Incumbent Ald. Chris Taliaferro in runoff to keep 29th Ward seat
Taliaferro, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, faces CB Johnson, leader of a nonprofit that helps people recover from drug use. On Feb. 28, Johnson ran strongest in the ward’s lowest-income areas.
The 29th Ward snakes along the western edge of Chicago like a Tetris piece, covering several miles — an area marked by vast disparities.
Those differences were on display in the first round of voting, with incumbent Ald. Chris Taliaferro and challenger CB Johnson running strongest in different parts of the ward.
Taliaferro, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, got 49.8% of the ballots overall in the first round of voting on Feb.28, falling just 25 votes short of avoiding the April 4 runoff.
Johnson, longtime leader of a nonprofit that helps people recovering from drug use, got 39.8% of the vote on Feb. 28.
Each candidate won majorities in 10 of the ward’s 24 precincts.
Taliaferro carried the northern end of the ward, including Galewood and Montclare, where the median household income in the 60707 ZIP code is $68,000. Johnson carried South Austin, where the median household income in the 60644 ZIP code is $32,000, according to the Chicago Health Atlas.
“It’s the tale of the two communities and I’m trying to bring them both together,” Johnson said on March 15, when election officials released final results, confirming the runoff.
Johnson spent that day in the 18th Precinct, which abuts Oak Park, from the Green Line station at Austin south to Washington Boulevard. Johnson lost the precinct by two votes, the slimmest margin of any precinct in the ward.
He met with seniors at a building near the Austin Green Line station, then greeted commuters, joined by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.
Davis supported Taliaferro in his previous two elections. Taliaferro joined the Council in 2015, beating incumbent Deborah Graham in a runoff. But Davis switched to Johnson this election, saying Johnson was closer to the community.
“These people don’t know Chris — and after eight years of him being alderman,” said the longtime congressman. “They need a guy that’s going to motivate the people and somebody that’s going to inspire them.”
Davis, who once represented the 29th Ward on the Council, carries a lot of weight on the West Side. Taliaferro has received notable endorsements as well, including from former Illinois Secretary of Jesse White, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson.
Taliaferro also uses “participatory budgeting” to spend his ward’s “menu money.” That’s a term for about $1 million in city funds each ward receives, specifically to be spent at each Council member’s discretion. Taliaferro is one of just 9 members giving residents a direct say in spending it, with a local committee including representatives from throughout the ward. Past projects include murals and improvements to parks and sidewalks.
Top issues for the ward include crime and drug use, something Johnson has worked to address since the late ’80s when he saw how crack cocaine impacted his family and community, down to the regulars at the hotdog stand where he worked back then.
“They would come in happy and jovial and then years later they couldn’t even afford a hot dog,” he said.
The Austin neighborhood continues to have one of the highest opioid-related overdose mortality rates. Taliaferro said he is active on the issue, traveling to Canada with state Rep. La Shawn Ford to a drug injection site in Toronto to see about opening one in Chicago.
Crime is the top issue for many Chicagoans, according to a Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 Poll, but crime in the area has risen less precipitously than elsewhere. Taliaferro, a former Chicago Police Department sergeant, said he’s worked with district commanders to lower the rate.
Last Tuesday, Taliaferro went to the southeast corner of the ward, where Johnson ran strongest. “This was one of my lowest-performing precincts and I wanted to talk to voters to see if there was anything I could do to get their votes,” he said.
He knocked on doors in the 24th Precinct, which Johnson won with 60% of the votes, though only 25% of voters turned out. In the majority-Johnson precincts, voter turnout was typically low, about 26%; in the precincts carried by Taliaferro, turnout averaged 36%.
He hoped to get their support by discussing his role in bringing development to the ward, with new amenities and jobs. “If you’re going to reduce violence you’ve got to take care of ancillary issues to reduce it,” he said.
On Monday, he announced a 60,000 square-foot outpatient medical center would come to the northern end of the ward, where he’s also aiming to bring a grocery store. He has said he intends to bring another grocery to Chicago Avenue.
Looking down the bungalow-lined street, he pointed to where, just last month, a new 50,000 square-foot youth center opened just last month.
“It’s my goal to help facilitate lives being changed here,” he said, “with great opportunities for jobs, opportunities to shop within our own community and opportunities to thrive as a community.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.