Chicago’s 20th Ward: Taylor, Johnson Poised For Runoff In Crowded South Side Ward Race

20th Ward runoff
Jeanette B. Taylor (left) and Nicole J. Johnson (right) will face each other in a final runoff election on April 2.
20th Ward runoff
Jeanette B. Taylor (left) and Nicole J. Johnson (right) will face each other in a final runoff election on April 2.

Chicago’s 20th Ward: Taylor, Johnson Poised For Runoff In Crowded South Side Ward Race

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A community activist at the center of the Dyett High School hunger strike and a former school teacher-turned-activist appear headed for an aldermanic runoff election after topping a crowded field of candidates running to represent the South Side’s 20th Ward.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Jeanette B. Taylor pulled in nearly 29 percent of the vote compared to 22 percent for Nicole J. Johnson. Johnson held a nearly 400-vote lead over apparent third-place finisher Kevin M. Bailey, who had nearly 17 percent of the vote.

The Associated Press had not called the race as of 11:20 p.m. But if both Taylor and Johnson secure their positions in first and second place, they will face each other in a final election April 2.

Taylor was known for leading the 34-day hunger strike at Dyett High School, while Johnson is a former teacher and a self-described “community development  consultant. Taylor, a Woodlawn resident, said it’s bittersweet to go up against a black woman whom she likes and respects. She also said displacement is her number one issue.

“Us being able to stay in the community that we love,” Taylor said.

Johnson, of Englewood, said her campaign is on schools, economic empowerment and safety.

“All three of those things we believe that if we have them locked down in our community, we’ll see things differently,” Johnson said, including attracting more people to the ward.

The 20th Ward includes Woodlawn, Englewood, Back of the Yards and Greater Grand Crossing — all mostly black communities coping with disinvestment. The wide-open race was one of the most crowded in the city, after incumbent Ald. Willie Cochran chose not to seek re-election under the weight of a federal corruption investigation.

In 2016, he was indicted on federal criminal charges and faces 15 counts related to bribery and pocketing money from a charitable fund intended to help families and children. Prosecutors say Cochran gambled with the money and used it to pay for his daughter’s college tuition.

Cochran has pleaded not guilty and has requested his case go to trial. If he’s found guilty, he will be the third 20th Ward alderman to go to prison after Cliff Kelly and Arenda Troutman.

One of the biggest issues facing the ward is whether to insist on a community benefits agreement for the planned Obama Presidential Center. Although the OPC is in Jackson Park in the 5th Ward, the closest neighborhood is the eastern part of Woodlawn.

A WBEZ analysis of 2,430 properties in East Woodlawn — between Cottage Grove Avenue and Stony Island, and from 60th to 67th streets — found that the city and its sister agencies, like the park and school districts, own the most property in the neighborhood. That means the city has the most power to reshape the community in the years to come.

Some residents have asked for a written contract to protect current residents, but so far, the Obama Foundation and current city officials have rejected that idea. Taylor and Johnson support a community benefits agreement (CBA.) 

“While I want that to come to the community, not at the cost of displacing one of the only communities that low-income and working families can afford to live in,” Taylor said.

Johnson said she wants the small business community to come together and put their needs on the table on the CBA.

Meanwhile, voters on Tuesday overwhelming approved a nonbinding question on the ballot in parts of the the 5th and 20th wards that asked whether the alderman should support a community benefits agreement ordinance to prevent the displacement of residents from the area surrounding the Obama Center. It suggested instituting a 30 percent set-aside of affordable housing, a property tax freeze and funding for local jobs and affordable housing.

Other candidates in the race include newly elected Democratic Ward Committeeman Kevin Bailey; CPD veteran and youth nonprofit founder Jennifer Maddox; local business owner Andre Smith; 25-year-old Anthony Driver; lawyer Dernard Newell; lawyer Quandra Speights; and Maya Hodari, on leave from the Chicago Housing Authority where she was a director of development.