Year in review: 2019

Striking teachers and support staff from Ray Elementary, Hyde Park High, Bret Harte Elementary, Shoesmith Elementary, Kenwood Academy High and Murray Elementary Schools march east on East 54th Place, making their way through Hyde Park to Kenwood Academy High School during the school strike. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

By AARON GETTINGER and SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Staff writers

The new year promises to bring major news about the election of the next president as well as a decision about the fate of the last one’s presidential center in Jackson Park.

And what a year 2019 was. After a landslide for the Illinois Democratic Party, the south lakefront saw three new faces — one elected, two appointed — take seats in the General Assembly ahead of a historic spring session. A Hyde Parker lost a campaign for mayor, as the city elected a relative outsider to the job. Hyde Park-Kenwood’s aldermen were re-elected, though one faced the challenge of her career, and both faced challenges in City Council.

More than 5,000 students received University of Chicago degrees in June, and 1,726 undergraduates matriculated in September. Chicago Public school teachers went on strike. Nurses went on strike. Police reported that local crime declined: there were a few shootings but no murders. An unseasonably cold Oct. 31 plus planning by the aldermen and community members made Halloween the most peaceful since 2016. Businesses and restaurants opened and closed.

The OPC has yet to have had its groundbreaking, as federal environmental and historical reviews grind into 2020, but a federal district court dismissed the lawsuit seeking to block its establishment in Jackson Park.

But suit’s backer has appealed the case, and the result of the reviews is unknown. As the mayor plans her own legislation to address housing in Woodlawn in anticipation of the Obama Presidential Center, a special Herald-City Xones investigation found a bonanza of investment already taking place. The local discord over the project that manifested in proxy battles and protests last year will endure into the new one.

Politics

Chicagoans endured another exhausting, quadrennial exercise in municipal democracy, made more miserable by a winter that was extremely cold at times. Local elections saw the re-election of incumbent aldermen in the 4th and 5th Wards, a newcomer elected in the Woodlawn-based 20th Ward and the election of a mayor who had never held elected office before.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle entered the mayoral race with high expectations. She ran on her progressive record but, like many other candidates, became bogged down by her ties to Southwest Side Ald. Ed Burke (13th), whose corruption charges broke on Jan. 2. He allegedly shook down a Burger King at 4060 S. Pulaski Road to give Preckwinkle a $10,000 donation.

Although she was accused of no wrongdoing, Chicagoans, turned towards an outsider and elected Lori Lightfoot as mayor. Preckwinkle lost all 50 wards, though Hyde Park-Kenwood narrowly supported its native daughter.

After the vote, Preckwinkle said she would seek re-election as county executive and focus on efforts for a successful 2020 Census count. She has filed for another term as 4th Ward Democratic committeewoman, and she is leading a charge to lower fares and expand services on Metra, which would benefit Hyde Park-Kenwood. (Lightfoot opposes it.)

Ald. Sophia King (4th), whose ward stretches from South Loop to cover most of Kenwood, was appointed to her seat in 2016 and easily dispatched a challenger, attorney Ebony Lucas, in the first-round election on Feb. 26, 9,178-4,708. She won every precinct.

Hyde Park and South Shore Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), however, was forced into a runoff for the first time as an incumbent. She took 48.5% of the vote in February, knocking out former Herald editor Gabriel Piemonte. In the runoff, she faced South Shore activist William Calloway, who helped get the tape of the police murder of Laquan McDonald released.

It was an ugly campaign. Calloway said that Hairston was an ineffectual alderman because people do not like her and allied strongly with Piemonte, who was at his side when he announced a 100-day plan in the campaign’s final days. Hairston’s campaign released data showing Calloway had thousands in unpaid parking tickets and questioned his aptitude for the job.

In March, Facebook posts from 2015 came out in which Calloway, a devout Christian, predicted natural and economic catastrophes would result from the legalization of gay marriage and said clergy who did not preach against it were likely closeted themselves. He apologized, but it damaged his campaign.

Hairston bowed to pressure and endorsed a community benefits agreement for the Obama Presidential Center in the campaign’s final weeks, after four precincts in the 5th and 20th wards strongly endorsed one in nonbinding February referenda. Someone shot at Calloway’s office in South Shore, which had had eviction proceedings launched against it.

