Holiday Lights?

Devon Avenue has been decorated for the holidays that dare not be named.

While commercial districts in other neighborhoods are welcoming shoppers of all faiths and decorating to celebrate the season, the overlords of Devon Avenue–our unelected SSA Commissioners–have once again opted to celebrate diversity by pointedly ignoring Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.

The  “holiday” decorations chosen by the SSA– flashing lights of blue, red, green, and white– signify nothing, impart no holiday spirit, acknowledge no religious heritage, and do not reflect either the joy of the season or the spiritual renewal experienced by most of the ward’s residents at this time of year. Instead, they contribute additional gaudiness to a street whose storefront doors and windows are already ablaze with neon. The overall effect is that of a long, long strip mall, every intersection resembling the entrance to a gas station.

Looking eastward on Devon from Republic Bank.

The SSA seems to think that only Hindu holidays should be celebrated. This is wrong. We are a neighborhood of many faiths. Today, Roman Catholics will begin the Advent season,  a time of prayer and preparation for the birth of Christ. On Sunday evening our Jewish neighbors will begin celebrating the eight days of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Beginning on December 26, African-Americans and African immigrants will join together for Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African values and culture. Many Greek, Russian, and Serbian Orthodox Christians in our ward  will observe Christmas on January 7.

This rich cultural and spiritual heritage is ignored by the SSA. The colors of the season are present but their display  signifies nothing to anyone.

The SSA plans to install mandalas at Western and Devon. Why not a community Christmas tree?  Why not a public menorah lighting? Why not a winter festival that includes the entire community? Twenty percent of this Ward is Hispanic–where’s the Posada? Faith isn’t required to appreciate pageantry.

Contrast  the 50th Ward’s approach  to this time of year with that of the 41st Ward. Alderman Napolitano invites residents to  eight non-religious holiday events occurring in December. Two of those are sponsored by the local historical society,  including a craft boutique / cafe and a holiday house tour with or without lunch. One local Chamber of Commerce sponsors both a Winter Wine Stroll and a holiday dinner as well as a rewards program for shoppers who support local businesses. Another Chamber brought the Santa Express and is holding an ugly Christmas sweater contest  as well as  a community-wide scavenger hunt  for the weekend before New Year’s. One park council has organized a  holiday bazaar. There’s also a Toys for Tots campaign that’s a joint project between a local park council and the friends of the local library.

This level of community doesn’t happen without leadership from the alderman.  It’s true that the 41st Ward doesn’t have the diversity of the 50th, but I think that just gives us greater opportunities to explore other faiths and cultures and to share the joys of America’s unique  cultural and religious heritage with our newest immigrants.

Silverstein and the SSA are not interested. Devon celebrates Diwali and nothing else. The SSA can put loudspeakers in a parking lot but not a Christmas tree, a menorah, or even a sign that reads “Season’s Greetings.”

Merry Christmas? Happy Chanukah? Habari Gani?

Bah, humbug.

Majid Mustafa

Divide and conquer is an old political strategy. It’s worked for everyone from Genghis Khan to Debra Silverstein. It backfires occasionally–Ram Villivalam vs. Ira Silverstein is a recent example. The way I heard it, Ram was recruited by Ira to split the Indian vote should Ira not be able to successfully challenge Zehra Quadri’s senatorial nominating petition signatures. While that process was in motion, Ram realized he could win by appealing to the South Asian voters in the suburbs and shamelessly using the current Me, Too moment to smear Ira mercilessly for a flirtation that was more laughable than menacing. As a result, Ira lost his election.

Now comes Majid Mustafa, the latest 50th Ward candidate backed by Indian business and political interests—and possibly the Silversteins—whose sole reason for running is to keep Debra Silverstein in office. Such an outcome works for Indian business and political interests—not to mention the Silversteins. And once again, the target is Zehra Quadri. Get her off the ballot, or split the Asian vote. And guess who wins re-election..

But back to Mustafa. He’s an interesting character, to say the least. A former precinct captain for Berny Stone, he was practicing political dirty tricks while still a dishwasher at his uncle’s kebab restaurant. Berny appointed him a commissioner to our local Special Services Area (SSA) #43 (Devon Avenue), a secretive, unelected taxing body accountable solely to the alderman, who chooses its members..

Our dishwasher-commissioner, in his capacity as a Stone precinct captain and political operative, became embroiled in the 2007 post-election scandal that contributed to Stone’s defeat in 2011. Disgruntled candidate Salman Aftab complained to the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) that Stone campaign workers were filling out absentee ballots for immigrant voters. An investigation led to the arrests of two men, Stone’s Ward Superintendent, Anesh Eapen, and campaign volunteer Armando Ramos.

