Why Aren’t Parking Laws Enforced on Devon?

Ald. Brendan Reilly wants to increase fines for downtown double-parking to $300 per offense. We should do the same thing for such illegal parking on Devon.

Traffic is routinely blocked up and down Devon as drivers park or wait at bus stops and ntersections. Even worse, many drivers think it’s acceptable to  stop and load groceries in the middle of the street. This is particularly true between Talman and Rockwell, a block with two of the major grocery stores and a corner sweet shop.

This practice is dangerous for bus passengers, who typically have to board and exit the bus in the middle of the street. Passengers using walkers, canes, or wheelchairs are the most inconvenienced . I was on a bus  whose driver had to ask the driver of an illegally parked vehicle–busy reading his newspaper–to move so a passenger in a wheelchair could board. It’s also dangerous to be trapped on the street between traffic and parked or standing vehicles, especially if you use a walker, cane, or wheelchair.

And what about pedestrians, who typically have to dodge cars zooming out from behind the offending vehicles? Drivers often turn down the side streets and blast through residential alleys to try to make up the time they’ve lost in these unnecessary roadblocks.

There’s no reason for supply trucks to be making deliveries through a store’s front door. All the stores have loading docks accessible from the alley. A new grocery opened just east of Washtenaw a few months ago. It’s located just east of the bus stop, and it’s become routine for 18-wheelers to park in the bus lane while delivering products to the store. The loading dock in the back has never been used.

Where are the police? And where is the alderman?

The failure to ensure that parking laws are observed on Devon should be an issue in the aldermanic campaign.

 

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A Tough Year So Far

Yes, I’m still here.

It’s been a tough year so far, beginning with the death of Mr. Cat, my feline companion for more than 18 years. He was wonderfully intelligent, fearless, and the real boss of our household, lording it over a succession of dogs and humans. Tough but benevolent, Mr. Cat ruled his kingdom via a combination of charming sweetness and a ruthless indifference to anyone else’s needs. He was one of a kind, and the dogs and I miss him every day.

Then I had eye surgery, and serious complications from which I am still recovering.

And then came the March election,, with yet another carpetbagger from the Indo-American Democratic Organization moving into the state senatorial district barely a year before the election, and running a divisive campaign centered around slinging mud at an already-disgraced incumbent. He was aided in this by various special interests, and will no doubt be a reliable vote for those interests in Springfield. His campaign suggests that he will lower the ethical level in Springfield yet another notch.

You can bet he’ll have his own candidate for alderman, and probably, when the time comes, for committeeman as well.  Deals are being discussed as you read this, and deals cost money, and money is being raised, lots of it. Google Illinois Sunshine database and check out who’s giving–and who gave and expects to be rewarded.

The aldermanic race begins later this year, officially. In actuality, serious candidates have been talking to potential donors since last year. Who will run? Debra has been raising money, and Ira’s loss of both his leadership position and his senate seat suggests that she’ll want to keep her job, which pays $120,000 per year. Nobody has openly declared but I hear there are at least three potential candidates exploring the possibility of running.

It’s going to be an interesting summer, and I’m feeling better already.

I just love a good fight.

 

 

Merry Christmas

I will be one of millions of Christians around the world celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25.

The joys of the day include the beautiful orchestral arrangements and the soaring voices of the choir at Midnight Mass. The 120-year-old St. John Cantius Church is filled with flowers that complement its lovely, old-world interior. The Latin Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Joseph N. Perry, who joins the parish priests and acolytes in the solemn procession escorting the Christ Child through the church to the manger. The scent of incense and candles perfumes the air. During Mass, both choir and congregation sing the Latin responses to the Bishop’s prayers, and a solemn hymn graces Communion. When Mass ends, church lights are dimmed; each member of the congregation holds a lighted candle and sings the recessional hymn, Silent Night. 

