Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer came into office with an aggressive plan to clean up the ward, including many areas that had been long neglected. This included many vacant lots in Englewood, as well as alleys on the east side of our ward. The new Ward Superintendent Paul Bryson dove right in and got his hands dirty working with Streets and Sanitation. He received assistance from earn-fair workers and community volunteers to help keep our neighborhood clean. While strides have been made, we need more community input, and we have to hold our neighbors accountable. The high number of vacant homes makes it difficult for the city to get to every lot or overgrown yard as soon as we would like. We need to look for some neighborhood based solutions to some of these concerns.
Alderman Sawyer has been judicious about supporting the removal of buildings, as too many demolitions result in problem vacant lots in areas. Alderman Sawyer is working to find investors to rehab properties, and get them back into the hands of homeowners. Alderman Sawyer has made every attempt to protect the community from unscrupulous outside investors. These investors wanted to buy homes cheaply, and place more transient renters in more of our homes, instead of looking for a long term solution to entice people back to our neighborhood. As part of this long term solution, Alderman Sawyer addressed the pillars of our community in his first year: safety, economic development, education, community engagement, and city’s governance.
Alderman Sawyer knows that the main characteristic of any strong neighborhood is the ability to feel safe. As often stated, the Alderman’s goal for the 6th Ward is to be able to walk from your home un-accosted to pick up something you need on a street near you. He wants residents to have the option of stopping to have a good, healthy meal, be entertained and return home un-accosted; all in their own neighborhood. Safety is a major component of turning this vision into a reality. In the first year the four districts (3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th) have all received new commanders and the term began with the installation of a new police commissioner. Alderman Sawyer has maintained good communication with police throughout this transition, as well as worked with the implementation of new strategies to combat individuals who refuse to follow the law. As always this requires your help as well, whether attending your CAPS meetings, being a nosey neighbor or following the number one rule of public safety, “If you see something, say something.” Alderman Sawyer’s focus has been more on working with neighbors to collect actionable intelligence on crimes to share with the police. This will help them work towards producing more real convictions in troubled areas, rather than continue chasing the problems from corner to corner.
Alderman Sawyer also believes that in order to keep our neighborhood safe, we as residents need to take our neighborhood back. Alderman Sawyer has participated in numerous prayer vigils, anti-violence marches and roll calls in troubled areas. He knows that the solution is not for the good people to hide in their homes and shut their doors. It is important that all good neighbors get to know each other and do things outside in their neighborhood. Forming those relationships will make it easy to correctly identify outsiders and warn them to keep moving. Further, Alderman Sawyer has begun the conversation with community groups about creating residential Special Service Areas (SSAs). This program would create an additional tax levy on residents. The funds, which would be controlled by the neighborhood that instituted the program, could be used for private security. As focused as he remains on safety, Alderman Sawyer knows there cannot just be a policing solution to this problem. He is working with faith leaders, community groups and local businesses to rebuild the sense of community throughout the ward. This is also the main reason he has been focused on fixing the educational and economic opportunities in the area. The best form of violence prevention is job availability.
The first directive from Alderman Sawyer is that we need to begin to plan our neighborhoods one area at a time, rather than storefront by storefront. Our main business thoroughfares need to have an identity, and be planned in a way that does the most for economic development and eases licensing hurdles. Alderman Sawyer has worked with the Chatham Business Association and is organizing business groups within all of the 6th Ward major business districts to get together to help the office address the challenges facing small business in this environment.
Alderman Sawyer also held a transportation meeting where he introduced the concept of transit oriented development into the conversation of the 6th Ward. As head of the ward that contained or abutted the most red line stops in the city, Alderman Sawyer felt the need to point out the glaring economic loss that was the lack of any real development around our transportation stops. The lack of this development has contributed to the loss of jobs in the community, decreases safety and home values, and removes a large amount of potential revenue to the city, county and state.
