Throughout our website, we talk about a number of issues. For the busy citizen, it can appear to be a lot to ask, spending time reading up on every issue I talk about before making up one’s mind. What are my priorities? What comes first?
If I have to list a top three, I would describe them most broadly as economics, voice, and valuing what we already have. These are described in various platforms and blog posts, but let me briefly state at last part of what I mean by each of these things.
First, I think that the most challenged parts of our ward – those with the highest crime rates, the highest unemployment rates, and the greatest housing instability – struggle with the structural consequences of a racist economic system, and I believe the alderman, with the unique power vested in this position in Chicago, is positioned to make a difference in these places. First, we have a significant number of vacant properties that can be put to productive use with the help of the city, guided by the alderman. We also have a number of commercial property owners who are taking advantage of tax write-offs to not fill their storefronts, and they still make money off them. The alderman can pressure these owners to activate these spaces or gain the scrutiny of the city. Every storefront put to use can represent multiple local jobs, and a watchful alderman can make these things happen, which, on a street like 71st Street, could result in hundreds of jobs.
Our economy in more comfortable places is not without its own problems. Fifth-third Street is losing local businesses all the time. Employers are not held to account with regard to local hiring. Even our construction sites are allowed to hire whoever they will without consequences. Our affluence should benefit our neighbors who could use a helping hand. Our commercial corridors should reflect the culture of community, and that means local entrepreneurs need to be given a chance to compete in thriving areas.
We also need to be heard. The number of stories from residents about a whole range of problems that go unacknowledged and unaddressed by the ward office is among the big surprises of my campaigning. People simply do not get their phone calls returned by the ward office. Repair work that is left undone by the city is treated as though it is not the responsibility of the ward office to address. We will do things differently – that is a promise. And it is not a hard one to keep. A simple tracking system with an online component could allow residents to call with a complaint, get a ticket opened, and follow its progress online. We have already identified vendors who will provide this system for us shortly after taking office. This is a small, but significant, part of the continuum on which people feel neglected. In big decisions, residents should also have a voice. In future posts, we will talk more about this.
Finally, there are many treasures in our community that are treated like they have little worth. Our children, including our teenagers, are the greatest of these, and as a co-founder of an after-school program for teens, I can tell you the way they are being treated in public spaces is not working. The best are not being rewarded; the most challenging are not being held accountable. None of them are being called upon to be a part of our civic conversation. It is a recipe for disaster.
Our open spaces are another treasure that is neglected, often treated like undeveloped land waiting for the right project. We have to realize the value of what we have and demand that others recognize its value and also that it belongs to us. There is not enough respect for our citizens, and that has to stop. We must be valued and respected and so must our physical community.
What I believe in and what I want to accomplish is a large and meandering topic. I will try to chip away at it one post at a time, so folks can consider whether we see eye to eye. Please reach out to me and let me know what you think I am right and wrong about. This is a moment in which we permit ourselves to pay a little more attention to local politics. Let’s take advantage of it.