Nicole Johnson | She Votes Illinois Questionnaire

Nicole Johnson — She Votes Illinois Questionnaire

Chicago Ward: 20th

Candidate name as it appears on the ballot: Nicole Johnson

Name as you would like to be called: N/A

Preferred gender pronouns: She/her/hers

Petitions challenge still pending? No


Twitter handle: nicolejchi

Facebook page:

Instagram user name: nicolejchi

Hashtag used for your campaign: #WeDeserveBetter #ChicagoOurWay

Campaign manager name: Delmarie Cobb

Contact email address:

Contact phone number: 773–783–6227

1. Tell us about yourself

My life changed Dec. 23, 2011, when I came in contact with open gunfire. That was the pivotal moment I realized Chicago’s 20th Ward was under assault from violence, poverty and disinvestment. Since then, I have focused my time and talents on rebuilding the South Side Ward into a place residents can live, work and play.

A Chicago native, I live in Englewood, where I grew up and am a proud Chicago public school graduate. I attended Whitney Young High School and earned a BA in Political Science from the University of Michigan, MA in Teaching from National Louis University and MS in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to teaching third grade math in the Chicago public school system, I worked at Teamwork Englewood as the data and communications manager; Chicago Votes as policy and program manager; selected as a peer adviser for the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Civic Engagement Training Day; serve on the Chicago Metro YMCA Associate Board and Academic Success Chair for the ASCEND mentoring program at Kenwood High School; and steered the execution of the “Parade to the Polls” with Chance the Rapper during the 2016 presidential Election.

I’m running because we deserve better — exceptional schools, economic empowerment and safe communities. Our people are our greatest assets and with the right opportunities, we can all thrive.

2. Tell us about the women in your life

All the women in my family are entrepreneur rock stars. My Granna set the standard for tenacity, ambition, and grace. I remember riding around with her as a child. She owned a beauty salon as well as sold Mary Kay. She had multiple streams of income that allowed her to support her family. She knew the importance of managing your credit, and saving money, and investing in real estate. It is because of her sacrifices and wisdom that kept us from being homeless while growing up.

I grew up in the historic greystone building she purchased in the 1970s and call it home today. At 81 years old, Granna is still reinventing herself, finding new ways to contribute to her family and make the world beautiful. She doesn’t let her age or achy knees stop her. She has adjusted to changes, but nonetheless persists. Her influence gives me the extra push to keep going in the face of adversity and motivates me to dig deep.

My political model is Ida B. Wells. She spoke out against lynching in the face of being lynched herself. Her courage and audacity remind me that if she can do that, I can deal with the problems I’ve faced during my race.

3. Tell us about your Ward

The 20th Ward is located on the southside of Chicago. It encompasses parts or majority of Woodlawn, Washington Park, Englewood, and Back of the Yards. Major landmarks include the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Midway Plaisance, Washington Park, Sherman Park, Cornell Square.

Transportation is one of the strongest and most thriving industries in the 20th ward. With proper leadership, it can be leverage to provide real opportunities for men, women, and families. Garfield Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, runs through the ward and connects it to a major airport in the city.

Throughout history, the 20th Ward has been the backdrop of many significant movements in Black Chicago history. It is this rich history that invigorates its residents to speak up against injustices. And it is this history that gives us the courage to lead. Over the past 30 years, the direction of the 20th Ward, and overall quality of life for its residents, has been thwarted by the selfish will of those who have ascended to the aldermanic office.

Fortunately, community organizations and institutions have taken space to meet the needs of the community. One organization in particular has been the YWCA, located on 66th & Cottage Grove. This organization promotes the economic, social, and familial needs of the community. The AKArama Center is also located in the ward. This is one of the foundations of the country’s oldest sororities, of which I am a member. It plays an integral role in supporting resident based initiatives in the fields of civic engagement, education, economic, and law.

I am looking forward to elevating the reach and capacity of such organizations, as there are still many women who are terribly in need of support, particularly those in Parkway Gardens. I have heard stories of women who are not adequately protected in their homes and have been susceptible to attacks from men.

4. Platform Questions

A. Schools: Chicago’s school population is declining. This means there are fewer students to educate, but the population shifts are not equally distributed. How will you ensure that students in all parts of the city have access to quality and safe education while taking into consideration changing population and the impact of that?

When I attended one of the Chicago Public School Area Regional Analysis meetings in Englewood, I proposed the Board provide each school experiencing shrinking enrollment with a marketing expert to develop a custom marketing and outreach plan for the schools. Additionally, CPS should work with those schools and their respective PACs, PTAs, and LSCs to find local and regional non-profits to house within the schools to provide services to the students and their entire families. Those served by such “community” neighborhood schools will see the added value and have the connection to the school that not many of us are privileged to have.