Full disclosure: Armando Ramos is my nephew.

In Spring 2008, Mustafa was hired by the City as Stone’s legislative aide at a salary of $3,499 per month. It was understood that Mustafa now could not be questioned about allegations of vote fraud in the 2007 campaign, City Council employees not being subject to investigation by the Inspector General. Unfortunately for Mustafa, it turned out he was subject to the State’s Attorney’s vote fraud investigation.

At the Eapen-Ramos trial, the Cook County State’s Investigator who interviewed Mustafa testified that Mustafa had initially denied filling out absentee ballots but changed his testimony when shown ballots with his handwriting on them. He then admitted that he also completed “missing information” on ballots he took to his own home, and stamped and mailed absentee ballots in violation of state election law. Mustafa changed his testimony between his investigator interview and his court appearance. He denied knowing his activities were illegal, and blamed poor election training for his behavior.

He could and should have been charged with perjury, but prosecutors did not follow up on these inconsistencies.

Eapen and Ramos were subsequently convicted. Their charges were reduced to misdemeanors and, while they were on trial, the law under which they were tried was invalidated by the City Council. Each served a few months in Cook County Jail.

Mustafa left his City job and became assistant manager of his uncle’s kebab restaurant.

In early 2013, Mustafa decided to become a Chicago police officer. During his probationary period, he injured his thumb while undergoing firearms training. In all, Mustafa failed three times to pass the test requiring him to fire a gun with both hands and was terminated from his probationary police officer position.

In August of 2013, Mustafa sued the City, then-Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy, and his instructor in federal court, alleging breach of contract and violation of his civil rights. Mustafa’s suit claimed that he had an “implied contract” with the City during his probationary period, and that his thumb was not only dislocated but further injured during subsequent training he was ordered to undergo after he had been medically certified to return to work.

Mustfa claimed civil rights violations in that the City violated his due-process rights (requiring him to continue training while he maintained his thumb needed more time to heal) and that his civil rights were violated because of “…insulting and disparaging name-calling, including being referred to as ‘little Paki bomber’ and “the alderman’s kid.’” He also sued for compensation and reinstatement to his job as a probationary police officer.

His suit was dismissed in December 2013 except for the claim that the City was required to protect his “bodily integrity”—i.e., not further injure his thumb—but he did not refile his claim within the allotted timeframe. Case closed.

One month after filing his lawsuit, in September 2013, Mustafa reported a bizarre incident in which a burglar broke into his uncle’s restaurant through the locked back door after slipping through the burglar gate and stole 384 pounds of meat marinating in a basement cooler. Nothing else of value was stolen despite the more than two hours the thief spent on the premises, including time out for a bicycle ride and the loss of part of his prize, dropped in the alley as he tried to load it onto his bicycle. The thief eventually loaded what was left of the meat into a shopping cart and made his getaway. The restaurant’s estimated loss was more than $800. The thief was not caught. View the video here.

So, potential aldermanic candidate Majid Mustafa has admitted to committing vote fraud, escaped being held accountable for perjury, reported an exceedingly strange robbery, and sued the City (i.e., the taxpayers) because his thumb was injured during preliminary on-the-job training and people allegedly called him names.

Majid Mustafa advanced from dishwasher to SSA Commissioner to precinct captain to aldermanic legislative aide to probationary police officer to restaurant manager—every step achieved by relying on political connections and chicanery or family ties.

Would you vote for this man?

 

Quadri, Mustafa File for Alderman

Zehra Quadri and Majid Mustafa filed petitions yesterday to become Alderman of the 50th Ward. They join Andrew Rowlas and Debra Silverstein as potential candidates for alderman.

To secure a place on the ballot, all four must survive challenges to their nominating petitions. Such challenges can be  filed by the candidates themselves or private citizens acting on their own or, as is common, acting as surrogates for candidates who prefer not to be seen as blocking opponents before they can appeal to the voters.

Ira Piltz did not file any nominating petitions although he had announced that he would run. I have heard that there was concern that his running would split the Orthodox vote and result in a non-jewish alderman for the ward. Such an event has not occurred more than 70 years. Although the Jewish community is only about 30% of the ward, it accounts for approximately half the ward’s voters.

Objections to nominating petitions are due on Monday, December 3.  If no challenges are filed to a candidate’s petitions, and the petitions are found to satisfy all legal requirements, that candidate’s name will be placed on the ballot for the February election.

