The ward debate in Englewood
With six wards making up the neighborhood, who is taking a leadership role?
To Asiaha Butler and the other members of RAGE, Englewood’s political pot is bubbling. The question is: Do too many aldermen spoil the broth? A combined 3.1 square miles, Englewood and West Englewood are split among six wards: the 3rd, 6th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 20th. But a bigger problem, according to Butler: There is not one aldermanic office in the neighborhood. Residents say this is a symbol that none of the aldermen wants to take the lead in tackling the neighborhood’s problems. RAGE members are calling for redistricting that would reshape Greater Englewood into just two wards.
Englewood has been in political flux this spring: Of the 14 aldermanic seats contested in the April 5 runoff election, five were in wards that include parts of Englewood. RAGE held three candidate forums leading up to the February elections, with five of the incumbent aldermen and 28 out of 35 challengers attending. None of the incumbents agreed to support RAGE’s redistricting proposal, Butler says. Incoming 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer, the only nonincumbent to win a seat, says he might discuss redistricting with the other aldermen. At press time, he had not yet decided where to locate his office.
“I will serve the needs of the whole 6th Ward,” says Sawyer, the son of former Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer. “I realize Englewood might have more needs than some other areas.” He listed neighborhood cleanup and job training as primary focuses, with the idea
that jobs are the key to crime reduction.
Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) and Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) didn’t return repeated requests for interviews. Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) did respond, but interviews couldn't be scheduled by press time. At the March 31 RAGE meeting, Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), showing off her scuffed sneakers, says she prides herself on spending time in West Englewood. “Look at my feet,” she says. “I get down and dirty.”
“When you start something new, you need to clean up and see what you have,” Sawyer says. “There’s so much debris in Englewood, people need to start picking things up. The residents of Englewood need to partner with me. I’m just one person; I can’t do it alone.”