No Mind of Her Own

Have you received the alderman’s first campaign mailing? It purports to be the 50th Ward newsletter, but it’s actually a campaign puff piece designed to make Debra look like an effective alderman. It’s filled with her signature blend of half-truths and outright distortions. Twelve of the fourteen photos in its four pages prominently feature Herself; three of those photos show her posing with cops to reinforce her image as the law-and-order alderman. She even stoops to printing a picture of herself addressing one of the prayer services for Eliyahu Moscowitz.

I received my copy of this travesty yesterday, the same day that former alderman Dick Simpson and his team at UIC released their latest report on what they have dubbed our “rubber-stamp” City Council. Silverstein is a charter member of that group. During her first term, she voted 100% of the time with the mayor. During her second term, she has voted with him  96% of the time.

In effect, the 50th ward has had no independent representative in the City Council.  The mayor has always owned Silverrstein’s vote. That’s not surprising. The Illinois Sunshine Database lists committees tied to the mayor as Silverstein’s main funding source. Since her first campaign in 2010, Silverstein has accepted nearly $100,000 in contributions from Rahm, the latest coming just a few weeks ago. Debra and other aldermen who faithfully supported Rahm were rewarded with $20,000 checks at a special luncheon.

It’s another reason to vote against her in the current aldermanic race. We need an alderman who responds to the people who live in this Ward, not an alderman who gets her marching orders from the 5th floor at City Hall.

Look at the current crop of candidates for mayor. Who will be Silverstein’s master should she win reelection?

I find this first campaign piece so offensive that I have decided to resurrect the Follies Truth Squad. Silverstein’s dubious assertions and outright falsehoods cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

Watch for posts beginning this weekend.

In the meantime, recognize her mailing for what it is, a puff piece without substance for a candidate without accomplishments. In this case, the pictures don’t tell the story.

 

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Community Still Being Misled on Library Housing

Alderman Silverstein proudly announced yesterday that 50th Ward residents could add their names to the waitlist for the new 30-unit CHA housing above the new Northtown Library.

It’s what she didn’t say that’s important.

Both the alderman and the CHA have consistently misled West Ridge residents about their opportunities to move into the new housing ever since the project was announced in October of 2016. In truth, unless a 50th Ward resident is already on the CHA waitlist, there is virtually no possibility that an apartment in the new building will be available. Even then, the chances are slim. Both the alderman and the CHA director were reluctant to admit that, by law, the apartments would be assigned first to those couples and individuals who had spent the longest time on CHA wait lists for senior housing.

[In fact, anyone who had been a CHA resident in October 1999 and qualified under the CHA’s “right of return” policy would be given priority as a resident of the Northtown Apartments.  See the following Follies posts: July 10, 2017; June 7, 2017.  Note that referenced CHA documents are no longer available online.] 

I raised the question of tenancy at the very first public meeting with the alderman and  CHA Executive Director Eugene Jones. The response from Jones was instructive. He bowed his head, rubbed his chin, and said that he assumed residents would want the housing for seniors already living in the 50th Ward. The audience agreed. Silverstein stood silently. But it  wasn’t clearly stated until the final community meeting, held at the Budlong Woods Library, that CHA could not reserve the housing for 50th Ward residents. Only two 50th Ward residents attended this final meeting: John Kane, then-president of the West Ridge Community Organization, and me. The transcript of that meeting is no longer available on the CHA Web site.

Fourteen apartments were added to the original plans. They are under the control of the developer, not CHA. Jones stated at one community meeting that tenants for those apartments would be selected by the alderman and the community. I wondered at the time why the aldermen should have any input, and questioned whether political influence should have any role in tenant selection.

The alderman’s statement in her December 7 newsletter  does not  refer to an application process  for those fourteen apartments.  This raises the question of whether or not those apartments have already been leased and, if so, by whom and how.

I have not seen any announcements of an open application process for these fourteen apartments, and it’s less than two months before the building is to open. But this is in keeping with Silverstein’s policy of not discussing public business with ward residents. For example, we still don’t know the names of the members of the secret committee that advised her on the library building, nor have any minutes of their meetings or notes from their deliberations been made public. It might make you think no records were kept.

