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SW Side aldermen look ahead

Jobs, safety, schools are top priorities

By Tim Hadac

Days after Mayor Lori Lightfoot used her inauguration speech to bloody the political noses of the members of the City Council, Southwest Side aldermen were back in their wards, handling duties considered mundane by many but important to all.

“A lot has been accomplished here, but there’s still work to be doneÑand we’re doing it,” 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn told the Greater Southwest News-Herald.

Like other Southwest Side aldermen, Quinn said he focuses on four areas: public safety, economic development, education and delivery of city services.

His workÑin concert with Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-22nd)Ñhas yielded a boom of new development along a half-mile section of Cicero Avenue, south of 63rd Street. There are other signs of new life in the ward, including several new businesses in Clearing, new construction near 66th and Pulaski, and more.

Challenges remainÑmost notably, the old Kmart at 71st and Pulaski. When it opened in about 1978, that Kmart and a nearby Dominick’s brought an unprecedented amount of jobs, sales tax revenue and more to the ward. But Dominick’s left in 2004, and Kmart shuttered its store in 2016.

Quinn says he continues to work on getting an attractive tenant for the Kmart space, “but not just anybody or anything. It needs to bring jobs to the community, and it needs to be something the surrounding neighborhood wants.”

Specifically, he wants a grocery store to occupy at least part of the space.

On education, Quinn appears to be on a roll. The new Richardson Middle School at 60th and Keeler opened to acclaim, the new Dore School near 65th and Nottingham got built, and this fall a new early childhood center will serve 80 four-year-olds at the site of the old Dore School. Plus, ground has been broken at 65th and Long for a new Hancock High School.

Ahead, Quinn plans to champion the Sor Juana School (in the old St. Turibius School space near 57th and Karlov) and efforts by parents to ensure that the fledgling school and its classical program not only survives, but thrives.

Other wards

In the 22nd Ward, new Ald. Michael Rodriguez is emerging as a backer of the Gateway to Midway effort to turn Cicero Avenue (from the Stevenson Expressway south to 55th Street) from bust to boom.

At a recent meeting of the United Business Association of Midway, Rodriguez said revitalizing Cicero Avenue is “a top priority” of hisÑa move that appeared to be a significant departure from the approach of his predecessor, and which delighted UBAM members who heard him.

Rodriguez “fully recognizes that the objectives of the 22-point Cicero Avenue Improvement Plan are not only just beneficial to the Cicero Avenue corridor, but also will have a direct positive impact on the residents, communities, and businesses of the entire greater Southwest Side, and the city itself,” said Thomas S. Baliga, Gateway Committee chairman and Archer Heights Civic Association president. “His enthusiastic support is very encouraging to the Committee, and we look forward to working with him.”

In the 15th Ward, Ald. Raymond Lopez plans to continue his aggressive push against crimeÑparticularly gang crimeÑand promotion of “quality of life” improvements that indirectly prevent crime and blight.

He also appears to be emerging as an early critic of Lightfoot. Lopez has taken to TwitterÑeven before the mayoral inaugurationÑto criticize the new mayor’s plan to severely limit aldermanic privilege.

He has repeatedly shown examples of how aldermanic privilege can cut through red tape and make it easier for block parties, community festivals and more.

Lopez also has criticized Lightfoot’s plan to determine who will chair which committees in City Council.

“For a mayor who campaigned on independent governance and said she didn’t want a rubber stamp council, she sure came ready with the ink pads,” Lopez told a WTTW-TV reporter.

In the 18th Ward, Ald. Derrick Curtis has boasted of being a favorite of Lightfoot, and he still is counting on her support, despite the fact that like almost every other Southwest Side alderman, he was excluded from the new mayor’s list of proposed committee chairmen.

As he starts his second term, Curtis has his work cut out for him. The Scottsdale Neighborhood Watch is demanding more policeÑand even a new police beat–on the west end of the ward.

His big challenge remains economic development. Nearly two years after he promised a groundbreaking and ribbon cutting of a mixed-use development on the old Luther South property at 87th and Kedzie, nothing has moved forward.

The Ultra Foods space at 87th and Kedzie remains vacant.

A restaurant promised for 79th and Pulaski has not happened.

