By Teresa Paul
Springfield ICON (Inner City Older Neighborhoods) held its first fundraiser and second annual Good Neighbor awards on Dec. 7.
“The organization began in 2009 and was an outgrowth, in part, of the protest over the increased railroad traffic on Third St.,” said Carol Kneedler, chair of Springfield ICON.
The protest caused a group of neighborhood leaders, people who had been involved in neighborhood associations as well as others, to come together.
Mark Mahoney, who at that time was the Ward 6 alderman in 2009, had encouraged the group to organize and to promote visionary leadership in Springfield city government.
As its name suggests, the mission of Springfield ICON is to improve the quality of life for Springfield residents in older inner city neighborhoods.
“We actually gave Mark an award at our meeting in December 2015 for his role in helping to promote the startup of Springfield ICON,” Kneedler said.
Mahoney currently serves as the city of Springfield public works director.
Because Springfield ICON is a political action committee rather than a nonprofit, the organization feels a responsibility to help elect visionary leadership to Springfield city government.
“We are unusual in Springfield in that we represent a collection of folks who are interested in older neighborhoods,” Kneedler said. “I think we give a unique perspective. Even though our mission is one that is common among neighborhood associations, I think we have the freedom to be more pointed in our commentary. We have the potential to be effective. Our goal is to help to create new neighborhood associations and promote good public policies, not just for older neighborhoods but all neighborhoods.”
Part of the impetus behind the December fundraiser was the fact that the last city election was the first time the organization had endorsed candidates. “We knew a big part of the effort comes from neighbors who want to influence city government to make improvements that need to be made, and that the city needs to take leadership,” said Polly Poskin, member and vice president of Springfield ICON. Poskin moved to her neighborhood in 1993 and the following year joined the Harvard Park Neighborhood Association where she currently serves as president.
“Our alderman at the time was Mark Mahoney, and he told us that we were going to have to remember one important fact,” Poskin said. “The city council needs six votes to pass any ordinance that you think will help improve older neighborhoods. Mark taught us early on that these are political decisions. The city’s governed by ordinances,” Poskin said. “If you favor a certain improvement of the city it will have to go through an ordinance review process. Be certain you have the required votes of the city council.”
“Springfield ICON attends most all the ward meetings,” Kneedler said. “One of the things I heard was, no matter which ward you are in, neighborhoods continue to have issues with deteriorating infrastructure or lack of infrastructure: no sidewalks, no curbs and snow and garbage removal.”
Darrell and Sharon Riffey are members of the Historic West Side Neighborhood Association and in their roles as the Springfield ICON city council chairs are tasked with attending city council meetings and reporting back to their members to track the votes on issues of interest to the organization. “Every other week is the committee of the whole which is the ten aldermen without the mayor,” explained Darrel Riffey. “We are there for all of it. We were there for the city budget meeting. The city council knows us and we know them.”
“Our members are typically already leaders inside their own neighborhoods,” Kneedler said. “We do have some at-large members, people who have time to be involved. One of the things that attract our members is that by addressing issues on a bigger level and acting together, speaking with one voice, we can have a larger influence on the city council, on public policy, and a bigger voice in the city of Springfield to get things the city needs to have healthy, older neighborhoods.”
“We are the glue that keeps the older neighborhoods invested in themselves and a force to put our message out there,” Poskin added. “As a member, it is very satisfying to come together with people who care about their neighborhoods and inspirational to see the dedication and commitment of our members.”
“We are a group of people working really hard to improve not just our neighborhoods but all neighborhoods throughout Springfield,” Kneedler said. “We want to be the voice of Springfield residents.”
Teresa Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.