The existing library is now scheduled to close December 17. The community will be without a library for six to ten weeks. We are told this is because of weather-related delays in constructing the new building. You’d think a city that’s constantly under construction would have been better prepared. My guess is that the delay is really caused by the alderman’s need to gain as much political advantage as possible from the building’s opening. Think of all the pictures! The alderman cutting the ribbon, greeting the new senior tenants, welcoming children, touring the facility, posing with happy residents. Imagine how many extra votes that could mean.

FYI: Average wait times for CHA buildings for seniors run from six months to ten years, depending on the building. This estimate comes from a listing of wait times for CHA senior buildings from January 2018 that I was able to access but whose link could not be copied. There is no information on wait lists for senior buildings on CHA’s Web site.

View my video of the press conference announcing the new library / CHA building and my Oct. 22 post, “Whose Library Is It Anyway?”

Read my post of November 15, 201 6, “People Power and the New Library,” for more background.

Medical Marijuana Informational Meeting

A few years ago Ald. Silverstein blocked the owner of Green Gate Chicago, a medical marijuana  dispensary, from opening his business  in the 50th Ward. Despite widespread community support, and the promise of jobs for neighborhood residents, Silverstein, who initially could not explain her opposition to the project, finally alleged the business would be too close to where children play in Warren Park. In fact, at the Zoning Board hearing, a child testified that he was afraid that medical marijuana users would force him to become a dope addict. That carefully rehearsed testimony–and Silverstein’s opposition–ended the opportunity to bring Green Gate and its jobs to the 50th Ward, and to replace a taxi parking lot  with the beautifully landscaped and fully-secured dispensary.

Green Gate subsequently opened in Rogers Park over the objections of neighbors who worried it would increase crime in the area and lower property values.

Green Gate is now a thriving business  whose clients have not attempted to force dope on children. The facility and its environs are as free of crime as they were before the dispensary opened. The jobs and taxes that might have benefited the 50th Ward now benefit the 49th.

As you know,  the United States is experiencing  an opioid abuse crisis. Illinois law has recently been amended to permit the use of medical marijuana to treat conditions formerly treated by opioids.

On Saturday, Dec. 8,  Green Gate is sponsoring an informational meeting on the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program and the Opioid Alternative Cannabis Program.  The 90-minute session begins at 10:30 a.m. at Charmers Cafe, 1500 West Jarvis.

In his announcement of this important meeting, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore notes that the use of medical marijuana requires a prescription from a physician and registration with the  Illinois Department of Public Health . Among the  debilitating conditions that qualify for the use of medical marijuana are cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy,  Crohn’s disease,  and multiple sclerosis. Qualifying patients can be registered for the medical marijuana programs at the meeting.

Green Gate is located at 7305 North Rogers.

Fundraiser for Andrew Rowlas

The first fundraiser for 50th Ward aldermanic candidate Andrew Rowlas is set for Sunday, December 9. Friends and supporters will gather at Hamburger Mary’s in Andersonville to help raise money for the Rowlas campaign.

Hamburger Mary’s is well-known for its eclectic entertainment offerings. This Sunday will be no different. The main attraction– apart from the food– is drag queen bingo, one of Mary’s most popular games. Play ten rounds of bingo for $15. West Ridge merchants have donated gift certificates as bingo prizes.

Rowlas had to schedule his first fundraiser outside the ward because the 50th currently offers few entertainment choices. As alderman, Rowlas would seek to bring various types of recreational opportunities to the ward.

Join Andrew Rowlas, his friends and supporters at Hamburger Mary’s, 5400 North Clark Street, on Sunday, December 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. Come early and treat yourself to one of Mary’s many delicious burgers, salads, or wraps. Expect to spend an additional $10 to $15 for dinner.

Debra Silverstein has reported a total of  nearly $200,000 in her campaign fund. Like the other candidates running against her, Andrew has a small fraction of that available.

Can a candidate with an inclusive  vision but a small budget overcome an incumbent with no vision but lots of money?

Join Andrew on Sunday evening, have some fun, and support a good cause.

Ballot Order for 50th Ward

The lottery for first and last ballot positions conducted by the Chicago Board of Elections determined that candidates for 50th Ward alderman will be listed on the ballot in the following order:

Debra Silverstein

Andrew Rowlas.

