50th Ward Follies–4 Years, 46,000+ Views

50th Ward Follies is celebrating its fourth birthday!

I started this blog on December 31, 2014, as a response to the 2015 aldermanic campaign. Follies has come full circle. We now face another election to choose the person who will lead ou ward for the next four years.

Readers have shared advice, tips, criticisms, suggestions, corrections, and  disagreements large and small, often offering different points of view and personal observations or experiences, all of which I appreciate. I’ve learned a lot from you in the past four years, and expect to learn more. I try to be fair and to focus on behaviors rather than personalities. It’s difficult in a somewhat oversensitive, multicultural environment to offer opinions and observations without triggering angry, defensive, and sometimes hostile responses, especially during these times of turmoil, political cowardice, and politically-correct groupthink.

Follies raises issues that I think require attention. Readers may agree or disagree. I want to know what you think either way.

I value my readers–your support, your ideas, your feedback, and your criticisms. I truly appreciate each of you.

Follies has been viewed more than 46,000 times during these four years. I’m proud of that, because its content is so specific to our Ward. In fact, the most-viewed posts are those on 50th Ward political issues, with the highest numbers recorded in the days before the 2015 municipal election.

I am excited by the fresh opportunities that 2019 will bring, and relish the coming political combat. Fights for political power always bring out both the best and the worst in people, whether candidates, supporters, or supposedly disinterested bystanders. For me, neutrality is not an option when the stakes are as high as they are in the coming election.

The next alderman will shape the ward for years to come because of the 2021 ward redistricting and the unmet need for economic development and affordable housing. The next alderman will also help shape the City’s responses to solving the pension crisis and  ending gun violence.  The next alderman will work with a new mayor and must bring fresh ideas, an independent voice, and realistic perspectives to the job of governing this City. The next alderman must be an active participant in the life of this Ward and be regarded as a vital partner in City business by the next mayor and City Council colleagues.

I’m looking forward to the coming aldermanic debates. I want to hear the ideas, arguments, and political  philosophies of our four aldermanic candidates as they address ward issues and offer solutions to our ward’s problems. It’s critical that we choose the best candidate rather than base our choice on the candidate’s faith, race, or ethnicity.. The stakes are too high for tribalism.

Personally, I’m glad to see 2018 end. It was a very difficult year and I’m happy to see it go.

50th Ward Follies wishes you and yours a blessed and happy 2019!

 

 

 

Signs of the Times

Are the times a changin’ in West Ridge? There are signs…..

Ira’s office is for rent.

 

 

 

And then there’s Wednesday’s invitation from the alderman to joinTeam Silverstein and help her win re-election. I’ve never received a sadder, more desperate message from a politician. This is the first time she has ever asked the community at large for help, support, and money. I think she realizes it’s not going to be a slam-dunk this time.

But then I went to her new campaign website. It’s basically a rehash of the end-of-year newsletter / campaign puff piece she mailed a couple of weeks ago. Like the mailer, her website gives spin a bad name. (I’ll be addressing the issues raised by that campaign newsletter in a three-part Follies Truth Squad report beginning next Wednesday.)

The more desperate Silverstein becomes the more photos she publishes of herself doing the most routine aspects of her job, like posing for pictures with winning athletic teams, and the kind of hokey, staged photo-opps that embarrass everyone except politicians– posing with police roll calls, donning a hard hat and posing with construction workers. Her new campaign website is full of such malarkey.

There are solid candidates opposing her on the February ballot. They have ideas and plans for the neighborhood, and they are willing and able to discuss them with the community in open forums. Her opponents have been active in community organizations, and have pledged a new era of civic engagement in West Ridge.

Silverstein promises four more years like the last eight. She’s always absent when there’s hard work to do, and always sharp-elbowed when it’s time to claim credit. Her opponents have achievements to share, Silverstein has photos.

This should be an interesting campaign.

 

 

 

Strongarm Robberies on Western Avenue

The 24th District police have issued a community alert about two strongarm robberies that occurred on Western Avenue, one in early December, and one just last week.  Both robberies involved beatings; one robbery occurred at three o’clock in the afternoon.

The first incident occurred on the 7400 block of Western on December 2 at approximately 3:00 a.m. The second robbery took place on the 6900 block of Western on December 19 at approximately 3:00 p.m.

The robbers are described as three white Hispanic males. In both cases, they approached the victim as the victim was walking on Western. Both victims were grabbed, threatened, and beaten before being robbed.

The police have again stressed the importance of being alert and aware while walking. They advise that if you are confronted, you should remain calm and try to remember any details about your assailants, such as facial scars.

Anyone with any information about either incident should contact the police at 312/744-8263.

Read the alert here.18-337CA

Jennie-O Ground Turkey Recall for Possible Salmonella

The FDA has issued a recall for Jennie-O Turkey Store ground turkey products that may be contaminated with salmonella. Check the link below for details of the products and their expiration dates.

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/recall-case-archive/archive/2018/recall-124-2018-release

 

Alderman’s Holiday Office Hours

In case you didn’t see the Alderman’s newsletter today, she announced that her office will be closed both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This was expected. What was not expected is that her office will be open only 4 hours per day for the rest of next week.

