Local and state legislators and the area’s congressman should put their heads together to help the 29th Ward solve its issues, Thomas Simmons insists.

“A lot of community groups are resourceful but don’t have the money to get things done,” he said. “Every elected official in the district should sit down once a month and talk about how to help them and what the community needs. They have to work together for the betterment of the community.”

Getting more sit-down restaurants and shopping options would help recharge Austin, said Simmons, founder of Citizens for a Better Westside, a political and community assistance organization. The aldermanic candidate, though, maintains that ridding Austin’s streets of drugs and crime needs addressing first.

“(Prospective) businesspeople who want to put a business here see folks hanging out (in front of storefronts), and they’re not going to put businesses there,” said Simmons, who moved to Austin in 1970.

He said if all the area’s officials worked together, Austin could even get a new high school, something that would help restore the area’s pride. But a new facility would have to include the kind of vocational education programs that would help young people learn automotive mechanics and other trades, said the former physical education teacher from Orr Academy High School.

According to Simmons, that can help students stay interested in school and get good jobs. Businesses, he adds, could also work with students to find apprenticeships. This is Simmons’ first run for public office. He is married with three daughters.

Simmons attended Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy and Manley Upper Grade Center. He’s a graduate of John Marshall Metro High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University.

-Deborah Kadin, Austintalks.org

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