The sun was shining on that Friday. It was a nice day for a walk in Downtown Springfield, with a slight breeze and a cool blue sky above. There are so many shops and interesting little sites as you walk up Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth streets, that it seems a new discovery might be made each time one goes by.
We were on our way on this day, to speak with the recently victorious incumbent alderperson of Springfield’s Ward 5 – still fresh off of her early April victory – but we were not going to an office space.
No, no studio or politically professional setting would be housing this particular interview; instead, we would be enjoying our time chatting at the Resource One showroom in Downtown Springfield – across the way from The Whimsy Tea Company.
And, when we finally walked into the lovely showroom at 321 E Adams St., it did not take us very long to find the Alderwoman – patiently and enthusiastically waiting – in a lovely midcentury modern chair, in jeans, a t-shirt, and her seemingly-trademarked winged and bejeweled glasses.
Ms. Purchase is serious and ambitious as a politician, and as a person with a position and obligation toward others; she is, however, a person first and foremost – a human being just like those she does her best to serve.
It had been some time since last we saw one another, and her eyes lit up as she saw us walk into the showroom; she gleefully noted her triumph only days prior as we found seats to get comfortable in.
“I am thrilled to have had such a huge showing of support from the voters. That really speaks to the close connection I work to maintain with my constituents….That connection is something I enjoy not just during election season, but throughout each year.”
Humans, however, have many, many other sides to them – as well as stories and histories – which are all but mere parts of their greater whole.
“My father is a Letter Carrier for the Post Office and remains very active in the community on behalf of the union. I often joined him in various activities such as food giveaways. But, it’s also no secret that my godmother is the Senate Majority Leader, Kimberly Lightford.
I lived with my god mom all throughout high school, and I used to go to all of her women’s meetings – I used to be the kid that would hand the candy out and run up to the door. So my major ended up being political science with a minor in speech communications. And after seeing my godmother do the work that she did in the community and the money she would bring back home to her community, it was kind of like in my blood. And she [Kimberly Lightford] was just like, you can do this yourself!
As a competitive runner, much of my early college experience revolved around sports. After tearing my hamstring and my inability to bounce back, I turned my attention to activism and public service. I organized a student lobby to fight the elimination of MAP grants, with buses from Carbondale and SIU-Edwardsville to Springfield, as well as a mail & phone campaign to fight for this much-needed student financial support. I worked for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and was subsequently a Vince Demuzio Intern, which led to my current position with IDOT.
When Majority Leader Lightford moved up – at the time – to assistant Majority Leader, I thought, ‘maybe I could run for park board.’ And now, who was our State Senator at that time? Doris Turner, and she was like, ‘Well, no, I want you to try Capitol Township,’ I said, ‘what is that?’ And she goes, ‘We’re gonna learn what it is.’
So prior to my role as Alderwoman, I served as Capital Township trustee. I was proud of my work to educate the public about the role of township government and to connect citizens to the vital resources available to them. That work helped lessen the burden of the pandemic by partnering with agencies that provided resources to residents.
And, in my short time as Alderwoman, I have voted to pass a historic budget to give necessary funding to improve the City and my ward, particularly focused on providing more resources to our police and fire departments and other first responders.”
But what, in her experience, is it like to be the Alderwoman of Ward 5 in Springfield? As she heads into a full term in the position, she reflected upon what her life has thus far consisted of in the position – both in the good and bad – as well as what her mindset was during the recent, heated election campaign, and what it is when she speaks to colleagues and discusses ordinances and the like.
“Let’s talk about what Ward 5 looks like – that was one of your questions. Yes, absolutely. It’s a very mixed-use ward. I have my neighborhood associations, primarily Vinegar Hill. Enos Park, Linkin Park, and right behind Springfield High School. That area going up to MacArthur is considered part of the historic West Side neighborhood association.