Majid Mustafa

Zehra Quadri

Mustafa and Quadri first must overcome signature challenges to remain on the ballot.

The election is February 26, 2019.

More 50th Ward Challengers

This is what happens when I go to sleep. Last night there was one challenger to Zehra Quadri’s nominating petitions. This morning there are two, along with two new challengers to Maajid Mustafa.

Armando Ramos and Mark M. Tannbebaum have both filed objections to Mr. Mustafa’s petitions.

Mr. Ramos, as many of you know, is my nephew. He and Mr. Mustafa  have been enemies since Mr Mustafa changed his testimony during the Berny Stone vote fraud scandal that sent Mr.  Ramos to jail for a few weeks. Mr Mustafa was not prosecuted even though he admitted to taking absentee ballots to his home and “completing,” stamping, and mailing them. That would make me mad, too.

Mr. Tannbebaum is unknown to me, but is undoubtedly acting in someone else’s behalf, especially since he has also challenged Zehra Quadri’s petitions. Gee, I wonder who’s hiding behind him.

It’s interesting that Andrew Rowlas was not challenged. Apparently Debra Silverstein thinks he’ll be easy to beat, since she has nearly $200,000 in her campaign fund and Mr. Rowlas has less than $2,000. This signals another campaign-by-mailer from Silverstein. You’ll recall that in 2015 she refused to meet in debate with her opponents, citing the presence of unworthy beings known as write-in candidates on the same stage as Herself. Her strategy is simple: she can’t be asked to explain her poor job performance if she’s not there.

Rowlas and Quadri did not launch any challenges, directly or indirectly. That speaks well for them. They prefer facing their opponents in an honest and open campaign focused on the issues to wasting time and money in a bruising pregame battle.

The 50th Ward deserves better than shenangans like this.

 

Objections to Quadri Signatures Filed

Today was the first day to file objections to candidate nominating petitions.  As expected, signatures filed in behalf of Zehra Quadri have been challenged.

The objector is Abdul Rehman Shaikh, a petition circulator for Majid Mustafa, the only one of the four 50th Ward aldermanic candidates who does not yet have a campaign committee. Forgive me for asking  how his operation is being funded.

The point of objections to petition signatures is to harass other candidates, forcing them to spend precious campaign dollars on legal help to get on the ballot.

You may have heard that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle planned to object  to 14,000 petition signatures for fellow mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza.  Former 50th Ward aldermanic candidate Shajan Kuriakose is one of the objectors to Mendoza’s petitions. He’s also filed objections to signatures for Lori Lightfoot, another Preckwinkle target. And he’s filed objections to signatures for two little known candidates for mayor, Catherine Brown D’Tycoon and Conrein Hykes Clark. Busy man.

I wish candidates had the guts to file their own objections. This business of hiding behind surrogates doesn’t fool anyone.

The dates for the challenges to be heard have not yet been determined. Stay tuned.

 

Holiday Lights?

Devon Avenue has been decorated for the holidays that dare not be named.

While commercial districts in other neighborhoods are welcoming shoppers of all faiths and decorating to celebrate the season, the overlords of Devon Avenue–our unelected SSA Commissioners–have once again opted to celebrate diversity by pointedly ignoring Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.

The  “holiday” decorations chosen by the SSA– flashing lights of blue, red, green, and white– signify nothing, impart no holiday spirit, acknowledge no religious heritage, and do not reflect either the joy of the season or the spiritual renewal experienced by most of the ward’s residents at this time of year. Instead, they contribute additional gaudiness to a street whose storefront doors and windows are already ablaze with neon. The overall effect is that of a long, long strip mall, every intersection resembling the entrance to a gas station.

Looking eastward on Devon from Republic Bank.

The SSA seems to think that only Hindu holidays should be celebrated. This is wrong. We are a neighborhood of many faiths. Today, Roman Catholics will begin the Advent season,  a time of prayer and preparation for the birth of Christ. On Sunday evening our Jewish neighbors will begin celebrating the eight days of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Beginning on December 26, African-Americans and African immigrants will join together for Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African values and culture. Many Greek, Russian, and Serbian Orthodox Christians in our ward  will observe Christmas on January 7.

