Ousted alderman trying for comeback in 24th Ward

April 3, 2011
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Michael Chandler sounds frustrated when he talks about the intersection of Roosevelt Road and Homan Avenue. In a shopping center at that corner sit the shell of a Starbucks and a movie theater, both of which opened during Chandler’s years as alderman, he said – and both of which are shuttered now.

Some might blame the economy. But to Chandler, the empty buildings are proof of what’s gone wrong in the 24th Ward since he was voted out of office four years ago.

“It looks like a ghost town up there,” he said. “It’s very hard to see that after all the hard work we put in the community. It’s a disgrace.”

Chandler, 58, represented South Austin and Lawndale’s residents for 12 years before the current alderman, Sharon Denise Dixon, defeated him in 2007. Now the two are going head-to-head once again in the April 5 runoff.

The runoff  – one of 14 across the city – is required because neither candidate topped 50 percent of the vote in the first-round Feb. 22 race. Dixon got 19.5 percent of the vote that day (1,803) compared to Chandler’s 13 percent (1,218), and the rest of the 16 candidates scored in the single digits.

Going into the runoff four years ago, the tables were turned: Chandler led Dixon in the February 2007 election, with 36 percent (3,053) compared to Dixon’s 36 percent (1,707). But Dixon surprised everyone when she beat the longtime incumbent 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent, a difference of less than 200 votes.

Chandler blames that loss on low voter turnout and admits he might have gotten too comfortable in his position – something he claims he won’t let happen again.

“It was possible I could have gotten complacent in the latter part (of my time in office),” Chandler said, “and I apologize for that … But I’m a smarter person, a wiser person, and I want to move this community forward.”

Chandler says if he wins, he will help businesses in the 24th Ward by making TIF grants of up to $50,000 available for existing businesses and start-ups if they vow to hire workers from the community. Job training and improved city services – “having our street repaved, our alleys cleaned up” – are also priorities, he said. And he has vowed to be accessible to his constituents.

“The current alderman has basically been hiding from people for four years,” Chandler said. “People talk about having to wait two or three months to get an appointment, like she’s a rock star or something.”

Chandler says his experience is needed now, especially with all the new faces expected at City Hall in mid-May, when Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel and a slate of new aldermen take their seats.

Chandler has raised about $35,000 for this election, according to campaign finance reports – a fraction of the war chest he claimed four years ago, when he accepted contributions of more than $140,000 in the months before the election, including $25,000 from Mayor Richard Daley’s campaign committee.

This time, Chandler’s largest contributions include $2,500 from Weis Builders, $2,500 from Bonus Electric Co. and, his largest, $5,000 from Citizens for Good Government, the giving arm of CNA Financial.

The former alderman told the Chicago Defender recently he’s not receiving support from Mayor-elect Emanuel, adding “My vote will not be for sale in the City Council. I will not be a rubber-stamp alderman.”

He was endorsed by For A Better Chicago, though, a pro-business fund associated with the mayor-elect. It is unclear if Chandler accepted a contribution from the political action committee, as it has not yet been reported on his finance reports.

Historically, Chandler has been supported by Mayor Daley and voted in agreement with the mayor 91 percent of the time during his last term on the City Council (2003-2007), according to a study released last month by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Political Science Department.

Chandler, a former school board member and president of Our Lady of the Westside Schools, worked for 13 years in the city’s Department of Buildings, where he was a supervisor of building supervisors.

He has two sons and enjoys composing music for the guitar, he said, which he has played since he was 12.

Campaign Web site

Telephone number: 773-603-1200

Campaign headquarters: 3333 W. Arthington St., Suite 135

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Candidate Questionnaires: Sun-Times, Tribune

Campaign finance reports filed with Illinois State Board of Elections

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