By AARON GETTINGER
Ebony Lucas, a Bronzeville real estate attorney, is making her second run to represent the citizens of the Fourth Ward in the City Council, two years after losing in a special election.
Her campaign is based on bringing a comprehensive development plan and greater community engagement to the ward.
“I really feel like the Fourth Ward needs a different type of leadership,” she said. “We need a leadership that’s committed. We need a leader … who understands what’s going on with the schools; who understands the TIF [Tax Increment Financing] program; who understand development and can bring more equity to the ward, so we don’t have huge gaps.”
Lucas grew up in Detroit but visited family in Chicago every summer. During her undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, she participated in the Black Volunteer Network’s alternative spring break at the Robert Taylor Homes, where she said she saw poverty like she had never seen before.
After a unfulfilling service with Teach for America, a master’s nonprofit management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and law school at the University of Michigan again, Lucas was doing automotive law work in Detroit but not enjoying it. She recognized an opportunity to move to Chicago in 2006.
“When I moved here, the message that I got was ‘Don’t move to the South Side,’” but after visiting Bronzeville for work and falling in love with it, she broke her lease on an apartment in Uptown and relocated.
Still, Lucas did not like her job. “I wasn’t really doing what I had gone to law school to do, which was to help people,” she said. She took a position with Lakeside Community Development Corporation nonprofit, which was looking for someone to explain the Illinois Condominium Property Act to buyers in 2007, right when the property bubble began to burst.
She later started her own law firm “specifically with the focus of working with distressed condominium associations” and has helped with short sales for people facing foreclosure and helping those in foreclosure know what their options are.
“That’s what I do now,” she said. “I’m a real estate attorney” who has helped “thousands of homeowners to save their homes, protect their investments.”
In 2017, she decided to run for alderman, having a chance after incumbent Ald. Will Burns resigned and a special election was called. She placed second, with 17.5 percent of the vote.
Now Lucas is campaigning for a comprehensive development plan that includes the Fourth Ward’s northern South Loop section as well as the parts in Kenwood and Bronzeville that would ensure balanced development throughout its borders. She wants to ensure that TIF funds are going to “truly blighted communities,” which she bounded between 26th and 50th streets.
She expressed excitement that so many mayoral candidates are endorsing TIF reform and expressed her opinion that schools ought to be taken out as a taxing body from TIF altogether.
“Those areas right now just don’t have the amenities that other areas of the ward have,” she said, bemoaning the lack of clothing stores in her part of Bronzeville as well as, she said, Hyde Park.
Lucas said Bronzeville’s Mariano’s at King and Pershing and sit-down restaurants serving healthy, not fast, food as examples of the community enhancement she would like to see. She said developers she has talked to said they have tried to reach out to the incumbent for help buying lots but that the aldermanic office has been unresponsive.
“When you do things like that and you’re not responsive — that’s a tax base,” Lucas said. “You talk about revenue that the city needs: here’s people who are ready, willing and able to develop.”
Again, she hopes for a development plan, saying that the “hodgepodge” style of development in the ward has ruined some of Hyde Park’s local character. While acknowledging the need for urban planners, she said she wants to “engage the community in a real way, to ask people and understand what they want.”
Lucas said she wants to heed constituents’ concerns through broad public meetings rather than through topically organized committees. She endorsed participatory budgeting for the Fourth Ward, a system wherein constituents vote on the allocation of public funds under aldermanic prerogative that has been utilized in some North Side wards.
“When your decisions are rooted in the needs of the people in the community, because you’ve actually sat down and you know what those needs are, then people at least feel like they’ve been considered,” she said. “And I’ve seen it in other areas of the city.”
Regarding specific means to contact constituents, she said she would try to reach younger generations through social media, continued emails with older adults and face-to-face contact with the elderly. She promised weekly town hall meetings in the different parts of the ward and a monthly town hall with the business community.
Regarding alternative revenue sources, she endorsed the legalization of marijuana and a financial transaction tax on the top one percent of transactions. She also thinks that the city’s vast collection of vacant lots can be developed into commercial space down to community gardens — all of which would provide tax revenue. She deferred on a casino, a project that outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed.
With the Obama Presidential Center planned in the Fifth Ward, Lucas sees an opportunity to create a tourism center in Bronzeville that celebrates the neighborhood’s cultural legacy. She wants to see hotels on Cottage Grove Avenue and the development of the former Michael Reese Hospital. She also endorsed a community benefits agreement, aligning it with her earlier stated support for high levels of community engagement.
Regarding law enforcement, Lucas said police officers should be on foot on bicycling during the summertime. She said the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meetings ought to be more about police getting to know the community instead of a “blame game” of civilians launching complaints about crime to police then dropping out of contact.
“I that people just think there’s apathy on the part of the police, and that they just don’t care. I think part of what I’m talking about, the community policing, is building that trust and building that relationship.” Lucas said that, especially in South Loop, there have been issues with petty crimes, which is why more foot or bike patrols would be beneficial. When the police’s collective bargaining agreement is renewed, she said the City Council needs to incorporate new training procedures. She also opposes the so-called “cop academy.”
On education funding: “When we talk about using resources, I just don’t see how we can continue to run our schools at a deficit but run our development and all of these other projects at a surplus in a way that ignores the fact that if we don’t prepare our kids for the workforce, then they’re not going to be able to get jobs in these places we’re building.”
Seeing “the differences between different schools in different neighborhoods” moved Lucas to wonder why such dramatic disparities exist in the system. As a King College Prep local school council member and mother of Kenwood Academy students, Lucas said that she supports “quality neighborhood schools in every community.” She assailed the planned closing of the National Teachers Academy in South Loop but said its funds should go to Phillips and Dunbar high schools in Bronzeville.
“With the amount of TIF dollars that went from the Fourth Ward to Jones College Prep, there should be more than 75 seats at Jones College Prep for the people who live in the backyard,” she said, adding that, with 2,000 seats available, there should be 250 available for area students. She supports an elected CPS school board.
Regarding ethics and conduct controversies that erupted during her 2017 run for City Council over charges of falsified meeting minutes of the condominium board of Drexel Commons to gain access to its funds, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee dismissed the complaint against her in September 2017.
Lucas said she had not been investigated by the Supreme Court and that she did not steal $75,000 from the condominium board. (The Herald could not confirm her allegation that robocalls are communicating these charges to voters.)
“My morals and my values and what I stand on are very important to me. I teach my kids to be honest and to serve and help others and to make the right decision,” she said. “I’m running for this office, and I want to make sure we stick to the issues of what’s important to people and how we can help them and not on issues that are completely irrelevant and not true.”
Asked if she had any message directly to Hyde Parkers, Lucas addressed density and quality of life issues like permit parking, which she accepts in certain situations. She said the South Loop “needs to feel like it has an alderman” and supports having another ward office there or a better way to connect South Loop constituents to the City Hall aldermanic office.