20th Ward alderman candidates hold local forum

By Carl Pickerill

The three challengers to incumbent Arenda Troutman were given the chance to bring their views to the community Monday night during the 20th Ward aldermanic forum held at Christ Apostolic Church in Woodlawn.

The 20th Ward, which includes most of Woodlawn (including the Law School, Midway Studios, Burton-Judson Courts, and the School of Social Service Administration), and parts of Washington Park and Englewood, has been undergoing rapid residential change and urban development. Although the forum’s issues included failing schools, community development, and basic neighborhood cleanup, a recurring theme throughout the event was the need to keep Woodlawn’s resources within the community.

“A recent trend is that people outside the community are getting our jobs within our community,” said candidate Howard Kenner, former Illinois state representative. “Our community is developing, and I intend to make sure that our residents have a hand in it.”

Candidate Lydia Watts, national director of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition echoed these sentiments.

“We’ve got people from Milwaukee and Indiana coming in here and developing buildings in our neighborhood,” she said. “We could be using these vacant buildings and vacant lots for vastly different things. Why not bring in a job training program instead of the residential development?”

Troutman mentioned in her speech that there are plans in the making to use nearby Kennedy King College to initiate an apprenticeship program.

“We need to take out the community’s dilapidated buildings and give our residents the chance to do something else,” Troutman said. “A potential student at Kennedy King will be able to get a journeyman’s license in about eight months and start earning $28 an hour.”

Candidate and attorney Donna Ramey also made explicit demands for community development.

“Developers are coming into our ward, making money, and leaving without an investment in the community,” she said. “I want a minimum 20 percent investment in retail in the area and I intend to require developers to make financial contributions to the school districts as well.”

Ramey also made reference to the state of schools in the area. She said she supports the hiring of more certified teachers and a 12-month school schedule for failing schools.

In reference to the area’s gang problems, Watts said that the community needs to tackle the problem in a more insightful manner. She said it’s important to realize that “not every young boy or girl with baggy pants on the street corner is a gang member.”

“Kids are selling drugs out there on the street for a reason,” Watts said. “We have to develop programs that utilize their entrepreneurial spirits. We don’t realize that kids may be showing up to class, but are dropping out intellectually.”

Kenner said he advocates more involvement by parents in raising their kids.

“In Europe, counselors are sent to children’s houses to discern what the problems are,” he said. “How can we expect a third grader to learn in school when his older brother is out selling drugs for a mother who does drugs and should be taking care of the family.”

Troutman also acknowledged the need to speak with parents and that partnerships between schools and parents are necessary.

In touting what she has offered to the community thus far as alderman, Troutman mentioned the increased presence of the University of Chicago Police Department, which now patrols south to 63rd Street and west to Evans. She also noted her accessibility to community members, a quality which all candidates acknowledged was essential.

Watts brought up the residential expansion of the University community into Woodlawn. She made reference to the changing nature of Woodlawn’s residential makeup.

“When people from the University come over here, there not doing it because they like you,” she said. “They’re doing it because you got something they want.”