Vanquished mayoral challenger Gery Chico takes on new challenge

As chairman of LISC Chicago, Chico can take some ideas he campaigned on and implement them in South and West Side neighborhoods desperately in need of development.

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Vanquished mayoral challenger Gery Chico talks to Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman during the mayoral campaign.

Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

Vanquished mayoral challenger Gery Chico campaigned on a promise to use his expertise in government, business and neighborhood planning to breathe new life into long-ignored inner-city neighborhoods.

He talked about using dramatically reduced CTA bus fares to eradicate food deserts and about re-routing bus stops closest to residential streets so riders carrying groceries have shorter walks home.

Now, Chico has a new platform to push those ideas and a whole lot more in South and West Side neighborhoods that desperately need investment.

He’s the new board chairman of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago, working hand-in-glove with Meghan Harte, who once worked for him at City Hall during his days as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chief of staff.

“What I hope I bring to the table is more than 30 years of experience in real estate development. Knowing how to marshal resources, work with communities, work with transportation organizations,” Chico said Tuesday.

Chico noted that LISC has already worked with community organizations in “seven or eight” distressed Chicago neighborhoods to develop so-called “quality-of-life” plans that include everything from affordable housing, retail and recreation to transportation and jobs.

“The thought would be to not re-invent the wheel, but bring to life plans LISC has already developed with community partners in neighborhoods [like] Auburn-Gresham and Austin where there is need for some pretty intensive capital investment and development,” he said.

“A lot of our plans involve housing that’s affordable. ... You take programs offered by the city and state. Even new federal legislation in Opportunity Zones. Sometimes, developers have a greater comfort level when they see LISC involved because we’ll take some of the burden. When that happens, you have projects that could be feasible that otherwise wouldn’t be if developers were just doing it on their own.”

LISC is a national non-profit established 40 years ago by the Ford Foundation and six corporations.

The purpose was to create “economically-vibrant and sustainable neighborhoods, with living-wage jobs, local businesses, good schools, quality housing, reliable transportation and needed amenities.”

One year later, LISC Chicago was created to help revitalize impoverished inner-city neighborhoods.

The idea was to fill that void by investing in community development corporations that know the needs of their neighborhoods best. LISC Chicago provides grants, loans, technical assistance and other resources to 70 partner organizations, according to its website.

Chico said he would much rather make a big splash in “two or three” neighborhoods than try and deliver all “seven or eight” LISC-developed plans at once.

“We do not want to be an inch deep and a mile wide. ... We want to actually make an impact in these neighborhoods and show that we can make these neighborhoods come to life in the way these plans envision,” he said.

That just might include approaching the CTA about his idea for reduced-fare “neighborhood circuits,” he said. It also means continued support for recreation programs like “Hoops in the Hood,” bankrolled by LISC and run by its designated neighborhood partners.

All of those efforts would complement Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s drive to bring down neighborhood violence, Chico said.

“Hoops in the Hood is designed to address violence through recreation by putting positive things out there for children to focus on other than letting them be idle and get into trouble,” Chico said.

“When you bring together retail, transportation, housing and recreation, positive things happen that fill voids.”

In the first round of mayoral voting, Chico got 6.2 percent in a field of 14; Lightfoot came seemingly out of nowhere to finish first.

Two weeks later, Chico endorsed Lightfoot. At the time, he argued that her background as a federal prosecutor would make her “stronger on ethics reforms” and, therefore, better positioned to “clean up in a hurry” the mess left behind by one of the biggest City Council corruption scandals Chicago has seen.

Lightfoot had hammered Chico for being part of what she called the “Burke Four” — mayoral candidates with the closest ties to now-indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

The other three: County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, State Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Bill Daley, the son and brother of two former mayors.

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