Change was in the air in Austin for the year 2011. That change came in the form of new political leadership citywide, to changes in the education landscape, and even with the unpredictable Chicago weather. There were many notable events, people, deaths and happenings during the year that can’t all fit in this year-end review, but here are a few.
In February, the city was blanketed by one of the worst blizzards in its history, a stark contrast from the spring-like temps Austin has experienced at year’s end – so far, this has been the least snowiest winter in recent memory.
Political change swept through the city, and Austin, just as 2011 was getting underway. Mayor Richard M. Daley announced his retirement in late 2010. Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff at the time, resigned from his post to run for mayor. He would go on to win handily in the February election. Also victorious were incumbent Ald. Emma Mitts for the 37th Ward, and Deborah Graham in the 29th. Graham’s victory firmly secures the aldermanic seat she was appointed to in 2010. Jason Ervin successfully won election as 28th Ward alderman, replacing the longtime and popular Alderman Ed Smith, who resigned from his seat in late 2010; Ervin is a Smith protégé.
The political change kept coming as state Sen. Rickey Hendon (5th) resigned from his post in March. State Rep. Annazette Collins was selected by Democratic committeemen later in March as Hendon’s replacement. Collins is on the ballot for the 5th district seat in 2012.
When the year began, there were three private schools on the Austin High School campus, 231 N. Pine. As the year closes, all three schools are now under the guise of the Chicago Public Schools. The Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy was the first school to come under CPS when its then-owner opted not to renew its contract to run the school. American Quality Schools, based in Illinois, had run the school since its inception in 2006. The Business Academy was the first of three “charter/performance” schools for the former Austin High School building – Austin High was closed by CPS in 2004.
Austin Polytechnical Academy and Austin VOISE (Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment) later joined ABEA on the campus. But following the Business Academy, APA and VOISE also came under CPS in 2011.
This year marked the third anniversary in the disappearance of Yasmin Acree from her Austin home in January 2008 when she was 15 years old. Yasmin turned 19 years old in October.
The Austin Peace Corner opened its new facility, 5022 W. Madison, right next door to its original storefront location. The grand opening in April included political officials, community leaders and residents. Father Maurizio Binaghi, the Peace Corner’s founder, was also on hand.
Austin Weekly News was a cosponsor of the Juneteenth Celebration in 2011. The five-day festival was the brainchild of Rickey Brown, longtime community activist and director of the West Side Historical Society. The festival was a rousing success.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford joined Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in leading a public discussion concerning how to best adjudicate low-level marijuana crimes. Ford has legislation pending in the General Assembly that would, in part, issue fines and mandatory treatment for petty marijuana crimes versus jail time. Preckwinkle has called for a similar approach.
Bethel New Life got a new leader in 2011, as Lori Vallelunga became the nonprofit’s new executive director.
Moo & Oink, the 100-year-old West Side food business, closed due to declining revenues in August. The brand and name were auctioned off in late 2011, but the three stores, including one at Madison and Cicero, remain closed.
The Garfield Park Conservatory suffered severe damage in June following a torrential rainstorm. The glass panel on the garden was destroyed. The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, the botanic garden’s nonprofit arm, has undertaken a “One Pane at a Time” fundraising effort to repair the facility.
Several new businesses opened in the community in 2011, among them Foreman Mills, a clothing store near North Avenue and Cicero, and a local photography business by Julissa Marie, also known as J’Marie Photography.
Austin Weekly News, the community’s 24-year-old neighborhood news source, expanded its coverage this year to the East and West Garfield Park neighborhoods. The paper also won big at the Illinois Press Association Awards in June, taking the top prizes in original column, as well as the top prize in the special section category for our “Men Making a Difference” special issue from July 2010.