McClellan and his ill-fated petition
  • Courtesy Steven McClellan
  • McClellan and his ill-fated petition

Steven McClellan was a political neophyte when he began canvassing the 43rd Ward this fall talking to residents about community issues and collecting signatures for his campaign petition. “I was afraid of doing anything illegal,” he says now. “I thought I could go to jail. I made sure I did it the correct way so there would be no issues.” He was careful to ask all the signers if they were registered voters and if they’d already signed another petition because duplicate signatures don’t count.

He’s a little more seasoned now. Last month a neighborhood resident named Joseph DeBella Jr. challenged his petition. DeBella was previously unknown to McClellan, but not, records show, to the 43rd Ward Democrats, chaired by incumbent alderwoman Michele Smith; he made a campaign donation in November. At a hearing on Monday, the Chicago Board of Elections ruled that 155 of the 500 signatures on McClellan’s nomination papers were invalid, putting his petition below the 473 signature minimum.

His campaign’s not over, though. McClellan’s still running as a write-in candidate.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he says. “It’s ridiculous. They’re claiming some of my close friends didn’t sign [my petition]. I didn’t withdraw because I want the record to be public. If they claim a guy didn’t sign, I want you to be able to take a look at it yourself. It’s an upsetting process to have to go through.”

That said, McClellan, who is 32, lives in Old Town, and runs a video production company, didn’t really expect to win the election. “It’s a new field to me,” he says. “I was just getting my feet wet. I think I threatened [the other candidates] because I’m a young black man who’s educated and able to speak and relate to people. That’s my whole point, to speak to people and listen to them.”

During his wanderings around the ward, McClellan discovered that the needs of residents varied widely, even from block to block. In the case of one of the more contentious issues in the election, for instance, the high-rise condo development on the site of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital at Halsted, Lincoln, and Fullerton, some people supported it, reasoning it would bring more residents who would spend money in the neighborhood, while others thought it would just make the streets more congested.

“A lot of people have a lot of complaints,” says McClellan. “I don’t want to bash the current alderwoman, but if you don’t listen, you get into hot water and that leads to a ward that’s upset. People want someone to look out for their interests, not a business from outside the ward.”

Lincoln Park, McClellan notes, is full of transplants. (He’s one of them, having grown up on the south side.) Many of them don’t know, or care, who their alderman is. “My thing is going after the younger vote,” McClellan says. “I want to tell them, ‘Take the earbuds out of your ear, pick your head up, and talk to your neighbors.'”

Although he has even less hope of winning the election than he did when he was still on the ballot, McClellan remains optimistic about his future. He’s hoping this run will be the start of his career in Chicago politics and good preparation for the next alderman race. “It’s a win-win,” he says. “The experience has been priceless. I’m definitely going to run in the next election. I love the city, the ward, the neighbors. It remains the best neighborhood in my mind.”