Correction

Andrew Rowlas contacted me to ask that I correct a misstatement in my post on his endorsement by Lori Lightfoot.

He asked that I clarify that he was not a founding member of LEARN, but joined the Coalition about a year after it began work.

I regret the error and thank Mr. Rowlas for correcting me.

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Rowlas Wins Lightfoot Endorsement

Andrew Rowlas has been endorsed for 50th Ward alderman by mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, who cites his commitment to reform and transparency as major reasons for her belief that he is the best candidate to represent the 50th Ward.

Rowlas is an educator and community activist. A member of the LEARN Coalition, Rowlas was part of the team that suggested building the new library on Western Avenue. He worked for months obtaining signatures on the citizen petition that resulted in the new Northtown Library. He has advocated for longer library hours and is presently obtaining signatures on the petition to transform the old library building into a community cultural center. Last year, as president of the West Ridge Community Organization, Rowlas helped create the Warren Park Advisory Council.

Committed to citizen participation in Ward governance, Rowlas has promised to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward. He also plans to establish a citizen Zoning Advisory Board and promises to build a partnership between residents and business owners to  work together to develop a far-reaching economic and community development plan.

Unlike the alderman, who likes nothing better than to pose in a hard hat with a shovel in her hands but skips the actual hard work of building coalitions and gaining public support for economic and community development projects, Rowlas works well with community residents and businrss owners and listens to and reasons with opponents. He is a team builder and does not claim solo credit for team efforts.

I don’t agree with his views on many issues, but I see him as a leader willing to work with the community for the common good, willing to listen and consider other viewpoints, and committed to the kind of good government–open and transparent–that this Ward desperately needs. Most importantly, he is absolutely committed to developing future leaders for the 50th Ward. Unlike Silverstein, who shuts the community out of ward business and is committed to keeping herself in power, Rowlas believes that engaging with the community in civic matters will create an active, invoved citizenry and produce future leaders committed to public service.

For more information about what Andrew Rowlas believes and what he would do as alderman, visit his website at rowlasforward50.com.

Volunteer for his campaign by contacting Andrew at rowlasforWard50@gmail.com

Don’t forget to attend the two aldermanic forums to meet the candidates in person and hear what they have to say. The first is set for next Thursday, February 7, at 7 p.m. at Devon Bank, 6445 North Western Avenue. It is sponsored by the West Ridge Community Organization.

The second forum is on Sunday, February 10, at 2 p.m. at the Bernard Horwich Center, 3003 West Touhy. It is co-sponsored by the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council, the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, and the League of Women Voters.

Lori Lightfoot, a former prosecutor and head of the police review board, was one of the original challengers to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. She has a long record of public service accomplishments, and is committed to reforming Chicago’s corrupt political system. You can learn more about Lori Lightfoot and her ideas and plans through her campaign website,  lightfootforchicago.com

 

WRCO Candidate Forum Rescheduled

Because of this week’s freezing weather, the West Ridge Community Organization has rescheduled its aldermanic candidate forum from Thursday, January 31, to Thursday, February 7.  All three candidates are expected to be present. The Forum will be moderated by Mick Dumke of ProPublica Illinois.

The forum will be held at Devon Bank, 6445 North Western Avenue, beginning at 7 p.m.

Mustafa Withdraws, Quadri on Ballot

It’s a three-way race now.

Majid Mustafa withdrew today from the race for 50th Ward alderman. At a hearing before the Chicago Board of Elections, Zehra Quadri overcame the objections  to her nominating petitions  by Mustafa petition circulator Abdul Shaikh  and officially became a candidate.

So the ballot is official for the 50th Ward: Debra Silverstein, Andrew Rowlas, and Zehra Quadri (in ballot order).

The three candidates will meet the voters at the aldermanic forum sponsored by the West Ridge Community Organization next Thursday, January 31, at 7 p.m. at Devon Bank. There is no talk of weather cancellation at present.

Early voting begins on Tuesday, January 29, at the downtown Voting Super Center only (175 West Washington). All other early voting sites will open on February 11.

 

 

 

 

 

Candidate Forum Scheduled

The second forum for 50th Ward aldermanic candidates is scheduled for Sunday, February 10, at 2 p.m. at the Bernard Horwich Center, 3003 West Touhy Avenue.

The forum is jointly sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council, and the League of Women Voters.

The Library and The Silverstein Way

The new Independence and Little Italy (formerly Roosevelt) branch libraries opened earlier this week. They are two of the three new libraries in the City that are combined with affordable / CHA senior housing.

