• Chloe Riley
  • Juanita Irizarry, who’s running for alderman in the 26th Ward, stands outside her childhood home in Logan Square.

The Logan Square Juanita Irizarry knew as a child is not the Logan of today. Growing up at the corner of California and McLean, she remembers the days when she regularly saw houses with fire damage—she says she’d later learn that banks had largely stopped lending in the area, and collecting insurance through arson was one way around that. Irizarry said she won’t patronize Bang Bang Pie because the name strikes her as insensitive. Shootings in that area used to be more common, in fact, her childhood neighbor Tito was gunned down not far from there.

Irizarry says those memories inspired her to run for office in the 26th Ward, which is made up largely of Humboldt Park, with small sections of West Town and Logan Square.

“At a young age I took an interest and had questions about why the neighborhood was deteriorating. But there was really no one around to answer those questions,” she said.

Irizarry, 46, has a history in urban planning and housing—most recently she served as a housing coordinator for former governor Pat Quinn and has also worked as a community developer for Chicago Community Trust. In February, she and a third candidate, Adam Corona, a superintendent for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, will challenge standing 26th Ward alderman Roberto Maldonado.

Development—done ethically and transparently—is where Maldonado has most failed residents, Irizarry said.

Maldonado—who was appointed alderman in 2009 by former mayor Richard M. Daley—currently owns ten properties within the 26th Ward, including vacant lots on Monticello and Central Park, and a building on Division that houses a mortgage company he started.

In October, four years after he withdrew a proposal to rezone the six lots at Monticello and Central Park due to a conflict of interest, Maldonado transferred those properties into a trust under his wife’s name and has since moved ahead with the request to rezone them in order to build eight townhomes.

While it’s not illegal for Maldonado to own the properties, Irizarry believes the alderman is walking a fine line.

“His own personal interests are very tied up with the direction of development in the community. And that leads to big questions about whether there can be an objective process,” she said.

Irizarry was recently endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union. She supports an elected school board (Maldonado does not) and in 2013, she joined with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, one of several community groups that opposed Maldonado’s decision to convert Ames Elementary into a military school.

If elected, she said one of her first moves would be to fight an ordinance introduced to the City Council in December which, if passed, would be a step back for affordable housing, city wide and within the ward, Irizarry said.

The ordinance would allow developers receiving city money to pay even less than they do now to opt out of affordable housing options in “lower income” neighborhoods like Humboldt Park, an area that’s already seeing new development, like restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s recent revamp of the California Clipper at California and Augusta.

Irizarry—who’s raised just over $30,000 $60,000 in campaign funds to date—said that as alderman she’d work to reform the process by which the City Council does business with developers.

“I believe that some of our aldermen operate under the idea that zoning is a private right to just give away to anybody in exchange for a campaign contribution,” she said. “Zoning is a public good and I don’t think developers should get any zoning change they want just because they want it.”

Correction: This post was amended to reflect the correct amount of campaign funds Irizarry has raised.