On April 2, Hairston won election to a sixth term 6,849-6,673, with Calloway carrying several wards in South Shore and a few in Hyde Park — but it was Hyde Park voters who carried Hairston to victory. Though the result was not the narrowest in Chicago, Calloway launched an elections challenge and an appeal after it was thrown out, but Hairston was sworn-in with the other 50 aldermen and Lightfoot on May 20.

In the 20th Ward, former Ald. Willie Cochran, having been federally indicted on corruption charges like two of his three predecessors, pleaded guilty and resigned in March. Weeks later left-wing Ald. Jeanette Taylor, a committed community activist with staunch union support, won with 59.7% of the runoff vote.

After having endorsed Preckwinkle in the mayoral election, King and Hairston were passed over for committee chairmanships in the new City Council term. King focused on an effort to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 for all workers, including those who receive tips. Lightfoot ran on a $15 minimum wage but, hearing concerns from the restaurant industry, did not support including them. In the end, the mayor included the minimum wage increase in her first budget, which both King and Hairston supported on Nov. 26.

Later that day, King lamented tipped workers’ exclusion but observed that their tipped wage will still increase $2. She said she looks forward to working with Lightfoot and other industry stakeholders on drafting a study of tipped workers’ economic impact on Chicago, which she said will be used to “reevaluate” their exclusion later on.

Hairston continued her inveterate advocacy for a third Chicagoland airport, though nothing is planned of it. In July, Hairston and Taylor introduced a CBA ordinance to City Council that the coalition of community groups backing it supported. A majority of aldermen co-sponsored it, but it went nowhere in 2019. The Housing Committee never voted on it, and Taylor grew increasingly frustrated with the legislative process.

In December, King, Hairston and Taylor all unsuccessfully voted to ban the sale of marijuana in Chicago for six months over concerns about the inclusion of nonwhite Chicagoans in its retail industry; Lightfoot opposed the move. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office subsequently announced a move to expand social equity considerations into the bidding process for two more medical cannabis dispensaries that would be allowed to open — and to begin selling recreational pot — before 75 more dispensary licenses are to be made available midway into 2020.

Lightfoot herself restarted the OPC community engagement process over the summer. As the year wound to a close, her office made it clear that she does not support the Hairston-Taylor CBA and would introduce her own legislation on housing in Woodlawn — addressing land speculation, residence upkeep, affordability and home-ownership encouragement — in 2020.

State politics lacked the pitched emotions of an election year but made up for it in a dramatic legislative session. Attorney General Kwame Raoul took office in January, leaving the Illinois Senate seat he had held since 2004. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25th) left Springfield after 40 years, and the man the district hired to succeed her, Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II, took office.

After directing the Illinois Democratic Party to its watershed victory in 2018, former State Rep. Christian Mitchell resigned from the General Assembly shortly after Inauguration Day to become Pritzker’s deputy to handle legislative affairs.

Much to the chagrin of residents who wanted a direct say in the process, local Democratic committeemen gathered twice in January to appoint successors. The choices: Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) and Rep. Kambium Buckner (D-26th).

A native Hyde Parker and college dropout who cut his teeth in grassroots activism, Peters had Preckwinkle’s noted support for the job. Questions over whether he met residency status came to naught. In a year when the number of socialist aldermen grew from one to six, Peters did not shy from stridently left-wing rhetoric. He invoked the Marxist Chilean President Salvador Allende, deposed in 1972 in a CIA-sponsored coup, in a speech to slightly confused striking nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“The powerful can kill one, two, or one hundred roses but they’ll never stop the arrival of spring — and our fight is in search of spring,” he said in September when he announced his bid for a full term. Brimming with enthusiasm, he hit the ground running in Springfield, passing 13 bills in his freshman session.

Buckner, a former Fighting Illini football player, grew up in a union home in Roseland and lives in Bronzeville; his district covers southern Kenwood west of Woodlawn Avenue and Hyde Park west of Ellis Avenue. He has a law degree and worked for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and the Cubs before taking a job at World Sport Chicago.

