By the time a familiar Chicago columnist dropped the news that former Chicago Urban League President and Illinois U.S. Senate candidate, Andrea Zopp would be named the Deputy Mayor for the City of Chicago—word had already traveled throughout political circles.
Last Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially introduced Zopp’s new post, during a press conference at a CTA Red Line El stop on the far South Side. Surrounded by key South Side Black aldermen, he explained his decision in front of attending press and Chicago commuters.
“I have known Andrea Zopp for years, and like many people in this city I know she has the credentials, the creditability, and the commitment to our communities to deliver on our mission of building safer and stronger neighborhoods from the inside out,” said Mayor Emanuel.
In addition to her role as second Deputy Mayor, she will carry the responsibility as Chief Neighborhood Development Officer—a newly formed position the Mayor felt was necessary to create in order to build deeper ties to neighborhood businesses in low disparity communities.
Zopp is no stranger to the business world, a long-time attorney whose positions have included serving as General Counsel at Exelon, Sara Lee, serving as an Assistant U.S. State’s Attorney, as well as First Assistant in the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney.
Her transition from the corporate offices to becoming President of the Chicago Urban League landed her in the heart of the community—working both with major companies and small businesses, finding viable solutions to build economic stimulation and growth within the African-American community. For five years, she built a solid relationship with community stakeholders and strengthening youth job opportunities partnering with the city in the One Summer Chicago Job program.
Her appointed position on the Chicago Public School board involved her in some tough decision making when the board voted to close 52 public schools in 2012. A dark cloud that followed her into the 2016 Democratic Primary U.S. Senate race against Illinois Senator Napoleon Harris and Rep. Tammy Duckworth. She strongly held her ground on the importance of economic development, quality health- care, immigration reform, education and public safety—facing her critics head-on, she gradually strengthened her presence among voters who weren’t familiar with her background.
After the March Democratic U.S. senatorial candidacy race, Zopp took a much needed rest from the rigorous months of campaigning.
During a one-on-one interview with the Chicago Defender, both Mayor Emanuel and Deputy Mayor Zopp explained more in-depth the decision in creating this new high post in the administration.
“There is a lot going on in this city. There’s no one here in the Mayor’s office whose only job was to focus on how are we improving, enhancing, creating opportunity and leveraging our investment across the city in the neighborhoods. It was very appealing to me and work that I’m passionate about. That was the original task,” says Zopp.
“In terms of where we start? Step one is making sure we’re on top of the projects that are already on the books, either underway or about to be announced, or about to be underway or in the planning stage—a wider range. To step in and say ‘are we doing what we said we’re supposed to do?’ Are we doing everything that we can do to strengthen our neighborhoods and in particular, especially on the South and West Sides.” She explains, “What I mean, where we are, there are additional grocery stores under consideration. Are we making sure that we’re talking to those store owners to make sure the procurement policies are right so that we get minority owned businesses, to ensure that they will be hiring directly from the community. If we need to do work with the re-entry and ex-offender community to make sure their eligible for positions.”
Mayor Emanuel feels confident in Zopp’s ability to deliver and bridge the disconnect that many Black residents feel about his office and the lack of retail access that is prevalent on the North Side.
Mayor Emanuel explains upon his entering his first term, the commitment to decrease Chicago’s food deserts, improving areas such as Pullman, and Englewood was high on his to-do-list.
“In Pullman, we have the largest green roof in the U.S. with the Method factory, in Englewood with Whole Foods, and in Bronzeville they are getting a Mariano’s. We are bringing in our public investments to leverage private investments but Andrea has an incredible set of contacts along with incredible creditability and commitment.”
As the first African-American female to hold this appointment as Chicago’s Deputy Mayor, there will be a great deal of responsibility and pressure to build back the public trust that dwindled from the school closings, police misconduct settlements, heightened violence and the biggest property tax increase in the city’s history. Zopp understands there is a long road ahead but she is prepared.
Reciting an old tale, Zopp said, “Trust comes in on a donkey and goes out on a quarter horse. It takes a long time to build trust but you can wreck it relatively quickly. This is going to take some time. Just because I’m in this role and I’m saying what I’m going to do, people are going to say ‘okay, good’. We still have to deliver. People have to see results and feel that I’m out there and that I’m coming back. That’s going to happen but we’re not going to rebuild all of this overnight.”
The Mayor said there are a number of changes across the city with additional resources including the city passing the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. The Whitney Young Library in the Chatham community will be undergoing a major renovation along with revitalizing the commercial business corridor along 79th Street.
