Identity Politics Already Mars the Race for Ira’s Seat

The first candidate to announce he’ll run against Ira Silverstein for the 8th District Senate seat couldn’t wait to also announce that he’s running as an Asian-American “…to bring more diversity .” He added that the district has “the highest concentration of Asian-Americans in the state.”  He says he wants to be “a progressive voice,” but then claims the ethnic-pride vote. Some progress.

This is a bad start to a long race.  The primary is only four months away (March), and then it will be a very long eight months until the November 2018 election. Let’s not forget that the Republicans have a chance in this district, too.

Ram Villivalam  may talk about Illinois needing a “new generation”  of politicians but youth won’t matter if they practice the same old politics. Diversity is meaningless if the end game remains the same. Political consultants have so divided this country into competing special interest groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, and grievance that we’ve lost sight of and interest in the common good.

The religious candidates have yet to weigh in, but they’ll no doubt be announcing soon, too. Then there are representatives of all the other ethnic groups in the district. Not everybody will have the money to support a campaign, and the big bucks go to the early candidates. If he’s already announced, you can bet he’s got the backing. And it took only a week.

He’s never held office before.. Perhaps Mr. Villivalam should consider testing his appeal in a more diverse district, where his ideas might count for more than his ethnicity.

Identity politics should have no place in this race. Illinois has enough problems..

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Deb & Ira, Talk to Us

The lesson of Watergate is that “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” The sexual harassment scandal involving Ira Silverstein cannot be covered up–the lady provided proof of her allegations. Unfortunately, the Silversteins have chosen to ignore the charges, which will make the expected outcome–his resignations as senator and Democratic committeeman–seem even worse. And it may well haunt her own re-election campaign.

The alderman began her Friday newsletter by reporting that her thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by last week’s terror attack in New York. Nowhere did she mention the same week’s accusations against her husband. Ira hasn’t issued any statements to his constituents either, even after the proofs of his behavior cost him his post as majority whip. What is he waiting for?

A public official accused of sexual harassment must respond with more than a bland statement that he is sorry if anything he did made a woman “uncomfortable” and that he awaits the Ethics Committee report on the propriety of his behavior. It’s simply astounding that he doesn’t understand the nature of his offenses. Once the proofs were provided (audio of phone calls, hundreds of Facebook posts), I think he became obliged to issue a statement to his constituents admitting that the accusations can be substantiated, that he is considering his options, and that he plans to remain in office pending the Ethics Committee decision. Both of his political jobs (senator, Democratic committeeman) are on the line, and it’s difficult to see how he can continue to serve in either position regardless of what the Ethics Committee does.  But he needs to communicate with the voters before that happens.

The alderman’s lack of rapport with the people she serves is well-known. She is difficult to approach, and visibly uncomfortable with constituent contact. I think she is simply unable to relate to her constituents well enough to acknowledge that allegations were made against her husband, that she supports him whether the charges are sustained or not, and that she, her husband, and their family would appreciate our prayers at this difficult time. That’s the standard PR line all politicians facing self-created scandals use. A few words could mean a lot. She has her own political future to consider.

The people of the 50th Ward and the residents of the 8th Senatorial District have a right to know Ira’s side of the story, including an explanation of the audio recordings and Facebook posts. We also have a right to know what will happen if Ira resigns as state senator and Democratic ward committeeman. The 50th Ward is not known for political activism or participation, and must guard against new candidates with the same old ideas. But we should have some information on what to expect and when, and that needs to be communicated now.

I wonder how much of a role the hubris arising from the Silversteins’ absolute political control of the 50th Ward played in all this: alderman, committeeman, state senator, de facto bosses of the Regular Democratic Organization. Every bit of power is theirs, and the stories of the way that power has been used are told in whispers. They destroy all rivals and take no prisoners. It’s easy to see how two political figures driven by power rather than service would find it unnecessary to acknowledge what happened last week. That doesn’t make it acceptable.

They had both better say something, and soon.

The News About Ira

I’m stunned by the sexual harassment allegations leveled against Ira Silverstein. I just don’t see Ira as the kind of guy who’d think that if the lady wants her bill passed she’d better make herself available for midnight chats. I’ve never heard a whisper that he’s a womanizer, and that’s the kind of thing that gets around fast. Allegations aren’t proof; in America, one is still presumed innocent until proven guilty, even though the lynch mobs in the press and on social media don’t seem to know this.

Of course, if it turns out that Ira did send this lady more than 400 Facebook messages, that he did make midnight phone calls to her, that he did block a bill from a vote because he thought she  had a boyfriend, then he can’t continue to serve as state senator or ward committeeman. Let’s see what the Ethics Committee has to say first.

