Ready for re-election, veteran alderman Leslie Hairston trumpets her record and defends her decisions

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), pictured here during a recent meeting about a homicide in Jackson Park, will face challenger Anne Marie Miles in the upcoming election.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), pictured here during a recent meeting about a homicide in Jackson Park, will face challenger Anne Marie Miles in the upcoming election.

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Staff Writer

Four-term Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) expects her next bid for re-election to be business as usual, and is looking forward to a challenge.

Earlier this month Hyde Park attorney Anne Marie Miles announced she will run against the alderman for a second time, after receiving 20 percent of the vote in the last municipal election in 2011. Hairston cast aside recent criticism by Miles that she is a divisive leader.

“Number one, she would have no way of knowing,” Hairston told the Herald in a recent interview. “Number two, I work with numerous groups in the community, and I find it a little offensive, actually,” Hairston said.

Hairston touted her leadership and constituent services at her office, where she says staff members are assigned to specific issues, not areas of the ward. She also stressed her independence, recalling her votes against parking meter privatization and red camera lights as examples.

“When I took office, I committed to being a full time alderman —which is a part time position. I have fulfilled that. I committed to being accessible, which I have been. I committed to being open and independent, which I have been,” Hairston said.

Hairston said education, crime, economic development, housing and jobs would be her main focus in next year’s 5th Ward election, “the same issues that they are every year.”

On raising the minimum wage to $15 — of which she has been an outspoken supporter — she gave no timeframe for a pay increase, but reaffirmed her support on the heels of a mayor-appointed panel’s recommendation for a $13 wage.

Hairston also defended seeking to enhance penalties for gun carriers in Chicago parks after a June murder at Jackson Park, on the 5600 block of Everett Avenue. Miles says the enhanced penalties would have no effect on crime; but Hairston said it was just another tool to fight crime, and that even if it prevented only one shooting it was useful.

“Surely I understand, that somebody that is determined to do something is going to do something,” Hairston said. “But still, we need to make sure that our laws are consistent and that there are deterrents.”

And on the issue of permit parking along South Shore Drive Ald. Hairston reaffirmed her support and said she would hold a meeting on it again, although she said she did not think it would have any impact on crime — or parking difficulties.

“The problem is that we have more people with cars — families that have two or three cars — and only a finite number of parking spaces,” she said. “And so whether you have permit parking or not, you’re still going to have the same issue.”

Although she has since ended the ward’s participatory budgeting program, in which residents cast ballots to decide on how to spend $1 million in aldermanic menu funds, Hairston told constituents at her July monthly meeting that their top voted project in 2013 would come to fruition next year. Soil purification at a planned community garden at 71st Street and Crandon Avenue will be complete by this winter at latest to the tune of $200,000 in menu funds, and planting will begin next spring.

Miles wants to bring the program back, but Hairston has said it was too costly and time consuming. She replaced it instead with a process by which residents from the ward’s four communities each recommend $250,000 in lighting and road resurfacing improvements. So far no public announcements about their completion have either been made at her monthly meetings or in her e-mail blast. But she said stakeholders would be informed when the Chicago Department of Transportation completed their requested improvements.

“When I know, they’ll know,” she said.

Major challenges lie ahead for Hairston, including securing a grocer at the shuttered Dominicks site in South Shore, an issue regularly brought up by constituents at her monthly meetings. But for her, election challengers are a sign she’s doing something right.

“It seems that the aldermen that are doing the most, that are most visible, that are most vocal, that are most active in their communities are the ones that are always challenged,” she said. “So I look forward to the race.”

j.bishku@hpherald.com