Saturday, January 12, 2008

Revealed Preference: There are no restaurants in the 5th ward

posted by Peter Rossi

Fundraisers are a way of life for Chicago Aldermen. Short terms force constant worry about reelection and the considerable funding required. 5th Ward Alderman, Leslie Hairston, is no exception. Indeed, her war chest is often reported to be considerably smaller her than that of her big sister in the 4th ward. So the annual event is doubly important for Hairston.

Planning the annual soiree must pose a thorny problem for the Alderman and her hard-working staff. The ideal place is a banquet hall or larger restaurant where the pols and friends can have elbow-room. A bar and perhaps a small dance floor or a band stand would be nice. Venues like this are hard to find in the 5th.

In the past, I've attended one of Hairston's events at the Marina cafe at Jackson Harbor. While a beautiful setting, this place was pretty bare. After Hairston dropped the ball on fixing the Point (and her endorsement of the Compromise Plan), I stopped contributing and working for her campaign. A neighbor showed me the invitation for this year's event which I reproduce below

It appears that this year, the staff couldn't find a venue in the 5th ward and the fundraiser was held in Greektown. I can't say that I really blame the Alderman. The pick en's are really slim in the 5th.

I do think it is quite ironic that the Alderman put the kibosh on the University's plan for a hotel in the 5th on the site of the Doctor's Hospital. The hotel would certainly have a nice banquet area for fundraisers. She didn't like White Lodging and she wanted a plan the was "preservation" minded. I wonder how she feels about the labor practices in Greektown? Would she like to have her fundraiser in a building that looks like a state mental hospital? Perhaps, the main reception could be in the former electro-shock treatment room. Donors could be strapped down until they yielded their wallets (just kidding, Leslie).

Even if we set aside Doctor's Hospital, the NIMBYs have been quite successful in chasing restaurants, bars, and clubs out of our neighborhood (witness the huge difficulties Bar Louie had in getting their liquor license and the fact that the "golden rectangle" voted itself dry, effectively prohibiting the development of anything more interesting that delis and coffee shops). It's time to put an end to this.

Note: before members of the Hyde Park Hysterical Society rush in to correct me. I only said that Doctor's Hospital "looks" like a state mental hospital. "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" could have been filmed there. We all know that it is little more than an ugly, abandoned general purpose hospital.


Raymond said...

Interesting that she had to go out of the ward. Ida Noyes Hall has a room that could've handled this. I had my wedding reception at Ida Noyes. But maybe she was uncomfortable having a fundraiser at the Unviersity, or vice versa.

bornatreese said...

There's also the bowling place on 55th St. (If it's still there).

chicago pop said...

I'm pretty sure she could fit everyone inside St. Stephens.

chicago pop said...

Speaking of Greek food, one way to help Hairston host fundraising in her own ward would be to join with Salonicas, buy and raze St. Stephens, and then turn it into a beer garden with Greek catering.

Otto said...

Would she like to have her fundraiser in a building that looks like a state mental hospital? Perhaps, the main reception could be in the former electro-shock treatment room. Donors could be strapped down until they yielded their wallets (just kidding, Leslie).

I take this easy tongue-wagging to suggest that you and yours have been spared of actually visiting such hospitals or seeing someone put into restraints. Anyway, Doctor's Hospital resembles no state facility that I'm aware of.

Richard Gill said...

I am NOT joining in the venomous criticism of Alderman Hairston. Yes, she may have backed away in the face of attacks by Save the Pointers et al. But look at the context:

1. With no real organized opposition in the past, the Hyde Park Establishment probably DID seem to be the shrill, hysterical voice of the community. Why would any politician burden themselves with unceasing rants from what seems like a neighborhood full of crazy people? (I don't know why anybody would want to be an alderman in a sane place, let alone a loonie bin.)

2. Hairston has much more on her plate than Hyde Park. The 5th Ward is mostly in South Shore and Woodlawn; Hyde Park is a relatively small piece of the ward, but no doubt an irritating "high-maintenance" piece. Same situation with the 4th Ward. It's been a long time since Hyde Park was a self-contained ward; the first Daley administration saw to that. Right, Len?