There are many troubling aspects to this story, not least of which is the inaction of State Senate President Cullerton, who knowingly referred the matter to the office of a legislative inspector general who doesn’t exist as well as to an ethics panel that has done nothing about the charges for a year. Ira has been aware since 2016 that a complaint was filed against him. It’s been one of the best-kept political secrets in Springfield and Chicago, proof that the Old Boys Network has gone underground, but hasn’t gone away.

The corruption that has so permeated every level of government in Illinois shows its ugly face here, too. Sexual harassment is so pervasive in Illinois government that legislators are rushing to amend the state’s ethics and lobbyists’ ordinances to include prohibitions against it. Unfortunately, the bill as proposed is weak, merely requiring that each state officer, legislator, and agency establish an anti-harassment policy and imposing $5,000 fines on state employees and lobbyists found guilty of such harassment. Those not taking anti-harassment training will have their names published. Imagine trying to shame an Illinois politician or lobbyist by telling the public that he doesn’t follow the rules!

No talk yet of filling the IG position.

The look on Speaker Madigan’s face while Ms. Rotheimer stated her case was hard to gauge. Was he as shocked as appeared at times, or was he thinking ahead to the possibilities that Ira’s departure from office would create? The late Avy Meyers maintained for years that the big guys in Springfield wanted to get rid of Ira but couldn’t risk alienating the Orthodox vote. If Ira implodes on his own, then there are openings for state senator, majority whip, and ward committeeman. All the big shots who make our state so corrupt—Rahm, Madigan, Cullerton, et al.—will profit in some way if Ira’s forced to resign.

His district includes all or part of several wards and stretches through several suburbs, including Skokie and Niles. Ira’s been in office 18 years, and has run unopposed since 2004.  Could another Chicago candidate be elected? Or is it time for a suburban senator? Which ethnic or religious group would be favored? Figure that governor nominee-presumptive Pritzker will have a say as well. And his money could be the determining factor in candidate selection.

Ira was last re-elected Democratic Committeeman in March 2016. Most aldermen are also their ward’s committeemen, so Debra could theoretically assume that role, too. Of course, she’s in way over her head as alderman, so party bigwigs may recognize that adding the committeeman’s position might not be too smart. When there’s a mid-term opening for committeeman, the replacement is selected by votes cast by all other City committeemen. Would a trusted Silverstein ally or member of the 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization – the Silverstein Machine – take over? Or would there finally be an opportunity for an independent Democrat to begin building a functioning democracy in the 50th? Would somebody who’d do so stand a chance of being elected?

Is it time for the first non-Orthodox committeeman? If so, which ethnic or religious group’s candidate should be selected? Who could be chosen who would not alienate the majority of residents / voters? The Silversteins have done nothing to build community, so it’s likely to be a free-for-all..

How might these accusations impact Debra’s race for re-election next year? Ira told the press he discussed the charges with her, told her he did nothing wrong, and that she believes him. She has thus far declined to comment. But his conduct does make her vulnerable as a candidate, fairly or not.

A Silverstein sex scandal. Can you believe it?

The Alderqueen Strikes Again

Like many of you, I received the alderqueen’s newsletter on Wednesday of this week. As usual, it displayed a couple of pictures of Herself enjoying her favorite job activity–having her picture taken.

Like many of you, I missed the community invitation to the official ribbon-cutting of the new Bernie Stone Park at Devon & McCormick. At least Bernie’s family was invited. But Rahm and the alderqueen share a disdain for ordinary folks (you know who you are) and neither of them missed any of us. Rahm clearly doesn’t like to spend any more time in the 50th than he has to. He was in and out of the official groundbreaking for the park so fast that the few people in attendance didn’t know the “event” was over til he rushed away. And Queenie hates mixing with her constituents. Watch for the ribbon-cutting picture to surface in next year’s election campaign.

The newsletter also pictures the alderqueen with the principal of Decatur School. Regular readers will remember that West Ridge nearly lost the school to Rogers Park just last year, and Queenie didn’t lift a finger to help save it. But, in preparation for re-election, she’s suddenly the school’s biggest cheerleader.  That picture, too, will no doubt be used in the campaign to show her support for education.

Here’s what the newsletter didn’t tell you: The owner of the new Hindu temple on Devon managed to get a family member, Jayesh Shewakaramani,  appointed as a Commissioner in Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), otherwise known as Devon Avenue. This is a special taxing body that assesses a 1.5% extra property tax on all property owners on Devon from Kedzie to Damen and on Western from Granville to Arthur. The temple, now officially declared a religious institution by the Zoning Board of Appeals (only in Chicago!), is exempt from the tax because the temple pays no property taxes. This is true even though the temple’s owner has admitted that the temple is intended to boost the other businesses he owns on Devon.

