New West Side alderman looks to make a difference

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It’s been three months since Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed former state Rep. Deborah Graham as alderman of the 29th Ward, which represents the Austin community on the West Side, the city’s largest community.

It’s been three months since Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed former state Rep. Deborah Graham as alderman of the 29th Ward, which represents the Austin community on the West Side, the city’s largest community. Her appointment came in the wake of Ald. Issac Carothers’ fall from grace after he resigned and pled guilty to bribery and corruption charges. “He (Isaac) is a human being who made a mistake,” Graham said of Carothers, whom she knows personally. “Are the people in the community disappointed? Of course they are but we are all ready to move on.” Still, what lead Graham to leave the Illinois General Assembly after serving in Springfield 15 years? “Working more closely with community residents was a big draw for me. But besides the difference in pay, an alderman and state representatives have a lot of similar duties,” Graham, 44, told the Defender. “I was born and raised in the Austin community so to have a chance to represent the residents as their alderman was an opportunity I could not pass on.” A state rep earns $65,000 a year while aldermen earn $110,000. Graham said she plans to take 24 furlough days as mandated for most city employees but optional for aldermen. That means her salary will be reduced to $106,644, according to state and city financial records. With no time to lose Graham said among the things she hopes to achieve before the February 2011 election ¼– where she must successfully run to keep her post – is to improve schools in her ward. She said Collins is the only high school located there and expects to meet with Ron Huberman, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, soon to discuss ways to improve public education. “A lot of kids attending neighborhood schools have issues and we need to address those issues. Teachers are not psychologists and family counselors but they are forced to deal with so many emotional issues our children bring to school each day like a parent unemployed,” Graham explained. Other ward issues she’s set to tackle are crime and unemployment. A lack of resources for youth is one reason why crime is such a problem for most Black communities, she said. “Young people have discovered fast money. There is no microwave solution to this problem but we have to do something to help young people – and their parents too – because that is where a lot of these crimes problems originate,” said Graham, who has had her own harrowing personal story. “My ex-husband was abusive and it was a painful experience I endured and many more women are stilling experiencing,” Graham said. “I lived in a shelter for eight months after we divorced so domestic abuse is an issue dear to me.” And to tackle the rising unemployment in many Black neighborhoods Graham said the city need to “create more training programs and provide more education to those who need it.” The mother of two adult daughters first entered politics to fulfill a passion she had to help people. Elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1995 she served as secretary for the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.  “It is something about the law that really excites me and I hope to someday become a lawyer,” said the Robert Morris University business graduate. “Not sure what area of law I would practice but I do know it is a rewarding profession.” Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender Photo: Defender/Worsom Robinson

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