After trying to sort through a dizzying mix of 17 candidates last month, voters in two South Side wards now face a much more focused decision about who will represent them in the City Council.
A state lawmaker and the outgoing incumbent’s chief of staff — with different sources of support — are vying for the open seat in the 4th Ward.
And just to the south, a lawyer is competing against a religious charity director who has the endorsement of the 5th Ward’s retiring incumbent.
Candidates in the two wards bordering Lake Michigan are touting their strategies for addressing public safety and development with less than two weeks before the April 4 runoff.
4th Ward: ‘We didn’t even know it’s a runoff’
The 4th Ward’s race has narrowed down to state Rep. Lamont Robinson and Prentice Butler, longtime chief of staff to Ald. Sophia King. King’s unsuccessful run for mayor left the seat open in the ward, which includes parts of the South Loop, Bronzeville and Kenwood neighborhoods.
Robinson, 41, captured just over 46% of the vote in February’s election, falling short of the majority needed to win outright. Butler, 42, came in second with 15%.
Robinson lists dozens of elected Democratic officials among his endorsements, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
But all four of the ward’s unsuccessful candidates from February are now backing Butler.
“We have worked together in one way or another for years. … Sometimes we didn’t always agree, but we still are working together, and we realize this should be about community,” Butler said. “It just means that we all see the common cause about making sure the community voice is heard.”
Robinson and Butler both tout their experience in different levels of government.
While Robinson focused on his relationships with state and county leaders through his work at the state level, Butler said he’s more equipped to help the community after working as King’s chief of staff for so long.
Robinson is hoping voters turn out in big numbers.
“It could be huge, that’s why it’s important for us to get the word out,” Robinson said. “The message is ‘Vote for Lamont’ but also that we have to get out and vote.”
The 4th Ward’s turnout in the February election stood at 40.4%, higher than the citywide rate of 32.1%, but nearly 20,000 registered voters in the ward still failed to turn in a ballot, according to the Chicago Board of Elections.
After finishing with a substantial lead in February, Robinson said some voters thought the race was over.
“While we have been engaging with voters, two things that come up: ‘We thought you’d won already’ and ‘We didn’t even know it’s a runoff,’” Robinson said.
Both Butler and Robinson highlighted economic advancement and business development in the ward and hoped to implement equity in these areas.
As far as funding goes, Robinson has the overwhelming advantage. Robinson has raised $575,000 to Butler’s $96,000, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“The main challenge is we need to raise money, we have an opponent … that has a lot of money and they’re drowning out the voice of the community,” Butler said.
5th Ward: ‘Important that we talk to organizers’
In the neighboring 5th Ward, religious charity director and community organizer Desmon Yancy is facing off against public policy veteran and lawyer Martina “Tina” Hone.
Of the 11 candidates running in February to succeed the retiring Ald. Leslie Hairston, Yancy, 51, and Hone, 60, were the top two. With the endorsement of Hairston, Yancy won nearly 26% of the vote, while Hone got nearly 19%.
A major issue in the ward — which covers parts of Hyde Park, South Shore, West Woodlawn and Greater Grand Crossing — are the potential effects, both benefits and drawbacks, of the impending opening of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
The center promises needed development to the area, but also an influx of visitors and the associated costs as well as concerns about residents and small businesses being pushed out.
“When we talk about how to remedy that, it’s important that we talk to organizers of the Obama [center], for a plan that incentivizes homeownership, incentivizes mom and pop establishments and protects longtime homeowners,” Yancy told the Sun-Times.
Hone says the Obama center underlines the need to support the longtime push for affordable housing in Woodlawn.
They both are pushing for business development in other parts of the ward as well. Particularly along 71st Street, Yancy said “there are longtime members of the community that have watched it go down with concern about what will happen next.”
Both Yancy and Hone said they can relate to residents because of their race, and that shapes the way they would approach policing and other issues.
“I’ll be honest, my greatest challenge is convincing Black people that I’m Black,” said Hone, who is biracial. “It’s hard and it’s painful, it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life.”
But she said she agrees with residents’ underlying concern.
“I get why a majority Black ward wants someone who understands the full range of both pain of the Black community but also the potential. I get that the African-American voters in the ward want that, and I want that. We are able to achieve, we are able to succeed, and we want to be taken seriously in that way too.”
As the son of a 39-year Chicago police officer, Yancy said his upbringing can aid him in leading the ward when it comes to policing.
To bolster public safety in the ward, Hone said focusing on youth is integral. She said her work in youth development, workforce development and economic resources positions her to do that.