Influential alderman changes his mind about Hal Baskin Street

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Hal Baskin (in yellow) at the unveiling of his honorary street sign with (from left) Ald. Roderick Sawyer, Ald. Toni Foulkes, mayoral aide Vance Henry and the Rev. Bryant David in 2016. | Provided photo

An influential alderman is changing his tune about honorary streets signs honoring Hal Baskin, a former gang member turned community activist — but the controversy continues.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, threw in the towel two months after ordering the Chicago Department of Transportation to take down signs put up without City Council authorization renaming a healthy chunk of 65th Street in honor of Baskin.

Beale said Friday he changed his mind about the signs after the mayor’s office brokered a compromise with local Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th) that dramatically reduced the number of blocks covered by the honorary street designation and the number of signs required.

“It was eight blocks with a sign on each corner. That’s a mile. They agreed to cut it down to two blocks with four signs,” Beale said.

“If that’s what they agreed to and that’s what she wants for her ward, I’m fine with it.”

In July, Beale said he had received a barrage of complaints from Englewood residents who opposed the designation because of Baskin’s checkered past.

“Even though he’s turned his life around, there’s the past history and the precedent that it sets,” Beale said then.

On Friday, he changed his mind.

“It’s her ward. If that’s what Ald. Foulkes wants in her ward, I’m gonna respect her wishes,” he said.

Baskin has argued that the honorary streets signs are a source of pride for the young people he works with in the impoverished Englewood community, many of whom have had their own brushes with the law.

He branded the two-block designation an insult.

“Hal Baskin don’t even have a sign with his own name on it on his own street. He doesn’t have a sign on the street where he runs the peace community center,” Baskin said.

“That’s a slap in the face. I’d rather they take them all down. I’m not for the compromise at all. It’s not about me. It’s about giving young people something to aspire to. They didn’t compromise on passing the water tax. Now, they want to compromise on street signs they took time to put up and take down. I don’t see the reasoning.”

Foulkes said she’s not on board with the shorter designation, either. At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, she reintroduced the “exact same ordinance” that Beale blocked the first time around.

“This is just crazy. We have other things to deal with in the community than signs. What’s the big deal? Just give the man the signs,” she said.

Baskin has run for 16th Ward aldermen six times and lost every one of those races. In 1995, he infuriated women’s group by suggesting that then-incumbent Ald. Shirley Coleman (16th), who was once married to now-executed killer rapist Hernando Williams, may have been responsible for her ex-husband’s crimes.

Baskin swore off gangs at the age of 19 and has spent the last 28 years running a group called P.E.A.C.E.; the name of the group stands for People Educated Against Crime in Englewood.

“My mother came here from Mississippi with 14 children. Ten boys and four girls. She decided to lay down roots in the Englewood community at a time when the community was changing from white ethnic,” told the Chicago Sun-Times in July.

“Going to school in the `60’s and `70’s, you had gang territory all over between the community and the schools. Some of the areas you grew up in, you had to be part of some group to get a pass to go from one segment of the community to another.”

The Hal Baskin Street controversy is just the latest in a series touched off by the City Council’s political addiction to honorary street designations.

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