20th Ward on the right path, residents say

Crime has been on a decline and residential development has sprouted, both welcoming signs in a South Side ward that is now under the helm of a new leader. Things are now on the right path, residents said.

Crime has been on a decline and residential development has sprouted, both welcoming signs in a South Side ward that is now under the helm of a new leader. Things are now on the right path, residents said.

The 20th Ward, which borders the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Wards, and includes portions of Woodlawn, Washington Park and Hyde Park, is now under the leadership of Alderman Willie Cochran, a former Chicago police officer.

Cochran won in a landslide victory during the Feb. 2007 aldermanic election over former Alderman Arenda Troutman, a 17-year city council veteran.

Troutman’s political demise was rushed by corruption allegations, though she vehemently denied any wrongdoing in 2006 when the allegations mounted. She did an about-face earlier this month when she pleaded guilty August 6 to mail fraud and income tax evasion. The former alderman could face up to 56 months in prison when she is sentenced in December.

Many of the ward’s residents, along with Cochran, were critical of Troutman and the turn the ward took as a result of her “negligence.”

Cochran said during his campaign that residential and business development had stalled in the ward, city-owned vacant lots weren’t kept up, and Troutman was not around for her constituents.

The new alderman has not responded to repeated requests from the Defender about gauging his first year in office and what he would like to accomplish during the remainder of his term.

A once-staunch supporter of Troutman said she believed in the former alderman and was literally crushed when she admitted to the corruption charges.

“I was an avid supporter of Troutman and was very disappointed by her deception. I didn’t become really involved until her last two election cycles. I saw her as a visionary because of the larger scale projects such as the new Kennedy-King College. She won me over with the big stuff,” Karen Phillips said.

Phillips is the president of the 6500 block of South Ingleside Avenue block club.

But Troutman’s accessibility became scarce, and gangs and drugs took over, she said.

Things are starting to turn around and get back on track now that the new alderman has taken office, and residents banded together to take back their community, Phillips and other residents said.

Cochran meets with the residents on a regular basis and has started many committees for the residents to participate on. He invites the residents to be a part of making the community better, Phillips said.

She said on her block alone last year there were four homicides, seven burglaries and two car bombings.

She and her neighbors said enough is enough, and formed alliances with other neighborhood organizations and the police department.

“We self-organized. We call the police more often. We increased our own presence on the block. We sent a message that we will not tolerate any mess. As a result, we don’t have nearly as half of the problems we used to,” Phillips said.

Two requests that Phillips has for Cochran: Keep an open-door policy and continue work on the development that Troutman started.

Another resident said he has noticed an increase in police presence and a slight decrease in crime.

“It’s too early to tell if the new alderman is really on the ball. We need to give him a little more time. Some things are the same, and some things aren’t. Crime hasn’t gone down a lot, but I do see more police in the area, and I hear about fewer incidents. That’s a good thing. I just want the police to keep it up,” Darnell James said.

James said Troutman and Cochran are somewhat similar. When he calls, he gets no response.

“She never responded to my calls, and he isn’t either. If I can get him to address the needs of my building, I would be a little happier with his performance,” James added.

Kathy Hinton, a two-year resident of the ward, said she likes that Cochran shows up to some of the block club meetings.

“I can’t really tell how the old alderman was, but if the new one keeps showing up at community events and block club meetings, then he’s doing what he is supposed to be doing,” Hinton said.

Lonnie Walker said he is pleased with the new housing that is popping up in the ward. But he’s not sure if that can be attributed to Troutman or Cochran.

“All I can say is that the housing in the neighborhood is getting better,” Walker said.

Kathy Chaney can be reached via e-mail at kchaney@chicagodefender.com.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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