SOUTH SHORE — After 24 years and more than 200 monthly ward meetings, Ald. Leslie Hairston’s used her final ward meeting this week to take a brief trip down memory lane.
Hairston, who announced in August she would not seek reelection, touted numerous openings, upgrades, groundbreakings and other projects during her tenure at Tuesday’s meeting.
The alderman highlighted the groundbreakings of the Obama Presidential Center in 2019 and Regal Mile Studios in 2023, the 2019 openings of Local Market in South Shore and Trader Joe’s in Hyde Park, the Rebuild Foundation’s development of the Stony Island Arts Bank and Kenwood Gardens, the 2011 opening of the Greater Grand Crossing branch library and more during the 20-minute meeting.
“I will still be around the neighborhood, and I look forward to the next chapter,” Hairston said at the meeting.
Hairston grew up in Hyde Park and South Shore. An attorney, she graduated from University of Wisconsin and Loyola University School of Law, and she was previously in private practice and worked as an assistant attorney general for Illinois.
Hairston won her first term in 1999 by defeating then-incumbent Ald. Barbara Holt. She won reelection to her sixth and final term in in 2019 by just 176 votes after a long, dramatic campaign in which activist William Calloway took her to her first runoff as an incumbent.
Local activists have praised Hairston’s decades of activism to save Promontory Point’s iconic limestone steps and criticized her for a failed community benefits agreement proposal that would have secured affordable housing and other anti-displacement measures for South Shore as the Obama Center is built.
Hairston joins a slew of fellow alderpeople who will step aside in May. Several council seats representing lakefront neighborhoods from Edgewater to East Side will flip this year as alderpeople retire or gave up their seats to run for mayor.
“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,” Hairston said when she announced her retirement. “It has been an honor for me to represent and serve one of the most independent wards in the city of Chicago. I hope the next alderperson will continue in the same 5th Ward tradition and serve with integrity, independence and perseverance.”
Hairston has endorsed labor and community organizer Desmon Yancy as her replacement. Yancy faces former Lightfoot administration official Martina “Tina” Hone in the April 4 runoff election for 5th Ward alderperson.
Hairston did not give updates about ward happenings during her final meeting. Her most recent newsletter highlighted bus stop closures on Stony Island Avenue due to Obama Center construction, Back to Business grant opportunities throughout the state, university scholarships available through City Council’s Black Caucus and other updates.
Hairston encouraged residents “to continue calling my office until May 12th” if they’re in need of services, she said.
The meeting to seat the new City Council is tentatively scheduled for May 15.
Elsewhere in the ward, a short section of the Lakefront Trail is closed near 57th Drive through mid-April, while a detour onto other lakefront paths is posted for pedestrians and cyclists, transportation department spokesperson Erica Schroeder said Tuesday.
The Lakefront Trail detour comes as crews continue Obama Center-related road work on DuSable Lake Shore Drive, which began earlier this month, Schroeder said.
The major delays stemming from the latest round of road work are the “final” stage of significant traffic impacts on DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Schroeder said.
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