Local activist Maria Hadden is bringing a more progressive perspective to Rogers Park after defeating 28-year incumbent Joe Moore with more than 63 percent of the vote, an election which will change the community’s political landscape for the first time in almost three decades.
As Chicago’s first openly gay black woman to be alderman, Hadden — who’s originally from Columbus, Ohio — hopes to improve life in Rogers Park by making housing more affordable, increasing funding for public schools, supporting local businesses and focusing on environmental sustainability.
Having lived in Rogers Park for more than a decade, Hadden has experience as an activist in the community despite being new to the political scene. But she has been criticized by Moore’s supporters for political inexperience because she’s never held political office.
Since election night, Hadden said she’s been meeting with neighboring aldermen, city staff and community groups and organizations so she can continue learning more information about the 49th Ward — which is made up of Chicago’s Rogers Park and parts of West Ridge neighborhoods — before being sworn into office in May.
Hadden said her first three to six months in office will have two focal points. First, she plans to complete a full assessment of the ward to gain a deeper understanding of the infrastructure and services that make the community function. She said she’ll have greater access to information from departments once she’s officially alderman.
“I plan on spending a lot of time gathering that information and data to have a better idea of where we are now so that moving forward through the rest of the year, we can do some good community planning,” Hadden said.
Secondly, Hadden said she plans on setting up an advisory committee and working on re-engaging the community. She also said she plans on building relationships in city hall “and becoming a good student at city council.”
During Hadden’s campaign, one of the main issues she ran on was supporting Chicago Public Schools in the ward. As alderman, she said she plans to go to local school council meetings and meet with principals like she did while running for the seat.
“For the schools, a lot of that will be ‘how can I be their best advocate for funding, for programs?’” Hadden said. “What are those infrastructure needs? And I want to be able to start getting to work on bringing the resources back to the community that are going to help them to build up, repair and be able to focus on providing the best education for the students.”
During her campaign, Hadden said one of her biggest achievements was being able to bring so many people in the community together, regardless of their differences. Many people during her campaign said they wanted work for what they wanted rather than fight against actions they didn’t agree with, she said.
“That kind of all hands on deck, let’s get together and work for something positive, something that we want to see rather than fighting against something that we don’t want, is what I want to be able to bring,” Hadden said.
A lot of her supporters had experiences of having to oppose Moore regarding issues with school policies, so Hadden said she hopes to change that.
“So much of what I heard from people was ‘Man, if we didn’t have to put all this energy into fighting another charter or fighting against this development that this guy is doing, we could put that energy into creating something positive that’s going to benefit everybody,” Hadden said.
Hadden is currently employed as executive director at Our City, Our Voice — a small non-profit organization in Chicago which supports civic engagement and community building. She said she’s been working with the organization for over a year and is preparing for her last day, May 15.
Paula Camaya, a 21-year-old junior majoring in history and education, said Hadden’s election as an openly gay black woman is “huge” for the Rogers Park community. Camaya, who has canvassed for Hadden in the past, said she supports the alderman-elect’s promises to better the community, especially in regards to funding public schools.
“I’m an education major, Maria’s been really supportive of supporting the local neighborhood public schools in Rogers Park, so like Sullivan High School is one example,” Camaya said.