This week, Ugochukwu Okere will walk off the graduation stage and onto the campaign trail. Okere, a 22-year-old political science and social work double major, is running for alderman of Chicago’s 40th Ward.
Okere’s campaign stands on three tenets: co-governance, equity and interconnected struggles. Co-governance means everyone has a voice in politics, and equity means resources are distributed fairly, Okere said. Okere’s third tenet emphasizes the broader impact people’s struggles have on the community.
Okere said these tenets are symbolized by the rose motif in his logo. The petals, leaves and stem each represent a tenet.
Chicago is divided into 50 legislative districts called wards. Each ward is represented by an alderman, who each represent their ward in the city council and serve four-year terms. Chicago’s next aldermanic elections will take place February 2019.
Patrick O’Connor has been alderman of the 40th ward since 1983. The 40th ward includes Lincoln Square, Edgewater and West Andersonville. During his decades long career, O’Connor has worked to help rehab and build schools in the 40th ward and created a nature preserve.
Since his announcement in February, Okere has reached out to the 40th ward community. In February, he held his first meet-and-greet session to listen to 40th ward residents’ interests and concerns about the community. In March, he started the Ugo Organizing Academy, a series of educational lessons about local politics. Participants learned skills for community organizing and engaging with voters in the 40th ward.
Okere said he thought the organizing academy was a success. He said 12 people participated during the four week session and canvassed more than 200 doors.
Okere said he felt it was important to lift up others in his campaign process, which is rooted in Democratic Socialism. Okere said he plans to fight for fair taxes, equitable funding for schools and serving as many people as possible.
“This campaign cannot be about me,” he said. “It’s about making sure that we bring people to the political process that weren’t there before, and part of that is fostering our own leadership within the campaign to be able to do this kind of work.”
Although there won’t be another Ugo Organizing Academy session, Okere said he plans to hold days of action and service in the 40th ward throughout the summer, which will give volunteers an opportunity to take part in community service and further campaigning.
The days of action and service will include volunteering at charities in the 40th ward followed by canvassing for the campaign, Okere said. He added his campaign is rooted in equity on a larger scale and serving others on the local level.
“We’re also fighting to make sure that material good is done for people on the day-to-day basis in the ward, and so what that looks like for us is a day of service and a day of action,” Okere said.
Okere said he’s learned about the concerns residents of the 40th ward have with O’Connor. One issue that stood out was O’Connor’s lack of accessibility. Okere said O’Connor is attentive to community organizations, but that doesn’t include everyone in the 40th ward.
“A good portion of the 40th ward isn’t necessarily organized in their communities and it is his job, in my opinion, to make sure that he’s going out to those communities and having that ear to the ground,” Okere said.
Okere said his tenet of co-governance sets him apart from O’Connor. Okere said he would use his position as alderman to facilitate a community-driven zoning process and participatory budgeting.
Okere also said he disliked O’Connor’s defense of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who was slow to fire a staffer accused of sexual harassment. He also said he disapproved of O’Connor’s vote to give Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds to the Presence hospital system which doesn’t offer full reproductive services to women.
Okere said he’s still making campaign plans for the summer and isn’t sure if he’ll work on the campaign full time. He said his priority remains building his volunteer base and reaching out to the 40th ward community.
O’Connor didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from The Phoenix.