An Opportunity to Rebuild West Ridge Shopping

West Ridge has lost many businesses in the past two years. Some of that is due to coronavirus. Some of it is just the normal business cycle, and some of it occurred because our small businesses are so woefully undercapitalized. West Ridge also suffers from market saturation, with too many stores selling the same kind of merchandise to too small of a customer base.

Nobody likes to see a business go under but a walk on any of our commercial streets demonstrates the real opportunity that now exists for the community to create a retail experience that is more reflective of our diverse community than it was before face masks and lockdowns became a way of life.

Now may well be the time when interested residents should begin emailing and texting friends and neighbors to arrange virtual meetings to discuss the possibilities that blocks of vacant storefronts present. What a community project! With the lockdown rules still in flux, it’s not the time to open a business but it certainly seems to be a time to begin dreaming of one–maybe starting with a pop-up store, or a holiday shop.

Among the businesses proposed in happier times:

  • Old-fashioned coffee shop
  • Book shop with coffee and pastries
  • Kids’ clothing shop
  • Brewery/pub
  • American-style diner/sandwich shop
  • Bowling alley
  • Yarn shop
  • Toy store
  • Used book store
  • Baby clothing store
  • Gift shop
  • Candy store
  • Cheese shop

Many residents have many other ideas. I think that if residents could pull together and redesign even one block, it could start the economic transformation that the neighborhood needs. Can’t you just picture  a row of of specialty shops,  the storefronts united  by a common theme, perhaps awnings of the same color? With plants framing the front doors?  The kind of place that makes you want to come right in and buy whatever they’re selling?

Our economic and business planning should focus first on the needs of residents and then on the wants of transient populations, like tourists and the occasional shopper from the suburbs. Shopping should be built around the idea that it’s best to shop locally, supporting local merchants and keeping as much money in the neighborhood as possible.

In order to help with the nation’s economic recovery, there’s a lot of money available for business loans and start up costs. It’s not always obvious where to go to get this money, but more and more public officials at all levels are beginning to focus on how to connect entrepreneurs to cash. It’s also possible to put funding together through friends and family.

Those considering opening a business might also visit the City’s BACP (Business Affairs & Consumer Protection) office. BACP offers free workshops on everything from how to rent space to launching an ad campaign to spread the word about your business, and covers everything in between. Food businesses would be a risky venture, given that they’re the easiest to shut down, especially if customers or staff come down with coronavirus. On the other hand, people gotta eat. 

Local resources include the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and Devon Bank, which has been advising and supporting local businesses for decades.

Let’s not give up on the idea of Trader Joe’s. We may look better to them now that we have so many whole blocks in various areas available for development.

Good luck to all present and future West Ridge entrepreneurs!

 

News from Working Aldermen

The problem with the Alderman’s weekly newsletter is that it never contains any news. It’s a rehash of events taking place everywhere in the city except here. No events take place here without her approval, and she doesn’t approve of anything unless she controls it.

Debra never tells us what’s going on in the City Council, even the committees on which she sits. After 10 years as alderman, she doesn’t consider City business to be any of our business.

So I’ve decided to publish an alternative Ward newsletter that will actually contain news that Ward residents can use. First, let me give you some examples of what I hope to accomplish.

The following is the kind of information that I think a good alderman provides his or her constituents. These are the opening paragraphs of 49th Ward Ald. Maria Hadden’s current newsletter:</p

“This week our city and our ward were again rocked by gun violence and loss. My condolences go out to all of the loved ones of those lost this week. Since May, I’ve had dozens of conversations with individuals, groups of residents, community organizations, the 24th District, and other neighborhood partners about how we can address the violence and build a safer and more connected community. Solving systemic issues isn’t easy work in the best of times; during this pandemic, it is daunting. I know that many of you are scared, angry, sad and frustrated by the situation we’re all in. You’re not alone in this. Some of you demand more police for security, some of you demand we defund police and redirect resources to other services. I don’t know what the exact solutions are, but what’s clear to me is that what we’ve done in the past hasn’t been working. I also know that everyone wants to feel safer in their homes, walking down their street and being out in our ward. I want that for us too. And in working on solutions, I am trying to find a balance.

