Community activist and former president of the Westside Minister’s Coalition Gregory S. Livingston has chosen to run for alderman of the 4th Ward, which includes all, or parts of, South Side communities like Kenwood, Bronzeville and South Loop.
Livingston has filed the necessary paperwork with the state to form a campaign committee with intention to run for the seat that will be vacated by Ald. Will Burns on March 1. Burns announced on Feb. 1 his intention to leave office to take a job with San Francisco-based AirBnb. The mayor has until April to appoint an interim alderman for the ward until a special election is held on Feb. 28, 2017.
Livingston, who served as WMC president from 2006 until 2008, said that he initially had no intention on running for alderman; however, after a friend had called him and told him about the vacancy along with his fit for the position, Livingston decided that he should pursue the opportunity.
“It was something I gave a lot of thought to,” said Livingston. “After discussing it with my friend and my wife, I felt that it would be a chance to make a change in the Hyde Park community.”
Livingston, who is also the founder of the Coalition for a New Chicago and was the pastor at Austin’s Mandell United Methodist Church, 77 W. Washington St., made his first foray into politics as the campaign manager for businessman Willie Wilson, who challenged Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral election. He says that after seeing the residents of Chicago wince at the “stench” attached to the Laquan McDonald shooting, he decided that Chicago needed new leadership that was not beholden to special interests.
“The city has spent nearly half a billion dollars settling cases involving rogue police officers and yet there is no policy or plan in place to prevent incidents like Laquan McDonald’s in the future,” said Livingston. “I think because I’m not part of the political establishment and that I have worked with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, I can get a lot accomplished for the 4th Ward.”
Although Livingston acknowledges that his vocal opposition to the mayor (he’s well-known for calling for Emanuel’s resignation) makes the likelihood of him being appointed as temporary alderman slim; but he believes the mayor would be challenging any potential upstart for the job from a position of weakness.
“I think this is the weakest I have ever seen a mayor in all my years in Chicago and I go back to Richard J. Daley,” said Livingston. “I think that the people are losing faith in him and his supporters and beginning to distance themselves from him. Eventually it will become impossible to govern, because you have lost so much backing from your supporters.”
Livingston said that although he plans to run in the special election next year, he thinks the election to appoint Burn’s successor should be held during the general election this November to save taxpayers money.
Livingston said that if he’s elected, he will call a series of community meetings to offer his constituents opportunities to express their needs. He also wants to build a greater relationship with the private sector in Hyde Park, something Livingston feels that Burns failed to do while in office.
“There are an abundance of resources in Hyde Park; from the University of Chicago campus to the proposed Obama Library,” said Livingston. “These resources are not being used to bring greater business opportunities to the area. Because of my experience working with the private sector, I feel that I can build a relationship with business and create an environment for success.”
Livingston said he would also like to aldermen like Finance Chairman Ed Burke (14th) and Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), whose work he feels has benefited their constituents.
“I wanna be Ed Burke’s mentee, I wanna be Pat O’Connor’s mentee, I want to get with the big boys, with those 47-year, tenured aldermen, because they’re the guys who know how to bring in all this big money for the city,” he told the Associated Press. “Let me hang with those big dogs so I can learn the ropes and find out how they do it so successfully.”
After finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Livingston attended North Park Theological Seminary, where he received a masters degree in divinity in 1997. In 2004, he became the pastor at Mandell United Methodist Church in Austin, where he developed many strong relationships with West Side community organizers, including Ed Bailey, the founder of the South Austin Coalition (SACCC) who passed away in 2005.
“Mr. Bailey would constantly preach to me, ‘Organize, organize, organize the people,'” said Livingston in a 2006 interview with Austin Weekly News. “Some of the challenges have been when the people are broken, wounded, sold out and left out of everything else.”
Livingston has worked on several outreach initiatives with SACCC over the past decade, including working with the group to oppose cutbacks to Bethany Hospital.