CHATHAM — Mayor Rahm Emanuel met behind closed doors Monday with a group of about 15 pastors who voiced concerns about everything from a lack of jobs in their communities to the future of shuttered school buildings across the city.
The 1-1/2-hour meeting at Josephine's Cooking, a soul-food restaurant at 436 E. 79th St., was off-limits to the press and public. But afterwards, the pastors said progress was made on a number of issues.
"The meeting was very informative and one that I am sure will bring more jobs to our community," the Rev. Simon Gordon, pastor of Tristone Full Gospel Baptist Church in Beverly, said afterwards. "The meeting came about from some of the ministers who had concerns about the communities they serve. I thought the mayor was very receptive to our concerns."
One of those concerns was what will happen to the empty school buildings that resulted from Chicago Public Schools closing nearly 49 underutilized elementary schools last year.
"It is necessary to have a clear program designed to deal with these vacant schools to avoid them becoming 'education deserts' in our community," Gordon said. "How will these schools be maintained? We know how easily vacant buildings can become an eye sore for a community."
The mayor also said he plans to increase summer job opportunities for young people.
The pastors said the mayor spoke about his community involvement and how he plans to increase summer jobs for youths.
"It wasn't a bad, hostile meeting," said the Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church. "We gave him some ideas and things to look at."
The Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, said he was concerned about economic development. In that regard, it was "a very good meeting. I anticipate some positive things happening soon."
Other clergy at the meeting included the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham; the Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn; the Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Austin; and the Rev. Horace Smith, pastor of Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville.
Emanuel declined to comment as he left the meeting.
But a spokeswoman later issued a statement, saying: “The Mayor and pastors discussed a variety of topics, specifically their commitment to improving public safety, education and increasing job opportunities for youth as well as the important role that faith-based leaders have with the City to ensure our communities succeed.”