On a balmy summer morning in Chicago near the Howard CTA Red Line terminal, Maria Hadden and her campaign team were on the street acquiring signatures to run for city council of the 49th ward.
Rogers Park (49th Ward) differs from surrounding Chicago neighborhoods in that it is one of the most racially and economically diverse parts of the city. By Percentage, the community is approximately 42 percent White, 26 percent African American, and 21 percent Latin American. The Howard Red Line Station is one of the busiest transit locations in the area.
That day, Maria and her team had no giveaways — just a message and clipboards. Nearly 20 feet away, Joe Moore, the sitting alderman for the last 27 years, and his team were also acquiring signatures. They, however, were giving the citizens free donuts and coffee.
A less bold person may have chosen another location to introduce herself to this multicultural population … one not directly next to the incumbent. The irony was the amount of passersby who spoke to Hadden first, signed her petitions, and then collected their free breakfast from Joe Moore and his team.
Maria Hadden hails from Columbus, Ohio, and moved to Rogers Park to continue her education. Since living in the area, she has continued to be involved in community inclusion and activism. She is an executive director of Our City Our Voice, a national nonprofit organization she founded to enable communities and government across the country to redesign democracy for more empowered and equitable participation. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, and Voqal.
Rolling out sat down with her to discuss her candidacy and why she feels she would be the next best alderman representing the Rogers Park.
First, can you explain the responsibilities of an alderman/city councilman in the city of Chicago?
Informally, what I think an alderman should do is be the No. 1 advocate and community organizer of a neighborhood. For example, when a neighborhood school is being underfunded, the alderman should be speaking on behalf of the school and lifting up the voices of people in the ward to get that school the resources it needs. So these are the things you will be voting for during the next municipal election, which will be on February 26, 2019.
Can you tell us why you decided to run for public office?
I always knew I wanted to have a career in public service, but before about 18 months ago, I had never considered running for office. After the Trump election, that changed. I felt a sense of urgency to do more to help start change on the local level. So many problems on the national scale seem out of reach, and every issue is hyper-partisan. On the local level, we have a chance to really get things done. The experience I have working with communities and elected officials would position me well to serve underrepresented voices, making space for them to inform the decisions that were directly affecting them.
More specifically, I looked at my current representative on city council and knew that our community needed a new voice. There are some things he has done well and that I’ll build on. There are a lot of issues where he has lost touch with the community. Long story short, it’s time for change. We can’t afford to wait for another four years without a leader relentlessly advocating on behalf of our neighborhood.
Please provide specifics on your community-centered plan.
I think the most important things I want to do I can accomplish right away. Some of my immediate plans are to move the ward services offices to be more accessible for all members of the community.
When looking at my long-term plan, I want to continue the annual practice of getting community input on the public budget and to expand this type of governance to other decisions that are made in the ward.
The major way I believe I will be different is the priorities [I have] in housing, education and the local economy. We need someone making strategic decisions to foster development without the displacement of current residents.
We need a leader who truly champions our public schools and listens to the people when they say they want a freeze on charter school expansion. Someone who is going to help bring resources to our small business community and help them thrive. I think I can be that person based on the experiences I’ve had, the connections I’ve made and my willingness to let the community work with me.
Please tell me your thoughts on gun violence in the city.
I think gun violence is certainly on a lot of individuals’ minds in our community right now given recent events. We need to be both addressing the long-term root causes of violence by fully funding public schools, supporting job-training programs and reopening mental health clinics while also making our communities safer right now. This looks like finding ways to rebuild trust between police and community, which I think will require increased accountability through reform and increased civilian oversight of CPD.
[I support] funding more immediate social services, like violence interruption programs such as Cure Violence (formerly CeaseFire). We can come together as a community to form block clubs, making sure we lean on each other and respond to violence with love and support for community. Even when it might feel easier to respond with hate and fear.
For more information on Maria Hadden follow her on Facebook, IG, and Twitter at Maria Hadden for 49th Ward Alderwoman and www.mariafor49.org/platform.