CITY HALL — A rising tide floats all boats, it's said, but the new 10th Ward alderman wonders when the city's improving economy will begin to lift up her community, especially given its natural lakefront resources.
"We've been forgotten for a really long time," said Ald.-elect Susan Sadlowski Garza. "You can't even buy a book in our ward. And I'm very serious, the only place you can grab a cup of coffee here is McDonald's. So we have a lot of work to do. It's not going to happen overnight."
Garza is a new breed of leader for the 10th Ward, previously known as the bastion of political power brokers from Eddie Vrdolyak to Al Sanchez, both of whom eventually went to jail. Even Ald. John Pope (10th) got in hot water for hiring someone on the city's "do not hire" list, which perhaps contributed to his loss to Garza by 20 votes in the April 7 runoff election.
Garza is confident that margin will hold, even as Pope pursues a recount in court with powerful election lawyer Michael Kasper.
"I don't anticipate anything changing," Garza said. ""He's paying to do it, and this will take place on Monday. I'm not worried at all."
Instead, she looks ahead to governing as a different type of 10th Ward leader, one who actually represents the voters because she's one of them as a lifelong resident of the area, she said. She is a school counselor at Jane Addams Elementary, a post she'll soon have to leave to take her spot in the City Council on May 18.
"I'm going to miss my job," Garza said. "I've been there 22 years. It's the same school that I went to. My mom went there. My kids went there. It's a bittersweet transition, but I'm very excited."
She is hardly to be considered a political neophyte. Garza has taken an active role in the Chicago Teachers Union, which has come naturally, as her father was a local union leader in the United Steel Workers. Her flair for organization showed itself in the campaign.
"We had a great ground game, and people were just ready for change," she said. "Twenty votes isn't a lot, but this is a perfect example, for sure, that every vote counts."
Having criticized Pope for being remote from voters, she intends to do things differently.
"I just want to look and listen, and listen and look to the people of the 10th Ward for direction," Garza said. "I have no intention of trying to do this by myself."
Although she plans to join the Progressive Reform Caucus, she might prove to be left of center even in that group, as she backed Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Chicago) for mayor and responded enthusiastically on her Twitter account to this week's announcement that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would run for president as a Democrat. She also figures to take an active interest in education as an area of expertise.
That doesn't mean she intends to come in and tell the City Council how to do its business.
"I'm a freshman alderman, so I have a lot to learn," Garza said. "And I want to revitalize the 10th Ward, bring change to the people, and with their help."
Yet she does see herself as being able to work with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and believes they have parallel interests in the city's shoreline — not just on the lake. Emanuel has committed to developing the Chicago River shore Downtown with the Riverwalk and along both the North and South branches, and Garza hopes to extend that interest to the natural resources of the Southeast Side.
"I'd love to attract him down here," Garza said of Emanuel, pointing to the "hundreds of acres of undeveloped lakefront, wetlands, rivers and parks that would just blow your mind if you came down here."
In fact, one of the ideas she wants to pursue is to create a ferry running to and from Navy Pier. Garza said there are abundant possible launch sites along the 10th Ward's Lake Michigan shoreline, and that it would prove cheaper for South Side and south-suburban residents, as well as Indiana and Michigan tourists, than driving Downtown and paying for parking at the city's top tourist attraction.
Talk about a rising tide floating all boats, and Garza's aspirations are rising along with it, as she said, "Right now, I just aspire to be the best alderman the 10th Ward has seen."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: