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New Rockford Alderman pledges to continue the legacy of his predecessor in the 11th Ward

Rockford Ald. Isidro Barrios was appointed in March to fill the seat once occupied by the late Tuffy Quinonez who died earlier this year.
Maria Gardner Lara
Rockford Ald. Isidro Barrios was appointed in March to fill the seat once occupied by the late Tuffy Quinonez who died earlier this year.

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The Rockford City Council recently held a major vote that could stall the Barber Colman Development project. It comes as a newcomer to the council is just getting used to his new role.

Isidro Barrios was appointed to be the alderman for the 11th ward in March. He voted with the slim majority who favored an amendment that requires a project labor agreement between the unions and the developer J. Jeffers of Milwaukee to transform the blighted site of the former factory.

“I want to make sure,” Barrios said, “the other people get the same opportunity I had not only for me or for my family, but for the people that are living in our town now. And the future generations.”

Barrios is a former union carpenter and foreman, as well as an instructor of an apprentice program. City officials said the agreement will hurt the possibility of the deal moving forward. Supporters have said that’s unlikely since the developer has already invested several years and their money into the development.

The estimated $440-million-dollar project calls for the redevelopment of the historical site to a mix of businesses and market rate apartments.

The 11th Ward is west of the Barber Colman complex and includes a part of the Broadway business district.

Continuing the legacy

For Barrios, his focus as alderman is to continue the legacy of his predecessor Tuffy Quinonez.

Quinonez died in February at the age of 76 from complications due to a stroke.

“What can I say about my old friend?” Barrios said.

“He was kind, he worries, he wants to do the best thing for the people. And he dedicated a lot of time for the people.”

Quinonez was a U.S. Army veteran and a retired barber shop owner who had served in the city council since 2017. He also had served on the Winnebago County Board in the 1970s and was the first Latino to do so. Barrios himself served on the County Board, from 2009-2012.

“Quinonez and I, we spent a lot of time together,” Barrios said.

Barrios said they were involved with the former Mexican Business Association, that organized parades and festivities celebrating Hispanic culture.

And he helped Quinonez with his election campaigns.

“So, he always tells me the concerns and tells me his dreams,” Barrios said.

“And so, the people see him with me a lot.”

Barrios said he aims to continue the infrastructure improvement plans that Quinonez had laid out for the ward — like sidewalk, streets, and alley improvements. And like Quinonez, he said he’ll champion the Broadway business district.

In addition to his duties as an alderman, Barrios also runs a nonprofit called El Barrio Community Center. He started it in 2012 and it's located on Broadway Street.

He said the organization serves to address a whole range of concerns residents may have.

“People, they want to celebrate things or have ideas or look for information,” he said. “Or they need [some] assistance to learn about computers, navigating the internet.”

He said as alderman he understands the larger issues at play in his district and the city, like crime, poverty and homelessness. He said he’s willing to hear people out on ways to improve the community.

“If you tell me I have an idea, I will listen to you,” Barrios said.

“You tell me ‘can you come and help me do this?’ I will help you, but we all got to work together.”

And when asked if there’s anything that has surprised him or has been eye-opening about the position of alderman so far, he replied, “I'm 63-year-old man, that don't get surprised too easy, to tell you the truth. Now, I just have to get the job done.”

The seat will be up for an election in 2025.

What's next in the Barber Colman development?

Since the vote, community advocates have voiced their opposition to the project labor agreement. Reports said it’s likely the Rockford City Council will hold a re-vote on the PLA agreement at Monday’s City Council meeting.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.
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