Sophia King Looks To Keep 4th Ward Seat

Sophia King Looks To Keep 4th Ward Seat… By David Smallwood
Alderman of the 4th Ward since April 2016, Sophia King grew up in Evanston, Illinois. Her family hails from the Mississippi Delta, so as a child and young adult, she spent considerable time in that state. When her mother was accepted into Northwestern University in Evanston, the family moved to the Chicago area. King has a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from the University of Illinois and earned her Master’s in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University. She taught chemistry at the Latin School and helped found Ariel Community Academy in the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood with Ariel Investments CEO Mellody Hobson. A small business owner in the 4th Ward for five years, King was also a member of the It’s Time Organization that worked to prevent gun violence. She founded the non-profit Harriet’s Daughters to increase employment and wealth in the Black community. Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed King to the 4th Ward aldermanic seat in April of 2016 to succeed Will Burns, who resigned to pursue a business opportunity. She won the seat in a special election in 2017 and is now running for re-election on February 26. The 4th Ward includes Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland and part of the South Loop. King has been married for 27 years to attorney and Chosen Few DJ, Alan King, and she has been the primary organizer of the Chosen Few annual music festivals. The Kings are parents of two adult daughters. N’DIGO spoke with King recently about her bid for re-election. N’DIGO: You have lived in the 4th Ward since the late 1980s. How has the area changed between then and now? Ald. Sophia King: I first moved to the Bronzeville area in the late eighties, when I moved to Prairie Shores after college. Both of my kids were actually born at the Michael Reese Hospital nearby. Then, Prairie Shores had a grocery store (Mr. G’s), restaurant and other amenities. The old Michael Reese is now the site of a major development. I moved to the Kenwood area in the early 1990s. As I think about it, the most striking change in the area has been the redevelopment of the 47th Street Corridor. Since the 1990s, there has been a lot of positive change in the area. During that time, 47th Street was known more for two notorious liquor stores in the area, Gills and Pappy’s Liquors, than anything else. Gills even had a drive through window for their business, if you can believe that. The old Shakespeare Elementary was still open, but not educating our kids well. In fact, I helped found the Ariel School, which is a neighborhood school that currently resides in the former Shakespeare Building. The corridor is now starting to reflect the desires and values of the residents of the area that are seeking more amenities for their entire families. Close to where Gill’s used to be, a mixture of locally owned establishments such as Little Black Pearl, which just opened a small café on 47th Street, and national brands like Ross, that offer apparel options that previously weren’t seen in the area 20 years ago, are now growing. Further to the west on the corridor towards Cottage Grove where Pappy’s was located, the Shops and Lofts on 47th Street development has really transformed the narrative of what is possible on that end of the corridor. Although these developments have transformed the corridor for the better over the last couple of years, I know that residents want even more. Working with Quad Communities Development and other stakeholders, I am making sure we increase the diversity of businesses in not only Kenwood, but in the Bronzeville community as well.
