On a chilly Saturday afternoon, Roman Morrow stands at the corner of Chicago and Mayfield avenues, gazing out over a vacant piece of land that will soon be a memorial garden. On this day, the lot is clean, save the occasional bottle, but Morrow explains this wasn’t the case a few weeks ago before he organized a team to pick trash out of the area’s alleys and vacant lots.
Dressed in a black jacket and striped button-down shirt, the 34-year-old looks the part of a politician. But he doesn’t completely sound the part yet; he chooses his words carefully and is hesitant to talk about himself.
“This lot was in terrible shape,” he says, pausing to smile and shake hands with passers-by. “You found used condoms, you found drug needles … You’d be shocked to see what goes on in these lots.”
If you haven’t met Morrow yet, you may be seeing him over the next few months: spearheading one of his many neighborhood clean-up efforts, handing out Christmas turkeys or giving away glossy postcards touting his accomplishments. After spending the past decade working in radio and TV — first as promotions assistant for V103 and later as an archivist for ABC7 Chicago – the community activist is now wading into local politics with a run for 29th Ward alderman.
That puts Morrow – and roughly a dozen other 29th Ward residents rumored to be vying for the seat – squarely in campaign mode for the next three months, as he scrambles for signatures, gets his name out and develops a platform that he hopes will be enough to surpass the current alderman, former state Rep. Deborah Graham. Graham, who was appointed to the city council in March in the wake of the Isaac Carothers scandal, is running to retain the seat for the first time – an opportunity that has many would-be politicians clamoring to contest her.
Chicago election news site Early and Often lists seven potential contenders for the 29th Ward race, in addition to Graham and Morrow – Rev. Marshall Hatch of West Garfield Park’s New Pilgrim Church; retired police officer Beverly Rogers; teacher Ulric Shannon; retired city employee and community activist Thomas Simmons; Loretto Hospital Foundation Associate Director Jill Bush; Forest Preserve District board member Mary Russell Gardner; and C.B. Johnson, CEO of Campaign for a Drug Free Westside.
Morrow says he’s heard rumblings of 14 people interested in the seat. Candidates have from Nov. 15 until Nov. 22 to submit their candidate petitions containing a minimum of 157 signatures to the Chicago Board of Elections.
A series of recent shake-ups in city politics has no doubt upped interest among first-time politicos. Mayor Richard Daley announced in September that he would not run for re-election, and so far, seven aldermen have followed suit, opening the floodgates for political newbies eying a prize in the Feb. 22 election. Some hope these fresh faces will mean fresh ideas.
Morrow, for one, says he supports incentives to bring small businesses to Austin and as alderman, would push to bring anchor stores and well-paying jobs to the area. He also stresses his experience and reputation as a community activist; in addition to his street clean-up projects, Morrow says he worked with local nonprofits like Mad Dads and Sisters Embracing Life.
“I want to help the community. I don’t want to play politics,” said Morrow. But he acknowledged the transition from engaged community member to hopeful-leader can be a difficult one. “You say, ‘Give me five minutes to tell you what I’m about.’ You find out there are people who just don’t want to hear it.”
James Spearman, a West Side native and owner of two businesses on West Chicago Avenue, said he believes Morrow is the kind of fresh face Austin needs. He recalled meeting the candidate for the first time four years ago, when he approached Spearman, who was organizing a community service project.
“He said, ‘What do you want me to do (to help)?’” recalled Spearman, 64, laughing, with an air of disbelief. “He just said, ’What do you want me to do?’ … We need more people like him in this community.”
I first met Roman when I took off work to participate at a hearing at City Hall. I found him to be a very interesting individual. He is consistent and sincere in his beliefs for the Austin community. Roman has defined himself as a certified community activist! Austin should be proud to have a voice like Roman’s.
The 29th ward is desperate in need of a representative who is qualified and can represent our people in the community. This is not about popularity, or who live in the community the longest, its about who is qualified. We the people in this community is looking for someone who can deal with the crime, violent, drugs and educating the people, and walk the walk, not talk the talk. We see too much of this with our political people. This is a shame that you see the same people who ran some 10 years ago along with Ike Carothers and they have not done nothing different. Before you put your names on the ballots, be sure you have nothing negative that will not come to the table. There are people that I know should not be placed on the ballot for the aldermanic race of the 29th ward. This is not about popularity. You know who you are, you are looked at every angle, let’s face it. You are gambling with the taxpayers time and money while you are not taking this seriously enough. The people are tired of these type of people.
To be a leader, you have to lead from the front and the back, and Mr. Morrow provides that incentive to the Austin community as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. We as community have to connect mentally and physically to provide the west side of Chicago the great prosperity that we have know is possible. Roman has been throughout the ward of the 29th and outside it, improving the people and their way of life on a daily basis. It’s instinctive for him, second nature as I may say, I believe in him to be the next 29th ward alderman.
Check him out or call him at 312-618-5665
I did, and I’ve learned a great deal about my past,present, future.
For a better tomorrow support ROMAN MORROW
I live in the Austin area. I do my due diligence helping the youth in the community(dealing with sports). I have been in Austin over 17 years, and have asked political figureheads to help out a little with the kids and the resources they need. I even stopped asking for money, but asked them to assist in helping me by getting my foot into the door of some of the businesses that they know that could donate, and help us get these kids off the streets and into programs. GOT NO HELP!!!! It’s funny to watch their drive when it’s election time. They are banging on my door like there is no tomorrow. I will say this to all parties running. I have over 300 kids in my league. The parents are TRUE VOTING PARENTS!!! You don’t believe me…. TRY ME AND FIND OUT!!!!