“I think that it’s my duty to try to do the most good for the most people in the shortest amount of time,” he said at his appointment on Jan. 18, stating his commitment to “the sick, the starving and the suffering.”

After four years of stalemate under former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the General Assembly experienced a whirlwind of a spring legislative session: raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, passing a bipartisan budget, sending a proposal for a graduated income task to Illinoisans, establishing a “fundamental right” to abortion. Peters and Buckner voted for each measure; Tarver for everything except the budget.

Pritzker signed Peters’ bills to ban private detention centers, end “Pay to Stay” fees incurred by prisoners to the Department of Corrections, expand access to PrEP (a drug regimen that effectively prevents HIV infection) to youth who receive state services, introduce civics education in prisons and to survey people aged-out of state care on their experiences with it.

An adoptee, he said legislation affecting the Department of Children and Family Services was important because he remembers his feelings of disconnect and isolation. “I need to do issues that I truly care about that I am able to move from my own story and my worldview,” he said.

Buckner spearheaded legislation to give crime victims the right to submit victim-impact statements for considerations at parole or clemency hearings and chief-sponsored a bill making it illegal to publish someone’s criminal record for profit to fail to correct erroneous information under specific instances.

“As I thought more about the folks who go through our legal process, and I thought about the fact that we are going to be expunging hundreds of thousands of records with the passing of the cannabis bill — we need to make sure that these third-party sites are keeping up with them,” he said.

Tarver was the House sponsor for legislation creating a civil rights violation of a person refuses to engage in a real estate transaction or alters an existing one with someone based on his or her arrest history.

“I’m looking forward to continuing my work to ease restrictions for professional licensing and to prevent landlords from refusing to rent or sell property to an individual simply based on an arrest or a criminal record that’s been expunged or sealed,” he said in a statement.

Tarver faces no challengers in the March 17 primary election. Buckner faces one, Marc Loveless (who sought appointment to the seat in January), and Peters faces Ken Thomas.

In November, Tarver hosted (and Buckner’s office co-sponsored) a meeting over the record-high Lake Michigan levels, a topic on which U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) hosted his own meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers the next month. The two state representatives are planning a community task force on the issue of lake erosion in the coming year.

On March 29, the Springfield Police found Buckner asleep at the wheel of his Land Rover a few blocks from the Illinois Capitol and charged him with a DUI; he pled not guilty. The case is pending, with the next court date on Jan. 6. On Nov. 18, the Chicago Police arrested Tarver for a lapsed concealed carry license during a traffic stop over a faulty headlight. Tarver blamed a clerical error; the case continues.

Education

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has seen growth in areas such as high school graduation rates, college matriculation rates. Recently U. of C.’s Consortium on School Research found bilingual students’ performance is equal to or better than their peers, as reported in the Herald in December. While the district has seen improvements, there is still distrust among the public, the Chicago Teachers Union, CPS and the city’s Board of Education.

One of the most pressing issues since the closing of 50 schools and the proposed closing of the four high schools in Englewood (Hope, Harper, Robinson and TEAM) is having an elected school board. Community activists across the city sees an elected school board as a way to remedy distrust between CPS community activists and for the city’s south and west sides to have a say about what happens to their school.

In April, Buckner and Tarver pushed through the house an elected school board bill, HB 2267. The bill proposed that, in 2023 and 2027, voters will use a separate ballot to vote for 20 elected school board members, instead of seven. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS CEO, Janice Jackson, pushed back against the bill saying that it was too big of a board and that monied interests would be involved.

Joy Clendenning, a Hyde Parker who was a parent representative on Kenwood High School’s Local School Council, said to the Herald in April, “It will add more perspectives to the conversations because Chicago is a big city. We have 50 wards. We have a city council that functions with 50 members. Having 20 members will mean that parts of the city, like the West Side, the South Side, the Southwest Side, will be fully represented on an elected school board and that is what we need in Chicago.”

HB 2267 was killed in committee in the Senate during the Spring Session, but Buckner recently filed HR 359 that urges the General Assembly to develop a campaign finance reform structure in response to opposition to the bill.

