Mary Russell Gardner doesn’t mind going against the grain to get things done for the 29th Ward.

“Residents have an expectation of their leaders, and an alderman has to be held to those expectations, said the 51-year-old public servant. “They expect that once an alderman gets sworn into office that person will turn the ward around. An alderman can be a force for change.”

Those expectations include responding to residents’ needs, a responsibility she had while doing work for former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon and the Rainbow Push Coalition. Gardner currently serves as secretary-treasurer to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s Board of Commissioners.

Residents want more businesses in Austin, and Gardner promises to encourage people to shop locally and boost incentives, such as discounts for shopping local. She also would like to see a registry of businesses to assess what the area needs, and work to attract those businesses to the 29th Ward. She noted the ward is positioned well because of location and diversity. Those would be strong selling points, Gardner argues.

Just as important to the 29th Ward: creating jobs, she said. Gardner wants to get commitments from businesses to help jump-start training programs for ex-offenders that would provide them with basic skills and a stipend. She also would meet with agencies and churches to come up with plans that would meet residents’ needs. This all will take some time, she added.

Gardner grew up in Englewood and graduated from Lowell Elementary and Jones Commercial High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Concordia University. She’s divorced with three daughters.

Gardner has run unsuccessfully for public office twice before.

-Deborah Kadin, Austintalks.org

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