Hyde Park Politicians

Meet the local players on Chicago’s political scene

By Ella Christoph

Hyde Park splashed into the national spotlight during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, but your south side neighborhood is also the stomping ground of many other noteworthy political figures.

Bill Ayers » An instrumental member of the notorious Weather Underground and Students for a Democratic Society, Ayers is an unabashed New Left radical and activist. Ayers, who lives in Hyde Park, was pulled into the spotlight in 2008 campaign because of his loose ties to Barack Obama.

Will Burns » The most recently elected U of C alum, Burns (A.B. ’95, A.M. ’98) has served as State Representative for the 26th District since 2009. The former Obama deputy campaign manager is one of two representatives whose districts include parts of Hyde Park.

Carol Moseley Braun » Moseley Braun (J.D. ’72) served in the Illinois House of Representatives between 1978 and 1987, then represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate from 1993 until the conclusion of her term in 1999. Braun, who lives in Hyde Park, was nearly mugged in early 2007 before two U of C undergrads fended off her attacker.

Willie Cochran » 20th Ward Alderman Cochran represents the western part of Hyde Park in Chicago’s legislative body. A former organizer of the Woodlawn New Communities Program, Cochran served as a police officer in the 20th Ward for 12 years before running for office. As alderman, he represents the Ward in the Chicago City Council along with aldermen from the 49 other Wards.

Barbara Flynn Currie » Thirty years ago, Currie (B.A. ’68, M.A.’73) was a 38-year-old mother preparing her dissertation at the U of C. She was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives for the 25th District the following year and has held her seat ever since, serving as majority leader for the past decade. Currie was married to Law School professor David P. Currie until his death two years ago.

Louis Farrakhan » One of the most famous residents of Kenwood, the neighborhood directly north of Hyde Park, Farrakhan is best known for heading of the Nation of Islam and being an outspoken leader in the black community. Farrakhan supported Obama in 2008, but was renounced by Obama, who objected to many of Farrakhan’s controversial political statements.

Leslie Hairston » Hairston, alderman of the Fifth Ward of Chicago since 1999, is a Hyde Park native who earned her diploma from the Lab School in 1979. Hairston butted heads with some U of C students in 2008 when she proposed eliminating a popular campus bus stop. After students protested, she withdrew the proposal.

Barack Obama » Obama scarcely needs introduction. President of the United States, Obama represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate from 2005 to 2009, and Hyde Park in the State Senate from 1997 to 2004. He spent 12 years as a lecturer of constitutional law at the Law School and still visits his heavily guarded home in Kenwood.

Toni Preckwinkle » For 18 years, Preckwinkle (A.B. ’69, M.A.T. ’77) has served as the alderman of Chicago’s Fourth Ward, which includes all of Kenwood, the northern part of Hyde Park, and other neighboring areas. The University works with Preckwinkle regularly, including on a recent project to develop land north of campus into a retail center. She is currently running for President of the Cook County Board and won the Democratic primary in February, defeating incumbent Todd Stoger. Preckwinkle recommended to Mayor Richard Daley that State Representative Will Burns (A.B. ‘95, A.M. ‘98) take her seat if she wins the Board Presidency in November, as it is widely expected she will.

Kwame Raoul » After Obama left his seat as district Illinois Senate member from the 13th District in Springfield to become an Illinois senator, Raoul was chosen as his successor. A former prosecutor, Raoul called for stricter gun control laws after the murder of University grad student Amadou Cisse in 2007. He was on the short list to replace Obama as U.S. Senator in 2008, but withdrew from consideration to avoid the appearance of any wrongdoing in connection with then-governor Rod Blagojevich.

Bobby Rush » Rush, who has represented Hyde Park in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993, has been a frequent opponent of the U of C’s administration. He decried the University’s refusal to divest from Darfur, and in June called for a Congressional investigation into allegations that the Medical Center discriminated against low-income patients. He held his seat against challenger Barack Obama in 2000.