Alderman Sawyer worked to get involved with his schools. He had a goal of changing the fact that the great majority of the schools in the 6th Ward were on probation. Rather than jumping to conclusions Alderman Sawyer set out to find the answers because he knew that many of his schools had dedicated and talented administrators, teachers, and parents. Therefore, the Alderman held a meeting with his principals, to discuss the issues that they were facing including our neighborhood schools, selective enrollment schools, charter schools and turnaround schools. In his two meetings thus far, Alderman Sawyer learned that much of the cause of the probation battles were unrealistic federal standards that didn’t measure growth, which made catching up more difficult. The high mobility of families, caused by the housing crisis forced students to have to change schools multiple times in their first few years. Finally, Alderman Sawyer was able to learn about many of the innovative programs that our schools are using, and other schools got ideas of how to better push things forward. What became key is that much of the neighborhood, including parents and students were unaware of the work being done in our neighborhood schools. We need to address the stigma of attending a neighborhood school so that parents and students will take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them.
Alderman Sawyer believes that the best way for our community to return to its former status is by rebuilding our neighborhoods, block by block and community by community. This is why Alderman Sawyer has worked with several groups to establish block clubs, connected newer block clubs with longer serving groups and worked to empower community organizations. Alderman Sawyer wants residents to know their neighbors and be active in their community organizations. It’s the connection of neighbors and families that make neighborhoods strong, more than political boundaries. Along those lines, Alderman Sawyer attends the regular meetings of each community organization and many block club meetings as his schedule allows. It is important that we first understand and feel connected to what is happening in our neighborhood; getting to know our own neighbors to help pre-build the bonds that are fundamental for a community. Further, Alderman Sawyer has hosted meetings for Block Club Presidents and the Presidents of Community Organizations so that the leadership of these groups can have a bond and share best practices and information.
Alderman Sawyer has promoted protesting particularly when businesses in our neighborhood do not treat us appropriately. As a former licensing attorney, Alderman Sawyer knows the difference between a good business that needs to come into some compliance, and a problem institution that does not belong in a community. The constant refrain with some of the problem stores—possessing general business licenses—is that we must put our money where our mouth is and stop supporting these businesses. As long as you give money to businesses that do not respect you, more disrespectful businesses will follow. Alderman Sawyer has worked on “stop the violence” marches with the SEIU and demands for community investment with Action Now. The Alderman is currently standing with Congressman Bobby Rush in the fight for fair jobs from Metra on the Englewood Flyover project. Alderman Sawyer is determined to do more than just meet on problems; he is ready to stand on the front line with the community. He just asks that the community stands up with him.
With the arrival of Mayor Rahm Emanuel this has been a time for rapid change and a serious discussion about the direction of this city. Alderman Sawyer has been a major figure in these discussions. He took the fact that he was elected to be independent very seriously, and has been judicious about when he has sided with the Mayor and when he has not. When it comes to addressing the fiscal challenges, Alderman Sawyer has been guided by the principles that the brunt of the burden cannot strictly be placed on those who can least afford it. Alderman Sawyer has also fought for investment and the expansion of services in the communities in his ward. After experiencing a summer of very slow response times by the Bureau of Electricity and the Department of Forestry, Alderman Sawyer worked within the budget process to secure more trucks for each department to get that work completed.
Alderman Sawyer voted against allowing the city of confiscate income taxes for money owed to the city, as well as the speed camera ordinance because they seemed regressive ways to increase revenue. He supported the overall budget and the infrastructure trust, because those seemed like well-intentioned vehicles to fund the sorts of major improvements that are desperately needed in the 6th Ward. Even with those votes it was a deliberative process where he earned the respect of the Mayor’s office, and often receives individual briefings when he requires more information. Alderman Sawyer voted against the ward remap, as it has separated communities. His attempt in the process was to maintain single representation of as many middle class wards as possible. However, it was clear that due to a reduction of population, according to the census, there was going to have to be some shifts in ward boundaries. The balance between protecting overall black representation in the 6th Ward was difficult, but the best idea would have been to maintain full communities. As the interests of residents where being ignored for political reasons, Alderman Sawyer could not support the map. Alderman Sawyer was a co-sponsor of the Clean Air Ordinance, stood against the library cuts, and served on the Mayor’s Aldermanic Sign Task Force. He is also in the working group to increase regulations on metal yards, that have been accepting stolen goods.
In all it has been an excited first year including thousands of service requests accepted through every form of current technology as well as better getting to know our 6th Ward Neighbors. Feel Free to come out and join the Alderman tonight at the President's Lounge 653 East 75th Street as he celebrates his first year.