The story that dominated the headlines for weeks was the Chicago Teachers Union Strike and SEIU Local 73 that lasted for 11 days. Over 25,000 teachers, school nurses, librarians, special education classroom assistants, bus aides and other staff took to the streets to show their frustrations with the lack of equitable funding for education throughout the city. CTU and SEIU Local 73 leadership battled with Mayor Lightfoot to get a contract that included increasing the number of librarians, social workers and nurses in schools; smaller class sizes; support for diverse learners; and increase in pay.

“This is not about making a deal, this is about a fair contract,” said Katherine Dawkins, a K-8 technology teacher at Bret Harte Elementary School, in October.

In Hyde Park, rank-and-file teachers and parents held a rally on the third day of the strike to speak about the struggles that they faced in their schools. For example, Samantha Nieto, a counselor at Ray School, talked about her difficulty with meeting the needs of hundreds of students in her caseload. “I have 700 students on my caseload, there is no way that I can meet with all of those students,” she said. “I also get pulled to substitute which is not okay. If I’m substituting in a kindergarten classroom and a student has a crisis where do they go? We only have our social worker three days a week. That’s not okay.”

While the strike happened, community-based organizations like the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave., offered a safe haven for young children in the neighborhood. A group of Kenwood teachers — William Weaver, Charity Freeman and Dion Love opened a Freedom School to help students examine unjust societal structures with a focus on educational inequality in Chicago.

In other education news, Reavis Library reopened on Jane Averill Community Reading Day in November after losing a librarian position a few years ago. In September, Ray School received a refurbished baseball field after winning a $50,000 grant from Major League Baseball and the Scotts Company LLC. Principals Teresa Peoples of Till Elementary School and Sabrina Gates were accepted into the prestigious Chicago Principal Fellowship program in July.

Housing

At the beginning of the year, a study done by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations has found that housing providers in Hyde Park violated federal and local fair housing laws by discriminating against potential tenants based on source of income. The study found that testers with vouchers were refused for housing, received different terms or conditions for renting or were steered away from the unit that they were interested in renting.

In February during the Polar Vortex, a pipe burst on the third floor of the Ronald McDonald House, 5444 S. Drexel Ave., and flooded the entire house. When asked about the damages that were done to the house, Holly Buckendahl, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, said that damages depended “on the area of the house. On the first floor, where the kitchen is located, there is a lot of damage to the ceiling, wall, and appliances. The third and second floors, where our guest bedrooms are, have significant damages. The ceiling and walls will need to be extracted. The basement had two feet of standing water by the time it was over and will have significant repairs.”

Families were evacuated quickly and safely to nearby hotels. In October, construction on the house was completed and families were able to move back in.

In April, Tarver voted against lifting the ban on rent control during the spring session which lead him into some hot water with housing activists in the Lift the Ban coalition throughout the year. On April 10, protestors gathered at Tarver’s office to speak out against his vote. “With that one vote, he told us he was unwilling to do the bare minimum for rental protection in this state by simply repealing the ban. He could have taken a stand against the big corporate money that dictates our public policy, but he chose not to,” said Helena Duncan at the protest, Lift the Ban Coalition member and resident of the 25th District.

Recently, Duncan and members of the coalition confronted Tarver at a Fair Housing Townhall that he hosted with Buckner and the Illinois Department of Human Rights and Human Rights Commission. After a heated exchange, members of the coalition were invited to Tarver’s office to have a conversation about rent control and why he should support it in the next legislative session.

During a press conference held by the CBA coalition at city hall, a report — titled, “Protect, Preserve, Produce: Affordable Housing and The Obama Center” — from the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that residents within a two-mile radius of the OPC are at risk of being displaced from their homes. The report revealed that renters are spending more than 30% of their income, beyond the federal level, to pay for the rent while homeowners who are seniors are being displaced due to high property taxes.

During the year, the Newberry Library hosted events throughout the city to commemorate 100 years since the Chicago Riots of 1919 that killed 38 people, injured almost 500 people and lasted for eight days. After the riots took place, the Chicago Commission on Race Relations looked at what led to the riots and published their findings in 1922 in a report called, “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot”.

