This is part of a series of interviews Windy City Times is running on LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal elections taking place Feb. 28.
A lifelong Chicagoan, Leni Manaa-Hoppeworth is running to become the next 48th Ward Alderperson. She is currently a small business owner (Chicago Dance Supply, 5301 N. Clark St., for the past 20 years) in the ward where she has lived since 1999.
Manaa-Hoppenworth is also a freelance professional photographer. She was previously a Chicago Reader account representative, dance instructor and physical therapist.
She also identifies as queer and has been married to Mike Manaa-Hoppenworth since 1997; they have three teenage children.
The 48th Ward includes most of Edgewater, the east side of Andersonville and a little bit of Uptown. Manaa-Hoppenworth is running against Larry Svabek, Joe Dunne, Andre Peloquin, Brian J. Haag, Isaac Freilich Jones, Roxanne Volkmann, Andy Peters and Nassir Faulkner. Three-term incumbent Ald. Harry Osterman announced his retirement in July 2022. Should Manaa-Hoppenworth win, she will become the first Filipina member of the Chicago City Council.
Windy City Times: What were the reasons/catalysts for your decision to run for this specific office?
Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth: I have been doing the work of getting people to register to vote and then [getting] out the vote in every election. That is not enough to save our democracy.
I am running to make progress in city council on the issues that are most important to us by getting people involved. I want to bring what I am doing on the grassroots level to a formal setting at the city council, to make change at a policy level.
The ward is a very engaged, dense, walkable and diverse place to live, with a high number of Asian American and LGBTQ+ residents. There are also a lot of small businesses and…we have so many pockets of unique villages. I love the unique characteristics of the ward, and I am running to preserve that and make sure that everyone is represented. I bring that perspective as a small business owner, chamber of commerce member, grassroots advocate and a mom whose children go to public schools here.
WCT: What are the most pressing issues right now for the 48th Ward and how will you address them? Of those pressing issues, which ones do you feel that the incumbent alderperson failed to address and how will you be different in that regard?
LMM: Everything happening in Chicago is very intersectional. Ridership on the CTA is down, and that is because people feel unsafe. People have housing insecurity. I talked to a social worker and he told me that it makes sense that people are living in the trains and buses because they cannot find affordable housing, which is my number one priority.
Secondly, getting people wraparound services, including mental health supports, addiction services, domestic violence protection for abuse survivors and job training [is a pressing issue], but first we have to help them find housing first.
We have to make sure our infrastructure works, and that includes our transit system so people can get to where they need to go. Developments need to be built around mass transit hubs so there is less reliance on cars, which means people can walk to work or school or catch a train to their appointments. Everything we need is right here in this ward, we just need to strengthen it. Once people have the basics, then whole communities become safer.
The work Osterman did was built off his predecessors, including his mother who was a great LGBTQ+ ally, but there is so much more to be done. In Andersonville, community groups, nonprofits and others are the ones who have been championing [progressive issues] especially trans people, and they need to be supported by the alderperson. The Hire Trans Now initiative that came from the Chicago Therapy Collective was pushed up to the city council, and then the mayor's office, and it became a resolution. That kind of practice is the inclusivity we need, not just in Andersonville, but all over the city.
WCT: What public safety measures would you advocate for during City Council meetings to lessen the number of crimes (including assaults, shootings, car jackings and other thefts) occurring in your ward and across Chicago that do not include adding more funding for the Chicago Police Department?
LMH: There are so many instances where we point to young people as the problem when they are really bringing us the solutions.
For instance, Good Kids Mad City and their Peace Book ordinance, which is basically the opposite of the gang database. The Peace Book provides for a violence prevention solution at the community levels that involve job training for youth that lead to careers. Also, not enough people are talking about the new Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) Commission and the police district councils that are on the ballot ;that is historic because it is the first time in Chicago that we are going to be electing three representatives in each police district from the community. People need to know that these are the people who will be leading these conversations about public safety in the next year.
Also, anyone who is in a crisis that does not involve a crime needs to be able to call a number that does not involve a response from the police, just mental health and social worker professionals. There is this gray area of people falling through the cracks and the crisis trained police officers do not know what to do.
We are all feeling the impacts of this COVID journey and there are more people who need governmental services in multiple areas. We need to do better. The city council has the opportunity to do that and the mayor should be a support for what Chicagoans are asking of their government.
