Our campaign is constantly learning and growing from our neighbors, who not surprisingly have lots of ideas about how they want the ward to be run. Still, we have a core set of ideas that we see as the foundation of our plan for a renewed Fifth Ward:

1. Let the people be heard: Over and over again, we have heard from the community that Leslie Hairston just does not listen to the constituents of the ward. People report being intimidated, yelled at, and otherwise embarrassed in public. People are waiting weeks for return calls from the ward office. This is no way to serve the community. Instead, we have a vision which puts the voice of the community at the very center of decision making. The centerpiece of this vision is neighborhood development councils for each community in the Fifth Ward, deliberative bodies elected by the community that have binding powers of approval over every building project in the part of their neighborhood that is in the ward.

2. Re-ignite the local economy: The need for employment in South Shore, Grand Crossing, and Woodlawn is at crisis levels and can be directly connected to theft and other crime across the ward. Perhaps more importantly, employment is a matter of commitment to community – how do we claim to care for one another but leave families without a way to make ends meet? We will create a surge in employment opportunities in the ward through a laser-sharp focus on job creation on 71st Street and other commercial areas where local hiring could be impacted. Every storefront in the ward needs to be activated. We can no longer tolerate storefronts left abandoned. Each storefront represents several jobs for neighborhood people. Each storefront represents an entrepreneurial opportunity. Our neighbors could be starting businesses in these empty spaces. Money could be flowing into the neighborhood.

We have to identify local properties – both residential and commercial – that are not activated and take action to determine whether owners are unwilling or unable to put them to productive use. When we have people from outside of the neighborhood owning properties, we need them to be engaged partners. It is not acceptable when the investment strategies of out-of-neighborhood owners result in negative outcomes such as long-term vacancies or problem tenants.

Local ownership makes such drawbacks easier to correct and can have inherent advantages for the neighborhood, including building total local equity, which is an important indicator of local economic health. In Hyde Park, we have a lot of commercial activity, but some of the problems are unchanged. There is very little local ownership, and there are a lot of chain stores that take money out of the community. There is no public pressure to hire locally. Meanwhile, a commercial corridor profile is being forced onto 53rd Street, while the historical main street, 55th Street, continues to struggle with its post-Urban Renewal identity. Our local economics are not aligned with our local needs. We need leadership that will have a vision for our communities and not let the highest bidder call the shots.

3. People-centered preservation: How did we get to where we are? In part, it is because we do not preserve what is worth saving in our communities. Why did the chess courtyard in Harper Court have to be destroyed instead of relocated? Why is Woodlawn’s commerical corridor vacant land and institutional buildings? What efforts were ever made to hold onto the businesses along South Chicago Avenue in Grand Crossing? Our historic buildings are what people think of when you say preservation, and they are important, but it is really about recognizing and valuing what we have right in front of us and not always assuming something new is automatically better. People-centered preservation is about keeping those things which make our lives better, without sacrificing the chance for progress.

Published  by the Committee to Elect Gabriel Piemonte. Please visit the website to donate and support our efforts to achieve justice and renewal in the Fifth Ward.