Change has been a buzzword this campaign season, with hundreds of challengers promising a transformation and mounting campaigns against old guards in the Chicago City Council.
But on Tuesday, Austin’s voters made one thing clear: They like the leaders they’ve got.
Incumbents in the 28th, 29th and 37th Wards – Alds. Jason C. Ervin, Deborah L. Graham and Emma M. Mitts, each of whom was originally appointed to office by Mayor Richard Daley – easily retained their seats in the 50-member council, winning enough votes to avoid an April 5th run-off election.
Even in the tightest of the three races, 29th Ward Ald. Graham made it past the required 50 percent mark, according to preliminary results. With all precincts reporting late Tuesday night, Graham had captured 52 percent (or 5,474) of the vote in a field of eight candidates.
With the victory, Graham, who was appointed in March to complete the term of convicted Ald. Isaac Carothers, appears to have sidestepped lingering allegations that she still has ties to the disgraced former alderman.
Graham, who served in the Illinois House before moving to the City Council, partly attributed her win Tuesday to her name recognition and her eight years of work in the General Assembly.
“We’ve done all we know how to do,” Graham said, surrounded by supporters, as she watched results come in at her campaign headquarters at 5753 W. Division St. “We represented the issues, we spoke to the voters’ concerns.”
At about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, the alderman was joined at her campaign office by campaign manager Doug Price, state Sen. Don Harmon, and about two dozen supporters and campaign staff. A celebration was scheduled to follow at a nearby banquet hall.
A bit further east, in the 28th Ward, recently appointed Ald. Jason Ervin had much to celebrate at the JLM Community Center, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd.
Ervin won by a huge margin over his sole competitor, William Siegmund. With all precincts reporting as of 11 p.m., Ervin had received about 85 percent (5,673), compared to Siegmund’s 15 percent (1,025).
“This is a good day for the 28th Ward,” Ervin said inside the noisy community center, after a day of visiting each of the 61 polling places in the ward. “We feel this is a mandate to move our community forward to the next level.”
Ervin, a longtime aide to former Ald. Ed Smith and former village manager of Maywood, was appointed to fulfill the remainder of Smith’s term last month after the longtime alderman resigned from his seat after 27 years in office.
The 36-year-old faced some criticism for his ties to Smith, who some claimed didn’t do enough to advance the ward over his tenure. But his campaign staff fought back with a message: “Jason has a lot of respect for Ald. Smith,” said Ervin’s press secretary, Larry Shapiro, “but he is his own man.”
Ervin’s numbers likely got a boost from Friday’s appellate court ruling, which removed competitor Carmelita Earls from the ballot and declined to re-instate Rev. Michael Stinson.
Though she had been knocked off the ballot last week, Earls supporters still stood outside polling places Tuesday, bouncing in the cold with signs bearing the veteran firefighter’s name. Earls – who was removed from the ballot for owing a property tax debt – has vowed to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Siegmund, the sole challenger Tuesday to Ald. Ervin, declined comment.
Numbers were not available Tuesday evening for 28th Ward write-in candidate Carol Johnson.
Although voter turnout was down citywide, it was up in the West Side wards.
In the 28th Ward, 29 percent of candidates went to the polls Tuesday, up from 25 percent four years ago. In the 29th, turnout was nearly 40 percent, compared to 38 percent; and in the 37th, 31 percent voted this election, compared to less than 27 percent last time.
In a six-candidate battle in the 37th Ward, Ald. Emma Mitts easily retained the seat she has held for the past 11 years. Mitts won 58 percent of the vote (4,972) – more than twice that of her closest competitor, Chicago Park District employee Maretta Brown-Miller, who won about 24 percent (2,029).
Despite arguments that Mitts has not done enough to clean up her ward, the alderman received slightly more votes than four years ago. In that election, she received 57 percent.
Mitts did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The remaining four hopefuls – Minerva V. Orozco, Steven Pleasant, Tommy Abina and Shanika Finley – each won less than 6 percent of the vote.
Deborah Kadin contributed this this story.