WCT: With LGBTQ people under attack on multiple fronts across the United States how will you use your position as an out queer alderperson to ensure that anti-LGBTQ groups like AWAKE Illinois, Moms for Liberty and others who are responsible for those attacks do not gain a foothold in your Ward and Chicago writ-large?
LMH: We live in the third largest city in the nation, and in Illinois we are the blue dot that is mostly surrounded by conservative states, so you do not have to travel that far to experience bigotry.
There are people inside Illinois and Chicago who believe trans people should not exist and we have to talk about this, and make it clear that, even though we live in what we think is a progressive area, this hatred and erasure exists. We need to make it clear that everyone should be able to have individual autonomy.
People should be saying that, at every level of government, including Chicago Public Schools, local school council members and everyone else involved with those schools, in terms of what goes into the student handbook, school curriculums and restorative justice practices. We cannot be responsible for how one person or a group of people were raised and their beliefs, but we can make it clear in Chicago that we are a welcoming to everyone.
In my work with Indivisible Illinois, we created the Truth Brigade to expose disinformation and specifically with Indivisible Rural Illinois to expose the anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry that AWAKE Illinois is spreading there. The way we fight back against organizations like AWAKE Illinois is by showcasing what we do every day in this ward which is live our lives to the fullest and show that we are leaders.
We want an inclusive, representative government that works and is a reflection of the people it serves. The 48th Ward can do that by electing someone like me who is a representative of our broad diversity.
When you are not a part of the status quo or the machine you will find out that the city is not treating you fairly. You realize when that happens to you it is better when you are not alone. This is why I love this ward, because I have been empowered to run for office due to that kind of support.
WCT: What will you do to address the growing numbers of Black and Brown trans women who are attacked, assaulted and murdered in Chicago?
LMH: Have the entire LGBTQ+ community and our allies in the city come forward immediately and not just in the affected area of Chicago when a Black or Brown trans woman disappears. When people hesitate to call this out, it creates doubt about someone's existence. Also, the follow-through of finding out what happened to them is equally as important, so that people can find closure.
Moving forward, talking about how Black and Brown trans women existand deserve access to the full capacity of city government services so they are safe. Asking trans people what they need as well. This starts with families, so that means there needs to be a public awareness and celebration of trans people to let them know they are not alone. Normalize the beauty of all the diversity of our community. Also, condemn the hate, because it is immoral and wrong. It will take a massive amount of courage from everyone at every level.
WCT: What about addressing the needs of unhoused people as a whole, some of whom are LGBTQ youth?
LMH: That is the reason why we need strong schools, because when students become unhoused, teachers might be the first people to know this. If LGBTQ+ youth get detached from their communities completely, including [if] their families reject them, that is something we do not want which is [the youth having] nowhere to go. I think about all of the organizations that exist to assist these LGBTQ+ youth.
Preventing them from becoming unhoused in the first place is going to take a huge cultural shift, especially for families who do not think that having an LGBTQ+ child is a possibility for them. This information has to come out in the mainstream, in multiple languages and across the state. That is going to take individuals doing the work including us at a policy level and as a culture at the federal, state and local levels.
There is not enough funding for those organizations meant to help to accelerate what they are doing already to help find and house youth first, and then get them all the services they need.
WCT: Are there any other LGBTQ issues that you feel should be also prioritized and why?
LMH: Being inclusive in all of our practices, city documents and written statements. Also, a true sanctuary city that welcomes everyone needing gender-affirming [care], abortion and other reproductive healthcare.
WCT: Your campaign website states that "health, housing and safety are human rights." Talk about why you wanted that front and center in your messaging.
LMH: We are in a national housing crisis and those essential things are necessary for our survival as human beings. Housing has to come first and then all the services come after that. If we had everything we needed we would all be much safer.
WCT: Are you currently endorsing anyone for Mayor and if so, who is it and why?
LMH: No, I am focusing on my own race. I am looking forward to whomever becomes mayor in a collaborative way, to move our city forward.
WCT: In what way are you the best candidate for this office out of your many challengers?
LMH: We had a forum recently and all of us were there and that was so fantastic to see so many candidates for this race. That is great to see. We need to elect progressive candidates and move forward on progressive issues.
Many of the candidates in this race have passionate ideas but that is not enough. You need deep roots in the ward like me, who has an investment in what happens and has been doing the work. This ward is surrounded by progressive alderpeople in other wards. I have worked with all of them on many local, state and federal issues, and I am ready to do this job which is to be a good steward of this land and the people who live on it, and to fight for equity for all.
See lenifor48th.com .
NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.