Development, gentrification focus of aldermanic runoffs in South Side lakefront wards


In the South Side 4th and 5th wards, where voters have long stuck to a political tradition of independence and progressivism, more than a dozen candidates for alderman crowded the Feb. 28 ballot, all offering varying visions for the future of the majority-Black wards.

No candidate was able to garner 50% of the vote in the first round of the election, and the contentious issues that marked those campaigns have stayed in play leading up to the April 4 runoffs between the top two finishers in each race.

The lakefront wards are home to historic housing stock and city landmarks including the Museum Campus and Soldier Field, the University of Chicago and the South Shore Cultural Center. A future landmark, the Obama Presidential Center, will have a much-discussed but still to be defined impact when it opens in 2025.

While some welcome the potential economic benefit, many residents and activists in the 5th Ward fear gentrification, which some say is already underway near the Obama center.

New residential construction in neighborhoods such as South Shore and Woodlawn, a boost in investment from outside real estate investors and rising rents have spurred demands for solutions to prevent displacement and a split between candidates about how to address it.

In the 4th Ward, the driving issue has been which candidate is best positioned to spark development in parts of the ward in need of rejuvenation.

Ald. Sophia King’s decision to run for mayor led to a six-candidate race to represent a ward that encompasses the South Loop, the Bronzeville lakefront, Prairie Shores, South Commons and Kenwood.

Facing each other in the April 4 runoff are Prentice Butler, outgoing Ald. King’s pick, and state Rep. Lamont Robinson, who is supported by Toni Preckwinkle, the ward’s former five-term alderman who is president of the Cook County Board and head of the county’s Democratic party.

Butler, King’s second in command, also worked for her predecessor, Ald. Will Burns. He says he has the know-how to run the office from day one, including tackling major projects, including the redevelopment of the old Michael Reese Hospital site and the potential One Central development, which would occupy land in both the 4th and neighboring 3rd Ward.

Prentice Butler, candidate for 4th Ward alderman.

Preckwinkle’s prior endorsements have been successful ones: she endorsed Burns to replace her and King after that.

A former teacher at City Colleges of Chicago and a State Farm insurance agent, Robinson, first elected to the state legislature in 2018, said he wants to make the jump to the City Council to “move the needle” on economic development in the ward.

Robinson was the top vote-getter on Feb. 28, garnering 46% of the vote to Butler’s 15%. Robinson also has raised roughly $590,000 — about six times as much as Butler — over the course of the race so far. That includes $5,000 from Gov. J.B. Pritzker; $116,000 from funds affiliated with SEIU; and a nearly $70,000 transfer from Robinson’s fund for his state rep runs. Robinson was unopposed for his seat in the state house in 2020 and 2022.

State Rep. Lamont Robinson on the House floor Jan. 10, 2023, in Springfield.

In the election’s first round, Preckwinkle’s 4th Ward Democratic party committee paid for mailers aimed at candidate Ebony Lucas, a real estate attorney. Now Lucas, who recently joined four other losing candidates in endorsing Butler, is suing Preckwinkle, the 4th Ward Democratic Organization, and Robinson, alleging defamation over the content of those mailers as well as phone calls made by Robinson’s campaign.

Robinson told the Tribune earlier this month he had no signoff on the mailers and had not yet been served in the lawsuit.

“I believe that we should not disparage any candidate, but I also think that it’s important that we also make sure that the public knows what candidates are doing in the community,” he told the Tribune.

Preckwinkle defended the mailers. “They were carefully footnoted, so lots of luck to her,” she told reporters at an unrelated Mar. 16 news conference.

“This is a job I held for almost 20 years, so I have a real interest in having somebody who shares my values and concerns being in that office,” she said.

Some of the former candidates have suggested Preckwinkle’s endorsement of Robinson is evidence of his lack of independence from the political machine.

Preckwinkle and Robinson have known each other since he launched his insurance business on 47th Street several years ago. Preckwinkle tapped him to help lead the special service area for that corridor.

