By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
After battling his constituents for years and hearing the community’s sentiments he would never win another election, Ald. Will Burns (4th) has chosen to leave elected office for a position as director of Midwest policy for Airbnb, a flourishing travel accommodations venture.
Burns was viewed by many in the community as one of the worst aldermen in Chicago. Upset with his allegiance to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his handling of the Dyett School crisis, a special permit parking controversy in Bronzeville, his decision to declare a residential area commercial zoning without getting feedback first and his overall constant actions to do as he pleased, residents were elated with this Burns decision.
“Surely the South Lakefront region and indigenous residents will be better off without him,” said Jamal Julien, who said Burns showed his true colors when after the LaQuan McDonald shooting, he chose to sit in the balcony of a community meeting away from other Black aldermen and the public. “His loyalty to oligarchs, University of Chicago land grabbers, the mayor and lobbyists is despicable and a violation of all fiduciary duties of a public servant.”
Julien’s sentiments were shared by many of Burns’ constituents whom the Chicago Crusader has spoken with over the past few months. Residents complained about his dismissive attitude towards them and how he tried to run the ward like his own kingdom. Things came to a head last summer after Burns made a controversial decision involving a bitter battle with residents when he revoked two permit parking zones that were approved by the previous alderman Bob Fioretti. The residents had gone through the year-long process to have the zone created legally. Burns promised to have the Department of Transportation review his decision but never got back to residents.
One resident, Edwin Murlow said reading articles about Burns quitting gave him mixed feelings. While he is happy that Burns will soon be gone, Murlow said he is disappointed that a highly educated Black public official could not handle the position of alderman in a ward that includes powerful and educated people of all races. He said he believes that Burns hated his job and he took that out on his constituents.
“He was intelligent and young and had all of the attributes you would look for. It was really disappointing,” Murlow said. “It makes you wonder why he even pursued the job of public service and held the constituents hostage. You were disingenuous with us. But how he left out, without even issuing a statement or telling his constituents he was leaving and why, he is having the mayor do it for him, says a lot about who he is and how he felt about us. We were just his little peasants.”
His neighbors believe whomever is chosen to replace Burns on an interim basis will have to prove they are worthy of having the job permanently. They said the 4th Ward is facing a myriad of issues like every other ward in the city, but they have an educated constituent and economic base to address many of the issues collectively.
“I think the new alderman needs to realize that we are the boss and they are not,” said Pastor Earl Grandberry, a resident of Bronzeville. “People are trying to find out why Bernie Sanders is doing so well running for President. He’s checking the hearts of the people and an alderman should check the pulse of the community. Don’t be a dictator.”
Both Murlow and Grandberry are optimistic the new alderman will give them back the permit parking zone Burns rescinded within weeks of becoming their alderman last year. Murlow said the signs are still up across the street from his house where Burns had begun action to revoke that permit parking zone as well. But the ones removed from in front of his home are still gone.
“We’ve had eight people move into this area since he made those decisions last year and the first thing all of them ask is where is the permit parking for residents?” Grandberry said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel will have 60 days to appoint a replacement to represent the South Side ward until a special election is held in February 2017. Burns’ resignation is effective at the end of this month. There will be an online application process, with a local committee to review applicants. The panel will be led by 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris, chairman of the Rules Committee and herself a target of the community because of her alignment with Emanuel.
As alderman of the 4th Ward, Burns was the official city representative for President Obama and First Lady Michelle, both of whom endorsed Burns.