“In service to those goals, my office has convened an Anti-Violence Table for our ward to work on reducing violence and increasing community safety. The Table currently consists of several community organizations and we’re in the process of bringing in residents, businesses, schools and parks. We are currently focusing on gun violence reduction in the Howard St border area with Evanston, as that is where many of our most recent shootings have taken place, but the work will not be exclusive to this part of the ward. Solutions that are going to stick and show results must be rooted in community and designed and implemented with the inclusion on [of] the people most impacted by the issue. This is why we’re taking a hyper-local approach as we begin. Thank you to the people who have taken time to speak with me over the last several weeks on this issue. We will share updates from the group on a monthly basis.

“This week I met with a number of our neighborhood community organizations to work on anti-violence planning, worked through a 7-hour Zoning Committee meeting, met with small businesses  to talk about the impact of reopening rollbacks, spoke with real estate professionals about ordinances that impact them that passed Council this week, spoke up for accountability and transparency against the Green Settlement…, saw my first piece of legislation pass City Council with the passage of the Senior Housing Ordinance, am hosting another free COVID-19 testing event, and spoke on Chicago Tonight about the CPS reopening plan. We also have a new 24th District Commander, Joseph Brennan. My office will be requesting he join us for a 49th Ward Town Hall for you all to be able to meet virtually meet him and engage.”

This is the kind of clear, concise report we should receive on a weekly basis from Silverstein. Instead, she pads her newsletter with the kind of photos more suitable for a family album in an attempt to con us into thinking that she’s working. Notice that Maria not only told her constituents about the new police Commander but she also immediately sought to organize a virtual town hall meeting so the commander and the residents could “engage” with one another. Silverstein mentioned in her last report that there was a new commander and gave his name, but there’s no payoff for her in arranging a virtual Town Hall–there’s no opportunity for photo ops that she can use in her political mailings.  We all know that if you want her attention it’s best to wave a camera in her direction. I wouldn’t hold my breath while waiting for a virtual Town Hall with the new Commander– or on any other subject. 

Crime

Again, a thoughtful crime report from Maria (I was unable to reproduce the charts or their link. To see the charts, type CPD reports in your browser. Go to Area 3. Remember that the 24th district results include data from the various wards or parts of wards that make up the 24th district. ) :

“I’ve heard a lot of folks comparing what we’re experiencing now to a year or two years ago, sharing that things feel more dangerous and wondering about the cause for the change. The complaints and concerns we get in the office and those I see on social media often look for simple explanations in an effort to make sense of the chaos. I want to address some of the concerns and start with sharing where our District is on on crime statistics according to the CPD reports.

“You can see from the report for July 13-20 that, year to date, we are seeing a moderate increase in some violent crime (murder and aggravated battery), an increase in shooting incidents (from 15 to 26), and an overall decrease in total crime. The second chart shows you historical comparison of the stats for years 2016-2020 to give you better context of year to year changes for the same time period.

“Here’s the same data for the same time period for the City of Chicago overall.

“Another question that has come up in recent weeks is whether or not we have fewer police resources this year than in previous years. The answer is, it’s complicated. You can compare month to month changes using the charts here, but the average number of officers assigned to the 24th District for 2018 was 294, for 2019 it was 298, and to date this year it is 293. District assignments are constantly in flux and, based on available data, there isn’t a clear pattern of what to expect any given month. One thing is known, and that is that these numbers show official assignments, but police are frequently shifted to other temporary duties based on needs determined by the Superintendent. The tables below show the District assignments for all months/years available from the Inspector General’s Public Safety Dashboard. You can find other valuable data here like Complaints, Tactical Response Reports, Arrest Data, and more.

