24-year-old #IncreaseThePeace Organizer announces candidacy for 15th Ward Alderman
Less than a month after he kicked off the first #IncreaseThePeace campout of 2018, community organizer Cutberto ‘Berto’ Aguayo has announced he will be running for 15th Ward Alderman in the 2019 municipal election. He will be going up against incumbent Ald. Raymond Lopez, who currently represents residents from Brighton Park, Back of The Yards, Gage Park and West Englewood on Chicago’s City Council. If elected, the 24-year-old Aguayo would become the youngest alderman in Chicago and one of the youngest to be elected in the city’s history.
Aguayo announced his candidacy earlier this month via a post on his official Facebook page, which already has over 4,400 followers. In the post, he mentions his roots as a lifelong resident of Back of The Yards and his work as an organizer in the community, which resulted in a new community center in the ward and leadership trainings for hundreds of young people. Without any experience as an elected official, Aguayo hopes that his history of grassroots work will convince 15th Ward residents that he can be an effective replacement for Lopez.
“My work in the community has led me to the realization that not only do we need to take our work to the polls, but also have someone on the ballot that truly represents our community,” Aguayo wrote in his post. “We are tired of the sound of gunshots and sirens on a daily basis. We are tired of seeing parents bury their children, and we are tired of friends building memorials on street corners.”
Aguayo’s announcement came on the heels of a July shooting in Back of The Yards that left a 3-year-old in the hospital with bullet wounds in both of her legs. That same night, Aguayo helped organize a candlelight vigil and march to pray for the young girl’s recovery. A former gang member, Aguayo decided to pursue politics after joining the Mikva Challenge, a civic engagement group for Chicago’s youth, at age 17.
Marcos Ceniceros, a longtime organizer and resident of the 15th Ward, said that current Ald. Raymond Lopez is not doing enough to keep the community safe. “He does not actually provide real leadership, either in the ward or on city council,” Ceniceros said. “He doesn’t understand his constituents or the nuances of where a lot of this violence comes from, the historic and deep disinvestment in the neighborhoods from decades ago, from schools and community centers and jobs.”
Jose Muñoz, Aguayo’s campaign spokesperson, said that this is where the difference between Aguayo and Lopez lies. “Berto views the people in the community as an asset that in some cases is yet to be developed, and his focus is to get the community to come together and to buy in toward common goals,” Muñoz said. “Even after graduating college, he decided to come back and work in the community…and that speaks volumes about his character.”
For some, however, Aguayo’s lifelong ties to the 15th Ward might not be enough to ensure the best representation on City Council. According to Ceniceros, Aguayo had informed community leaders earlier this summer that he would not be running for alderman. That, paired with a “lack of communication” with other community leaders about the #IncreaseThePeace campouts, leaves Ceniceros uncertain that he can trust Aguayo, which he said is “important in a neighborhood like Brighton Park, where a lot of people feel like they do not trust politicians.”
If elected, Aguayo would join Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) as the only two aldermen under the age of 30. Rosa has already angered some councilmembers after opposing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $95 million police academy, which many believe is what led to his expulsion from the council’s Latino Caucus. “What matters is a person’s values and vision for the community, it doesn’t matter what their age is as long as they have an independent and progressive disposition,” Rosa said when asked about young candidates like Aguayo. “Generally, I think we see young folks bringing that new generation of leadership.”