Candidates in City Council races for 6th and 21st wards seek to recapture glory of city’s Black middle class – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

At the height of Mayor Harold Washington’s administration in the 1980s, the 6th and 21st wards on the South Side were major valves in the beating heart of the city’s Black middle class where government workers and professionals lived in the South Side bungalow neighborhoods once closed to them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fortunes of those communities, which include Chatham, Park Manor and a small portion of Englewood, have changed as its Black population has plummeted since 2000. The 21st Ward also includes parts of Roseland and West Pullman that have been hampered by crime.

Yet there are signs of hope in both wards. In the 6th Ward, the community has attempted to rebuild its commercial shopping strips, including the East 75th Street corridor, which has emerged as a foodie destination. While many in the 21st Ward are looking forward to a long-hoped-for expansion of the CTA’s Red Line, which has finally seen some movement in recent years, as a source of economic development that could reverse decades of isolation on the Far South Side.

In the 6th Ward, 11 candidates are vying to replace outgoing Ald. Roderick Sawyer, who is running for mayor. In the 21st Ward, seven candidates are hoping to lead the ward stretching from Auburn Gresham to the border of Calumet Park as incumbent Ald. Howard Brookins announced his retirement he unsuccessfully ran for Cook County judge.

The 6th Ward race includes a wide range of candidates from schoolteachers and church pastors to current and former law enforcement officers and small business owners. During Washington’s tenure, the 6th was his best performing ward.

Many of the candidates are seeking to restore it as a base for Black elites who still live and work in the city.

In his 1980s book “Chicago Politics Ward by Ward,” former journalist David K. Fremon described the ward under Sawyer’s father, Eugene, as one filled with strong constituency services for residents. Fremon noted the ward was well-known for being a place where politicians, entertainers, government workers, teachers, police and firefighters all lived. Eugene Sawyer was an alderman and former high school biology teacher and water department chemist who later served two years as mayor after Washington died.

But just two months into 2023 and the Chatham community has the second-highest number of homicides, according to city data. Still, the community did have a slight increase in population, according to census data.

O. Patrick Brutus, who is on leave from the city’s Department of Planning and Development, called safety the ward’s most pressing issue. His goal is to make the ward a walkable community. “While we must continue to develop the ward’s commercial corridors with smart retail and commercial developments, we must also address our most at-risk and challenged individuals and families,” he said.

Tavares Briggs, dean of students for LEARN Charter School Network, similarly called crime a major problem. “Investments in housing, health care, jobs programs, after school programs, gun control, environmental design, and violence interruption programs have all been proven to quantifiably reduce violence.”

In an election questionnaire by the Tribune Editorial Board, which is separate from the newsroom, Barbara Bunville, a Chicago police officer, called for requiring gun locks, staging more frequent gun buyback events and better technology within the Police Department to “reduce the burden of paperwork and promote officer and public safety.”

Richard Wooten, a former police officer and security business owner who was a member of the city’s Police Accountability Task Force under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, called for a mix of city investments into community organizations and block clubs, and public and alternative high school programs for at-risk students, as well as boosting police patrols and community policing.

In his questionnaire, Kirby Birgans, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Perspectives Charter School, pledged to focus on violence prevention, recruitment and technology, along with the creation of an “Office of Gun Violence Prevention,” which he said would “serve as the city’s coordinated effort to implement research-based strategies and to better bridge community-based violence prevention programs, law enforcement, social services, and public education stakeholders.”

Kim Egonmwan, an attorney and WVON radio host and commentator, said she would demand police solve more crimes, especially homicides but also hold “officers accountable to increase public faith in and respect for law enforcement, and deal with repeat violent offenders accordingly.”

William Hall, pastor at St. James Community Church and the director of faith and community for UCAN, a crime prevention and social service agency, was endorsed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Hall called for more investment in mental health services, assisting community groups with outreach and creating job programs for young people as well as neighborhood parks programs.

Sharon Pincham, a former real estate agent and president of the West Chesterfield Community Association who is on leave from being district office director for state Sen. Elgie Sims of Chicago, said she favored the expansion of a public safety curriculum into all public high schools. The program, she said, would be for students seeking future employment with Chicago police as a way of combating officer attrition.

Former ward superintendent and Sawyer’s aldermanic assistant, Paul Bryson Sr., called inadequate garbage pickup one of the biggest challenges, faulting the move away from alderman-controlled garbage collection pushed by the Emanuel administration over ward-based services. “I will advocate to bring back ward-based services that will allow us to build a stronger community that each resident will be proud to call home,” Bryson said.

Also running is Sylvester Baker, a retired Cook County sheriff’s sergeant and Aja Kearney, a former Cook County government employee, endorsed by the Chicago Laborers’ District Council.

The 21st Ward, like the 6th, had been a beacon for Black workers and professionals just a stone’s throw from the more upscale neighborhood of Beverly. Fremon’s book explained that while development had come to the Washington Heights neighborhood as early as 1860s, much of the ward remained vacant until after World War II when new construction brought in Black residents, spurring flight by white neighbors.

The ward has been hobbled by downturns in population and its shopping districts, as well as rising gang crime and the havoc brought by the 2008 foreclosure crisis. Brookins, the outgoing alderman, has endorsed Ronnie Mosley, who has worked in government under Ald. Michelle Harris, 8th, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, and as an adviser to Pritzker. Mosley was also endorsed by Pritzker, Harris and St. Sabina senior pastor the Rev. Michael Pfleger.

The planned extension of the Red Line south to 130th Street in Altgeld Gardens has many residents excited about the possibility of development in nearby neighborhoods, including Roseland, which has seen high unemployment and disinvestment.

Calling economic development and affordable housing the biggest issue for the ward, candidate Daliah Goree, who is a Chicago police officer and recruiter, thinks the southern expansion of the CTA’s Red Line will create job opportunities along its new route. She also said the ward needs basic neighborhood amenities such as a “sit-down family restaurant.”

Kweli Kwaza, a Brainerd neighborhood resident who led Club 21, a network of about 100 block clubs in the ward, championed the Red Line expansion as a way of unraveling its crime problem.

“The lack of money (and) poor education is causing much of the violence we are facing in our ward,” he said. “Thankfully, we have the Red Line extension project that will be going through our ward soon. We need to be preparing our residents for those contracts, jobs, and entrepreneur opportunities.”

Among his goals, attorney Larry “Jay” Lloyd said he supported incentivizing small business growth through grants, turning vacant lots into community gardens to overcome food desert neighborhood conditions and partnering labor unions with apprenticeship programs for residents.

Retired firefighter Cornell Dantzler called on establishing a “strong mentoring program” at city parks and schools that will steer young people away from gangs, as well as promoting “behavioral health and mental programs.”

Ayana Clark, a community advocate for former U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, who was endorsed by the now-retired congressman, said she supported a Good Kids Mad City proposed ordinance that called for reallocating 2% of the Chicago Police Department budget toward peace initiatives, diversion programs and restorative justice initiatives. She also supports diverting 911 calls for nonviolent offenses to “alternative response teams.”

To deter crime, attorney Preston Brown Jr., who is also Democratic committeeman of the current 34th Ward, supported creating programs to recruit and retain police officers living in higher crime areas, such as signing bonuses for officers, mortgage guarantees to purchase primary homes, student loan relief and counseling programs.

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