8/2019 – 7/2020 (last 12 months)
2020 – 7 Month Average – 293

2019 – Average 298 Officers
2018 – Average 294 Officers
2017 – Partial, Average 267 Officers

So What’s Really Happening?

“What we are seeing is unquestionably a result of the fact that we’re all living through a global pandemic. None of us has been through this before and the way it’s affecting us as individuals is only eclipsed by the way it is impacting our society. The loss of lives and livelihoods has been tremendous. Our local and national economies are forever changed and the immediate impact is directly seen in our neighborhoods. Now, more than ever, we need creative problem solving, block-level organizing and compassion. We have an opportunity to identify and lift up values as we build solutions to problems, old and new. We have an opportunity to make all of this loss mean something. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve our ward and our city during this trying time.”

Imagine having these in the 50th Ward:

“… creative problem solving and block-level organizing. “

Ald. Waguespack  published a list of armed street robberies  with addresses and times of the crime  in his latest newsletter.  This is a real public service. Silverstein is too lazy to compile such information. If she did, it would shatter the carefully nurtured illusion that West Ridge is a peaceful kosher Mayberry rather than an urban neighborhood.

What about involving the community in a response to Covid-19? While Silverstein chose to go it alone, shutting residents out, look what the 49th Ward did:

“The Rogers Park Community Response Team is an action-oriented group created in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. RPCRT was created by 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden in coordination with local service providers and community organizations. Partners include IL State Representative Kelly Cassidy, Protect RP, Northside Community Resources, Loyola Community Nursing Center, and hundreds of deeply committed community volunteers.

“We are working together to support each other. We will do so, to the best of our combined ability care for all of our RP family, with fierce love and compassion. We want every Rogers Park resident to know that you are cared for and not alone.

“Contact us at rpcrt49@gmail.com or call our Support Hotline at 773-831-7668. Volunteers are available to answer your questions and direct you to resources now.

“Please also take a moment to look at the Rogers Park Community Response Team’s robust website, rpcrt.org. This website acts as a centralized location where a variety of resources can live to help residents in the wake of COVID-19.”

City Council

For City Council news  I always read the newsletters from Maria’s 49th Wand and those of the 47th Ward and  the 32nd Wards (Ald. Matt Martin and Ald. Scott Waguespack, respectively). Their combined newsletters  give up-to-date information  on  proposed ordinances as well as those that have passed the City Council . Each provides a different perspective.

All are smart aldermen committed to the improvement of their wards for the benefit of their constituents. They are not afraid to report to their constituents on what is happening in the committees on which they serve.

Debra tells us nothing, unless she can praise herself in some way. Regular readers will remember that she attended barely half of City Council and committee meetings during her last term.

The following is from Matt Martin’s current newsletter:

“City Council met this past Wednesday and passed several ordinances which will benefit our community both now and in the future. One such ordinance, championed by the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and co-sponsored by me, will help improve the safety conditions in our larger senior housing facilities by mandating more frequent health check-ups as well as assistance with grocery shopping and obtaining medication. City Council also passed an ordinance that extends the time frame within which a renter must be notified of a rent increase or a lease non-renewal, as well as an ordinance that reduces the fine and types of alleged offenses for which the city can impound a vehicle.”

 These ordinances are important for City residents to know about. So why won’t Silverstein tell us about them?</em>

I could go on and on but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I will be synthesizing information from these and other sources to keep West Ridge residents informed of taxpayer business and other matters the alderman declines to inform us about.

The aldermen I’ve cited also provide opportunities for residents to serve the community, another Silverstein failure. She is too afraid that sharing her power would lead to its loss. As long as she keeps her core constituency happy, she has nothing to fear.  She can remain in power indefinitely, pulling down her $10,000 per month salary and retiring on her generous $80,000 per year pension. In the last election she had a serious challenger from within the Jewish community.  He dropped out before the race began. I said at the time that it was my belief that Jewish Community leaders were dissatisfied with her performance but that she cut a deal with them for another term so she could get her pension.

