Oddis “O.J.” Johnson is a study in contrasts.
His campaign kicked off in November only to stall when his nominating petitions were challenged. His headquarters opened just last month.
Johnson says he will be a full-time, independent alderman for the 29th Ward, a “servant of the people,” but he says he’d give back half of his salary to the ward for youth mentoring and job training for ex-offenders.
“It’s really a full-time job that’s considered part-time; a lot of aldermen have separate jobs,” the Yazoo City, Miss., native said in a recent interview at his West Division Street headquarters. “But an alderman is a public servant. If he or she is not willing to be there full time for his constituents, they should not take the job. If he or she won’t be a leader and a voice for the people, they should not take the job.”
Other 29th Ward Candidates
Johnson said if elected, his constituents, because they pay his salary and operations of the ward office, would come first. Residents would be able to tell him how he should vote on Chicago City Council matters, a far cry he says from his days as a precinct captain for the late 37th Ward Ald. Thomas Casey, who was part of the late mayor Richard J. Daley’s machine.
The 29th Ward has a diverse set of issues, somewhat based on where one lives: On the north end of the West Side, residents are concerned about traffic flow and loud music. In the center, there’s a focus on crime. And on the “Island,” a strip of the southern part of the ward near Roosevelt and Austin, there’s a growing concern about foreclosures.
Johnson said he’d hold meetings in each of the ward’s 49 precincts so he would know how residents want issues to be addressed – more than the three community meetings held each month by incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham.
He also promises to meet regularly with businessmen in the ward: “They shouldn’t get a visit from their alderman just to ask for donations or when they run for reelection.”
Johnson also would tap into community needs, putting together a job bank that would match the unemployed with people who have tasks to do. He would create the same effort for volunteers, particularly retirees.
This is the 60-year-old’s fourth try at seeking the 29th Ward seat, losing in 1991, 1995 and 1999. He said he was kicked off the ballot in 2003.
Johnson has mounted his campaign on a shoestring operation, financing his campaign out of his pocket. He has not yet filed a statement of organization with the Illinois State Board of Elections, nor does he have a web site or presence on Facebook.
A community organizer who cut his teeth on the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Johnson, has run the United Front Anti-Crime Organization, a group that deals with community issues of crime and crime prevention, since 1997. Previously, he was an organizer for a now-defunct consumer group.
He has lived on the West Side almost all of his life. He graduated from Our Lady of the Westside Presentation School in 1968 and in 1972 from Cregier Vocational High School, which has since closed. He attended Roosevelt University for two years, studying political science, and is married, with three daughters and a son.
Campaign headquarters: 5644 W. Division
Johnson did not complete candidate questionnaires for the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times or AustinTalks.