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7th Ward residents deserve voice in choice to replace Ald. Sandi Jackson

Sandi Jacksattends holiday meal for  low-income residents  Thursday evening South Shore Cultural Center.  December 20 2012 I

Sandi Jackson, attends a holiday meal for low-income residents Thursday evening at the South Shore Cultural Center. December 20, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 16, 2013 6:20AM

Now that Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) has done the right thing, it is critical that the residents in this South Side ward have a real voice in who gets to fill her seat.

Frankly, it’s time out for the razzle-dazzle.

Whoever fills Jackson seat must be able to bring together a very diverse community that has battened down the hatches.

The 7th Ward needs someone who will roll up his or her sleeves and demand real answers from City Hall.

Where’s the bustling business district on the South Side of town? Why are the historic landmark buildings along the South Shore surrounded by foreclosed and deteriorating homes? And what will it take to end the crime wave that has put South Shore among the top 10 for reported violent and property crimes?

This is not a job for the politically connected or bourgeois. This is a job for someone who isn’t afraid to walk the streets to see what’s really going on.

There’s plenty to see.

After all, when reporters start describing this beautiful slice of Chicago as one of the city’s “most impoverished and crime-ridden wards,” despite it being home to some of the city’s most prominent African Americans, there’s a problem, not to mention a real threat to both property values and economic development — both desperately needed on the South Side.

Only one organization in the 7th Ward had the foresight to begin to address South Shore’s future.

“Reclaiming South Shore for All” recruited a diverse group of residents who were willing to do the work needed to confront challenges in the entire ward.

Those challenges include a stagnant economic development plant that has left a historic community bereft of simple amenities like sit-down restaurants, florists or gyms.

The group was behind the “#SackSandi,” campaign and was in the midst of circulating petitions when Jackson abruptly resigned her aldermanic office, although she is still a committeeman.

The organization’s broader agenda is to improve the quality of life in the ward.

“Our priority is economic development, revitalization and public safety, with a particular focus on restorative justice, and insuring that public officials work alongside their constituents to rebuild the community,” said Mia Henry, the group’s founder.

Henry has lived in the ward since 2004. She began “Reclaiming South Shore for All” by inviting other residents in the area to meet their neighbors.

“I started to hear their stories about living in the community, and after two or three meetings, we came up with the name,” she told me.

“Everyone wants to live in a safe, thriving neighborhood. We want to reclaim that state,” she said.

On Jan. 21, King Day, members of the “Reclaiming South Shore” group will rally at a local school or church (the exact location is yet to be determined) to bring attention to their efforts.

“We want to make a connection between the history and what we are trying to do in South Shore,” said Henry, who has led an organization that helped youth become politically active.

“We want to have an open forum and give residents an opportunity to discuss the economic development and revitalization effort,” she said.

Although Henry’s name has come up as a perfect candidate to fill Jackson’s seat, right now she is more interested in organizing the community than running for office.

“There are not a lot of organizations in South Shore,” she said. “I’m passionate about organizing the community and making sure to nurture a culture of civic engagement. That is really important key to our survival,” she said.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve moved into South Shore, and I have a vested interest in who represents the ward.

That being said, the process for determining who will represent the 7th Ward should be as transparent as possible.

Many of the people I’ve run into are desperately trying to remain in their beloved community. They are willing to do the work but need effective political leadership to get things done.

They’ve already been bamboozled.

With this appointment, Mayor Rahm Emanuel could set South Shore on a radically different course.

Hopefully, the mayor won’t squander this opportunity because of politics.

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