By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL Staff Writer
Fourth and 5th ward candidates made their case last weekend at two aldermanic forums, one in Hyde Park hosted by the Coalition for Equitable Community Development (CECD), and another in South Shore hosted by the Chicago Southside Branch NAACP.
Candidates from both wards tackled questions on affordable housing, education and tax increment financing (TIF) at a Saturday morning forum hosted by the CECD at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Every candidate approved for the February ballot was in attendance: Ald. Will Burns (4th); 4th Ward challengers Tracey Bey and Norman Bolden; Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and her challengers Anne Marie Miles, Robin Boyd-Clark, Tiffany Brooks and Jocelyn Hare.
Fifth Ward candidate Jedidiah Brown — who has not yet been confirmed to appear on the ballot — was in the audience but did not participate. Bey had to leave early due to other obligations.
Following their opening statements, candidates addressed a question on how they would keep Hyde Park diverse. Most of the candidates — including Hairston — praised Hyde Park for its diversity.
“As a native Hyde Parker, I grew up with diversity,” Hairston said, adding that the University of Chicago “provides the communities of Hyde Park with ethnic and racial diversity.”
But aldermanic challengers to Burns and Hairston raised concerns that the area’s diversity is being threatened.
“With the development of Whole Foods, and with potential developments of the Obama library, and also with investments in Jackson Park, housing prices are going to up,” Hare said. “And unless we’re proactive about it, we’re going to be behind on this.”
Miles meanwhile blamed the departure of small businesses including former bookstore O’Gara and Wilson, 1448 E. 57th St., on unaffordable rents.
Bolden went a step further, saying that MAC Properties and the University of Chicago contribute “greatly to escalating rents in Hyde Park-Kenwood, restricting access to family, seniors and students.”
Burns touted his record, pointing to his support for a $13 minimum wage which he said would help keep residents in the neighborhood, and the 20 percent affordable housing at Antheus Capital’s City Hyde Park development at Lake Park Avenue and 51st Street.
Asked about the city’s affordable requirements ordinance (ARO) — a law forcing developers of city-owned land to include a certain percentage of affordable housing units in their buildings or else pay a fee — Burns called for a higher fee.
“The ARO was not as successful in creating units on site in developments. What it did do is generate a significant amount of money for affordable housing development,” Burns said.
Other candidates said they supported the intent of the ordinance but criticized the effectiveness of the fee, including challengers Bey and Bolden.
“I believe that this gives developers an advantage,” Bey said.
“Unfortunately, too many developers opted for the in lieu of fee instead of providing the units of affordable housing,” said Bolden, who expressed concern that a proposed higher fee “actually makes it easier for developers to gentrify communities instead of promoting diversity.”
Fifth Ward candidate Hare questioned how the current $100,000 in lieu of fee was settled on, while Boyd-Clark stressed the importance of transparency in developers’ dealings and Brooks called for spreading out the city’s affordable housing stock.
Hairston criticized proposed changes to the ARO allowing developers in high-income census tracts to place affordable housing units off site.
“The problems that I have are the way that this ordinance distinguishes between communities based on their economic status,” Hairston said.
On schools, incumbents Hairston and Burns stressed that the city’s hands are tied by the state, which currently forces school districts to rely heavily on local property taxes.
Burns, who said struggling schools in his ward are improving, added that “if the state would do its job, we would have better schools here in the city.”
But challengers stressed that changes can be made locally.
“We have to know that a Dyett is going to have the same resources as a Kenwood,” Bolden snapped back in a subtle jab at Burns. “That’s the bottom line. Being consistent with the resources and finding ways to make it happen.”
Miles said she wants to set up an absentee hotline to help tackle truancy and Boyd-Clark got applause for calling for an elected school board.
But Hairston said an absentee hotline would compromise children’s privacy and emphasized her past support for an elected school board.
“Other than sitting around talking about what could’ve should’ve would’ve been done, I circulated petitions for an elected school board. So I’m walking the walk. I’m not just talking the talk,” Hairston said.
