Friday was the deadline for 29th Ward aldermanic candidates to submit applications to the Mayor’s Office. The seat has been vacant since the resignation of former Ald. Isaac “Ike” Carothers, who pled guilty to bribery and corruption charges earlier this month.
Austin Weekly News conducted telephone interviews with applicants Edith Brown, Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr., Tommy Simmons and Rev. Lewis Flowers. All are longtime Austin residents, active in the community. These are just a few of the individuals who offered Mayor Daley their resumes.
In her letter to the Mayor’s Office, Brown outlined a three-step approach to improving the vitality of the ward: 1) The creation of a business district, 2) an emphasis on addressing the current educational environment, and 3) improved access to employment, which she believes can be facilitated with the organization of job fairs and ameliorated training seminars.
Brown is currently director of operations at Eyes on Austin, a non-profit job-training organization.
To cultivate a healthy business district, she plans to work to offer incentives such as tax credits and personal assistance in employment searches. Brown also hopes to apply the same credits for businesses that agree to hire on a rotational basis.
“There should be a co-partnership with the businesses and the community,” Brown said. She explained that all too often “businesses move in and they hire 10 people and that’s it.” It is her goal to match businesses and have them provide training and float employees around. By meeting the consistent need for employment, the area would thrive.
To raise the employment level, Brown plans on providing job fairs and training programs on a consistent basis. However, simply presenting the public with employment opportunities is not enough, she says.
“The whole [job] process is just ‘get ’em trained and get ’em a job,'” Brown said. “I’ve worked with people who have the skill levels … in their field. But when it comes time for them to be a team player, they fall short. The training programs need to extend themselves longer to help the employees develop soft skills and personal skills.”
Brown also emphasized the need to provide ex-offenders with job opportunities.
“Most companies don’t want to deal with the issue [because] an ex-offender signals problems,” Brown said. “[But] ex-offenders have built-in modification behavior [from incarceration] that puts them at an advantage if you use it as such.”
As for education, Brown believes many efforts within the community are misdirected. In her letter, she stated that boosting the number of schools – a common notion – within the area will not necessarily yield improved education. She calls for an immediate re-evaluation of the education system before any action is taken.
Rev. Hatch said he would concentrate initially on adopting a methodology of improved early childhood education and then work to stimulate the economy through job creation.
Hatch chose to address education initially, an area in which he has both interest and experience. Between 1989 and 1991, he served as a member of the Chicago School Board Nominating Commission. He currently sits on the board at the Academy of Communication and Technology (ACT) Charter School and at Christ The King Jesuit College Prep High School in Austin.
Hatch believes there needs to be a stronger educational foundation for children at a younger age. This, he says, will facilitate future scholastic achievement. He also plans to push school boards to help him foster this concept.
“I’m really going to hold Chicago’s school boards accountable and make sure they are properly using the resources that are available,” Hatch said.
The pastor echoed Brown’s concerns regarding the community’s downtrodden economic climate. He expressed interest in contemporary approaches to sustained economic growth, such as the possibility of green jobs.
“It’s where the future is headed,” Hatch said. “People need jobs to feed their families, and we need to ask, ‘What do these jobs look like?’ I am trying to restore Chicago as a place where people work hard.”
Tommy Simmons, deputy director of vehicle services for the Cook County Sherriff’s Department, is also vying for the appointment. He has participated in a number of community organizations over the years, such as Eyes on Austin and Community for a Better West Side, and he is an Amundsen Park Community Council member.
Simmons spoke of a hands-on approach to monitoring the effectiveness of local education that would entail a monthly meeting between him and all of the school principals within the ward. This, he said, would be his first action as 29th Ward alderman.
Simmons also said it was important for the adult population to become better acquainted with the political process.
“People need to pay more attention to how they vote,” Simmons said. “If we don’t educate ourselves on politics, [then] we’re losing out. People need to know how representatives are voting in Springfield, in Washington [and] in the city council.”
Simmons is a CAPS volunteer and wants to form and nurture a kinship between the community and the police department; something he claims does not currently exist. This is part of an effort to motivate local residents to work with law enforcement officials to curb crime.
“People need to know that the police are our friends, not our enemy,” Simmons said. “We should have a better relationship with the police department.”
Politicians at all levels need to start working together, he added, to better serve the public and restore their faith.
“It’s not going to cost anything. You’ve got to be willing to help people. It’s going to be hard, but it can be done,” said Simmons, on the alderman’s role.
Speaking from his home in Austin, Rev. Lewis Flowers, pastor of Austin Community Mission, claimed his number one concern was to maintain the unity of the ward.
When asked to describe the specific actions he would take as alderman, he said his first initiative would be to lobby for the repair of a bridge on Roosevelt Road and Laramie Avenue. Flowers also said he would continue town hall meetings, much like Carothers’, and had this to say about the former alderman: “Yes, I approved of the job he was doing. … I feel the alderman was going forward with the people. The problems he got into were personal; they didn’t have anything to do with the office.”
Carothers pled guilty to lobbying for a zoning change for developer Calvin Boedner, in exchange for $40,000 in home improvements and other perks from Boedner.
“It is important that the mayor appoints the peoples’ choice,” said state Rep. LaShawn K. Ford (8th District) in an e-mail. “The voters deserve to have an alderman they know will be beholden to the community needs.”