The appointment was presented to the City Council for approval at last week’s meeting. Interesting, because the SSA’s January 2017 minutes list him as a commissioner already. His status was changed to “Commissioner Applicant” for subsequent meetings. You see how well things are planned in advance? Approach the alderman for support; announce that you are bringing the community together by creating a religious temple that will boost your commercial interests; get a relative on the SSA; abuse residents with “religious” performances next to residential housing, have this abuse enforced by police protection ordered by the alderman.

Only in the 50th Ward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Ridge #3 in Rat Complaints in Chicago

According to today’s DNA Info, West Ridge ranks third in rat complaints in the City of Chicago. Of the 46,879 resident complaints about rats in 2016, 1,529 came from West Ridge. The 2017 City total is already 1,500 complaints higher than 2016.

The article notes that the areas with the greatest number of complaints also have the highest-density population, the greatest number of restaurants, and the largest amount of trash. Construction also plays a role. To be fair, West Ridge includes parts of the 40th and 48th Wards as well as the 50th.

But doesn’t Devon Avenue immediately come to mind?

 

 

 

 

Does Devon Need a Hindu Temple?

The owner of Shree Ganesh Hindu temple at 2545 Devon Avenue has applied for a special use permit that would officially make the storefront temple a religious institution and allow it to operate on Devon Avenue regardless of its impact on the neighborhood. The temple and the alderman took care not to alert neighboring residents and will present  the community with another done deal after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) rules in the temple’s favor. This is a foregone conclusion–the alderman backs the plan, yet another example of the way democracy works in Chicago, the ZBA, and the 50th Ward.

Building a Hindu Temple on Devon is a very bad idea and should not simply sail through the approval process without community input.

Understand, I am not opposed to the Hindu temple itself. But Devon is the wrong location for it, it will create severe traffic and parking problems, and the hundreds of tourists who are expected to drive here daily for photo ops will worsen the already heavy air and noise pollution that hang over Devon like clouds some days. It will also drive traffic into residential areas already overburdened by drivers who park haphazardly and shoppers who throw garbage everywhere. Why not build it on Western, which has ample vacant lots for a temple and parking? On a lot that would showcase the 40-foot high rooftop addition and make it easier to photograph without halting traffic?

Oh, wait. When plans were first announced for the temple in late 2016, the daughter of the temple’s owner suggested that only about 150 people would be  expected on a daily basis, about 50 of them living within walking distance. However, she did state clearly that the temple is intended to attract hundreds of tourists to Devon’s Indian shopping area, thus making the temple less about religion than about commerce. Although the family claims that a Hindu temple is needed to bring the community together–this was actually said with a straight face by the temple’s lawyer–its purpose is clearly to draw customers to its owner’s four other businesses.

Despite claims by the temple’s owner that Hindis are increasingly moving to West Ridge, in fact, according to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, the Chicago Metropolitan area (defined as Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin) claims only 6,000 Hindu adherents out of a total population of more than 9.4 million people. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2008 Religious Landscape Study, only about 1,300 Hindu live in Illinois, or less than 1% of the population. Less than .7% of the U.S. population identifies as Hindu.

What the temple’s owner hears is not a great clamor crying out for community, but merely the ka-ching of his own cash registers.

I might add that the temple used the Republic Bank parking lot, not zoned for religious observances or public performances, to celebrate the end of yet another unannounced (at least to residents) festival held over Labor Day that required setting up four loudspeakers blasting dance music into the homes of residents living just ten feet away.  The affair had the alderman’s full support. The current festival that began on September 21 is scheduled to end on September 30, Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish high holy days. I wonder if Hindu celebrants will set up loudspeakers again to celebrate the triumph of good over evil while others are observing their holy day in quiet prayer and contemplation. Maybe the temple’s business angle gives it immunity from legal obligations and niceties like consideration for others.

You’d think that an additional couple of hundred more cars per day clogging one of the most congested streets in the City would be cause for concern. You’d hope that air quality for residents, including children attending schools located within a block of Devon, would be a priority. You’d assume that ample parking for the vehicles of hundreds of camera-laden tourists would be part of the planning process.  You’d want to know if they’ll be arriving in sedans or RVs. You’d think the impact on nearby residential streets and alleys would be studied. You’d think the community would be invited to consider the problems inherent in placing a temple smack in the middle of a commercial strip surrounded by thousands of dwellings, schools, and senior citizens.

Ha!. This is the 50th Ward.

No traffic, parking, or environmental impact studies are planned. Neither are any community meetings.

You see, Debra Silverstein doesn’t care if the temple has a negative environmental or quality of life impact on the community. She’s never cared much for the southeast end of the ward, and my guess is that it will be ceded to another alderman with the coming ward remap. The formula is simple: election 2019; census 2020; ward redistricting 2021.  She isn’t interested in economic development, either, and the Indian merchants and property owners along Devon run the show, such as it is. Why not build a temple? Let Joe Moore or Harry Osterman or Pat O’Connor deal with the consequences. It won’t be Silverstein’s problem any more.

