In the much publicized debate over the aldermanic race of the 20th Ward (Cherokee Street) between Galen Gandolfi of Radio Cherokee and the incumbant, Craig Schmid, many issues seem to be getting lost in the hustle. I keep thinking about these, but the other night I set them aside. I was driving a friend home in the wee hours of the morning, and we sat in the car talking. Restless, I decided I needed a walk, and so walk we did. In the cold, in the middle of the night, we set off down the west side of Cherokee. It was impossible not to notice all the Gandolfi yard signs and signs in the windows. It was impossible, too, not to notice the handwritten signs in the flower shop on the corner of Comptom, the owners writing about how certain people were trying to ignore and legalize prostitution, their claim against Gandolfi and in support of Schmid. What I noticed most though, at that quiet time of night, in the 45 minutes we walked through the neighborhood, was how many buildings sat empty or run down. I couldn't help but notice that Cherokee was like a ghost town. I often see people walking home late at night, and friends who live around there mention anecdotes about the prostitution, and I see officers rolling through in their squad cars every ten minutes or so like clockwork. But what remains is a neighborhood that seems half-used.
If Schmid doesn't want bars to open and is looking to set a precedent restricting the type of businesses in the neighborhood, it seems to reason that he is restricting the possibilities of the same place he is trying to protect. Cherokee is this amazing district, filled with diverse people and a huge helping of Mexican-American culture, in one of the few truly culturally vivid areas in our city. It is filled with families, and lately with an influx of younger people because of the cheaper rents (not to mention its accepting artistic vibe). Looking at those empty buildings as I walked, and then looking at the few businesses that weren't Mexican-American, I got a feel for Schmid's vision of the west side of the street. The businesses that aren't food or tiendas or arts oriented are all about rent-to-own, taxes, and paycheck loans. In a place where people are trying to create a community, the other businesses that do exist seem all about making sure that the people who live along there are temporary, their working class seemingly exploited. Schmid's fight over the liquor laws seems counter-productive, to progress, but also to the facts as they exist. Any neighborhood where people are visible, where businesses want to draw others in-- any place where there is foot traffic to retail and services, where certain spots act as an anchor bringing others in-- this is a good thing.
It sure was peaceful walking down those streets the other night, but peaceful in a shadowy way. I just kept thinking there should be more buildings closed for the night, instead of permanently closed up.