Our First Anniversary

50th Ward Follies celebrates its first anniversary today. It’s been quite a year, and I’ll be discussing that some other time.

Started as a commentary on the 2015 aldermanic election, 50th Ward Follies was redesigned after the election, the intent being to focus less on politics and instead to include more of the good things about the 50th Ward.

It hasn’t quite worked out.  When one family wields absolute political control over a ward of approximately 55,000 people, everything that does or doesn’t happen is political. But that discussion, too, is for another time.

Today I’m celebrating—my readers, their comments and critiques, and the fact that so many people check 50th Ward Follies regularly.

Statistics show that our first year attracted a few thousand visitors and logged more than 15,000 views. Our highest ratings occurred on the day before the aldermanic election.

Shortly afterwards I received one of those anonymous private e-mails from someone on social media telling me that my coverage of the aldermanic campaigns was “…mean, nasty, biased, unfair, and [used] facts as entertainment….  I bet [you’re] like that in person.”

Guilty as charged, except that I don’t cuss in print although I’ve been known to do so in person. People like me or they don’t, they agree with me or they don’t. Either way, I’ve learned to live with it.

On to 2016!

50th Ward Follies wishes you and yours
a healthy, prosperous, safe, and happy new year!


So Much for Snow Shoveling

The City absolutely, positively requires that business and residential property owners remove snow from their sidewalks. You’d think such a courtesy would be a matter of common sense for business owners. You’d be wrong.

Yesterday I watched a senior citizen in a wheelchair get stuck in the icy slush build-up at an intersection on Devon. None of the businesses had shoveled their walks, the CTA had not shoveled its bus stop, and the alderman’s snow corps had not shoveled anywhere, at least not east of California. Luckily, another senior was able to dig him out and help him into the street, where he at least had some chance of getting to his destination. He was furious, and demanded to know why businesses no longer seem to have any sense of responsibility.

It’s a good question. There was a time when businesses put out a little extra effort to turn passers-by into customers. Not anymore.

In my area, only a few businesses and landlords bother to shovel sidewalks, let alone intersections. Take my favorite screw-the-community business, Republic Bank.

Every year the snowplows remove every speck of snow from the bank’s huge parking lot and its ATM. Every year the snowplows park the snow on the 6400 blocks of both Washtenaw and Fairfield, always in parking spaces. Neighbors lost four parking spaces when the lot and ATM were constructed, but the bank needs more. And takes it. This year it took over one space on Washtenaw, even though there’s plenty of room in its lot to put the snow. The snowplow driver created a wall of snow behind one car on Fairfield, and this action has created an inaccessible end-of-street parking space.

Did I mention the plow did its work after 10:00 p.m.? And that the truck came back at midnight to plow yet another parking area behind the bank, and dumped this snow in the alley, creating a barrier that other drivers had to remove so they could get home/get to work? Or that as usual the bank neglected to shovel snow from one part of the sidewalk at its ATM, the part that’s even harder to maneuver since the ATM snow gets dumped there, too? Or that the bank couldn’t rouse itself to shovel out the intersections at the corners of its property on Devon and the E-W alley so pedestrians can get by?

There’s enough room on this huge property for the bank to put this snow. You’d think making crossing the street easier for pedestrians and not inconveniencing the neighbors would be a no-brainer.

You’d be wrong.


Parking at Bus Stops

Something has to be done about shoppers parking at bus stops on Devon Avenue. The situation is getting worse, and it’s only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed because shoppers insist on parking in bus lanes, ignoring the danger to passengers already on the bus as well as those waiting to board.

I had to get off the bus in the middle of the street on Christmas afternoon because there was a line of cars parked outside Patel Brothers Grocery on Devon, just west of Rockwell. No fewer than three cars lined the street from Rockwell to the grocery’s front door; a fourth that was pulling up drove away when I turned my camera in his direction. Traffic was heavy and moving slowly in both directions.

Two of the three cars blocking the bus stop on Devon just west of Rockwell, approximately 3:30 p.m. on December 25, 2015.

Two of the three cars blocking the bus stop on Devon just west of Rockwell, approximately 3:30 p.m. on December 25, 2015. The bus stop is clearly marked. Three people are loading groceries into a van in front of the middle car.