In perhaps the most heated part of the forum, candidates discussed the use of TIF funds.
Boyd-Clark asked — given that 71st Street has had a TIF program longer than 53rd Street has — “why South Shore is looking like Beirut and 53rd Street is looking like a real community.”
Hare called it “slightly troubling to see so many millions of dollars going to the University of Chicago.”
“The money that goes to fund TIFs is taken away from tax money that would go to the Chicago Public Schools,” said Miles, who added that the TIF program needs to be reviewed.
Bolden stressed that TIFs need to help blighted communities, and asked why TIF money went to Harper Court, which was sold to the U. of C., and then sold again to a foreign company. “Where’s the win for the community in that?” he said to applause.
But Burns defended the TIF.
“No one thought Harper Court was going to be successful. Lets remember there’s a time that 53rd Street was completely dark. There was nothing on 53rd Street,” Burns said to boos of “that’s not true.”
Candidates also briefly voiced their opinions on the Obama library. Overall, they supported bringing the library to the South Side, but both Miles and Bolden questioned placing the library on parkland.
“Does it have to be on our parkland? Can we not find some other place for it?” Miles said, adding that “the university should have been involving the community in this discussion months ago.”
All 5th Ward candidates except Jocelyn Hare appeared at the Chicago Southside Branch NAACP’s forum Saturday afternoon at Adam Clayton Powell Elementary, 7530 S. Shore Drive.
Jedidah Brown also participated in the forum despite remaining unconfirmed for February’s ballot.
In her opening statement, Hairston said economic development has been her focus in the 5th Ward. But Miles went on the offensive, citing untapped potential on Stony Island Avenue where tens of thousands of cars travel daily.
The 5th Ward, Miles said, has “always been the voice that’s spoken out that was the conscience of the city. And I think it is unacceptable that in the last 15-and-a-half years we have an alderman who is just grandstanding.”
She added that “we have more abandoned buildings and more vacant lots on Stony than we did four years ago.”
Brown also went after Hairston, albeit less directly.
He said he was running so that constituents “would have not a machine but a human being that is a resident in the ward, that would allocate, that would fight and be an open door and an open voice for them.”
All candidates discussed support for and ideas on how to bring back more minority teachers to Chicago Public Schools. Brooks suggested implementing an elected school board while Boyd-Clark pointed to a wealth of talent that could be recruited at historically Black colleges.
“There’s a whole bunch of historically black colleges and universities all across this country, and I’m a graduate of one of them,” she said, adding that high school students need to be directed to programs for aspiring educators and scholarships.
Miles stressed the need for a higher rate of Black employment by the City overall, arguing that “one of the ways that African Americans have successfully transitioned into the middle class has been through municipal employment.”
Candidates also squared off on the lack of a grocery store in South Shore.
Boyd-Clark reaffirmed her opposition to the City’s takeover of Jeffery Plaza, where the now closed Dominick’s grocery store was located. Tiffany Brooks, meanwhile, said South Shore needs to be made more attractive for development.
As a 5th Ward resident, Brown said, he doesn’t “have quality organic food choices in my neighborhood. My greatest resource locally, is on the other side of the ward in Hyde Park, or I could go drive miles away to other wards for basic necessities that I need for every day living.”
But Hairston defended the situation as out of her direct control and said the South Shore Planning and Preservation Coalition has been working on bringing a grocery store there.
“We do not own the grocery store. And it’s not that no grocery store wants to be here,” Hairston said, adding that “they just don’t want to pay $22 a square foot.”
Hairston also defended her record on Participatory Budgeting. Asked whether she would implement the program — which she once had in her own ward — letting residents vote on the projects they wanted aldermanic menu money spent on, Hairston expressed support for community involvement but said the program did not work.
“I support participatory budgeting,” Hairston said.
But she added, “They didn’t tell you that it cost $60,000,” a reference to the cost of meetings, supplies and refreshments two years ago. “So my community told me they didn’t want to do that process, but they still wanted to make the decisions, and I still continue to allow them to do that.