By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Gabriel Piemonte and William Calloway, who were opponents in the Feb. 26 election, are working together to unite voters in the 5th Ward in an attempt to defeat Ald. Leslie Hairston in the April 2 runoff.
On March 9, Piemonte and Calloway hosted a community conversation and fundraiser event at Litehouse Whole Food Grill, 1660 E. 55th Street, to mobilize voters in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
Anne Marie Miles, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative in the 25th district, was the first speaker of the night. Miles also ran against Ald. Hairston in 2011 and 2015, but lost to her both times. Since Calloway was able to force a runoff, Miles believes that there is potential to defeat Hairston and bring about change in the 5th ward.
“We have to bring in someone who can make changes, who has proven that he can work within the system,” Miles said during her endorsement of Calloway. “I watched Will, as they were getting ready for the [Jason Van Dyke] verdict, make sure that this city was not going to explode. Even if we did not get a verdict that we were 100 percent happy with, that there would be peace and that we would continue to operate within the system as we change it. I think that Will is the best person for us.”
Piemonte doubled down on his endorsement of Calloway, calling the campaign leading to the April 2 election as “the second act.” During the campaign, Piemonte said —”When Will and I would see each other we would say ‘Under 50 percent’.” Together they were able to win 51.31% of the vote.
“We’ve already achieved more than a 50% agreement that someone else should be [alderman].” Piemonte said. “We’ve already determined that somebody else should be Will Calloway. I’m here to say that I’m going to do what I can to make sure that he gets in. He is the man for the job.”
Before ending his speech, Piemonte pleaded with the crowd to vote. “What’s going to actually stop this from actually taking place? If we don’t make the effort to engage with our friends and neighbors. We need to all think of ourselves as critical pieces of this puzzle that we are all getting together to support Will.”
Calloway shifted away from the talking point of “tale of two wards,” which he used during the campaign leading up to the Feb. 26 election to illustrate the investment in Hyde Park versus the divestment from South Shore. For the majority of his speech, he focused on inequities throughout the ward.
“I want to talk about my plans to move the 5th Ward into a new direction and speak from a universal 5th Ward perspective,” Calloway said at the beginning of his speech.
However, he did talk about his experiences in South Shore and the divestment he has seen in the neighborhood.
“Seventy-first Street was once a thriving economic corridor. If you go down 71st Street today, in my personal opinion, it looks like a third-world country,” Calloway said to the crowd. “We have blight. You walk down, you see windows with bullet holes in them, not boarded up. You see community members suffering from PTSD, mental illness. There is no civic leadership to bring an economy to 71st Street. That’s the failed leadership.”
Afterward Calloway’s speech, members from the audience had a chance to question Calloway on his position on different issues, including communicating with constituents, residential parking in Hyde Park, and allocating money throughout the ward.
On communication, Calloway noted that he was trained in community outreach as an organizer. “Constituency services and responsiveness will be one of our top priorities, he said. “We are working with ideas from the community to make sure that every request from the community is documented, tracked and there is a response for everyone.”
After an audience member asked Calloway what he would do about the lack of parking spaces in Hyde Park, he said that he will fight for zoned parking.
When asked how to get money allocated throughout the ward equally, Calloway wants to have a participatory budget. “We as a community will decide where the money will go and make sure that it is equal,” he said.