People using canes and walkers, women with strollers, children and other passengers are forced to step out of buses in the middle of the street. Passengers waiting to board must step between cars to do so. Sometimes there isn’t enough room to get the stroller or walker between the bus and the car or van illegally sitting at the bus stop. And the drivers of those vehicles, many of whom are busy texting or talking on their phones, absolutely refuse to move.

The next two stops for the westbound #155 bus are just as bad. At Washtenaw, drivers who could move their vehicles into the free Republic Bank parking lot just across the intersection prefer instead to appropriate the bus lane. And California is plagued by drivers parking at the bus stop and then going across the street to Citibank or into one of the local groceries.

Parking in bus stops, by the way, is free parking. Since bus lanes aren’t supposed to be used in this way, there are no meters.

Drivers have other options. They can use the parking garage at Rockwell or the free lot at Republic Bank. This lot has been free most of the time it’s been open. At least one gate is usually inoperable; since Thanksgiving both gates have been up, allowing vehicles to enter and leave without any charges being incurred.

Drivers should not be permitted to endanger passengers on public transit by blocking bus lanes. Must we wait for an entirely avoidable tragedy before anything is done?


Beat 2412 CAPS Meetings in 2016

Thanks to Avy Myers for releasing the 2016 meeting schedule for CAPS Beat 2412 (Devon to Pratt, Kedzie to Ridge). All meetings are scheduled on Tuesday evenings and begin at 7:00 p.m. Beat 2412 meets every other month; locations vary.

January 5        Boone School, 6710 N. Washtenaw

March 1           Warren Park, 6601 N. Western

May 3              Warren Park

July 5              Northtown Library, 6435 N. California

September 6   Boone  School

November 1    Devon Bank, 6445 N. Western

In addition, Beat 2412 will mark National Night Out on Tuesday, August 2, at Warren Park. The event will begin at 6:00 p.m. and run until 7:30 p.m.




Shootings Tracked by DNA Info

DNA Info, the online newspaper, is now tracking shootings across the City.  See here for the article in today’s DNA Info (“Chicago’s Most Dangerous Blocks: ‘Kids are shooting in the streets'”).

This new feature permits tracking by neighborhood. Click here to track shootings in West Ridge (12 so far this year, with two resulting in fatalities).

The site covers shootings occurring since 2010. DNA Info plans to update the site regularly.

Another Rejection for West Ridge MMD

The Green Gate Compassion Center, a licensed medical marijuana dispensary that would have been located on Western Avenue next to Warren Park, has been denied  reconsideration of its application by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

According to DNA Info, this time the vote was 5-0 against, instead of the 2-2 tie that blocked its original application. The online newspaper also reports that Alderman Silverstein opposed reconsideration.

The fifth vote against Green Gate was cast by the newest member of the Board, Blake Sercye, an attorney with Jenner & Block. He ran for Cook County Board Commissioner in 2014 and lost, although he had the backing of both the Mayor and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Widespread community support, jobs for residents, nearly $500,000 to be invested in property improvements, and relief of pain and suffering for patients authorized to receive medical marijuana were all meaningless to the ZBA, swept aside by the alderman’s insistence on misapplying the law and the well-rehearsed testimony of a child.

The denial of the request for reconsideration is yet another example of the alderman’s indifference to building economic opportunity in the 50th Ward as well as her practice of overruling community input and doing what she wants regardless of the community’s wishes.

Read the full article here.

$10,000 Per Month for This?

The alderman has released the 2015 edition of her “50th Ward Year in Review,” a glossy, four-page puff piece replete with no fewer than a dozen photos of Herself; four of those include her husband, State Senator Ira, the power-behind-the-throne. Astute observers have long noted that the alderman rarely appears at public meetings or events without him, and can’t be found at all when he’s in Springfield doing his other job (he’s again running unopposed for both Democratic Committeeman and State Senator).

The report is a poorly written grammatical nightmare highlighting the alderman’s skill at doing the least important aspects of her job, like “hosting” annual events sponsored by the City (Movie in the Park, flu shot clinic). Like the alderman, the report is silent on economic development, arts and cultural events, or efforts to build community in our diverse neighborhood.

