• Gary Middendorf/Sun-Times Media
  • The six opponents of Tenth Ward alderman John Pope (left) say he’s too cozy with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Last week Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Tenth Ward alderman John Pope announced that the city wasn’t going to wait any longer to clean up an environmental hazard on the southeast side of Chicago. They issued a statement declaring that the city was rejecting a request from KCBX Terminals Company to take more time before enclosing its heavy-polluting piles of petcoke.

Within two days, the company buckled, saying it would close one of its petcoke facilities and clean up its other one.

The developments were great news for area residents endangered by the dirty piles of petcoke, which is a product of oil refining. But the timing was also helpful for Pope, who’s fighting six challengers to hold on to the office he’s held since 1999.

His opponents say he hasn’t provided enough leadership on the petcoke controversy—or on creating jobs or fighting crime.

The alderman “lacks in leadership and vision,” charges challenger Richard Martinez Jr., a compliance officer who has fought against the petcoke pollution.

“Residents have no voice at all,” adds Sue Sadlowski Garza, a counselor at Jane Addams elementary school. The ward, she says, needs new leadership because it’s a “forgotten entity of the city.”

The ward runs along the southeastern edge of Chicago, bordering Lake Michigan and the Indiana state line. It includes the South Chicago, Slag Valley, Bush, South Deering, and Hegewisch neighborhoods. At one time it was home to multiple steel mills and factories, many of which left environmental messes behind when they closed.

Today the area has plenty of taquerias, dollar stores, panaderias, and bars—many, many bars. But residents say they have to drive outside the ward for healthy dining options and even a good cup of coffee, and it’s time for more development and more jobs.

Pope is a lifelong resident of the southeast side who was first elected with the help of the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a patronage operation run by top aides of former mayor Richard M. Daley before it was dissolved amid federal corruption investigations.

“Pope was selected, not elected,” says challenger Frank Corona, a retired firefighter.

Multiple attempts to reach Pope were unsuccessful, but he’s previously noted that he’s been reelected three times since HDO was involved. He’s also said economic development is his top priority. “The 10th Ward has experienced difficult economic times but we have had a lot of progress and we see much more in the future,” he told the Sun-Times.

His foes say he hasn’t done enough, and longtime residents are leaving because of a lack of jobs. They also say that economic development—or the lack of it—is also related to one of the neighborhood’s other pressing issues, crime.

Candidate Samantha Webb, a Chicago police officer, says the ward simply doesn’t have “proper leadership.” “I have seen what the neighborhood is capable of,” she says. Among her priorities: fighting to hire more cops and beautifying the ward “from the bottom to the top” to entice people to stay.

Garza says she would work to make sure that tax increment financing money is used for economic development and investments in schools rather than serving as a slush fund for those with clout. Residents should also be more involved in decision-making, she says: “A ward for the people, by the people.”

Organizing and working with the community is a common theme among Pope’s opponents, who say that the alderman is too cozy with the mayor. Pope has voted with Emanuel on every single measure before the City Council in the last four years—that is, 100 percent of the time—according to an analysis by political scientists at UIC.

“Pope is merely doing what he is told,” says Corona. “And it’s time for the community to rise up and say ‘Ya basta!'”—”That’s enough.”

Also in the race are activist Olga Bautista and accountant Juan Huizar.