In the upcoming weeks, the Austin Weekly News will feature a Q and A with some of our elected officials representing Austin. This week, State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) discusses issues including how the federal stimulus bill will impact Austin and whether the community is closer to having a new high school built.

Where are we in the process of building a new high school in Austin?

Ald. [Emma] Mitts (37th) says that a new high school is in the works for Austin but no site has been chosen yet. There is land near Chicago and Laramie that would be ideal but it could be too costly. Certainly, if the purchase of the Brach’s site by ML Realty doesn’t get off the ground, that location could open up again. Hopefully, we will have a chance to discuss with [Board of Education] President Michael Scott on a location soon.

What is currently in the works to help local businesses during this economic downturn?

Recently, I submitted a resolution favoring a rescue task force and a bail-out allocated to help small business stay afloat during the recession. Small businesses are the backbone of the economy. If they fail, we have very little chance of coming out of this crisis. I also want to work toward strengthening the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

How would you strengthen the Chamber?

I want to encourage [investment] back to the chamber so that they can offer more grants to aspiring local business owners, and offer educational summits to help first-time business owners learn the methods of assuring that their business can thrive, even in a down economy.

Where would you like to see funds from the stimulus package allocated in the Austin community?

We need to invest in new streets. There is a lot of work to be done throughout Austin in terms of the roads. The Laramie Bridge near the expressway is in terrible condition. There are streets down Cicero and on the Roosevelt that need to be fixed. I would hope that some of the funds are invested back into Austin to repair these areas, and, as I said earlier, a trade school that will teach construction to community residents, so that the people of Austin can get those construction jobs when they become available.

What are your thoughts on Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics? Are you in favor of it?

I am in favor of hosting the Olympics if it will create job opportunities and strengthen the business sector. I want to see all of Chicago benefit, not just the private sector. If the contracts are fairly distributed, and if communities like Austin can use the Olympics to attract businesses, then it can be highly beneficial to all Chicagoans.

Describe one bill that you are currently working on.

One bill I’m really pushing is The Redistribution of Lottery initiative, or House Bill 6721. The bill, which would amend the Illinois Income Tax Act, if passed, would assure that moneys obtained through lottery revenue would go to school districts based on the district’s percentage of lottery sales. Currently, residents of the Austin community spend an estimated $12 million on the lottery every year.

The 411 on Rep. Ford

LaShawn Ford was elected to the Illinois House in 2007

He has a bachelor’s degree in Education from Loyola University in Chicago

Ford is a former Chicago public school teacher and coach

Ford is a licensed Illinois real estate broker and founded his own company, Ford Desired Real Estate, in Austin

He has one daughter