By Chris Schulz
Democrat Michael Rodriguez won the 22nd Ward aldermanic seat Tuesday, with 63.9 percent of the vote, defeating three other candidates.
Rodriguez succeeds longtime Alderman Ricardo Muñoz. After representing the 22nd ward for 25 years, Muñoz announced in July that he would not seek reelection and endorsed Rodriguez’s candidacy. Rodriguez also counted on the endorsement of freshman Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (D-4th), who represented the 22nd ward before Muñoz.
Rodriguez applauded supporters at Home Run Inn Pizza on 31st Street on election night. “We did this together. That’s how we do this, and that’s how we’re going to run our office. Everyone in.”
A lifetime resident of Little Village, Rodriguez is the Democratic Committeeman of the 22nd Ward, as well as executive vice chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. Previously, he worked as executive director of Enlace Chicago, a Little Village nonprofit.
Muñoz’s endorsement became a source of concern for Rodriguez after the veteran alderman was arrested Jan. 2 on charges stemming from a domestic violence incident on New Year’s Eve. Muños faces a misdemeanor charge and his wife, Betty Torres Muñoz, has an order of protection from the court.
The endorsements helped elevate Rodriguez’s profile in the ward, but not all residents considered the affiliation with establishment politics a positive.
“If he were running alone, I would welcome him.” said Gloria Gutierrez, a volunteer for candidate Neftalie Gonzalez. “We need new blood in this community, and (Rodriguez) is old school.”
Rodriguez ran against Gonzalez as well as Lisette Lopez and Richard Juarez . A local businessman and former police officer, this was Gonzalez’s third run for alderman. He centered his campaign around his position as a political outsider and highlighted Rodriguez’s connections to establishment politics as a negative.
Lopez and Juarez both work in public health, she as a Outreach Director for Oak Street Health and he as the director of Long-term Services & Supports at Lawndale Christian Health Center. They centered their campaigns on public safety and increasing opportunities for local youth.
“It is difficult. Too many candidates, it’s hard to choose,” said Juan Acevedo outside of Ortiz de Dominguez Elementary School.
“You’re just looking for someone who you believe…cares” he said. Both Juan and his wife, Veronica Acevedo, voted for Richard Juarez.
For many voters, that candidate was Rodriguez.
“He’s the same person you grew up with. I think he’s trustworthy,” said Melissa Muncy, who was classmates with Rodriguez and voted for him on Tuesday.
Asked to predict what priorities the community would focus on, Rodriguez identified preventing violence and community investment, both through local nonprofits and city services.
“We’ve got to fight for a bigger share of the pie. Inner city communities, black and brown neighborhoods, have been on the short end of the stick” when it comes to city services, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is committed to not only representing the people of the 22nd ward, but also involving them in the process.
“Before we circulated petitions, we talked to 250 voters at 60 different meetings. We’re going to do something very similar [going forward] and figure out what the priorities are, he said Tuesday night.
Rodriguez will be sworn in in May. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before that.” he said.