3. Alderman Hairston (and Ald. Preckwinkle) now knows that the old Hyde Park Establishment isn't "in charge" anymore. She saw it with regard to the Solstice development, the Co-op vote, and the 53rd Street TIF meeting. She heard a particularly strong voice in favor of Solstice, and the Solstice passed the Plan Commission. I believe she will ultimately support the Doctors Hospital hotel development; her reservations have been about preservation, not about the need for the hotel, per se. Hairston needs to keep hearing from reasonable people--about the hotel, the Point compromise plan, St. Stephens, whatever. Call or write to her directly, and attend meetings. This blog is marvelous, but a blog is not the same as a direct communication with a public official.

The NIMBYs and shriekers (including the Herald), it seems to me, have been largely discredited. They cannot, with any credibility, claim to represent "the community". Keep up the momentum, but simply leveling angry accusations won't help much.

Elizabeth Fama said...


I don't want to dump on Leslie. I agree that she has a larger ward to think about. On the other hand, I've e-mailed and called Hairston's office directly for smaller issues (e.g. to request the removal of the hideous sculpture on 55th Street, and to ask her to solve the dilemma that neither the Park District nor the Ray School believes it is responsible for shoveling the walk along the west fence of Bixler Playlot -- a pretty treacherous stretch in the winter). By phone I get "We'll look into this," with no follow-up, and by e-mail I get no reply whatsoever.

Alec Brandon said...

Whoa, is the Hotel actually been stopped?

I haven't heard anything about it since the U of C said we'd like to do this.

chicago pop said...


To my taste, which certainly is my own, Peter's post was not venomous. It pointed out a very ripe symbolic irony of the sort that good politicians should pay attention to, if they want to keep their jobs. But to each their own.

Let me approach the same issues, instead, by formulating a proposition. It may be proven or disproven. I am willing to be educated. It is the following: Hairston is a passive, reactive politician.

I prefer proactive politicians. I think we need proactive politicians. I think Preckwinkle qualifies as one of the latter. I mount a critique of Hairston's term on this comparative basis.

If the Establishment etc. has been discredited in Hyde Park, then this is all the more reason for Hairston to have less fear of NIMBY reactions and to do something proactive about such things as the parking congestion around the Midway (there are ideas University-side and she could be doing more), about bringing big box retail to Stony Island, and about the Point, to say nothing of the smaller things that catch people's attention at street level.

As specific examples of this passive approach, let's take several of the diagnostics of flagging NIMBYism you point to and compare the role of our aldermen in each. Take the 53rd St. visioning meeting. It happened in Preckwinckle's ward, not Hairston's. With Preckwinkle's support. She called Spicer et al in on the carpet beforehand and dressed them down on McMobil. I know she's done exactly the same thing to her African-American constituency regarding opposition to a high-density project at 41st and Drexel. She knows what the neighborhood needs and goes to bat for it. And she can swing the same bat in both parts of her ward. Et tu, Hairston?

How about the Co-Op? Preckwinkle stood up at the Town Hall meeting on November 18, 2007 and said it's time to close up shop and go home. She didn't have to do that. What did Hairston have to say at that event?

Preckwinkle has come out in favor of redeveloping Harper Court, and has half a dozen projects in the fire in Bronzeville and Oakland. If the Establishment is discredited, she's taking part rather than riding along. What's going on in the 5th that we should know about?

Finally, as far as the importance of making that phone call: in our household we've gotten instant response from Preckwinkle's office, and in one case a personal reply from the alderman on a relatively mundane traffic issue. You can ask some of our 5th ward regulars what their experience has been regarding that silly broken sculpture on 55th.

Otto said...

By phone I get "We'll look into this," with no follow-up, and by e-mail I get no reply whatsoever.

This sounds extremely familiar, except that I've managed to elicit the same treatment from Hairston's office by means of E-mail (having complained about the failure to replace speed bumps after an alley resurfacing).

