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.

 

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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!

 

 

Will Ira Run Again?

Residents of the 8th Senatorial District could learn as early as Monday, November 27, whether or not Ira Silverstein will stand for re-election. That’s the first day on which candidates running as members of “established political parties” can file nominating petitions. The last day on which such candidates can file their nominating petitions is Monday, December 4.

Voters and other interested parties have until Monday, December 11, to file objections to those nominating petitions.  The open primary election will take place on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Vote-by-mail, however, begins on February 8, the first day on which ballots will be mailed to voters.

It’s hard to tell what Ira will do. The allegations against him were explosive, but the published transcripts suggest a silly flirtation rather than sexual harassment, and Ira’s accuser too often initiated the improper exchanges. What’s troubling is that he was in a far more powerful position than she, and clearly should have known better. But it’s equally clear from the evidence that Ira’s not a player. My guess is that he won’t want to face a primary defeat after 18 years in office, so if his polls reveal he has a fighting chance at re-election, I think he’ll take it. If polls show a likely defeat, he won’t run.

The accusations have left him vulnerable. Whether any of the announced or surprise candidates can establish themselves as better representatives for the sprawling district remains to be seen.  Candidates seeking votes on ethnic or religious grounds should be discouraged.

This may well turn out to be a case of voters choosing Ira because they know him and don’t find much in the accusations that warrants a vote for someone else.

A Blessed Thanksgiving

This is the time of year to count one’s blessings and be grateful for the important things in life–family, friends, pets, good neighbors, enough food for nourishment and enjoyment, enough clothing to protect one from the cold, and a warm, safe place to call home.

It’s a time to reflect on the past year, on life’s ups and downs, to express gratitude for the opportunities that appear unexpectedly, to appreciate the lessons in the setbacks that temporarily derail one’s hopes.

It’s a time to be thankful that we live in a peaceful community, free of the daily violence that plagues so many other neighborhoods in our city.  West Ridge is a mosaic of cultures, faiths, and ethnicities, living side by side in peace and freedom.

It’s time to remember those who fought for that freedom, and to be thankful for the ideals represented by the American system of government, ideals that have raised our standard of living both materially and spiritually. We are all blessed to call America home.

No matter which faith one professes, or what name one uses for the Creator of us all, we share the peace of this unique and special American holiday.

May the  blessings of Thanksgiving Day be shared by you and yours.

 

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..

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.