One focus of the report was the issue of housing; the report talked about the limited supply of housing for Black migrants coming from the South, racist violence against Black residents looking for housing in predominantly white neighborhoods and the steering of Black residents to the Black Belt, which stretched from 22nd Street south to 39th Street and Wentworth Avenue east to the lakefront. Many of the practices at the time echo issues that Black residents in Chicago, whether they are potential renters or homeowners, face today.

Development

One of the biggest stories in development in 2019 was when hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin donated $125 million to the Museum of Science and Industry in October. According to an article written in the Herald, the donation will allow MSI to create the Pixel Studio digital gallery and performance space, the first of its kind in North America. The name of the museum will be changed to the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.

The former site of the Michael Reese Hospital has become a site of contention between the city and local Ald. King (4th) as it was a proposed site for a city casino. However, King rejected the plan in a statement in July, saying, “The community is adamantly against a casino at the former Michael Reese site. Casinos are known to have deleterious impacts on existing communities, especially communities of color. They siphon all of the inviting amenities that sustain vibrant communities.”

King and a development team led by Farpoint Development plan to offer the community multifamily and senior housing, a health and wellness campus, a data center, a community space and an extension of the Metra Station to 31st street at the former site as proposed in a community meeting in October.

In September, MAC Properties opened 5252, a new high rise at 5252 S. Cornell Ave. The building is a mixed-residential and retail property that have 250 rental units and space for three retailers on the bottom of the property.

Projects currently in the works includes; Enterprise Car Rental’s move from 5508 S. Lake Park Ave. to Vue53, 1330 E. 53rd St. Harper Court Phase II, U. of C.’s parking garage at 61st and Kimbark Ave and the second phase of restoration for Shrine of Christ the King Church.

Business

Hyde Park restaurants and local businesses had an interesting year, to say the least. Sanctuary Cafe and Fabiana’s Bakery all closed with controversy. In June, Sanctuary Cafe inside of University Church closed after two years. While the cafe was beloved by many for being a social justice space, according to reporting by South Side Weekly the cafe was accussed of exploiting workers by denying them pay in addition to sexual harassment allegations against cafe manager, Martin McKinney. As the Herald reported in September, Fabiana’s Bakery closed in August without paying employees for the last few weeks of work.

Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore welcomed grocery stores in the neighborhood; Jewel-Osco opened in Woodlawn in March, Hyde Park was excited for the first Trader Joe’s store on the South Side and after six years without a grocery store South Shore residents will be able to shop at Local Market for fresh fruits and vegetables.

In September, Virtue and Nella Pizza e Pasta received the Michelin’s Bib Gourmand for 2020. New restaurants opened up like Reggie’s at 63rd Street Beach and Ascione Bistro while others closed like Antoni 1, Pockets and Bibliophile and some is currently undergoing changes like Hiro Sushi and Desserts Bar which use to serve rolled ice but once it opens it will focus on ramen.

The University of Chicago

Lingering issues over the status of graduate students at the University of Chicago. They voted to form a union, Graduate Students United, in a 2017 National Labor Relations Board-certified election but left the federal process in 2018, fearing that the now-Republican-dominated agency would revoke their right to organize. The discontent culminated in June, when GSU went on strike.

Graduate students cited unsatisfactory medical insurance and issues with their stipends, but the overall effect of the three-day strike was muted. A new academic year began without a union contract.

In October, the U. of C. announced big changes to graduate education in the social sciences and humanities: funding increases without a five-year limit to earn degrees alongside enrollment caps. The university endowment grew to $8.5 billion and its assets to $16.7 billion.

In May, the U. of C. announced the establishment of its Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, the university’s first engineering school and the first dedicated molecular engineering school in the United States. In an interview, Dean Matthew Tirrell explained that molecular engineering “tries to translate the discoveries in basic biology, chemistry and physics into new technologies, devices, processes and treatments.” The Harris School of Public Policy established a new headquarters, the Keller Center, on May 3 at 1307 E. 60th St.

In December, Provost Daniel Diermeier, the university’s chief academic officer, announced his resignation at the end of the academic year to take an administrative position at Vanderbilt University. His successor is yet to be named.

