by Gabriel Piemonte
As I have traveled the ward during my campaign for Fifth Ward alderman, over and over again I have heard about service requests that are simply ignored. During the first three forums that have taken place in this race, Leslie Hairston has not only denied that there is a problem with service delivery; she actually has said she is proud of her record in this respect.
So, on the one hand, there are lots of people saying they are not getting calls back, even, let alone service, and then, on the other, there is an alderman who says she does service right. Who is telling the truth?
Let me answer by way of telling you the story of Cindy and Richard Pardo, who own a beautiful home on Harper Avenue. In 2014, they reported a tree limb overhanging their home. And then they reported it again – and again. They never heard back.
Cindy, making the broader point of the importance of basic services, mentioned this problem at a forum held at First Unitarian Church this past Tuesday, presented in cooperation with Indivisible Chicago. Hairston apologized and said they have a system that takes care of these things – through 311. I’m not going to get into how foolish this sounds to me beyond saying it’s like like the landlord telling you he won’t repair your plumbing because the plumber doesn’t show up. Your job is to get the plumbing fixed. I don’t want to hear about who is not getting that done on your end. Certainly not after four years.
After Cindy shared this outrageous lapse in service, I was inspired to look into the tree trimming 311 records for the Fifth Ward (available here, if you are interested) and discovered that there are 130 open tree trimming requests – many of which date from the fall or summer, and there are even some outstanding requests from spring 2018. I checked the 10th ward, which is much bigger geographically but also a South Side lakefront ward, by way of comparison. They have 55 outstanding requests. What about Cindy’s? Well, that was there, too:
“Fixed it on their end,” Cindy responded when I shared this with her.
She did received something that was meant to be an explanation via email from an assistant to Hairston:
So, they are working to fix it now – now that Cindy and Block Club Chicago’s excellent Jamie Nesbitt Golden and a Facebook Live broadcast have made it generally known that this is a problem. Yet they wrote it off as completed three years ago. Falsified the record, in other words.
My interpretation of this is that problems that are difficult get ignored in the Fifth Ward office, and there is no interest in explaining what is happening to residents – likely because residents would not buy “it’s too hard to do” from a professional making $50,000 to $75,000 a year through your taxes – largely to fix these small problems.
I think Golden’s headline gets this issue just right: “At 5th Ward Candidate Forum, Ald. Hairston Grilled By Residents Asking: Where Have You Been?”
When Leon Depres, the gold standard of aldermen, was still with us, I had the privilege of having conversations with him, and he would reiterate that the alderman in Chicago has two jobs: housekeeper and moral leader. When we first started talking, in the early 2000s, Toni Preckwinkle was still alderman. I asked him about both of them. How did they rate?
“They are good housekeepers,” he said.
I read that as a strike one – no moral leadership.
Now, the housekeeping has also gone out the window – strike two.
And not responding to a constituent for four years? Allowing the record to report that something is done when it is not? To me, that’s strike three. I am putting a lot of time and energy behind the idea – in the form of my campaign – that a lot of my neighbors feel the same way, too.
In the meantime, we will keep rooting for Cindy and Richard. Maybe, with media pressure acting as a spotlight, the tree will finally get trimmed this year.
If I am elected, I will go up there myself. Four years is long enough to get a tree trimmed, don’t you think? And shouldn’t you, at some point, just do whatever it takes, if you have been elected Chief Housekeeper?
And isn’t twenty years long enough to get basic service delivery right – or make way for someone who will?
My virtual campaign lives at gabrielpiemonte.com. Please stop by and join our efforts.