The third library is our own Northtown, which has the distinction of being the only one of the three which required a secret committee to advise the alderman on its construction. The  members of that committee, sworn to secrecy immediately upon appointment, are still unknown and likely to remain so.. It’s  the Silverstein way

The senior housing component of the Independence Library is not yet finished, being about three weeks behind schedule, but the library is open and fully functioning. This is because Ald. Laurino is not running for reelection.

There is no official opening date for the Northtown but you can bet it will be as close to the election as possible so that Silverstein can do what she does best–place herself front and center, claim credit, and have her picture taken. Taking credit is easier than actually doing the work. It’s the Silverstein way.

The real heroes in the battle for a new library–The LEARN Coalition– will no doubt not be mentioned. Silverstein still cannot bring herself to mention the name “LEARN Coalition” or to give them the credit they deserve. As usual, she did it all herself.

There are similarities between the Independence branch and the Northtown. Both libraries are 16,000 square feet in size and include 44 housing units. But there are striking differences. The Independence branch is two stories, and places the adult area on the second floor. The Northtown library is one floor, with an open floor plan. At least that’s what the community was told before the secret committee and the alderman made the final design decisions, none of which were shared with residents. 

The new library is one of two major accomplishments Silverstein cites as reason to re-elect her, the other being the Devon streetscape. Watch for lots of news coverage, photos with the mayor, and pictures of a grinning Silverstein with happy neighborhood residents, especially kids, flooding into the new building.

Delaying the building’s opening means  solo news coverage and a boost for re-election.

It’s the Silverstein way.

 

 

January Campaign Updates

January has been a busy month for the four candidates for 50th Ward alderman: Majid Mustafa, Zehra Quadri, Andrew Rowlas, and Debra Silverstein.

Candidate Forums

The West Ridge Community Organization is sponsoring the first candidate forum on Thursday, January 31, at Devon Bank beginning at 7 p.m.  All candidates have been invited to participate. The group’s announcement on its Facebook page states the forum ends at 10:00 p.m., but other sources say it will end at 8:30 p.m. No information on the forum is available on the WRCO Website. 

A second forum jointly sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council will be held in February. Details have not yet been finalized.

Candidate Questionnaires

The Chicago Sun Times, the Chicago Tribune, and WBEZ Public Radio invited candidates to submit responses to questionnaires about their candidacies and positions on local issues. Click on the links above for their responses. (The Sun-Times site is not working, although the questionnaires were accessible earlier; it appears to be under construction.)

Mustafa, Rowlas, and Silverstein filled out questionnaires for the newspapers. Rowlas is the only 50th Ward candidate who provided answers to WBEZ.  Quadri did not respond to either the newspapers or the radio station.

Challenges to Nominating Petitions

Mustafa and Quadri have both overcome the challenges filed by Silverstein surrogate Mark Tannbebaum.

On Friday, January 25, the Chicago Board of Elections will rule on  the challenge to Quadri’s petitions by Mustafa petition circulator Abdul Shaikh Rahman as well as the objections to Mustafa’s petitions by Quadri supporter Armando Ramos.

Endorsements

Rowlas has been endorsed by Northside Action for Democracy.

Quadri has been endorsed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. A video of the endorsement is posted on her Facebook page.

Fundraising (all figures from the Illinois Sunshine database) 

Mustafa has loaned his campaign $85,603.04. He has not reported any donations, but has a cash-on-hand balance of $171,206.08. It appears that his loan has exactly doubled in size, which could be a reporting error.

Quadri has not reported any donations and has not yet registered her campaign committee with the state of Illinois. The only active committee supporting her is the committee established for her run for state senate last year. It shows a balance of $40.01.

Rowlas reports total receipts of $2,891.29.

Silverstein has received $192,625.67 in donations, much of it from labor and business PACs.  She also received $20,000 from Rahm Emanuel, who gave that sum to all of his most loyal City Council supporters, and a total of $1,000 from two separate donations (August 2018 and July 2017) from the S4 PAC, the political action committee of The S4 Group, the lobbying firm formerly headed by our newly-appointed state rep, Yehiel Mark Kalish.

Reclaim Fair Elections.org has created a database that maps donations to incumbent aldermen by ward. Click here to see where Silverstein gets her money.

