Crusader staff report
Alderman Willie Cochran (20th Ward) on Monday, November 13, announced that he will not seek re-election, bringing an end to a political era that saw a rebirth of Woodlawn, and leaving behind a period of uncertainty with concerns of gentrification growing, as property values rise and longtime community businesses close.
A former Chicago police officer, Cochran is currently serving his third term as alderman. His current term expires in 2019, but at a Chicago city budget hearing, Cochran said he will not run for a fourth time. After 10 years in political office, Cochran is calling it quits.
“I’ve been saying for years that I wouldn’t run again, because I believe in term limits,” Cochran said.
Concerns about Cochran’s health grew, when on November 2 he collapsed in his chair during a Chicago Police Department hearing. Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) saw Cochran shaking, and slumping in his chair. Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), a former lifeguard, performed CPR reviving Cochran, who was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Since then, few know what caused Cochran to collapse or what his political future holds at city hall.
Cochran said he believes he fainted because of complications from a new blood pressure medication he’s taking. “That’s the first time I’ve fainted, not to mean that I haven’t felt like fainting before in my life or from big hits that I may have taken once or twice in my life,” he said.
Cochran said doctors will continue running tests to try to figure out exactly what happened.
In addition to Woodlawn, Cochran’s ward includes Englewood, Back of the Yards, Washington Park and Greater Grand Crossing.
During his leadership, Englewood drew attention as residents cheered the opening of a Whole Foods in a community that is also a food desert. But most of the spotlight has been on where the anticipated construction of the Obama Presidential Center and Library is planned, fueling urban renewal in a neighborhood that has long suffered from unemployment, poverty and urban blight. Sleek affordable housing complexes have sprouted up in Woodlawn and a new Jewel supermarket is coming to the area, while plans are underway for a multimillion-dollar renovation of the elevated CTA Green Line station on 63rd Street and Cottage Grove.
A recent survey said Woodlawn has experienced the third largest jump in the country in property values. In the East sector of Woodlawn, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held last month to dedicate a large mosaic mural under the viaduct at 63rd and Dorchester. A similar mural at 67th and Marquette Road was dedicated during the summer of 2016.
As Woodlawn continues to grow, longtime businesses are closing, leaving residents worried about gentrification and high rents forcing them out of their homes. It’s a concern that Cochran’s successor most likely will face. Cochran said he has not decided to endorse anyone so far.
Last December, Cochran pleaded not guilty to a federal indictment that says he shook down a liquor store manager in exchange for his support. Federal law enforcement officials also accuse Cochran of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from a charitable ward fund intended to help seniors and children in his impoverished community. The indictment says he used the money to gamble and pay for part of his daughter’s college tuition.