By AARON GETTINGER
IT WAS NOT particularly a year of resolutions, but it was a year of developments. An average winter slowly changed into an uncommonly cold and protracted spring before another glorious Chicago summer, followed by quick autumn and, heralded by an early season blizzard, winter again. Time will tell if snow will cover the ground another time before next spring.
The sun rose and set 365 times. Some University of Chicago students graduated in June, and new ones arrived in September. Businesses opened and closed; construction started, stopped and finished. Some people died, and others were born. In the meantime, they lived, made big decisions, sometimes fought but hopefully loved more. Timuel Black turned 100.
Nine floors up in the Hyde Park Bank Building, the Hyde Park Herald spent its 136th year weathering the industry’s challenging changes, putting out 24 pages a week in print and the days’ news online.
All of us here are in this business because we want to be, and we are lucky to cover the most interesting neighborhood in Chicago. The neighborhood’s successes and setbacks are ours, and ours are yours.
2018 was another year of upheaval, a fever-pitched frenzy about what kind of nation our nation will be — and a year that again showed the critical importance of the free press.
We look onward as we look to the past and gird ourselves, as you do, for another year of difficulty, aspiration, hope and change. We are for you, and we strive to be here every step of the way.
Business and development
Throughout the summer, the Herald received tips of empty shelves and missing items at Treasure Island Foods, the grocery store anchor of the U. of C.-owned Hyde Park Shopping Center. In late September, management insisted that vendor delivery issues were to blame and deferred to corporate, though they did not return calls.
Less than a week later, the brand announced that it was closing all the stores. The Hyde Park location slashed prces in an everything-must-go sale, becoming a “frenzied scene reminiscent of a community about to suffer some great natural catastrophe” in its final days. One customer said she waited an hour to check out.
Community organizations and the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy scrambled to find other accommodations, as the store’s basement community room became off-limits for meetings. The United Credit Union, 1526 E. 55th St., stayed open, however, and the space served as a polling place in the following month’s elections.
On Oct. 8, Treasure Island permanently closed. Two of Hyde Park’s independent groceries — Open Produce, 1635 E. 55th St., and Hyde Park Produce, 1226 E. 53rd St. — experienced heavy sales bumps. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) held a community meeting over the closure, where attorney Karen Engelhardt solicited plaintiffs for her class action suit for workers laid-off without due notice, U. of C. representatives discussed the circumstances about finding a new tenant and employers planned an ad hoc job fair. In December, the U. of C. announced that it expected to name a new tenant in the first quarter of 2019.
Hyde Park’s fine dining scene developed through the year. Middling A10 closed over the summer, but esteemed chef Erick Williams announced shortly thereafter that he would open a restaurant serving Southern cuisine at its location, 1462 E. 53rd St. Virtue opened last month, serving sophisticated fare made with heritage techniques. Its entrees include pork chops, short ribs and catfish; its sides are macaroni and cheese, collards and smoked turkey, lima beans in ham broth and cheddar cheese grits
Sommelier Derrick Westbrook of 57th Street Wines, 1448 E. 57th St., was named to Wine Enthusiast magazine’s 2018 Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers: he made the cover. Westbrook ascribed his success to being a sum of his parts and the influence of his many loved ones and business partners. Bibliophile, 1644 E. 53rd St., a restaurant-cum-bookstore serving alcohol-infused desserts for which Westbrook works as service manager, opened in October.
Solstice on the Park, 1616 E. 56th St., a condominium tower on Jackson Park designed by noted Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, opened. The ongoing construction of a Mac Properties residential tower at 5252 S. Cornell Ave. limited pedestrian access to the 51st–53rd Hyde Park Metra Electric station, causing a headache for pedestrians and commuters, and an April Herald story on the renovations of apartments above the former Freehling Pot and Pan Company, 1365 E. 53rd St., highlighted the effects of gentrification on limited-income renters in Hyde Park.
A new luxury hotel, the Sophy Hyde Park, opened in September. “Why not Hyde Park?” asked general manager Anthony Beach. “Hyde Park is one of the most popular neighborhoods. It is a vibrant neighborhood that has grown tremendously.” Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose it as the location for a speech the next month in which he extolled the success of Chicago’s tourism industry.
