Southeast Side Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza — the first member of the Chicago Teachers Union ever elected to the Chicago City Council — is retiring after two terms.
Garza, the daughter of famous labor leader Eddie “Oil Can” Sadlowski, was hailed as a progressive champion throughout much of her time in politics, though she faced criticism in recent years from some activists over her handling of a scrap metal shredder’s proposed move into her ward.
In 2019, Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose Garza to serve as chair of the City Council’s labor committee, where Garza helped push through a number of union-supported measures, including a $15 minimum wage ordinance and fair workweek legislation. Despite their early successes together, Garza and Lightfoot had a falling out in recent years that highlights the struggles Lightfoot has faced building and maintaining relationships.
For the past eight years, Garza has led several initiatives to try and revitalize the 10th Ward, which includes heavily industrial corridors and a history of environmental pollution. She faced criticism from progressive activists for supporting a plan to move scrap shredder General Iron into the ward and also had a public falling-out with Lightfoot.
“As the first ever Chicago Teachers Union member to be elected to City Council and the first woman to represent the 10th Ward, it has been my greatest honor to serve my constituents, friends and neighbors on the Southeast Side,” Garza said in a statement. “I am proud and humbled by the responsibility and the trust that has been placed upon me, to create positive and long lasting social change within our communities. I am proud that after a lot of hard work, we have new businesses and developments in the 10th Ward.”
Garza is the latest in a long line of aldermen heading for the exits.
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Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney announced last week he would not run for reelection. To his south, Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, has already stepped down. Uptown Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, and Edgewater and Andersonville Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th, have both announced they are retiring at the end of the term in May.
Longtime South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, announced Friday she will also retire at the end of her term, and 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin has said she will not run again after being indicted on federal bribery charges.
Three other members of the council — Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, Sophia King, 4th, and Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th — are running for mayor next year against Lightfoot, so they are unable to seek reelection as City Council members. Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, will exit the council before the end of his term should he be elected in November to serve on the Cook County’s Board of Review.
Others, such as Ald. Michael Scott, 24th, who left the council for a job in the private sector, and Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson, convicted of tax evasion and lying to banking regulators, have stepped down and had their positions filled by mayoral appointment. Lightfoot replaced Daley Thompson with United Airlines director Nicole Lee, and she replaced Scott with his sister, Monique Scott, a Chicago Park District supervisor.
Earlier this year, Garza gave an interview to journalist Ben Joravsky in which she offered a window into the behind-the-scenes complaints aldermen share about Lightfoot, including people who were once friendly with the mayor.
“I have never met anybody who has managed to piss off every single person they come in contact with — police, fire, teachers, aldermen, businesses, manufacturing, and that’s it,” Garza said in the interview.
Lightfoot, who typically responds to even mild criticism with scorn, declined to criticize Garza even after the interview. Days later, she texted Garza, “Sue, I love you. That has not changed.”
After Garza announced her retirement Monday, Lightfoot released a statement praising Garza as a “relentless champion for working families in her own Southeast Side community and our city as a whole.”
“Sue’s advocacy in City Council will be missed but I am confident we will continue to hear from her and see her on the front lines fighting for social justice for years to come,” Lightfoot said.
During the podcast interview, Garza had also criticized the Lightfoot administration for blocking a permit sought by clout-heavy scrap shredder General Iron seeking to operate on the Southeast Side. Garza said she received a call from public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady telling her they’d be denying the permit.
“I asked, ‘On what grounds? You told me you were going to follow the science. I’m not understanding the decision,’” Garza said, recounting the conversation.
Arwady said the firm was “out of compliance,” according to Garza, who criticized the city for denying the permit and the jobs it would bring.
“I literally said, ‘This is a political decision. I am not stupid. I am not stupid and I hope you can sleep at night knowing that you’re putting all these people out of work,’” Garza said.
In her retirement statement, Garza noted she has been working tirelessly for the ward for decades and needs to take a step back for her family and herself.
“When I took office, and for many many years before, our great neighborhoods were disconnected from each other. It was nearly impossible to walk from one side of the Calumet River to the other. I’m pleased that as I leave office the pedestrian connections between the South Deering, Jeffery Manor and East Side communities now have millions of dollars in new sidewalks,” Garza said.
“Similarly, in South Chicago I have worked tirelessly over my two terms to help implement the South Chicago Revitalization plan, with a new streetscape and protected bike lanes that will beautify the great Commercial Avenue shopping corridor. We established the Hegewisch Business Association and brought back Hegewisch Fest. We re-established Chicago’s only Labor Day Parade to celebrate the workers from all across the city.”
Garza also said she was proud to return the former Republic Steel/LTV property to productive use, “providing jobs for thousands and tax revenue to fund our roads, schools and infrastructure.”
“Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the 10th Ward is on track to a new future, reclaiming our former vacant brownfields for new jobs and development,” Garza said. “The rest of Chicago is also finally taking notice of what many of us have known for a long time, that the southeast side has some great recreational areas. Steelworkers Park on our lakefront now has a rock climbing wall, Big Marsh Bike Park has the Ford Environmental Center which has finally been completed, and Mann and Rowan Park have improved athletic fields.”