The Illinois Sunshine database is easily searchable by candidate and by donor. Be sure to click on “All Donations” or “All Expenditures” to see the most recent transactions in both categories. If you want to know who else a donor gave to, click on the donor’s name on the far left side of the page.

Websites

Majid Mustafa -none found
Zehra Quadri – none found
Andrew Rowlas – https://www.rowlasforward50.com/blog
Debra Silverstein – http://www.debrasilversteinforalderman.com/index.html

 

 

Crony Politics

Lou Lang announced on Sunday that he and Ira Silverstein had chosen Lang’s replacement for the Illinois House. Lang claimed that after interviewing 20 applicants on Sunday–what Lang termed “interview day”–he and Ira decided on Yehiel Mark Kalish, a rabbi and political lobbyist. The people Kalish will represent had no voice in the matter. Kalish was sworn in Sunday, hours after his appointment was announced.

Kalish has already had to deny a report that he traded lobbying clients to Lang to get the position (Lang resigned his seat to become a lobbyist). The news of the Kalish appointment was greeted less than ten minutes after Lang’s emailed announcement with a lengthy press release from Agudath Israel of Illinois congratulating Kalish, whose Wikipedia page was already in place. The Website of his lobbying firm, S4 Group, was “under construction” on Sunday evening and remains so today, but I did see it on Sunday afternoon, and Kalish has a long history of political lobbying. He’s an insider, not a reformer, known for representing the same interests that have donated tens of thousands of dollars to our incompetent alderman.

I find it troubling that three men chose our state rep, bypassing the voters, and that one of those men was so disinterested in what was clearly a rigged process that he gave his proxy to the other two. I find it especially troubling that our new state rep was selected by two men who had to resign their leadership positions in the legislature because of charges of sexual harassment. Both resigned as deputy majority leaders, Silverstein from the Senate and Lang from the House. Both were investigated after female lobbyists complained that they had been harassed. In Silverstein’s case, it was found that his conduct was inappropriate but did not rise to the level of sexual harassment. In Lang’s case, the charges were declared unsubstantiated because the complainant chose not to speak with the investigator. Silverstein subsequently lost his bid for re-election.

I find it unacceptable that the voters were not part of this process. We don’t know who applied for the position, or when, or what questions were asked of them, or what their answers were, or how they were vetted, or who lobbied for them. Why the rush to get Kalish sworn in? There’s no transparency in the process, but the long-range planning is obvious.

This is crony politics. The residents of the 16th District should be outraged at this kind of chicanery. It’s pretty obvious that the fix was in, and that 19 candidates didn’t have a chance at appointment. Lang’s decision to resign before being sworn in after being re-elected was an insult to the people who supported him. That Kalish had already been chosen by local power brokers is clear. The praise for his integrity is undercut by the way he gained office.

Kalish is now under obligation to Ira Silverstein. It makes me wonder what Kalish is going to do to help Debra Silverstein win reelection. Don’t kid yourself that favors he can grant to the Silversteins were irrelevant to his selection.

We have a state senator elected because he exploited identity politics and shamelessly inflated Ira’s scandal. We have a state representative selected because of his religion. We may well see the re-election of the laziest, most incompetent alderman in the City because the Orthodox–at least fifty percent of the voters in the 50th Ward–insist on a Jewish alderman rather than one with a vision and a plan to revitalize this ward.

It isn’t racist or anti-Semitic to call out such behavior. Backroom deals narrowly focused  on power and influence for one or two groups over all others undermine democracy. The two groups scheming for political control of the 50th Ward, Asian Indians and Orthodox Jews, disregard the political and economic interests of all other residents in the ward. Neither is anywhere close to a majority; Asian Indians being only 10-15% of residents, depending on who’s counting, and not all are citizens. The Orthodox are roughly 30-35% of the population.

Both are playing a losing game. The majority they have politically marginalized is beginning to recognize the strength that comes with voting and organizing to gain the political power their numbers warrant. Latinos, for example, are 20% of the Ward and growing. Many Muslim residents will become citizens in the next couple of years, and they will vote. The push for fairly-drawn political maps is growing stronger, and a ward drawn to maximize Jewish or Indian voting strength while minimizing the votes of others won’t go unchallenged. Our current legislative districts will also be remapped after next year’s census. There are constitutional issues at play and a strong push for reform locally and nationally.

The entire process by which Rabbi Kalish was chosen reeks. It won’t bother those who designed it, but it should.

