Rating the Alderman on Economic Improvement

Ald. Debra Silverstein’s campaign Web site, recent campaign mailings, and weekly newsletter may reveal more than she realizes about the true state of the 50th Ward and how little she has accomplished after four years in office. This is especially true when it comes to business development.

I asked myself three questions as I reviewed her descriptions of her accomplishments.

  • Do they present an accurate picture of how well she has performed as alderman?
  • What successes does she claim, and are those claims valid?
  • What do her own assessments tell us about her priorities?

Economic Development

Four years ago Candidate Silverstein told the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board that

 “On any given commercial street there are numerous empty store fronts and for rent signs. People can blame the economy; however, there has never been a spirited economic plan for Devon, Western, and Touhy Avenues. My major priority is to begin the development of these areas.A major streetscape of the Devon business area is a must and storeowners must be educated on the SBIF funds available to them to help upgrade their property. I also plan to work with the local Chamber of Commerce and numerous community groups to develop a marketing plan to attract not only businesses, but also new customers.”

Four years later there are more empty storefronts and more “For Rent” signs than ever.

Silverstein says that she is “improving business” through the Devon streetscape, and touts a few new businesses that have located in the ward. She claims that Devon Avenue draws shoppers from “all over the City of Chicago and beyond” to buy “unique gifts” from our “unique and diverse shops.”  She brags that she “spearheaded efforts to sell and redevelop vacant storefronts on Touhy Avenue,” and that she “worked hard” to bring a “full-service grocery store to our neighborhood” (Cermak Market). She also states that she “actively engages the business community and residents at every step of development and asks for their input.”

All of these claims are demonstrably false.

Silverstein has failed to deliver that “spirited economic plan” for any area of the ward. Based on her own statements, she believes the streetscape alone will draw customers and businesses, when in reality the streetscape makes the shabbiness of the stores and the sameness of the merchandise all too obvious. We’re still waiting for that marketing plan as well. This alderman has never been known for consulting residents on any of her plans, and I know from personal experience that she is hostile and resentful when residents voice their opinions. [More on that later, in another post.]

Silverstein persists in her fantasy that Devon is a multicultural shopping district that attracts shoppers with merchandise from around the world. The sad fact is that the 50th Ward stretch of Devon has deteriorated into little better than a 24-block-long strip mall filled with discount stores, small groceries, and convenience stores. It is true that Little India provides some glitz and glitter in the window displays of the more upscale sari shops, but there are no “unique” stores or gifts to be found anywhere on the street. It is multicultural shopping in the sense that stores are owned by merchants from India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. But they sell groceries and phone cards and lottery tickets, not artwork, one-of-a-kind handcrafts, or gift items.

Silverstein’s claim that West Ridge lacked a “full-service grocery store” is simply ludicrous. The neighborhood is oversupplied with large groceries, with 10 supermarkets on Devon alone, from Kedzie to Damen, plus Aldi on California, the CVS food mart on Devon, and Jewel on Howard (on the Evanston side) in addition to the new Cermak Foods. There are also a couple of dozen small grocers, discount, and convenience stores on Devon, suggesting that the real problem is the concentration of food stores there and the lack of grocery stores elsewhere in the ward. This is a direct result of the absence of an economic development plan.

The forced sale of vacant storefronts on Touhy is a particularly shameful episode. These storefronts had been vacant for years, yet Silverstein waited until she was up for re-election before taking action against the owner. She solicited the community’s help, asking that residents attend court sessions and support her efforts. Silverstein touts this as a victory for the community, yet what did she accomplish? The building was sold, and the stores remain vacant. Going to court was nothing but a cheap re-election stunt.

As yourself why she hasn’t taken action against the owners of six buildings on Devon, two of them ugly board-ups and one, the former Sheldon Cord Products, an eyesore for years. You’d think that after her public campaign against the owner of the Touhy storefronts she’d take these owners to court, too. But she hasn’t. Not in four years.

By any objective measure, Silverstein has failed to deliver economic improvement to the 50th Ward. Her claims to the contrary simply don’t hold up.

Coming Next: Did Silverstein Make the Ward Safer?

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