I find such comfort and joy in this traditional ritual. When I was a girl, the procession was a colorful event, with young boys from the parish dressed as medieval pages in satin shorts and jackets with cloaks and feathered hats joining the priests and seminarians to escort the Baby Jesus to his earthly parents. Both St. John Cantius and my childhood church were founded by immigrants who brought the Old World culture to their homes and worship. It still lives in traditional churches like St. John Cantius, and for me is a direct connection to those Christians who came here long ago.

Family. Friends. Faith. These give life meaning, and never more for me than at Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

 

The Money Race

The amount of money needed to run for office is simply obscene. In his most recent campaign handbook, former alderman Dick Simpson says that a candidate for alderman today needs a quarter of a million dollars to run a credible race. Of course, the job pays well. The incumbent, Debra Silverstein, earns $116,208 annually, or a one-term total of $464,832.  Nearly a half-million dollars over four years for a part-time job she basically phones in.

If she wins a third term, she can retire in comfort on the generous pension provided by taxpayers. If, for example, she serves a third term, giving her 12 years in office, and pays enough into her retirement fund to “buy” extra years of service, her pension would be 80% of her final salary, plus a guaranteed 3% annual increase. And aldermanic salaries only go up, never down.

Silverstein currently has $97,288 in funds for her 2018 re-election race, $8,500 of which has been donated since September, The $8.500 came from just five donors: Cermak Produce ($1,000); Comcast ($1,500); businessman / investor Asher Kohn ($1,000), and the  Chicagoland Operators Joint Labor Management PAC ($5,000).

She also received an August contribution from Regal Jewels in the odd amount of $318. I can’t help noting that the contribution arrived just as another of the family’s businesses, the Hindu temple on Devon, secured permission from the alderman to violate the law and hold two dance festivals–complete with loudspeakers–alongside residential housing. Not that there’s any connection, even though anyone who pays attention will see a pattern in business donations to the alderman.

And how much money do the candidates for Illinois Senate have on hand?

Ira Silverstein has $89,169, with $14,200 raised since September,; $9,200 of that came after he was accused of sexual harassment at the end of October. Those contributions came from Chicagoland Operators Joint Labor Management PAC (a whopping $7,000); the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association $1,000), and the Realtor PAC ($1,200). I wonder how the women represented by those donors feel about these contributions.

Ram Villivalam has $66,635 in ready cash, all raised since November 7 and most from himself, his wife, family, and the Indo American Democratic Organization. All the big donors gave $5,000 each, with Villivalam and his wife each donating $5,600. Only two organizations, the Illinois Political Active Letter Carriers and the Progressive Turnout Coalition, are represented; each gave $1,000.

Caroline McAteer-Fournier lists two donors and a total of $2,500 raised.

Zehra Quadri and David Zulkey do not report any contributions.

Anyone planning to run for alderman should have been raising money already. Once the challenges to the Senate candidates are decided, we’ll really see the money race begin. Personally, I think the race will come down to two candidates, Silverstein and Villivalam. Nobody else has the money to wage a proper campaign.

If you don’t already have the money for a March race, you won’t have it at all.

Objections, Objections

Formal objections have been filed to the nominating petitions of each of the five candidates in the 8th District senatorial contest. Objectors don’t have to admit that they are objecting in behalf of another candidate, and the candidates themselves rarely deign to be so open with the public.

Then there’s Zehra Quadri, who filed objections to petitions for  Ram Villivalam and Caroline McAteer-Fournier in her own name. Good for you, Zehra, it shows integrity and courage. Leaders lead.

Three candidates are being opposed by ordinary citizens acting on their own. Nobody’s frontin’ for nobody, as we say on the south side. If you want to sift through 1,000-3,0000 signatures (the legal minimum and maximum for the Senate position; the required totals are higher for independent, i.e., non-party, candidates), looking for “gotcha!” moments,  that’s your right.

Rulings on objections will occur next week. Losers will have the opportunity to seek judicial review if they believe the State BOE made the wrong decision. If there are no appeals to the judiciary, then the Board’s decisions stand.

Petitions were filed by Ira Silverstein, Ram Villivalam, Zehra Quadri, Caroline McAteer-Fournier, and David Zulkey.

