Local politicians and some West Side religious leaders hope Illinois’ new governor will improve Chicago’s West Side by increasing economic development and reinvesting in education.

As Gov. Bruce Rauner was inaugurated last week, West Siders also wondered what the Republican’s tenure will mean for communities like Austin that continue to be affected by poverty and violence.

“The No. 1 thing that government should do is empower the community,” State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D) said. “And you empower the community by having a quality system of education.”

With the closing and consolidation of public schools tw0 years ago – including four in Austin – more money needs to be put back into Chicago’s public schools structure, Ford said. And with better public school education, communities will see improvements in other areas as well.

“If we (focus on) education and economic development, we will immediately see a decline in violence,” Ford said.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D) and longtime Austin resident and community advocate Dwayne Truss both believe creating more jobs in Austin and expanding educational options would improve the economic state of Chicago’s most-populated neighborhood.

“Privatizing education is not benefiting poor students,” Truss said.

And charter schools do not work for African-American communities because of the disinvestment of vocational education, he said.

“Some people aren’t equipped to go to college,” Truss said. “Without those skills, how can you be economically viable in this economy if all our schools are set up to teach is reading and math and no career development.”

Lightford, vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, agrees: “We need programs that steer young people into a field (for) those who are not college bound.”

And the new governor should clearly identify a jobs program, Lightford said, because decreasing unemployment on the West Side should be a high priority.

Fixing the issues of joblessness and education would lead to solutions in other areas like violence, Lightford said.

“There needs to be an organized effort to change hopelessness overall,” she said.

Lightford said she’s looking forward to the Illinois General Assembly getting started on the new state budget – which will take effect July 1 – with the governor. She wants to see how Rauner plans to attack the state’s budget woes, yet fund education and improve the job picture.

Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller, said he’s not just hopeful but optimistic things are going to change for the better in Austin.

“Somebody’s got to fight for us,” Acree said.

Rauner, a venture capitalist who just won his first election, can use some of his knowledge of business to stimulate economic empowerment on the West Side, he said.

“We need jobs, we need a vision for urban renewal,” said Acree, who noted he previously supported former Gov. Pat Quinn but now doesn’t feel Quinn influenced much change in communities like Austin.

“Over the last six years, Gov. Quinn and the Democratic Party lost jobs, but Rauner and his business created jobs,” Acree said.

“So we’ve got a person in office who is not just a life-long politician talking and making promises, we have a man who has a track record of producing jobs and putting people to work,” he said.

State Rep. Camille Lilly (D) did not respond to requests for comment.

Rauner is set Feb. 4 to present his State of the State address.

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