Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Better Know A Ward: Emma Mitts's 37th

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Better Know A Ward: Emma Mitts's 37th

The 37th Ward is coterminous with the West Side neighborhood of Austin.

Emma Mitts has represented the ward since 2000, when she was appointed to replace Percy Giles, who was convicted of accepting $10,000 in bribes in the Operation Silver Shovel sting. The ward’s best-known features are its parks and its residential architecture. Places to see include the Seth P. Warner House, 631 N. Central Ave., and the Thomas P. Langford House, 621 N. Central Ave., two of Chicago’s best examples of Victorian architecture. It also includes Hanson Park Stadium, 5501 W. Fullerton Ave., which hosts high school football games and track meets.
1. How would you spend an ideal Saturday afternoon in your ward?

That’s easy: walking the ward, meeting, greeting and talking to my
constituents on the streets, in businesses and at community meetings and
events. I like to feel the pulse of the neighborhood residents, and hear their
thoughts on a variety of topics. I greatly enjoy hearing the thoughts, problems
and issues facing my community, so that we can work proactively together to
resolve them. Regardless of the season, I love moving around, and interacting
with everyday people and their families, neighbors and friends, business
owners, religious, educational and community leaders within the 37th ward. My
long-standing motto is “Unity in the Community,” and for me it’s not a slogan, it
is a mission that drives all of my endeavors on behalf of 37th Ward residents.

2. Why and when did you decide to run for the City Council?
I never actually decided to run for City Council - - it was more like I was drafted
into running for Alderman by a diverse cross-section of community leaders and
residents, and for that I will always remain humbly grateful. At first, I was not
sure that I wanted to - - but it became increasingly clear that this seemed to be a
God-given assignment for me to hold elected office here in the 37th Ward. I was
originally appointed to the position, and have humbly, yet successfully, won reelection
for the next three terms, the most recent when I won again last year.
When first approached, the decision to accept was an exciting yet difficult
opportunity. Over time I became less concerned about rising to the challenges
and demands of being an Alderman, and simply focused on becoming more
obedient to this calling. This allowed me to looked forward to the ways in which
I could help people on the west side Austin community, and that’s been my
humble mission, my motto and the driving force that has kept me working hard
to move the community forward over the past twelve years, since I was first
elected to serve the 37th Ward.

3. Do you have a political mentor? Why do you admire this person, and how did he
or she influence you?

Yes I do, and I have long admired this person as a consummate political, social
and human rights and social justice advocate. They were, and continue to be, an
excellent advisor, and a good source of information on the Chicago political
process, how things work and how to utilize local resources to help those most
in need. They care deeply about their fellow man and woman, and advised me
early in my career to develop and maintain a sense of empathy about the various
challenges that people are often forced to endure. It was a good piece of advice
which I still use every day. My ultimate political, social and community mentor
has and continues to be my beloved mother - - who is the most caring and
shrewd woman I have ever been blessed to know.

4. What project is your ward most in need of?
That’s easy – a youth center. I truly believe that a lot of the senseless violence that so permeates significant segments of our community could be alleviated if we had a youth center - - a safe place for young people to gather, play and gain a variety of life-skills. The
violent carnage we have experienced this summer stems partly from the fact that
many young people spend their days in non-productive activities – and a youth
center would go a long way to mitigate this reality. I was and am still firmly
committed to bringing such a facility to the 37th Ward.

5. Has crime increased in your ward this year? What do you think are the causes
of, and the solutions, for the citywide increase in violence?