“I worked with her to bring businesses, to beautify the 47th Street corridor, building shops at 47th and Cottage Grove,” Robinson said. Those efforts included demolishing a liquor store with “a lot of gang activity, drug activity” and replacing it with retail and affordable housing, he said.

Robinson said that if elected he wants to continue to work on improvements at that intersection as well as those at 43rd and Cottage Grove and 35th and King Drive. His other priorities include speeding up lead pipe removal and finding ways to make homeownership, or commercial and residential rentals, more affordable. He pledged to help residents understand assessment appeals and property tax exemptions.

Butler, too, says he is focused on economic development and hopes to maintain what she calls the “renaissance” taking place along 43rd and 47th streets. He points to a mixed income housing project known as 4400 Grove Phase II, a new Northwestern Memorial outpatient center in Bronzeville, renovation of the Lillian Marcie theater, and the expansion of the popular Two Fish and Ain’t She Sweet restaurants.

“We need to make sure that we’re putting the community’s values first … above politics, insider deals, and all those things that are creating quality of life issues in our community,” Butler said. “We need an independent voice in City Council.”

Butler’s platform calls for expedited redevelopment of Chicago Housing Authority sites and the development of affordable single-family homes on vacant lots, “to provide working class families the ability” to buy a home for under $350,000.

When Ald. Leslie Hairston announced she would not seek a seventh term, 11 candidates jumped in the contest to represent a ward covering Hyde Park, the University of Chicago campus and South Shore.

Now competing in the runoff election are Desmon Yancy, a community organizer with the backing of major progressive groups, and Martina “Tina” Hone, an attorney whose most recent job was heading up engagement for outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

5th Ward alderman candidate Desmon Yancy with community members at a canvassing event on March 18, 2023, in the South Shore neighborhood.

The Feb. 28 election was relatively close, with Yancy getting 26% of the vote and Hone collecting 19%.

Both candidates are promising to reduce crime, stave off displacement of lower income residents while also reaping the rewards of the presidential center. But questions from the election’s first round over Yancy’s residency and Hone’s response to gentrification have carried over to the runoff.

Though they never filed a formal challenge to Yancy’s candidacy, several candidates — Hone not among them — worked together to produce an ad alleging Yancy lived in south suburban South Holland, not South Shore.

Yancy told the Tribune that while going through a divorce, he moved out of his South Holland home and into the 5th Ward in 2018. That divorce was finalized the following year. He acknowledges he was not registered to vote in the ward until March of last year.

“I voted where my interests were, which is where my son lived at the time,” which was South Holland, Yancy said.

Yancy has worked with the Inter-City Muslim Action Network, SEIU and its affiliated political group United Working Families, and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability.

He has challenged Hone’s Chicago bona fides, noting she moved back to the city only a few years ago.

Hone was born in Hyde Park and raised in Roseland, attending the University of Chicago for her undergraduate degree and the University of California at Berkeley for law school.

Hyde Park resident Kim Jones talks to Chicago 5th Ward aldermanic candidate Martina "Tina" Hone in the ward, March 16, 2023.

She went to Washington to work for the House Education and Workforce and Judiciary committees and as an associate undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She returned to Chicago in 2016 to be near her mother and eventually took a job at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. Hone went on to work as chief engagement officer for Mayor Lori Lightfoot starting in fall 2020.

Hone is biracial, which she said can be an issue when trying to connect with voters in the predominantly Black ward. “Until this campaign, I actually primarily identified as Black,” said Hone, who jokes that she is “melanin challenged.”

“My Dad was from the former Yugoslavia. My Mom is African American,” she says on her campaign website. “Being biracial but looking white has made me acutely aware of the systemic injustices experienced by the African American community and as a result, I have been a justice seeker all my life.”

