When an alderperson or other elected official fails to hold himself or herself to high levels of ethical behavior and personal and professional decorum and is under multiple investigations by the FBI, the Chicago Board of Ethics, the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and the Office of the Inspector General, the public loses confidence in them, they become ineffective leaders, and new leadership is needed. I believe this type of aldermanic change is necessary in Chicago’s 45th Ward.
There are several strong challengers for the position of alderperson of the 45th Ward. These candidates have long track records of community service and activism, and some have deep roots in the ward. They are candidates who I believe could provide ALL of the constituents of the 45th Ward with honorable, competent leadership. I can’t look into their hearts, but I believe that they want to become alderman for the right reasons. Not for power, but to help others and make the world a better place.
I lived in the 45th Ward for 15 years (until 2020). During my time there, Patrick Levar, John Arena, and Jim Gardiner (the current alderman, who was elected in 2019) have served as alderman. I voted in every aldermanic election because I believe that no one should complain about their leaders unless they vote. My goal with this article is not to tell you whom I would vote for if I still lived in the 45th—although I have my favorite candidate—but to give you the information you need to make an educated choice that helps to elect a strong moral, competent, and even-keeled leader.
Five candidates are currently running to replace Alderman Gardiner. I want to thank them for participating in this election and trying to make change in a world that has become more coarse, corrupt, mean-spirited, and, at times, crazy. I attended the aldermanic forum at the Copernicus Center on February 2, and it was wonderful to see these candidates (amidst the occasional circus-like atmosphere) share their visions of how they would improve the ward if elected. But the candidates only received a few minutes to respond to each policy question. I decided to contact all of the challengers to ask them to complete a questionnaire regarding their backgrounds, their goals for the ward if elected, their favorite nature spots, and what they will do to address the major environmental issues facing Chicagoans. Several candidates replied, and I will publish their questionnaire responses in the order in which they were received. In addition to reading these interviews, I encourage you to visit the candidates’ websites to learn more about them (see the end of the article for a list of the candidates) and attend candidate forums (even if they are an imperfect method of communication with voters).
The election is February 28, and early voting is ongoing. Unless one of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go to a runoff on April 4.
My first interview is with business owner and community organizer James Suh.He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Chicago. He is married and has two young children, who attend Chicago Public Schools.
Q. Can you tell me about your personal and professional background? How long have you lived in the 45th Ward?
A. Since graduating from the University of Chicago, I have been in information technology, having worked for nonprofit foundations and other businesses for around two decades. I’m also a local small business owner of a hand car wash/automotive sales and services business that I’ve operated for the past ten years. I’ve lived in the ward for just about 10 years, but I’ve lived on the Northwest Side of Chicagoland all of my life.
Q. Why do you want to become an alderperson, and what are three issues in the ward that you believe need to be improved?
A. I have been involved in community advocacy for a number of years now, and between that and the breadth and depth of my professional experiences as a technologist and small business owner, this role is a natural extension of the work I’ve been doing.
After knocking on doors, I know that residents of the ward are most concerned about public safety, economic development, and community voice and agency in the decision-making processes. If I may add a fourth issue, I know that there are a lot of concerns regarding having a professional, responsive, ethical, and equitable distribution of ward services.
Q. Like many areas of the city, the 45th Ward has many empty storefronts. What will/can you do as alderman to encourage businesses to open in the ward?
A. Certainly my experiences starting and running a small business successfully over the course of a decade help me to understand the challenges that other local businesses face. Having worked with aldermen, IDOT, CDOT, the Departments of Building and Planning and Development, and the Zoning Board of Approvals (to name a few different city entities) for licensing, permitting, zoning changes, curb cuts, etc., and having obtained funding through federal small business loans and also participating in the Small Business Improvement Fund are all unique experiences that I can share with fellow business owners to support them. I would also work with local chambers of commerce and ensure that the ward office is professional and responsive in order to attract new business and development to the area. I’d also work with state legislators to close the tax loopholes that incentivize commercial property owners to leave their storefronts vacant.
Q. What three qualities do you think the ideal alderperson should possess, and why?
A. The ideal alderperson will have a broad vision and the drive to execute on that vision. When we have a leadership with a focus only on services, our ward will not experience meaningful improvement. A professional temperament is vital in working and collaborating with colleagues at all levels of government, community chambers of commerce, and neighborhood organizations and residents, and we need an elected representative with ethics, principles, and integrity. The Board of Ethics and Office of the Inspector General do not have enough authority to significantly enforce the city’s code of ethics. The position of alderman is one that can substantially abuse its authority with little to no repercussions when it is occupied by a representative lacking intrinsic moral character.
Q. Let’s change focus. Are you a nature lover? If so, what about the outdoors do you enjoy and can you name a few favorite local nature destinations?
A. I am a huge nature lover, which comes from spending summers in Korea at a young age. I would accompany my grandfather on morning walks [in natural areas] along the mountain side, which are prevalent even in the urban capital of Seoul. I have also always been avidly appreciative of wildlife. Growing up right at Niles Center and Touhy, just outside the north end of the 45th Ward, I would frequent the Emily Oaks Nature Center and Bunker Hill and Caldwell Woods Forest Preserves. I still take my kids there for hiking, cycling, and sledding. We also frequently visit LaBagh Woods and North Park Village Nature Center. My wife’s parents reside in Morris, which is relatively close to Starved Rock State Park and so we’re able to frequent that park more than we might otherwise, along with Matthiessen State Park, which I find easier to navigate with our young children.
Q. What major environmental issues are affecting Chicagoans, and how will you as alderperson work to address these issues?
A. The most critical environmental issue is the need to replace the 390,000 lead water lines in our city, which disproportionately affects our children. I would work to increase awareness and funding for our city programs that assist with the expense for homeowners, but also the cost per replaced line is astronomical. We have to leverage newer technologies to bring that cost down and also get increased federal funding to tackle this problem.
Chicago needs a Department of Environment to address its environmental issues. The scope and magnitude of those issues require a centralized entity with the capacity to uniformly and consistently handle them in an equitable manner across all of the city’s communities. If elected to the city council, I would advocate strongly for this critical entity to return.
The city’s recycling program is abysmal, especially as compared to other large cities in the nation. Far too much of the materials placed in the blue bins end up in landfills. In addition to focusing on improving those rates, I’d like to see residents with expanded options for composting organic materials.
Our handling and treatment of the city’s trees is disheartening. I would advocate for preservation rather than destroying and replacing trees, particularly with regard to water main projects, which can again be refurbished with advanced techniques without cutting down healthy trees in our parkways, and also the present strategy of chopping down ash trees and replacing them with a different species rather than inoculating our ash trees against ash-borers.
The Other Candidates
Here are the websites of the other candidates who are running to unseat 45th-Ward Alderman Jim Gardiner.
Community organizer and historian Susanna Ernst
Attorney Megan Mathias
Activist and library page Ana Santoyo
Financial consultant Marija Tomic
Copyright (main article text) Andrew Morkes; interview text (James Suh)
Copyright (photos): James Suh (personal photos and campaign event photo); Andrew Morkes (all neighborhood photos)
If you’re looking for more stories about Chicago’s Northwest Side, you might like:
Saying Goodbye to Our Lady of Victory and Hoping to Save an Architecturally Significant Building
Elegy for a 100-Year-Old Red Brick House
Neighborhood Walks During the Pandemic Bring Back Memories and Encourage a Bit of Hope
Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations (including for birding) in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book (306 pages, 210+ photos) is only $18.99. Click here to learn more and purchase the book.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.
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