5th Ward alderman candidates debate housing and public safety

By Carl Pickerill

A largely pro-incumbent Leslie Hairston crowd turned out to listen to the alderman and her opponent, Oscar Worrill–a member of the Development Committee of South Shore Chamber, Inc.–promote their platforms at the Montgomery Place Retirement Center in Hyde Park Tuesday night.

Instead of wavering from the major themes found in the majority of the aldermanic campaigns on the south side, the main issues of this race are to be focused on the local supply of affordable housing and public safety.

“What I am and will continue to do as alderman is to encourage better training amongst the police departments,” said Hairston. “We need officers who are there because of a need to fill a role of public service, not just a day job. The badge is a badge of honor, not a badge of power.”

Worrill cast the community’s problems with law enforcement in a more confrontational light. Rather than focusing on residents’ complaints about unnecessary police control, he alluded to the need to implement rehabilitation programs for incarcerated persons.

“Once an individual is locked up it becomes an issue of community cultivation,” he said. “My project will be to institute programs in the community for people who are locked up and those who are out selling drugs on the corner. And it will have to do with our youth.”

The Fifth Ward includes portions of Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Grand Crossing, and South Shore. South Shore has been undergoing challenging times recently as former residents of the Robert Taylor Homes in Bronzeville have been relocated there as part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) voucher plan. The plan provides vouchers for use anywhere in the city to former residents of now-destroyed public highrises.

“What the CHA was doing in 1999 was a violation of a control decision, in that we can’t steer former tenants of public housing into segregated areas,” Hairston said. “Instead of the vertical ghettos that we had north of 49th Street, now we’re creating horizontal ghettos in South Shore.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in March 2001 that Hairston had considered filing a lawsuit against the CHA to protect South Shore from an influx of former public housing tenants. Worrill expressed concern that future development of the ward would threaten the status of current residents.

“Developers in the past turned the North Side into their own personal Manhattan, but as alderman I refuse to let that happen in South Shore,” he said. “They were robbing Peter to pay Paul, while all the highrises were being torn down.”

Although the neighborhood is predominantly black and the majority of residents moving into South Shore are also black, Worrill said he fears that South Shore is undergoing a process of gentrification.

“Ten years ago, we let people with subsidized vouchers come into South Shore,” he said. “[The removal of public highrises] started down State Street and it just kept going. What we need is community development, subsidization, and cultivation to preserve the integrity of the area.”

Hairston, who was elected in 1999 against then-incumbent Barbara Holt in a race that also featured Worrill, emphasized that she is running on her credentials.

“I believe I’ve shown my commitment in maintaining the integrity of the area and in directing funds to the South Side,” she said. “I took a community in South Shore that was originally getting $3 million annually from the city and brought the investments up to $200 million. With my already established staff, I’ve been able to milk the city for desperately needed community investment.”

Two other candidates appearing on the February 25 ballot for the Fifth Ward are Carol Hightower Chalmers and Anthony Blair. Although the City Election Committee has said that both candidates are on the ballot for the time being, neither of them attended Tuesday’s forum.

Forum moderator Homer Ashby said all candidates had been contacted either via mail or phone prior to the forum and that Chalmers had participated at a forum at the Women’s League in January. Ashby said he was unsure why the two absent candidates failed to attend.