Silverstein announced that on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of next week her  office will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

When you work for the laziest alderman in the city, you get a lot of paid time off.

 

Now What?

The old Northtown Library on California Avenue closed on Monday. The new building on Western and Pratt is still under construction. While library staff pack books and prepare to move into the new space, the question of what will happen to the old library needs to be addressed.

The fate of this publicly-owned building is officially undecided. Yet rumors persist that Silverstein has already promised it to either the Indo-American Center for its new home or the Jewish community for a synagogue, private school, or social service agency.

As I understand the procedure, once the building is vacant it must undergo a structural evaluation to determine if it is suitable for repurposing. If it is not, it will be demolished. But if it is, it must first be offered to City agencies and departments. Should none of them be interested in using it, then the alderman plays the largest role in determining its use and tenancy or new ownership.

Given Silverstein’s complete lack of transparency in Ward business it is highly unlikely that the community will have any meaningful input in this matter. She has still not revealed the names or organizational affiliations of the secret committee that advised her on library construction, and it’s been nearly two years since they were appointed.

We shouldn’t permit sham community meetings asking for neighbrhood input, as happened with the old theater at Devon and McCormick. A proposed cultural arts center was deemed impssible due to the lack of parking. In truth, the sale of that property for a storage facility had already been decided. After the sale and the creation of Berny Stone Park, the alderman announced that the Office Depot parking lot aross the street would be available to park users. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Community demand in West Ridge for a cultural and performing arts center available to all members of the community is ongoing and strong. Silverstein should pay attention. There should be open discussion and meaningful community input on the fate of the old library building. It should not be a prize doled out by Silversein, especially in an election year. Nor should it become a reward should Silverstein be reelected.

Other uses have also been suggested. Many less affluent children from the south end of the ward will lose access to the library and its services, like computer usage. A community center with classroom facilities is therefore another proosal, as is a senior center. Can these uses be combined? If the building is found to be structurally sound, would the addition of a second floor be possible?

Let the alderman know that you want the community to determine what happens to this public building. Call her office (773-262-10550) or email her (info@50thward.com).

Andrew Rowlas speaks eloquently about potential uses for this space. Saving this building for the use of the entire community is, in fact, an important part of his aldermanic campaign. Visit his campaign webste for details (rowlasforthe50th.com).

Let’s put an end to secret committees deciding public business. Let’s demand an open process and meaningful community input on the fate of this building that has served our community so well for nearly 60 years.

Campaign Updates

Petition Challenges  There were no challenges to petitions for either the alderman or Andrew Rowlas.  Objections are pending for the other two potential candidaes, Majid Mustafa and Zehra Quadri.

Both were challenged by a Silverstein proxy, Mark Tannbebaum, who is represented by Silverstein’s elections attorney. No hearing dates are set yet for Tannbebaum’s objections.

Mustafa petition circulator Abdul Rehman Shaikh is also objecting to Quadri’s petitions, and Armando Ramos is objecting to Mustafa’s petitions. (As noted here before, Ramos is my nephew.) Preliminary hearings are set in these two challenges for this Thursday.

Tweet, Tweet The alderman has sent two campaign tweets. The first shows a medical office  and darkened storefronts  at a deserted intersection with one sad and lonely lamp post draped in Devon Avenue’s sorry holiday lights. Does this say happy holidays to you?

https://twitter.com/Debra4Alderman/status/107081069772502630

Her second tweet announces that she and the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs  took a tour of Devon Avenue. Naturally there’s a photograph. Naturally it prominently features the alderman. Naturally she praises our “unique” shopping, then takes a photo inside Tel Aviv Bakery, not the first place I think of for holiday shopping.

https://twitter.com/Debra4Alderman/st8atus/1074791855664054273

Campaign Fundraisers  Andrew Rowlas and Zehra Quadri have both held successful fundraisers in the past week. Nobody has raised anywhere near as much money as the alderman–she has over $190,000– but they have ideas and plans. The only question is whether the community can get past the barrage of glitzy mailers from Silverstein and focus on the issues the mailers are designed to hide.

Debates  I hear that two debates are being organized, one by the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park (JCC-WRP) and one by the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO). No dates have been announced.

The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce usually also sponsors a debate, but in 2015 it was a luncheon event with a ticket price of $40 per person and wasn’t widely advertised outside the business community.

Personally, I think there should be as many debates as possible. Both the ward and the City are facing serious issues that require serious discussion. We have a right as citizens to hear about their ideas and plans directly from the people who would lead us.

In 2015, the alderman refused to take part in any debates on the grounds that write-in candidates would be present. Many in the neighborhood were outraged by her arrogance but no amount of voter fury could force her to attend. This year it has to be made clear to her that no such high-handedness will be tolerated. She must attend all debates and defend her record–if she can.

I’ll keep you posted on futher developments. Don’t wory. There are just two more months until  election day.

