Most of the 32 aldermen who won in February found out about their election victories at campaign parties or at home with family. In true millennial fashion, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa learned of his while sitting in his car, alone, checking Facebook. The 26-year-old thumped incumbent Rey Colon in the 35th Ward, earning 67 percent of the vote.
That by itself would be surprising. But curiously, Ramirez-Rosa hails from basically the same part of the city that just elected another 20-something, Will Guzzardi, to the state legislature, ousting incumbent (and daughter of the Cook County assessor) Toni Berrios. The swath of Chicago they call home—an area covering parts of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and Hermosa—is proving to be ground zero for fresh-faced young politicians defeating powerful incumbents. So what gives?
“That area is changing,” says Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s heavily Latino, but it is gentrifying and bringing in people who don’t want to go with the old machine.”
Consider the part of Logan Square with the ZIP code 60647, which has the largest overlap between Guzzardi’s 39th District and Ramirez-Rosa’s 35th Ward. From 2000 to 2010, its Hispanic population declined from 68 percent to 55 percent, while the white population rose from 23 percent to 35 percent. What’s more, the population of residents ages 25 to 45 grew from 38 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2010.
Simpson says 30- and 40-year-olds are the group effecting change most: “A lot of them have children who go to school.” (Ramirez-Rosa and Guzzardi both vigorously protested Chicago’s school closings.)
Ramirez-Rosa agrees that the demographic groups here have different priorities from those in moneyed neighborhoods such as River North and Lincoln Park (which voted overwhelmingly for Rahm Emanuel). “I think Logan Square is a place of public workers, of teachers, of artists, of folks that work in the nonprofit sector, and Latino working families,” Ramirez-Rosa says. “People who want to see independent leadership that’s accountable to their neighborhoods. And I think that’s why they’ve been willing to give Will Guzzardi and me an opportunity.”
The community organizer is contemplating going to law school—after he sets up a constituent services office for his ward, that is.
The former Huffington Post editor first ran for the legislature in 2012—before he could even rent a car—and lost by only 125 votes.