Longtime aide to Cong. Danny Davis, Tumia Romero, will challenge Alderman Isaac Carothers of the 29th Ward in next April’s city election. Romero is director of Public Policy and Programs and has worked for Davis for several years. She worked in City Hall for eight years. Mayor Harold Washington hired her at the age of 19 to work in the Mayor’s press office.
Two weeks ago, we printed an abbreviated version of our interview with her. Here is the extended version:
AWN: Why did you decide to run for alderman?
Romero: “I’ve had an opportunity to meet with people who live in our community and have tremendous needs. What I find a lot times is that there is no one on a local level, right here in the 29th Ward, to deal with some of their issues. To deal with people who are returning back to society, deal with people who have treatment issues, I mean in a real, serious way. More ex-offenders return to the Austin community than any community in the whole state of Illinois and HIV and AIDS has the highest incidence [here]. There is also more incidence of child welfare. We really need people to step up and deal with some of those issues. So I stepped up from behind my desk and decided I would deal with some of those issues.
“I am a local woman, and while I enjoy working with Cong. Davis, I felt it was time to deal with and work on it on a local level, and that is what motivated me to run. There is a void in our community right now that is one part in terms of the social issues facing us. The second part is in participatory democracy-elected officials have a responsibility to communicate on a regular basis with the people in their community, and to ask them on a regular basis, ‘What is it you want me to do? How do you want me to vote on the big box? How do you want me to vote on program activities for this ward? How do you want me to interact with you? That’s not happening in the ward, and it’s just not here but many places. They ask the mayor first, and then they say, ‘This is what we are going to do.’ I just don’t believe that is how government should operate in a democracy when we’re talking about getting people involved and to participate”
AWN: If elected, what do you want to accomplish?
Romero: “I want to create a community planning process in our ward, so that the community can get engaged and get involved in deciding as a unit, as a group, how does she deal with economic development, how should we deal with affordable housing, how should we deal with people returning to the community, how should we deal with people who are in treatment, how do we deal with our young people, what should we do with vacant lots and abandoned buildings in our ward? I want to engage the people in deciding that. So my platform will be developed as I go through the community and after I’m elected. I don’t believe I know all the answers, but I know I have the heart. I have the experience, and I have the desire to help improve and impact the quality of life.”
AWN: In terms of businesses coming into the Austin community, just recently Grandma Sally’s Restaurant opened. Could someone from the African-American community open something like this?
Romero: “Absolutely. That is a very valid point. I don’t want to diminish some businesses coming into the ward, but quite frankly, there isn’t enough African-American-owned business. I toured the ward and went on Division Street and there is very little economic development going on. We went to North Avenue where the same kind of stores is there and there has not been any progress in the last eight years. Roosevelt Road had the same kind of dynamic going on. Not only do I believe we should encourage African Americans to own businesses in the 29th Ward, as an alderman, I will work with African Americans, just like I do now in the congressional office, to help development so that they can be prepared to own businesses in the ward. This is something I do already; it’s not something new to me. And on a citywide level, I think we need to increase the number of African Americans who receive contracts. I think the numbers are 15 percent, which is the same as the Asians in the community. And not to diminish their right to have contracts, but African Americans are 42 percent and maybe more, but we’re getting just 10 percent of the contracts.
“When Harold Washington was mayor we were getting 36 percent of the contracts. There is something seriously wrong with that. Why don’t we have someone saying to Mayor Daley or whoever is there, ‘With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, my community deserves more, and we want more. So yes, I want to address that in the ward. I want to look at it as a social-nomics perspective. I don’t know if I’ve coined another word, but we’ve got to look at the social impact of economic development. We build up the community economically, and seniors have bought their houses and have been living there for 30 years and now their income can’t keep pace with the higher property taxes. So we have to look at how do we minimize the social impact for the people, who live there, while we build up the community.”
AWN: People have run against the current alderman and have been unsuccessful; one reason could be funding or just the way they campaigned. What will you do different, and will you attack his war chest?”
Romero: “Well, I’m more interested in building up my war chest than attacking his. I went to Mr. Carothers’ strongest precinct and talked with the people. I don’t just want to run to be running. There is no fun in that. I’m a very hard worker. I work 15-16 hours a day to do what I can do in my job. I plan to do it well and work very hard at it. I talked with the people and asked if they would consider me and signed my petition, I’ve gotten 3,500 signatures already. Sixty-seven percent of the people in this ward are women just like me-women who have had to struggle to get where they are going. I have found I have a very serious message for them, and they identify with me very seriously. My website is www.tumiaromero.com