By JOSEPH PHILLIPS
Woodlawn resident and a former Hyde Park Herald Editor, Gabriel Piemonte announced Monday that he plans to run in 2019 for the Fifth Ward Aldermanic seat presently occupied by Leslie Hairston.
Piemonte made the announcement outside, at the corner of 71st Street and Merrill Avenue in front of a vacant store at an impromptu press conference with only the Hyde Park Herald in attendance.
The event was down the street from Piemonte’s new political office at 2136 E. 71st St.
Since leaving the Herald two years ago, the 49 year old Piemonte has been doing teenage youth work in a social justice program he co-founded.
During his announcement, Piemonte said he will run against pro-elites and anti-teen politics, and vows a strong commitment to bettering the Fifth Ward community overall.
The fifth ward covers most of Hyde Park in an irregular line from about 55th street at Cottage grove to about 48th street east of the IC tracks. It then goes south over the midway to the east portion of Woodlawn and into the north east portion of South Shore,
“For too long in the Fifth Ward, residents have felt marginalized by Ald. Leslie Hairston,” Piemonte said. “Our residents cannot get a phone call returned, but out-of-state investors can close roads and have acres of property turned over to them for a pittance? It is a shame and it has to stop.”
Piemonte said years of neglect of the concerns of ordinary residents combined with the development of Jackson Park without inclusive planning led to his decision.
The 49-year-old candidate said his work with teens attending CPS high schools in the videography and social justice program he started, showed him the extent of neglect that certain parts of the community have to put up with.
“If you are considered poor, you are out of luck,” he said. “No one is speaking on your behalf. You don’t have any real access to the alderman. No one is making sure your housing is decent or that the schools your kids are going to have the things they need.”
In addition to needed resources for the community, Piemonte said local property owners struggle to maintain their homes and businesses, and that Hairston has not taken any action on this issue. Piemonte also believes that property is being bought up across the ward by outside players who have no concern for the overall prosperity of the ward.
“We do not seem to have any plan or any leadership to respond to this wealth crisis,” Piemonte said.
Piemonte said development of Jackson Park for the Obama Center and the Tiger Woods Golf Course has proceeded with no local involvement and that the alderman is on the wrong side of that problem.
“Alderman Hairston needs to stand up for our right to be at the table,” Piemonte said. “Instead, she bullies people who criticize these projects and shuts out discussion. Well, we have a right to ask questions, and she should be the first one to say so. But it appears ambition has trumped her commitment to community.”
The University of Chicago (U. of C.) is a key player in the development of the Center, according to Piemonte, and should be pressured to support a more inclusive spirit of planning. Piemonte said the alderman is giving the University a free pass on their responsibility to ensure authentic civic participation.
“This is part of a pattern. The alderman does not pressure the administration at the U. of C., but they are able to do just about anything they want in the neighborhood,” Piemonte said. “With political leadership, the neighborhood and the University could have a much more mutually respectful relationship.”
Piemonte points to crime, employment, housing, and basic maintenance and infrastructure as areas that have all been neglected in recent years.
“Whether it’s inability or indifference, we have more crime, more vacant buildings, more crumbling streets, and more people in tough economic circumstances since Alderman Hairston took office, and no new ideas to deal with these problems,” Piemonte said. “We need to use our local assets to build local wealth. We need to demand services, even if it means suing for equity. We need to hold absentee landlords accountable and demand that all of our property is safe and decent and put to productive use that benefits our community.”
Meanwhile, Piemonte said, the promises of reward from the Obama Center and Tiger Woods Golf Course have doubtful substance to them and cannot produce lasting improvement. Piemonte argues that the promised economic development will be “a shell game” if the community does not have control over how investment is made.
“We will not see any gains in our neighborhoods if we do not act now,” Piemonte said. “We need a fighter, for our families who are struggling and for our whole ward when it comes to making deals with wealthy and powerful people.”
He said, “I will fight that fight. I will be that voice.”