Alderman Sophia King
What are the ward’s primary challenges and what are you trying to do about them as alderman? Jobs, good neighborhood schools and public safety are among the most pressing concerns we face as a community. Mental health, how we engage our youth and elders, are also important to a strong ecosystem. We need to make sure that we continue to bring jobs and economic development to under-resourced communities. And we must continue to find opportunities to hire and train our most vulnerable populations. I am mindful of local hiring as development comes into the community. I am also committed to true parity and opportunity in contracting and senior level positions. As alderman, I sponsored and passed an ordinance that shifts the way that we look at minority participation on city contracts. It adds a bid incentive for companies that have a diverse workforce. This is important because people have abused the system that gives preferences for minority ownership with front companies and businesses that don’t hire a diverse workforce. This change is crucial because it will give priority to firms that truly value diversity and help put our community back to work. In addition, we are providing guidance on inclusion for development and construction that happens in the ward. 4400 Grove, formerly known as Washington Park Court, is a prime example of our efforts to make sure that there is parity and equity in projects taking place in the 4th Ward. The new mixed-use development on the 4400 block of South Cottage Grove will bring 162 additional housing units and much needed retail/commercial space to the community, but it will also bring jobs. The project pairs a majority firm with an African-American owned general contractor, and it will have a significant number of Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) as subcontractors. Last reported, 79 percent of the subcontractors are minorities, and 69 percent are African American-owned firms. The firms are committed to having a workforce that reflects the community and the developer is partnering with Bright Star for community hiring. In addition, we are dedicated to working with the community and its many self-made leaders to promote our neighborhood public schools, and in turn, our youth. We are building stronger co-curricular programming in the 4th Ward, providing much needed relief to kids and their families who need options to keep students off the streets and in school. As co-founder of Ariel Community Academy in the North Kenwood/Oakland area, I have learned a great deal about the challenges and triumphs of our city’s educators and their students. We were also able to create an internship program at Dunbar High School to help provide a stronger pathway from education to apprenticeship to jobs, and to work with the local unions to that end as well. We have brought millions of more dollars to our neighborhood schools, including a new field and HVAC system at Kenwood, and re-opening the pool at Dyett, and have connected our schools with resources in the community by providing summer internships and apprenticeships at Dunbar.
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We will continue to look for ways to strengthen our neighborhood schools. Families choose communities because of strong schools. Density brings neighborhood amenities and stimulates economic development. Residents with options are leaving the city and seeking better public safety and better resourced public education. To stem this tide, we must aggressively focus investment in neighborhood schools and traditionally disinvested areas. Safety in our neighborhoods will require the cooperation and participation of all community members, from law enforcement to the local neighborhood watch. We are working with the community to shut down problem businesses and buildings, along with advocating for more resources and accountability. We are also looking at this issue comprehensively and bringing jobs, beautification, improved infrastructure and development to the community. Finally, we need to look to create long term, sustainable, progressive revenue streams in order to fully fund education, vital city services and pensions. My legislative priorities will continue to be to bring parity to how we prioritize and spend precious city resources, including jobs. I will also continue to focus on ensuring that our neighborhood schools’ curricular and co-curricular programs are funded, and that our communities are safe.
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What impact, positive and negative, do you believe the Obama Presidential Library will have on the 4th Ward? The Obama Presidential Center is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will have profound benefits on the entire South Side. President Obama and his team have committed to hiring goals that will exceed city requirements, are committed to hiring many local businesses and residents, and are committed to working throughout our local community to provide positive educational resources and experiences for youth. Do you think residents of the ward will be displaced by the presidential library? Because this is in the 5th Ward and not the 4th, my understanding on the implications of the library is somewhat limited. However, displacement is always a concern when considering a new development in the community, but I think it is also an opportunity to discuss and plan deliberately for affordable housing in the community. The city has an opportunity to mitigate displacement and add affordable housing because it owns a lot of the land in the adjacent community. We are trying to mitigate that type of impact in the 4th Ward by empowering the community to build within itself through community land trusts, which leverage the equity in the vacant lots. If the community builds its own development, it can use the profits normally taken out of the community to reinvest. The city can also then require a large percentage of the new housing to be affordable. We are partnering with GN Bank, formerly Illinois Service Federal, on this initiative. What was your opinion of South Side residents asking for a community benefits agreement regarding the presidential library? I haven’t been shy about this – I believe that there should be a CBA. However, we shouldn’t just end with a CBA. We should make sure that we create enforceable agreements between the city and the developer, and make sure we protect the interests of the community. These agreements must be codified and written into the redevelopment agreement. With the Michael Reese redevelopment project, we are making sure that the community’s voice is heard and has benefits such as: strong minority participation (currently discussed at over 65 percent); a partnership and resources for Dunbar High School so that students will eventually be able to be hired and work on the site; rehabbing Pershing East Elementary; affordable senior and general housing; homage to Bronzeville in a significant way that will attract tourism and highlight our storied community; and incentives for local small businesses to grow, to name a few.
