JEFFERY MANOR — Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) greeted constituents at the grand opening of his office at 2249 E. 95th St., an office so new that the sign over the front door still read “Avon Tanning Center.”
Saturday's standing-room-only crowd of supporters pressed around the alderman, each person vying for a smile, a handshake, a quick word or a photo-op. To many, the new carpet and fresh paint were symbols of the change they hoped Mitchell would bring to their community.
“It’s a chance for a fresh start and a clean slate,” said 7th Ward resident Nina McAlpin. “The alderman the mayor picked didn’t go so well.”
Mitchell wrestled his seat from a crowded field of competitors vying to replace mayoral appointee Natashia Holmes, who had herself replaced former Ald. Sandi Jackson. Jackson resigned in 2013 after she and her husband, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., became embroiled in a corruption scandal in which she pleaded guilty in federal court to income tax evasion and he pleaded guilty to misappropriating campaign funds for personal use.
The stunning downfall of the charismatic political couple was a blow to the ward. Now, some here think Mitchell has a chance to pick up the leadership torch the Jacksons dropped.
Betty D. Porter lives in the 8th Ward but said she has known Mitchell since he played baseball with her own children as a youth.
“What I see in Greg is what I saw in Barack,” she said, referring to President Barack Obama.
Porter said she had invited the president to speak at her church back when he was a political up-and-comer. Similarly, she said, “Greg’s not here to stay. He’s going places.”
But the challenges Mitchell faces in his first term in office are formidable, including neighborhood violence and a high unemployment rate.
Several residents mentioned the need for more neighborhood programs aimed at youths, whether that meant GED classes or more opportunities for after-school enrichment.
The alderman will hold weekly open office hours for constituents from 3-7 p.m. Mondays and by appointment on Saturdays.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: