February 18, 2011

Student running for 11th ward alderman

A U of C fourth-year is hoping to make a southwest Chicago ward more youthful.

John Kozlar is running for the 11th ward alderman spot against past candidate Carl Segvich and incumbent James A. Balcer. At 22 years old, he will be the youngest to serve if elected.

Kozlar began his campaign by collecting signatures to enter the campaign as a write-in. With a group of college undergrads, including his campaign manager fourth-year Natalie Hall, Kozlar headed out to 11th ward neighborhoods, gathered over 400 signatures, and was successfully placed on the ballot.

Kozlar’s campaign emphasizes youth outreach inside the ward, especially in terms of providing opportunities. He said that a corruption scandal in the ward in 2003 resulted in the dwindling of opportunities for city jobs in the 11th ward.

Before 2003, 7 out of 10 individuals in the 11th ward were employed by the city. Young people in the area, according to Kozlar, had four options: “Work for the city, go to college, find another job, or go to the streets.”

But since the scandal, the 11th ward has been watched closely by the city government, so jobs working for the city are more difficult to obtain. As a direct result, young people don’t have many opportunities, and only 23 percent of 11th ward youth go to college.

Kozlar feels that he can contribute. As a “new candidate with a new face,” he wants to advocate to get more city jobs for the community. “The corruption scandal should not reflect the entire community,” he said.

Kozlar’s grass-roots campaign philosophy stems from his youth-oriented platform. He started by recruiting members from friends and other students, looking for equal amounts of time and money donations. His Facebook campaign page currently has 161 fans.

In his campaign, Kozlar focuses on his status as a Chicago native rather than pushing his University of Chicago credentials.

Kozlar has billed himself as a non-partisan candidate, believing that politics work better on a community level when more people are involved. “When you listen to everyone, things begin to work,” he said.

A political science major on a pre-med track, Kozlar is also a product of Chicago Public Schools—he attended Chicago’s Mark Sheridan Middle School and McKinley Park High school. “Politics and medicine are my two plan A’s,” said Kozlar, who added that he will defer medical school if he is elected.

Kozlar is running against Balcer, who has served as alderman of the 11th ward for 13 years. He was appointed in 1995 by Mayor Richard Daley and was re-elected in 1997. In the 2007 election, Balcer won with over 70 percent of the vote.

Kozlar wants to change the way politics in Chicago work. “People talk a lot about the Chicago machine of politics,” Kozlar said, “but the only machine is the voter.”