State Rep. Deborah Graham seems poised to become alderman of Austin’s 29th Ward-so says some of her fellow elected officials.
After spending a month mulling over the resumes of 22 eligible applicants, Mayor Richard Daley on March 15 appointed Graham to succeed indicted former alderman Isaac Carothers.
Graham’s position as alderman is still dependent on approval by the city council; however, according to a source in the mayor’s office, “Graham will be sworn in as 29th Ward alderman at the April 14 city council meeting.”
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) also thinks Graham’s chances are good. The two currently serve as house members in the Illinois General Assembly
“I’ve spoken with many members of the City Council and it’s [going to] work out for her,” he said of her chances. “I think Deborah Graham comes with experience and is in a position to move forward with the 29th Ward.”
Ald. Ed Smith (28) maintained that he wouldn’t oppose her appointment, and that he has enjoyed their working relationship over the years-Graham’s 78th legislative district includes Smith’s 28th Ward.
If she gets the nod from the city council, Graham plans to relinquish her post in Springfield, along with a job at the city’s Department of Planning and Development, in order to focus her attention in the community she’s resided for much of her life.
When asked about her decision to apply, Graham told Austin Weekly News that she wanted to work closer to home and that she had accumulated the experience necessary to serve the community.
“I think that we’re [29th Ward] in a unique position to fuse the state experience with the aldermanic situation…and bring the knowledge to that seat,” she said. “We have a number of issues that we deal with on a daily basis, and I think I can relate to them.”
Graham expressed a desire to reach out to the community and operate visibly and personably. She said one of her chief goals is to continue community meetings to unify the ward.
The alderman-designate also plans to strongly support gun control, scrutinize options for job creation, and work towards stressing the importance of education.
On the topic of education, she said: “Our kids don’t want to be out on the corner…we have to encourage young people.”
Graham added that she wanted to “continue the services of her predecessor” – Isaac Carothers – and that much of the community was content with the manner in which he kept the ward “clean.”
When asked to elaborate, Graham said she was referring to garbage being picked up and potholes being filled, among other services. She maintained that the community appreciated this and was ready to move past the legal issues of Carothers, who was indicted last year and resigned as alderman on Feb. 1.
“I think it is important for all elected officials to make sure we maintain the people’s trust by doing our jobs, and making sure we are available to provide the services,” Graham said. “They want the services; they’re looking for jobs and at other issues- they’re ready to move on.”
But the 29th Ward has been without an alderman for more than a month following Carothers’ resignation after pleading guilty to corruption charges. Graham, though, insists that the community has not gone without representation whatsoever.
“The people of the 29th Ward are free to call and get the services they need,” Graham said, referring to the capabilities of the Ward office to serve the community.
After becoming alderman, Graham said she will “evaluate where we are…and make sure that nothing has slacked in this time.”
A lifelong West Sider
Except for a couple of years, Deborah Graham has spent all of her life in the Austin community. The lifelong West Sider attended George W. Collins High School. A survivor of domestic violence, she spent 1994 and 1995 in a West Side shelter. That difficult experience, Graham believes, helped mold her into who she is today.
She feels that her trials and tribulations have produced within her a sense of empathy for others – it’s a quality Graham deems vital to any politico.
“When you relate to [people] and tell them your personal stories, people appreciate that you can come down to their level,” Graham said.
Welcoming the new alderman
In the event that Deborah Graham is approved as alderman, State Rep. Lashawn Ford and Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, is scheduling to host a meet-and-greet with the community later this spring at the Sankofa Business and Cultural Arts Center, 5820 W. Chicago. A time for the event is still to be determined.