This rich cultural and spiritual heritage is ignored by the SSA. The colors of the season are present but their display  signifies nothing to anyone.

The SSA plans to install mandalas at Western and Devon. Why not a community Christmas tree?  Why not a public menorah lighting? Why not a winter festival that includes the entire community? Twenty percent of this Ward is Hispanic–where’s the Posada? Faith isn’t required to appreciate pageantry.

Contrast  the 50th Ward’s approach  to this time of year with that of the 41st Ward. Alderman Napolitano invites residents to  eight non-religious holiday events occurring in December. Two of those are sponsored by the local historical society,  including a craft boutique / cafe and a holiday house tour with or without lunch. One local Chamber of Commerce sponsors both a Winter Wine Stroll and a holiday dinner as well as a rewards program for shoppers who support local businesses. Another Chamber brought the Santa Express and is holding an ugly Christmas sweater contest  as well as  a community-wide scavenger hunt  for the weekend before New Year’s. One park council has organized a  holiday bazaar. There’s also a Toys for Tots campaign that’s a joint project between a local park council and the friends of the local library.

This level of community doesn’t happen without leadership from the alderman.  It’s true that the 41st Ward doesn’t have the diversity of the 50th, but I think that just gives us greater opportunities to explore other faiths and cultures and to share the joys of America’s unique  cultural and religious heritage with our newest immigrants.

Silverstein and the SSA are not interested. Devon celebrates Diwali and nothing else. The SSA can put loudspeakers in a parking lot but not a Christmas tree, a menorah, or even a sign that reads “Season’s Greetings.”

Merry Christmas? Happy Chanukah? Habari Gani?

Bah, humbug.

Majid Mustafa

Divide and conquer is an old political strategy. It’s worked for everyone from Genghis Khan to Debra Silverstein. It backfires occasionally–Ram Villivalam vs. Ira Silverstein is a recent example. The way I heard it, Ram was recruited by Ira to split the Indian vote should Ira not be able to successfully challenge Zehra Quadri’s senatorial nominating petition signatures. While that process was in motion, Ram realized he could win by appealing to the South Asian voters in the suburbs and shamelessly using the current Me, Too moment to smear Ira mercilessly for a flirtation that was more laughable than menacing. As a result, Ira lost his election.

Now comes Majid Mustafa, the latest 50th Ward candidate backed by Indian business and political interests—and possibly the Silversteins—whose sole reason for running is to keep Debra Silverstein in office. Such an outcome works for Indian business and political interests—not to mention the Silversteins. And once again, the target is Zehra Quadri. Get her off the ballot, or split the Asian vote. And guess who wins re-election..

But back to Mustafa. He’s an interesting character, to say the least. A former precinct captain for Berny Stone, he was practicing political dirty tricks while still a dishwasher at his uncle’s kebab restaurant. Berny appointed him a commissioner to our local Special Services Area (SSA) #43 (Devon Avenue), a secretive, unelected taxing body accountable solely to the alderman, who chooses its members..

Our dishwasher-commissioner, in his capacity as a Stone precinct captain and political operative, became embroiled in the 2007 post-election scandal that contributed to Stone’s defeat in 2011. Disgruntled candidate Salman Aftab complained to the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) that Stone campaign workers were filling out absentee ballots for immigrant voters. An investigation led to the arrests of two men, Stone’s Ward Superintendent, Anesh Eapen, and campaign volunteer Armando Ramos.

Full disclosure: Armando Ramos is my nephew.

In Spring 2008, Mustafa was hired by the City as Stone’s legislative aide at a salary of $3,499 per month. It was understood that Mustafa now could not be questioned about allegations of vote fraud in the 2007 campaign, City Council employees not being subject to investigation by the Inspector General. Unfortunately for Mustafa, it turned out he was subject to the State’s Attorney’s vote fraud investigation.

At the Eapen-Ramos trial, the Cook County State’s Investigator who interviewed Mustafa testified that Mustafa had initially denied filling out absentee ballots but changed his testimony when shown ballots with his handwriting on them. He then admitted that he also completed “missing information” on ballots he took to his own home, and stamped and mailed absentee ballots in violation of state election law. Mustafa changed his testimony between his investigator interview and his court appearance. He denied knowing his activities were illegal, and blamed poor election training for his behavior.

