SOUTH SHORE — Aldermanic candidates Desmon Yancy and Martina “Tina” Hone shared their plans to unify the 5th Ward and provide opportunities for young people at a forum Saturday.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) is retiring at the end of her term, leaving a vacancy that Yancy and Hone are competing to fill in the April 4 runoff. They defeated nine other candidates vying to represent the 5th Ward, which includes parts of Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore.
Yancy is a community organizer with the Inter-City Muslim Action Network and has organized with Grassroots Association for Police Accountability, a key group behind the successful push to create a civilian board to oversee the Police Department.
Hone was the city’s chief engagement officer under Mayor Lori Lightfoot from 2020 until September, when she stepped down to run for the 5th Ward seat.
The two answered questions about public safety, vacant properties and education at Saturday’s forum at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave., which was hosted by the League of Women Voters.
The candidates agreed that thoroughly addressing the area’s biggest challenges — like filling vacant properties, improving public safety and supporting longtime residents amid gentrification — will require unifying the 5th Ward’s neighborhoods.
Both candidates said they’d host monthly meetings that move throughout the ward, keep residents updated with social media posts and calls and offer weekly office hours where neighbors can talk to them.
Hone plans to create an advisory council that includes residents from each precinct as well as key stakeholders from the chamber of commerce, community policing representatives and other local groups. She said she created similar engagement councils while working in the Mayor’s Office and has “a track record of actually getting it done.”
“Our ward is like having five different kids, each of them with a unique need, a unique set of concerns, and you have to be able to meet them where they are,” Hone said. “There are lessons to be learned from talking to everyone as a ward and from bringing us together as a family.”
Yancy described himself as a “coalition builder” who is “familiar with bringing people together,” citing his six years of collaboration with organizers and officials that resulted in the police oversight boards. Yancy would host frequent meetings throughout the ward to ensure neighbors’ opinions about developments and their impacts on the community are at the forefront of his decision-making processes, he said.
“With [the Obama Presidential Center] right around the corner, it’s going to be important to build a foundation of community involvement as quickly as possible,” Yancy said. “When we think about community-led development, we want businesses we’re actually going to patronize, and that’s only going to happen if we bring folks together on a regular basis.”
Filling vacant properties and supporting local businesses goes hand in hand with improving public safety throughout the ward, Hone and Yancy said.
Yancy plans to work closely with the police district councils and wants to scale up community-based violence intervention programs that have shown to be successful, he said.
“We can’t police our way out of this,” Yancy said. “Right now, our communities have more police and more crime, so there’s a part of that equation that’s just not working. … When people aren’t bored, when they’re working and trying to raise families, they don’t have time for or any interest in creating mayhem in our communities.”
Yancy wants to expand the Neighborhood Policing Initiative, which “reimagines beat cops” so officers responding to calls in the ward are “embedded in the community” and familiar with the residents, he said.
“When Ms. Johnson’s son doesn’t have his medication and is in crisis, the police who show up should be police who know him,” Yancy said.
Hone said shortening police response times and adding more lights in the ward would be her first steps for improving public safety, but her long-term solutions include expanding programs in which mental health professionals respond to non-violent situations.
To crack down on gangs, Hone said adults who recruit children and provide them weapons should be prosecuted for child endangerment.
“I don’t want to put parents in jail. But, the adults in gangs who are putting 12-year-olds at risk, making them child soldiers, they need to go to jail,” Hone said. “Kids join gangs because they’re looking for a place to belong, and the adults need to be charged with endangering children.”
Hone said she’d support community efforts to create safe zones around schools so children don’t have to pass dangerous situations on their way to class. Yancy said he wants to see more community members step up to escort kids to class so they’re safe and connected to mentors.
“It’s about modeling for our kids so that they can make better decisions when it comes to their own safety and how they stand up in their community to protect each other and serve as role models for the kids coming up after them,” Yancy said.
In addition to making schools and the areas around them safer, Yancy and Hone want to invest more in activities for young people, they said. They support creating a task force to better teach kids how to read and want to provide more funding for struggling schools.
Yancy plans to talk with local educators about what they need to help their students be more successful, then work with community organizations and businesses that can help provide those resources, he said.
“Kids have lost quite a bit when it comes to their educational experiences,” Yancy said. “If you grab a teenager and talk to them about how they feel about their future, they’re absolutely terrified. For one, about whether they’ll make it to tomorrow, and outside of that, if the education they’re getting is preparing them for the future.”
To supplement what kids learn in school, Yancy wants to support neighborhood groups that provide tutoring and job training, particularly for recent graduates because “they’re still our kids,” he said.
Although Hone said it’s important to connect children with mentors in the community and educational opportunities, she wants to focus on creating more spaces where young people feel safe to relax and spend time together, she said.
“The reason kids aren’t playing in the parks is because they don’t feel safe in them,” Hone said. “Kids just want to be kids, they don’t always want programming. … I want to create more spaces for them to do that.”