Split between four community areas and with a revolving door of aldermen, many of whom have wound up in jail, the 20th Ward has historically lacked the political identity and independence of its neighbors.
Lately, it has showed: turnout has dropped in the past three presidential elections and, after increasing to 31.28% in the 2015 mayoral runoff, in both rounds of the 2019 municipal elections.
The city’s final count for the 2020 general election won’t be final for another week, but, as of Nov. 16, 20th Ward turnout stands at 63.36%, compared with 80.42% in the 4th Ward and 78.69% in the 5th.
In 2016, 65.11% of the 20th Ward voted; in 2012, when the president was a native son, 77.7% did.
"First of all, of course I look at the numbers in the 20th Ward in comparison to the other wards, but I also compare the primary numbers this year as well as the last presidential election," state Sen. Mattie Hunter (3rd), the ward's Democratic committeewoman, said in an interview. "We've got so much going on in our ward, so I'm satisfied right now, today, with the turnout.”
“I know that we can do better, and we will do better in the future,” she continued. “However, you have to remember that we haven't had much leadership in terms of the committeeman's position in the 20th Ward in the past eight years."
Scandal-plagued former Ald. Willie Cochran, who resigned when he pled guilty to federal corruption charges, was the ward’s Democratic committeeman through 2016, when Kevin Bailey ran unopposed for the position. (His mother, Maria Bailey, won the Republican position the same year with all of 99 votes.)
Bailey tried to use the position to win the 2019 aldermanic election, but he came in third, and now-Ald. Jeanette Taylor cruised to an easy victory in the runoff.
Taylor, a nominal Democrat more closely identified with socialism, did not endorse in the March race for Democratic committeewoman between Hunter and police officer and nonprofit worker Jennifer Maddox. Hunter won with 55.28% of the vote.
While the 20th Ward has traditionally been seen as Woodlawn-based, that neighborhood is partially included in Ald. Leslie Hairston’s 5th Ward. Washington Park, where Hunter lives, is split between the 20th and 3rd wards, represented by Ald. Pat Dowell. The 20th also includes part of Back of the Yards, with two other wards, and Englewood, notoriously split amongst six different wards.
Hunter’s 3rd Senate District sprawls from River North and the Loop out over the South Side, encompassing a rough inland triangle that ranges from half of Marquette Park to a corner of South Shore. Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) represents most of Woodlawn in Springfield, but Hunter, who has held her seat since 2003, represents most of the 20th Ward’s western parts, including much of Englewood.
"I've got to give it to the people of the 20th Ward," Hunter said. "I didn't have to reach out to people and ask if they wanted to be a judge. They literally reached out to me, and they literally want different things to happen in their community. And I agree with them. I'm really happy to know that we still have some folks who want to make a change in the community, and they're willing to roll up their sleeves and do it."
There is talk, Hunter said, of beginning a 20th Ward Democratic Organization, akin to the one Cook County Board President and Democratic Party Chair Toni Preckwinkle runs in the 4th Ward. She is also focused on fundraising, though the pandemic makes face-to-face organizing nearly impossible.
"We know that COVID is impacting a tremendous amount of outreach, but we've been able to get a lot of work done over Zoom. I am going to have to organize electronically," she said, noting that Chicago politics are also entering a cooling-off period, with the 2022 primaries 16 months away.
"I've got two years before there's another election, and we plan on using that two-year downtime to organize."