Richard Gill said...


I agree, my use of the word "venomous" was perhaps too venomous. And I agree that Alderman Hairston's office doesn't always respond to mail, although they have improved.

Individual expectations about what an alderman should be and do is certainly a ripe subject for discussion, on the blog or elsewhere.

With regard to Hairston's silence on issues in the 4th Ward, such as the Co-op and 53rd Street, it seems the two aldermen scrupulously avoid officially interjecting themselves into each other's ward. This does create problems, because the issues and the residents affected by the issues are on BOTH sides of the ward boundary. However, for the aldermen to officially reach across the ward line would result in other difficulties.

Finally, I think the Hyde Park Establishment's "disaccreditation" has been recent enough that it's too early to really know what that means politically.

chicago pop said...

Yes, Hairston rejectedthe University's plans for Drs Hospital back in November I believe. It didn't get much press and we didn't comment on it at the time.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I could have sworn that Peter Rossi mentioned in the blog (or in the comments) that Leslie Hairston nixed the hotel because she wanted to pursue a more preservationist plan.

Peter Rossi said...


I don't think that pointing out that the 5th ward Alderman can't seem to find a place to have her fundraiser in the 5th ward is venomous.

Development has crawled to a halt in both the 4th and 5th wards. I think our elected representatives deserve some of the credit!


count dracula

Peter Rossi said...


google image "abandoned state mental hospital" and you find several that, to my mind at least, closely resemble Doctor's Hospital.

Peter Rossi said...

I called Alderman Hairston's office and got the round around- well the sculpture in 55th is "public art" so our hands our tied or something to that effect. I think there was something about trying to find who the artist is ...

By the way, Preckwinkle hasn't been so good about this either. During the 53rd street viaduct rehab, the "art" (deteriorating mural) was held by the Alderman to be sacred so nothing was done either to restore it or get rid of it. Take a look sometime.

Peter Rossi said...

Richard Gill makes a good point about the recent losses of the establishment. I am hopeful that in the future, Leslie will be more prodevelopment. She really has to step into the Point business.

I do note that she was in favor of the Solstice in the Park. However, that was such an overwhelming success than even Jack Spicer was rumored to support it.

I do know that she rejected the plans for Doctor's Hospital without anyone ever making a reasonable argument that there is anything noteworthy about it.

As I said in my post, I contributed to her campaign, spent a very cold February nite canvassing at the polls for her, and I passed out relection petitions to get her on the ballot. However, after she stopped supporting fixing the Point, I dropped my support.

chicago pop said...

Development has crawled to a halt in both the 4th and 5th wards. I think our elected representatives deserve some of the credit!

My point as well. Although, to be fair, Preckwinkle has a whole slate of projects going up in Oakland and Bronzeville. Some are real, some are plans, but they will benefit Hyde Park. I don't know what Hairston has done for South Shore or the rest of the 5th. She signed off on Solstice, but what did she do to make it happen? As far as I know, the initiative was all from Ungar.

Peter Rossi said...

One final word:

I would just like to see elected officials that step up and promote development not just fail to interfere with it! Is that asking too much?

here's a story: a friend of mine was trying to find something positive to say about the maintenance of his building. "At least, they don't actively destroy the building like they did at the last place I lived."

Peter Rossi said...

there is never a final word (my apologies)

Chicago Pop makes a good point. There has been a lot more happening in North Kenwood than between 55th and 47th. Hmmm, same alderman, no NIMBYs. (that's correlation not causation. You need a theory to establish causation -- I think I have one!).

Bornatreese -- yep, bowling place is still there (great in spring and summer with only outdoor cafe in HP -- I don't call Bar Louie's 4 tables a cafe). Changed ownership, though.

Peter Rossi said...

I'll bet the fundraiser is in the fighting 5th next year!

Otto said...

google image "abandoned state mental hospital" and you find several that, to my mind at least, closely resemble Doctor's Hospital.

Certainly. I was, however, responding to your comments in terms of the living.