New alderman looking to make much-needed change

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Will Burns and Jason Ervin are two of 17 fresh aldermanic faces who will be charged with the task of reshaping their respective wards in the shadow of newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Will Burns and Jason Ervin are two of 17 fresh aldermanic faces who will be charged with the task of reshaping their respective wards in the shadow of newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel.   

Burns, 37, who is replacing current Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as 4th Ward alderman – a seat she held for the last 19 years – told the Defender that his goals are to improve public safety, neighborhood schools and create more opportunities for development in the area.

The former one-term state representative for the 26th District who also worked under President Barack Obama in the mid-90s as a community outreach coordinator, understands that exchanging ideas will be key in transforming his diverse ward encompassing Kenwood, Oakland, Bronzeville and Hyde Park into a thriving section of the city where he has lived and been active for a number of years.  

Attempting to reduce crime in the area is something that Burns knows will be near the top of the agenda come day one.

“It is not just about having enough police (on the streets) to go after the bad guys,” Burns said. “We have to look at the causes of crime and make sure certain behaviors are not accepted in the community. Those residents have a right to a safe community.”

Burns said acts of violence and crime can be curbed in the ward in part by creating job opportunities, offering alternatives to the lure of gangs and implementing skill development programs for those who need them.

In terms of economic development, Burns points to a reduction in the number of vacant lots. The ones left, he hopes, are space that he hopes can be used for future retail businesses, shops and grocery stores.

Burns has already slated development along 51st Street through 45th and Cottage Grove. He hopes those projects will be completed by 2014.  

Another task Burns wants to tackle head on during his tenure is improving neighborhood schools.

“In order for students to achieve, everyone has to be at the table collaborating,” the new alderman said. He wants to give middle schools and high schools students and parents more educational options. “Teachers, administrators and community members working together.”

Although Burns is green to the City Council in terms of leadership positions such as a ward alderman, he said that won’t stop him from doing everything possible to do what is best for the ward – even if it means challenging the oft-demanding Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I have never been a go with the flow person,” he said. “Hopefully we will be able to work together.”

Ervin finds himself in a similar position taking over in the 28th Ward for former Ald. Ed Smith. Ervin was initially appointed to the post after Smith retired. Then he won re-election.

After exiting his post as the village manager of Maywood being responsible for a $40 million budget, Ervin believes the ward could blossom through job creation and economic and community development.

In that process addressing and cleaning up vacant lots to attract businesses and development will help in creating more jobs for area residents, Ervin said.

With the $1.3 million aldermanic menu budget he has to work with, Ervin said he plans on spreading it out through the seven neighborhoods that make up the ward.

“The alderman is here to provide service for the people,” he said. “We will try to allocate the resources for what we need to do.”

Ervin said coming from a high-profile management position in Maywood will help him in his transition in adjusting to the office he now holds.

“Some of it is similar,” said Ervin in reference to the responsibilities as a village manager to an alderman. “It is about delivering service.”

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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