DNA Info reported yesterday that the Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a community meeting so residents can learn about and discuss the proposed medical marijuana dispensary that would be located on Milwaukee Avenue. The 41st Ward’s new alderman, Anthony Napolitano, will attend, and told DNA Info that he would listen to both the residents and the Ward’s Zoning Advisory Board before deciding whether to support or oppose the dispensary. [He opposed it during the campaign.]
Imagine: An alderman willing to hold an open meeting with residents and the dispensary’s owners to discuss both sides of the argument for an MMD.
Contrast that with the behavior of Ald. Debra Silverstein in the 50th Ward. She simply declared her opposition to a medical marijuana dispensary and felt no need to tell her constituents why she opposed it. When residents sent e-mails to the ward office and complained on social media about her high-handedness, she backtracked and said she opposed the location, claiming she wanted to protect the ward’s children. The 50th Ward dispensary would be located next to Warren Park where, the alderman said, “hundreds of children” play.
Now she’s raised the fear of crime, an issue that has worked well for her in the past. Because banks and credit card companies will not accept payments for medical marijuana, it’s a cash-only business, and the alderman now says that this is the real issue. She is “not comfortable” with any business that requires 24/7 security, even though that security would be provided by off-duty law enforcement officers.
She has not, however, scheduled any community meetings where residents can meet the dispensary’s owner and discuss with him and the alderman the benefits and drawbacks of locating the dispensary on Western Avenue.
There’s no 50th Ward zoning advisory board, although Silverstein said during her 2011 campaign that she favored creating one. She has, as usual, failed to follow through. This is in keeping with her hands-off policy on economic development. The “spirited economic development plan” she promised during that same campaign has also failed to materialize. She rarely invites residents to open meetings to discuss community issues, unlike other north side aldermen. In the 50th Ward, the people’s business is conducted in secrecy.
It’s fair to say that while she favors community input and economic development, she has no real interest in either.
Because of the Chicago tradition that gives aldermen the final say on economic development in their wards, and the recent back-door maneuvering and packed-meeting decision on the Devon-McCormick theater site redevelopment, I suspect that no amount of community support will allow the dispensary to open on Western–or anyplace else in the 50th Ward.
It doesn’t mean we should give up the fight. It means we have to organize. Sign the petition in support of the MMD. Attend the May 28 hearing. Follow the money. Track her donations and expenditures. Hold her publicly accountable for her positions. You might also read this series of articles from the Chicago Tribune, written in 2008. It’s every bit as relevant today as it was seven years ago.