“I was born in this ward in the Austin community; I attended pre-school in Garfield Park; I got my first shots at Bethel — not the one at Van Buren, the one on Washington. My heart and soul is in this ward,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), at an emotional swearing in speech and reception held Wed., May 20 at Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Ave.
Ervin took the opportunity to lay out what he called a “State of the 28th Ward” address before a captured audience of at least 100 people. Ervin, who had at one point during this year’s election faced challenges from seven candidates, ended up running unopposed after each of those candidates was removed from the ballot. Ervin was appointed in 2011 by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and won an election for the aldermanic seat that same year.
Throughout the approximately 20-minute address, Ervin touched on infrastructure improvements, education, economic development, crime and police relations in his ward. The 28th Ward covers a diverse array of neighborhoods, including Austin, North Lawndale, West Garfield Park and West Loop.
“Over the past four years, we’ve accomplished many things,” he said. “Our crumbling physical infrastructure has seen its biggest investments in decades. We’ve paved over 300 blocks of streets in the last four years [and] added miles of new water mains, sewers, sidewalks and curbs — the most of any ward on the West Side.”
Ervin touted a range of capital improvements at local schools such as Westinghouse and Al Rabey; the installation of new playgrounds; and new athletic fields at Altgeld, Livingston and Garfield parks as a sign of improvement in the ward.
In the area of economic development, Ervin mentioned the film production company Cinespace, in North Lawndale, which is the production home of hit television shows such as “Chicago Fire” and “Empire.”
“Those productions have put dollars in the pockets of our residents doing everything from security, catering … renting locations in their homes and even being extras,” he said, adding that the Cinespace generated $150 million in economic activity last year.
Ervin also trumpeted the IMD Gateway Center, a $400 million mixed-use development project on the Near West Side that’s going up on nearly 10 acres of empty land at 2020 W. Ogden. He said he’s hoping that job training opportunities comes out of the development and said that 50 percent of the project is African American-owned.
Ervin said, despite the development projects of the Near West Side, there’s a dearth of opportunity in neighborhoods such as Austin and West Garfield Park.
“We’re not where we want to be, but we’re definitely not where we used to be,” he said, before adding, “we still have work to do” and that the 28th Ward “must be one of inclusion.”
Echoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second inaugural address — in which the mayor talked about the “faces” of disadvantaged youth who are “lost and unconnected” and “often invisible” — Ervin talked about the pain of seeing “children whose eyes are dim because they feel that no one cares about their situation.”
Ervin emphasized the importance of the Madison Street commercial corridor to the economic wellbeing of the West Side, particularly in Austin and West Garfield Park.
“It’s once been said that so goes Madison so goes the West Side of Chicago and over the next four years Madison has to be one of our main focuses in West Garfield Park and Austin,” he said. “We’ll be expanding the Midwest TIF so we can have tools for community development.”
The alderman, who supported Mayor Emanuel during the election, touched on the unfair policing policies on the West Side that have been a stain on the mayor’s first term.
“We continue to lock up young African Americans and Latinos at an alarming rate for transactions that may earn them less than a dollar [but that] lead to a lifetime of exclusion,” Ervin said. “But for those who drive here from the [suburbs], but are now taking up residence […] to walk through our community littered with syringes with a backpack like a zombie and they get a pass — that’s not right,” he said.
Like Emanuel and virtually every other West Side alderman in the days after the May 18 swearing in that took place at the Chicago Theater, Ervin was mum on the current city’s fiscal crisis. Last week, as a result of the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision to toss out a pension reform law that had been signed by former Gov. Pat Quinn in 2013, Moody’s downgraded the city’s credit rating to junk status. Days afterward, the ratings agency also downgraded the credit rating of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to junk status.