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..

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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.

The News About Ira

I’m stunned by the sexual harassment allegations leveled against Ira Silverstein. I just don’t see Ira as the kind of guy who’d think that if the lady wants her bill passed she’d better make herself available for midnight chats. I’ve never heard a whisper that he’s a womanizer, and that’s the kind of thing that gets around fast. Allegations aren’t proof; in America, one is still presumed innocent until proven guilty, even though the lynch mobs in the press and on social media don’t seem to know this.

Of course, if it turns out that Ira did send this lady more than 400 Facebook messages, that he did make midnight phone calls to her, that he did block a bill from a vote because he thought she  had a boyfriend, then he can’t continue to serve as state senator or ward committeeman. Let’s see what the Ethics Committee has to say first.

There are many troubling aspects to this story, not least of which is the inaction of State Senate President Cullerton, who knowingly referred the matter to the office of a legislative inspector general who doesn’t exist as well as to an ethics panel that has done nothing about the charges for a year. Ira has been aware since 2016 that a complaint was filed against him. It’s been one of the best-kept political secrets in Springfield and Chicago, proof that the Old Boys Network has gone underground, but hasn’t gone away.

The corruption that has so permeated every level of government in Illinois shows its ugly face here, too. Sexual harassment is so pervasive in Illinois government that legislators are rushing to amend the state’s ethics and lobbyists’ ordinances to include prohibitions against it. Unfortunately, the bill as proposed is weak, merely requiring that each state officer, legislator, and agency establish an anti-harassment policy and imposing $5,000 fines on state employees and lobbyists found guilty of such harassment. Those not taking anti-harassment training will have their names published. Imagine trying to shame an Illinois politician or lobbyist by telling the public that he doesn’t follow the rules!

No talk yet of filling the IG position.

The look on Speaker Madigan’s face while Ms. Rotheimer stated her case was hard to gauge. Was he as shocked as appeared at times, or was he thinking ahead to the possibilities that Ira’s departure from office would create? The late Avy Meyers maintained for years that the big guys in Springfield wanted to get rid of Ira but couldn’t risk alienating the Orthodox vote. If Ira implodes on his own, then there are openings for state senator, majority whip, and ward committeeman. All the big shots who make our state so corrupt—Rahm, Madigan, Cullerton, et al.—will profit in some way if Ira’s forced to resign.

His district includes all or part of several wards and stretches through several suburbs, including Skokie and Niles. Ira’s been in office 18 years, and has run unopposed since 2004.  Could another Chicago candidate be elected? Or is it time for a suburban senator? Which ethnic or religious group would be favored? Figure that governor nominee-presumptive Pritzker will have a say as well. And his money could be the determining factor in candidate selection.

Ira was last re-elected Democratic Committeeman in March 2016. Most aldermen are also their ward’s committeemen, so Debra could theoretically assume that role, too. Of course, she’s in way over her head as alderman, so party bigwigs may recognize that adding the committeeman’s position might not be too smart. When there’s a mid-term opening for committeeman, the replacement is selected by votes cast by all other City committeemen. Would a trusted Silverstein ally or member of the 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization – the Silverstein Machine – take over? Or would there finally be an opportunity for an independent Democrat to begin building a functioning democracy in the 50th? Would somebody who’d do so stand a chance of being elected?

Is it time for the first non-Orthodox committeeman? If so, which ethnic or religious group’s candidate should be selected? Who could be chosen who would not alienate the majority of residents / voters? The Silversteins have done nothing to build community, so it’s likely to be a free-for-all..

How might these accusations impact Debra’s race for re-election next year? Ira told the press he discussed the charges with her, told her he did nothing wrong, and that she believes him. She has thus far declined to comment. But his conduct does make her vulnerable as a candidate, fairly or not.

A Silverstein sex scandal. Can you believe it?