Obama Center Key To South Side Aldermanic Elections | WBEZ
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Jeanette Taylor Wins, Leslie Hairston Has Narrow Lead In Aldermanic Races Where Obama Center Looms Large

Veteran Ald. Leslie Hairston clung to a narrow lead late Tuesday while community activist Jeanette Taylor scored a decisive win in two aldermanic runoffs that could impact the Obama Presidential Center and how it will shape surrounding communities on the South Side.

In the city’s 5th Ward, where the center will be located, incumbent Hairston led community activist William Calloway by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin with 39 out of 41 precincts reporting.

And in the neighboring 20th Ward, where the federal corruption case against former Ald. Willie Cochran opened a path for Taylor, she defeated challenger Nicole Johnson by a 60 percent to 40 percent spread with all precincts reporting.

In the crowded Feb. 26 election, Taylor pulled in nearly 29 percent of the vote compared to 22 percent for Johnson. Taylor, a Woodlawn resident, is best known for leading the 34-day hunger strike at Dyett High School. Johnson, of Englewood, is a former teacher and a self-described “community development consultant.”

The 20th Ward includes Woodlawn, Englewood, Back of the Yards and Greater Grand Crossing — all mostly black communities coping with disinvestment. Taylor advocates for an elected school board and lifting the ban on rent control. Johnson wants to create an affordable housing land trust and advocates for a third airport in the south suburbs.

Taylor said being an elected official won’t change her.

"I’m going to use the same tactics. You shame people into doing right," she said. "Is it okay for your community to have safe schools, you not live in a food desert, your streets to be paved. If that’s okay for you, make sure it’s okay for us."

The 20th Ward seat opened up once Cochran chose not to seek re-election under the weight of a federal corruption investigation. Cochran pleaded guilty last month to one count of wire fraud. He is set to be sentenced in June. 

The economic situation is similar in the parts of the 5th Ward, which includes South Shore and Greater Grand Crossing. Residents there have been fed up with stagnant economic development.

Hairston was first elected in 1999 and is a member of the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus. Calloway is a filmmaker and activist who helped force Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to release the Laquan McDonald shooting video in 2015. During the campaign, he has been criticized for writing homophobic social media posts and later apologized

Construction of the Obama Presidential Center is a big issue facing both wards. 

The center itself would be in the 5th Ward’s Jackson Park neighborhood. But it stands to have the most residential impact on East Woodlawn, in the 20th Ward. 

A WBEZ analysis of 2,430 properties in East Woodlawn — between Cottage Grove Avenue and Stony Island, and from 60th to 67th streets — found that the city and its sister agencies, like the park and school districts, own the most property in the neighborhood. That means the city has the most power to reshape the community in the years to come.

In the primary, voters overwhelming approved a nonbinding question on the ballot in parts of those wards that asked whether the alderman should support a community benefits agreement to prevent the displacement of residents from the area surrounding the Obama Center. It suggested instituting a 30 percent set-aside of affordable housing, a property tax freeze and funding for local jobs and affordable housing. Johnson and Taylor support a CBA. 

The city has resisted signing on to a formalized agreement.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @natalieymoore.

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