On a desk in Carmelita P. Earls’ garden-apartment campaign office is a photocopy of a Chicago Tribune news clipping, peppered with staple holes and grainy from repeated copying.

In it, a younger Earls, saddled with heavy boots and a thick firefighting jacket, stands behind a caution tape line at the Henry Horner Homes, comforting a woman whose niece had just been killed in a fire. It’s a tender moment: The two stand close together, Earls speaking quietly with a hand on the woman’s shoulder. The mourner looks lost.

Ten years later, Earls, now commander of operations for the Chicago Fire Department Training Academy, says she’s ready to trade in her firefighting career for a spot on the Chicago City Council. She says it’s not that far of a leap.

“What (firefighting) taught me most is how you have an opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life at the most turbulent times,” said Earls, sitting at her desk in a blue Chicago Fire Department fleece.

Earls, 45, has a knack for talking to people. She speaks easily and openly, describing conversations she’s had with strangers in the community, from drug dealers on corners to kids headed down the same path. Earls said her priorities for the ward are making government more transparent, making neighborhoods safer and improving services for residents. In explaining how she would achieve these goals, her responses are reminiscent of a community organizer, drawing on touching anecdotes and experiences with neighbors, rather than numbers and public-policy speechifying.

Earls says she’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she’s had from the community…Earls takes that as a sign of hope.

“No one has a monopoly of your choices,” she said.

-Sarah Ostman, Austintalks.org

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