It was labor action at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) that provoked the most-dramatic fireworks and changes. Unionized nurses went on strike in September and nearly did again over Thanksgiving before the two sides reached a deal in November.

Things had gotten heated over the summer, as the union, National Nurses United Organizing Committee/National Nurses United (NNOC/NNU) charged chronic short staffing, insufficient security protocols and faulty equipment. The administration countered that the union was lobbing “sensational allegations” and “(prioritizing) media attention over productive dialogue.” The union called a one-day strike, which the administration lengthened four subsequent days, saying that replacement nurses for the 2,240 strikers could only be hired for five days of work.

At a Sept. 19 rally, NNU organizer Cindy Loudin said administration had not listened to nurses for years, even as they missed meals and worked when they were sick. Picketers noted that 98.6% of nurses voted to authorize the strike and complained about staffing ratios, equipment and an administration they characterized as out-of-touch.

In a statement, UCMC President Sharon O’Keefe urged calm, even though the hospital scaled back operations because of the strike.

“The next five days will test all of us individually and collectively,” she said, urging workers to be patient and supportive of the contracted replacement nurses. “We are in a position to withstand a strike because of your dedication, expertise and commitment to our patients.”

The nurses made a show of coming back to work on Sept. 20, but the UCMC locked them out. Collective bargaining continued into the fall as incentive pay arose as an impasse. Ahead of a Nov. 24-scheduled strike, O’Keefe said that the hospital would have no difficulty hiring without it.

The trauma center closed in anticipation of a second strike, but a deal came at last; nurses ratified it on Nov. 26, folding money earned in incentive pay into their base pay.

“Both sides have been working since March on a contract that not only recognizes the valuable contributions our nurses make to our organization, but also ensures UCMC remains at the forefront of medical care and scientific research for years to come,” said Chief Nursing Officer Debra Albert in a statement, calling the agreement “an equitable compromise for the good of our patients, our community and each other.”

Parks and the Obama Presidential Center

The Chicago Park District narrowly avoided a strike of its own: workers authorized one in September, but a deal reached the next month forestalled one. Wages were set to increase from 10% to 28%, with hourly employees set to receive paid vacation based on the number of hours they work.

“It sounds like we are finally being recognized for all the hard work and effort that we put into the parks every day,” said Sonia Smith, a part-time physical instructor at Nichols Park. “It lets us know that we are appreciated and, finally, that our work is valued.”

Aside from a cash infusion from the state capital bill (which also stands to benefit local schools), the major parks news in Hyde Park this year, was, of course, preparations for the Obama Presidential Center.

In a packed courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Building, District Court Judge John Robert Blakey dismissed the lawsuit brought by the Protect Our Parks nonprofit to prevent the establishment of the OPC in Jackson Park on June 11.

He said the case against the city and Park District had clear facts and was “not a difficult case” to decide. Jackson Park, he said, is “a park, and not a nature preserve.” His 52-page ruling found that the use agreement between the city and the Obama Foundation prohibits the latter “from using the OPC for political fundraisers or in any manner inconsistent with its status as a tax-exempt entity.”

Blakey rejected POP’s invocation of the public trust doctrine, writing that “Illinois courts have time and again made clear that museums and other structures — including those with fees — fall within permissible public park purposes and thus do not violate the 1869 Act” that grants the Park District its land “for the recreation, health and benefit of the public … free to all persons forever.”

“The OPC surely provides a multitude of benefits to the public,” Blakey wrote, mentioning its cultural, artistic and recreational opportunities such as a Chicago Public Library branch, spaces for athletic events and the improvement it will bring to Jackson Park.

POP President Herbert Caplan was incensed. “As far as the question about the land involved, this is probably the biggest land theft since the Canarsee Indians were persuaded to turn over title to Manhattan to the Dutch for a handful of beads. We’re not going to allow this to happen,” he said at a press conference.

Indeed, POP has the financial resources to continue a fight, as the Logan Foundation donated $100,000 to the organization in March. U. of C. Law School Professor Richard Epstein took the case in July, seconding Caplan’s promise to take it to the Supreme Court. They filed their brief with the federal appellate court in October.

