Former Columbia career advisor prepares to take 33rd Ward aldermanic seat

By Kendall Polidori, Staff Reporter

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Former Columbia internship and career advisor Rossana Rodríguez Sánchez will be sworn into office May 20 as alderman for the 33rd Ward, becoming the sixth Democratic Socialist to join the City Council.

After a close runoff race with Ald. Deb Mell, Rodríguez Sánchez officially won the ward April 17 by 13 votes. Because of her political ideologies and upbringing in Puerto Rico, Rodríguez Sánchez has been compared to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), who has developed a reputation for being an outspoken advocate for her district.

After almost a year of working at Columbia, Rodríguez Sánchez will not return to the college once in office. However, she will take her experience working with youth to the community of the 33rd Ward, which covers parts of Albany Park, Avondale, Irving Park, Ravenswood Manor, North Park and North Center.

“At Columbia, she was doing something she had done for a long time, which has influenced the way she approaches politics … [by] working with young people, mentoring them [and] connecting them to the resources they need,” said Chris Poulos, Rodríguez Sánchez’s chief of staff and doctoral student in sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “In terms of formal politics, it wasn’t until more recently that she really considered it.”

Rodríguez Sánchez was not available to speak with The Chronicle.

Two years ago, people began telling Rodríguez Sánchez she would be an ideal candidate because of her political experience, such as working for Tim Meegan’s 2015 campaign for 33rd Ward alderman.

Poulos said Rodríguez Sánchez was hesitant to run at first because she felt “these spaces aren’t really spaces for people like us—working class people.”

Growing up among a family of activists in Puerto Rico, Rodríguez Sánchez became an advocate for civic engagement after a successful demonstrationand protest for public access to water in her neighborhood when she was 6 years old, according to her campaign website.

Rodríguez Sánchez moved to Chicago 10 years ago and got a job as a director and mentor at the Albany Park Theater Project. In Albany Park, she also worked with students to provide wrap-around services, including access to food and mental health services.

Poulos said that as alderman, Rodríguez Sánchez plans to focus on immigration, affordable housing and ward democracy.

Dominique Liwanag, a volunteer for the Rodríguez Sánchez campaign and member of Filipinos For Rossana, said he supports her because she is addressing the issues people in the ward are facing, such as rising rents, public school funding and immigration.

Liwanag said immigration affects a large number of people in the 33rd Ward where more than 50% of residents are Latinx and approximately 15% are undocumented immigrants, according to a July 19 Chicago Reader article.

Eric Wordlow, assistant director of student employment in the Career Center and friend to Rodríguez Sánchez, said she has an “innate nature for activism and social justice,” and that her background in education has prepared her for navigating different perspectives and circumstances she may face as alderman.

“There has been [an] impact that she has made on the students’ lives and there has been impact the youth made on her,” Wordlow said. “That is part of her tenacity; part of what keeps her going. [It’s] part of the reason she wants to be the leader for her community.”