ENGLEWOOD — Next week, Jeanette Taylor will be sworn in as alderwoman of the 20th ward.
It’ll be a big day for Taylor, who endured a race that may rival anything Aaron Sorkin’s ever written.
Taylor said that, for her, running for office wasn’t about vanity
— it was about taking care of a neighborhood that raised her, nurtured her and rallied around her after the death of her mother earlier this year. It was about giving back to a community that never quite seemed to get the respect it deserved, she said. A community that has weathered 16 school closings, an unforgiving economy and the conviction of two (soon, three) alderman in the last 30 years.
But where most see doom, Taylor sees hope. An opportunity to get it right. It’s why she freely gives out her cell phone number, and why her first order of business will be hosting a ward-wide meeting where everyone gets a seat at the table.
“I’ve got a lot of mixed emotions,” Taylor told Block Club Chicago after a victory party that felt more like a family reunion. “I’m excited, I’m happy, the people have decided that I represent them.”
Taylor said she is eager to get to work, especially after months of meeting face-to-face with voters telling her exactly what they want to see done.
“[I’m] doing a lot of doorknocking, I know what people want to see,” Taylor said. “I promise you that trash and cleaning up comes up a lot, so we’ll be putting up a list of community cleanups so that me, along with my staff and the people on those blocks, can clean up our community. It’s gonna start with us.”
‘The Community Decides What It wants’
The greatest single issue facing the ward? Depends on what part of the ward you’re in.
“Woodlawn is concerned about the Obama Presidential Center and displacement,” Taylor said. “And throughout the ward, jobs, economic development, safety, youth jobs, the bare minimum basic stuff we’ve fallen short of in the 20th Ward.”
Taylor, who grew up at 45th Street and Calumet Avenue before rising rents pushed her family south, said she wants to make sure that doesn’t happen to people living near the future library, and wants to close the loopholes that allow developers to get out of providing affordable housing.
When it comes to policing, Taylor said she wants to end to the revolving door of police commanders who leave their posts every two years, instead focusing on stability and improving community policing.
She also plans to work with a task force to address the violence happening in the ward and create youth employment opportunities so that the kids on the corner can experience something different.
Her economic development plan involves tapping into neighborhood resources that are already there. Many of her constituents run their businesses from their homes, Taylor wants to dedicate tax dollars to building a small business corridor that would provide them with the space they need.
Larger corporations that profit from the community should be giving back, too, she said — especially if they get TIF money.
“Who spends money at these stores? Parents and people from the community,” said Taylor, whose children attend South Shore High School and Ray Elementary. “They should give back, and in these four years, they’ll be forced to give back. You don’t get to build in our communities, make billions of dollars and not support the institutions that need your help.”
She’d like to see the shuttered schools within the ward converted to community centers, but said it’s ultimately up to the community to decide how those buildings will be used.
“I want the community to have that say. How you start is how you end; the community has to say what it wants to be,” Taylor said. “I promised a transparent process and the community will be engaged every step of the way.”
She also knows that with the Obama Presidential Center coming, businesses will be flocking to the area — but before they have a seat at her table, they must meet with neighbors, she said.
“They’ll be meeting with the constituents first, not me,” said Taylor. “The community decides what it wants.”
Taylor is inspired by the other progressives joining her in the council, and wants to make it clear that this will not be the same rubber stamp, “go along to get along” crew the city is used to.
“It’s about us holding each other accountable,” she said.
Taylor, a youth development coordinator with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization who led the Dyett High School hunger strike, knows a lot about building coalitions and fighting the powers that be.
“I think we will probably be the force to push lame ducks who don’t do anything, who often are quiet about the things they should be screaming at the top of their lungs,” Taylor said. “I’m excited to have a bunch of folks who come from the movement. The movement made a lot of us.”
She said Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot “has a different council to deal with.”
“I take this seat and this position very seriously, and I’m gonna advocate on behalf of my ward,” she said. “We will never allow a mayor to be as powerful as Daley and Rahm. Never again.”
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