ENGLEWOOD — After honorary signs were abruptly taken down honoring Englewood community leader Hal Baskin, angry residents are asking for them to be returned.
Fourteen signs along 65th Street between Green and Racine were put up on July 1. The honorary street-naming ceremony brought together Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Foulkes and community members on July 2.
But some of the signs later were removed after Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who chairs the City Council's Transportation Committee, said they were put up before an ordinance authorizing them was approved by the City Council. The news was first reported in the Sun-Times.
“The department is putting the cart before the horse,” he told the paper. “They’re operating outside the scope of their job. They need to wait until it has passed City Council before they start erecting these signs. The signs will come down until it is passed."
The original ordinance to honor Baskin was introduced by Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th), who said she has since re-submitted the ordinance after progress on her initial one was halted.
“It’s not that it’s happening slowly, it was stopped, it was held,” she said.
As of Wednesday a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation said officials are still determining what to do now. Spokesman Michael Claffey had said there was “a pause in the process” and the department was waiting for “final direction from the Transportation Committee.”
“We’re hoping all the questions will be resolved to his satisfaction before proceeding any further,” Claffey said late last week.
Claffey said that the installation cost $1,400, but couldn't immediately say how much the removal of the signs cost.
A spokesman for Beale’s office said the alderman is now deferring final decisions to the mayor and Foulkes.
“Whatever Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Foulkes work out about the signs, Ald. Beale is okay with that,” Beale spokesman Brian Berg said.
Berge did not respond to follow up questions on whether Beale still has objections or what the next step is to get the signs reinstalled.
The mayor's office didn't respond to a request for comment.
Community members suspect that Beale’s issue had to do with Baskin’s past as a gang leader.
“I’ve never denied that when I was a kid I was a former gang leader,” he said. “That’s what I did at 19, but I’m 64 now. When I grew up, I grew up and changed so don’t hold the past against people. I made mistakes, but can I make up for my mistakes after 40 years of being involved in the community.”
Englewood resident Rashanah Baldwin, who has known Baskin for years, said taking down the signs “is really disrespectful and I think it’s unfortunate it happened,” she said. “He has done so much for the community.”
Baskin has operated People Educated Against Crime in Englewood, or P.E.A.C.E, a community center for more than two decades. He has helped people from the community get construction jobs. He has advocated for bathrooms and other improvements at the Ryan Harris Park which he also helped get the Chicago Park District to rename.
“Anybody who has any negative things to say about me, they’re reading bad press,” Baskin said.
He said he’s not angry that the signs were removed, but “bothered” that his 92-year-old mother had to witness them coming down after being so proud and happy to see the family name put up.
The message this sends to the community’s young people is that their past will always get in the way of future success, Baskin said.
“Allow me the privilege to give young kids something to aspire to so when they see these signs they can say ‘If Hal can do that, I can do that,’” he said.
Englewood Political Task Force member Keith Harris called Baskin a mentor. He and others circulated petitions and collected more than 200 signatures from the surrounding blocks to get the signs put up, he said.
“Hal is always in the forefront of gang deactivation programs and he runs a peace community center with no funding,” he said.
If there was an issue with the process, then the signs should have remained up until after a decision was made, Harris said.
“Leave them up,” he said. “If they’re not approved, then take them down.”
Foulkes said that City Council won’t meet in August so the next opportunity to have the signs returned is in September.
Sawyer, who called Baskin a friend, said he was offended when he learned they had been taken down.
“We all live life and everyone has a past,” he said. “All I know is that for the past 30-plus years Hal has been a great influence and a positive influence in Englewood. I supported the initiative then and I continue to support it now.”
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