Following a Sun-Times investigation of internal reviews that found “problems such as rodent droppings, pest infestations, filthy food-preparation equipment, and bathrooms that were dirty, smelly and lacked hot water” at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Herald reported that all of Hyde Park–Kenwood’s schools except Reavis Elementary, 834 E. 50th St., failed health inspections, with violations warranting thousands of dollars in daily fines. The U. of C. Lab Schools also failed a health inspection and replaced food contractor Aramark with Quest Food Management.
The national campaign for stronger measures against gun violence that grew out of a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida manifested at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., where students participated in the National Walkout on March 14. Some of the student protesters exceeded their allotted time and marched throughout Kenwood and Bronzeville. A standoff with police near Lake Shore Drive exit onto 47th Street ended when school personnel came out and asked them to return to school. Students from Kenwood and Hyde Park Academy high schools marched against gun violence again in April.
Local school council elections were held at public elementary and high schools early in the spring. Kenwood Academy principal Gregory Jones won a Golden Apple leadership award in April but abruptly announced his resignation the next month, desiring “something different” after 20 years with CPS, later taking a job at a nonprofit. Assistant principal Karen Calloway was named as Jones’ replacement in May. The school’s track and field, long used by community members for exercise, was reconstructed and reopened late in the summer.
University of Chicago
The $39 million U. of C. Medical Center officially became a Level I Adult Trauma Center staffed by 18 new surgeons and support staff at 8 a.m. on May 1, much to the celebration of the activists who pushed for its establishment.
“Why we won is that we had the people power. We had the determination, and we never quit,” said Tweak Harris of Southside Together Organizing for Power. “A Level I Trauma Center wouldn’t be here on the South Side of Chicago if it wasn’t for a group of black kids in Woodlawn.” On Nov. 19, two victims of the mass shooting at Mercy Hospital in Bronzeville, including a 2nd District Chicago policeman, died there.
On June 14, the U. of C. announced that it was going testing-optional in undergraduate admissions through its UChicago Empower Initiative, the first top-ranked private university in the United States to make the move. “We are delighted to now also provide an admissions process that makes UChicago even more accessible by enabling students to present their best, most authentic selves,” said College dean John Boyer.
Labor organizing returned divergent results for workers and graduate students. Non-tenure track and adjunct professors and lecturers ratified a contract negotiated by the Service Employees International Union in April, ending months of strike threats, but the Graduate Students United (GSU) union, which won a vote among the graduate student body in 2017 but withdrew from the National Labor Relations Board process in February, was at a protracted impasse with the U. of C. administration, which refused to recognize them as a bargaining unit. GSU held protests throughout the year, including a massive walkout in October.
The year’s other big protests at the U. of C. concerned the University of Chicago Police Department shooting of undergraduate Charles Thomas on April 6, when police responded to calls of a man destroying property with a metal pipe and Thomas charged the officer. Thomas was in the throws of a mental health crisis at the time and later was charged with eight felonies. Students flooded the Main Quad in protest in April and June, calling for more mental health services on campus.
At the Chicago Police Department, the 2nd District of the Chicago Police Department, 5101 S. Wentworth Ave., got a new director, Dion Boyd, on June 17. He replaced Crystal King-Smith, who was reassigned.
As of press time, three homicides occurred in Hyde Park in 2018: Jeraun McRae, 39, was murdered on March 16 on the 5400 South block of Cornell Avenue; on June 15, several people were shot on the 1600 East block of 53rd Street, and Maurice Jamar Lewis, 40, later succumbed to his injuries; and Armani Harris, 25, was murdered in his car on the Midway Plaisance at Woodlawn Avenue on Aug. 24.
“Let me put it this way: We’re on the campus of UC,” said pastor Cornelius Clark at Harris’ vigil as memorial balloons floated over the University. “We’re not talking about where this is isolated to particular neighborhoods. Now it’s going too far. There is no rhyme or reason for what this is.”
All of Hyde Park breathed a sigh of relief on Oct. 5, when officer Jason Van Dyke of the Chicago Police was convicted of murdering teenager Laquan McDonald. Feared social unrest did not occur. “The verdict came down in the context of a robust, ongoing process of reckoning with the need for institutional change,” said Hyde Parker Jamie Kalven, a journalist who brought the police cover-up to light through a 2015 Slate magazine exposé.
