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ELECTIONS, 40TH WARD. O'Keefe looks ahead to election
by Matt Simonette

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Maggie O'Keefe is challenging incumbent 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O'Connor for his spot on the Chicago City Council. A digital marketer who identifies as queer, O'Keefe has worked to register voters locally. She spoke with windy City Times about issues in the ward, and why she threw her hat in the ring.

Windy City Times: What prompted you to run?

Maggie O'Keefe: It feels like the neighborhood has been uninformed and uninspired about the potential to change. Looking over my community and the whole Lincoln Square neighborhood, I have seen so many four-, and now six-, unit luxury developments go up in the past two years. It brings only a certain type of folks who are able to live in the neighborhood, and it starts pushing people out—including myself. I'm a renter, and I've seen my rent go up $200 a month in the last two years.

I know I'm not the only one who's suffered through things like that; that's happening to people all across our ward, and across the city of Chicago.

WCT: You said that the neighborhood was uninspired and uniformed for change—what is the cause of that?

MO: Like I said, lack of affordable housing options is definitely one, and a shortage of housing options in general. There's a shortage of rental options—we've lost so many four-flats and unfortunately, that pushed people and families out of our neighborhoods. It decreases our student population, as well as the diversity in our schools. It decreases the patronage of our small businesses.

When development comes into our ward, you can see a correlation between who's donating to the current incumbent and who is able to actually build in our ward. I think that the aldermanic prerogative has got to go. The privileges of being an alderman have got to go, and we need campaign finance reform; we've got to move forward on that. It's just about bringing the community into the growth and development of our ward—through participatory budgeting and a community zoning board.

WCT: What are some other priorities beyond the development aspect?

MO: Education is a number-one issue in the 40th Ward. I think parents are just overwhelmed —we saw a public school close in our neighborhood. While our schools are doing okay, we still have parents who don't send their kids to a neighborhood school. Every child deserves a quality, equitable education, that meets their needs in their own backyard.

WCT: How does your background tie into what you're hoping to achieve on the city council?

MO: I'm a small business owner. I started my business four years ago. I do digital marketing, and help other small businesses, not-for-profits and candidates explain to audiences their worth. For the past two years, I've been doing a lot of voter registration and education across Cook County. That was all volunteer-based. I got involved with that after seeing former Gov. Rauner being sworn in. Then the 2016 election was really a jumping-off point for me, where I felt like I had to do something. When I talk to younger people, or even people older than myself, about why their vote matters, that's democracy in action. We have to make options for people that are going to make democracy thrive. I went to all kinds of schools registering young people to vote; that was kind of my bread-and-butter, and I helped train over 500 people across Cook County to be deputy voter registrars. Together, we registered thousands of people to vote for the 2018 election.

WCT: What are some issues that are especially important for LGBT residents of the ward?

MO: We need a champion community representative, someone that is active and will listen to all people. That's something we haven't seen with our current incumbent. When I go door-to-door and tall to our current incumbent's supporters, they frequently say, "Well, everything is going good for me." But, what about what is good for "we"? We need to start getting back to having all people, all types of residents—know matter where they come from, their socio-economic status, or how they identify—[feel free to] come to the alderman's office, look to me as a friend and someone they can come meet with.

… Our marginalized communities need to be put to the forefront. Much of that goes to building jobs for folks, and job training and placement. When there are people who are disproportionately disadvantaged, Chicago and all of our economy suffers. We need to start thinking about our trans residents or our LGBTQ homeless population, so that we can start building for them, and building for people who might be less out in various types of programming.

WCT: You identify as queer—why is such representation important for the city council?

MO: I want to put the "Q" with the LGBT Caucus [laughs]. It's time for people to be able to feel that they are part of something, and that they don't feel like they have to continually rally for rights. It's important for folks to feel comfortable and connected with themselves, and feel comfortable and connected with their city government.

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