 

 

 

No Mind of Her Own

Have you received the alderman’s first campaign mailing? It purports to be the 50th Ward newsletter, but it’s actually a campaign puff piece designed to make Debra look like an effective alderman. It’s filled with her signature blend of half-truths and outright distortions. Twelve of the fourteen photos in its four pages prominently feature Herself; three of those photos show her posing with cops to reinforce her image as the law-and-order alderman. She even stoops to printing a picture of herself addressing one of the prayer services for Eliyahu Moscowitz.

I received my copy of this travesty yesterday, the same day that former alderman Dick Simpson and his team at UIC released their latest report on what they have dubbed our “rubber-stamp” City Council. Silverstein is a charter member of that group. During her first term, she voted 100% of the time with the mayor. During her second term, she has voted with him  96% of the time.

In effect, the 50th ward has had no independent representative in the City Council.  The mayor has always owned Silverrstein’s vote. That’s not surprising. The Illinois Sunshine Database lists committees tied to the mayor as Silverstein’s main funding source. Since her first campaign in 2010, Silverstein has accepted nearly $100,000 in contributions from Rahm, the latest coming just a few weeks ago. Debra and other aldermen who faithfully supported Rahm were rewarded with $20,000 checks at a special luncheon.

It’s another reason to vote against her in the current aldermanic race. We need an alderman who responds to the people who live in this Ward, not an alderman who gets her marching orders from the 5th floor at City Hall.

Look at the current crop of candidates for mayor. Who will be Silverstein’s master should she win reelection?

I find this first campaign piece so offensive that I have decided to resurrect the Follies Truth Squad. Silverstein’s dubious assertions and outright falsehoods cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

Watch for posts beginning this weekend.

In the meantime, recognize her mailing for what it is, a puff piece without substance for a candidate without accomplishments. In this case, the pictures don’t tell the story.

 

Community Still Being Misled on Library Housing

Alderman Silverstein proudly announced yesterday that 50th Ward residents could add their names to the waitlist for the new 30-unit CHA housing above the new Northtown Library.

It’s what she didn’t say that’s important.

Both the alderman and the CHA have consistently misled West Ridge residents about their opportunities to move into the new housing ever since the project was announced in October of 2016. In truth, unless a 50th Ward resident is already on the CHA waitlist, there is virtually no possibility that an apartment in the new building will be available. Even then, the chances are slim. Both the alderman and the CHA director were reluctant to admit that, by law, the apartments would be assigned first to those couples and individuals who had spent the longest time on CHA wait lists for senior housing.

[In fact, anyone who had been a CHA resident in October 1999 and qualified under the CHA’s “right of return” policy would be given priority as a resident of the Northtown Apartments.  See the following Follies posts: July 10, 2017; June 7, 2017.  Note that referenced CHA documents are no longer available online.] 

I raised the question of tenancy at the very first public meeting with the alderman and  CHA Executive Director Eugene Jones. The response from Jones was instructive. He bowed his head, rubbed his chin, and said that he assumed residents would want the housing for seniors already living in the 50th Ward. The audience agreed. Silverstein stood silently. But it  wasn’t clearly stated until the final community meeting, held at the Budlong Woods Library, that CHA could not reserve the housing for 50th Ward residents. Only two 50th Ward residents attended this final meeting: John Kane, then-president of the West Ridge Community Organization, and me. The transcript of that meeting is no longer available on the CHA Web site.

Fourteen apartments were added to the original plans. They are under the control of the developer, not CHA. Jones stated at one community meeting that tenants for those apartments would be selected by the alderman and the community. I wondered at the time why the aldermen should have any input, and questioned whether political influence should have any role in tenant selection.

The alderman’s statement in her December 7 newsletter  does not  refer to an application process  for those fourteen apartments.  This raises the question of whether or not those apartments have already been leased and, if so, by whom and how.

I have not seen any announcements of an open application process for these fourteen apartments, and it’s less than two months before the building is to open. But this is in keeping with Silverstein’s policy of not discussing public business with ward residents. For example, we still don’t know the names of the members of the secret committee that advised her on the library building, nor have any minutes of their meetings or notes from their deliberations been made public. It might make you think no records were kept.

The existing library is now scheduled to close December 17. The community will be without a library for six to ten weeks. We are told this is because of weather-related delays in constructing the new building. You’d think a city that’s constantly under construction would have been better prepared. My guess is that the delay is really caused by the alderman’s need to gain as much political advantage as possible from the building’s opening. Think of all the pictures! The alderman cutting the ribbon, greeting the new senior tenants, welcoming children, touring the facility, posing with happy residents. Imagine how many extra votes that could mean.

FYI: Average wait times for CHA buildings for seniors run from six months to ten years, depending on the building. This estimate comes from a listing of wait times for CHA senior buildings from January 2018 that I was able to access but whose link could not be copied. There is no information on wait lists for senior buildings on CHA’s Web site.

View my video of the press conference announcing the new library / CHA building and my Oct. 22 post, “Whose Library Is It Anyway?”

Read my post of November 15, 201 6, “People Power and the New Library,” for more background.