Mayor Lori Lightfoot has a new reason for putting a brick on the $15 million youth center that community activist Ja’Mal Green is trying to build in Auburn-Gresham.
Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox is now citing Green’s outspoken criticism of the mayor’s plan to locate Chicago’s first new Boys & Girls Club in a generation on the campus of the police and fire training academy being built in West Garfield Park.
Green was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times in May calling Lightfoot’s decision to lease 20,000 square feet of land to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago a “slap in the face” to Black youth.
The $1-a-year lease, for 75 years, is “sugar-coating a plan that is due to fail,” referring to the controversial training facility. Green noted the “real investment is going to police.”
That same day, on May 27, Green sent an email thanking Cox for touring the Auburn-Gresham site at 8407 S. Kerfoot Ave., where Green wants to demolish the shuttered Garrett Morgan Elementary School to make way for an 80,000-square-foot job training and recreational center tailor-made to help young people avoid becoming perpetrators or victims of gang violence.
Cox replied he would be “happy to continue the dialogue we started in Auburn-Gresham,” if only Green would essentially learn to keep his mouth shut.
“Your comments only … undermined another potential partner [the Boys & Girls Club] in your youth-related efforts,” Cox wrote.
“Before I attempt to engage, you’ll need to figure out if your calling is to partner with the public sector or if you are satisfied with simply publicly criticizing. Let me know.”
Green stood his ground.
“Comments from ME should have NO bearing on what’s best for the community. Are we playing politics here or are we in this to save the youth? Please let me know,” Green wrote.
“Maybe if the city moved faster on our project, my comments would simply be about the project we’re trying to build!”
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” the $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 slamming 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.”
The Department of Planning and Development sent a statement to the Sun-Times later Wednesday:
“Commissioner Cox has made it clear that no individual has a right to special treatment when it comes to the use of public funds. DPD remains committed to supporting neighborhood development and ensuring that all parties who seek to develop in Chicago receive equal and fair consideration through the City’s development process.”
The police and fire training academy being built in the 4400 block of West Chicago Avenue has drawn opposition from Chance the Rapper, college students in Chicago and across the nation, and local youth organized under the #NoCopAcademy hashtag.
During countless protests, they argued the money would be better spent on mental health and recreational and educational programs for young people.
Last month, Lightfoot and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago responded to those demands, but in a way that infuriated the #NoCopAcademy movement.
Destiny Harris, a youth organizer for the campaign, said a new Boys & Girls Club of Chicago is a “beautiful thing” — but not on the site of the academy young people are trying so hard to stop.
“This is strictly a PR move. It’s the mayor trying to make this project more palatable so that, when youth of NoCopAcademy are like, `No, we don’t want this cop academy. This isn’t the best use of $95 million,’ that we actually look like the bad people,” Harris said.
“Police officers don’t make Black children feel safe. … How can you expect Black and Brown children to come into this space and feel comfortable?”