Loyola University Chicago

Institute of Pastoral Studies

Mary Ann Smith

During years of public service, including more than 20 years as Alderman of Chicago’s 48th Ward, Mary Ann Smith has been especially active in the areas of public safety, community-directed redevelopment, transit and walkability, lakefront planning and public sector accountability. Recent efforts include ground-breaking advocacy to combat Medicare-Medicaid fraud and exploitation of the mentally ill.

Her work on behalf of her community, one of the most diverse in Chicago, and for all the people of Chicago earned her an unprecedented honor: She ran unopposed for her second term as Alderman in a Ward where as many as a dozen contenders have vied for the office in a municipal primary election. In subsequent years she has been reelected by overwhelming majorities. 

As Alderman of Chicago’s 48th Ward, one of the most diverse in the City, Smith was known for her concern for the environment and, particularly Chicago's lakefront. She is chairman of the City Council Committee on Chicago Parks and formerly served as vice-chair of the City Council Subcommittee on the Chicago Lakefront, as a vice-chair of the Lake Michigan Federation and as a founding member of PCB's Gone and Operation Lakewatch.

Her leadership on environmental issues earned a United Nations Environment Programme Award for Citizen Action to Protect the Global Environment. She also serves on the city’s Advisory Council on Chicago “Green” development. She opened the North American Congress of ICLEI (International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives) in Chicago and frequently represents the City at national and international conferences on sustainability.

When chair of the Chicago Committee on Parks, Smith worked to restructure the Chicago Park District and its management, improve programming, secure the parks and increase access to recreation for all Chicagoans, with an emphasis on teenagers and youth. 

In her neighborhood, she has sparked residential and economic development, securing more than $200 million in funding for community improvements and spearheading the designation of three National Register Historic Districts, Bryn Mawr, Uptown Square and Lakewood Balmoral. She was chosen as a member of Lambda Alpha Honorary Land Economics Society in recognition of her “contribution to pioneer, incubate, foster and lead the strategic redevelopment of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and expanding its dynamic cultural and historic heritage.”

Smith has significantly improved public safety and was an early supporter of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program. Police statistics consistently rank the 48th Ward as one of the safest in the City. She was instrumental in creating an anti-violence Department of Justice/ FBI animal fighting initiative within Chicago city agencies and Cook County criminal justice systems and recently sponsored innovative animal protection legislation. 

Her public safety efforts in the community include unsnarling long-standing traffic and transportation problems. She was instrumental in helping to organize state’s first city/suburban traffic and transportation study and in gaining funding for a project to improve pedestrian safety and neighborhood walkability.

Smith’s commitment to employ new alternative energy and flood control technologies in her Ward have contributed to a reputation for innovation. The nation’s first water-permeable alley was installed in the 48th Ward in 2001, and the alley has earned rewards from engineering and environmental groups. Rain gardens, which will divert water from the sewer system, also have been installed.

She also pioneered the use of Chicago’s “I-GO” car-sharing program in the ward, which today makes cars available at sites throughout the City, and the Location Efficient Mortgage
(LEM) program.

A dedicated advocate for public education, she works closely with neighborhood schools to improve education and educational facilities. New additions have been opened at Swift School, Peirce School of International Studies and Goudy School each with campus parks and amenities. This represents more than $ 30 million in elementary school improvements. Another $40 million has been spent to improve the physical plant at the Senn High School campus including a state-of-the-art renovation of the auditorium, a new campus park and upgraded security.

She also monitored the performance of the U.S. Post Office in her area. She was instrumental in bringing the Postmaster General of the United States to Chicago to appear at a City Council Finance Committee hearing on poor Post Office performance held in the 48th Ward.

Smith is an advocate of human rights and has worked to integrate the variety of immigrant groups in her community into the mainstream business, financial and social structure of the neighborhood. An early supporter of the Human Rights Ordinance, she interacts closely with advocacy groups. She formerly served as vice chair of the Illinois Citizens for Better Care, a group which advocates for nursing home residents' rights, and was a founder of the Committee Against Nursing Home Election Fraud. 

In 1995, she was appointed as the Chicago representative to the United Nations/USEPA International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and currently services on the ICLEI-USA Board. In March, 1995, she traveled to Berlin to address the second Municipal Leaders Summit on Climate Change. She opened the 10th Summit in Berlin in June 2000. In October 2000, she studied urban planning in several European cities under the auspices of the U.S./German Marshall Fund, and in 2006 co-hosted the North American Cities Conference in Chicago. 

Her campaign for a Walkable Edgewater, funded in 2000, earned an award from the Chicago Civic Federation and a Soles and Spokes award from the Chicago Area Transportation Study. 

When Commissioner of the Chicago Plan Commission, Smith also served on the City Council Committees on Traffic Control and Safety, Buildings, Rules and Ethics, Budget, Finance, Historical Landmark Preservation, License and Consumer Protection and the Mayoral Task Forces on Lake Michigan and on Transportation.

Her husband, Ronald C. Smith, who recently served as chairman of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, is a professor at John Marshall Law School. He is a graduate of Loyola University and Loyola Law School. Smith attended the College of St. Teresa and is a graduate of Mundelein College. The Smiths have been residents of the Edgewater and Uptown communities since 1974. They have two sons, Michael, a software engineer in Portland, Oregon, and Matthew, a psychotherapist who resides in Edgewater, a dog and three cats.