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Some City Council members wavering on renaming Lake Shore Drive, alderman says

After a poll showed a lack of majority support for renaming the road DuSable Drive, “a couple of their aldermen are reconsidering their position ... they know this is not something that their constituents support” Ald. Brian Hopkins said Thursday.

South Lake Shore Drive at East 31st Street, looking north.
South Lake Shore Drive at East 31st Street, looking toward downtown.
Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

A poll showing only 32% support for renaming Outer Lake Shore Drive in honor of Jean Baptiste Point DuSable has “more than four” aldermen reconsidering their votes, potentially denying proponents the 26 votes they need, an influential alderman said Thursday.

Last month, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) used a parliamentary maneuver to delay the controversial renaming in honor of DuSable, a Black man of Haitian descent who was Chicago’s first non-indigenous settler.

In the meantime, Hopkins and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) used their campaign funds to commission a poll.

It showed 41% oppose the name change, compared with 32% of those surveyed who support it.

Among the rest of those polled, 24% were undecided and 3% refused to answer.

The proposal to rename the Outer Drive had highest support among African American respondents, but even there fell short of a majority — 48%, compared with 32% among Hispanics and 25% support among whites.

On Thursday, Hopkins said he got what he wanted from those results — some who had planned to support DuSable Drive are now wavering.

Ald. Sophia King (4th), City Council champion for the proposed name change, has argued the “votes were there” for DuSable Drive last month and will “be there again” to get it done over Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s strenuous objections when the Council meets again on Wednesday.

Hopkins is not so sure.

“I am certain there isn’t sufficient votes to override a veto, if it comes down to that. I’m not so positive that they have the 26 [to pass it]. I know they think they do. If they do, it’s not by very much. It’s by a very narrow margin,” Hopkins told the Sun-Times Thursday.

“And since we released the data from our poll, I’m told a couple of their aldermen are reconsidering their position because they looked at the numbers and they know this is not something that their constituents support. They don’t have majority of their residents asking them to do it.”

He added: “This battle is not over. And the outcome of that roll call vote is less certain than the sponsors would like you to believe.”

Hopkins was asked how many aldermen were reconsidering their votes because of the poll. He would say only “more than four” and that it was “enough to get them under 26.”

Pressed to explain why he was so dead-set against the idea, Hopkins pointed to the seven high-rise buildings in his ward with “Lake Shore Drive addresses that would not be covered by the Inner Drive exception.”

“We were not really getting an answer from either CDOT or the advocates for this proposal. They were just sort of dismissing those buildings. They’re not on the Inner Drive. So, they’ll lose their name,” Hopkins said.

“They’re being told they can keep their address. Even though the road’s name is gonna change, they don’t have to change their address. That seems like a ridiculous argument to me. It’s condescending. And it doesn’t recognize the legitimate complaint of people who live in, say, Lake Point Tower, who’ve had that address — 505 North Lake Shore Drive — for years. And I don’t blame them.”

Hopkins said he’s concerned about the “confusion” that might be caused by “having a building with an address that doesn’t match the street that it’s on in terms of GPS systems, giving directions or receiving deliveries.”

“Some people have said, ‘It’s all about prestige. It’s a prestigious address.’ Well, OK, I’m sure that’s part of it for people. They’re attached to it. Lake Shore Drive has a ring to it. There’s a song about it we’ve all heard. There’s a traditional element there that some people are very attached to,” Hopkins said.

The alderman said his only regret about the poll is not asking if Chicagoans would support renaming Lake Shore Drive in honor of someone else — say, Daniel Burnham.

“I truly believe, had we asked that question, the opposition to that would have been identical across the board,” Hopkins said.

“It isn’t about DuSable when people are saying they’re opposed to the name change. It’s about their fondness for the name. They don’t want to change it for anybody or anything.”