WOODLAWN — Gabriel Piemonte, a Woodlawn resident, journalist and community organizer, is running again to represent the 5th Ward in City Council.
Piemonte announced his bid for the seat Monday, days after incumbent Ald. Leslie Hairston announced she’ll step down at the end of her term. He placed third in the 2019 aldermanic race.
“To the extent that you can make a difference as an individual, that’s something i endeavor to do,” Piemonte said in an interview Tuesday.
Piemonte is still working out the details of his platform, but will center issues like public safety, reparations, housing and community land ownership during his campaign. He’ll put out policy papers outlining his ideas over the next month, he said.
Community reporting and journalism education have been how Piemonte’s paid the bills in the 23 years since settling down in Chicago, he said. He previously wrote and edited for the Hyde Park Herald.
Piemonte co-founded a coalition to preserve Woodlawn’s Shrine of Christ the King after a devastating 2015 fire, and co-founded the South Side Community Federal Credit Union.
He also founded the Italian American Heritage Society of Chicago, which “simultaneously celebrates the culture … and pushes back on idea that we have to celebrate murderers” like Christopher Columbus, he said.
Piemonte finished behind Hairston and activist William Calloway with 24.7 percent of the vote in 2019. Piemonte was within 260 votes of qualifying for the runoff.
In the four years since that City Council bid, public safety has become an increasingly pressing issue — particularly for Hyde Parkers, Piemonte said.
“What’s going on in Hyde Park is as real as it is anywhere else, and the city is in crisis,” Piemonte said. “In parts of the ward, crime is more of an issue in other parts, but no resident at this time can be told that there aren’t issues around safety and security.”
His approach to safety would “stop pouring money” into the police department, and instead direct some policing funds to economic and public health programs, he said.
Piemonte proposed a program to provide jobs to every Chicagoan who wants one. The city must also treat violence as a public health crisis, and establish more “one-stop shop” health clinics with human services — similar to Friend Health in the 20th Ward or Heartland Alliance in the 16th Ward, he said.
“This is how you stop the runaway violent crime wave in the city,” Piemonte said. “You start giving the people a sense that you care about them. You start engaging them, instead of trying to come up with a new penalty or tougher laws … .”
Piemonte would also push for reparations as alderperson, particularly for descendants of enslaved Black people and for Black Chicagoans harmed by racist housing policies.
“Housing is such a dramatic example of how racism persists even into 2022,” he said. “Decades have gone by with brutal treatment, and the weapon of choice is housing instability.”
“Substandard” housing conditions, especially in Hyde Park and South Shore, are a related issue Piemonte would tackle in City Council, he said.
Hairston’s effort to secure $15 million for struggling condos and co-ops in South Shore “is a good start, but a drop in the bucket” compared to what’s needed to improve housing in the ward, he said.
Piemonte also called on the city to redistribute properties owned by absentee landlords to neighborhood residents, which would help revitalize commercial corridors like 71st Street, he said.
Piemonte is the second candidate to enter the 5th Ward race, after former Hyde Park Chamber director Wallace Goode announced in July he’d run for the seat.
He expects the 5th Ward race to be “the Wild West” with several more candidates announcing bids in the coming weeks, he said.
With Hairston’s retirement and neighboring Ald. Sophia King’s (4th) mayoral bid, “from Buckingham fountain to the South Shore Cultural Center, the leadership that sees how [the south lakefront] will change or stay the same … is about to be wide open,” Piemonte said.
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