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.