 

 

 

“The New Chicago Way”

I’ve been reading an important new book that should be required reading for every Chicago voter. “The New Chicago Way” describes the problems awaiting the next mayor and City Council, and suggests steps to take now and in the near future to resolve the City’s chronic problems–like the ongoing pension crisis and our culture of political corruption.The authors are Edwin Bachrach and Austin Berg. 

The book tackles issues such as how the structure of city government impacts and limits its problem-solving ability and how we can begin to resolve the pension crisis that threatens to bankrupt Chicago.

Did you know that nearly a quarter of the city budget is used to pay interest on the city’s borrowing debt?  Did you know that some of our largest pension funds are less than 50% funded? Can you believe that the frightening funding shortages  reported are not actual dollar figures but only estimates based on actuarial assumptions? Are you aware that other cities–some bigger than Chicago–have more efficient city governance structures that cost less and accomplish more?

Among the reforms Bachrach and Berg suggest is a smaller City Council that would focus on City business operations rather than on providing relatively minor services to constituents. They note that most of what aldermen do is administrative in nature, and that aldermanic privilege–the absolute control of zoning  and licensing at the ward level–is a source of corruption. Other cities elect at-large council members who focus on city contracts and operations, leaving administrative and clerical work to managers and clerks.

The book outlines the history of the pension crisis and suggests ways to resolve it, none of them painless. However, the authors note that until we  address the problems presented by high interest payments and overdue pension contributions, there will be less money available for City operations; we are reaching the point where these obligations will wipe out the funds collected by ever-increasing taxes and fees, leaving Chicago with no choice but bankruptcy.

I am just beginning the chapter on pensions. So far, I have only a couple of minor quibbles with the authors. The chapter on the City Council makes clear the system’s built-in inefficiencies and its potential for corruption. It also makes the case that treating each ward like a fiefdom contributes to the strong mayor-weak council system that allows the mayor to politicize decision-making and the City Council to ignore its responsibility for overseeing City business.

The New Chicago Way will be discussed at a forum on Wednesday, January 30, sponsored by Truth in Accounting, a Chicago non-profit founded on the belief that the public has a right to honest and accurate financial statements from government.The event will take place at the Union League Club, 65 West Jackson, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Cost is $35. (See registration information at the end of this post.)

The book is available from Amazon in both hardcover and e-book editions. It is not available from the Chicago Public Library, but I have submitted a purchase request. This book belongs in the library’s collection.

The coming election may be Chicago’s last chance at meaningful reform. It is time to elect a mayor and aldermen who understand their responsibilities and act accordingly.

Our Ward, in particular, needs an alderman with more important accomplishments than 4,000 sawed-off tree limbs. 

FYI: The Union League Club does not permit guests to wear denim  or athletic wear  To register for this event:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/authors-group-and-the-public-affairs-state-and-local-government-subcommittee-presents-the-new-tickets-55002345496

 

 

 

 

Snowstorm Updates

Ald. Joe Moore of the 49th Ward today released the following updates on this weekend’s snow.

“The National Weather Service reports a Lakefront Flood Advisory, remains in effect until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.  Strong onshore winds are expected to produce waves of seven to ten feet, which will drive up already-above-average lake levels.

You can track the Streets & San snow plows as they move through the city in real time by clicking here.

City ordinance requires homeowners and business owners to shovel the sidewalks adjacent to their property within 24 hours after a snowfall ends.  Not only is it the neighborly thing to do, but failure to do so can result in a fine of up to $500. For more information on the City’s snow removal requirements for sidewalks, click here.”

I’m disappointed but not surprised that nobody from Silverstein’s office was assigned to monitor the storm or provide updated information to residents.

City snowplows are concerned only with plowing the streets and end up blocking intersections and bus stops with piles of snow, making it nearly impossible for pedestrians to safely cross streets or access buses. Seniors and those with disabilities are often unable to shovel their sidewalks.

During her eight years in office, Ald.  Silverstein has never organized a volunteer snow removal corps for the 50th ward. The SSA collects taxes  to pay for snow removal on Devon’s sidewalks and sidewalks on Western from Arthur to Granville;  it did not do an adequate job with the previous snowfall, and never shovels intersections  or bus stops.

Any help that you can give to shovel a sidewalk or unblock a bus stop or intersection would be greatly appreciated by your neighbors. I’ll be out tomorrow shoveling intersections, bus stops, and alley crossings, too. There’s more snow due on Tuesday.

Personally, I prefer Hollywood snow. It falls gently, looks great, and disappears on its own.