Updated: 4 p.m.
In his first city council appointment, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plucked a political unknown to replace the beleaguered Sandi Jackson of the 7th Ward.
The mayor selected Natashia Holmes, a former official at the Illinois Department of Transportation and policy expert.
This marks the end of a political dynasty for two South Side families. For the first time in decades the alderman will not have the last name of either Beavers or Jackson. William Beavers — now a Cook County commissioner — served several terms. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Beaver’s daughter Darcel to the seat. Jackson beat her in 2007 and served until last month.
“Natashia represents a clear break with the past and a new beginning. She does not come out of either families or histories of political institutions. She’s always been interested one way or another [in] public service,” Emanuel said. “Here we have a situation in the 7th Ward, given the history, and we should be cognizant and open about it, that you have somebody that doesn’t come out of that and I think that’s a good thing ... It’s an opportunity for a fresh start.
Holmes has worked for Metro Strategies, a planning policy and public affairs firm based in Glen Ellyn, Ill. She has served on a local school council and worked as a senior transportation associate for the Metropolitan Planning Council. She has a B.S. from Alabama State University, a master of community planning from Auburn University and a law degree from Kent College of Law.
Holmes delivered a few scripted remarks before Emanuel whisked her away, following a brief press conference at South Shore Public Library.
When asked what her priorities will be, Holmes didn’t give specifics.
“This is all new, it’s starting just now. So the first thing I want to do is get out there, know every street in the ward, know all the community groups, talk to those organizations and business groups who’ve been here and involved in the community,” Holmes said.
It took Emanuel a month — nearly to the day — to fill Ald. Jackson’s seat. In a letter dated Jan. 11, Ald. Jackson wrote to Emanuel, stating that she was leaving her office “with a heavy heart.”
“[I] am unapologetically a wife and a mother and I cannot deny my commitment to those most important personal responsibilities,” Jackson wrote. “To that end, after much consideration and while dealing with very painful family health matters I have met with my family and determined that the constituents of the 7th Ward, as well as you Mr. Mayor, and my colleagues in the City Council deserve a partner who can commit all of their energies to the business of the people.”
Her husband Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned from Congress in November and recent reports say he’s signed a plea deal with the feds for misuse of campaign funds. Reports also say possible plea discussions were continuing in an investigation of Sandi Jackson. Last month Emanuel named five members to a committee to screen 7th Ward candidates and also set up a website for candidates to apply. The committee narrowed eligible applicants to a small group for him to interview. Sixty-five people applied.
The members of the committee were: Susan Motley, Community Activist; Rev. Marrion Johnson, Sr., Founding Pastor, Come Alive Ministry of Faith; Echelle M. Mohn, Founder of EMUJ Network and longtime 7th Ward Resident; Michelle Harris, City Council President Pro Tempore and Felicia Davis, Executive Director, Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement.
In her online application (see below), Holmes said the most pressing issues of the 7th Ward include random acts of violent crimes, unemployment, the school dropout rate and lack of access to quality social and retail services.
“I do not have a single set of ideas that can address this myriad of of problems, but I would start with empowering community organizations that engage parents, residents, seniors and young adults; work with the local chamber to develop a small business incubator to help entrepreneurs; work with local companies to establish technology based job training centers; and engage the block clubs and neighborhood associations to engage in activities that promote healthy living and neighborhood safety,” Holmes wrote.
Mia Henry is an activist in South Shore who helped spearhead the campaign to get rid of Jackson from the ward because of her absenteeism. Henry also applied to be the new alderman, but she said she’s pleased with the selection of Holmes and happy for new leadership.
“She brings a lot to the table. I’m definitely looking forward to meeting her and working with her to revitalize the community,” Henry said. She added that foreclosures and economic development are major issues for the ward.