Long-time Latina lesbian activist Mona Noriega is seeking appointment by Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley to the 1st Ward aldermanic seat vacated by Manny Flores. The appointment could come as early as this week.
Flores has been nominated by Gov. Pat Quinn to be chief of the Illinois Commerce Commission. Flores reportedly has a replacement ( his chief of staff, Raymond Valadez ) in mind for Daley, but with the next city elections in 2011, the appointment would last a short time before the ward's residents vote again.
Noriega is a well-known and liked community activist who has worked on LGBT and Latina issues since the late 1970s. She has been a volunteer, board member and staff member for a wide range of groups serving individuals across the region. She co-founded the Lambda Legal Midwest Office with attorney Pat Logue in 1993, and two years later co-founded the important Latina lesbian group Amigas Latinas.
"This is a moment I've dreamed about for a long time," said Latino gay activist Robert Castillo, who was lobbying for Noriega at Saturday's Equality Illinois gala. "We as Latino/a LGBTs have spent years supporting, endorsing, volunteering for and campaigning for straight Latino/a candidates. It was only a matter of time before we would seek our rightful place at the table. I, along with many others in the Latina/o community, believe that now is the right time to do so and we are thrilled to have such an extremely qualified candidate in Mona. The City Council could have its first Latina Lesbian alderman. How amazing that would be! "
"Last night, everyone I spoke to was very excited," Noriega said Sunday. "They're excited about larger representation. This is not a criticism of Manny Flores. It is about the larger picture, about people wanting to be heard. This represents an opportunity to have another gay person in office, respectful of gays, Latinos, women, of everyone." 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney is still the city's only openly gay alderman.
For the past week, Noriega has been speaking with numerous gay and Latino activists and politicians about the possibility of her appointment to the post, as well as the potential of running for the position in 2011. She said if she does not get the appointment, her decision to run in 2011 for alderman would be informed by the person Daley selects to replace Flores, and if they can represent a diverse voice in the City Council.
"I want this post because, first, I want good government, with everyone represented. Second, because I was prompted by people calling me to say 'please do this,'" Noriega said. "The alderman's job is not glamorous. It is about real issues, basic issues, like making sure the system works for everyone." She said this includes issues of safety, the environment, and affordable housing.
"I have a history of bringing people together," Noriega said. "When different types of people come together, they create a better vision than any one person can do. That may sound idealistic, but it's how things happen."
Born and raised in Chicago, Noriega's father was Mexican and her mother Irish. She raised two children and is partners with another long-time community activist, Evette Cardona. Both women are in Chicago's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. They hosted a campaign event for Mayor Daley at their home during his last election.
Noriega's experience includes:
-- Co-founder and later Director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Midwest Regional Office.
-- Co-founder, Amigas Latinas in 1995, a group still serving the needs of Latinas.
-- Co-chair and later staff member for the original 2001 bid for the Gay Games coming to Chicago in 2006.
-- Former assistant publisher of Windy City Media Group ( publisher of Windy City Times ) .
-- Publisher of lesbians of color chapbooks in the 1980s.
-- Co-founder of Chicago's International Women's Day dances.
-- Member of LLENA, a lesbian Latina organization in the 1980s.
-- Former marketing staff for the Chicago Park District's Garfield Park Conservatory,
-- And involvement with Affinity Community Services, Lesbian Community Care Project, the Girl's Best Friend Foundation board, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, Chicago Gay and Lesbian Task Force on Aging and the Horizons Community Services' Community Leadership Council.
Noriega has a bachelor's degree from Northeastern Illinois University, an MBA from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and she is a student in the Public Administration Ph.D. program at U of I.
Ald. Flores "has been a steadfast supporter of the LGBT community and I expect that his support will carry over into his new position," Castillo said. "I am proud that as a Latino elected official, he never wavered in his support of our community and I want to publicly thank him being such a strong ally. While I am sad to see him go, his departure brings an opportunity for the Latino/a LGBT community to seek to fill his vacancy with an openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Latino. Imagine that-a place at the table!"
The 1st Ward is an odd J-shaped mix of neighborhoods, located on Chicago's Northwest Side. Its northernmost point is Belmont Avenue, bounded on the west by the Kennedy Expressway and on the east by Damen. The middle portion is from California to Western, and the base is Ohio, bounded partly by Leavitt, Hoyne and Greenview.