Zerlina Smith pictured with Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis. Submitted photo.

Creating more after school programs, improving the delivery of city services and putting a stop to standardized testing are some of the issues Zerlina Smith will work to improve if she is elected as alderman of the 29th ward in the Feb. 24 election, the candidate said in a recent interview with Austin Weekly News.

Smith, a committee member for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for the Early Head Start program, will face seven other candidates, including incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham, police officer and law firm managing partner Chris Taliaferro, attorneys Bob Galhotra, Lawrence Andolino and La Coulton J. Walls, community activist Oddis O.J. Johnson and community college professor Stephen Robinson.

A banner hangs on the wall at her Austin campaign office, 221 S. Central Ave., which shows pictures of Smith speaking into a bullhorn at different protests around Chicago, one of which includes a protest backing teachers who refuse to give standardized testing to students.

“There’s a fight against standardized testing, because we know some kids don’t test well,” Smith said.

One picture on the banner shows her daughter, 5-year-old Cherish, sitting on her mothers’ shoulders at one of the Chicago protests.

Smith, a single mother from Austin, removed her daughter from Oscar DePriest Elementary School in Chicago after learning that the school was on the 2013 CPS closing list.

She transitioned Cherish to the city’s Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy and said she wanted her daughter to have the education she deserved.

“CPS lied about sending resources to [Oscar DePriest] and has made a strong point with underfunding black community schools,” Smith said. “They say they closed our schools because of underutilization. How can they open up new charter schools with publicly funded resources and put black tenured teachers who live in the community out of work?”

The candidate said more black history programs, computer and band classes, books and improved curriculums should be brought back into the schools.

She also pushes for building better relationships between principals and teachers.

Smith spoke at the protest for a $15 minimum wage last year in front of the downtown Rock N Roll McDonalds.

Last December, the City Council approved an increase in Chicago’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $13 an hour by 2019.

Smith wants to make sure Chicago workers get $15 an hour now and not $13 an hour in 2019.

Cleaning alleys and streets, providing garbage cans and fixing potholes are a few city services Smith said needs to be improved in the 29th ward.

After a blizzard hit the Chicago area a few weeks ago, the city waited four days to clean the snow, according to Smith.

“It was horrible,” she said. “They pushed all the snow that was on the streets up onto my driveway. I can’t get into my garage and I have to park in front of my house.”

Smith said the ward needs someone who will stand up for the people and that Graham hasn’t built true relationships with people in the community.

“I can’t bash Graham; I respect her. She just forgot where she came from and who elected her – the people,” Smith said.

If elected, Smith plans to use her salary to create jobs for people in the community.

“Nobody is getting paid to do this. Money doesn’t vote, people do,” she said.