June 2013 Coalition Power Breakfast – Roderick T. Sawyer, Alderman – 6th Ward
Come engage with one of the more independent voices on the City Council, as he discusses his perspective on the recent school closings, increasing business for our community, his plans for the historic 6th Ward and other important issues. This promises to be a very informative Breakfast.
Breakfast Recap (COAL Intern Charles Preston):
On June 1, 2013, Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer of the 6th ward, made an appearance as guest speaker for COAL’s final Coalition Power Breakfast for the spring. The breakfast, organized to serve as a forum for public policy on the African-American community, presented a venue in which the members of COAL, as well as COAL’s larger community-of-interest, could directly and publicly engage with Ald. Sawyer and better understand his style, his approach to policy, his stand on current issues along with his plan of action for his community.
Alderman Sawyer began his discussion on the issue of “working on relationships”. Sawyer stated before the COAL audience, “Before we decide to do anything in the future, we must work on this relationship here.” The alderman, who self-proclaimed he “bleeds sixth ward”, says that he has understood why the community has viewed politicians with a negative light. Alderman Sawyer says, “There is a disconnect.” He believes that as a politician his objective should be serving his constituents and if he is not serving then his position is futile.
Ald. Sawyer laid out his position on gangs, “The bad part about being in a gang, is not being in the gang; it is the illegal activity that breeds from that association. As men and women, we all have a desire to be around people with similar circumstance…The anti-social activity is what separates a positive group from a negative group.” The alderman says that opportunity should be provided to members of street gangs that are on the margins – those that are willing to work legally.
Community involvement in the political realm is a concern to Ald. Sawyer. He wants the constituents of his ward to be more involved in the voting process, community awareness, and the financial support of their elected political representatives. “There should be no reason why we should not be voting at 80% clips and 90% clips as opposed to 25% and 30% clips. It should be embarrassing for all of us…It should be a challenge for all of us to do better.” He stated the difficulty of acting on his plans with limited involvement and influence coming from his community.
The alderman emphatically repeated the phrase “We gotta do better!” after briefly discussing an instance in which he provided a member of his ward with the opportunity for contracted work. The member failed to show initiative by following-up after his complaints of unemployment. Ald. Sawyer acknowledged the fact that so many are out of work but he questions whether people are exhausting every opportunity available.
The question-and-answer portion of the event arrived earlier than usual because of the eagerness of the COAL members to engage with Alderman Sawyer and the alderman’s interest in responding to specific questions and concerns.
One member of COAL asked the alderman about the idea of bringing the FBI to Chicago streets as a method of suppressing the gang-violence in the city or to trap them on money-related crime charges. Ald. Sawyer stated that most of the street violence in the city springs from “interpersonal conflict” and territorial disputes rather than money-related crime. Sawyer verbally agreed that a heightened police presence would benefit the city streets but acknowledged that the Chicago Police Department’s overtime budget is already depleted of funds.
Craig Wimberly, COAL’s Public Policy Chair, requested Alderman Sawyer’s word to work with COAL on specific recommendations to improve business opportunities for black owned businesses, an offer that was previously extended to the Black Caucus, with very little movement forward. The alderman gladly accepted this request.
The issue of job parity in the community was raised by one of the attendees for construction projects. Ald. Sawyer’s says the issue is worth conversation and it naturally makes sense. Black employment should be reflective of the population in that area. Mr. Wimberly advises the attendees to “be careful with area-specific parity” because he still wants Blacks employed throughout the city regardless if they are heavily populated in the area or not.
Alderman Sawyer questions the motives of CPS and leaders of education in the city. “Are they really interested in educating our children? I don’t know.” He challenges the current school board’s motives and declares that the school board should reflect those that have succeeded through and faced the many issues that the public schools have.
Another attendee gave an anecdotal story about 5 individuals (felons) who had to continue to resort to crime because their prior convictions couldn’t land them a job. The man asked “What can we do to for those in this situation?” Alderman Sawyer said that help from the government should be offered to those ex-felons who attempt to land legal employment. Sawyer suggests that in some instances their record should be expunged.
Many other questions and concerns were addressed such as the CTA, unions, and urban farming. The Alderman patiently responded to all questions and comments for the duration of the breakfast and proceeded to engage with breakfast attendees after the end of the formal program. The Power Breakfast was vibrant and informative and provided insight into the concerns of that African-American community and just as importantly, discussed potential solutions.
A few pictures from the Breakfast: