When Maria Hadden worked with participatory budgeting in Rogers Park, she said her friends and colleagues would often ask her, “Maria, when are you running for office?”, but she didn’t consider it seriously until March last year.
Now, Hadden, 37, is running an aldermanic campaign for the 49th Ward in the 2019 election. If elected, Hadden would be the first openly gay woman of color to be an alderwoman in Chicago.
Aldermen represent legislative districts known as wards and there are 50 wards throughout Chicago. Together, the 50 aldermen comprise the Chicago City Council and make up the city’s legislative branch. The 49th Ward includes the neighborhood of Rogers Park and part of West Ridge. Elections will be in February 2019.
Her opponent, Joe Moore, has held the position since 1991. Moore has served seven terms as alderman in the 49th Ward. In the 2015 aldermanic elections, he won with 66.4 percent of the vote. In 2003 and 2007, Moore ran against multiple opponents and still won by more than 20 percent in both elections.
Moore said he’s proud of his work in Rogers Park and its diverse population. He said he wants to continue his work by providing affordable housing, supporting businesses and keeping the neighborhood safe.
Moore was also the first elected official to introduce participatory budgeting in the United States, and the policy is implemented in eight other wards. Participatory budgeting allows residents the chance to decide how to spend part of the neighborhood’s budget. In the 49th Ward, the participatory budget allows Rogers Park residents to contribute opinions on how to spend approximately $1.3 million on infrastructure projects in the ward.
Hadden was a community representative in the first participatory budget process in 2009. Hadden continued to work with participatory budgeting as a project manager with the Participatory Budgeting Project. Now, she’s the executive director of her new organization, Our City Our Voice. The organization helps other cities and local governments develop their own participatory budgeting plans.
Hadden said she would continue participatory budgeting if elected alderwoman and that she wants to create other opportunities for residents to get involved. She said she would start an aldermanic youth council to engage high school and college students in community leadership, and she wants to create committees for zoning, safety and sustainability.
“I want active committees that are not just convened around participatory budgeting, but around decision making overall in the ward,” Hadden said.
Hadden said she would advocate for more affordable and accessible housing. Other issues she prioritizes include public education, environmental sustainability and supporting local businesses, according to her campaign website.
Hadden said she wants to use her position as alderwoman to empower other local leaders.
“I definitely want to use the role of alderwoman to not be the only leader in the ward but to create new avenues and new opportunities for a real leadership development pipeline especially for our young people and to open up more of that civic space,” Hadden said.
Hadden said she thinks Moore hasn’t been listening to residents’ needs in Rogers Park. She said she worked with seniors living in the Caroline Hedger Apartments on Sheridan Road who opposed the Concord at Sheridan development, which includes a Target store.
Moore held a meeting last year to gather community responses when the development was proposed and has since supported the development. He said he listened to community feedback about zoning developments, including the Target.
Moore has said he wants a left-turn lane on Sheridan Road to reduce traffic congestion from the new Target and said the Caroline Hedger seniors will have a say in their new community room.
Hadden said she viewed Moore’s response to opposition as inadequate.
“It’s setting up processes where you give the appearance of being representative and the appearance of listening to community voice but then having decision-making practices that show there’s no space for community voice,” Hadden said. “Not only is it poor leadership, but it’s also harmful for democratic practice.”
Moore said he was considerate of residents’ desire for more affordable housing and retail options when he approved of the Concord at Sheridan.
Hadden is from Columbus, Ohio, and she came to Illinois when she volunteered with AmeriCorps — a U.S. service program — after studying peace and conflict studies at The Ohio State University. Hadden said she’s lived in some Chicago neighborhoods, such as Rogers Park, Humboldt Park and Logan Square since volunteering. She’s a board member of the Black Youth Project 100 and is involved in several organizations, such as Network 49, United Working Families and Voqal.
Hadden has lived in Rogers Park for more than a decade, and said she enjoys frequenting local businesses, coffee shops and restaurants, such as Heartland Cafe, located a mile north of Loyola’s campus. She lives with her partner of six years, Natalia Vera, and two rescue dogs, Mimi and Finn.
Loyola sophomore Lauren Augustavo said she was excited to hear about Hadden’s run and noted the significance of having diverse candidates running for office.
“I think diversity is extremely important, especially in our political environment,” the 19-year-old international business major said. “Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in the world and so I think we need to represent that by having different candidates.”
Daniel Barger, a senior political science and communications double major, said although he’s worked with Moore through Loyola Limited, he thinks having a diverse candidate like Hadden in office would be beneficial.
“It can be encouraging to people struggling with their identity,” said the 21-year-old.
Kendall Phillips, 19, who wasn’t familiar with Moore, said she recognized that it’s worth understanding and following local politics and elections.
“I think that it’s really important just to be aware of what’s going on around you and how things affect you and other people,” said the first-year biology major.