Common Issues Supercede Race
"We have the escalation of hate by the newspapers, I mean the newspapers writing in such a way as to promulgate hate. We need a program that gets us down emotionally from all this bad feeling among racial groups."
Wyvetter Younge, state representative for 15 years, calls for a coming together of black and white people to solve economic and social problems without reference to skin color - on either side. The people of St. Clair and Madison counties have more in common than they recognize, and they need to sit down and realize what East St. Louis is and isn't, she said.
"The area has an interdependency, and its problems can be solved only by sitting down together as people, or peoples, and beginning to look at our problems together, depending on what our perspectives are. And one of the biggest common assets we have, and one that should be used to the
benefit of all of us, is 4,200 acres of riverfront from Madison County to the end of St. Clair County.
I think part of the (future) prosperity of the region is directly related to our capability to see that riverfront as one tract, one development opportunity," she said.
"Our big challenge is to be able to work together to come out to the highest and best use of the riverfront area.
"We have the escalation of hate by the newspapers, I mean the newspapers writing in such a way as to promulgate hate. We need a program that gets us down emotionally from all this bad feeling among racial groups. I don't think East St. Louis can recover until there is genera agreement to the market share in this region, and that can't happen until people begin to feel better about each other."
Issues are more important than the color of one's skin or anything else, she said. Both sides have got to quit talking about the white man wants or the black man wants, and start talking about what "we-all" want. Leadership in this effort, she said, has to come from the church, civic and social areas in addition to politicians. "It is absolutely clear that we have people problems, environment, economic, that we have to solve as a region.
"Economically, East St. Louis is dead," she said. 'We have to redefine its market. The people who are here came here to work in the smokestack industries of the past. Now what is its new use? I think this region has to say 'This is the market share we are going to locate in East St. Louis.' It is as simple, and as complicated, as that. And what is keeping that from happening is our attitudes."
Wyvetter Younge was the legislator that held out to the ninth hour seeking amendments to the governors 'bailout bill" for East St. Louis and other distressed cities - a bailout that would give East St. Louis a $34 million loan. Her action was called treachery to her people in a News-Democrat editorial. Her holdout was daily page one fare in the same newspaper and the St. Louis PostDispatch. She said she held out until it was untenable to hold out any longer, but she finally was given 45 minutes with the governor in which she said she reached important agreements agreements that make her say now of the revised bill, "The sky is the limit as to what the total package can do for East St. Louis if certain things happen locally."
The "coming together" is one of those things.
In her meeting with the governor, she said she told him that piling on $34 million in debt for the city to repay did not solve any problems. The problem is the economic base. It is gone, absolutely fallen apart. The issue is one of economic development, restructuring to increase the capability of the town to pay back its debt while it provides essential services. The governor listened, said he thought her proposals were a reasonable addition to the bill, and agreed to have citizens of East St. Louis sit down with the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs and to work on a redevelopment structure.
On an immediate basis, she said that because of the governor's anger with Mayor Carl Officer, all of the state's resources have been frozen to East St. Louis. She said the governor promised her to have all the departments look into their budgets for additional monies for East St. Louis, and hopefully motor fuel tax funds and other assets will be freed so the town can get on with the business of rebuilding itself.
The general assembly gave the city the power to raise sales tax and sent to the governor a license for riverboat gambling and ways to raise payback funds.
Asked what faith she has in DCCA-the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, the representative said, "DCCA has to be completely restructured, DCCA has testified on many occasions that it is a total failure in East St. Louis, and that's why I was very anxious that the governor personally agree that the citizens will sit down with DCCA to draw up a redevelopment plan. It doesn't have the capacity even to understand what is good for East St. Louis much less do it; it doesn't have the will, it doesn't have the competency, it is a total failure not only in East St. Louis, but so far as small business is concerned, all over the state."
She said that she has other feelings about the system, especially in terms of public aid. She wants public aid recipients employed. "Isn't that best for people?" She said that East St. Louis is in a depression that may be the forerunner of a national recession. "Paul Simon is right, there is a government responsibility to the jobless." We need WTA, CCC type projects where public facilities would be built and people put to work. We are at a phase in our history where we give people checks without their having to work. I've always felt that we could combine the work to be done with the resources of government and have people working. "
A petition for city manager government was ready as we talked. She said the mayor and aldermanic council agreed that a city manager is needed, and that she hoped the people would provide for city manager government and that a blueribbon committee would look nationwide for the best accredited city manger, someone familiar with budgets and financial records, which are city weaknesses. She said that the governor has promised that if this happens the state will give the city manager cooperation.
Younge thinks it is important that the first money from the bailout goes to improve the police department. She wants it to meet national accreditation standards, to be the best there is, the pride of East St. Louis, and to give assurance of street safety in East St. Louis. "The question of crime is close to being resolved."
Light rail will help the city, and it should give immediate attention to development in the area at Fifth and Missouri for the East St. Louis terminal. She does not think the perception of safety will be a major problem. When the Martin Luther King bridge was closed, white people were driving all over East St. Louis finding. their way to Eads bridge, she said, and they really know there is no trouble. But she agreed safety needs to be demonstrated.
As to the Jefferson Memorial, she said she wished someone beside the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority were handling it; that it needed more involvement by the citizens. "Economic development has to involve people, I work for economic democracy too."
As for the riverboat gambling, the state will have its money there too, and it will protect it. "The boat and the parking lot probably will be the safest place in the world."
Returning to her central theme, she said "The big problem is how to work together to improve this region, a part of which is East St. Louis, to see how it is to our common advantage as a section of the country to move forward economically and get beyond this whole question that race is the cause of everything. There are civic and economic questions. We must become more sophisticated as a group of people.
"I'd hope that in the early part of the 1990s we'd plan how we were going to be the latter part of the century. I've just got a good feeling about it, really. I have faith that it will turn in the right direction."
And that's a high note to end this discussion.