By: Marisa Panella (Loyola Sophomore), Lauren Pause (Loyola Sophomore), and Monica Reyes (Loyola Senior)
In Chicago’s 48th Ward, the race for Alderman is hot. Ten candidates are battling for the chance to represent the area which includes the neighborhoods of Uptown, Edgewater, and Andersonville.
An Alderman is a member of the Chicago City Council, tasked with the responsibility of making Chicago a better place for the residents of their ward. As Alderman, responsibilities include serving on committees, voting on the annual Chicago budget, approving or rejecting the mayor’s appointees, and working to pass policies.
Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth is hoping to be the first queer Asian-American woman to represent the 48th Ward. Leni is a mother, small business owner, and a lifelong Chicagoan.
Manaa-Hoppenworth opened Chicago Dance Supply, her small business, on N. Clark St. in 2003 with her friend Lauren Miller, who she danced with at the Joel Hall Dance Center.
Manaa-Hoppenworth lives and breathes the spirit of Chicago. She was born on the South Side, attended high school at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, then finished her education career at UIC for graduate school. After graduating, she moved to Andersonville with her husband, which is where she resides to this day.
Manaa-Hoppenworth’s parents are Filipino immigrants. She is very in touch with her roots and has enjoyed the opportunities Andersonville has granted her as she is able to express her identity and celebrate diversity.
Manaa-Hoppenworth is no stranger to politics. She has been involved with advocacy and social movements at a variety of levels. She has a passion for human rights, progressive candidates, and civic engagement.
We sat down with Manaa-Hoppenworth at Metropolis Cafe in Rogers Park to discuss her future plans and what inspired her candidacy. Manaa-Hoppenworth is honored to be a candidate in this race and is thrilled for you to get a deeper look into what makes her a fierce contender in the battle for the 48th Ward.
*Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
RogersEdge Reporter: Tell me about your family.
Manaa-Hoppenworth: My mom’s dad was a mayor of a very small town in the Philippines too. She comes from a lineage of families who want to serve, and that’s what I want to do today. I want to serve and I think that what I’m trying to fight right now is the alternative, which is apathy and despair, and for me, it’s just not an option. It can’t be an option. It has to be all about action. Maybe it’s because of my dance background to like less talk and more action. I would like to do that in city council.
My mom, she’s long passed, [but] she had a very long, decades-long battle with a neurological disorder. I was her caretaker for her last days. But, you know, in the end, she lost a lot of control of her muscles, including her vocal cords and it was really hard for her to communicate. I want to use my voice in a way that empowers other people, and to be an example for people who can’t be here who don’t have a voice.
RER: Why did you decide to run for Alderman?
Manaa-Hoppenworth: I’ve just wanted to right things, and I’ve always been that way all my life. So in 2016, I got really mad after the federal elections. Even though I had a small business and I had kids, I wanted to do more. And so, I organized people to go from Illinois to D.C. and back, as I took care of operations for the Women’s March, Illinois. It was a fantastic day. But then when we came back, we’re like, what are we going to do? And so, I created local groups and a statewide chapter of Indivisible [, a movement which] is all about electing progressive candidates, and fighting for progressive issues.
At the cornerstone of democracy is civic engagement. And that includes registering to vote, getting out to vote, and then not only that but doing things between every single election, things that are important to build community. I started marching because, of course, all of our rights were kind of under attack… So, that’s the reason why I’m here because I’ve been doing this work at the federal and state level. I want to take this to the citywide level, because all politics is local, and local politics is all relations. And relationships are how you build strong communities. It’s how we’re going to take care of each other and keep one another safe.
RER: What is grounding you to your campaign?
Manaa-Hoppenworth: The job of an alderman is to be a good steward of the land and the people that are in it. 80 percent of that is constituent services. That includes everything you could think of: potholes, stoplights, and also connecting people to each other.
A connector is really something that makes communities great, and we need more of that. Beyond that, I’m really concerned about people as we’re looking at the snow outside and there are individuals who are living outside in tents. They work and they’re waiting to be placed in shelters, or find permanent housing, but they can’t go home and wash themselves, they can’t go home and lock the door and feel safe and they can’t go home and feel like they can get a full night’s rest without being potentially violated.
This is just wrong. We need to address that. We could do that at the local levels. For instance, passing ordinances that will fund a permanently funded solution to help people get housing and all the services that they need, including health care, including mental health support, services to address addiction, job placement services and clean air and water and so on and so forth and the job of an alderperson is to do just that.
Beyond that, the people who have homes and who are renters are feeling housing insecure because cost of living has increased because of higher taxes. We need to do things at the statewide level, like lift the ban on rent control and pass a fair tax so that we can help distribute it and also strengthen the social safety net that we need so that we can all be safe, but we need to work together to do that and that’s one of the reasons why I want to be an alderperson. I am a connector and I have been doing that work, but I needed a platform that I can use to work with my legislators at the state, federal and local levels to pass ordinances that make an impact on people’s lives.
RER: Why do you think violence prevention programs are important for Chicago?
Manaa-Hoppenworth: Firstly, the police have one of the highest rates of suicide. [Secondly], we need better-trained police and three we know that police are expected to do so much. What parts can we expect them to do well, if they have to do so much? So in the case of somebody having a mental health crisis, what’s better to bring to an environment where things are so heightened already, especially when you’re a black person on the south side and having a mental health crisis? I don’t think it’s an armed police[man].
We have to think about what we’re [doing already] at the statewide level, is calling for alternatives to police in a mental health crisis. I’d take that to the municipal level, which we need to do now. With treatment, not trauma, we could do that. We just need to pass that ordinance.
RER: How did you feel when Harry Osterman endorsed Joe Dunne?
Manaa-Hoppenworth: How did I feel? I think it’s beyond feelings. I think it’s winning. I just have to win. You know, endorsements are one thing, but winning is another and that’s what I intend to do.
RER: What is your hope for Chicago/the 48th Ward in the next five years?
Manaa-Hoppenworth: My hope for Chicago in the next five years is, whoever’s elected in February, because we have a third of the city council leaving and a possibility of another mayor, to work together to find tangible structural solutions to dismantle decades of disinvestment. And we can do that together. So that everybody has a home first, and then the services that they need so that all of us can feel safer.
We could do that in the 48th Ward. It’s already happening. We just need to maximize what we’re already doing, and then bring people together so that they are part of the process. Not just the same people at the table, but more people at the table. Because more people are more fun. That’s what we want [and] that’s who we are… We want this ward in the Chicagoland area to stay dense because we like being around people, but we also want it to stay diverse because that’s what makes this board and this city great.
Early voting for the aldermanic election begins Monday, February 13th and will continue through February 28th. 48th Ward voters can go to Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway St. or any other early voting site which can be found online. To register to vote or find information about the ways you can vote go to the Chicago Elections page which can be found here.