Note: The following interview is part of Windy City Times' ongoing coverage of LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 Chicago municipal elections. The run-off election takes place Tuesday, April 4.
Following the Feb. 28 primary electionwhere 10 candidates were vying to replace the retiring three-term incumbent Ald. Harry Ostermanqueer-identified lifelong Chicagoan and Chicago Dance Supply small business owner Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth and lifelong Chicagoan and affordable housing focused Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation Real Estate Development Vice President Joe Dunne were the top two vote-getters.
The two candidates now face one another in the April 4 run-off. Manaa-Hoppenworth's endorsements include Chicago Mayoral candidate and current Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Illinois state Sen. Celina Villanueva, Illinois state Rep. Theresa Mah, former Chicago Mayor and Cook County Clerk David Orr, former U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, former U.S. Rep. candidate for the 7th Congressional district and gun violence prevention advocate Kina Collins, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Indivisible Illinois, Chicago National Organization for Women PAC and the Illinois Nurses Association, among others.
Dunne's endorsements include Osterman, former Gov. Pat Quinn, Ald. Mary Ann Smith, former Illinois state Sen. Heather Steans, former Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, AFSCME, Chicago Federation of Labor and Illinois SEIU, among others.
Should Manaa-Hoppenworth win, she would become the first Filipina member of Chicago's City Council. The 48th Ward includes most of Edgewater, the east side of Andersonville and a little bit of Uptown.
Windy City Times: What do you think made you stand out among the other nine candidates to ensure that you would make it to the run-off?
Leni-Manaa-Hoppenworth: This is a local office and all politics are ultimately local in nature. This is a relational race and I pulled ahead because I got myself in front of people. I had one-on-one conversations with voters at the train station, their doors and on the phone. It takes a while to do, but it is really the way you win races.
The fantastic endorsements I got at the end helped me immensely. I worked with many of those people who endorsed me at Indivisible Illinois. They helped talk me up and get the funding and other resources I needed, including reaching voters living in the high rises in the ward. Our team did the work to get to the voters and make them aware that there was an election coming up. The voters responded because they heard what I was about.
Equity is at the center of my campaign and that resonated with them. I also believe one of the reasons we pulled ahead was because of vote-by-mail and early voting options. I am really proud of all the things we did together.
WCT: What did you learn about yourself and campaigning in general over the course of these last few months?
LMH: Campaigning is really difficult, grueling and intense. I learned that I have the energy, stamina and inner drive within myself to do the hard work to become an elected official. This is something I wanted to do for these reasons and my candidacy matters to many people.
Helping candidates get out the vote like I have done in the past is one thing, but actually being a candidate is something very different. To have convictions that you share with your team, so they can amplify why you are running in the first place, takes a lot of time.
I have come to learn that local offices should be held by people who are invested in their communities, including people like me who care and have been involved as a volunteer for many organizationsincluding the chamber of commerce, because I am a small business owner[and] at my kid's neighborhood public school, and with civic groups, especially after the 2016 presidential elections, where our goal was to hold our then-president accountable.
I have also learned what I have done in the ward over the course of the many years I have lived here adds up to a lot, and people remember me. This includes stories from people who have come to my dance shop over the years.
Until you run for public office you really do not know how many people you really need to know to be successful. Getting the word out about a candidacy, especially in a race like mine where you had 10 people running for a vacancy, is a fascinating process. This has never happened in this ward before, where people had an actual choice.
It was interesting to me to see the people who chose to run for office in this race. I thought we had a better handle on women getting involved in elections. I thought we were going to see more women running. We did not have any trans people running in this ward, although we have a high population of LGBTQ people who live here. I would like to see that happen, because I believe that representation matters. One of the reasons why I ran is because I did not see myself represented in the way I wanted to in the candidates that were out there.
Originally, I was going to run for the police district council which is an historic position. I went through the training because I was interested in serving in that capacity. When I learned that Osterman was retiring, I decided to run for this race after many people encouraged me to run and I talked it over with my family.
WCT: I noticed that Dunne does not have LGBTQ issues listed as one of his categories of priorities on his campaign website whereas you do. What do you think that says about both of you as candidates?
LMH: As a queer woman it is important for me to let people know I see you. That the reason the platform is there for people to read is because I want the voters to hold me accountable when I become an elected official, so we can move on progressive issues together. Also, if there is something missing, I would like to know during this campaign so we can work together to include more specific LGBTQ policy issues moving forward.
I cannot speak to my opponent about why that is not a priority for him. Maybe it is because he does not have the lived experience, because none of his family members are members of the LGBTQ community. Maybe it is because although he was a leader in the local school counsel at the public school, he does not realize that this community has a lot of LGBTQ people living here. Maybe he presumes that he is just going to represent everybody and everything will be fine, but for me, for far too long, people like myself have been on the margins. When people on the margins are centered, everybody does better.
WCT: Why do you think your policies on economic development, housing, transportation, healthcare and public safety would be better for 48th Ward residents?
LMH: If equity and the community's needs are at the center of all of your policy platforms, then you are always going to find a way to the best solution. I have the lived experience of being a woman, queer person and daughter of Filipino immigrants and as a small business owner, artist, dancer, Cook County Healthcare system worker, licensed physical therapist and SEIU local union member. No matter what the issue is, I am going to bring my varied background to the table, and that matters. I believe I have more empathy for others since I come from intersecting marginalized communities.
This is the kind of thing that is really needed in the city council and really world-wide. Many people are on edge, because things are really unstable in housing, healthcare and food security, among other issues. What we learned from the pandemic is, if there is empathy, it creates stronger communities, and we need to continue to live in our values. That is what I will bring to Chicago's city council.
WCT: Who are you endorsing for mayor?
LMH: I am endorsing Brandon Johnson.
WCT: Why should voters choose you over Dunne to represent them?
LMH: I love this ward and this office is an opportunity to lead in the 48th Ward on so many issues, including mental health supports, housing for all and public safety. I have the heart, drive and passion to bring people together and we need this in Chicago right now.
WCT: Do you have any get out the vote events planned in the coming weeks? If so, where can voters find that information?
LMH: I will be having a GOTV comedy showcase at the Glenwood, 6962 North Glenwood Ave., March 38 at 8:00 p.m., featuring a number of LGBTQ comics. The free event is first come, first serve. No RVSP required. More information will be available on the campaign website.
See www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/ELECTIONS-2023-48th-Ward-candidate-Leni-Manaa-Hoppenworth-on-why-running-biggest-differences-from-other-challengers/74588.html and lenifor48th.com/ .