Photo by Fred Pollard
Joshua Young, who has announced his intention to run for mayor of Alton in next spring’s election, speaks to a group of Alton residents at Hellrung Park on Sept. 12. Young says he will focus on the needs of those in the city on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in an attempt to unify the area as a whole.
ALTON — For Alton resident Joshua Young, his decision to run for mayor in next spring’s election is based on two foundations — unification and social reform.
“If we look at the numbers of Alton’s demographics, we see that there is a need for political and social reform,” Young says. “There needs to be a higher representation of all citizenships and categories, something that is reflected in jobs, administration, and police and fire departments.”
Young, a graduate of Alton High School, served in the Marines from 1995 until 2003, where he worked as an MOS 4421 legal services specialist. He is a member of Dunbar Masonic Lodge No. 97.
Calling himself an advocate for the people of Alton who feel they do not have a voice, Young is running as a Progressive Democrat, using his studies of socioeconomics, political science, philosophy and psychology to shape his vision for the city.
“I decided to run because it’s time to level the playing field,” the 39-year-old says. “I saw a need to give a voice to the lower-socioeconomic communities. All of the variables lined up to suggest that it was time for me to take a stand. People are expressing their desires for liberties and freedoms. My campaign stands for that progressive movement.
“There has always been a power group; there has always been an administration that looks out for the interest of the group instead of a candidate that exists for the interests of the whole. I see a need to exalt Alton citizenship.”
If elected, the candidate’s plans for the city include finding ways to reallocate the grant funding currently used for infrastructure to areas of the city he feels need more urgent repairs.
“Infrastructure is a variable that affects the middle class, but I would like to pull some of the funds from some locations to all of the areas of Alton, including what is seen as the lesser areas, to bring them up to the same condition as other parts of the city and make it a complete Alton,” he says. “Money is going into the historic district areas at a much higher ratio than the non-historic areas.”
Creating a type of domino effect, Young feels better streets and sidewalks as well as solar street lights, a cheaper option than standard street lights, will encourage residents to not only return to areas seen as blighted, but will also encourage the opening of businesses in those areas.
“The next step would be zoning,” he says. “Let’s give families the opportunities to start businesses, like local families such as the Schwegels did. The progressive area of 100 years ago is absolutely possible now with the advancements in science, technology and civil rights. There has been a foundation set that we as a city can now capitalize on.
“We could become a model city of cultural and socioeconomic harmony for other communities to emulate.”
Young cites his efforts with the troubled Belle Manor Apartments among his qualifications for leadership.
“In 2012, I went to (then Mayor Tom) Hoechst first and asked him for the city’s most crime-ridden area, and he directed me to Belle Manor,” he says. “I did an extensive criminology study and examined the nature of the criminal intent. We looked at (encouraging the residents) to become a type of village and empowered them to take responsibility for their own actions and address the social anxiety that was a real problem.”
Young says while the city wanted to shut the area down, he worked to help reduce crime and improve communication, eventually lowering the crime rate in the area and helping to improve the living conditions.
“We were able to put Christmas lights up for the first time in Belle Manor that year. People responded, and it was all because we lessened the social anxiety that people were feeling. Now new management is there; it is a different vibe there today.”
He says that model can be taken and duplicated in other areas.
“We need a reinvention,” he says. “When it comes to the city as a whole, it is not just a focus on the lower demographics. You will have more grassroot platforms, more business incubators, more inclusion with the reform process when it comes to policies and procedures. By strengthening the lower socioeconomics, it creates a stronger foundation.”
Young says he wants to turn what is commonly known as the Little Mexico district into Alton’s first historical black district, and would like to see that program take seed and grow.
“There are significant cultural aspects that suggest that Alton as a whole, throughout its entire ethnic combination, has great historical significance in relation to one another,” he says. “I am sure that Lyman Trumball looked out of his back window when he was coming up with the Thirteenth Amendment and saw the issues that were going on and influencing the world around him.”
Without change, Young says he fears the racial and socioeconomic divide will widen, alienating some demographics.
“I could see a cap at livelihood within the city, where for a family that doesn’t make at least $40,000 a year, it will be almost impossible for them to survive in this community and they would relocate,” he says. “These are people who are bonded with the city; some of the people within that demographic have been here for five generations. It would be such a shame to lose our families; the families who worked together, black and white, to build this city.”
Stressing a need for an overhaul of the committee structure, he says he feels strongly that while it is important to seek help outside of the city when it comes to funding and resources, those serving on committees need to be from within the city limits.
“When it comes to building the city, I am expressively for the home team,” he says. “We should be pulling more of our grassroots champions from a variety of communities. We have plenty of people right here with all kinds of skills and educational talents. If given the opportunity, who knows what they might be capable of achieving here?
“We are all together in building this town. The totality of Alton’s citizens can continue to build this city together.”
Young is the third individual to declare his intent to run for mayor, joining local businessman Scott Dixon and Alton Police Department Lt. Dan Rauschkolb in the race against current Mayor Brant Walker in the April 2017 election.