Rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith, who won a Grammy in 2005 for co-writing Kanye West’s song “Jesus Walks,” is currently running for the Chicago City Council. Tomorrow, Tuesday February 22nd, Chicagoans will vote in a historic election to elect a new mayor and potentially 20 new City Council members. Smith is hoping to be one of them, and his campaign for Alderman of Chicago’s 20th Ward has been largely focused on creating economic prosperity through environmental sustainability.
Smith’s ward on Chicago’s southwest side has over 30,000 vacant lots and thousands of foreclosed homes, many of them boarded up. “How can you walk here and not feel something in your heart? We’re living in an urban ghost town,” Smith told The Associated Press during a tour of the ward where he lives. “I see two things. The first is neglect. The second is opportunity.” Smith believes these underutilized lots and vacancies represent an opportunity to transform the community. In an interview with Chicago magazine, Smith said, “We can make this the greenest neighborhood in the city.”
Smith’s vision is to bring multiple stakeholders to the table – from homeowners, landlords, and tenants, to community groups, advocacy organizations, and private entrepreneurs – to take what he calls a “whole system” approach to greening the ward. Under his plan, residents would go through green-jobs and skills training, and learn to retrofit existing homes with energy saving features. Green housing, new and renovated, would cuts occupants’ utility bills and hopefully attract new residents looking for affordable homes with a lower carbon footprint. Smith also highlights what he calls the area’s “food deserts,” and believes growing vegetable gardens in the ward’s now-vacant lots will help provide food, jobs, and revenue for the community. As he told Chicago Magazine, “We have an opportunity to reclaim all this land and housing. The community can stand together to make itself healthy again.”
Smith has enlisted some big name endorsements, from Lupe Fiasco, who performed at his campaign kick-off party, to academic Cornell West, musician George Clinton, and childhood friend Kanye West. He has brought on a hero of the Chicago environmental community, Naomi Davis, to advise him on issues of sustainability. In tomorrow’s election, Smith will face four opponents, and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. But no matter the result of the election, Smith has succeeded in bringing the issue of an inclusive green economy to the forefront. As he told the AP, “There is a disease here. What I would like to do as alderman is start to make the medicine. It’s not going to be easy and fun, but if we work together, it’s totally possible to do something here that makes the 20th Ward [into a place] that the whole city looks to.”
For more information on Rhymefest’s run for Alderman, click here.