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Alderman Sophia King
What will the new traffic plans/routes be for 4th Ward residents to get around once Cornell Drive is closed for the library? Again, because this is in the 5th and not the 4th Ward, my understanding is more high level. However, I do not imagine it being more complicated than when the city moved northbound Lake Shore Drive to accommodate the expansion of the Museum Campus. It is my understanding that Alderman Leslie Hairston has gone to great lengths to make sure that the impact is minimal on local residents. In addition, she has taken extensive steps to mitigate the impact the closure of Cornell Drive will have on daily commuters. They will reconfigure traffic flow in the area where the Midway meets Stony; there will be a reconfiguration of Cornell and Stony from 65th to 67th to accommodate the closure of northbound Cornell; and there will be improvements made to Lake Shore Drive and Hayes Drive to accommodate the diverted traffic. For how long, and in what capacity, do you know Michelle and Barack Obama? I consider President Obama and the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, friends. My family was very fortunate to have a close seat to an extraordinary moment in history. However, we knew them long before they were well known to others. I am very proud of their accomplishments individually and as the First Family.
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Alderman Sophia King
When you were selected to fill Will Burns’ term, why did you want to get into politics? I didn’t initially see myself in politics. However, I have always been drawn to helping others and had done so in various capacities throughout my 30 years in the 4th Ward before becoming alderman. Friends convinced me that many of the things I had done would suit me in serving my community as alderman. They mentioned my experience as a small business owner, my roles in helping to start a small neighborhood school, as well as non-profits for gun-violence prevention and increasing jobs and wealth in the African-American community. As I began to explore the opportunity, I became energized by the prospect of being able to leverage the position to further help our community. They were right. It’s a good fit. I love my job and the opportunity it affords me to help even more people. Now that you’ve been an appointed and an elected official, what do you think about politics now? Is it easier or harder than you thought? An alderman is the most public facing political job you can have. If you do not like people and helping people this is not the job for you. You have to want to help people more than having the job itself. I love being alderman. It is a difficult but very rewarding job that has allowed me to resolve issues that have plagued blocks for years and introduce initiatives like renaming Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive, which will inspire young people for years to come. What was your opinion of Rahm Emanuel as mayor? I appreciate his service to the city of Chicago and wish him well in his next chapter. I would like to correct recent reports that erroneously have my voting record combined with my predecessor’s. They incorrectly list me voting 98 percent with the Mayor. A U of I study has my percentages closer to 85 percent. To put that in context, they report that 37 of the 50 aldermen voted 90-100 percent of the time with the administration, so my percentage is among the lowest. What would you like to see out of a new mayor that Rahm Emanuel maybe did not provide? The new mayor has to be someone that recognizes the importance of bringing resources to all of our communities, especially to those that have been traditionally left behind; has the ability to understand the importance of downtown and the business community as an economic engine and yet also appreciates how to build vibrant communities with strong neighborhood schools, which in turn creates economic development. That person must also have the foresight to truly celebrate the diversity in our city by putting all of Chicago back to work. Chicago celebrates a diversity of approximately 70 percent Black and brown people. They also pay the taxes that help make up our almost $10 billion budget. But their return on their investment is abysmal. We must shift the paradigm on how our money is spent. It is not a handout when it comes to our community and it should come back to our community with the same fervor in which it leaves. We must prioritize and bring more parity to how we spend precious taxpayer dollars that help create our budget and infrastructure and development projects. Do you favor an elected or appointed school board and what would you like to see happen with the 50 schools that were closed under Rahm Emanuel’s tenure? I’m in favor of an elected school board. As for the 50 schools that were previously closed, I think each community should determine what’s best. However, I believe that closing the schools for the most part was short-sighted, and that every community should have a strong viable neighborhood school at every level. In the 4th Ward, we stopped two schools that were closed prior to my tenure from being sold. It is my plan that we totally rehab, restore, and rebrand these schools into new neighborhood options in the community.
Alderman Sophia King
As an alderman for a while now, do you have any idea what the city intends to do with the empty land on the South Side left vacant by the demolition of t

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