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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shannon McGinn: Fresh-Faced Alderman Candidate, Discusses Her Campaign With RFT

Posted By on Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 8:40 AM

  • John H. Tucker

A few years ago during the Marble Stage Theatre Company's run of "Fiddler on the Roof," the role of Golde was given to Shannon McGinn, a local social-services worker who did community plays on the side. The role depicts a fiercely loyal mother, unafraid to raise her voice to empower her struggling clan. Golde can take the heat. Hell, she wants the heat.

When the curtain closed on the run, McGinn shed Golde's costume but not her personality. The Marine Villa resident, who insiders believe is a leading candidate to unseat an incumbent alderman during the spring elections, fashions herself as the champion of the little guy and advocate for the tired, poor huddled masses of her 20th ward.

Yeah, she's a defender the homeless and destitute, you got a problem with that? You gonna question this daughter of an Irish carpenter, who left college early to enter the workforce -- who started her own business by turning a dumpster room into a coffee shop and once survived her own two-week stint in a shelter with two babies in tow? You gonna question Golde?

Last week, McGinn sat down with Daily RFT at an old corner tavern in her ward, where folks nurse midday beers amid cigarette haze and the flicker of Christmas lights that were never bothered to be taken down. These are McGinn's people, she'll tell you -- but their voices aren't being heard.

"This ward is deep," she says. "And it goes through Section 8 housing with people struggling to get by, and those people are not being reached out to. And someone needs to speak out to them."

Her implication is that the current alderman, Craig Schmid, who's held his post for 16 years, isn't tapping into the needs of all his constituents in the 20th ward, one of most ethnically diverse, with a thriving Mexican community. It's anchored by Cherokee and Chippewa streets, and bounded by Dutchtown, Marine Villa, Gravois Park and Benton Park West.

"If I go to door and say to somebody, 'Do you know who your elected representative is?,' most don't know," says McGinn. "That's for somebody who's been on the job for 16 years. They don't know who to call if they have a problem. They don't know where to even get started if they have a slumlord. That's easy information to disseminate, but it hasn't been done."

It's a bold battle cry, especially considering that Schmid, a full-time alderman, is still popular among many longtime ward residents for his willingness to roll up his sleeves and work alongside them. It's not uncommon to see Schmid picking up garbage after dark, tending to community gardens or cruising the blocks with volunteers. He might not have knocked on every door in the ward, as McGinn claims to have done, but he's an active member of several community groups, who consider him a devoted public servant. For his efforts, he was named RFT's Alderman of the Year in 2000.

But the political landscape has shifted since 2007, and the 20th ward has opened its doors to new faces. Twenty-something hipsters have staked a claim on Cherokee Street, an Asian community has flourished and developers, some of whom don't appreciate Schmid's strict regulations on liquor licenses, are eyeing several properties. Some say there's a need for change.

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