were still undecided.
While Lopez has gotten financial help from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's campaign, Yanez has been backed by union groups like SEIU Local 1.
The 15th Ward includes parts of Brighton Park, West Englewood, Back of the Yards and Gage Park.
Lopez said he decided to step up because “the people needed someone to take care of their needs.”
He said that some of his efforts include helping community leaders clean up the streets. He worked with state Sen. Mattie Hunter, CeaseFire Illinois, Voices of West Englewood, Imagine Englewood If and Growing Homes to organize the 2014 "Clean & Green" across from Hermitage Park.
Lopez said he also introduced Clara Kirk, the founder of Clara's House, to both the Illinois African American Family Commission and to local grant-writing experts at Teamwork Englewood to help her raise money.
“I know it has been a critique of some people, and even my opponent, that I play the alderman, but you know what? I’ll do it again in a heartbeat because I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing as the ward slipped into chaos,” Lopez said.
Yanez, who moved back to Chicago from Mexico when he was 9, moved to Back of the Yards when he was 19, and became a beat officer in Englewood in 2003. Over the years, Yanez said that he became more and more interested in the root of the city's violence problem, especially because his interactions with police officers before he joined the force weren't always positive.
“I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in Mexico and so when I came back I remember the first week a kid asked me, ‘What you be about?’ I mean obviously I didn’t speak English so I didn’t understand what he was saying, but the body language, the tone of voice, you’re able to see this kid is upset and I didn’t know why,” Yanez said.
Understanding that anger was something Yanez said he vowed to address. During his career he also coordinated the Police Youth Mentoring Program in Englewood, and he founded UNION Impact Center in 2007.
Yanez said he will work to build trust between the community and police officers. Lopez believes that is needed because he said that people in the ward live in fear. Lopez also supports the city adding 1,000 more officers. He acknowledges, however, that the responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the police.
He said that he recently helped a building owner get rid of gang members who lived in his two-flat by bringing the police, drugs enforcement unit and Cease Fire facilitators into the situation.
“We have to get police working again with community, working with community organizations like CeaseFire, with the block clubs, with churches, everyone,” Lopez said. “We have to re-establish that dialog.”
Unlike Lopez, Yanez supports an elected school board, he wants to ban red-light cameras, and he’s for a participatory budget.
Lopez said he wants to increase funding for neighborhood schools and direct TIF funds toward neighborhood reinvestment and business development.
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