La Shawn Ford, a 1995 Loyola graduate, is looking to take his 12 years of experience in the state legislature to Illinois’ largest city as he runs for its highest seat this year.
Of the 14 candidates in Chicago’s crowded mayoral race, four graduated from Loyola — Ford, Gery Chico, Jerry Joyce and Bill Daley.
Ford, who’s a state representative for Illinois’ 8th district — which covers parts of Chicago’s West Side and several surrounding western suburbs — studied education and political science at Loyola.
Since graduating, Ford, 46, has worked as an elementary social studies teacher at Chicago Public Schools and as a licensed real estate broker, according to his website. He also founded his own real estate business, Ford Desired Real Estate.
With experience from working in public schools and real estate, Ford said he plans to reopen shuttered schools and vacant lots in the city.
According to a January Chicago Sun-Times poll of 644 likely voters conducted by WeAskAmerica, Ford polled at 1.2 percent. The leaders in the poll are Daley, Toni Preckwinkle and Chico — with Preckwinkle at 12.7 percent, Daley at 12.1 percent and Chico at 9.3 percent.
A Feb. 8 report from the Chicago Sun-Times listed the 10 candidates who have the most campaign funds, and Ford wasn’t on it, making him one of the least funded candidates. Daley, Preckwinkle and Chico are at the top of the list.
“Polls are driven by the people with the money,” Ford said. “So they’re going to skew the polls the way they want to continue to raise the money.”
Before he decided to study education at Loyola, Ford almost became a priest. He studied and played for the basketball team at the Niles College Seminary at Loyola, which transitioned in 1994 to St. Joseph College Seminary. It’s set to close in June, The Phoenix reported.
Ford grew up in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. Similar to Daley, Ford commuted from home and said he had a different experience from resident students at Loyola.
“I was a commuting student so it was all business for me,” Ford said. “I would go to class sometime in the evening and work at night or vice versa. I really didn’t enjoy campus life like a resident student.”
Ford, who attended the now-closed Catholic Weber High School, said he recalls how Loyola’s small class sizes made his transition from high school to college easier.
“It wasn’t like a big state university, so I went from one Catholic high school to a Catholic university and the class sizes were pretty manageable for me,” Ford said. “The attention that I received from the professors, it was like you knew your professors and your professors knew you.”
Ford said he’s been excited to watch Loyola’s campus and student body grow in size.
“They’re building the institution up from the structure to the academics, and the sports, it’s a whole new university now, and that’s awesome,” Ford said.
One thing Ford said he’s carried with him since his days at Loyola is the university’s social justice mission.
“I take [social justice] with me in everything that I do as a public servant … it’s a guiding principle for me when I’m thinking about policy,” Ford said. “When I think about what’s wrong, I think about how we could fix it with social justice in mind, making sure we leave no one out.”
Fred Crespo, an assistant house majority leader and representative for Illinois’ 44th district, graduated from Loyola in 1980 and is a good friend of Ford’s. Crespo said he and Ford deal with contrasting issues in each of their districts.
“The irony of all this is La Shawn represents a district that is very different from my district,” Crespo said. “I represent the northwest suburbs, he represents parts of Chicago where social justice issues are very important.”
If elected this month, Ford said he wants to ensure college students have access to jobs after they graduate college by funding the growth and expansion of businesses to Chicago, similar to Daley. He also said he wants to make the cost of living more affordable.
“It’s a beautiful city, but we have to make it affordable and we have to make sure we have jobs that college students can land when they graduate,” he said.
Ford also said he wants to work on programs to help college students renegotiate their student loans at lower costs.
Many of the issues Ford is hoping to target involve state support, and he said his 12 years as a state representative have given him the tools to get things done.
“When you don’t have someone who understands how to make laws in Springfield and get things done, it’s a challenge,” Ford said. “I have that experience, and I know how to get things done in Springfield.”
John Pelissero, a Loyola professor who teaches Chicago politics and the school’s former provost, said Ford’s experience with state government could prove beneficial as mayor.
“He would certainly understand better than other candidates how state government works and how assembly is oriented toward assisting Chicago,” Pelissero said. “He’ll bring that state sensitivity to what’s possible and what’s not in Springfield when it comes to helping Chicago with some of its challenges.”
However, Pelissero said being one of 14 mayoral candidates is going to be a challenge for Ford, especially with only a few weeks left in the race.
“He’s got an uphill battle to try and emerge in this race of 14 candidates,” Pelissero said. “His challenge is to sort of distinguish himself.”
Crespo echoed what Ford said about campaign funding.
“It’s kind of sad that a lot of these races — statewide and nationally — are driven in great part by money,” Crespo said. “It’s so hard to get your message out if you don’t have the resources to do that.”
In 2012, Ford was indicted for allegedly using an extension on a line of credit — purposed at fixing several properties for his real estate company — to pay personal expenses. In 2014, the charges were dropped and Ford was sentenced to six months of probation on a misdemeanor tax count.
“I was charged, and by the grace of God 17 counts of felony charges were dropped,” Ford said. “I went through a lot, but ultimately, justice prevailed … it was just unfortunate, it was a situation I’ll never forget.”
However, Ford isn’t the only Loyola graduate running for mayor who’s been involved in a scandal. As the Chicago Tribune pointed out last week, Daley allegedly received help completing an exam to sell insurance in the city as a young man.
Daley, Chico and Joyce didn’t return requests for comment from The Phoenix by the time of publication.
This article is part of a series which will cover Loyola graduates who are running for mayor of Chicago. Grab a copy of next week’s Phoenix to read about another candidate.