4th and 5th Ward candidates address issues

Staff Writer

The aldermanic candidates running in Hyde Park–Kenwood’s wards, excluding Ald. Sophia King (4th), met Tuesday evening at the First Unitarian Church for a wide-ranging town hall-style forum.

Asked about municipal debt, former Herald editor Gabriel Piemonte, challenging Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), said a $10 million bond plan proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel “potentially makes sense,” but said he is concerned about how the City Council would treat new revenue streams without strong mechanisms to control spending. He said he is concerned about wasteful spending, particularly with the Chicago Police Department and TIF reform.

Ebony Lucas, a real estate attorney challenging King, spoke of maximizing income streams and a stronger role for aldermen in the budgetary process. She supports additional streams of income aside from property taxes such as developing vacant land.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) wants additional revenue streams but says city cannot “tax our way out of” the pensions mess. She called for bringing back a head tax on larger businesses and tying the rate to inflation as well as a financial transaction tax and an airport in the South Suburbs.

Hairston said the deal bringing a long-awaited supermarket to South Shore would close on Wednesday and said she is working with the South Shore Chamber of Commerce to increase capital access to would-be entrepreneurs in the neighborhood.

Piemonte responded by questioning why so many other former Dominick’s stores turn into other grocery stores while South Shore languished. He questioned past failed attempts to attract a grocery tenant and the amount of capital allocated to bring Shop & Save Market to the Jeffrey Plaza on 71st Street.

In the 4th Ward, Lucas stressed the need for a collaboratively drafted development plan “so that when developers come to us and they want to build, we can go back to the document and say, ‘Here’s our plan for the community; how does their plan fit into the community?’”

When asked about affordable housing, Lucas called for a less-strict housing code to allow cheaper rehabilitations and other forms of housing. She also proposed property tax subsidies for Millennials and people seeking to buy in certain areas, additionally cautioning against only raising property taxes for revenue.

Both Piemonte and South Shore community activist William Calloway, who arrived late after dealing with a personal emergency, endorsed local boards sharing control over development alongside the alderman. Calloway said he would not take campaign contributions from developers.

Piemonte said he supports housing choice vouchers, noting their preponderance in the southern part of the 5th Ward and wanting an education program about them elsewhere in the ward. He also said he would incentivize and subsidize cooperative housing. Hairston said her office has gone to court to assist residents in rental and owned housing and touted expanded housing offerings and homeowners’ education programs in Greater Grand Crossing. She said Hyde Park needs more affordable housing but that part of the neighborhood in the 5th Ward lacks land.

Asked about the proposed community benefits agreement (CBA) regarding the planned Obama Presidential Center (OPC), Lucas and Piemonte said they supported it, while Hairston reiterated her opposition, touting her support for local hiring and trades jobs.

Calloway warned against gentrification and displacement stemming from the OPC and said a CBA would be key to preventing it. He said he would impress the need for it upon Obama Foundation leaders Martin Nesbitt and Michael Strautmanis. He said the OPC would not be built without a CBA.

Hairston said support for the proposed closing of Cornell Drive stemmed from her support for the cohesive “Museum Campus South” plan.

Piemonte said he is concerned about the related expansion of Stony Island Avenue, done to accommodate traffic displaced from Cornell. He said he is concerned about safety, logistics and a lack of community engagement in the planning process. Calloway also expressed concern about traffic logistics and problems dependent upon Cornell as a thoroughfare to the rest of the city.

In a question about term limits, Hairston stressed the time it takes to accomplish things, particularly after the Great Recession, and noted her mentoring and passing down of institutional knowledge. Lucas said she would not serve longer than 12 years, as that would be too long to achieve her goals. Piemonte said he plans to accomplish his platform in three terms but did not adhere to a term limits pledge; Calloway said he would not serve more than two terms and voiced support for a recall mechanism.

Bret Harte Elementary principal Charles Bright asked the 5th Ward candidates if they would support the school when called upon to do so. Piemonte said he would like to see coordination among elementary schools for specialized focus on specific students’ needs and said conversation among the ward’s principals is part of that. He supports a fund for the 5th Ward’s public schools but would not want it to justify Chicago Public Schools’ allocation of public money for those schools.

Hairston said her office has regularly met with principals throughout the ward and worked to get new playground equipment and other features at Bret Harte.