Community activist William Calloway and former Hyde Park Herald editor Gabriel Piemonte argue that Ald. Leslie Hairston has fallen out of touch with the needs of residents in the city’s 5th Ward.
With big developments moving in — and plans for the Obama Presidential Center taking shape — they’re looking to stop the South Side alderman from sailing to a sixth term.
Piemonte says the ward is at “a crisis level moment” that is shaking its very identity, while Calloway says Hairston “has been there 20 years too long.”
Hairston won the seat two decades ago, arguing an entrenched incumbent had neglected the south lakefront ward and betrayed its independent traditions.
She rejects the argument that the same can now be said of her, contending she listens to residents’ concerns and then seeks what’s best for the ward, recognizing it’s impossible to please everyone.
“There’s a difference between not being heard and not agreeing,” she said.
The south lakefront ward includes parts of the South Shore, Hyde Park, Grand Crossing and Woodlawn neighborhoods. It has a history of independence that includes representation by longtime Democratic Machine nemesis Leon Despres and former U.S. Sen. Paul Douglas.
Calloway, from South Shore, helped force the release of the shooting video of Laquan McDonald in November of 2015. If elected, he promised he’ll bring “the same vigorous energy that I’ve displayed on the activist level to the Council floor.”
Rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the community would be a top priority, but he’d also work on being an alderman people trust, something Calloway says is lacking with Hairston.
“We need somebody who can bridge the two communities together, somebody who can restore trust and transparency to the office.”
He also talked about a need to bring in more minority businesses, directing tax-increment-financing dollars to go to community developments and eliminating school funding formulae based on property taxes and enrollment.
Major changes coming to the ward sparked Piemonte to run.
“I am convinced that we are at a point in the south lake front where decisions made in the next couple years are going to remake where we live dramatically in one direction or another,” Piemonte said. “This is a crisis level moment, like an existential crisis about the identity of the 5th Ward.”
From the Woodlawn resident’s vantage point, the Obama Center is one piece of the ward’s identity crisis and he says it’s a project that’s been “unilaterally presented to us without an opportunity to tweak it.”
Piemonte says from the early 2000s to last year there were thousands of foreclosures in South Shore and there’s been an exodus of people from the ward.
He’s running to protect the affordable housing stock in the ward.
He’d support a Community Benefits Agreement for economic developments within the ward, such as the Presidential Center to try and curtail further displacement— something Calloway would also support and something Hairston hasn’t backed.
Hairston, Piemonte says, has “pushed for a blank check from the Obama center” and there’s a “chronic absence, a chronic inattention” on her part. He cited an Illinois Policy Institute report that showed Hairston had an attendance rate of 31 percent for committee meetings.
A report by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s political science department showed Hairston was one of 11 aldermen who voted with the mayor 100 percent of the time from April 2017 to November 2018.
Hairston says she’s been independent in the past and will continue to be. With spots on six committees, she said she can’t be in two places at the same time.
She’s focused on bringing developments to the community, such as the Shop and Save Market, which she says has taken much of her time.
Hairston plans to keep working on bringing economic development and jobs to her constituents, which could entail renewing a push for a South Suburban Airport, a South Side resource center and workforce development programs.
She’ll keep up with the Obama Center and the redevelopment of the South Shore golf course. Hairston says she’s heard the community and will continue to push the foundation to work more with those in the ward, but she “can’t do all of the work, it has to be done by community groups.”
“I’ve had numerous meetings with the Chicago Park District and the Obama Foundation on the whole plan … It is a community project and not everyone is going to have the same view point, but I think we have to bring everybody to the table and work through it as a community.”
“I think it’s important that we have the foundation I’ve laid and I think the direction I’ve been going in is the right one,” Hairston said. “… I’m out there with the people and in front of the people, and I’m going to continue to do that.”