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From The Classroom To The Campaign Trail

Susan Sadlowski Garza, a counselor at Jane Addams Elementary, canvases with supporters on the south side of Chicago. Garza is running for Chicago's City Council.

It's a frigid, 9-degree day and Susan Sadlowski Garza is trudging through fresh snow in Chicago's 10th Ward.

"Hi, good morning. How are you? My name is Sue Sadlowski Garza, I'm running for alderman," Garza says to a woman who has just cracked open her front door.

Garza is the only counselor at Jane Addams Elementary, a school of about 850 students on the far south side of Chicago. And she's one of five Chicago teachers running for city council.

The others are: Ed Hershey (25th), Tim Meegan (33rd), Tara Stamps (37th), and Dianne Daleiden (40th).

Garza, like a lot of Chicago teachers, is no fan Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The mayor made enemies in the Chicago Teachers Union early in his first term. He refused to pay a 4 percent raise promised by the previous administration, then pushed to lengthen the school day by more than an hour. That drama ultimately led to the first schools strike in 25 years.

And Emanuel's decision to close 50 schools has caused even more dissent from teachers and communities.

The mayor, who's facing his own tough re-election challenge, has countered that the tough decisions, like closing 50 schools, were necessary to keep the city's finances under control.

These concerns are on Garza's mind when she heads out to talk with voters after school and on weekends.

"Ward by ward and everywhere we go, people have had it," she says. "People are really just standing up and saying we need to take back our city."

Ultimately, Chicago's City Council has little power over the public schools, which are controlled by the mayor and his hand-picked school board.

John Pope, the current 10th Ward Alderman, who's running against Garza, says that doesn't mean he's not involved with schools.

"Certainly, Chicago Public Schools is their own taxing body," Pope said. "But as an alderman, we're responsible for everything pretty much ... I'm certainly proud of the progress we've made in the 10th Ward with respect to schools."

Pope said that since taking office in 2000, he's helped open schools in the ward, not close them.

Garza counters that Pope's constant agreement with Emanuel is telling. City Council records show he's voted with the mayor 100 percent of the time. If elected, Garza says she'll change that.

"Every month, I want to have an open door policy," Garza said. "Because of my training in counseling, I'm a really good listener."

On that frigid day last month, former students and fellow teachers crowded Garza's campaign office — an old taco shop that closed a few years ago. The old soda machine still sits next to the counter with a sign that reads: NO REFILLS.

A picture of Garza's dad, Ed Sadlowski, a former president of the United Steelworkers of America Local 65, hangs on the wall next to Garza's campaign posters.

Former student Amanda Calo, 24, says the neighborhood has changed a lot since she was a little girl. There are fewer jobs and violence has increased. She says Garza knows how to make change for the better. After all, Calo added, Garza helped change her life.

"She's like my second mother," Calo said. "I wouldn't have gone to the high school I went to, which was Whitney Young, I wouldn't be the college graduate (I am), if it wasn't for this woman."

Garza has to keep her campaign secret while at school. CPS bans political activity on school grounds. But with the election less than a month away, Garza said, her current students have figured it out.

Copyright 2015 Chicago Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wbez.org.

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