CBA takes center stage in mayoral campaigning

Staff Writer

The proposed Community Benefits agreement (CBA) regarding the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) is becoming a focal point in the mayoral campaign.

In the last week, seven mayoral candidates — County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, former prosecutor and Police Board head Lori Lightfoot, consultant and community development activist Amara Enyia, activist Ja’Mal Green, former Chicago Police superintendent Garry McCarthy and State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) — have announced their support for the CBA.

On the other side are former President Barack Obama, his Foundation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), all of whom have expressed staunch opposition to the CBA throughout the OPC planning process.

On Wednesday, the Obama Foundation responded to a request for comment by stressing its commitment “to bring opportunity to a community that has been overlooked and underinvested.”

“The Obama Foundation looks forward to working with the next mayor, whoever that may be, on efforts related to housing, education, and other issues we agree are vital to the revitalization of this community,” said a spokesman for the Foundation. “In the meantime, we are working toward fulfilling our written commitments to ensure the OPC provides our neighbors jobs, spaces for our children to learn and play and an opportunity to draw people from all over the world to the South Side.”

Obama has previously explained his opposition to a CBA by saying it would force the Foundation to pick favorites among South Side activist groups.

The Foundation’s Community Commitments pledges include a number of promises regarding local educational and economic development. The Lakeside Alliance of firms selected to build the OPC has a resource center for those interested in construction jobs, and an ordinance the City Council passed includes a provision for monitoring property values and measures of demographic change around the site.

Reached for comment, Southside Together Organizing for Power executive director Alex Goldenberg, whose organization is one of several that make up the CBA Coalition, a network of South Side organizations, said the Coalition views the mayoral candidates’ support as “a testament to the work of low income and working black families that have put their lives on hold to stand up against displacement.”

“There is still more work to do,” the Coalition said in a statement. “We need to ensure the candidates commit to the specific terms the CBA Coalition is calling for. Without these specific interventions and protections we’re going to continue to see the acceleration of families being pushed out of the communities surrounding Jackson Park.”

The Coalition’s draft CBA, which includes the U. of C. as well as the city and Foundation, calls for “30-percent-set aside of housing as affordable to current residents, property tax relief, community land trusts and coops on city-owned vacant land and investments in affordable housing, home repairs and job training” for communities near the planned OPC campus.

The Coalition’s statement references the planned construction of The Study, a multi-story hotel, and the Rubenstein Forum conference center on 60th Street as reasons for the CBA. He said the construction “contributes to rising rents and displacement,” and studies have confirmed a rapid rise in property values near the OPC site.

“This kind of profiteering has contributed to the loss of nearly 300,000 African-American residents over the last 18 years from the Chicago area,” the statement said. “The Obama CBA Coalition maintains that the only way to stem the mass exodus of Chicago’s Black population is for the City to pass a Community Benefit Agreement Ordinance and the University to sign a Community Benefit Agreement that promotes development without displacement.”