Hairston reiterates support for a CBA, but seeks broader participation

Members of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) attended Ald. Leslie Hairston’s 5th Ward meeting on March 26. Kyana Butler, a member of STOP, reads from a copy of the referendum which was overwhelmingly supported by voters in the 5th Precinct of the 5th Ward during the Feb. 26 election. The referendum requests that the 5th Ward alderman support a Community Benefits Agreement Ordinance. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) has pledged support for a community benefits agreement (CBA) ordinance in City Council regarding construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC). The move was a long time coming: activists had aggressively lobbied her for months over the issue, and residents in four precincts passed a non-binding referendum on the CBA goals proposed by a coalition of groups like Black Youth Project 100, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP).

On Tuesday, coalition representatives attended Hairston’s ward meeting at Bret Harte Elementary. STOP organizer Kyana Butler asked, “Will you support and sponsor a CBA ordinance as proposed by the CBA Coalition which calls for a 30 percent set-aside of affordable housing, a property tax freeze for homeowners and a set-aside of development costs for job training and other programs?”

Hairston explained her position that she says she has taken as an acknowledgement of a CBA’s support among her constituents: that she will support a CBA ordinance on City Council on the condition that “every stakeholder” affected by the OPC plays a part in its drafting. She specifically said that the South Shore Chamber of Commerce and South Shore Works (a “consortium of individuals and key organizations committed to the revitalization of the South Shore community in every aspect,” according to its website) have not given their perspectives on a CBA.

“Let’s be clear: it still has to be negotiated,” Hairston said. “There are some people that are not at the table that I would like to facilitate for them to all be at the table.” Asked when that would occur, Hairston suggested after her April 2 runoff election.

“This is something that I’m going to have to pull the groups together,” Hairston said. “I’m going to have to set a timetable.”

Coalition residents then left the meeting, chanting, “We won’t stop!”

Hairston’s position is similar to former President Obama’s, who opposes a CBA because he does not want to privilege one group over others in negotiations.

Hairston said that “it’s very important that people who are having things built in their own backyard have an opportunity to weigh in.” She said the process may be more complicated than what the CBA Coalition proposes, because a new mayor and 20th Ward alderman, who will represent most of Woodlawn, will need to be involved in the process. Hairston committed to meeting with the mayor-elect and alderman-elect over the issue.

Hairston said she was not avoiding the issue. “I think that it’s important that we do this in a respectful and deliberate manner so that all voices can be heard.”

Butler implied that Hairston took her CBA position because she faces a reelection fight. “We came not to ask her to support it again but to get some type of commitment in writing, because we don’t want her to flake out in the end,” she said.

“I don’t know why she’s saying she needs the other organizations,” Butler added. “We’re not one organization. We’re a whole coalition made up of several organizations — from the South Side, from this ward specifically and from the 20th Ward.”

Hairston’s ward meeting otherwise concerned the 71st Street Streetscape Project in South Shore: Department of Transportation officials presented mock-ups for a fence that would separate the Metra Electric tracks from the road, meeting attendees gave them feedback and Hairston said she was considering putting a poll online over the matter.