“I thought it would be too confusing for people who didn’t know me to come out and just say, ‘I’m Black,’ looking like I look,” Hone said in an interview. “I am very authentically a sister. … You know, I grew up in the hood. I joke with people I know how to French braid hair.”

Community and activist groups in the ward have long tangled with the University of Chicago over potential expansions of the school’s footprint and its impact on housing prices nearby. The Obama Presidential Center has spurred both fresh hopes about improving property values nearby and worries about rising rents as investors have snapped up properties near Jackson Park.

Yancy said that in talking to ward residents, he has found that “for them gentrification is a dirty word that they don’t want because it sounds like development that’s coming for someone else and not for people who live here.”

In a WTTW-Ch. 11 questionnaire, Hone wrote that “I do not want to stop ‘gentrification,’ “ a response Yancy has criticized.

“My opponent has said on record that she supports gentrification and won’t stop it,” Yancy said.

Hone told the Tribune she now regrets the statement to WTTW. “My issue is not about gentrification,” Hone said. “My issue is displacement, and that’s different.”

“The truth is, it may mean people have to leave South Shore. That’s just the truth,” Hone said. “The other truth though, right now is, that there is affordable housing in South Shore.”

Voters in nearly a dozen precincts on Feb. 28 overwhelmingly supported an advisory referendum asking the new alderman and mayor to support legislation creating a community benefits agreement (CBA) to prevent displacement in South Shore. They also backed another referendum to build “truly affordable” housing on a city-owned vacant lot on 63rd Street and South Blackstone Avenue in Woodlawn.

Yancy is supportive of the CBA to protect housing in South Shore.

“You’re talking about 90% of voters in South Shore who are concerned about displacement,” Yancy said. “That’s a real concern. So (I’ll be) making sure in discussions with the Obama presidential library that those concerns are heard and that there is a remedy that makes people feel less concerned about it.”

Hone told the Tribune she does not support that CBA “wholeheartedly.”

“I don’t agree with reserving every city owned vacant lot for building affordable housing,” Hone said. “Other people need vacant lots, businesses need vacant lots.”

But she said some of the CBA’s demands should be citywide policy, including the “right to return” for tenants after code violations or building repairs, as well as legal help for tenants.

She also said she can’t go along with the CBA’s demand that 60% of new developments in South Shore be reserved for affordable housing.

“I don’t agree with that because I think that puts poor on top of poor,” Hone said. “The best way when you’re poor to actually get out of it is to have a friend who is not poor. Not because of the money, but because of the opportunities and doors they open for you.”

Both candidates support community-based policing and agree that in the longer term, there must be greater investment in mental health and youth engagement. Yancy, considered the more progressive candidate due in part to his support for programs such as universal basic income, indicated he has no plans to try to shrink the police force.

“I won’t ask for less police, I don’t think that is where we are,” Yancy said. “My first conversation is going to be with (the district commanders) and find out what they are already doing to get a sense of what is working and how the district council will help.”

Hone served on a school board in Fairfax, Virginia, but neither candidate has run for office in Chicago. Hone argues her resume is a significant advantage.

“He doesn’t have my level of education and experience,” Hone said. “And I am not going to dishonor my parents who, I may have been in a low-income home but it was a high-expectation home, and say that doing a year at DeVry is the same as graduating dean’s list from U. of C. and going on to law school.”

Yancy called this an “elitist” attack, and said that was the case form at the time he was a student, many people cannot afford to finish college. He also took his own shot at Hone and her acknowledged support of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“People with law degrees have supported many of the policies that have left our communities in ruins, including No Child Left Behind,” he said.

Yancy is backed by major labor organizations, including Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU, and he has outraised Hone by a margin of more than 4 to 1.

Hone, who is mostly funded by individuals and local businesses, tried to put a positive spin on the fundraising discrepancy.

“The only people I’m going to owe anything to are the people in the 5th Ward,” Hone said. “I’m not going to have to worry about what any major donor has given me because, you know, I’m independent.”

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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