Defending against petition challenges is time-consuming and expensive, requiring the challenged candidate to pay attorneys fees for representation before the Chicago Board of Elections. Although challenged candidates can defend themselves, it’s not a good idea, since they are up against skillful, well-paid attorneys who are generally in the employ of experienced,  well-funded campaigns. This tactic depletes the already scant funds of those who challenge incumbents, and is yet another reason why the same people keep getting reelected, no matter how poor the job they do.

I’ll have more to say about each candidate as we move through this week.

Two Candidates File for Alderman

Andrew Rowlas and Debra Silverstein filed nominating petitions for 50th Ward alderman on Monday. I am aware of two other people who are  still circulating petitions.

Filings will continue through Monday, November 26.

 

 

 

 

$150,000 Reward in Rogers Park Murders

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson announced today that the reward for information leading to the capture of the killer of Douglass Watts and Eliyahu Moscowitz has increased to $150,000. This is the largest reward ever offered in Chicago history. He said the reward  increased due to “…the generosity of an anonymous donor.”

The donation was made in behalf of Mr. Moscowitz, fatally shot as he walked in Loyola Park last month. The announcement was made near the spot where Mr. Moscowitz died.

The Superintendent noted that police have continued to search for the killer over the past 5 weeks. They are asking once again for the public’s  help. You can report your information anonymously, at which time you will be given a code that can be used to claim the reward should your information be verified and lead to the apprehension of the murderer.

A surveillance photo of the suspect appears below.

Please call 312/744-8261 or submit your tip to cookcountycrimestoppers.org.

 

 

Tragedy and Grandstanding

There’s nothing like an alderman so crass that she exploits fear, grief, and mourning to help herself get re-elected.

The Jewish community is reeling from shock, grief, and fear over the murder of Eliyahu Moscowitz, one of two men murdered by an unknown killer in Rogers Park last month, and the synagogue killings in Pittsburgh. And Debra Silverstein both shares and exploits those emotions. She cannot do enough to comfort and protect the Jewish community:

  • Special bulletins were issued by her office providing updates on the hunt for Mr. Moscowitz’s killer.
  • The alderman attended his funeral.
  • A special “community safety meeting” was called on Oct. 4 so residents could hear top police brass discuss progress on the case and measures undertaken to ensure the safety of the Jewish community and its synagogues. [City officials stated that there were no overt threats. Nor is there any evidence that Mr. Moscowitz was targeted because he was Jewish.]
  • At the alderman’s request—or so she implies–police patrols were increased in the 50th Ward on the morning of the Pittsburgh shooting, with police visiting each synagogue and offering condolences and protection in addition to the police squads stationed outside the synagogues during the Sabbath.
  • The neighborhood was invited to an outdoor police roll call and prayer service for the eleven people killed at the Pittsburgh synagogue. (The roll call was canceled after the officers stood in formation for awhile because they had to get to work.)
  • The alderman’s newsletter featured four photos of the roll call/prayer service, two of which featured the alderman. .
  • The alderman has just announced another outdoor roll call, this one for Nov. 7 (today) on the 3600 block of Devon, and has invited residents to attend, adding that they will also have an opportunity to meet the new police commander of the 17th District.

Contrast all this with Silverstein’s actions in 2016, when two men were murdered in three days on Devon Avenue.

  • Silverstein dismissed the murders in her newsletter as “some shootings.” Both victims were men, one shot in a domestic dispute, the other executed gangland-style as he sat in a car outside a liquor store less than two blocks from Silverstein’s office
  • There were no bulletins on the hunt for the killers.
  • Silverstein did not attend the funerals.
  • There were no community safety meetings. No police brass were asked to address the community. No one—not the alderman, not the police—assured residents in the surrounding area that they were safe, or that extra measures were being taken to protect them. Yet we were scared, too.
  • The alderman did not call for or suggest increased police patrols in the area.
  • There were no outdoor police roll calls.
  • There were no photos of the alderman comforting frightened neighbors.

The lives of these two young men were no less valuable than that of Mr. Moscowitz or the Pittsburgh victims. Their life choices may have led them in very different directions, but they, too, were someone’s sons. They, too, had family and friends who mourn their loss. They, too, left a stunned and frightened community.

We all live in an increasingly unsafe world. While Jewish communities rightly and understandably have special concerns, having been targets for millennia, murder is a horror that terrifies every person and every community everywhere. One of the requirements for public servants is that they show compassion and understanding for every member of the community. It’s the art and the act of leadership. .

Silverstein is clearly exploiting the recent tragedies affecting the Jewish community for political gain. She has put her re-election first. Enough with the outdoor roll calls and photos of herself intruding on police business. This isn’t leadership.

Grandstanding is not the next best option. Taking photos at prayer services for later use in re-election materials is appalling.

Someone should tell Silverstein.