 

Devon’s “Branding Campaign”

The alderman’s newsletter today asks for comments from the community on a branding campaign that it’s hoped will bring business to Devon Avenue. A project of the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), the Rogers Park Business Alliance, which administers the SSA, and the alderman, you can go to a meeting or take the online survey to give your opinion. I used the online survey. I don’t know that the community’s opinions will matter much, if at all.

It’s clear that lots of time, money, and effort have gone into the branding concept and its expression. But I believe a branding campaign is the wrong approach at this point. Shabby stores, so-so merchandise, vacancies and boarded-up buildings, too many grocery stores and cell phone stores, the absence of true diversity and real choices–these need to be remedied before we start promoting Devon as an international marketplace. The relentless campaigns of the past few years branding Devon as Little India have deprived the merchants east of Western and west of California of recognition and thus real opportunities to build their businesses; they have no representation on the SSA, and the proposed branding campaign doesn’t recognize them either.

I think the first priority is building a business district worth a marketing campaign.

This will be a problem given the alderman’s lack of interest in economic development and the fact that the SSA is run by and for the benefit of Indian business owners. I’ve been tracking the businesses on Devon since 2014, and in that time have found that buildings and storefronts remain vacant for months–even years–before yet another sari shop, cell phone store, or grocery opens. When I check the building ownership for these properties, I find that they are Indian-owned. It’s no accident that only Indian businesses are permitted to rent storefronts on that stretch of Devon.

Devon used to be known all over the City and suburbs for its magnificent retailing. The neighborhood had everything–dress shops, toy shops, restaurants, men’s clothing stores, shoe stores, kids clothing shops, a hobby shop, linen, barber, and beauty shops, Crawford’s Department Store, a stock brokerage, bakeries and cigar stores, among other retailing offerings. In 1974, when Patel Bros. opened its first grocery store on Devon, it was welcomed to the mix. But as Indo-Americans bought the properties along Devon, , only Indian businesses were permitted to rent the storefronts. Do the Indian owners discriminate against non-Indian tenants? Yes, they do. It’s clear, and it’s illegal. I’ve tracked it for too long to believe otherwise. And I’ve talked with at least one non-Indian prospective business owner who wasn’t able to rent.

Maybe the RPBA, the SSA, and the alderman can work on that.

Here’s another hint:

An international marketplace sells quality goods from around the world. Diversity is in the merchandise, not in the merchants.

Devon includes store owners from around the world, but their businesses–which could thrive and become successful–are doomed to failure because they do not get the support and assistance they need. Many  are woefully under-capitalized and need access to funding as well as basic marketing, merchandise display, advertising, and retailing skills.  Devon is not a road in some dusty village where a single store sells everything from milk to suitcases. It’s a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago, and middle class people do not patronize stores with dusty bags of rice in the windows, or sun-faded boxes. If the alderman, the RPBA, or the SSA really want to build a business district rather than promote Little India, they would contact the SBA, the City’s business development office, and the State of Illinois for assistance in creating such training and making such resources available to merchants in the entire SSA area  (Leavitt to Kedzie on Devon, Arthur to Granville on Western).

Creating a “branding campaign” for the current dreary array of vacancies and shabby little shops selling so-so merchandise is a mistake. Mislead people once and you won’t get a second chance.

Build a business district that’s truly remarkable and it will sell itself.

Debra’s Pathetic Year-End “Newsletter”

It’s time for the alderqueen’s annual end-of-year newsletter, her statement of her achievements for the past twelve months. Every year it gets worse. This year it’s just pathetic. Pure malarkey.

Four glossy pages, seven pictures of Herself, and–lest we forget– her name and title mentioned 28 times.  The words “Alderman Silverstein” begin 20 of the report’s 32 paragraphs.

Ira, who usually figures prominently in these fluff pieces, is nowhere to be found. He-who-must-not-be-named apparently also must not be seen.  One of three photos on page two shows a male torso in a checked shirt with its head carefully lopped off. Maybe this is her  first public statement on last Halloween’s sexual harassment charges. [See the uncropped photo here.]

