Better Know An Alderman: Mary O'Connor, 41st Ward
The 41st Ward, which includes the Far Northwest Side neighborhoods of Edison Park, Oriole Park and Norwood Park, as well as O’Hare Airport, has been described as “quasi-suburban.” It’s a popular residence for cops, firefighters and other municipal employees who have to live in the city, but don’t desire an urban lifestyle. Until the election of Ald. Mary O’Connor, in 2011, it was the only ward represented by a Republican on the City Council. The ward’s attractions include the city’s oldest building, the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, which dates back to 1833, Taft High School, the inspiration for the musical Grease, and a great strip of French and Italian restaurants along Northwest Highway, including Café Touche, Zia’s Trattoria, Nonno Pino's, and Moretti’s Ristorante.
1. What has been your most significant achievement as alderman?
I’m very pleased that the 41st Ward has seen a series of important infrastructure improvements over the last year. We are addressing water and sewer issues, utilities, roads, bridges, transit stations and an increasing number of street resurfacing projects. We have a lot more work to get done, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction.
2. Why and when did you decide to run for the City Council?
I made my decision to run for alderman of the 41st Ward in the summer of 2009. I have a great amount of respect for the generations of residents before me that worked so hard on making our ward the best place in Chicago to call home and I wanted to build on that legacy. I grew up in the area and I just felt that our corner of the city wasn’t living up to its full potential. As a small business owner and president of my local business chamber, I felt I had a unique perspective on how best to implement a real revitalization.
3. Do you have a political mentor? Why do you admire this person, and how did he or she influence you?
Alderman Patrick O’Connor and Alderman Tom Tunney have both served as political mentors to me. Alderman O’Connor has served in the council for over thirty years and has been a reliable sounding board throughout my first year in office. Alderman Tunney and I have similar professional backgrounds in the hospitality industry, which is helpful when it comes to working on making Chicago more business-friendly.
4. What project is your ward most in need of?
The 41st Ward is home to some of the best neighborhood schools in the City of Chicago, but many are overcrowded and in need of important capital improvements. Much of my first year in office has been spent advocating for the needs of these schools with CPS, the Board of Education and the Mayor’s office. They know that I will not rest until each and every one of our schools get what they rightfully deserve. There is no issue more important to me.
5. Has crime increased in your ward this year? What do you think are the causes of, and the solutions for, the citywide increase in violence?
Crime in my ward has essentially remained flat over the last year. Some police beats have seen a slight uptick in property crimes like garage burglaries and motor vehicle thefts, while others have seen a drop. As for the horrific acts of gang violence that have impacted so many other communities, I think more needs to be done to provide these individuals with alternatives to a life of violence. We need more after school programs for young adults, more gang awareness programs in schools and more faith-based efforts to take back these communities. Most importantly, we need to turn around this economy and put people back to work.
6. Has the installation of parking meters affected traffic or commerce in your ward? What could Chicago Parking LLC do to make things easier for businesses in your ward?
Constituents and local businesses are becoming more and more frustrated with the parking meter deal that was negotiated during the previous administration. Back when the city owned these meters there was a mutual understanding that residents wouldn’t get tickets on Sunday mornings, holidays and certain community events. The situation today is quite the opposite. In fact, it seems like this new company purposefully sets out to target motorists. That kind of aggressive enforcement discourages people from supporting our local businesses here in the 41st Ward and hurts our ability to compete with the neighboring suburbs along our borders. There are some things that the parking meter company could do to generate goodwill. This corporation makes a fortune off my constituents I would like to see them give back to the community like many of our local merchants. It would also be helpful if each ward was granted a waiver from parking fees for special events.
7. What feature is your ward best known for?
The 41st Ward is known for its beautiful, suburban-like character. We have great schools, friendly residents and a very tight-knit collection of communities.
8. How do you feel about transferring street sweeping and garbage pickup to a grid system, rather than leaving them under the control of the alderman?
The decision to switch to a grid system is one that I supported because of the clear cost savings for the city by establishing a more efficient system. I did so knowing fully well that I would have to give up some control over garbage control in the ward but unfortunately, our city is in bad financial shape and we have a responsibility to make sure tax dollars are being spent wisely. Reducing sanitation costs over the long term was the right decision.
9. How would you spend an ideal Saturday afternoon in your ward?
My ideal Saturday afternoon is spent getting some exercise by walking a neighborhood street in my ward. It allows me the opportunity to clear my head, meet constituents and follow up on requests that come through my office.
10. What is your favorite book, television show and meal?
The Devil in the White City, The Good Wife & Pizza
11. Do you have a tattoo?
I have no tattoos.
12. What are your thoughts on social media?
I have mixed feelings about social media. I can certainly appreciate it as a tool for communicating with constituents. It is a great way to keep people informed of events, share photos, or discuss important projects taking place in the community. However, it can also be a place for people to make some fairly wild assumptions or claims that often mislead the public about some very important issues or projects. Often times these individuals are anonymous so you have no idea what their motivations are. Vicious personal attacks also pop up and that can be difficult to stomach. I’ve had to develop a pretty thick skin since being elected. I guess that comes with the territory.
13. How do you feel about food trucks?
I ultimately voted to support the Food Truck Ordinance because I think it’s important for our city to encourage new enterprises. The final version contained more protections for public health and did less to hurt the brick and mortar establishments that employ so many throughout the city.
14. Will you vote Obama or Romney?
I support the reelection of President Obama.
15. Have you ever bought a Groupon, and what was it?
I have never purchased a Groupon.