Routine matters like making residents aware of the city’s rain barrel program, hosting seminars, and giving backpacks to school children are described as “substantial accomplishments.” She recycles a re-election claim that she “organized” a multijurisdictional law enforcement task force but this time dresses it up with the claim that it’s “the-first-of-its-kind in Chicago…,” adding that the task force has operated in the 50th Ward for four years (or since she’s been alderman). The phrasing might make you think the idea of a task force originated with her as well.

Her seminars reach a minute fraction of ward residents. An attendee told me that one seminar attracted only eight participants. This year’s flu shot clinic was combined with a senior health fare; there were four vendors. Contrast that with the senior health fare put together by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, where more than 30 vendors and a free lunch attracted several hundred seniors.

These are the highlights of the first year of her second term? She’s paid nearly $10,000 per month for this? Silverstein is one of the higher-paid aldermen ($117,333 per year) because she accepted the last raise the City Council voted itself (in 2014); several other aldermen chose not to take it in solidarity with their constituents, hit hard by the recession. But she did. Is what she accomplishes worth the salary we pay her?

At this writing (December 16, 2015), she’s been in office 1,679 days, or 4 years, 7 months, and 4 days. The ward is still waiting for the “spirited economic development plan” she said was so necessary during her 2011 campaign.

She’s one of the Mayor’s most reliable votes, going along with his plans 98% of the time. She voted for the $5,000,000 settlement in the Laquan McDonald case, although she now claims she knew nothing about the video. That’s an admission that she didn’t know what she was voting for, or wasn’t paying attention when the matter was presented to the Council, since it was made clear at that time that the money would serve to prevent certain information from being released. The record from that infamous session shows that she asked no questions, but simply voted yes.

She did not introduce a single ordinance in the City Council last year.

She holds one annual meeting with her constituents. Other aldermen hold as many as eight.

Ten thousand dollars per month to arrange seminars and publicize rain barrel distribution?

Nice work if you can get it.








Sifnotis to Run for Committeeman

Pete Sifnotis is running for election as the Republican Committeeman of the 50th Ward. The election will be held March 15, 2016.

Sifnotis ran for alderman in 2015 as a write-in candidate, one of four challengers to incumbent Debra Silverstein.

The post of committeeman is unpaid; the committeeman oversees ward elections, among other duties.



Alderman Silverstein & the McDonald Hush Money Vote

To hear Alderman Silverstein tell it, she voted for the $5,000,000 hush money settlement in the Laquan McDonald case without knowing anything about it. Her recent newsletter includes her first statement on this matter, and in it she claims that she “…watched in disbelief the video of the shooting death….” She goes on to describe the video “…and what has transpired [as] extremely troubling,” and now says that she believes “…there needs to be a more detailed investigation….”

The alderman’s statement is troubling, too. Known to be one of the Mayor’s staunchest allies on the City Council, she had a near-perfect record of supporting the Mayor during her first term. Last April’s vote was unanimous: 47 aldermen including Silverstein voted to pay five million dollars to McDonald’s family to head off a lawsuit. As more and more investigative reporting clearly shows, every alderman who voted knew exactly what he or she was being asked to do, and did it. Only two aldermen raised questions, and none raised objections.

Asked to vote on a settlement that included a provision to hide the truth of the shooting from the citizens of Chicago, Ald. Silverstein voted to pay the hush money and to suppress the videotape.

It’s unlikely that she had no idea about the truth she’d be helping to hide. Proceedings from the City Council meeting clearly show that City officials feared the release of the tape and/or the filing of the threatened lawsuit. If she truly knew nothing, then how could she in good conscience have voted at all? Was this willful ignorance? Loyalty to Rahm? Business as usual?

Residents of other wards are demanding that their aldermen answer one simple question: What did you know and when did you know it?

Residents of the 50th Ward should ask the same of Ald. Silverstein.

Further reading:
“Inside Rahm Emmanuel’s Vote to Silence Laquan McDonald’s Family” by Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, Dec. 2, 2015

“Where Were You in April, Chicago Aldermen?,” Editorial, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 10, 2015