Then you have the Medical District. I’m over both hospitals – Memorial and St. John’s. And then you have – what I call – the economic engine of the city of Springfield: our downtown. We have so many gems in Ward 5 when it comes to the Presidential Museum and Library, the Oak Ridge cemetery too; plus, we have our state employees here. We also have the Old State Capitol with its own, lovely history as well.
Every night, 80% of my job is responding to emails, phone calls, and text messages…I feel like it’s my obligation – as your representative – to tell you what’s going on and keep you in the loop for the sake of transparency…I think the biggest concern in Ward 5 was that people didn’t feel a part of the process; they weren’t educated concerning what the process of getting a pothole filled entails.
So, I do a lot of emails, and I CC my constituents on the emails that go to all of the departments – the respective departments – and I say ‘Hey, can we put in a ticket order,’ then at the end, I always mention that an updated status would be greatly appreciated. So then they [the department or departments in question] can tell me when they put it [the work order] in, and when they’re expected to go out. So I think people have just really appreciated being a part of the process.
I believe in building bridges, making no permanent enemies, and they say permanent friends, but I feel like we’re a family up there. I respect everybody. I may have raised my energy a little bit higher. A few times here and there, but I always have tried my best to respect people…They [those individuals who ran against Alderwoman Purchase] both said negative things about me during the election – or their camps said negative things about me, and I’m human. So some of it was hurtful.
But at the end of the day, if I’m preaching to the next generation to stay above the fray, I have to practice what I’m preaching; I need to be an example. So I took that very seriously too. And it taught me – during this process – a lot of patience. That is, self-reflection, and figuring out the things that I can do to keep my nerves calm – no matter what.”
Throughout our time together, Alderwoman Purchase keeps a thoughtful, kind, and open perspective. We chatted about the importance of groups like ICON and other community and neighborhood collectives, about what the people of the communities really care about; individuals quietly walked in and out of the Resource One showroom all the while, as the sun set a marvelous scene outside as two in the afternoon neared three.
Alderwoman Purchase – looking out towards Springfield’s May 5 inauguration – then discussed her focuses in Ward 5, across the entirety of Springfield, plus the City Council, how it must operate, and why functioning in a certain manner is so critical for the city of Springfield moving forward – as much as anything else.
“I focus my work as Alderwoman on four priorities: economic vitality, public safety, infrastructure improvements, and quality neighborhoods. They are all interwoven. My commitment is to ensure the fundamental rights to personal safety, quality housing, and a job that can support a family. Those principles serve as the guide to my decision-making.
It is a question of balance in the allocation of resources. I am fiercely devoted to the needs of Ward 5. A little experience as Alderwoman has taught me to balance resources not only across Ward 5 but across Springfield as a whole. We are only as healthy as our neediest area. I look forward to working with the new mayor and the new city council to make sure all areas’ needs are met.
But [concerning civility on the City Council], if you see the City Council arguing and treating one another poorly, then how can I expect you to bring it to us in a professional manner yourself – if you watch us disrespect each other all the time? So I just want people to take accountability for their actions; we can agree to disagree, but we have to have some type of decorum up here.”
As our time together became ever more fleeting, and each party was thanking the other for the time, thoughtful questions, and answers, Alderwoman Purchase noted her enthusiasm for the work that she has ahead of her with the City Council members – new and old.
“My commitment is to ensure the fundamental rights to personal safety, quality housing, and a job that can support a family; those principles serve as the guide to my decision-making each and every day…I’m excited to work with [the] new Council members and the new Mayor to hear the new ideas they wish to bring forth. As for things I plan to work on, I’m very excited about increasing UIS’ presence downtown.”
LaKeisha smiled further, and as we all left Resource One on our way onward on such a lovely Friday afternoon in Springfield, one sentence, in particular, rang in our ears across the rest of the day.
“Sometimes you have to take a gamble or risk in the present in order for more positive actions and accomplishments to be possible moving forward.”
Our thanks to Alderwoman Purchase, her staff, as well as the entire staff of Resource One for their time, thoughtfulness, and hard work.