But the way she went about it should be remembered by every voter in 2019. It’s time for the voters of the 50th Ward to stand up against Silverstein’s secret deals, her unilateral decisions benefiting special interests at the community’s expense, her disregard for residents’ quality of life, her lack of transparency and penchant for secrecy, and her lack of interest in economic development.

Devon Avenue doesn’t need a Hindu temple.

But West Ridge needs an alderman with a vision, a plan, and a talent for leadership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Securitization Structure”???

Since Ald. Silverstein does not report to the community about City business, I read the newsletters produced by several other aldermen who aren’t afraid to tell their constituents about issues pending in their wards and before the City Council. This week, thanks to  Ald. Scott Waguespack’s newsletter, I learned that the Council will vote in October on a proposed refinancing of City bonds using sales tax revenue held in a “securitization structure” created for that purpose. Let me quote Ald. Waguespack’s report to residents of his 32nd Ward:

“I also want to provide you with this presentation on a new financing scheme we are voting on in October. This scheme would appropriate all Chicago sales tax revenue to this new “corporation” or special entity to refinance about $3 Billion in bonds.  Since there were no known downsides provided during our briefing, we’re reviewing the scheme and welcome any input.”

The words “no known downsides” should strike terror into the heart of every Chicago taxpayer. There are unpleasant surprises lurking, you can bet, and most of them won’t surface until the plan is approved.

Read the plan for yourself. And if you have any questions or suggestions, don’t bother Ald. Silverstein. She doesn’t like constituent input.

Contact Ald. Waguespack: 773/248-1330  OR  ward32@city of Chicago.org

Illinois: Your Share of the Debt is $50,400

One of the best organizations trying to hold public officials accountable, Truth in Accounting, released its current Financial State of the States report (FSOS) today.  It’s bad enough that TIA reports that “41 states do not have enough money to pay their bills.” It’s worse that our state’s debts exceed the value of everything the state owns.

Illinois owes $235.9 billion; its assets total $25.5 billion.

State officials are still hiding the true costs of retiree health care, and this will be as big a bombshell as the pension crisis.

Next year is an election year, with a state primary in March and a general election in November.

If this isn’t a call to citizen action, I don’t know what is.

 

Historical Society Cookbook Available

West Ridge Cook Book
The Rogers Park – West Ridge Historical Society will be celebrating publication of its new cookbook at Indian Boundary Park on October 22 from 1-4 p.m. The book, “A Taste of the World in One Neighborhood: The Varied Cuisines of Chicago’s Far North Side,” is a compilation of recipes submitted by area residents and former residents. Tickets for the event are $30 for adults; $15 for children ages 6-17 (children under age 6 free). The book itself costs $15 if ordered in advance, and $20 if ordered on or after October 22. Contact the Society for more info: info@rpwrhs.org or 773/764-4078.

 

Sculpture at Park 526

Have you seen the sculpture proposed for Park 526, the former theater at Devon & McCormick that will be named for former Ald. Bernie Stone?   Frankly, it just doesn’t appear to have any connection to our neighborhood.

[I think the alderman may have been a bit confused in her newsletter announcement, which stated there were three different proposals for the sculpture; it’s actually one piece with three parts. How closely is she working with DCASE if she doesn’t know that?]

The artist, Bernard Williams, is a highly acclaimed muralist and sculptor, but I think his design misses the mark. Intricate patterns may well fall upon the ground, but does this really “…suggest the complex nature of 50th ward community” as he says? The patterns may be found worldwide, but the piece itself could be placed anywhere in the City. It is not particularly evocative of West Ridge. Indeed, it resembles one of those pieces of generic “public art” that people simply don’t notice as they rush to and from work, lunch, and home. Don’t we want something memorable that captures the spirit of West Ridge?

I wonder why the commission wasn’t given to one of the many talented artists who live in the neighborhood who might have expressed the soul of West Ridge in a more distinctive way. Capturing and reflecting the neighborhood’s complexity is perhaps better accomplished by an artist who experiences that complexity every day. Maybe waiting to see if the park is used and who will be using it would have been a good idea. Given its distance from the rest of the neighborhood, the bridge crossing, and the decision not to include playground equipment, it could become little more than a landscaped vacant lot. Let’s hope not, but let’s not rush the artwork.

There’s no end to the goodies we’re going to see between now and the February 2019 election. The completion of the Devon streetscape, the opening of the new library practically on election day (you know it will be a polling place, just an added reminder of which mayor and which alderman brought it to the ward), and a sculpture in Park 526! The Wizard of Oz couldn’t have done it better.

Alas! No viable challenger in sight; none likely to surface, and the usual Munchkins lining up.

Time to find those ruby slippers.