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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Feb 25, 2015, 12:04 pm

Progressives Had a Pretty Great Night in Chicago’s Elections

BY Yana Kunichoff

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Tim Meegan, a social studies teacher and Chicago Teachers Union activist, successfully pushed Deb Mell, the incumbent alderman and strong mayoral ally, into a runoff last night. Meegan was one of three CTU members who forced runoffs in city council races. (William Camargo)  

The anti-machine fervor that pushed Rahm Emanuel into a run-off with Chuy García on Tuesday night was also felt in several key aldermanic races around the city. Three staunch Emanuel allies in City Council are now facing run-offs against independent candidates who also happen to be Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members.

Social studies teacher Tim Meegan scraped into a run-off with Deb Mell, a member of one of the city’s most entrenched political families. This was the first aldermanic election for Mell, who was appointed by Emanuel to succeed her father, Dick Mell, in the seat when he retired in 2013.

Deb Mell—who was strongly supported in the race by the Emanuel-affiliated super PAC Chicago Forward—received 49. 7 percent of the vote. Meegan received 34.5 percent, while a third candidate, Annisa Wanat, received 15.8%.

“It’s possible that a regular guy can take on the machine and beat it,” said Meegan, who ran as an independent, in a speech following the run-off announcement. He attributed the dogged resilience of the campaign to the fact that “teachers are used to getting beat up.”

In the months since In These Times first reported on the Meegan campaign, it has grown into a well-oiled people power machine, winning the help of a rising number of volunteers and former students of Meegan and buoyed by staff support offered by United Working Families, an initiative of several unions and community groups including SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana and the CTU. Moving forward, Meegan stressed the need to see his campaign as more than just a push for one political seat.

“This isn’t just a campaign. It’s a movement,” he said.

In the 10th ward, Sue Sadlowski Garza will be heading into a run-off with incumbent John Pope. Garza is a CTU member and a school counselor whose father, Ed Sadlowski, was a rank-and-file reformer of the United Steelworkers of America. The biggest issue in the 10th Ward was air pollution in the form of petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” dust from an oil refinery owned by the Koch brothers on the city’s Southeast side.

“We pushed back against the machine. We pushed back against corporate America,” said Garza immediately after hearing that the race had gone to a runoff. “We said, ‘no more, John Pope.’ We’re tired of the Southeast Side being a toxic dumping ground.”

Tara Stamps, in the 37th ward, pushed 15-year incumbent Emma Mitts into a run-off. Like Mell, Mitts was appointed to her post, in Mitts’s case when her predecessor was convicted of taking a bribe. Stamps, a public school elementary teacher on the West side, ran on a platform that included a moratorium on school closings and a $15 minimum wage. She is also the daughter of Marion Stamps, a housing organizer in the Cabrini-Green housing projects remembered for her role in getting out the vote for Harold Washington.

“I think the voters are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Stamps told the Sun-Times, borrowing a quote from civil rights activist Fanie Lou Hamer. “For us this is quite a victory. Nobody believed this was even possible.”

In the 35th ward, a rapidly gentrifying area of the city, Carlos Rosa, a 26-year-old progressive challenger, defeated incumbent mayoral ally Rey Colón handily. Rosa will become the first openly gay Latino alderman in Chicago history. Meanwhile, the $19,500 spent by Chicago Forward appears to have hit its target in the push to unseat the alderman who most often voted against the mayor, John Arena, in the 45th ward. He’ll be facing a run-off with Chicago police officer John Garrido. Scott Waguespack, a strong progressive and mayoral opponent, easily won his reelection in the 32nd ward. 

The run-off elections are set for April 7.

Yana Kunichoff is a Chicago-based investigative journalist and documentary producer. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, Pacific Standard and the Chicago Reader, among others. She can be reached at yanakunichoff at gmail.com.

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