Formally, Chicago aldermen are supposed to vote on legislation and advocate for issues on behalf of their wards, but there’s no official requirement for them to improve resident trust and access to community assets. In one of the strongest themes over the course of more than 30 interviews, Austin residents told City Bureau that they want more transparent, personal and strong relationships with their aldermen.
Given Chicago’s longstanding history of aldermanic corruption with rubber stamping, kickbacks and intimidation techniques, it’s no surprise that residents are insistent on building better relationships with their local officials.
“My major concern is not any self-interest but to see the people in my community be taken care of,” says Lavieda “Kinei” Warner, 32, member of D20 Army Community Battle Group, an anti-gentrification group in Garfield Park. “And that is not directly the alderman’s responsibility, but in terms of our access to resources, in terms of our health and wealth as a community, those are things that I think fall under the purview of an alderman.”
Residents spoke about how there isn’t a satisfying bridge to connect people to resources that exist in the community. Photographer and community organizer Vanessa Stokes gave the example of the Garfield Park Conservatory, among other assets that are either based on the West Side or meant to support neighborhood groups: Westside Health Authority, By The Hand Club, Austin Coming Together, Good Neighborhood Campaign, D20 Army, Y.E.T., The Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development, etc.
“A lot people don’t know it’s there or they don’t think it’s for them,” she said.
Other residents noted that they don’t feel heard by their local government and that there is a lack of transparency in who benefits from the decisions made at City Hall.
Briana Shields, 26, from Free Spirit Media, a media program for young adults based in North Lawndale, said, “[With] some of the decisions being made, we don’t see what the bigger picture is.” She wants local officials to explain their reasoning and long-term goals so that residents can trust their decisions.
Plenty of Austin residents provided solutions to improve aldermanic accessibility. “Just being more involved. Like showing your face. Being around us more. Not just coming around during election time,” said Mikey Fresco, 22, a member of Young Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow. “When stuff happens, when one of the oldest people on the block died, something like that, be there. Show that you actually know what is going on in the stuff that you are trying to control.”
In addition to showing up, Galewood resident Steve Vasko, 53, also suggested taking it back to the building blocks of a relationship.
“I’ve thought, ‘Are they coming out to the areas without a camera and talking with the people?’ I know it’s very easy to go in and say, ‘Oh sure I’ve gone ahead and done studies and I know what they want.’ But, you know, having people come… with no agenda just to have coffee and share ideas, Vasko said.
28th Ward Candidates
Miguel Bautista: Have community meetings and forums in different locations. Create events to bring members out like Bingo. Give students ability to propose community project.
Jason Ervin: Currently holds open office hours, monthly meetings and reaches out to residents during office hours. Door-to-door knocking method is outdated; residents should reach out on social media and email.
Jasmine Jackson: Have visible campaign office location and have precinct captains stay in contact with residents; meet residents at places they congregate or live.
Beverly Miles: Make office visible and transparent and encourage community to attend more meetings, as well as door-knocking.
Justina Winfrey: Reignite block clubs, open satellite offices and have an open-door policy and a 24-hour hotline.
29th Ward Candidates
Chris Taliaferro: Residents need to work with aldermen and care enough to attend community meetings. Tries to engage directly with community through Yard Talks program and attends block club meetings.
Dwayne Truss: Divide the wards into sections and empower people in precincts to figure out how they would spend menu money; shouldn’t be that alderman gets the first and last word.
Zerlina Smith: Meet the community where they’re at in order to reach unengaged constituents. Put together committees as way to keep residents informed.
37th Ward Candidates
Emma Mitts*: Touts her and her staff’s regular attendance at block club meetings, business association functions and other community gatherings.
Deondre Rutues: Hire social media managers, record ward nights and upload them on YouTube “within 48 hours.” Create an hour-long podcast. Launch a “fully functional website and publish a monthly one-page newsletter online and in print. Utilize networking services like Nextdoor in order to communicate with residents and monitor quality-of-life issues.
Tara Stamps: “The leverage is always the people. You have to talk to the people and communicate with them what’s at stake, so that they can participate in their own rescue. It’s not [the alderman’s] job to go behind their backs and make deals that you think will rescue them.”
*Indicates candidate did not respond to multiple requests for interview and responses are pulled from public comments.
This report was produced in collaboration with City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab. www.citybureau.org