For the third consecutive year, Halloween turned into an utter fiasco, with youths descending on Downtown Hyde Park, where they fought, exploded fire crackers in dumpsters and lit cars on fire as police struggled to maintain order: 12 were arrested. Officials gave a muted response to the discord as community activities planned to preempt the violence failed outside of their set hours and locations.
Parks and the Obama Presidential Center
The Obama Presidential Center passed several City Council votes but faces ongoing federal historical and environmental reviews as well as a lawsuit attempting to block its planned construction in Jackson Park.
On April 11, the South Lakefront Framework Plan, which includes a number of provisions — some immediately planned, others aspirational — regarding roadway infrastructure, landscape design and logistical planning for the OPC and the Tiger Woods-designed golf course in Jackson and South Shore parks, was submitted to the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners.
On May 17, the Chicago Plan Commission approved the OPC after a seven-hour marathon meeting in which project, opponents like Jackson Park Watch and protesters with the Coalition for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), a network of South Side activist groups pushing for the city, U. of C. and Obama Foundation for their legally binding document with provisions to combat displacement through affordable housing and local tax mandates and promote local hiring.
“Some people just don’t know when they’ve got a win,” said Ald. Hairston. The Obama Foundation released its Community Commitments pledge, with half of construction projects promised to minority-, women- and veteran-owned business enterprises and a comprehensive plan for Lakeside Alliance, the collective managing the OPC’s construction, to recruit a diverse, local workforce, on May 4.
The CBA Coalition intends to put a referendum on the ballot in several Woodlawn and South Shore precincts regarding the agreement.
On May 23, the City Council voted 48-1 to authorize the OPC just after the body’s zoning committee signed off earlier in the week. “It could have been in Hawaii, it could have been on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but it’s going to be right here on the South Side of the City of Chicago,” said Emanuel. “In my view, people from all over the City, all over the country and all over the world come to our city, a place we call home, and see where the United States embraced its future in an affirmative way.”
Construction on a new track and field replacing one to be displaced by the OPC, began over the summer but was halted in September, after several trees were felled, because the federal reviews process had yet to conclude.
The new track and field is on a section of active recreation space that received a grant from the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR), a now defunct federal program, in the early 1980s. Such space must be conserved, and officials have presented plans for the eastern end of the Midway Plaisance, past the railroad embankment, as a site for UPARR investments.
On Oct. 31, the City Council unanimously passed a use agreement dictating the terms under which the Obama Foundation can utilize the OPC, with Englewood Ald. David Moore (17th) changing his vote. “President Obama gave us hope, and this Center is a step forward to turn that hope into a promise,” he said at a committee meeting on Oct. 11.
The use agreement includes the following finding of fact: “The city recognizes the potential for demographic change and displacement arising from large-scale public and private investment in urban neighborhoods and is committed to closely monitoring property values and other indicators of neighborhood change and implementing measures to preserve economic diversity, home ownership and affordability for long-term residents in the communities surrounding the OPC.”
This promise to monitor property values and the Foundation’s Community Commitments has not satisfied the CBA Coalition, which has protested at many governmental meetings concerning the OPC throughout the year. At a Nov. 12 protest in Woodlawn at which two Coalition activists were arrested, Shannon Bennett with the Kenwood–Oakland Community Organization spoke to the movement’s long-term strategy.
“People have to understand. They will never, ever have to agree, but the righteousness of our fight is what’s going to make us victorious,” he said. “It’s nowhere near what we want, but we see little things here, with different policies and things. The fact that they have to bring the president back and back and back — this thing is not done, for a variety of reasons, and it’s bigger than just the lawsuit.”
He was referring, of course, to Protect Our Parks v. Chicago Park District, filed in May, which intends to block the OPC’s construction in Jackson Park by attacking the transfer of land from the city to the Park District and the argument that the OPC is a political entity, something the use agreement intends to bar, funded in part through public money.
