A week after her unanimous appointment as interim village president, Gloria Alvarado sat for a NewsTribune interview about her short-term vision for Utica.
Alvarado, 77, is a retired preschool teacher, part-time librarian and widowed mother of three sons and four grandchildren. She said she will finish the first half of a four-year, unexpired term left by Fred Esmond, who died of cancer on Oct. 2, but then plans to step down from village government.
Short-term, what do you hope to achieve?
I want to get rid of these abandoned buildings that have been setting here since the tornado and the floods. That’s something I’ve really been working towards doing and want to continue. We’re still in the works as far as getting rid of these structures that have been standing around. I think they’re a health hazard.
How about long-term, from 2014 through the end of your unexpired term?
Long-term, I’ve been working with North Central (Illinois Council of Governments) and we’re trying to get a grant into order to put down a water line on Johnson Street and Church Street. I’d like to beautify Mill Street; if you notice some of the curbing is breaking away and some of the bricks are sinking.
Do you see yourself running for a full term as mayor in 2015?
No. I feel we need to get a younger person as mayor and younger people on the village board. After all, Utica needs to continue to grow and we need people with newer ideas and with young families who want their families to have a beautiful community. They should be the people to take the helm.
Will you return to the village board?
No, I will not. I’m 77 years old and, as I said, I think we need to get some new blood.
Take me back to when Fred passed away. Did it cross your mind that it might be you who would take his place as mayor?
Actually, I don’t think I gave it a thought as to who would take his place. Nobody can take his place, actually. But I don’t think I was giving it that much thought at that time.
Then people in the community started asking me, ‘Who was going to be the mayor?’ and that type of thing. As I told them, I did not know what our options were. I was not even sure how you chose a replacement.
Tell me about the discussions, generally, regarding who should be the next mayor.
There was a little bit of give-and-take. It actually did go quickly, though. People who were interested made their comments and then the board as a whole chose from that point on.
So while Fred was still with us, there had been no discussion about succession?
No. The last time I talked with Fred, he had been finished with his chemotherapy and did a thumbs-up (Esmond was virtually unable to speak), so I had hopes that things were going to be good. Fred, even when he was going through this, missed only one committee-of-the-whole meeting and one other meeting because of doctor’s appointments. Other than that, he was here and he was on top of things.
In your view, where is Utica with respect to the recovery plan laid out after the tornado?
I think we’re pretty much on our way. When we finish the streetscape of Route 178, I think that should be pretty much it.
When the La Salle County Historical Society held their Burgoo Festival, I was looking at the people using our stones (the decorative rock formations laid along Route 178) already and said, “Well, they’re being put to use.” (Laughs)
Anyway, I really do think it looks beautiful what they’ve done so far and there is more that’s going to be done. There’s going to be wrought iron fencing and new plantings. The concern will be, once it’s in how are we going to take care of it? You don’t want to spend all that money putting in trees, shrubs and flowers and let it go to weeds. I’d like to see it stay as pristine as possible.
Is there anything else you want to tell your new constituents?
I think there’s no way I’m going to fill Fred’s shoes and I would not attempt to. But I’m so grateful that as far as finances and the recovery from the tornado and the floods, he had everything under control. Thank goodness that you can step into a situation like that where you’re not being hit with a huge amount of problems.
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.