The CVS pharmacy near 85th and Pulaski has shut down.

Turning that decline around will be doubly challenging for Curtis, since the ward borders or is near to suburbs with prosperous retail developments, especially Evergreen Park but also Oak Lawn, Burbank and Bridgeview.

Twenty-third Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares told the Greater Southwest News-Herald that she looks forward to working with Lightfoot and said that the Southwest Side historically has not always received its fair share of city services.

Twelfth Ward Ald. George Cardenas has said he plans to work on economic revitalization of McKinley Park and Brighton Park. He continues to find himself crossing swords with a number of community residents over the new asphalt plant at the south end of McKinley Park.

Full-steam ahead for BurkeÊ

All about service and jobs, veteran alderman says

By Joan Hadac

At a public meeting on 47th Street three months ago, a man stood up, grabbed a microphone and told 14th Ward Ald. Edward M. Burke that he had lived in the ward for 15 years and had never seen him in the community.

While the man appeared to be a plant from one of Burke’s opponents in last February’s aldermanic race, the complaint he voiced was not uncommon. Over the years, the dean of the City Council could always be found holding court at City HallÑ”but don’t expect to see him hoisting a can of Old Style at your block party,” as one veteran political observer, a Garfield Ridge resident, put it.Ê

That changed during his most recent aldermanic re-election campaign. Hounded by two young candidates nipping at the heels of his fabled wingtips, Burke suddenly seemed everywhere. Sidewalks took a pounding as he walked every precinct in the ward, meeting voters even during the record cold of the polar vortex.

He thundered to victory, winning more votes than his two challengers combined. His triumph confounded his political foes and astonished downtown political pundits, who dropped their jaws, along with the wood they had been gathering for his funeral pyre.

With his re-election secure, conventional wisdom in the ward held that Burke would drop from public view and focus on fending off the feds, who have him under indictment for allegedly using his aldermanic influence to try and shake down two businessmen seeking city permits to renovate the Burger King they own near 41st and Pulaski.

But he hasn’t. It appears to be full-steam ahead.

These days, Burke is as visible as everÑmost recently at a high-profile ribbon cutting to celebrate the opening of a sparkling new community health center in the south end of Brighton Park.

“What will the next four years look like in the 14th Ward? Well, look around you,” Burke told the Greater Southwest News-Herald in an exclusive interview granted in the minutes before the ceremony, as a Mexican folk band played Cielito Lindo.

“The name of this new health center is Esperanza, which means ‘hope’Ñand that is a kind of theme for what is happening in the ward,” Burke said.Ê

“But it’s more than hope,” Chicago’s longest serving alderman continued as he stood outside the new clinic at 47th and California, built with Burke’s political muscle on the site of a long-fallow parcel of gravel, mud and broken glass. “It’s about delivering on promises, it’s about bringing services and jobs to the people in the community.”

Burke then ticked off a familiar list of his successes in recent years: a newly built charter high school, just steps away from the Esperanza clinic; a newly built McDonald’s across 47th Street; a newly built dialysis center across California; two newly built warehouses near 51st and St. Louis; the relocation of Chicago Park District headquarters to 48th and Western; and the Pulaski Promenade shopping center near 43rd and Pulaski.

Then Burke announced a new one, disclosed exclusively to the Greater Southwest News-Herald: a new tenant for the old Anheuser-Busch warehouse at 4841 S. California: a food wholesaler, Best Foods, that sells products to Asian grocery stores and restaurants. That ribbon will be cut later this year.

So with Burke, there appears to be no let-up.

“He’s everywhere these days,” another political insider said. “Just last week, he was breaking ground for that new senior citizen housing development that will help spark a rebirth of Cicero Avenue. Then he was pulling the winner in St. Richard’s Queen of Hearts raffle. He’s overseeing street re-constructions, sidewalk repairs, the laying of new sewer lines.

“He’s setting a pace of a man half his age. It’s getting hard to keep up with him,” the man added with a chuckle.

(Editor’s Note: More news coverage and photos in the print edition of the Southwest News-Herald, available on local newsstands. Or better yet, call 708-496-0265 during weekday business hours and order convenient home delivery for about 50 cents a week.)

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