The tattered reputation of her former boss, Isaac “Ike” Carothers, isn’t deterring Brenda Smith in her run for 1st DistrictCookCounty commissioner.
Smith, 53, is not only running against one former boss but two. She was Carothers’ chief of staff for eight years until his indictment in 2009 on federal corruption charges. He resigned as 29th Ward alderman in February 2010 after pleading guilty. After serving a year in prison, Carothers was released in 2011; he announced in October that he’s running in the 1st District race.
Smith now works as administrative assistant for the incumbent, Earlean Collins, who is retiring. Smith has held that post for four years. But as for Carothers’ past, she insists that has no bearing on her.
“I don’t have any allegiance to the things that he experienced,” Smith, a businesswoman and community activist, said. “It was an unfortunate thing for him, but I didn’t get indicted for anything. So that separates me automatically.”
Smith maintains that she set herself apart as a public servant even while working in the 29th Ward office. She started the nonprofit, Community Action Council, which she operated for 10 years, in 1999. The nonprofit worked with diverse ethnic groups providing services and resources.
“If somebody got burned out, we helped them by providing clothing, food, blankets, house hold appliances. Whatever we had, we gave it to them,” Smith said. “I love servicing people. I love helping people. I think that’s my passion…because I am a giver.”
Smith, however, has not said much publicly about her tenure with Carothers, who’s on the ballot with Smith in next March’s Primary. Carothers served time on federal fraud and bribery charges for accepting $40,000 in home improvements from a developer in exchange for supporting a zoning change.
Four other candidates have officially filed in the race.
Smith says her priorities for the district include job creation for adults and juvenile ex-offenders — job training is part of that effort, she stressed.
Businesses and community organizations, she adds, have to get creative in assisting ex-offenders. RehabbingAustin’s abundant foreclosed housing stock, for instance, could be a job-training opportunity for them, Smith noted.
Smith wants to improve hospital services to patients, especially wait times atStrogerHospital. Smith said she wants to work with management to determine how to get patients seen quicker. It could be a staffing issue to improve work flow, she noted, or, better informing residents about the county’s satellite health centers as an option to using the emergency room.
Smith said working at both the county and city level has given her a range of experiences to better serve constituents.
“It’s about helping people,” said the mother of two, who was born and raised on theWest Side.
Her son, Eric Hunt Jr., completed a four-year construction apprenticeship, and her daughter, Jessica Smith, graduated fromDePaulUniversityand is now working on her masters.
For three years, Smith, along with her parents, operated Westside Coffee Express,Austin’s first green coffee house.
Smith says she’s focused on “improving the quality of life” in the 1st District. Her opponents, however, might latch onto that issue, asking why that quality hasn’t improved under her boss, Collins.
Smith talks about wanting to “create a sense of unity among the district,” but adds that there needs to be more collaboration with nonprofits inOak ParkandForest Parkto share resources. These suburban andAustingroups, Smith noted, are not separate entities onto themselves.
Helping ex-offenders transition back into society is a priority for Smith. She wants to offer incentives or tax credits to businesses to setup shop in the district and hire ex-offenders.
“We need to create some type of training for them even while they are locked up — not just holding somebody in there for days and days. We got to cut that cycle,” Smith said.
Smith also wants to work with the Cook County Sheriff’s department to streamline the release process for those bonded out of jail. Smith noted people practically “spend the night” outside of Cook County Jail waiting for relatives to be release — having better technology can address that issue, she says.
“I understand there is a process… let’s create a much easier process,” said Smith, who worked five years as a clerk in the sheriff’s office; she also worked two years in the Cook County Assessor’s office.