JEFFERSON PARK — Members of the neighborhood group Jefferson Park Forward elected a handful of new directors and voted to extend their membership pool as far west as Nagle Avenue, cementing the group's leadership team 1½ years after it was chartered.
The group's leaders elected to change their rules so they could settle a quibble over neighborhood boundaries, group president Ryan Richter said.
"We took a look at where our members were living and plotted it out on the map, and we realized that we were getting these two clusters of growth coming from Gladstone Park and the Dunham Park area," Richter said. "And we had a number of people who we talked to, who said they felt like they were in Jefferson Park."
Jefferson Park Forward allows people living outside its designated boundaries to pay dues as "associate members," but they lack voting privileges. The group now counts about 160 total dues-paying members, Richter said.
The group's first-ever elections Thursday also saw the reinstatement of vice president Rolando Rodriguez, secretary Marie MacDonald and board member Doug Grom. Sam Wertime and Ozden Esme were elected to the board, replacing departing members Susanna Ernst and Jenny Conlon.
"I've seen the potential for this neighborhood ... more economic development, more opportunities for restaurants and cafes and a neighborhood that promotes an inclusive atmosphere," Wertime said in a speech prior to the vote. "A change is coming to Jefferson Park, and I want us to be on the vanguard of that change."
The group's bylaws give every leader a 2-year term, with half of the positions up for re-election each year. Richter and treasurer Robert Van Hook will have the chance to defend their seats next year.
The seeds for Jefferson Park Forward were planted in November 2015 after Richter lost a hotly contested election for president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.
More than 70 people showed up to a "provisional meeting" testing the waters for an offshoot neighborhood group, and Jefferson Park Forward started calling regular meetings in March 2016.
The group started collecting dues in August, and by January 2017 it boasted more than 100 total members.
The new group channeled its energy into a mix of community service and social events, a deliberate departure from the neighborhood association's staunch political activism against Ald. John Arena's (45th) development agenda in the neighborhood.
Jefferson Park's political divide was on full display last Friday, when opponents of Arena pre-empted a Jefferson Park Forward event aimed at curtailing parking — by parking their cars on the planned event site.
But Richter called "Parking Day" a success Thursday, saying carving more parking spaces into pedestrian plazas could boost neighborhood businesses.
"Hopefully it started a conversation on what we can do to make that kind of thing a more permanent feature for pedestrians in that area," Richter said. "Whether it's there [Veterans Square] or downtown, there's a recognition that having a spot for people to hang out at would be great for Jefferson Park."