Maya Hodari, 20th Ward aldermanic candidate, sat down with The Maroon at Medici on 57th on Halloween night with her son, dressed as an astronaut, in tow. Her family is a large part of why she chose to run for public office, she said.
“Our neighborhood has experienced an increase in violent crime and [my son has] been exposed to that for his entire life on the South Side, which is very different from what I experienced as a child growing up on the South Side of Chicago. So, I worry about that a lot.”
Hodari is the director of development at the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) and managed several controversial housing projects during her time at the corporation. She is also a Woodlawn resident and a founding member of the Woodlawn Neighbors Association, a group of neighbors aiming to increase police presence and implement beautification projects in Woodlawn.
She is running in a crowded race of at least nine candidates for the office occupied by incumbent Willie Cochran. Cochran is currently negotiating a guilty plea to federal corruption charges.
This is Hodari’s first time running for an elected office. With the required number of signatures, she is near-guaranteed to be on the ballot in February.
Hodari was born and raised on the South Side and speaks passionately about her values as a neighbor and resident of the community. Her campaign slogan is “Neighbors for Maya Hodari.”
Hodari helped found the Woodlawn Neighbors Association in 2008 after she and her neighbors were “victimized” by a spike in burglaries in the area that year, she said. The group advocated for additional police resources in the neighborhood in response to what Hodari called a lackluster response from the existing police presence. The group also supported community beautification projects and infrastructure services, like snow plowing.
Hodari mentions her involvement with the CHA infrequently. Her campaign flyers say she works “for a public sector agency,” and her campaign’s Facebook page explains how she has “17 years of experience implementing revitalization initiatives across the City,” rather than naming the CHA.
The CHA, while Hodari was there, oversaw several controversial projects, including the Ickes Homes and Roosevelt Square redevelopments. Community members affected by the Ickes Homes project said they were promised 402 out of the 867 units planned devoted to CHA residents while the CHA and Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell claimed they promised 200. In the Roosevelt Square project, only about half of the promised units were built by 2015 while most of the homes destroyed to make space for the project were demolished between 2002 and 2007.
One of Hodari’s main policy focuses is public safety. At an Aldermanic Candidate Forum earlier this month, she said violence in the community must be treated as a “public health epidemic” and called for “real solutions” to the issue.
By “real solutions” Hodari means programs and developments to provide neighborhood residents with opportunities that might guide them away from a life of violence, such as school improvement and increased economic development in the area. Hodari has supported the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), which City Council recently approved for a 99-year, $10 lease.
At a public hearing about the OPC in 2015, Hodari passionately spoke about the project saying that the members of her community “don’t want this, we need this.” She also supported the project more recently at the candidate forum. Part of her plan is to ensure that residents are aware of and prepared for opportunities the Center will provide, like construction jobs and business opportunities, as well as making sure businesses that enter the area hire locally.
Hodari also says the center, being the first presidential library of an African-American president, represents hope for the community and the young people in it. Once again, she referenced her son as one of the young people whom the Center would impact.
“It’s not going to be an opportunity that’s available for our families and our children in our lifetime,” she said. “It helps [my son] understand that our experience is not just about the violence that we see on our block.”
At the Aldermanic Candidate Forum, only Hodari and Kevin Bailey, a 20th Ward Democratic Party Committeeman, did not say they would agree to a proposed community benefits agreement (CBA). Both said they hadn’t read it and couldn’t give a definitive answer. Many in the community, including candidate Jeanette Taylor, who has included a CBA as part of her platform on her website, feel that it is necessary in order to ensure development does not push residents out of the community.
Hodari said she supports the OPC’s outlined community commitments, but is concerned that a CBA might be drafted by those outside the community instead of those that live in the area. Community members at the forum brought copies of their CBA proposal to the event for candidates to read.
“I do worry about if there is this formal agreement that we will actually be able to be party to it,” she said. “Somebody outside of the neighborhood demanding a community benefits agreement and being the party that executes it, that makes us uncomfortable.”
Community is the center of Hodari’s campaign, a point she repeatedly emphasized, sitting with her son among fellow trick-or-treaters at Medici.
“I spent my career working in the service of people who need help to address their real daily issues,” she said. “That’s my passion, that’s my commitment, that’s been my experience. And I think that sets me apart from other candidates.”
Correction on Feb. 4, 2019, 7:21 p.m. CST:
The headline of the article originally stated incorrectly that Hodari is a former CHA director.