Maria Hadden has lived in Rogers Park for 10 years. It was her first neighborhood in Chicago, and after brief forays west, she came back to stay for good.
"Rogers Park definitely left a lasting impression," Hadden said. "There's a particular mix of people and a history. Having access to the lake and so much parkland and public space that's unencumbered is huge. During the summertime and nice weather, everybody's at the lake. Having these spaces that are free and open to people creates community … that I think is pretty special. I can't imagine living in a different neighborhood in the city, very honestly."
Now Hadden wants to find a new way to support her beloved neighborhood; she's running to replace long-serving Ald. Joe Moore in the 49th Ward. If elected, Hadden would become the first queer Black woman on the Chicago City Council. The election is in 2019.
Hadden's campaign website said she "believes in restorative justice and employing bold, fresh ideas that will bring together a divided city. Maria is also a passionate advocate for racial and economic justice serving on the board of directors for the Black Youth Project 100 ( BYP100 ), the board of directors for Voqal Chicago and as a member representative in the New Economy Coalition."
"Rogers Park is a neighborhood with an identity that is progressive, it's independant," Hadden said. "We know what we want, we're very vocal about it, we're an organized community. And we currently have an alderman that doesn't listen to us."
From what Hadden understands, at the beginning of his 27-year tenure Moore was an independent, progressive voice. However, since Mayor Rahm Emanuel's election, Hadden alleges that Moore has been both out of touch with his community and a "deputy" for Emmanuel, voting with him nearly 100 percent of the time.
"You have to set up real processes for community voice and engagement, and you have to be in relationship with people," said Hadden, describing her view of public service. "And it's something that I haven't seen [Ald. Moore] do in the 10 years that I've lived here, but particularly not in the last six years."
For instance, Hadden says Moore hasn't supported residents' concerns about charter schools. "Two years ago, we had a referendum where we had 62 percent of voters say they didn't want any more charter schools and no charter expansions," she said. "But we've got a current alderman who saw that and said, 'hey, community, you don't know what you're talking about.' He specifically has gone against that."
Her own experiences with Moore have left Hadden unimpressed. In 2008, Hadden bought a condo on Farwell, right before the housing bubble burst. The developer left the country with the project's money, leaving Hadden and her neighbors with mortgages and a half-finished building. While Hadden feels the three-year fight for her building was a learning experience, helping her understand how to work with city processes and departments, she remembers Moore's response to her issue at an open ward night.
"I brought information that my neighbors and I had put together about our problem, with possible solutions, and I sat across the table from him and one of his staffers. I think I maybe had like 10 minutes with him, to share and ask what's happening, what we can do," Hadden said, adding that he seemed not to pay attention.
Still, Hadden credits Moore with being one of the first elected officials in the country to introduce participatory budgeting to his constituents. Hadden has been senior project manager for the Participatory Budgeting Project for the past seven years, in multiple cities and in multiple Chicago wards besides the 49th, and feels the process helps make government more understandable and inclusive.
"A lot of the policies and charters we're operating under, they're made 100 years ago. How government interacts with people and vice-versa hasn't changed," Hadden said. She compared the slow workings of government to innovative everyday consumer services like Amazon Prime. "Seeing the disconnect in how we live our lives … government's not keeping up," she said. "The work that I've done is about transforming processes and helping people build these processes to understand how government works, and to be a part of it in a way that gets up-to-date with the 21st century and has meaningful impact."
Hadden realizes different parts of the 49th Ward have different concerns. Near Loyola Campus, development motivated by the university has taken off. Residents near Loyola want the university to be a responsible, thoughtful, community partner, whereas by Howard Street and down the Devon and Clark corridors, small business development has either dropped off or has been non-existent, in some cases for decades. While Hadden credits Rogers Park with having many small businesses that help build community and keep the neighborhood unique, she's seen nearby neighborhood chambers of commerce, such as Andersonville, Edgewater and Uptown, be more competitive in attracting and keeping new ventures.
Something else Hadden thinks is "integral" to the neighborhood's character is the amount of affordable housing it provides. "We have some new construction, and I think it's going to be important for us to work with developers to make sure that if you're updating, upgrading a place, it should be accessible," she said, adding that accessible units don't cost more than average, particularly if a building also includes an elevator. Finally, Hadden points out that while Rogers Park is known for its diversity, according to 2015 CMAP data, the neighborhood includes more white residents than before, and Hadden wants to make sure all residents understand the importance of maintaining the neighborhood's inclusive feel.
Overall, Hadden hopes her agenda contrasts with a view she once heard Moore express when she asked him about housing issues across the city.
"He told me, 'Well, it's a really big problem, and no one person can fix it,'" she recalled. "That feeling that I had receiving that answer has been an underlying thread that I've heard echoed from all the people that I've talked to who have lived here a long time. No one person can fix itabsolutely, which is why you organize, you work with others, you build coalitions."
And both her personal experience and her time in the 49th Ward have inspired Hadden to feel like change is possible. "The experience I've had in Rogers Park is one of community," she said. "We work together to solve problems, to understand what people's needs are, and what's good for you is going to be good for me. I think that's what having a great city like Chicago is all about. We have a lot of potential and I feel like we have everything we need. We've got great people, we've got smart people, we've got strong institutions, we've got great natural resources and space, and there's no reason a city like Chicago should have the problems that we have. We can fix these, we can solve these, and we have everything we need here to do it."
Maria Hadden will hold a campaign launch/birthday party fundraiser on Saturday, Jan. 20, 4-6 p.m. at the Heartland Bar, 7006 N. Glenwood Ave. ( It is also Hadden's actual 37th birthday. ) Tickets available at secure.actblue.com/donate/happybdaymaria, and more information about Hadden is at Mariafor49.org .