Let's review the record. Elected in 1999, the alderman is in her third term. Throughout most of this tenure, development has been booming in Chicago. Countless condos have risen all over, including marginal neighborhoods such as the far south loop. Hundreds of restaurants and boutiques were not far behind.
In the 5th ward, however, development has been at a standstill (unless you get excited about a Starbucks opening on Stony Island). There has been only one project that has even gotten as far as the drawing board - Solstice on the Park (a 26 story midrise at 56th and Cornell). However, the recent economic downturn casts a real shadow on this project. I hope it will fly in the face of the collapse of our financial markets, but there is every reason to worry.
Alderman Hairston has nothing to show for the last nine years. One would think that the hotel project would be manna from heaven -- jobs for her constituents, a much needed hotel for the neighborhood, and real evidence of major development progress, some $90,000,000 worth.
Instead, the Alderman has followed an erratic course. When it was announced that the U and White Lodging proposed a hotel for the site, she scheduled a series of "community meetings" without thinking through the possible objections. Special interest groups, including a hotel union and power hungry NIMBYs, crowded in. Clouds of noise and unverified assertions were produced but little progress.
Instead of seeking answers to the legitimate concerns and cutting short the objections without merit, the Alderman proclaimed "It would be best if White Lodging went away" and "the concerns of the community for preservation must be addressed."
The Alderman's rejection of the original project put the whole process on hold for almost a full year. At the August 5th meeting, some progress was made. It became clear that preservation was not possible and that there were many who thought these ugly old hospital buildings should be torn down. Even the union was taken to task for interfering in local politics. Things began to look up for the project.
Unfortunately, since this meeting there have been 3 new challenges:
1. the dry referendum which would kill any hotel proposal
2. local 1, Unite-HERE visited the alderman to apply political pressure
3. the mortgage and credit markets collapsed.
We can hardly expect the alderman to fix the credit crisis. However, we can expect a firm stance in favor of development. She is on record as calling the dry referendum a "dirty trick." She knows that this will cast a pall on development in her ward. She knows that the people behind the referendum are simply against all new development and do not represent her constituents. However, she has not come out publicly and urged 39th precinct residents to vote against the referendum.
We know that representatives of local 1, Unite-HERE went to the alderman's office. I can only speculate on what happened there, but I'm sure it involved threats to mobilize union manpower in support of the alderman's future election opponents. This is scary for someone without an organization and few funds, but it's time for the alderman to think about doing the right thing for the community.
We are at a turning point for the 5th ward, the only possible development in the foreseeable future is the hotel at Doctor's Hospital. This means that the alderman will be held responsible if she doesn't pull this off. It is well within her political abilities to do so. She needs to calm the residents of Vista Homes and move forward aggressively against those who oppose change and pose a threat to her legitimacy as an elected representative.
She should worry less about a few union stiffs working for some mope who runs against her next time. She should worry a lot more about Hyde Parkers and South Shore residents asking, "what have you done for us over the last 10 years?" and "why did you shoo away jobs?"
If you agree, please email or call the alderman and urge her to come out publicly against the dry referendum. Her coordinates are:
• Ward Phone: 773-324-5555
• E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org