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MITCHELL: Natashia Holmes is a welcome fresh face

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduces 7th Ward's new alderman NatashiHolmes Monday February 11 2013 South Shore Public Library Chicago. Holmes replaces

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduces the 7th Ward's new alderman, Natashia Holmes, Monday, February 11, 2013 at the South Shore Public Library in Chicago. Holmes replaces Sandi Jackson. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: March 13, 2013 6:28AM

Natashia L. Holmes is indeed a fresh face in Chicago politics.

The 37-year-old Holmes is a transplant from Melbourne, Fla. Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced her at a news conference Monday as his choice to fill former 7th Ward Ald. Sandi Jackson’s seat.

Emanuel made it clear that his appointment of Holmes is an attempt to move away from a system where clout-heavy family dynasties can control politics in the ward.

For instance, when William Beavers resigned as alderman to sit on the Cook County Board, he left the seat to his daughter, Darcel Beavers.

With the help of her husband, former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., Sandi Jackson pushed out Beavers.

“[Holmes] does not come out of either families or histories or institutions,” Emanuel said. “This is a clear break and a new beginning.”

“I plan on working directly and extensively with community groups, religious institutions, neighborhood associations, small businesses and schools and anyone who has a vested interest in the future of the 7th ward,” Holmes said.

“I believe by working together and giving everyone a seat at the table, we can accomplish great things.”

In an interview after the news conference, Holmes was excited about her appointment.

She moved to Chicago a decade ago from Florida and fell in love with the South Shore community after attending a party at a townhouse on Coles.

“I said: ‘What neighborhood is this?’ This is fabulous.”

The Metra train tracks reminded her of the place she grew up in Melbourne, not to mention South Shore’s proximity to Lake Michigan.

“I just loved it,” she said.

“That’s part of it, but also the people and the community itself. The city is very well planned. When you look at this neighborhood — South Shore, South Chicago and South Deering — very well planned. There is a mix of housing and old remnants of previous retail developments. There is possibility,” she said.

Although Holmes has some community involvement (she served as a community representative on the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Paideia Academy Local School Council), her expertise is clearly in urban planning and transportation.

She was a senior official at the Illinois Department of Transportation, and most recently, as a strategist with Metro Strategies, a company based in Glen Ellyn that provides planning, policy and public affairs services.

She holds a masters in community planning, a J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of Law, and was on the verge of taking the bar before this appointment.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” she said quoting scripture when I asked how she proposes to get it all done.

This was Emanuel’s first crack at filling a vacant aldermanic seat. He certainly could have continued the Chicago way by appointing someone on an inside track.

Instead, he set up a selection committee that included community stakeholders that have to report back to their neighbors and friends.

Everyone won’t be happy, especially since 65 people lined up to apply for the job.

But from all appearances, the process gave people with no political connections a fair shot.

Two weeks ago, I attended a forum where about a dozen candidates who were vying for the job discussed their qualifications and vision for the ward. Holmes did not participate.

Only a couple of candidates seemed even remotely up to the task.

Holmes clearly has the potential to be an effective alderman, given the economic development projects that are under way in the ward.

But she is untested when it comes to politics and will have only two years to win over a ward that has been badly fractured by ugly politics.

Hopefully she will seek out a mentor in the City Council who is about the people’s business and not his or her own.

One of Holmes’ priorities will be erasing the “Terror Town” label that has been slapped on South Shore.

Part of the solution has to be “engaging communities block by block and taking back those neighborhoods and streets and empowering citizens,” she said.

In communities struggling to find solid ground, Holmes’ willingness to serve is a blessing.

But her appointment also should be a model for how these vacancies are filled.

No one in the city should be able to inherit an aldermanic seat.

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