Yesterday evening, approximately 50 people gathered to discuss the next alderman of Chicago’s 4th Ward, which stretches from the south of Bronzeville to the north of Hyde Park.
The alderman position will be vacant following Alderman Will Burns’s announcement that he will be resigning on March 1 to take a position at Airbnb. Mayor Rahm Emanuel will appoint an interim alderman in April. Gabriel Piemonte, a Hyde Park resident and former editor of the Hyde Park Herald who organized and led the meeting, is focusing on influencing the 2017 special election for alderman, rather than on this appointment.
Monday’s meeting began with attendees randomly divided into several groups, in which they discussed and compared the issues that mattered to them. The groups shared their ideas and attendees broke up into new groups based on the issue they valued the most.
Piemonte began the meeting with five categories of issues: public safety, development, education, ward services, and process. By the end of the meeting, participants had added fiscal responsibility, accountability, and affordable housing.
Piemonte hopes to eventually develop a written statement of what community members value most and seek out a candidate who aligns with this statement.
“The issue in the last several years in these communities has been a very vibrant, engaged citizenry and a political process that was bringing people through in a way that was not necessarily as representative as people felt it could be,” said Piemonte. “If we could have a thousand people who all agree on an agenda, you can pretty much drive an election.”
Many attendees spoke about education, arguing that neighborhood schools should provide a less test-driven curriculum and encourage genuine community involvement. They also criticized the allocation of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds, which diverts property tax revenue to support infrastructure, and the building of new charter schools while closing neighborhood schools.
“We’re building one thing over here, and we have other places where the money is needed…. When they don’t want to spend the money, they’re broke. But there’s always money when they want to spend it. We’re impoverishing our own schools with our own TIF program,” attendee Marc Lipinski said.
Other popular issues included affordable housing—particularly for students, families, and older residents—and ward services, which attendees argue are distributed unequally across the ward.
Attendees advocated strongly for an independent alderman, who would be accountable to constituents.
“[Currently], the person that gets to claim this spot is not accountable to the citizens they’re supposed to represent, but represents the political patrons they’re indebted to,” attendee Rod Sawyer said.
Community members hope to meet again to further identify candidates to support.