Since former Ald. Will Burns resigned his seat in March, a search for the right person to fill the position was another task placed on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plate. Several names were submitted and similar to a LinkedIn request, detailed applications were reviewed by a diverse panel of community stakeholders.
By April 13, Harriet’s Daughters President Sophia King was named the 4th Ward alderman. A longtime resident of Kenwood, the wife of notable House DJ and attorney Alan King — residents were familiar with King’s community involvement. But in the beginning, she wasn’t too sure about applying for the role of councilwoman even when the texts and calls from friends encouraged her to consider applying.
“Another friend of mine told me — you’ve done this; you’ve done this — we need somebody like you to do this. I was still a little apprehensive. She told me to call her back and I never did. So, she told me to talk to someone else. The more I would talk, it started to become an energy that I couldn’t explain. It was outside of me. I started to be more intrigued,” she said.
“The process was moving forward. I didn’t know that I was going to apply. I had three days to put in an application. That train was moving so I put in my application. That’s kind of how that happened. Even the application was very detailed. We had rigorous interviews. At each point they would cut and I would make the elimination.”
Now, it has been over 100 days since taking the oath to fulfill her obligations to represent the residents of a ward rich in Black history and gradually dealing with the reality of gentrification at its doorstep.
Born in Colorado, King was raised between Mississippi and Evanston, Ill. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, earning her bachelor’s degree, and later her master’s in education and social policy from Northwestern University.
After marrying at a young age, she and her husband moved to the Oakwood community. There both her daughters were born at Michael Reese Hospital. She’s witnessed the gradual transition of the area from the retail development to the demise of the Ida B. Wells homes.
“I am very conscious of that. I’m an advocate of affordable housing — even on a national level. After the housing crisis, after Fannie and Freddie taking the brunt of the housing crisis, the right-wing framed that crisis and made them the fall guy. They’re still the only entity that’s still in conservativity,” said King.
“I think the first responsibility is really to those people without a voice. I think that’s the alderman’s responsibility. Most people aren’t really paying attention or really engaged. Those people who are engaged, at least they’re educating themselves and they understand. I think people put trust in their local leaders. at the end of the day, they are trusting us to make decisions on their behalf. Those people who aren’t at the table, are trying to make ends meet or trying to raise their kids — they’re looking to us to make sure that their voices are heard when they’re not there.”
4th Ward Strategic Plan
The junior alderman has laid out her signature 4th Ward Strategic Plan that will help the diverse array of communities come together in preparation for new developments, opportunities and building the lines of communications to best benefit all residents.
She says, “It gives you a template on what’s important, but it also gives everyone an opportunity to see that together and move forward together. Also to see the resources that are there and make those transparent.
“Prioritize your goals with your resources because we know resources aren’t limitless. It’s important to come up with those priorities together and to direct the resources and priorities together.”
With the old Michael Reese Hospital on sale by the city of Chicago, the new Mariano’s supermarket in full upswing and other potential projects being considered in King’s ward, she is gearing up to have the right team in place to guide them in a positive direction.
“My style is to involve more community input — it takes more time. It’s a lot of work. It’s easier to say, we’re going to do it this way and keep going forward. On the front end, be meaningful about having meetings — scheduling for more time makes for a seamless process in the end.”
Her involvement in establishing Ariel Community Academy, a CPS K-8 grade school with Ariel Investments in 1996, is another initiative that she’s proud of, along with the family’s friendship with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
“When I think about our neighborhood schools, they should look on the outside like we expect the education to look on the inside. That said something — when your neighbors are keeping their yard clean, that makes you keep yours a little cleaner. I think people respect that. As long as the standards are high, our community will respect those standards.”
King is gradually building her campaign chest fund, preparing for the special election in February 28, 2017–according to state records she has raised close to $60,000. There are three other candidates gearing up to campaign for the popular aldermanic seat.