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Ald. Howard Brookins Has Slight Lead Over Marvin McNeil in 21st Ward

By Jamie Nesbitt Golden | April 6, 2015 5:18pm | Updated on April 7, 2015 9:40pm
 Ald. Howard Brookins (l.) and challenger Marvin McNeil
Ald. Howard Brookins (l.) and challenger Marvin McNeil
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CHICAGO — Ald. Howard Brookins faced a tough challenge in the 21st Ward. 

With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Brookins had 50.8 percent of the vote. Former city employee Marvin McNeil had 49.2 percent.

"I'm very confident he's going to win," said Tanya Hamilton, a longtime Brookins supporter.

"He's done alright around here," said Tracy McGowan, who's uncle works at Brookins Funeral Home. "I'm sure he's going to win."

But a McNeil campaign official refused to concede: "We're still waiting for the numbers. As you can hear the crowd over here, we're still optimistic." 

In February, with six challengers, Brookins, whose chief of staff pleaded guilty to bribing an undercover informant last December, captured 41 percent of the vote, 9 percent shy of the 50 percent required to keep his seat. McNeil came in second, with 14 percent.

McNeil, a former zoning code inspector for the city, has vowed to repeal the red-light camera ordinances and to push for a law to expunge all juvenile arrests that don’t result in the suspect being charged, provided that it’s a first-time offense. According to his website, the Illinois State University grad and married father of five plans to create West Chatham’s first-ever Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve been out knocking on doors all weekend,” said a representative from his campaign. “He’s still out there, knocking on doors. He’s confident that the constituents are behind him.”

Brookins has accused McNeil of being a slumlord, but the former Sunday school teacher told the Reader he paid the requisite fines and no longer owns the properties. McNeil has responded in kind, accusing the incumbent of being a shill for the mayor and dragging his feet on economic development, though the 83rd Street corridor has seen the arrival of Lowes, Wal-Mart, Planet Fitness and several other retailers.

This is the second runoff for Brookins, an attorney currently serving as chairman of the City Council's black caucus. He successfully retained his seat against community activist Leroy Jones in 2007 and has managed to become one of the highest paid aldermen in the city, earning nearly $115,000 a year on top of the salary he draws from his law practice.

Brookins’ support of charter schools may have caused him to fall out of favor with the Chicago Teachers Union, and bringing Wal-Mart to 83rd Street didn’t win him any friends among the labor unions. While Brookins voted against the parking meter deal, he’s aligned himself with City Hall on most issues, including school closings and speed cameras.

Brookins also is one of 26 aldermen who supports a reparations ordinance to compensate victims of former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was recently released after serving a 2½-year prison term for obstruction of justice and perjury. The hearing is expected to be held April 14.

While both candidates agree that tax increment financing rules need to be revamped so communities most in need get priority, they’re split on on public safety; Brookins wants to increase the number of police on the street, while McNeil wants to strengthen community policing programs.

“Public trust is developed when police get out of their SUVs and walk or ride their bikes in the community,” McNeil wrote in response to a recent Tribune questionnaire sent to aldermanic candidates. “When a police officer knows a person’s real name [and he the officer’s], a bond of trust is developed.”

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