B. Environment: Chicago faces a crisis of water infrastructure and service. Chicago has more lead lines than any other city in the United States and city testing of Chicago homes with water meters has found nearly 1 in 5 have lead in their tap water. In 2015, City Hall considered privatizing the water system after an unsolicited pitch from investment firm Goldman Sachs. Research has shown that privatization of water utilities often see rate increases, workforce reductions, and a backlog of maintenance issues. In Illinois, a typical household with Lake Michigan water pays more than twice for water service using a privatized utility service than from using a public municipality. Additionally, in 2016, 6,351 households had their water shut off, with the shutoffs affecting over 16,000 individuals. What is your plan to address the challenges that Chicago’s water infrastructure system faces? How will you work towards providing safe, accessible, and affordable water service to Chicago residents? (Community Collaborator: Food and Water Action)

First, I absolutely agree with those who oppose privatization of critical infrastructure and services, especially seeing the negative consequences on everything from parking meters to schools and healthcare. In addition to losing good jobs for Chicagoans, we put consumers at the mercy of purveyors who do not have to adhere to the same standards of transparency, public input on price increases, service, maintenance or accountability as municipal agencies.

Second, I consider lead a “silent killer” in wards like mine, particularly given studies showing the connection to increased violence, reductions in children’s mental capacities and other health issues. I would insist on the proper testing and making remedial funding a priority. Cincinnati is a good model for how a city acknowledged a problem and then worked with the community to address it.

C. Women-Owned Businesses: As showcased by the numerous reports by the City’s Inspector General over the years, there is a perception by many contractors that the lists of women and minority owned businesses are inaccurate and include many businesses that aren’t truly women and/or minority owned. This reputation discourages voluntary use of the list and also may mean that true women and minority owned businesses are not receiving the benefits of the list. What are your thoughts on continuing the use of the list and, if you believe it should continue to be used, should there be changes to how the list is kept and are there ways the City of Chicago can increase confidence in the accuracy of the list?

Regardless of real or perceived inaccuracies, I think we should continue to maintain such lists. At the very least, they force some effort to at least review companies that might not otherwise be considered. It’s not really all that difficult to determine who is really making the decisions in such companies and whether most of their employees or associates are minorities or women.

My understanding is that significant RFPs usually go to majority-owned companies, who then look to subcontract with minority or women businesses. I would like to see that flipped, so that the minority or women business receive the same RFP’s, with the opportunity to be the lead and choose to partner with a majority company.

D. Community Safety: Community safety is critical for residents and visitors in any ward in the City of Chicago. Recently, the city entered into a consent decree to address policies, training, practices and accountability of the Chicago Police Department in an attempt to ensure police reform. While our homicide rate is not the highest in the US and gun violence in Chicago has been declining in recent years, it continues to garner national attention and some neighborhoods have actually seen an increase in murders over the past year. Youth are among the highest at risk for violence and women often bear the burden of keeping children in their families and community safe. Recognizing that the issues surrounding safety are complex and multi-pronged, what is your highest priority with relating to safety of your ward’s residents and who are you receiving advice from to address that priority? (Feel free to include any necessary context for your answer — context may, but does not need to, include citywide considerations, feasibility of implementation, political challenges, concerns regarding overzealous implementation of safety protocol, or anything else necessary to understand your answer.)

I will advocate for a comprehensive approach that includes quality schools, youth services and job opportunities, combined with reforms to a criminal justice system biased against the young people it mostly snares. Police reform, including a civilian board, is an important piece to addressing this.

We must also recognize this as a health issue, exacerbated by the privatization and reduction of healthcare services. I recently warned about the impact of that. [See] Our young people in particular have experienced a lot of trauma. I published a peer reviewed journal article that discusses the importance of schools developing a trauma informed lens as they develop their school discipline policies [[].

I will work closely with the Chicago Public School networks for my ward to ensure that their discipline policies are aligned with this perspective. I am an advocate for incorporating cognitive based therapy within our classroom and physical education curriculum to help students manage and regulate their emotions more appropriately and deal with their conflicts. This is aligned with the program curriculum of Becoming a Man.

5. Closing comments

I see the 2019 municipal elections as a great chance for long neglected residents to reclaim their neighborhoods and wield equitable influence in Chicago as a whole. Growing up in a continuously disenfranchised, underserved community taught me the importance of exercising our power for self-determination. On an immediate level, this means addressing basic survival needs related to their physical well-being (e.g., safety from violence, access to nutritional food and healthcare), as well as the resources (e.g., good community schools and jobs) for sustaining a decent quality of life and contributing at all levels to society.

I see seldom appreciated connections between regional opportunities for the long term and current day-to-day challenges that threaten the very survival of wards like mine. This enables me to look beyond the usual “remedies” that rely on public programs or regressive revenue sources that make underserved areas more dependent and less viable. I will fight for truly progressive strategies that leave my neighbors stronger — such as land trusts to mitigate the impact of potential gentrification; local transportation/infrastructure endeavors such as those connected to the Norfolk Southern Railroad; or programs that link local education institutions, youth, displaced and unemployed workers with the wealth of jobs created during and after construction of the South Suburban Airport

On a social level, all that means ensuring constituent involvement in such key decisions as resource allocation, cooperative land solutions and development. Our campaign created a civic engagement series called, “Let’s Talk about it”. This past August, we hosted a workshop to support residents to provide feedback on the recent consent decree recommendations. In September, we held a workshop for residents to learn about the various budget documents, so they can participate in the budget conversations once it was released in October. As an educator, it is important for me to provide resources to amplify my constituents’ capacity to be civically engaged — and, when in office — keep me on my toes.