Front Page
She begins by noting that she opposed the property tax increase. That’s so last year, 2016, in fact. She’s voted for every tax since, including water and sewer taxes, and voted just last month to to support the Mayor’s 2018 budget that includes increased taxes on phones, ride-sharing services, and amusements.  If we’re going to report on the past, let’s include her vote for the 2012 budget, which closed half the City’s mental health clinics.

She proudly claims co-sponsorship of bills increasing the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave for all workers in the City, and making Chicago a “Welcoming City” for illegal immigrants.

Why does she call the minimum wage bill a “new law” when it was passed three years ago (December 2014)? Why is she still claiming credit for the Welcoming City bill, passed in 2012? Her claims to co-sponsorships are overblown. She was one of 33 co-sponsors for  the minimum wage bill, one of 40 co-sponsors for paid sick leave, and one of 28 co-sponsors for the Welcoming City bill. She’s not a leader, not a mover in the City Council, and not a risk-taker. She co-sponsors bills when she can hide safely among her colleagues.

[It’s worth noting that the Welcoming City ordinance (amended this year to prevent Chicago police from working with immigration authorities to apprehend and deport criminals illegally in the U.S.) led to the Municipal ID, which will permit the same illegal immigrants to vote next year and in 2019. Despite claims that the card will be used as a library card and for public transit, its primary purpose is to give non-citizens the right to reward–er, vote for–the Democrats who made the Municipal ID possible.]

Public Safety
Her actions to improve public safety are laughable. How does requiring working police officers to serve as background extras so the alderman can pose for pictures improve public safety? One of her weekly newsletters published a ridiculous photo of her taking a salute from the officers – to what purpose? It was almost as bad as when she claimed credit for the Neighborhood Watch Program, posing in one of the jackets worn by participants. Why? She “regularly” speaks with the police commanders?  What does she discuss? While no troubled area in the ward can get a beat officer who actually walks around, she did manage to arrange for police to be on hand to protect the “rights” of Hindu dancers disturbing residents by blasting music via loudspeakers in a parking lot. Twice. Great sense of law enforcement priorities, Deb.

Silverstein claims that she “enhanced” the community via the new library, the street scapes on Devon and Howard, and the new lighting in Warren Park. Not true.

She was as blindsided as the rest of us by the Mayor’s sudden decision to combine a new library with senior housing, an idea that has been used in Europe for over a decade. We got the library only because more than 2,000 citizens signed a petition demanding that the old library be replaced. This was never a priority for Debra, so ignore her claims to “years of hard work and planning.”  She had nothing to do with it. And if you attended any of the meetings you might have noticed that “deer in the headlights” look she gets when she’s asked a question about one of “her” projects. The alderman is clueless.

The Devon streetscape has created a traffic nightmare. The Howard project was almost entirely an Evanston project. The bike bridge at Devon & McCormick had nothing to do with Silverstein. The Park District handled the lighting at Warren Park without her help. And “Stone Park” is actually “Bernie Stone Park.” She still can’t bring herself to speak her predecessor’s name. It’s hardly a “destination.” It’s out of the way, has no playground equipment, and is backed by a hulking storage facility. She’s so on top of things that in one newsletter she asked her constituents which of three sculptural panels they favored for the park, not knowing that the three pieces were components of a single piece.

Supporting Education
She supports education by lunching annually with the ward’s school principals. Then she takes credit for the job they do. Yet in 2013 she voted against the TIF surplus ordinance, which would have returned money to our public schools, and in 2012 she voted for the closure of 50 public schools. .

Community Services
The tax appeal workshops don’t need her, they’re Larry Suffredin’s responsibility.

The Senior Fraud seminar had roughly a dozen participants. Poor attendance for a ward with thousands of senior citizens. See her April 21 newsletter for the photo.

Both the Hiring Fair and the Flue Shot Clinic are sponsored by the City and paid for with tax dollars. Many aldermen find it possible to “host” both events without slapping their own names on all the promotional materials, as Deb does, and without referring to them in the possessive.

