EAST CHICAGO | Demonstrating clear approval for Anthony Copeland's first year as mayor, voters by a nearly 4-to-1 margin on Tuesday decisively elected him to a full four-year term.
After being chosen 2-1 last year by the city's Democratic precinct organization to fulfill the remaining term of former Mayor George Pabey, and then winning this year's spring primary by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, Copeland said the general election win shows that "the people have spoken."
"Last year, some said the precinct committeemen were just out for themselves," Copeland said Tuesday night in the packed banquet hall at Club Ki-Yowga. "In May, some said it was just a fluke. What are they going to call it tonight?"
John Aguilera, running as an independent, garnered just more than 20 percent of the vote, and perennial Republican candidate Arthur Santos Sr. barely polled a single percentage point.
"We always knew Anthony had it in him," said City Councilwoman Gilda Orange, D-6th, who founded the grassroots organization Citizens In Action with Copeland 18 years ago. "That's why we made him president."
Orange was unopposed in the general election for her third term on the council, as were the other eight Democratic council primary election winners, as well as the city clerk and city judge.
"It's been a bumpy road," Orange said, "and there will be more bumps, but at least for the next four years the city will be on the right track."
All of the people's efforts over the years have been about reminding city government to do the right thing, said Henry Rodriguez, another longtime CIA group stalwart.
"Everything we went through — the mass protests, the federal corruption trials — has led up to this," said Rodriguez, a retired steelworker. "It should have been like this all along; a whole generation has been lost."
"When people come together, they can do beautiful things," Copeland said. "We just have to be steady at the helm. It might not be pretty, but austerity will take us to prosperity.
"East Chicago is going through difficult financial times," Copeland said, "but this, too, shall pass. We are looking forward — be patient, and you will see this city come out of its decline."
The city still has a long way to go, said Aguilera, a two-term county councilman and four-term state representative, in conceding defeat and congratulating Copeland on his win.
"All I could do was put myself out there," Aguilera said. "I'm proud of the campaign I ran. I did what I had to do."