Interview: Jocelyn Hare, Fifth Ward Aldermanic Candidate
Hare, currently the senior assistant director of the Harris Policy Labs at UChicago, is focusing her campaign on expanding affordable housing, assisting local businesses, improving public safety, and expanding mental health services.
Content warning: This article contains discussions of suicide.
Jocelyn Chou Hare, the senior assistant director of the Harris Policy Labs at the Harris School of Public Policy, is running for alderman of the Fifth Ward. Her campaign priorities include preserving affordable housing, assisting local business owners, improving public safety, and expanding mental health services.
Hare has been active in the University community since 2011, when she enrolled in the Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.) program at Harris. She studied urban policy and joined several affinity groups for underrepresented minorities in the field. After earning her M.P.P. in 2013, she joined the Richard M. Daley Distinguished Senior Fellowship program as an urban fellow before assuming her current position at the Harris Policy Labs in 2018.
Hare started her campaign for alderman after six-term incumbent Leslie Hairston announced her retirement in August 2022. Hare ran unsuccessfully against Hairston in 2015, and she described her defeat as an important learning experience.
“The first time you run, the learning curve is so high, especially in Chicago. There’s a reason why Chicago politics are notorious. Knowing how to play the game just sets you on a whole different level. Running and failing, you get to learn so much,” Hare told The Maroon in an interview.
Based on the experiences she has gained over the last several years, Hare feels much more equipped to run for office than she did in 2015. “I’ve been doing my homework for the past eight years,” she said.
During her tenure as an urban fellow with the Daley fellowship program, she worked with Karen Freeman-Wilson—former mayor of Gary, Indiana—on a special project to address a housing vacancy crisis in Gary. Between 2014 and 2018, she conducted surveys, secured grants, and drafted policies aimed at mapping and demolishing vacant units in the city and establishing new civic resources on the old lots.
“What I learned from Gary, Indiana, was how [to] move the needle and make things happen when you have no resources. And that was incredibly valuable,” Hare said.
After the end of her fellowship in 2018, Hare became the project lead for the South Side Housing Data Initiative, a collaborative project between the Harris School and several local advocacy groups aiming to survey housing conditions and chart housing trends in the South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn neighborhoods.
Hare described the housing data initiative as her most important commitment over the past six years. She refrained from running for office in 2019 because the project was unfinished, but she said her experience with the initiative ultimately motivated her to launch her 2023 campaign.
“The project wrapped up in August 2022, [and] Alderman Hairston said she was stepping down,” Hare said. “My question to my housing partners was, ‘Who’s going to carry forward this work?’ ‘Who’s going to make sure all of your recommendations move forward?’”
When there wasn’t a clear answer, Hare asked her housing advocacy partners if they would be willing to vouch for her experience and determination in helping unhoused and disadvantaged residents. The answer: “Across the board, ‘absolutely!’” she said. “So that’s when I decided to run this time around.”
Hare underscored the importance of her education and experience at Harris in shaping her political ambitions. “Eight years ago, I ran for this spot,” she said, “and it was because I went to the Harris School of Public Policy and because of the tools I learned there and the people that I met and the mentors that I had.”
Hare particularly praised the support system and collegial environment Harris afforded her. “Any question I could ever think of for the last 10 years, I’ve gotten answers from some of the best strategists and minds working on this. There’s so many staff members who are so supportive and have always been supportive of me,” she said.
On February 28, voters will see Hare’s name alongside those of 10 other candidates on the ballot for Fifth Ward alderman. In conversation with The Maroon, Hare described her political philosophy as “community first.” She rejected the involvement of politicians external to the ward in determining ward policy and stressed the importance of knowing and understanding the constituents of Fifth Ward community areas like Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore.
“How do you make policies about the South Side of Chicago if you’ve never spent time there, if you don’t know anyone from there, if you don’t know what the actual issues are going on on the street? You have to involve [the] community first with policymaking, with decision making, every time because otherwise, you’re gonna get your policies wrong,” Hare said.
Hare also criticized the political culture of Chicago, which she described as consisting of “sociopathic leaders who are ‘win at all costs,’ dirty, corrupt, mudslinging, all of that.” She distanced herself from these officials, stating, “Nobody in my family has ever been in politics, and I never had an interest in being a politician. I was interested in how [to] help out our social systems.”
Hare’s largest campaign priority is protecting and expanding affordable housing in Hyde Park and Woodlawn. She commented on her own experiences with the housing and affordability crisis facing the Fifth Ward. After witnessing her neighbors lose their homes, seeing small businesses get priced out of the ward, and struggling to afford her own apartment, Hare believes that the rising cost of living is the single greatest issue facing the ward.
“The small businesses, the people that are here now, the diversity of incomes, the diversity of people, that is all threatened with this development,” Hare said.
Hare also cites ensuring public safety as a top priority. She attributes rising crime and violence in the Fifth Ward to a mental health crisis, which she says started when former Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut funding for and closed many mental health clinics across Chicago. “We closed our mental health centers under Rahm. Look at what’s happening.”
Hare connected the mental health crisis to issues in policing. “We’re fighting about policing and all of this stuff, [while] we have police officers killing themselves because of this crazy system,” she said, referencing a series of CPD officer suicides that occurred in late December 2022. “The system can’t stay the same forever.”
Hare advocates reopening public mental health clinics on the South Side. She also wants to establish a community center for LGBTQ+ individuals in the Fifth Ward, modeled after the Center on Halsted in Lakeview, a priority she says is unique to her. “I’m the only candidate who’s advocating for the South Side LGBTQ+ center,” she said. “We need to have spaces on the South Side for our kids. It’s absolutely insane that all of us in the city have to travel to the North Side of Chicago to have these condensed LGBTQ+ resources.”
Hare is also the only candidate with a public commitment to establishing a ward precinct council, a body through which Fifth Ward residents would be able to vote on key policy decisions. Hare told The Maroon that she values participatory democracy and wants to empower all constituents to have a role in shaping decisions that affect them.
“These decisions [shouldn’t be] made by billionaires and billion-dollar institutions and folks that have a whole lot of money but aren’t from here, don’t work here, don’t live here, don’t live in Chicago, don’t live in Illinois. Who are they accountable to? Hedge funds, not our residents. There has to be somebody to be able to stand up to that and hold people accountable and not be afraid of billionaires and billion-dollar institutions and speak up for the people.”
That person, Hare insists, is her.
Hare hopes to serve as a role model to her students and the University community at large. She believes that people shouldn’t be afraid of politics and getting involved in public administration.
“I encourage all my students and folks that I meet that if you’ve ever thought about running for office, run for office!” she said. “Just do it. Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”