West Side's seat at the table

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

The West Side Calls for a Seat at the Table: That was the headline of the mayoral forum sponsored last week in Austin and it was a singular, powerful message. If one thing shifts with a new mayor of Chicago, it had better be that the West Side and South Side of the city get taken very seriously. Very quickly. In demonstrable ways.

Decades of active disinvestment by the city across schools, jobs and infrastructure; a history of weak and self-interested ward leadership; preachers and non-profits focused mainly on silo protection; predatory policing; media that covered only violence; and a worn-out citizenry that didn't make demands loud or clear enough, and you have a West Side with declining population, staggering incarceration and joblessness at rates that foster hopelessness and inertia.

In this moment when a black woman is sure to be the next mayor, they will find changed energy in Austin, Garfield Park, and North Lawndale as demands are becoming much clearer, collaboration is taking hold, and confidence is building.

Austin Coming Together and the West Side NAACP played the lead roles in organizing last Thursday's mayoral forum with a range of neighborhood associations and local media, including our own Austin Weekly News in support. 

In yet another strategic campaign error, Toni Preckwinkle did not attend the event, her campaign saying she had a conflict in scheduling. But Lori Lightfoot was there and took full advantage in commanding the stage.

In this moment of perpetual balderdash from our president, it is calming and inspiring to listen to a candidate such as Lightfoot who speaks clearly, in paragraphs, with detail about complex issues which she has certainly studied and considered. 

She promised the hundreds in attendance her focus on the West Side, her presence on the West Side, her appointment of West Siders, her respect for the West Side. And in a moment that resonated, she told the audience to demand much more from aldermen, to hold them accountable for change. 

What a venue: The mayoral forum was the first public event held in the Kehrein Center for the Arts in Austin. This is a terrific auditorium situated at Washington and Central in the Catalyst Circle Rock School. 

This space has been dark for 45 years. Last active as part of the old Siena High School, it has been used for storage, if at all, as various entities have been housed in the larger building. Catalyst Circle Rock and Rock of Our Salvation Church have been planning the auditorium's rebirth for a decade. The school had other more pressing priorities in the old building until recently. Now $4 million plus dollars later, this 1,000-seat mid-century space has been reclaimed, burnished and upgraded.

Circle Rock says its facility is there for the full West Side community to use and, in addition to its own arts programming, Austin groups should use the space. That is a great community building offer.

Signature ads: With the blizzard of candidates in Oak Park and River Forest elections this spring, there has been a lot of advertising. Happily, the Journal has gotten a good share both in print and digitally, though some of our candidates will be writing nice checks to Mark Zuckerberg.

What I've missed until last week was a good "signature ad." Finally, Susan Buchanan, an Oak Park village board candidate, came through with a half-page of names of locals who endorsed her. And, as I always do, I scoured the ad looking for names and connections. My conclusion is that if the VMA had survived another cycle, Dr. Buchanan would have been on their short list and for all the right reasons. My second conclusion is that in this social media era, a lot of voters are self-selecting into Facebook groups that have chosen their own issues and candidates. 

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

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