Often the problem in enticing competitive retailers and merchandisers to Black communities is the concern of safety not necessarily economics. Although, many middle-class families and homeowners reside in these communities—it is still a major challenge. The city’s incentive is to do what’s viable and by any means necessary to create viable and an even playing field of opportunities to benefit both its residents and small business owners.
He said most major retailers do their analysis by price point with science and data. “My point is that I’m going to make it easy with us to help you. We’re not going to lose time or money. We’re going to expedite this process. Consumers will get a service that’s unprecedented.
The city government and regulations will not be a speed bump. They make the decisions but if I can reduce time and costs, I can entice businesses to go to those areas.” Emanuel said even though there are different brands, it’s important to give residents the same choices that are in other parts of the city. “I don’t want to have them to think that putting a discount store in these neighborhoods mean they’ve checked the box.”
Zopp agrees with the necessity of making sure the quality and resources are available for both sides.
“My primary job is to laser focus on this so that we can speed it up. It has been happening and we don’t want to understate what has been done, but clearly it hasn’t been enough. We have to do more. We have got to address the core issue which is too many of our citizens of color, specifically African-American residents feel like their living in a different city. We have a tale of two cities here in Chicago. We have to fix that,” she said.
The Mayor has two Deputy Mayors in his administration, whereas Steve Koch who has served since 2012 will continue to oversee economic affairs for the City, including overseeing the City’s financial team, economic policy, driving job growth and attracting corporate headquarters.
The additional responsibility that Zopp holds as Chief Neighborhood Development Officer is a broad and widespread role that will surely encompass the weight of community concerns beyond just economic development.
“Development is a broad term. I don’t have directly the education, or the public safety piece under my responsibility. If we have school issues, we have to figure them out. We have to facilitate building strong relationships with the District Commanders in the Black and Brown neighborhoods because we have to address the safety issue”. She said jobs for youth and ex-offenders are high priorities for the City. “The students that are not in school or not employed, we have to address that population. The reason that I bring some real strength to this job for that’s the approach we took at the Urban League. We understood economic development included small business growth and placing people in jobs. Also developing mentoring programs for our at-risk young people and making sure those resources are available will be important”.
In addition to access to affordable housing, Zopp used the Rosenwald rehabbed development as an example in the Bronzeville community on 47th & S. Michigan Ave. “We are going to make sure there’s a strong base of affordable housing there so that we don’t push people out and over gentrify it.”
How will the Mayor’s office communicate and inform neighborhood businesses about new programs such as the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and other partnerships? With the current drama circling the Lucas Museum legal battle between the City of Chicago and Friends of the Park, not many small businesses seem concerned about the economic benefits that this can bring to the near South Side.
Zopp said businesses have more pressing concerns. There are a lot of benefits there that people don’t appreciate. There are two issues. One—people don’t read the details. Two—we have to do a better job communicating that. There’s that disconnect because the prime thought is ‘I got to make my payroll this week.’ A project that may—if it comes in years is not the priority now. Even the projects we have going on now, like the Whole Foods in Englewood have been talking about for years and they finally broke ground a year ago. It’s going to open in September and that project has taken a long time, she expressed. Furthermore, she shared with most businesses it takes a little more time and it’s hard for owners to look that far out when people need jobs today.
“I think the way we get people to see that broader picture is to start getting them to discuss what they need with their businesses right now.”
Her next steps are to go directly into several neighborhoods hosting open discussions. “We’re likely to put together a community council with people to sit down with me. Talk to me about what they want. What are your aspirations? What can we do to help build this into a vibrant community? We haven’t figured out what the format looks like but I will absolutely be out talking to people in the community.”
Some critics of the Mayor believe this latest appointment of adding Zopp to his administration is to soothe the savage beast that has arisen from concerned Black residents whose voice rang throughout the country resulting in the ousting of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Zopp’s presence could add a much-needed breath of fresh air.
In addition, to appointing long-time Chicago Police Department veteran, Superintendent Eddie Johnson and now, Andrea Zopp as his second DM—Emanuel is challenged with changing the political culture that has plagued the city for decades.
“The city needs somebody with Andrea’s ability to sit across the table from a CEO. She has the full creditability to bring as the former head of the Chicago Urban League and now as the Deputy Mayor to close these deals and move more of these opportunities.”
A wife and mother of three, Zopp is grateful for the support of her family and looks forward to this new chapter in her life. “They are very excited. I am very blessed to have a family that is happy and proud of my commitment to the community. They understand and appreciate my passionate nature so they’re happy to see me engage in doing something I care about,” Having some short downtime after the primaries, she laughs, “It takes my laser focus off of them, and puts me back in action.’”