By AARON GETTINGER
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has pledged to support a community benefits agreement (CBA) regarding the construction of the Obama Presidential Center and its effect on residents around its planned site, casting the decision as a reflection of her constituents’ wishes. Her announcement is a reversal from her previous opposition to the measure.
“It was supported by the precinct,” Hairston said in an interview with the Herald, referring to the CBA referendum that one OPC site-adjacent precinct in the 5th Ward passed overwhelmingly last month. “It’s obviously supported by my people. That’s why.”
No CBA ordinance has been presented to the City Council, though the approved agreement governing the Obama Foundation’s use of the OPC includes a provision that the city will monitor markers of demographic changes around the Jackson Park campus. The Obama Foundation’s Community Commitments pledge makes specific guarantees regarding economic development, contracting with minority- and women-owned business enterprises, housing and educational initiatives
Hairston has given full-throated support to the OPC planning process, frequently hosting Foundation officials at ward meetings and speaking favorably of it in her ward and in City Hall. She wrote an open letter to the Foundation in early 2017 calling for transparency and community engagement throughout the process.
She said she would work with all residents to draft an ordinance. While the CBA referendum contained specific provisions that the Coalition said represent the community’s expectations in the ordinance, Hairston deferred when asked whether she would support the referendum as an ordinance.
“I would have to sit down with them,” she said. “We would have to work something out. This is a process we have to decide.” Asked to whom she was referring, Hairston said that the discussion “would have to be expanded. It has to be all-inclusive. It has to include the people directly impacted.”
“Once we know where we come to, what agreement we come to, that’s when we’ll decide what’s the best fit,” Hairston said. “I’m looking forward to working with them.” She said she would facilitate the planning process.
Alex Goldenberg, executive director of Southside Together Organizing for Power and a key figure in the CBA Coalition, welcomed Hairston’s change-of-heart.
“We’re encouraged by her support for the CBA ordinance,” he said. “The voters overwhelmingly made it clear what we want with the referendum, mainly a 30 percent set-aside for affordable housing, a property tax freeze for long-time residents and requiring developers to invest in a community trust fund for job training and affordable housing.
“We’re encouraged that Ald. Hairston is ready to work with us on passing this in the City Council.”
Both mayoral candidates, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and attorney Lori Lightfoot, support an OPC CBA, as does Ald. Sophia King (4th). So does Hairston’s opponent in next month’s runoff election, community activist William Calloway.
An Obama Foundation Spokesperson issued the following comment: “The Obama Foundation looks forward to working with the next mayor and other elected officials, whoever they may be, on efforts related to housing, education, and other issues we agree are vital to the revitalization of this community. We also look forward to working with the many community organizations and indigenous groups that have long been doing this work across Chicago.”
Former President Obama, however, opposes a CBA, explaining his position as one of reluctance to engage with one community group over others.