Elgin has two Latinos on council for the first time
The Elgin City Council has two Latino members for the first time in its history after the swearing in of Baldemar Lopez on Wednesday.
"I'm excited," Lopez said. "I walked all corners of the city, I walked almost every single block (during the campaign season). I'm of Latino ancestry and I am happy to be Mexican-American, but voters have to be assured as well that I am going to represent all different corners of the city."
Lopez was elected in April along with incumbents Rose Martinez, John Steffen, Tish Powell, Toby Shaw and Mayor David Kaptain. The event is significant for the city where 45 percent of the 112,000 or so residents are Hispanic/Latino, according to 2017 U.S. Census estimates.
Lopez also is the first Latino elected in Elgin without first being appointed. The first Latino council member in Elgin was George Castillo, who was appointed and served in 1983. Juan Figueroa, appointed in 1999, was the first Latino to win an election two years later. Martinez also was appointed before being elected in 2015.
"It was about time," said Figueroa, who witnessed Lopez's swearing-in.
"Latinos have demonstrated through the years that we have been contributors to the development of this community. When you look at many of the old businesses downtown, people who were here for many years trying to establish their names, supporting the community ... I am very happy. I am very happy we finally have another (Latino) person on the council."
Jaime Garcia, executive director of Centro de Informacion in Elgin, said he was "delighted" at the increased Latino representation on the council.
"It's wonderful. We're finally getting somewhere," he said.
Centro de Informacion encourages its clients -- particularly new citizens -- to vote, and Latinos have become a greater voting block in Elgin, Garcia said. The percentage of Elgin residents who are citizens of voting age increased from 56.1% to 58.2% from 2015 to 2017, according to U.S. Census estimates.
Garcia said it's not just Latino voters who support having more diversity on the council. Elgin also has two black council members, Powell and Councilman Corey Dixon.
"The regular population, the 'Anglos,' they see the need for this as well ... " Garcia said.
"It's a new day, I think."