By ALLISON MATYUS & SAM RAPPAPORT
Politicians drop by
Hyde Park has a long-standing history for breeding politicians and political figures. This year, some famed political leaders, both past and present, paid the neighborhood a visit.
In July, former President Jimmy Carter held a book signing at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., for the release of his memoir, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety.”
Hundreds of people showed up to the event to get the chance to meet and speak to the 39th President of the United States.
A presidential candidate also paid a visit in September during his campaign trail. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) visited his alma mater, the University of Chicago (U. of C.), to a packed house at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Sanders spoke a little about his time on the South Side as a college student, and how the Civil Rights Movement and Peace Movement of the ‘60s shaped who he is as a person and a politician today.
“I think about coming here as a young man from a family who did not have a lot of money, and that transition,” he said at the event.
Current politician, Gov. Bruce Rauner, also stopped by Hyde Park in the fall when he visited the U. of C.’s Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), 1452 E. 53rd St., to congratulate the organization on one year of innovation in the community and its exciting expansions in programming.
Rauner spoke about the importance of entrepreneurship when it comes to the economy during the program’s celebration in October.
2015 Alderman election
At the outset of 2015, Alderman incumbents Will Burns (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) were confronted with the steep challenge of trudging through an election. While both politicians ultimately emerged triumphant, the months of January and February bore witness to a series of heated debates between candidates.
More than 100 residents attended a January forum hosted by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, in which 5th ward aldermanic candidates Robin Boyd-Clark, Tiffany Brooks, Jedidiah Brown, current Ald. Leslie Hairston, Jocelyn Hare and Anne Marie Miles participated.
Throughout the forum — which focused on how to face Mayor Rahm Emanuel, support the youth and elderly and foster economic development in the ward — Hairston defended her record, while her challengers touted their own accomplishments. Harsh criticism came from Miles and Brown — who both made reference to the State’s Attorney’s ongoing investigation of Hairston’s voter receipt raffle last fall.
Miles blamed Hairston for a sagging economy in the 5th ward.
“I’m running because when you look out when you came today, if you drove up and down Stony Island, you would see vacant lots, abandoned buildings,” she said. “And let me tell you, there are more of them than when I ran four years ago.”
Brown slammed Hairston for not having a plan for the ward.
“The most creative thing that I can bring to economic development in this ward is a plan,” he said. “Because in 15 years of service, she’ll be leaving office and she would’ve never delivered one.”
“There was never a presence of a Walgreens on Stony Island at all,” shot back Hairston, who revealed at a previous ward meeting that a grocer would soon be signing a lease for the closed Jeffery Plaza Dominick’s. “There was not even a grocer in Woodlawn, which I brought to 67th and Cottage. So let’s not sit here and pretend like nothing has been done, because I’ve worked tirelessly for it.”
On Feb. 2, Burns faced off against challengers Tracy Bey and Norman Bolden in the lobby of the Newport Condominiums, 4800 S. Chicago Beach Drive.
Burns emphasized the economic case for his re-election, pointing to new restaurants, grocery stores and pedestrian bridges.
“We’re beginning to do the things that we know this community needs and wants,” he said.
But opponents Tracey Bey and Bolden stressed the need for independence and community involvement in decisions in a ward where they have repeatedly said it is missing.
“I’m not trying to be an Alderman that’s a dictator, I’m trying to be an Alderman that’s a servant,” Bolden said. “And the only way you can best serve is to assess what the needs are.”
“I would definitely have an open door policy,” Bey said, to discuss with every neighborhood “what their needs are.”
When Burns gave his closing statement asking for a second chance, a portion of the audience started shouting “We will” and applauded.
Bey and Bolden had their own rebuttals.
In a short statement, Bey left the audience with her favorite quote, from Kansan town marshal Thomas J. Smith, that “excuses are tools of incompetence used to build monuments of nothingness.”
And Bolden ended by pointing to Burns’ roughly 90 percent voting record with the mayor and recent fundraiser with him.
“What does that say about the mayor and what does it say about the current administration?” he said. “It’s my mission again, to bring that independence we once had.”
On Feb. 24, both Hairston and Burns won their elections in a landslide. Hairston won with over 52 percent of the vote while Burns took the victory with over 55 percent of the vote. Both candidates had a winning margin of more than 30 percent.
A race to Springfield…again
For the 2016 race to the seat of state representative of the 26th district, Jay Travis announced in September that she would face off with incumbent State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) again for the Springfield seat.
The last time Travis ran against Mitchell, in 2014, Mitchell won out the polls by less than 6 percent. For the 2016 campaign, Travis is building on what she constructed last time.
“Part of what we are doing this time around is just making sure that we are utilizing our solid volunteer base to fortify support that we received in the last election,” she said in an interview earlier this month.
Her agenda for 2016 focuses on employment and worker’s rights, public safety and education—specifically on promoting an elected representative school board.
Mitchell’s focus in the race is on the results he has made down in Springfield. He said in an interview that the three main things his campaign will consist of are education, public safety and effectively standing up to Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“Leadership and real results and plans that actually deliver on the values that we say we care about are more important than somebody deciding to be a political opportunist,” Mitchell said, in reference to his opposing candidate, Travis.
Both Travis and Mitchell have calling each other out back and forth in Letters to the Editor in the Herald throughout the year. Ultimately, voters in the 26th district will decide who will represent them come the Illinois primary election on March 15, 2016.