CITY HALL — Activists pushing for a signed agreement on community benefits from the development of the Obama Presidential Center are enlisting more political support as they put off introducing an ordinance to the City Council.
Activists who want commitments on hiring standards, job training, affordable housing as the Obama Center is developed on Wednesday got support from the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International Union.
“There are interests salivating at the opportunity to displace entire communities and redevelop,” said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas.
Michael Brunson, recording secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the union is joining the call in part because Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not ensured that past benefits to the city equally benefited the South and West sides.
“The sad reality is we cannot trust Rahm Emanuel to keep his word, and we cannot trust him with this project unless the promises are certified into law,” Brunson said.
The unions add powerful new voices to the community groups that had been leading calls for a signed agreement up until now, but it also shows the uphill fight it will be in City Council to get aldermen to agree to anything in writing.
Activists originally said they would introduce specific language to City Council on Wednesday, but have now delayed the effort a month in an attempt to shore up their own political position.
“We want to make sure when we do introduce [an ordinance], we introduce strong,” said Jawanza Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.
It’s still unclear which alderman will introduce the ordinance to the City Council, and activists on Wednesday would still would not say.
It seems unlikely to be 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, whose ward the presidential center will be built in and who has said she would not support a written agreement in City Council.
Delaying the introduction of the ordinance to the City Council will likely put it behind the Obama Foundation’s own introduction of plans to the Chicago Plan Commission for the campus, the first step in the city approval process and which planners for the center said they expect to start in November.
It also puts activists in the difficult position of trying to wrangle aldermen and supporters during the holiday season.