People with Passion: Deborah Lopez, candidate for 1st Ward alderman

People with Passion

Deborah Lopez

Interview January 27, 2011

Deborah Lopez, community worker: "The ward is so diverse, which really excites me."

When you grow up in a family that values public service and improving your community, it rubs off. It certainly rubbed off on me. Since I was a little girl, five years old, I remember going with my parents to community meetings. They were always advocating for residents, for the services that were lacking. I remember that. I continued the track of public service by combining community activism with government. I’ve been in the field of government community relations for many, many years. I really liked that combination. In order to be an effective public servant, you need to have the community involved, and then you need government, people in city council to advocate on behalf of the constituency or city wide. You can’t have one or the other.

I always had an interest in building strong communities, and then assuring that we elected public officials that would look out for us. That has been my focus. From working at the state legislature, and getting experience of how that process works at the state level, to working for the private sector, let’s say the utility company, and seeing how that dynamic works, to working at City Hall. Starting a small business and learning that experience, and the difficulties of jumpstarting a small business. I learned how it can be difficult maneuvering through the bureaucracies, just getting whatever you need to get your business started.

All of those things have been learning experiences. As I’ve gone through, I’ve focused on what we can improve on. I always hone in on, “This has been not a smooth experience. How would I be able to improve this process?” Or working among state legislators – as we hear in the news, it’s often times very political, and we forget about the public policy that we’re really there to do. I hone in on those things and say, “How can we improve on that legislative process? How can we hold our state elects more accountable so that they stop the political bickering and really hone in on the residents that need help?”

I believe timing is everything. I think all of us get to a point where we have collected an enormous amount of experiences, you’ve made friends, and a professional network of contacts – it’s like coming with a trunk of resources based on the twenty some years of experience. “I’ve done this, all this state, city, non-profit, private. How can I take all that and do more for my community?” That was why I felt this was the time to run for alderman. I come in with suitcases of resources. Because of my experiences, I can easily pick up the phone and get a meeting. Whether it’s with the CEO of a corporation, or a non-profit, I want to use my resources that I’ve collected.

I think we’re at a point right now, at a juncture – the mayor’s leaving, and we’re gonna have new leadership. Now more than ever we need strong leadership that can begin to think strategically, globally, because I really believe that a lot of the problems that trickle down to the local level are systemic. Whether it’s our education system, our police department, or even city programs like CAPS – we have to go beyond the band-aid approach.

Naturally, I would need to make sure that the constituency, the residents of the 1st Ward, are receiving the services, basic services to begin with, in a very fair manner. But for me, that’s a very basic thing. That’s what I’m hired to do. I’m talking about raising the bar. There are some residents out there that feel, “That’s all we expect, and all they do.” They manage the city services, the garbage, the rats, the lights. But we need to raise the bar higher than that. I want people to begin to think big picture and think of the possibilities that we can do that are more creative, outside the box sort of things, and not doing things in your traditional way, the way they’ve been doing. “Here’s your list of CAPS meetings, these are your street cleaning hours, and they’re gonna come by and clean your street, come and pick up your parking permit…” That’s not enough.

In nine months, a lot can be done in terms of really involving residents, but for that to happen, you need to have the experience of how to fit the pieces, and that comes with experience. Because I know how the private works, I know how the non-profit works, I can immediately start connecting based on the people I know, and bring them to the table and say, “Hey, I’ve got this idea. How can we make it happen?”

To continue the story, please see Our Urban Times.

Jack M Silverstein is the author of “Our President” and editor of 2007 49th Ward alderman runner-up Don Gordon’s “Piss ‘Em All Off.” Trade alderman talk on Twitter @readjack

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