Andre Smith, a minister and entrepreneur who founded the violence prevention group Chicago Against Violence, is making a fourth run for the 20th Ward seat.
“The last 30 years of my life, I have been a public servant, fighting for the quality of life for others, and I came to realize the way you make a difference is through legislation,” Smith said.
With the 2022 ward remapping, the 20th Ward now contains a corner of northwestern Hyde Park in addition to the majority of Woodlawn and Washington Park, and parts of Englewood and Back of the Yards.
Smith grew up in Bronzeville, where he lived in the public housing project the Robert Taylor Homes and attended DuSable High School. After graduating, he enrolled in Job Corps, a nationwide career technical training and education program; he took up welding and worked on railroads.
He left Chicago in 1990 to train to be an underwater welder at the College of Oceaneering in Los Angeles.
Smith unsuccessfully ran for the City Council seat in 2011 and 2015 against incumbent Ald. Willie Cochran (20th). He campaigned again for the open seat in 2019, placing fifth with eight percent of the vote.
He’s also vyed for other elected offices. In 2016, he ran for the Illinois House of Representatives but did not make the ballot, and this summer, he lost the primary election for Cook County Board of Commissioners in the second district.
Smith returned to Chicago shortly after because he was having a baby; he took a job at ComEd. He said he went to barber school and opened up several shops on the South Side in the early 1990s.
In 1998, he matriculated at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, and became a minister. He still serves as a minister at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.
Smith founded and serves as CEO of the organization Chicago Against Violence, which he said has been around for 18 years. “When somebody gets shot, they call me,” Smith said, and “I come out, one o’clock (or) two o’clock in the morning, we would put on our (yellow) jackets and we would go to the scene.”
Smith pointed to his advocacy work to fight against former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios’ property taxes, against the Cook County soda tax and to keep Bronzeville’s Urban Prep a charter school.
He participated in protests to establish a trauma center at the University of Chicago Medical Center in the mid-2010s. Protests were sparked after Damian Turner was shot in 2010 and died while being transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the nearest trauma center.
He said his priorities for the ward are “making our seniors and the residents feel that they’re not neglected and their voice is being heard, and they’re in a safe community.” If elected, he said he would create an advisory board that would have two representatives from every community.
Smith said he would also establish a “senior hotline” and mobile ward office that would travel around to facilities for older adults and other locations in the ward. He would also advocate for a property tax freeze.
Regarding public safety, he said he is a beat facilitator and has “a concrete safety plan.” He added that he is working on a project called “build a trade instead of a sentence,” which would give young people an alternative option to incarceration when arrested.
Smith has been a vocal opponent of the city’s use of the former Wadsworth Elementary School as a shelter for migrants, going so far as to stage a protest outside of the school when migrants arrived in early February, standing in front of and blocking the bus.
Noting the Obama Presidential Center’s ongoing construction in Jackson Park and a predicted influx of foot traffic, he said he wants to make the 20th Ward and 63rd Street a “tourist destination.”
Already operating out of a large campaign office, Smith philosophized that a ward is both a home and a business: “Meaning that if you have a dirty ward, you have lack of service, you have high crime, no grocery stores, lack of economic development … If that were considered a house, a person would have called (the Department of Children and Family Services),” he said.
“I’m going to always serve the people, in whatever capacity that is. Even as alderman, if someone is affected (by) gun violence in my ward, I’m going to be there.”
Smith is running against incumbent Ald. Jeanette Taylor and retired police officer Jennifer Maddox. Chicago municipal elections will take place on February 28.
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