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Ja’Mal Green says Lightfoot stopping youth center in retaliation for past criticism

“She takes things too personal,” Green told the Sun-Times. “Her vindictiveness, her personal vendettas. … That’s the game ball that she plays. If you’re not her friend, she is not willing to help you.”

The former Garrett Morgan Elementary School, 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave.
Ja’Mal Green is part of an effort to acquire the former Garrett Morgan Elementary School, 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave., tear it down, and build a youth center in its place.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Community activist Ja’Mal Green is accusing Mayor Lori Lightfoot of putting the kibosh on a $15 million youth center he wants to build on the site of a shuttered elementary school in Auburn-Gresham in retaliation for Green’s outspoken criticism of the mayor.

“She takes things too personal and has an allegiance to her friends only,” Green told the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

“Her vindictiveness, her personal vendettas. … That’s the game ball that she plays. If you’re not her friend, she is not willing to help you.”

Green was a mayoral challenger himself, before dropping out and endorsing Lightfoot over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the April 2019 runoff.

But it wasn’t long before Green was publicly criticizing Lightfoot.

The first public break came when Lightfoot proclaimed as a “done deal” a $95 million police and fire training academy that Green and others called a symbol of Rahm Emanuel’s misplaced spending priorities. In fact, Lightfoot said the project needed to be made bigger, better and, undoubtedly, more expensive.

That was followed by Green’s outspoken criticism of Lightfoot’s selection of David Brown as Chicago Police Department superintendent, and also what Green viewed as heavy-handed treatment of protesters by CPD officers during civil unrest last summer.

Green also slammed Lightfoot’s decision to seal off downtown by raising the bridges after protests triggered by the death of George Floyd devolved into two devastating rounds of looting.

But the very personal and apparently final straw for Lightfoot came last month when the mayor took to Twitter to shoot down what she called “homophobic, racist and misogynistic rumors” about her own personal life.

In a now-deleted tweet for which he has apologized, Green declared, “Lori Lightfoot is resigning tomorrow in a stunning end to her mayorship.”

Now Green has unleashed yet another Twitter tirade against the mayor.

This week, he accused Lightfoot of holding up his plan to demolish Garrett Morgan Elementary School, 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave., and build an 80,000-square-foot job training and recreational center tailor-made to help young people avoid becoming perpetrators or victims of gang violence.

Besides recreational programs and a wellness center for mental health, the mecca Green calls “Morgan All-Stars” would include everything from flight simulators to train young people for careers in aviation, to coding development courses, to training rooms for entrepreneurship and the building trades.

Before the project can move forward and seek federal, state or city capital development funds, the Chicago Board of Education must convey the shuttered school to the city. The city then could sell or donate it to the development team Green has assembled.

“It’s probably the most revolutionary center to tackle the root causes of why young people are acting the way they are in our communities,” Green said.

The former Garrett A. Morgan Elementary School, 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave., was among 50 Chicago Public Schools closed in 2013.
The former Garrett A. Morgan Elementary School, 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave., was among 50 Chicago Public Schools closed in 2013. Former mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green is part of a group that wants to demolish the building and put up an 80,000 square foot job training and recreational center. But he says the mayor has taken his criticisms too personally and is blocking the project because he’s involved.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Green said the project was moving along until a few weeks ago, when Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Samir Mayekar “told our developer, ‘We’re not moving on this project because Ja’Mal is involved and the mayor doesn’t like it.’

“I texted the mayor about it. She told me to stop contacting her. The mayor is blocking a project that will save lives. WOW! ... Because I’m a part, no movement any more. Insane,” Green tweeted.

“Whatever we have between us has nothing to do with the community and our young people laying in pools of blood. … It’s not fair to our youth that hating me is more important than their survival.”

To underscore the point, Green included a screen shot of Lightfoot’s text to him. It read, “I have already told you several weeks ago to stop contacting me.”

The mayor’s office responded by saying Lightfoot “ran against a set of systems where people who screamed the loudest got silenced with payoffs.” Ja’Mal Green apparently “did not get the memo,” the statement said.

“There are no shortcuts or special treatment when it comes to the use of public funds or public property. Period. The Mayor and her team have repeatedly made that clear to Mr. Green,” the mayor’s office said.

The statement went on to say that Lightfoot’s “historic investments in youth”—including a first-ever Youth Commission, Youth Services Corps and in Chicago Public Schools—”speak for themselves.”

David Doig, the former city planning commissioner and Chicago Park District superintendent now serving as president of Chicago Neighborhoods Initiative, refused to discuss his negotiations with the city.

Doig is volunteering his time on the Gresham youth center project after spearheading construction of a massive youth recreational center in Pullman.

When Green endorsed her in March 2019, Lightfoot’s campaign posted a statement on its website quoting Green: “We’re going to disagree. But we’re going to give her a chance to make this city the great city it could be for our kids, for our teachers, for students, for re-entry citizens, for those suffering in poverty, for the homeless.”

Tuesday, Green argued Lightfoot’s decision to oppose the youth center is no different than her threat to Black aldermen a few months ago.

She warned those who dared to vote against her 2021 budget, “Don’t ask me for s--t for the next three years” when it comes to choosing projects for her $3.7 billion capital plan.

“This is the biggest character flaw of the mayor. … This is how she governs,” Green said.

“She’s probably not gonna get another term because she runs this city in a very vindictive way and she can be spiteful with those who go against her. That’s no way to be mayor.”