MPAC reelects officers despite opposition by OPC backers

MPAC president Bronwyn Nichols Lodato (background) applauds, and local activist Robin Kaufman (foreground) cheer after it was announced that Lodato and all other current MPAC officers were reelected. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) members reelected their incumbent officers during a tense Nov. 13 meeting that reflected the disparate dynamics pulling at Hyde Parkers regarding construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

“What is happening is that the community is fighting a proxy war over the Obama Center through this PAC,” said member Liz Moyer 50 minutes into the 2-hour meeting, which saw two attempts by Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry and Mary Anton to disrupt the scheduled election of officers.

As the meeting came to order, Anton, who ran for treasurer, proposed that MPAC hold the vote immediately, not at 7:30 p.m. as scheduled. McCurry later made a motion that the vote be postponed, arguing that the vote could not be taken with enough time for candidates to make their statements. Both motions failed.

Moyer proposed that MPAC “would make no statement about the Obama Center ever,” and her proposal passed.

“If we just spent our time focused on actually doing something for the community instead of having these ridiculous wars, it would be better,” she said.

As described by the Chicago Park District, park advisory councils (PACs) are voluntary groups of individuals who meet on a regular basis to support the effective functioning of their local park by promoting park activities and community awareness, communicating with the Park District on park operations, and fundraising.

MPAC holds park cleanups and attracts outside volunteers, but the Midway is linked irrevocably to Jackson Park. Both were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and hosted the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition; they share a listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

The proposed OPC site is land that benefitted from 1980 federal investment under the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR). Because of grandfathering, the benefits of that investment must be preserved, and the government has proposed investment into the eastern end of the Midway, between Stony Island Avenue and the railroad viaducts.

A “committee of the whole” regarding the UPARR investment, which has yet to come to fruition, has dominated sizable portions of MPAC meetings over the past year.

In September, MPAC members voted to ask federal authorities and the city that any changes to the park not endanger its listing on the NRHP. Fervid OPC supporters, including Anton, and McCurry, attended the October MPAC meeting and insinuated that the November officers’ election would be unfair.

In her speech before the balloting, President Bronwyn Nichols Lodato recalled that MPAC has grown from 6 to more than 100 members since its founding in 2015, and she enumerated its responsibilities as “preservation, maintenance and beautification events involving volunteers from literally all over the world.”

As MPAC’s founding president, Nichols Lodato said the organization has won accolades from the Park District and Friends of the Parks and grants from the South East Chicago Commission.

“Meetings and agendas engage ongoing and emerging issues,” she said. “I invite representatives from organizations and agencies to address the body so MPAC is well-informed. Above all, I stress that MPAC’s work remains focused on the Midway. It is transparent, and MPAC is a respectful forum to advocate for the park.”

Park District employees counted the secret ballots, and incumbents Nichols Lodato, vice president Donald McGruder and secretary-treasurer Radiah Smith-Donald easily won another one-year term.

“People seek out the public forums that they can find to express themselves about not just what’s happening on the Midway,” Nichols Lodato said after the vote. “As a PAC, we don’t limit against that, but we do try to keep people focused on the Midway itself.”

Nevertheless, she pointed out that the federal reviews being instigated by the OPC affect the Midway as well as Jackson Park.

“We have to pay attention to that, because it has an impact on the Midway,” she explained. “We are part of a connected park system, even though we are our own park. Certainly, when that happens, we are not going to shrug or not address the questions that are being brought to the body.”

She said her proudest accomplishment is the cultivation of diverse viewpoints within MPAC and “the cohesion that we’ve been able to create by really focusing on building transparent administrative procedures in the work that we do.” She said she would work to ensure that “the park remains a park” with an eye on deferred maintenance issues and programming.