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Several candidates look to keep political power in family

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

“Say hello to your mother for me.”

Ebony Tillman gets that a lot while campaigning for 3rd Ward alderman.

After all, her iconic fancy-hat-wearing mom, former Ald. Dorothy Tillman, was her neighborhood’s colorful and quotable ward boss for 20 years — until getting unseated by Ald. Pat Dowell in 2007.

“I would say that people ask about my mom every other door, but really it’s more like every door,” Ebony Tillman said. “It’s the first question they ask everywhere I go. Even at the train station. It makes me feel very proud.”

She’s not alone.

Four other children of former aldermen also are making bids to oust incumbent ward bosses on the Feb. 22 ballot.

Keeping political power in the family — like the Daleys, Burkes, Carotherses, Strogers, Lipiniskis, Puchinskis, Madigans and Cullertons, to name a few — is a very Chicago thing to do.

“Machine politics always has had nepotism as one of its prime characteristics,” Chicago political expert and former Ald. Dick Simpson said. “Many times there are relatives on the [government] payroll and it’s not very different if one is alderman. It’s very common for one to grow up in the family business the way [Mayor] Richard M. Daley did growing up in his father’s household.”

Everyone knows the Tillmans

Dowell, 53, has beaten a Tillman once — and “I’ll do it again,” she said.

“I don’t even see it as a rivalry,” Dowell said. “I believe my community wants to move forward and not move backward.”

Ebony Tillman, 41, said the alderman shouldn’t be so confident about their head-to-head ballot showdown. Dowell’s 2007 win over Dorothy Tillman was only by a little more than 600 votes.

“The community loves [the Tillmans] and they miss the services we provided … I was in a store and a girl came up to me … she asked, ‘Are you going to be the alderman? We miss the toys and the Christmas tree,’ ” Ebony Tillman said. “I almost cried. I knew I should run.”

Ebony Tillman — who has worked on her mother’s staff, produces her mother’s radio show on WVON-AM (1690) and is editor of her mother’s small publishing company — said she got a group of supporters together and opened a campaign bank account before she told the plan to her mother — who immediately grilled her on city issues “better than an editorial board.”

Dowell, a former urban planner, said she doubts Ebony Tillman is very independent from her mother.

“Ebony has worked for her mother for 15 years and she’s still working for her mother today,” Dowell said. “Everyone knows the Tillman clan. I’ll run on my record.”

Ebony Tillman said folks who support her candidacy consider Dowell “unapproachable” and “weak.”

“They say that downtown she’s getting bullied. On the parking meter vote she got bullied,” Tillman said. “They think she’s soft … and don’t respect her.”

“We were friends”

Ald. Freddrena Lyle spoke at the late Mayor Eugene Sawyer’s funeral.

“He was a wonderful man, an old-school gentleman who was always nice and polite,” Lyle said. “I had the highest respect for him.”

Sawyer’s son Roderick Sawyer, once a Lyle supporter, is now her ballot foe.

“I thought we were friends,” Lyle said. “Do I hate him? Nah. But I’m going to beat him. And then we can be friends again, I guess.”

Sawyer, 47, says his run against Lyle isn’t personal — it’s about the way she has voted on big issues.

“I begged her not to vote for the parking meter deal. I was texting her on the Council floor not to vote for that most ridiculous bill,” he said. “The parking meter deal was the reason I’m running. My friends said, ‘No one is listening to you, why don’t you run?’ … And there was a groundswell of support. I’m not stabbing her in the back, I’m competing for the office.”

Sawyer, a municipal licensing lawyer, spent much of his formative years in his father’s 6th Ward office.

Lyle admits she’s worried that the legacy of Sawyer’s father, who was appointed mayor following the death of Harold Washington, gives the younger Sawyer credibility with senior citizens.

“I think there are seniors who are going to gravitate to him because of his father’s name,” Lyle said. “But I think people have had enough of the concept that a child of an elected official is naturally talented enough to have the same positions. Young people don’t subscribe to that at all. There’s fatigue with family dynasties.”

The 6th Ward ballot is filled out by lawyer Brian Sleet, who once worked on U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s staff; entrepreneur Sekum Walker; former Cook County assistant state’s attorney Cassandra Goodrum-Burton, and police officer Richard Wooten.

“I’m not my father”

Darcell Beavers, like her father, was a Chicago alderman — well, for a moment.

When William Beavers retired as 7th Ward alderman in December 2006 to become a Cook County commissioner, his City Council seat was passed on to his daughter.

But in 2007, Darcell lost to Sandi Jackson, a political newcomer married to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Now, Darcell Beavers says she’s ready for a rematch.

