City fixes curbless Depression-era streets that led to Chicago alderman’s no vote on Obama Presidential Center

Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune
·3 min read

Chicago’s Department of Transportation has fixed a poorly maintained stretch of road in West Englewood that led a South Side alderman to vote against authorization for the Obama Presidential Center.

For years, residents complained about a road along 73rd Street from Damen to Hoyne avenues that had no curbs and poor drainage. The streets dated back to the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration, a New Deal public works program President Franklin D. Roosevelt started, and desperately needed repair.

Barbara Steward, who first moved into the neighborhood nearly 50 years ago and pushed for the street to be fixed, is one of the residents who argued with city officials for new roads.

“We deserve everything that they get up north,” she said. “We pay taxes.”

On Wednesday, she finally got her wish as the city unveiled a remade road, complete with new streetlights and tree plantings.

Controversy over the street’s condition arose in June 2018, when Ald. David Moore, 17th, cited the road as his rationale for voting against authorization for the proposed Obama Presidential Center, which was scheduled to cost nearly $175 million for infrastructure and roadwork in state money. At the time, Moore said he couldn’t justify fixing well-maintained streets for the Obama center while his roads remained in poor condition.

At a ceremony on Wednesday, Moore said he “took a risk” by voting against the Obama center.

“They told me if I take (a no vote), I wouldn’t be reelected,” he said.

Still, he was easily reelected and continued pushing for the project, which cost $800,000. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel set aside funding but it wasn’t enough, so his successor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, worked with him to finish the job, Moore said.

Sign up for The Spin to get the top stories in politics delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons.

The Obama center has received widespread support from civic leaders and politicians, particularly from African American residents who see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake a substantial part of the South Side while honoring America’s first Black president.

But it’s also raised concerns from advocates who worry about displacement and gentrification, among other criticisms.

Moore was clear that he didn’t oppose the Obama center and his vote, which made no difference to the project’s authorization, was symbolic.

“It’s just disturbing when they say we don’t have the money,” Moore said in 2018. “But when it’s a big project they want, they go ahead and get it.”

Moore said he knows Barack Obama dating back to the former president’s days as an Illinois state senator running for Congress, driving with him to community meetings and even going as a surrogate for him once or twice.

Longtime residents celebrated on the street after a ribbon-cutting. So did Elizabeth Meyers, principal of nearby Randolph Elementary.

“To see that my students have sidewalks walking home, it means a lot,” she said. “It means not only there’s a level of safety that they have, but they also can see that they’re valued and cared for in our city.”

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @royalpratt

———

©2020 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.