Voters in Peoria's First District spoke loud and clear on their desire for a new representative around the horseshoe.
Former TV reporter Denise Jackson was the choice of 70% of the voters turning out on Tuesday, defeating incumbent councilwoman Denise Moore. It was by far the largest margin of victory for any Peoria municipal candidate.
Jackson said she's "deeply humbled" by that overwhelming support.
"People are concerned about what does or does not happen in the First District. They have shown me in more ways than one. So I'm just grateful for that," Jackson said.
The First District encompasses downtown, the Warehouse District, the South Side, and the North Valley.
Jackson said she wants to hit the ground running. One of her top priorities is working with Ameren Illinois to improve street and alley lighting to make the district safer.
"You come out in some areas, especially where I live, we've got more vacant lots," Jackson said. "And these areas are just pitch dark at night. So we want to get that problem resolved."
Jackson said she's also working to create more rain gardens to control stormwater runoff throughout the First District.
"We think that by putting rain gardens in those areas, it would not only prevent the excess water from flowing underground, and under the streets, and down into people's basements, but it would also help to enhance and beautify the neighborhoods," said Jackson, noting she's already identified some areas as potential new rain garden locations.
Another aspect of beautification and community improvement that's a focus for Jackson is curtailing the illegal dumping problem that's pervasive throughout the First District, particularly on the South Side.
"We want to do like they've done in the North Valley, and that's posting signs up warning about illegal dumping, and possibly put cameras in those hot spots," she said. "And it's not just tires they're dumping. I've had residents show me, and I've had it happen across from where I live. People have dumped furniture; couches and televisions. Dry wall. Things that they don't want to dispose of properly."
The demolitions of the former Harrison and McKinley schools in South Peoria have remained tied up in court proceedings for years. The city has requested $4 million in state money to fund the razing of the blighted old buildings.
Jackson said she would like to see the former schools replaced with new affordable housing, or perhaps subdivisions.
"We've got streets named after individuals like John Gwynn, and Mr. Adrian Hinton, who were trailblazers in Peoria," Jackson said. "But unfortunately, these streets are filled with blight. So we owe it to those who have paved the way for us to do the same for those coming behind us. So those are the kind of things we will be focusing on."
Jackson said she also supports initiatives like Peoria Grown that sells fresh produce at cost to South Side residents at the Logan Recreation Center and hosts cooking classes. Organizers for the nonprofit say they've perceived a lack of city interest in the project in the past.
Food deserts became a major point of concern on the East Bluff and South Side after Kroger closed two of its neighborhood grocery stores in 2018.
"We have to take care of the needs of the residents in our community, and if people are hungry, that's not good. That's a bad reflection on us," said Jackson, adding while corporate decisions are out of local hands, she thinks new businesses can be attracted by first addressing foundational issues, like upgrading infrastructure.
"It's the concerns and needs of the residents that are first and foremost to me. And we have to realize that it's the voters who put us in office, that we have an obligation to be accountable to them, as well," Jackson said.
Outgoing councilwoman Denise Moore said she plans to continue workforce, economic, and community development. Moore leads the city's Minority Business Development Center and Black Business Alliance.
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