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Lopez fights to retain 15th Ward council seat
by Matt Simonette

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Ald. Ray Lopez ( 15th Ward ) has been in a runoff against police officer Rafael Yanez this election season. It's been a challenging race for openly gay Lopez, who's sometimes been criticized for harsh remarks about crime, and has exchanged barbs with other council members. This would be his second term, but Lopez had been serving as the Ward's committeeman for some time before his 2015 election.

Windy City Times: How has this election season been for you?

Ray Lopez: When this runoff was announced, over 10,000 residents got a letter from me telling them that there was a runoff and that we also missed it by a handful of votes. But we also let them know that if my opponent set the tone for this election, it would be nothing short of a character assassination, based on lies and rumor. My goal—as should be his goal—is to talk about what we believe is in the best interests of the entire ward for its future.

WCT: Your opponent has tried to characterize himself as a progressive and has allied himself with others such as Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and criticized your connections with Ald. Ed Burke. How would you respond, especially with the calls for reform in City Hall?

RL: Simply saying that you are progressive doesn't make you progressive. There's nothing he has done in this campaign, or his private citizen's life as a police officer, that shows him to be anything more than just a mouthpiece for other people. He is not a "progressive leader"—that is an inaccurate moniker he is trying to give himself.

He's quick to say I'm Burke's puppet, but Burke ran an opponent against me when I ran for alderman. I was not Burke's choice. What we have done since I was elected in 2015 is work together, since our wards are connected and we're neighbors to each other, for the betterment of our residents—which is what I would hope residents and elected officials would do when they share boundaries. Because we've worked together, we've been able to bring new jobs, businesses and resources for our children, and healthcare. For that, I could not be prouder.

When it comes to reform, I'm the alderman who introduced an ordinance that said aldermen should have no outside income. I'm the alderman who introduced a rule forcing alderman to show up and do the committees, and do the work. I think I'm the leader of the pack when it comes to strict, hardcore reforms for the city council.

WCT: What do you think have been your two or three best accomplishments since 2015?

RL: First and foremost, the massive infrastructure rebuild that we've done in the 15th Ward. … I think the spending totals in the ward are closer to nearly $11 million, not only from the aldermanic menu, but also from the outside resources we've been able to work with Mayor Emanuel to bring [for] many of the longstanding and ignored infrastructure needs, such as modernizing lighting and providing sidewalks. One of the issues I'm surprised to have had an impact on in the community is in addressing the violence in all the neighborhoods, particularly Back of the Yards.

When I was elected, I figured it would take a generation to break the cycle, to get people to stand up and be counted in the name of wanting something better, and rejecting lifestyles involving gangs and drugs. I've seen the fruits of our efforts as a result of some of the things that I've said. That drew the line not only for me but many of the people in the neighborhood. When I said, "No innocent lives were lost," it put it on no uncertain terms for the people of the ward that there's a difference between gang-bangers shooting each other and a 13-year-old-girl getting shot just for trying to play basketball. The neighborhoods quickly made a decision about which side they were on, galvanizing around that statement, for and against. Thankfully the "fors" outweighed the "againsts."

WCT: What are two or three challenges that remain for you?

RL: Moving forward, I think the challenge will be making sure that we're able to bring resources to every neighborhood, so that we can continue to find and create economic opportunities, and so that we can put people to work in their own neighborhood. Every community has its challenges. Every community does not have the same kind of financial tools—TIFS, special service areas, etc.—available to them. We need to show the investor community and the developer community that we've taken pride in this area, and taken crime seriously, and now want to take the next step. I think the ward will be able to reach that.

The other challenge will be, as those benefits are coming and those developments happen, and the revitalization of our ward happens, how do we safeguard against gentrification, so that, unlike other areas, as things improve, all the old-timers don't get kicked out? We need to come up with a very pro-active anti-gentrification program now, before we're looking at it through the rear window.

WCT: Speak a bit about the challenges of being openly gay and serving as alderman.

RL: Thankfully, when I was elected four years ago, my residents already knew who Hugo and I were. They knew we weren't just roommates. Even now, my residents know exactly who we are together. There are still people on the fringes who try to make that an issue. … Other candidates in the last go-round made mention of this. As a matter of fact, my opponent in the runoff made jokes about my marriage to Hugo. You will always have individuals who try to make that an issue. But as Chicago moves forward, and our neighborhood moves forward, from where we were less than a decade ago, even five years ago, it's becoming less and less of a card people can play against us.

Hugo and I go to community meetings together. I don't just hide him in the corner somewhere. He comes with me to pancake breakfasts, churches, you name it. We are just as integral a part of this community, this ward, as you'd expect any other alderman to be. Because of that, people don't know us as just a gay couple but two human beings. We're more known for having seven dogs than being gay men.

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