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Ex-campaign aide to Will Calloway to run for 5th Ward Alderman

A former campaign aide to activist Will Calloway has announced his intent to run to replace longtime 5th ward Alderman Leslie Hairston.

Hairston on August 26 announced that that she will not seek re-election after serving 24 years in a ward that includes South Shore, Hyde Park and Woodlawn.

“After 24 years as alderperson, I am announcing my decision to retire at the end of my term in 2023. For more than 30 years, I have held jobs serving the public, and it is time for me to look at the next chapter of my life.

“While I haven’t made any decisions yet, rest assured it will be active, engaged and committed to making my community better. It just will not be as alderperson.”

Former Hyde Park Herald Editor Gabriel Piemonte seeks to replace Hairston. In the 2019 aldermanic election, he placed third behind Hairston and Calloway, who helped persuade a Cook County judge to release the police video that showed Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.

Piemonte joins former Executive Director Wallace Goode of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce in the 5th Ward aldermanic race. To date, no one from South Shore has entered the race.

In his announcement to run again, Piemonte said, “After a number of discussions with family and friends, especially with my wife, I have decided to enter into the contest for Fifth Ward alderman.

“Given the decision of the sitting alderman to not run for re-election, I believe that the campaign season in our ward is likely to become a bit of a circus, with any number of untried candidates and a great deal of uncertainty during a time of critical importance in our ward and our city.

“It is essential that contenders who have proven themselves willing to risk, and to work for the position in the past, are among the choices presented to the electorate.

“This decision was not made lightly. As was true prior to the last election, I had harbored hope that a strong candidate would emerge from among the many highly qualified Black residents in our ward, to challenge Leslie Hairston with a viable platform. This has not happened, and we are now at the point where there is minimal downside to embarking on a campaign for Fifth Ward alderperson.

“No new candidate will face anywhere near the level of risk in this election that they would have in the past, and that is a troubling fact. Risk is what molds candidates and tempers our often oversized sense of ourselves.”

Hairston listed among her achievements the Starbucks in South Shore, the Stony Island Arts Bank, the Local Market Grocery Store, the South Shore Summer Festival and the Obama Presidential Library. As she prepares to leave office, the planned entertainment center and movie studio complex in South Shore have yet to be built.

Hairston in the last several years has been accused of serving Hyde Park residents at the expense of their South Shore counterparts. Hyde Park voters saved Hairston’s job, as she won only one of 17 precincts in South Shore.

In 2021, she and Alderman Sophia King held an exclusive town hall Zoom meeting on crime for residents of Hyde Park after a University of Chicago student was killed earlier in the year. She did not hold a similar meeting for residents in South Shore, even though crime is worse in the neighborhood.

Hairston did not attend a candlelight vigil or town hall meeting after three men were killed outside Jeffrey Pub earlier this month.

Without a candidate from South Shore, there is concern that the struggling Black neighborhood will not be represented in the 5th Ward.

Piemonte, in his announcement said, “More than four years ago, before I became a contender for this position, I contacted people I thought would be strong candidates for the role, all of whom are Black. I urged them to run and pledged support.

“They all declined, and the word I heard more than any other was ‘afraid.’ It is an honest response; they are all upstanding members of the community and did not want to risk the wrath of the alderwoman by running against her.”

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