Prentice Butler

At a Saturday morning forum for South Side aldermanic runoff elections, 4th Ward candidate Prentice Butler answered questions on economic development, education and public safety unencumbered by his opponent, state Rep. Lamont Robinson (D-5th), who did not attend.

The March 25 forum, hosted by the Chicago Southside branch NAACP at Quinn Chapel AME, 2401 S. Wabash Ave., is the second forum for 4th Ward candidates since the municipal election on Feb. 28. The event also included a panel of runoff candidates from the 5th, 6th and 21st wards.

In February’s 4th Ward election, Robinson and Butler beat out four other candidates, receiving 46.1% of the vote and 14.97%, respectively, according to the Chicago Board of Elections. Since neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote, the two must face off again in a runoff election on April 4.

The 4th Ward contains Hyde Park between 53rd Street, Hyde Park Boulevard, and Woodlawn and Lake Park avenues. It contains the rest of Kenwood, eastern parts of Bronzeville and part of the South Loop.

Butler is outgoing Ald. Sophia King’s (4th) chief of staff and served in the same role for her predecessor, Ald. William D. Burns. On Saturday, he introduced himself to the audience of about 30 attendees as a longtime resident of the mid-South Side. He said he was born in the former Michael Reese Hospital, 2929 S. Ellis Ave., educated at Hales Franciscan High School, 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave., and attended the University of Chicago for his master’s.

He said he’s lived in Bronzeville since 2007, serving with youth civic organization 100 Black Men in Chicago and Alpha Pi Alpha, a Black fraternity. He then lambasted his opponent for his nonattendance.

“I’ve been here on the ground working on the two administrations, I’ve been successful. I’ve been working for the community, I’ve been consistent,” Butler said. “The other candidate, which is not here today, uses the excuse that he’s at Springfield, working for the people. He is not, he’s afraid and he’s not being accountable to the community.”

“Anybody that wants your vote and refuses to be accessible, and refuses to share their ideas, should not seek office in the City Council,” he said.

Robinson, a two-term state representative and insurance business owner, was reelected in November.

If elected, Butler said his first priority is addressing public safety. He noted his experience working with nonprofit violence intervention groups like the Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC), who do contract work with the 4th Ward.

Asked of his plans for business development, Butler pointed to several developments he’s overseen while working in the 4th Ward office: the Bronzeville Winery, 4420 S. Cottage Grove Ave., the incoming Northwestern Medicine clinic at the 4800 block of S. Cottage Grove Ave. and the megadevelopment on the former Michael Reese Hospital site, which is set to break ground this Wednesday.

“This is not theoretical for me, this is what I’ve been working on as Chief of Staff for the last 12 years. I’ve been at the table, I have proven results, not theoretical,” Butler said. “And most of all, I want to make sure with small businesses, we need to start getting the grants up front, not after they spend the money.

Referencing the Chicago Climate Action plan’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 62% by 2040, moderators asked how candidates would ensure equitable decarbonization and lower the economic burden for low-income and Black communities disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

Butler described his work with Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, advocating in 2008 for the city’s first weatherization program, which helped residents save on utility bills. He then pivoted to addressing the issue of lead pipes in Chicago and subsequent lead contamination of city tap water, which was met with applause.

Noting the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill passed in 2021, $1.7 billion of which includes funds to help the city replace lead service lines, Butler said he’d work to expedite this process. “Right now the City of Chicago is saying they can’t get this done until 2025,” he said. “So we need to apply for the grants from the federal government, and make sure the job is done quicker and faster.”

Asked which City Council committee he would want to serve on, Butler said he would choose the Committee on Housing and Real Estate, to stay up to date on proposed developments and land transactions. He said he would also want to serve on the Committee on Public Safety and Committee and on the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards.

Regarding public safety, Butler again described his plan to expand the Mental Health First Responders model and his desire to have violence interrupters groups at work in the ward, “to build valid relationships with members of the community to diffuse things before they come up.”

Noting that the 21st and 2nd police districts merged in 2012 under Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, he said that in the ward, “I don’t hear defund the police, but where are the police?” He said he wants to make sure he’s working with the University of Chicago police force and safety ambassadors.

He also mentioned the importance of addressing the systemic issues such as youth education and job opportunities.

In his closing statement, Butler again pointed out the absence of his opponent.

“He is not here because his handlers don’t want him to be. They feel as though they have a lead, they’ve got all the money they need to win this race,” he said. “So therefore they don’t want any hiccups, so he doesn’t want to debate in public.”

Asked for comment, Robinson said he had a prior engagement of three meet-and-greets.

Butler also criticized Robinson for only briefly attending a previous forum on March 20, leaving after making an opening statement. Robinson confirmed with the Herald that he left early, saying he had to go to Springfield to meet with colleagues in the legislature.

Earlier this month, all former 4th Ward candidates endorsed Butler, similarly criticizing Robinson for being a no-show at forums.

With one week left in the runoff election, Robinson currently has raised about $158,000 in campaign contributions, while Butler has about $73,000, according to Illinois Sunshine.

Event organizers said that mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas were also invited to attend, though neither did.

“I think it’s very disrespectful that we didn’t get an email that they were not going to show,” said NAACP Chicago Southside branch president Rose Joshua. “It shows me that, whoever gets in, this is how they are going to operate as it relates to our community.”

staff writer

Zoe Pharo is a graduate of Carleton College. She was recently an editorial intern for In These Times, and has also written for Little Village and Chapel Hill Magazine. 

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