Hairston, Calloway meet for cantankerous forum

Ald. Leslie Hairston listens as aldermanic candidate William Calloway says, “I hate it when people try to ‘politrick’ us,” during the Neighborhood Network Alliance 5th Ward Runoff forum debate at ABJ Community Services.

Staff writer

With the 5th Ward Aldermanic campaign in its final days, incumbent Leslie Hairston and challenger Will Calloway dueled over their accomplishments and competing visions while frequently trading barbs at a South Shore Neighborhood forum.

Asked about his strengths and weaknesses, Calloway said that he does “not like fictitious, pretentious stuff” and hates politics. “I hate when people try to ‘poli-trick’ us, and that’s something I’m not good with,” he said. He said that his integrity, “heart to serve,” ability “to convene all types of people” and speak on their behalf are his best qualities

Hairston said that it is difficult to tell people “no” as someone native to the 5th Ward but promised to “work like heck to get everything we deserve and then more.” Hairston mentioned her past use of participatory budgeting (a process she did not do in 2014) and her monthly ward meetings in which she discusses Ward problems and projects with constituents.

“I think it’s important to give an account of what I’m doing from month to month, and I’ve been doing that since taking office,” she said. Hairston said her office has closed problem businesses and worked with the South Shore Chamber of Commerce to attract new businesses.

Calloway called for neighborhood community councils in each of the 5th Ward’s neighborhoods; in part, Hyde Park, South Shore, Greater Grand Crossing and Woodlawn. He suggested that those councils allocate the menu money each alderman receives through participatory budgeting. He said that consumer surveys, not an alderman’s decisions, should determine what kind of businesses to attract to the community and promised a smartphone application for his ward office so that constituents could keep track of the status of their requests.

When noted City Hall iconoclast George Blakemore asked what each candidate would do to buttress Black political power in Chicago, Hairston noted the importance of giving African Americans projects under minority-owned business contractual mandates and said that projects in her ward and at the U. of C. are exceeding benchmarks by 70 percent.

Calloway said that the city’s Black alderman had failed their constituents, leaving it to activists like him to provide “that kind of energy, that kind of vigorous tenacity” in City Council. He said that economic development, especially on the 71st Street corridor, would come only through addressing public safety. He said he would focus on “the sanctity of life and ensuring that 5th Ward residents’ property and life are well-secured and protected.” He promised to meet with each local school council if elected.

Hairston countered that she would not go to the mayor to ask for economic development but rather do it herself, referencing her personal relationships, that, she said, brought the coming supermarket to Jeffrey Plaza, artist Theaster Gates’ Stony Island Arts Bank and the Obama Presidential Center-related job resource center. She said she would lobby the University of Chicago to expand into South Shore and again said that she has accomplished a lot “in spite of City Hall.” She explained her downzoning of 71st Street as a move to curate retail establishments towards constituents’ wants.

When Calloway said Hairston had a “pay-to-play” relationship with local retailers, Hairston said he was “[throwing] stuff out there that’s just not true.” She brought up allegations that Calloway had not reported all his campaign donations; Calloway displayed a receipt from the state elections board of reported donations over $1,000, though Hairston said he was still not reporting other campaign contributions and expenditures.

“You’re talking about thousands of dollars that you have spent that you have not accounted for,” she said. “If you can’t be accountable before you get in office, you surely can’t expect to be accountable after you get in office.”

Although several publications have reported that Hairston once opposed an OPC community benefits agreement, Hairston said she has always supported one, saying that former President Obama opposed one — a position he still holds. “I think that the CBA is something that should be crafted by the people who are directly impacted by the Obama Presidential Center and not people coming in from outside their neighborhood telling us what to do,” she said, calling for more organizations in the 5th Ward to be at the table and stating her willingness to facilitate.

Calloway restated his support for a CBA, stating that 5th and 20th ward organizations together should draft it. “It’s just important that we understand a CBA should include a property tax freeze [and] lifting the ban on rent control,” he said. “There is a plan for this community that does not include a lot of people in this community, and that is the biggest fear that we have in this community.”

Calloway declined to commit to a CBA for the planned Tiger Woods-designed golf course between South Shore and Jackson parks, citing unfamiliarity, though he said he was opposed to the links’ privatization. Hairston said the golf course would not be privatized and had sponsored roadway improvements in its ordinance.