‘It ain’t gonna happen! Black folks don’t have their act together! We won’t come together!” How many times have those phrases come out of the mouths of black people regarding anything positive or something that would make a difference?
I met a young woman from the West Side recently who, along with others, were gambling at a casino boat in Indiana. When the subject of a casino for Chicago came up, every one at the table began to mention sites. Navy Pier. McCormick Place. The old Main Post Office building that crosses the Eisenhower. Downtown. I found it amazing how readily those whose communities need the most in economic development automatically overlook their own backyard.
But as soon as I mentioned the old Brach Candy site at Lake and Cicero, all I heard were negatives. When I mentioned that the original rules regarding casinos in Illinois stipulated that they would go into economically depressed areas, which is the reason that Joliet, Aurora and Elgin have them, many still shook their heads at the idea of a Chicago casino site on the West Side.
I pointed out my reasoning for the old Brach site: It sits right off the Green Line. There are Metra tracks just north of the Green Line, as well as the Beltline railroad tracks to the east. Cicero Avenue is not just a city street, but an Illinois state road with major traffic 24 hours a day. Plus the West Side needs jobs for our people and especially for our young folks. The Brach site could support a casino complex that includes a hotel, shopping mall, banquet hall, and auditorium as well as an indoor recreational center offering bowling, roller skating, etc., which would be the economic boost that the West Side needs. That type of complex would offer jobs that many on the West Side could fill.
The young lady I met agreed with what I said but countered that many in Austin and on the West Side have felony convictions, so they couldn’t work at a casino. But felony convictions are man-made-especially the ones for drug use or sale. I don’t see a major difference between those addicted to legal drugs vs. illegal drugs other than the state has made one acceptable and the other unacceptable.
In my opinion, anyone strung out on drugs has an illness. All you have to do is pass by any office building in Chicago when it is freezing cold and see the cigarette smokers huddled outside the building chain-smoking. My mind looks at those people and ponders just how “sick” they must be to need a boost of nicotine so much that they stand in the freezing cold just to get it. Women, men, young or old, they all huddle with that cigarette in one hand and a pack in the other.
And just like man made laws to make something a felony, man can also change the law to remove the felony. Plus the construction jobs would give many ex-felons the opportunity to have a trade and make the big bucks.
As the issue of a casino for Chicago is bandied about, I am calling on West Side politicians to stand up and fight for our long overdue share of Chicago’s economic pie. To continue to allow major development to go downtown and into the south Loop while ignoring the need of your constituents right here is an insult to every voter who voted for you. The Brach Candy site represents a rare opportunity to bring major economic development home to the people who put those elected officials in office-ward aldermen, Ed Smith (28th), Ike Carothers (29th), Emma Mitts (37th), Cook County commissioners Earlean Collins (1st District), Robert Steele (2nd District), state representatives Karen Yarbrough (7th), LaShawn Ford (8th), Art Turner (9th), Annazette Collins (10th), Deborah Graham (78th), and state senators Kimberly Lightford (4th), Rickey Hendon (5th), and Don Harmon (39th).
All of those politicians represent a significant portion of the black West Side. In February 2008, many of them will want your vote. If they cannot do for us, then we should reward them with the option of spending more time with their families and elect those who will bring substantial economic development home to Austin and the West Side.