Beavers said her outspoken father — a longtime foe of Jesse Jackson Jr. — might take personal potshots at the personal troubles of Sandi Jackson and her husband, whose relationship with a female “social acquaintance” made headlines.

But she won’t go there.

“I’m not my father,” she said. “I’m a 51-year-old woman named Darcell Beavers and I work for the city. I’m not part of any rivalry with the Jacksons. [My campaign] is about our community. We need accountability, accessibility to the alderman. Our community is behind because we don’t have an alderman that’s here 24-7.”

Sandi Jackson says she isn’t at war with the Beavers family and she does make herself available to talk with residents.

“My constituents know that we have open office hours every Tuesday. You don’t need an appointment to see me, you just walk through the doors. I’m proud of that,” she said. “I’m here every day of the week except weekends. I spend Saturday and Sunday in D.C. because my husband is a congressman. The kids are there with my husband and my mother.”

The ward race isn’t just a Jackson-Beavers showdown. Four other candidates — computer engineer Greg Mitchell, homeland security planner Lionell Martin, CTA bus driver Sidney Brooks and retired AT&T employee Deborah Washington — are on the ballot.

“Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays

When Sheldon Sherman was born, Ald. Howard Brookins Jr.’s father drove the newborn and his mother home from the hospital in a limousine. The Shermans and Brookins families were tight — and powerful neighbors on Chicago’s South Side.

The alderman’s father, Howard Brookins Sr., was a state senator. Sherman’s dad, Niles Sherman, was a Chicago alderman and Democratic ward boss.

“My father was a supporter of Niles. And Niles was a supporter of mine. He helped me in my last [unsuccessful] election for state’s attorney,” Ald. Brookins said.

Now, Sheldon Sherman, quietly backed by his father, is going after his family friend’s 21st Ward seat.

“For him to pop up and say he’s running for alderman was a blow,” Brookins Jr. said. “And to hear it from the grapevine just felt like betrayal. If politics had a theme song, it would be ‘Back Stabbers’ by the O’Jays.”

Sheldon Sherman, a 38-year-old Chicago police officer, doesn’t list his father on his campaign website. He also didn’t mention any personal connection to the Brookins family in an interview.

“I’m not another alderman’s son running off his father’s name,” the younger Sherman said. “I don’t mention [my father] because opponents want to make the race about Niles Sherman. But he’s not running. I’m running.”

The younger Sherman did, however, bash his boyhood friend’s “work ethic.”

“There’s a disconnect with constituents, a lack of passion, fire and drive to serve,” Sherman said of Brookins. “He thinks he knows what’s best for the community and the community doesn’t know what’s best for themselves.”

Brookins said Sherman is politically naïve.

“I can’t take a poll every time a business wants to come into the area and see which way I go. That’s not leadership,” he said. “We’ve done a good job bringing jobs to the community and having open communication with people. We delivered and I’m not a rubber stamp. I’ve been independent to the unions and the mayor.”

Brookins, 47, and Sherman are joined on the ballot by three other candidates: Patricia A. Foster, Sylvia Y. Jones and Jerome Maddox.

A ‘double-edged sword’

In 1996, former 25th Ward Ald. Ambrosio Medrano went to jail for taking $31,000 in bribes from federal moles. He spent 30 months in federal prison.

Now, his namesake son, Ambrosio Medrano Jr., is vying for his father’s former City Council seat. He’ll have to oust powerful ward boss Ald. Danny Solis to do it.

But some days on the campaign trail, the sins of the father are visited upon the son.

“My name is a double-edged sword. Some like my name and some don’t because of my dad. When people say, ‘You’re just like your father,’ I tell them I was born and raised here. I understand more than anybody the ramifications of corruption,” Medrano Jr. said. “My father made decisions in his life that he chose. I was 17 and I would never do that. I know what the ramifications are … not just to the person who did it, but for the family. I felt it firsthand.”

And Solis, a longtime community organizer, rose to power after the elder Medrano got pinched by the feds.

“When the mayor’s people approached me, the first one I asked for advice was [Medrano Sr.]. He told me to take the appointment temporarily and then endorse one of his guys,” Solis said. “I told him, ‘You just got into trouble … no one wants another part of your network.’ The advice he gave me wasn’t very thoughtful. He’s a good guy, but I think he should look for a different career. Not his son, but him … and he’s still in the background there.”

Medrano Jr., 32, a city Transportation Department worker who’s active in local charities and community groups, says his dad is a campaign “volunteer” from whom he seeks advice. But Medrano Jr. says he’s not a candidate to appease his father or restore his family’s name.

“Solis is pretty powerful with the business people,” Medrano Jr. said. “But the neighborhood doesn’t want him. That’s why I’m running.”

Solis, 61, and Medrano Jr. also are being challenged by contractor Cuahutemoc Morfin.

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