The case is pending in federal court, where plaintiffs and defendants have appeared for several hearings with Judge Robert Blakey, who has set Feb. 14 as the date to consider the city and Park District’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
Hyde Park–Kenwood will have an entirely new General Assembly delegation in the coming year, with two out of the three legislators still to be named. Candidates are challenging both of the area’s aldermen, and longtime political figure Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board President and former 4th Ward alderman, is running for mayor.
Twenty-term incumbent State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25th), who became House Majority Leader in 1997 and was the subject of a November Herald profile, announced her retirement last year, sparking a wide-open race to succeed her.
It was attorney and businessman Curtis Tarver II of North Kenwood who won the March 20 primary with just over a quarter of the vote, winning a plurality in just 39 of the district’s 88 precincts. In an August profile, he said that education — his daughter is in elementary school — criminal justice reform and support for small businesses as his reasons for getting into the race.
“My goal is to build as many bridges as possible, in the district and with other representatives so that when I have a bill, I can carry it and gain some traction and hopefully get it passed,” he said.
Rep.-elect Tarver won unopposed in November, as did Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26th), who was named executive director of the Illinois Democratic Party over the summer. Following Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s general election win, Mitchell was designated one of his three deputy governors in December and will oversee the capital bill planned to fund infrastructural improvements and strategic planning.
Mitchell will resign from the General Assembly in early January, as will Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th), Attorney General-elect of Illinois, who narrowly won his March primary with around 30 percent of the vote before a more comfortable win in November. Democratic ward committeemen in the 26th House and 13th Senate districts will soon choose new legislators.
In an interview with the Herald late in the general election campaign, Raoul stressed his support for police officer licensing (a proposal akin to that which lawyers and physicians go through), the Affordable Care Act, consumer protection and voting rights. “It’s a great thing to put policy out there,” he said. “It’s another thing to have the capacity to put policy out there and be able to enforce it as well.”
Preckwinkle beat back a challenger (Bob Fioretti, the former alderman and partner in the law firm representing Protect Our Parks) in the March primary for another term atop county government with 62 percent of the vote. In November, since-inaugurated County Commissioner Bill Lowry (D-3rd) was elected in a landslide, succeeding Jerry “The Iceman” Butler.
November turnout was high across the United States, but the exceptionally high turnout in Hyde Park–Kenwood: 74 percent, down just a little from November 2016 levels, was a boon to Illinois Democrats, who won all statewide elections and supermajorities in the State House and Senate.
And 2018’s biggest news in municipal politics, of course, was another development: Mayor Emanuel, after taking significant heat for his handling of the McDonald case and public schools closures, announced in September that he would not seek another term as mayor.
Preckwinkle, who became Cook County Democratic chairwoman in April, announced her mayoral candidacy on Sept. 20 at the Chicago Lake Shore Hotel, where Obama launched his run for the Illinois State Senate in 1995. Hairston and Ald. Sophia King (4th) endorsed her there.
“I’m doing this because it’s necessary,” Preckwinkle said. “I don’t take this decision lightly.” She said she hoped her announcement would begin a movement “to demand a mayor’s office that understands, values and respects the diversity of its residents and communities.”
Should she be elected, she would be Chicago’s third black and second female mayor, taking office after 30 years of Richard M. Daley and Emanuel. She would be the second mayor to come out of Hyde Park, following Harold Washington. Seen as a frontrunner, she faces over a dozen other candidates — many of whom have voiced support for the OPC CBA, as has Preckwinkle.
Hairston and King both face challengers.
The mayoral and aldermanic candidates are waiting for Election Day, and the voters are waiting to have their say.
Both sides of Protect Our Parks v. Chicago Park District are waiting for the resolution of the lawsuit. The CBA Coalition is waiting to see if the government will asceed to their demands. Everyone on the South Side is waiting to see if the once-in-many-generations investment that is the OPC will come to fruition.
- of C. graduate students are waiting for a resolution to their union fight. High school seniors are waiting for their U. of C. admissions decisions, and students throughout Hyde Park–Kenwood are waiting for the end of their winter breaks. They are also waiting for substantial federal action on gun violence.
Entrepreneurs are waiting to see if their businesses will get off the ground once they open. Citizens will wait for construction to finish on the roads outside their front doors. Chicagoans all anticipate the return of warm weather that reminds us all why we live in this maddening and glorious city of cities on an unsalted sea.
All that and more — in 2019.