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AARP AARP States Illinois Voters

High Stakes for Older Voters in Chicago Races


As a lifelong Chicagoan, Hiola G. Alston, 78, is keeping close tabs on the city’s mayoral and council races. Among the retiree’s top concerns are community safety, education and greater civility.

With nearly a dozen mayoral candidates vying to lead the city, Alston, a former postal worker and current AARP volunteer, says she hopes the contenders don’t engage in smear tactics and “speak the facts and the truth.”

The stakes are high for the city’s older voters, and AARP Illinois has launched a robust campaign to educate them about the key issues.

“Things could really change in Chicago,” says Mary Anderson, AARP advocacy and outreach director for Northern Illinois. “Your vote can have a huge effect in this historic election.”

Chicago political consultant Alex Sims-Jones agrees, noting that about a quarter of city council seats are expected to turn over.

“The aldermanic races are so important,” says Sims-Jones, who is not working for any mayoral or council contenders. “A lot of aldermen who have been around for 20 to 25 years are stepping out of their role.”

As of press time, about a dozen of the 50 incumbent council members had announced they were not running for reelection; multiple candidates have filed in many of their wards.

The election takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 28. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held on Tuesday, April 4.

“We will see some fresh blood,” Sims-Jones says.

Engaging older adults

In the 2019 election, voters over 55 made up more than half the electorate, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. Anderson says they are likely to make up a big bloc in this year’s election as well.

In December, AARP Illinois polled Chicago voters 50 and older on a range of issues, from transportation and housing to community health and essential services. The results will be released this month online and at media events. More information is available at

The survey is part of AARP’s two-phased voter-engagement campaign. The second involves televised forums with the candidates to be moderated by Chicago media personalities. The events will aim to showcase issues that are important to older adults.

One forum will occur before the Feb. 28 election, and the other before the April 4 runoff, which Anderson says is likely in at least some aldermanic races.

AARP members can register to attend the forums and can submit questions for the candidates. The goal is to raise the voices and issues of the city’s older residents.

“We are hearing that 50-plus voters are concerned about community safety and affordability,” Anderson says. “Older adults want to safely ride the ‘L,’ walk to the grocery store, visit the park. They want to be able to afford to live in Chicago and age in place.”

Alston, who is African American and lives on the city’s South Side, says safety is a big concern for her. She says her fellow Chicagoans seem more engaged in this election than in previous contests.

“As I go out to events, people are talking about voting and paying attention,“ she says. “I am very hopeful people will come out and vote.”

Susan Berger is a writer in Chicago.

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