When I was a kid, our garbage was put into trucks labeled “Mayor Daley’s Streets & Sanitation.” Visitors arriving at O’Hare Airport were greeted by signs proclaiming Mayor Daley welcomed them to Chicago, and, when they left, signs advising that Mayor Daley said goodbye. His name and his face were on everything, everywhere. He ruled Chicago with an iron fist for 21 years.
Debra Silverstein is like Mayor Daley. It’s Ald. Silverstein’s Flu Shot Clinic. It’s Ald. Silverstein’s Movie in the Park. It’s Ald. Silverstein’s Back to School Fair. Her picture is on the announcement of every City program, her weekly newsletter filled with photos of her going about the most routine and mundane aspects of her job. Her name and her face are on everything, everywhere. She’s ruled the 50th Ward with an iron fist for 8 long years.
Now she wants another four.
Silverstein needs one more term to qualify for the generous pension the aldermen have legislated for themselves. She’s paid nearly $10,000 per month for the part-time job of alderman, and she works part-time hours. Her pension after 12 years in office is 80% of her final monthly salary–for the rest of her life. We’d continue to pay her a lot of money to do nothing, but we’d be spared the newsletters and photos.
I’m just guessing, but I suspect the reason there’s only one Orthodox candidate for alderman in 2019 is that Silverstein made a deal: Two Orthodox canddates would split the Jewish vote, thus risking what has been the Jewish seat in the City Council for more than 75 years. An alderman can retire at age 55, and Silverstein is 52. I suspect Silverstein agreed to step down after a third term to allow a more competent candidate to run.
Like most people in the ward, I have no problem voting for a Jewish alderman, but I do have a problem voting for an incompetent alderman.
Silverstein is incompetent. She is also lazy, doing as little as possible. She is not proactive, either in the ward or in the City Council, where she is absent from open debate about City business with her colleagues.
Silverstein recently issued a campaign mailer disguised as a 50th Ward Newsletter. Even by Silverstein standards, it’s a bizarre piece, filled with overblown, easily refuted claims, with no fewer than a dozen pictures of Herself, all in four crowded pages. The mailer is filled with inaccuracies, misleading statements, and outrageous claims about her effectiveness. It also inadvertently showcases one of Silverstein’s most deplorable traits–her penchant for taking credit for all positive developments in the 50th Ward, even when she doesn’t deserve it. Make that especially when she doesn’t deserve it. Her sharp elbows are well-known to the residents and community groups muscled out of the way so she can take sole credit for the work done by others.
The Follies Truth Squad is now in session.
Possible Campaign Violation
This “newsletter” is clearly a campaign mailer yet does not state that it was paid for by her campaign organization. The use of taxpayer funds for such a mailer is prohibited by election laws. This is not a 2018 year-end recap, it’s a review of her first two terms and a blatant appeal for a third. Some of the copy reappears verbatim on her new campaign website. If her aldermanic office paid for this, or had any hand in its preparation or distribution, it’s a campaign violation. (I’ll have more to say on this later this week.).
The letter on page one refers to “another busy year” and describes the newsletter’s content as “… [outlining] our major efforts and some of our most significant accomplishments” in 2018. She then engages in a false and clumsy attempt to suggest she partners with the community in her aldermanic activities. In fact, she disdains contact with her constituents and actvely discourages community input in ward governance. The letter ends with an elegant but fake signature. Nothing evokes sincerity quite like a computer-generated signature on a letter you write heaping praise upon yourself.
Silverstein lists among her “major accomplishments” during this “busy year” legislation that was passed in 2014 and 2016 (the minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinances, passed in December 2014 and June 2016, respectively).
She proudly notes that she “co-sponsored” both ordinances, but neglects to say that she was one of 40 co-sponsors for the paid sick leave bill, and one of 33 co-sponsors for the bill to increase the minimum wage.
Silverstein claims her “…vote helped create the Office of Labor Standards.” This suggests a close contest, with Silverstein’s vote necessary for passage. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the ordinance was co-sponsored by 38 aldermen, including Silverstein. Neither Silverstein nor her vote were instrumental in getting the ordinance passed.
Silverstein takes full credit for passage of the ordinance banning bump stocks, claiming that she “… passed a vital ordinance through the City Council….” (Bump stocks are devices fitted to weaponry that makes guns fire as if they were automatics.) It is true that Silverstein was the primary sponsor and introduced the ordinance shortly after the Illinois Legislature banned bump stocks in February of 2018. But there was no opposition to the ordinance, it was co-sponsored by 47 other aldermen, and passed by a City Council vote of 48-0 (two aldermen were absent). Silverstein credits only herself for its passage. Those sharp elbows again. This explains why she has built no alliances in the City Council. She’s a one-person legislature. Who needs colleagues?
Property Tax Increases in City Budget
Silverstein claims that she “…remains opposed to any property tax increases…” and voted against “any budget that included a property tax hike.” What she doesn’t say is that, while she voted against passing the budgets, she voted for imposing the property taxes. She voted for the 2019 levy. She voted for the 2018 levy. She voted for the 2017 levy. (Click on “Action Details” to see how the aldermen voted. In 2017 there was a “rising vote,” which means that the aldermen stood for “yea” and “nay” rather than responding individually) . A few other aldermen who voted against the budget also voted against imposing the taxes. Not Silverstein. She wants it both ways. She trumpets her vote against the budget, but fails to mention voting for the taxes.
She also fails to mention that she voted to impose other taxes and service fee increases, like motor fuel taxes, and voted to double the rates on 800 parking meters at Wrigley Field.
Silverstein claims on her campaign website that she believes in transparency and uses her weekly newsletter to advise 50th ward residents of her City Council activities. Funny, but I didn’t see anything from her on any of these votes.
She has little interest in the City budget anyway. A 2016 Tribune investigation found that Silverstein attended only 31% of hearings with City officials where they explained and discussed their budget requests. She didn’t attend any hearings the first two days, and skipped the first hearing, the City Budget Director’s overview of the budget. Silverstein then failed to attend hearings for the following departments: Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Family and Supportive Services, Innovation & Technology, the Chicago Board of Elections, the Fire Department, Planning & Development, the Board of Ethics, the Chicago Public Library, the Law Department, and Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
She did attend the budget hearing for Streets & San, a reflection of her pothole obsession. She may well be the only alderman in the city who boasts about wasting her time driving up and down ward streets looking for potholes. In other wards that’s the job of the ward superintendent.
She doesn’t mention in her “Legislative Update” that she voted against giving the city Inspector General the authority to investigate aldermen and their staffs. She doesn’t mention that she voted to return excess TIF money being used to pay down City debt just so the mayor could keep a pledge of revenue neutrality (the City collected more money than expected). She doesn’t volunteer that she voted for the Mayor’s risky plan to create a “Special Purpose Entity” to borrow three billion dollars for debt restructuring; this plan would cost taxpayers $660 million dollars per year in sales tax revenues and was compared to Daley’s parking meter deal.
She doesn’t say that in the past 18 months, she voted to support Mayor Emanuel’s initiatives 96% of the time.
If you haven’t read former alderman Dick Simpson’s latest report on the sorry state of the Chicago City Council, you can access it here. Earlier reports can be found there, too. They are an invaluable guide to which aldermen do a proper job for their constituents and the City. Only a few aldermen are truly independent voices, asking questions, demanding answers, holding the Mayor and his allies accountable. Silverstein isn’t one of them.
A busy year, indeed.
Tomorrow: The Follies Truth Squad reviews Silverstein’s claims on education, community services, and economic development.