Lightfoot supports the OPC in Jackson Park. “Construction should commence without delay,” Blakey said in June, but many are wondering if it ever will.

In July, a city report found that the OPC “diminishes the historic property’s integrity of design, materials, workmanship and feeling” of historic Jackson Park, its establishment “(altering) the legibility of the design of the cultural landscape in ways that diminish the overall integrity of spatial organization in the property as a whole.” It took particular issue with the OPC’s tower, which it said will “diminish the intended prominence of the Museum of Science and Industry.”

The Obama Foundation maintains that the OPC will honor and further landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead’s vision for the park. Chief Engagement Officer Michael Strautmanis said they anticipated the finding of adverse effects in the Jackson Park and was sanguine about the OPC’s prospects.

“The 106 report does not, and is not meant to, take into account the overall project benefits or negative aspects overall. It’s literally just focused on why a resource was put on the National Register of Historic Places and if the proposed actions might compromise those proposed characteristics,” he said, referring to the Section 106 reviews the project is undergoing. “At the end of the day, this is not about the overall benefit of what this project is going to bring. It’s a pretty cold analysis of the impact on the inventory.”

Foundation Executive Director Robbin Cohen further rebuffed the effects in an August letter to the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) a month later, strongly supporting the plan to close six-lane Cornell Drive in Jackson Park, the net gain of parkland the OPC plans would yield and the campus’ relatively small footprint.

“The Foundation will participate in this process in good faith, working with the City of Chicago, the federal agencies, other public and private entities and community organizations,” he wrote. “The Section 106 process is working; it has already produced clear benefits, and the Foundation believes it will continue to do so.”

Nevertheless, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation said the “adverse effects” report “does not articulate how the overall undertaking is altering or diminishing the integrity of the character-defining landscape characteristics” in an Aug. 22 letter to the Federal Highway Authority, which is doing the reviews with the National Park Service (NPS).

The DPD said a revised report will be issued in January, after a period of public comment this fall, with the NPS’ environmental assessment expected in the spring. “It really comes down to the agency making sure that they’ve completely done the four steps of that review process, that they’ve made sure that they’ve consulted in every step along the way, and that, at the end of it, they have the appropriate resolution of any adverse effect,” said Jaime Loichinger with the ACHP.

Everyone in Hyde Park, it seems, has an opinion about the OPC’s merits. In December, the Jackson Park Advisory Council re-elected its officers, including its president, staunch OPC booster Louise McCurry. On the other hand, former Sun-Times architectural critic attacked the OPC’s design and establishment in a park in November. Jack Spicer, who got Promontory Point listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), did so himself in an interview with the Herald over the summer.

When POP protesters sought to resurrect the midcentury protests against the creation of Cornell Drive by tying ribbons around Jackson Park trees they said would be destroyed by OPC construction in October, McCurry and Hyde Parker Mary Anton followed them around cut the ribbons off.

In September, McCurry, Anton and other OPC supporters had railed against a motion the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) passed to tell the city and federal authorities not to allow any changes that would endanger its NRHP listing. In November, McCurry and Anton attempted to derail the scheduled election of MPAC officers; the incumbents were retained.

“What is happening is that the community is fighting a proxy war over the Obama Center through this PAC,” said an exasperated Liz Moyer at the MPAC meeting before proposing a successful motion that MPAC “make no statement about the Obama Center ever.”

The OPC project enters 2020 with no projecting groundbreaking or opening date.

People

Throughout the year, the Herald was able to celebrate the lives and work of many people. The 98-year-old tailor, Jean Smith taught us that a hobby can enrich your life and take you around the world. Bea Lumpkin, a 101-year-old labor activist, threaded the connection between the movement for labor and equity in education while offering ideas on future demands the labor movement should make. A 92-year-old barber, Robert Hunter, talked to the Herald about his early years in Hyde Park and the ramifications of Urban Renewal on his business. In July, Hyde Park’s Older Women’s League hosted their last meeting showing us that political action doesn’t stop once you get older. The Hyde Park Historical Society opened the Nancy Hays exhibit, which stands as a testament of Hays’ legacy in the neighborhood and the love of her community.

herald@hpherald.com
s.smylie@hpherald.com