Unfortunately, crime and the perception of increasing crime throughout Chicago
is a major headline story in the news every day. It is also a growing source of
concern among elected officials like me, other leaders and community residents
alike. The bloodshed, rampant gunfire and killing simply must stop! Each of us
bears some responsibility for making sure that realistic, solution-based changes
in crime-fighting policies and strategies are employed to make our streets safer
for all - - and fast. The recent tragic shooting death of seven-year-old Heaven Sutton, killed as she enjoyed a warm summer night with her mother, selling candy and snow cones in front of her home - - right here in the 37th Ward - - - is indicative of a pervasive violence becoming all-too-typical of urban neighborhoods. Seniors afraid today to walk the streets of neighborhoods where they have lived, worked, worshipped and raised their families for decades. Children are at an unacceptably high risk of being hurt, shot or even killed while traveling between home and school. To date, more than 200 Chicagoans have fallen victim to the steady drumbeat of violence already this year, and this is only July. We are better than that as a city and as a society, and we need to start, and our children, seniors, indeed ALL OF US deserve a fighting chance to survive. Everything, it is said, starts in the home, and in many ways, today’s fractured families and overly stressed neighborhoods help contribute to the dysfunction and devastation that we see manifested on these streets each and every day. But there are other, equally culpable forces at work as well, that cannot and must not be ignored or overlooked: a devastating economy, a lack of respect for the educational process, the deceptively easy lure of the “street life” and the lack of jobs and resources for young people breeds a host of negative consequences from which many urban neighborhoods find it difficult to recover. While the lack of community consensus about the exact nature and does not help either, but that is still no excuse for the rampant disregard for human life and cacophony that we have experienced lately.

6. Have the installation of parking meters affected traffic or commerce in your
ward? What could Chicago Parking LLC do to make things easier for business in your

This is not applicable in the 37th Ward.

7. What feature is your ward best known for?

There are several positive attributes within the 37th Ward, but it must be noted
housing stock is incredibly beautiful, well-preserved and interesting. In many
ways, the 37th Ward is blessed with a rich diversity of architecture, celebrating
everything from historic Bungalows, Tudors and Romanesque, to elegant, turn-of-
the-century ‘Painted Ladies’ Queen-Anne and classic Graystones, alongside
sturdy multi-unit properties and more. We also have an intersecting network of
free, open and accessible public Chicago Park District green spaces, like a
lovely ‘emerald necklace’ ringing the community.

8. How do you feel about transferring street sweeping and garbage pickup to a grid
system, rather than leaving them under the control of the alderman?

If it helps to serve the best interests of the residents of the City of Chicago in
terms of effectiveness and efficiency, then in today’s difficult economic climate,
we as elected officials must employ a diverse range of strategies to be good
stewards of the taxpayers’ resources, and this may be one of those instances in
which we must bite the proverbial bullet and help facilitate change. However, the
populace in our wards, I can tell you that they do not care about grids or ward-based
garbage pick-up, they simply want good, fast, effective service, and if
they do not get it, they will not hesitate to let the ALDERMEN know. It is a
delicate and sometimes difficult balance, being held accountable for service
delivery, and re-educating the public about new initiatives without overall control
over these processes, while simultaneously seeking to contain costs without
compromising quality.

9. What has been your most significant achievement as an alderman?
Undoubtedly, the city’s first-ever Walmart. The nearly six-year battle that we
courageously waged against a variety of powerful, entrenched forces laid the
groundwork for one of the best “economic engines” within the City of Chicago,
and certainly in my west side community hungry for jobs and economic
development. When the store opened in the 37th Ward some six years ago, the
retail landscape and the economy were much different, and the vitriolic and
often divisive animus over Walmart reached fever pitch in City Council
through the “Big-Box Ordinance” and throughout Chicago. But the residents of
the 37th Ward and I prevailed by jointly concentrated and cooperative efforts,
which ultimately paved the way for today’s multiple Walmart formats all across
the city. What a difference a few years, a coordinated approach by a committed
group of everyday residents, elected officials and other leaders, and coupled
with Walmart’s good corporate citizenship can make!

10. What is your favorite book, television show and meal?
The Bible is my favorite book, and I rarely get to view television with any
regularity. My favorite meal consists of those food items commonly called “soul

11. Do you have a tattoo?


12. What are your thoughts on social media?
Social media has helped transform the international communications, business
and overall media landscape, affecting nearly every area of our lives in today’s
hyper-paced and multi-faceted and segmented environment. In many ways, with
both good and yet-to-be-determined social, economic, political and educational
consequences, it is becoming very difficult to remember life before this
transformative entity.

13. How do you feel about food trucks?

I support the concept and the reality food trucks, as an added small business
option to provide needed commodities and resources to diverse communities
throughout Chicago.

14. Will you vote for Obama or Romney?
As a lifelong Democrat, my vote is my personal and private choice.

15. Have you ever bought a Groupon, and what was it?
I have never used Groupon. 

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