He could and should have been charged with perjury, but prosecutors did not follow up on these inconsistencies.

Eapen and Ramos were subsequently convicted. Their charges were reduced to misdemeanors and, while they were on trial, the law under which they were tried was invalidated by the City Council. Each served a few months in Cook County Jail.

Mustafa left his City job and became assistant manager of his uncle’s kebab restaurant.

In early 2013, Mustafa decided to become a Chicago police officer. During his probationary period, he injured his thumb while undergoing firearms training. In all, Mustafa failed three times to pass the test requiring him to fire a gun with both hands and was terminated from his probationary police officer position.

In August of 2013, Mustafa sued the City, then-Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy, and his instructor in federal court, alleging breach of contract and violation of his civil rights. Mustafa’s suit claimed that he had an “implied contract” with the City during his probationary period, and that his thumb was not only dislocated but further injured during subsequent training he was ordered to undergo after he had been medically certified to return to work.

Mustfa claimed civil rights violations in that the City violated his due-process rights (requiring him to continue training while he maintained his thumb needed more time to heal) and that his civil rights were violated because of “…insulting and disparaging name-calling, including being referred to as ‘little Paki bomber’ and “the alderman’s kid.’” He also sued for compensation and reinstatement to his job as a probationary police officer.

His suit was dismissed in December 2013 except for the claim that the City was required to protect his “bodily integrity”—i.e., not further injure his thumb—but he did not refile his claim within the allotted timeframe. Case closed.

One month after filing his lawsuit, in September 2013, Mustafa reported a bizarre incident in which a burglar broke into his uncle’s restaurant through the locked back door after slipping through the burglar gate and stole 384 pounds of meat marinating in a basement cooler. Nothing else of value was stolen despite the more than two hours the thief spent on the premises, including time out for a bicycle ride and the loss of part of his prize, dropped in the alley as he tried to load it onto his bicycle. The thief eventually loaded what was left of the meat into a shopping cart and made his getaway. The restaurant’s estimated loss was more than $800. The thief was not caught. View the video here.

So, potential aldermanic candidate Majid Mustafa has admitted to committing vote fraud, escaped being held accountable for perjury, reported an exceedingly strange robbery, and sued the City (i.e., the taxpayers) because his thumb was injured during preliminary on-the-job training and people allegedly called him names.

Majid Mustafa advanced from dishwasher to SSA Commissioner to precinct captain to aldermanic legislative aide to probationary police officer to restaurant manager—every step achieved by relying on political connections and chicanery or family ties.

Would you vote for this man?

 

Quadri, Mustafa File for Alderman

Zehra Quadri and Majid Mustafa filed petitions yesterday to become Alderman of the 50th Ward. They join Andrew Rowlas and Debra Silverstein as potential candidates for alderman.

To secure a place on the ballot, all four must survive challenges to their nominating petitions. Such challenges can be  filed by the candidates themselves or private citizens acting on their own or, as is common, acting as surrogates for candidates who prefer not to be seen as blocking opponents before they can appeal to the voters.

Ira Piltz did not file any nominating petitions although he had announced that he would run. I have heard that there was concern that his running would split the Orthodox vote and result in a non-jewish alderman for the ward. Such an event has not occurred more than 70 years. Although the Jewish community is only about 30% of the ward, it accounts for approximately half the ward’s voters.

Objections to nominating petitions are due on Monday, December 3.  If no challenges are filed to a candidate’s petitions, and the petitions are found to satisfy all legal requirements, that candidate’s name will be placed on the ballot for the February election.

Defending against petition challenges is time-consuming and expensive, requiring the challenged candidate to pay attorneys fees for representation before the Chicago Board of Elections. Although challenged candidates can defend themselves, it’s not a good idea, since they are up against skillful, well-paid attorneys who are generally in the employ of experienced,  well-funded campaigns. This tactic depletes the already scant funds of those who challenge incumbents, and is yet another reason why the same people keep getting reelected, no matter how poor the job they do.

I’ll have more to say about each candidate as we move through this week.