One Community, One City
Silverstein’s meetings with “community leaders” on solidarity were embarrassing. Her newsletters of March 13 and March 31 show that they were poorly attended. She didn’t organize either of them, and throughout the year leaves the problems that arise from cultural and religious misunderstandings strictly alone. She’d rather not get involved, thank you, just stopped by for a quick photo for the gullible.

The SSA Meetings are a farce. The SSA covers a limited area (Devon, and Western from Arthur to Granville). No merchants west of California are involved, and the community property-owner representatives do not reflect the diversity of the community.

The other events listed are not Debra’s projects, she participates for the photo ops they bring.

Back Page
I hardly know where to begin. She didn’t announce the new library, Rahm did, and he left without taking questions.

It’s interesting that she brags about the affordable housing, since she chose not to support the “Keeping the Promise Affordable Housing Ordinance.” Although the ordinance would reform CHA (which this year gave public land to developers for $1 for a 99-year lease, and loaned $2 million at zero interest to developers). Deb ain’t interested in reform. In any case, despite misleading statements to West Ridge residents at the open community meetings, the CHA announced at its final meeting that the 30 CHA-controlled apartments at the new library would be assigned to the next thirty individuals or couples on the CHA wait list, not to community residents. This is a matter of law. The other fourteen apartments at the new library were added so the developer could make money (I have no problem with that), and will be subsidized so tenants will pay around $700 per month rather than 30% of their income, as CHA residents do.

I haven’t a clue as to what Silverstein means by “amenities,” unless it’s the seniors’ laundry room.

The newsletter reveals that she’s still using private e-mail and Web site addresses rather than those provided at taxpayer expense by the City. Before you write to her or sign up for her newsletter, you should understand that (a) her continued use of a private e-mail address to conduct City business raises serious ethical questions; and (b) her use of a private Web site permits the collection of private information from your IP address.

Sheesh.

 

Ira, Four Others File for 8th District Senator

The Illinois State Board of Elections reports that petitions have been filed for the following candidates for Illinois State Senate in the 8th District :

Ira Silverstein
Ram Villivalam
Caroline McAteer-Fournier
Zehra Quadri
David Zulkey

All the candidates are Democrats who live in Chicago.

The next phase of the elections process is for opponents to file objections to these petitions; these must be filed no later than Monday, December 11.  If no objection is filed to a candidate’s nomination papers, the papers are presumed to be valid.

I checked each candidate’s reported campaign funds this morning and learned the following:

Ira Silverstein (Silverstein for Senator) has $89,169.57 on hand. He received $9,200 of that in November, including $1,200 from the Realtor PAC; $1,000 from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association; and $7,000 from the Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC. His October contributions were from lobbying groups (SEIU, AFSCME, and PhRma) and brought in another $5,000.

Ram Villivalam (Friends of Ram) has raised $40,535, all of it between November 7-11, 2017, including $5,600 from himself. Another $5,600 came from his wife, Elizabeth Granato, identified on her November 7 contribution as the Manager of Business Development for the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

Interestingly, there are numerous small donations reported to other political groups, mainly the Indo-American Democratic Organization, from an individual named Ramachandra Villivalam who lives (or lived) in Naperville. This is the name under which Ram Villivalam was employed when he worked for Brad Schneider. Ramachandra’s Naperville address puts him in the 21st Senatorial District.

Nothing wrong with moving to a district where your political chances are better. Maybe he moved after his recent wedding. However, the Indo-American group reported an expenditure of $466.52 for Ramachandran Villivalam for a “mailing” on September 28, 2017. Since Villivalam is their current president, I would think they know where he lives. This donation-in-kind does not appear on his disclosure to the State Board.

The last thing we need is a repeat of the battles of the 2015 aldermanic election, when one candidate claimed to live in the ward but didn’t.

Caroline McAteer-Fournier (Caroline for Illinois) has not reported any contributions or expenses.

Zehra Quadri (Zehra for Illinois) has not reported any contributions or expenses.

David A. Zulkey (People for Zulkey) has not reported any contributions or expenses.

