By Lizz Giordano and Sarah Kramer
Political newcomer Sue Sadlowski Garza forced incumbent Ald. John Pope into a runoff to defend his 10th Ward Chicago City Council seat after a campaign that split the field between grassroots movements.
With 35 of 36 precincts reporting, Pope had garnered just 45 percent of the vote, shy of the 50 percent plus one vote threshold required for the incumbent to avoid a runoff challenge.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding referendum to ban the storage of petroleum coke, or pet coke, in their neighborhoods. Opposition candidates including Garza stressed that Pope had allowed the black dust piles of pet coke stocks to linger on the Southeast Side while job growth had languished and storefronts remain shuttered.
“You can’t even buy a book in this neighborhood,” Garza said. “We’ve become the forgotten stepchild of the city.” Garza, a school counselor at Jane Addams Elementary School on the 10th Ward, built her campaign on strenuous objection to pet coke storage in her neighborhood.
Pope’s challengers cited pet coke and economic development as major factors in their decision to run against the 16-year alderman. Second-time candidate Rich Martinez, standing outside the electioneering boundaries at Jane Addams Elementary School, reminded voters to vote for him—and against pet coke.
All candidates interviewed by Medill’s 10th Ward reporting team restated their definitive opposition to the storage of pet coke. Olga Bautista, a community organizer in the battle against this refinery byproduct, was adamant that her hard-fought campaign brought the issue to the forefront of voters’ consciousness. The movement likely drove voters away from Pope, even if Bautista’s totals were well below the other candidates. She took approximately 2 percent of the vote.
“This is just the beginning for us,” Bautista said after learning of her loss. “We’re not going to relinquish any opportunity to go to bat for our community.”
Earlier in the day, Garza’s home buzzed in a flurry of activity, with volunteers running in and out of the living room of her ranch-style home. Her daughter Kate Garza, 24, sat on the floor, manning a makeshift calling station with her laptop and cell phone. She said that voting for her mother was “surreal.” “I’m so proud of her,” Kate Garza said. “It was an amazing feeling, even just to see her name on the ballot.” John Pope did not respond to request for comment before deadline.
Written by Sarah Kramer; videos by Lizz Giordano