At least six candidates appear to be challenging incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) for her Chicago City Council seat in the Feb. 24th city election.
Candidates must collect at least 473 signatures – twice as many as the last election four years ago – from ward residents and submit the names by this Monday, Nov. 24 to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
Candidates running for city council as well as mayor began turning in their petitions this week. As of Monday, Nov. 17, five candidates including the incumbent alderman had filed their petitions with city election officials.
This is the first election since the once-every-decade redrawing of ward boundaries, and interest in running for the 29th Ward seat has been high since the summer.
In the last two elections – in 2007 and 2011 – the ward covered portions of Austin, Galewood and Belmont-Central. The new map cuts out a large portion of Belmont-Central but includes a bigger part of Galewood, as well as sections of Montclare, Schorsch Village and Belmont Heights.
That may be why Graham, first appointed in 2010 by then-Mayor Daley, is facing another round of challengers, like she did four years ago. Eight candidates ran against Graham in 2011, but she avoided a runoff by winning 52 percent of the vote.
Although she avoided a runoff last time, Graham could face one this time around, said Dick Simpson, a former alderman who’s now a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
That may bode well for those hoping to unseat Graham, Simpson said.
“The advantage of multiple challengers if they get on the ballot is that they will probably force a runoff, and the challenger has a better chance in the runoff because it has already been shown that the incumbent doesn’t have the majority support,” Simpson said.
Simpson said Graham, who previously served in the Illinois General Assembly, has multiple challengers because they believe the alderman is vulnerable and can be defeated.
One potential opponent – Larry Andolino, a Galewood resident and lawyer – said he decided to run because the 29th Ward needs economic redevelopment and new ideas, which he said he can bring. He also wants to focus on what he described as a lack of programs for kids.
“If we have these two things, that’s going to help reduce crime,” Andolino said. “The easy answer is to hire 10,000 more police officers, which isn’t feasible. The thing to do is to take these kids and instill values, then take them off the streets and give them something to do.”
Andolino said he helped bring Starbucks to the community and is also pushing for a Marianos grocery store. He promised to open a satellite office in the ward to provide city services, free legal help and tax appeals. If elected, he also vowed to put 20 percent of his $100,000-plus aldermanic salary to creating programs for the ward’s youth.
Kulmeet “Bob” Galhotra, a Cook County public defender, is also running for the 29th Ward; earlier this year he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) in the primary election.
While running for the Illinois Senate, Galhotra said he spoke with residents who weren’t happy with the alderman and the level of services they were receiving, especially when it comes to pothole repairs and tree trimming among other things.
The lack of transparency and accountability is another issue, Galhotra said.
“You need to be out in the community so that people will understand what you’re doing and also so you can understand what your ward needs,” Galhotra said. “We cannot have aldermen who stay in their office and only come out to block parties.”
Ald. Graham did not return repeated calls requesting comment for this story.
Christopher Taliaferro, an attorney with Nexus Legal Group, said his experiences as a Chicago police officer and his involvement in community organizations prompted his decision to run for alderman and make a difference.
“I particularly saw that our current alderman, Deborah Graham, was not doing a job that the community deserves,” Taliaferro said. “In other words, I believed the community deserved a better job than what she was doing.”
Taliaferro said he would focus on reducing crime in Austin and increasing community development through educational programs for children and incentives for homeowners.
Community organizer Deborah Williams, Zerlina Smith and lawyer La Coulton J. Walls are also seeking the seat.