Ald. Emma M. Mitts began representing the 37th Ward in January 2000.
That’s when Mayor Daley appointed her to replace Percy Giles, who was convicted in the federal government’s Operation Silver Shovel corruption investigation.
Looking back on those first few months, Mitts recalls that the hard part wasn’t taking over for one of the six aldermen snared by the FBI’s investigation-it was figuring out how to best help her community.
“My mind wasn’t there at all, regarding the past alderman,” Mitts, 55, said. “It was more about what I was going to do in order to move the ward forward.”
This tactic seems to have worked, and she hopes her 11-year record will persuade West Side residents on Feb. 22 to give her another four-year term.
Mitts’ proudest moment as alderman was the opening in 2006 of the Walmart on North Avenue, the first in the city. She also ensures that her aldermanic menu money – about $1 million each year – goes to building infrastructure-curbs, gutters, street lighting and sidewalks.
An Arkansas native, Mitts’ formative years were spent working on other people’s plantations. After graduating from high school and taking a few local college courses, Mitts moved to Chicago when she was 19.
In the first few years, Mitts got involved in local government working as a parking aide with the Chicago Department of Revenue. She then moved to the Department of Streets and Sanitation, working as an accounting technician and soon formed a bond with former Ald. Isaac Carothers, who was then deputy commissioner of the department.
Carothers took Mitts under his wing. In the 1990s she served as president of the Community Action Council, an organization formed by Carothers to promote recreational programs on the West Side.
Mitts’ relationship with Carothers, who’s currently serving jail time on federal corruption charges, bothers some in the ward. But she still calls him a friend.
“He’s always been a friend of mine, and I feel bad for what happened to him,” she said. “But I still have to move on for the residents of the 37th Ward.”
For her, moving forward means addressing public safety, economic development and education (including a new Austin High School.)
-Margaret Smith, Austintalks.org