Dec 10, 2022 - Business

Axios Chicago's 2022 Power Players

Illustration of two rows of dominos falling with text overlaid that reads Power Players Chicago.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Welcome to our inaugural annual Axios Chicago Power Players List, a chance to look back at influential leaders who left their marks on our area this year.

Methodology: We selected these power players using our own expertise, polling readers and through interviews with influential people.

  • The unscientific list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.
  • Those selected were not notified until publication.

📬 Of course, 10 spots won't cover every influential person in Chicago, but we respect your time.

1. JB Pritzker

Photo of a man sitting down in a jacket.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Beyond recapturing his Springfield throne this year and spurring predictions of a presidential run, Gov. Pritzker wrestled full control of the state Democratic party from the old guard and soundly thumped Republicans across the Land of Lincoln.

  • In a city and state with a long history of political power players, Pritzker has cemented his name among the Daleys, Stevensons, Madigans and Burkes.

2. Theresa Mah

Photo of a woman smiling for a headshot.
Photo: Courtesy of Theresa Mah

A record number of Asian Americans won public office this year in Illinois, and sources tell us that state Rep. Theresa Mah worked hard to organize and procure funds behind the scenes to make it happen.

  • Mah, the first Asian American to serve in the Illinois General Assembly, helped boost that number by 800% in six years.

Making waves this summer, Mah challenged Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposed location for a new Near South Side high school in order to give her Chinatown constituents a say in the issue.

  • And downstate, she got the state fair to change its "Ethnic Village" to "Village of Cultures."

3. Jennifer Welch

Photo of a woman talking at a press conference.
Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, local leaders stood firm that Illinois would remain a safe haven for abortion rights.

  • Standing behind those politicians was Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO Jennifer Welch.
  • Under her leadership, the organization has expanded services, including collaborating with their partners in Wisconsin to open a new center in Waukegan.

4. Stacy Davis Gates

Photo of a woman speaking at a rally.
Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Led by Stacy Davis Gates and Jesse Sharkey, the Chicago Teachers Union work stoppage last January nearly paralyzed the city in the name of securing COVID-19 protections.

Depending on your perch, she either saved hundreds of thousands from COVID exposure or unnecessarily held up education in the nation's third biggest district.

  • Instead of running for mayor this cycle, Gates will wield the CTUs considerable power to help determine our next leader.

5. Matt Moog

Photo of a man posing for the camera.
Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Public Media

Matt Moog, the CEO of Chicago Public Media, finalized a historic merger earlier this year between WBEZ and the Sun-Times.

  • The two reporting teams now share newsrooms and content in what may become a model for saving local journalism through signing up paying members — unless it doesn't.

Labor disputes with the Sun-Times union have exposed cracks in CPM's historically progressive facade, but if Moog can pull off a harmonious and sustainable partnership between the two institutions, it will be a coup for local readers.

  • The whole journalism world is watching.

6. Olga Bautista

Olga Bautista at Calumet Beach, standing in Lake Michigan in 2021 in a flowing dress
Photo: Jamie Kelter Davis/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The self-described "mama bear" from the Southeast Side, Olga Bautista, the executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, is a rising star in Chicago's environmental justice movement.

Bautista and the task force fought not just a major corporation, but the city of Chicago — and won.

7. Eric Williams & Erick Williams

Photo of a man smiling looking off-camera.
Photo: Courtesy of Eric Williams

While the Williamses (no relation) are separated by only one consonant, the two entrepreneurs might as well be the co-mayors of 53rd Street in Hyde Park. Each has had an incredible year.

  • Eric Williams owns the Silver Room and opened the groundbreaking Bronzeville Winery, which has earned accolades for its outstanding modernist American cuisine in a neglected part of town.
  • Chef Erick Williams won a James Beard Award for his celebrated Virtue restaurant, cooked at charity events throughout the year and expanded his empire with the new Daisy's Po-Boy and Tavern across the street.
Photo of a chef in the kitchen of a restaurant.
Erick Williams. Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

8. Eve L. Ewing

Photo of a woman posing, looking off camera.
Photo: Courtesy of Eve L. Ewing

Educator, activist and poet, Eve L. Ewing saw her works transformed this year.

  • Ewing's collections of poems on the 1919 race riots became a stellar theatrical production at Steppenwolf.
  • And Ironheart, a Marvel character that Ewing wrote the comic book series for, made a leap to the screen in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."
  • An Ironheart series is set for Disney+ in 2023.

9. Candace Parker

Photo of a basketball player celebrating.
Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Chicago Sky may not have repeated as WNBA champions this year, but that didn't stop Candace Parker from growing her national profile through several slick ads.

10. The Italian beef

Photo of a sandwich
Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Our warm, juicy friend splashed onto the national stage in 2022 thanks to FX/Hulu's "The Bear."

It didn't hurt that puppy-eyed actor Jeremy Allen White became a national heartthrob as a chef who perfects the dish between bouts of existential crisis.

  • Now to teach the world about giardiniera.

Go deeper: See all 200 of Axios Local's Power Players in 2022

Editor's note: This story was corrected to note Planned Parenthood Illinois is not launching mobile clinics at the southern border, but collaborating to open a new center in Wisconsin.

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