For Candidates, the 15th Ward’s Ills Are Daunting

February 18, 2011  |  

(New York Times) — In the eyes of Lisa Thomas, the needs of the 15th Ward are so extensive it is difficult to list them all.    “Things have been going downhill,” said Ms. Thomas, a mother of four and a 12-year resident of the South Side ward. “We need new homes and better schools. We need rebuilding.” With unemployment stubbornly high and City Hall grappling with annual budget deficits, economic development has been the leading issue in ward races across Chicago. Candidates have debated the best ways to lure businesses, fill empty storefronts, improve infrastructure, halt an epidemic of foreclosures and create jobs.

Perhaps no other community has as many pressing challenges — and so little political clout to use in addressing them — as the 15th Ward.  The ward is shaped like a toppled capital L and includes large chunks of the historically working-class neighborhoods of West Englewood and Chicago Lawn. Its irregular borders and a history of lackluster aldermen, low voter participation and disinvestment have left it without the political power that could have turned things around.  Alderman Toni Foulkes, a former cake decorator elected to a first term with heavy union support, says she has made progress and needs more time. Her seven opponents — six on the ballot and one mounting a write-in campaign — say the ward has continued to slide and cannot afford another four years of weak representation.

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