Hairston holds slender lead on Calloway in 5th Ward race

Ald. Leslie Hairston addresses media and supporters at her post-election gathering. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Incumbent Leslie Hairston clung to the thinnest of leads over activist William Calloway in the race for the 5th Ward aldermanic seat, but the challenger said he would not concede until all the mail-in ballots were counted.

With 95% of the precincts reporting, Hairston held a 50.5% to 49.5% margin over Calloway. Calloway said he would wait until all the votes are counted before making a decision about whether to concede.

“It is looking good, so I am excited,” Hairston told supporters at her election night gathering. “I don’t know how long it’s going to be until they get this last number, but I wanted to give you all an update and take this opportunity to thank you.

“There’s so much in store for the 5th Ward, and I’m looking forward to continuing to take that road with you all as we move forward.”

When asked how she would rebuild support with the ward’s constituents, she replied: “I’m going to continue to meet with people. I’m going to be bringing people together. I think it’s important to get the organizations together from Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore that are directly impacted by the OPC to go ahead and start meeting. I’ll be facilitating that.”

The apparent result was an improvement over Hairston’s performance on Feb. 26, when she took 48.6% of the vote and was forced into today’s runoff. As results dribbled in, campaign assistant Josef Michael said their internal polling showed Hairston ahead in Hyde Park before the election.

The race has been acrimonious since it began, with opponents charging Hairston with less-than-stellar constituent services and a low attendance record at City Council. Calloway benefitted from former Herald editor and first-round opponent Gabriel Piemonte’s strong support in the runoff, but he was hit by controversy over 2015 anti-LGBTQ Facebook posts, and Hairston outspent him considerably.

Through the campaign, Hairston stressed her accomplishments, stressing that only she had the relationships necessary to drive further developments in the 5th Ward, highlighting the coming of a long-awaited supermarket in South Shore, where she lives. She campaigned throughout the ward in the last weeks, standing out in her bright orange coat.

Long a champion of the planned establishment of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, she announced support for a community benefits agreement (CBA) before the runoff, though she has stressed that she intends to convene more parties into discussions on its language before supporting a CBA ordinance on City Council. She does not support the CBA as written that passed overwhelmingly in four precincts as a non-binding referendum on Feb. 26.

Hairston also had attacked Calloway on the campaign trail for his campaign finances, alleging that he was not reporting donations to the state elections board, as well as unpaid fines for parking and traffic violations and eviction proceedings against his South Shore campaign headquarters.

The campaign had been hard-fought with Calloway repeatedly charging that Hairston was out of touch her constituents. His criticism of Hairston frequently was blunt.

Recently he said he did not think she has a good relationship with many municipal departments: “You can’t get some things done if people don’t like you.

“If they don’t like you, they’re not going to come and try to help you as much, and we should not have to suffer as a ward because people don’t like our alderman.”

Hairston’s rebuttals were equally straightforward as she accused the challenger of having numerous unpaid parking and traffic tickets and of being derelict in paying his bills, including the rent for his campaign headquarters.

On health policy, Calloway had attacked Hairston’s record on the closings of public mental health clinics. “How many know six mental health clinics were closed?” he asked. “How many know that Leslie Hairston, the incumbent, was part of that process of closing them? She was.”

Hairston had addressed her role in the clinic closings at a March 29 press conference at City Hall, where she said that when Mayor Rahm Emanuel “proposed closing 12 mental health clinics, I was among the aldermen who fought to keep at least half of them open.”