by Charlsie Dewey
Don Gordon has been a member of Rogers Park for most of his life. In his time, he has seen the community move from good times to bad. After a career in management and years of community service, Gordon has decided to take his community service further and is running for 49th Ward alderman.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run for alderman of the 49th Ward?
Don Gordon: My wife Bonnie and I moved to Rogers Park 30 years ago. At that time, Rogers Park was one of the best communities in the city of Chicago. But over the past 16 years that Alderman Moore has been in office, Rogers Park has been left behind. ... Today, I'm appalled by the conditions of our commercial districts. People are afraid to walk down the street. Affordable quality housing, which made our community so attractive, has deteriorated. I know—and this is what drives me—that we can do much better [ and ] I know I've got that leadership ability.
The leadership comes with 25 years of management experience, and it comes with 25 years of community activism in Rogers Park. It's a combination of business experience and public service that makes me qualified. I know we deserve better, and I'll be a better alderman for the 49th Ward.
WCT: What are some of the key issues Rogers Park needs to confront?
DG: The thing that is really on people's minds today is the climate of our business districts and commercial districts. We need to recruit new businesses, and include more shopping and services [ as well as ] create more jobs. That is the key.
The second thing is the whole idea of balanced housing. We've got condo developments going rampant in Rogers Park. Development is wonderful—we were screaming for it back in the late '80s—but there has to be a balance that's struck. We can't afford to lose all this quality rental housing we had.
The third thing is crime and public safety. The fact is, regardless of what the statistics show, people do not feel safe on the street and in Rogers Park, and they have every right not to feel safe because of all the activity that continues to go on in Rogers Park, the drug dealing and prostitution, it's all over the community.
Every one of us is worried about ward services. The really key job of an alderman is to run a good ward services office. And you'd think after 16 years, he'd [ Moore ] get it, but this alderman doesn't. You would not believe how many people complain about the fact that they call the ward services office and they either don't get answers; they get an answering machine, or someone says they'll take care of it and there's no follow-up.
WCT: How will you ensure that you will provide representation and protection for the LGBT community?
DG: I actually have a LGBTs for Gordon group. The first thing that got cleared up for me is the number of people in the LGBT community in Rogers Park. If you just take a very conservative estimate of the national estimate of around 10 percent, we're talking well over 6,000 people in this community, and that's low for us and all the lakeshore communities. We know for a fact that there is a huge migration going on [ with the LGBT community ] moving from the Edgewater and Lakeview communities. It just floors me that we don't have any advisory groups or task groups within the alderman's staff or office to address the needs of the LGBT community, and there certainly are specific needs of the LGBT community.
I don't want to say that HIV/AIDS is just a LGBT issue; it certainly crosses all of society, but it hits very hard in the LGBT, Latino and African-American communities—all of which make up a large constituency here. That issue in and of itself in the community, in terms of resources, is not being addressed. ... One of the things I hear is for the most part, with the exception of a few specialized issues, [ is that ] their issues are what everybody else's issues are.
WCT: How do you deal with opposing priorities on the same issue?
DG: That is the heart and soul of Rogers Park.…What's important for anybody who is in a leadership role in this community is knowing how to bring all these diverse elements, diverse people to the table together. As I mentioned, I've worked for 25 years in the private sector in management. I've managed projects and I've managed development in the technology sector. Managing projects in a corporation is very much like working with a lot of diverse people in a community, and I say that because I've been on both sides, as a community activist as well, but you have to be able to deal with a lot of diverse personalities in the private sector. You have to be able to deal with management all the way down to the mailroom. ... The only thing I can tell you is that it takes experience to be able to do this; I know how to bring people together.
WCT: What do you think is the key to economic development?
DG: You have to be aggressive. You have to be on the ground doing it. What I've said is that one of the first things I'll do in the first 100 days is have a true accountable Chamber of Commerce in Rogers Park. ... The underlying element of a true chamber is to have the business members of that chamber work together in peer-to-peer relationships to help bring other businesses into the community and to improve the business climate. ... The other candidates are pointing to Andersonville as a model and that's great, but we have an even better model right here in our community. What I would do to improve the business climate in this community and our retail strip is to start tapping into the Dan Sullivans of our community and start building a Chamber of Commerce here, that's how we do it.