The lack of funding for the latter three candidates indicates how hard it is for female and independent (i.e., not politically-connected) candidates to acquire the obscene amounts of money now required to be considered credible candidates. Huge campaign war chests are often misinterpreted as proof that a candidate has the backing of the people, when the truth may be simply that the contributions of a few wealthy individuals and groups have bought the race.

We finally have the opportunity for participatory democracy in this State Senate race.
Let’s take it.

 

 

 

What Was Ira Thinking?

A friend just sent me a WBEZ report that Ira Silverstein served as lawyer for the father of Denise Rotheimer, his accuser in the sexual harassment scandal that cost him his leadership role in Springfield, during the tine she alleges the harassment occurred.

Worse, WBEZ’s Dave McKinney adds that Ira used his office on Devon–the one leased by the 50th Ward Democratic Organization–rather than his private law office to meet with the father, Philip Rotheimer, about a legal dispute over Rotheimer’s father’s estate.  McKinney writes that an unnamed “…government watchdog group said hosting personal business on state property could pose a breach of ethics and a conflict of interest if a lawmaker also is doing legislative work on behalf of a client or client family member.”

Read the story. Then ask yourself: What was Ira thinking?

Ira Files Candidate Petitions; May Have Four Challengers

Yes, Ira’s going to run again for Illinois State Senate for the 8th District. According to The Ward Room, he and Ram Villivalam have filed petitions for the office. Meanwhile, Capitol Fax. another online news site based in Springfield, reports that Caroline McAteer-Fournier, David Zulkey, and Zehra Quadri are also expected to file nominating petitions. Alison Leipsiger, a social worker from Skokie who was mentioned as a potential candidate, has withdrawn.

According to the Illinois Election Data Web site, only Silverstein and Villivalam have actually filed petitions.

Villivalam is a former political director for Rep. Brad Schneider. He is currently president of the Indo-American Democratic Organization. When he announced his candidacy, he noted that the district is heavily Asian-American, and has been lining up local Asian-American politicians for endorsements. He’s the self-identified ethnic candidate. Though he bills himself as a progressive, I don’t see how an ethnicity-based appeal for votes can result in progressive policies. His organization states on its Web site that it wants a seat at the table because its constituency represents two percent of the state’s population, which suggests that the interests of a small group within this diverse district may be his lodestar.

McAteer-Fournier is an advocate for children with epilepsy and former president of the Danny Did Foundation. She describes herself as “…a mom, a higher-education professional, a health care advocate, and a neighbor…” but not a politician. She’s running because of the allegations against Ira, and promises that she’s ready to fight for regular folks. She’s never run for office before, which could be a good thing. However, I don’t know that I’d want another “fighter” in Springfield. I’d prefer to vote for someone who’s willing to reason and negotiate for the common good, not engage in more partisan bickering which will ensure that the current do-nothing gridlock continues.

Zulkey is an attorney and member of the Board of Directors of the Sauganash Community Association. I could not locate a Web site for his campaign, nor any public statements about this reasons for running.

Quadri was a candidate for 50th Ward alderman in 2015, finishing third in a race that included two write-in candidates. Only thirty votes separated her from the second-place finisher in a contest won by Silverstein’s wife, Debra, who was re-elected to her second terms. Quadri runs the social services agency Zam’s Hope. She had a close working relationship with the late alderman Bernie Stone but the Silversteins terminated her agency’s contracts with the City and the State of Illinois as soon as Ira became committeeman and Debra alderman.

It’s a given that multiple candidates make the incumbent more likely to remain in office. There hasn’t been much public outcry over the claims of sexual harassment made against Ira, and neither he nor his wife have made any public statements about the charges that cost him his leadership position. I think that’s a mistake. I think they owe their constituents an acknowledgment of his troubles, at the very least, but both are too aloof from the citizens they represent to deign to say anything.

If the ethnic vote goes to Villivalam and/or Quadri, and the women’s vote to McAteer-Fournier and/or Quadri, Ira could well be re-nominated. Or forced into a run-off. Maybe there are other candidates trying to get their petitions signed by next Monday.

David Zulkey, speak to us!