Meanwhile, the laziest alderman in the city will be riding off into the sunset, well compensated for having accomplished nothing in 12 years of “service.” She’ll be paid in retirement exactly as much as those aldermen who worked hard for their constituents. It’s a shame. Taxpayers should demand that the pension rules for aldermen be reviewed and reformed on the basis of Silverstein’s windfall alone.

The alternative 50th Ward newsletter will make its debut in August 2020.

In Defense of Columbus, American Culture, and Cops

I usually don’t comment on national issues, this being a ward-focused blog. But the current unrest, nationally and locally, requires some pushback.

The City of Chicago is currently being pressured by protesters to remove statues and change park and street names associated by some with racism and injustice. To her credit, Myor Lightfoot did not cave to ignorant protesters who do not know anything about history or what those statues signify in a historical context. All of the statues represent significant figures in American and world history. Parks and streets were named for Americans who made significant contributions to local, state, or national progress. It is unfortunately true that racism precluded the inclusion of hisotically significant Black figures. It is time to remedy that. Surely somebody can see that a possible solution is putting up additional statues, rather than tearing down statues of those who achieved great deeds whatever their personal flaws.

Columbus, for example, is now often referred to as a “controversial” figure who brought death and destruction to America’s Indian population. To set the record straight, Columbus never even set foot in North America. His voyages took him to the Caribbean and South and Central America. It is true that Columbus and his men brought germs and diseases to which the native inhabitants of the various lands they explored had no resistance. That doesn’t make them murderers.

Look at historical instances like the Black Plague, the Spanish Flu, and today’s coronavirus. Each of these diseases spread globally, but their carriers can hardly be held accountable as murderers. If that were the case, we should be holding the American Indians responsible for the plague of lung cancer deaths brought about by tobacco, a plant unknown in Europe until Columbus brought it back from America.

Yes, Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. At that time in history, slavery existed globally–including in Africa, Mexico, and among the indigenous populations of North and South America. And slavery still exists in some areas of Africa today.

Viewing history through a twenty-first-century lens distorts how much progress humans have made. Yes, it’s hard to understand how a man who owned other men and women could pen the Declaration of Independence, but 18th Century men were just as complicated as we are today. People 200 years from now will no doubt be equally shocked by today’s world and its guiding beliefs as well.

The rhetoric about statues isn’t really about the statues or who and what they represent. It isn’t about George Floyd either. It’s an attempt to erase the legacy of white European culture in America. The anarchists leading the charge want nothing short of a return to primitive savagery and brutality, with them at the top of the hierarchy that will quickly be established once the rule of law is vanquished. Portland and Seattle are just the first taste of what awaits us should the anarchists prevail.

The current attack on everything deemed “White” is rooted in ignorance. America was founded in freedom by patriots whose intellectual lives were informed by the Enlightenment. Such ideas may have been discussed around campfires in Africa or Latin America, but it was cultured and educated Europeans who had the time and leisure to reflect on the human condition and how to improve it to better the lot of the masses. They spread their ideas through books, travel, conversation, and correspondence, ideas that came to America with colonists like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, and the writings of Thomas Paine.

I believe Black Lives Matter exists only as a means to power. That is, by exaggerating the number ofincidents of police brutality toward Black men and women, BLM hopes to hijack the current movement against racism by moving the conversation in another direction. That is why BLM is eager to take to the streets when there is occasional police violence against a Black man or woman but has nothing whatever to say when Blacks kill other Blacks for no reason. There have been no BLM demonstrations protesting the murders of young Black children on the South and West sides of Chicago or in New York. Nor have there been any protests about the senseless slaughter that young Black men inflict on their communities on a daily basis across our country. Does BLM exaggerate the number of incidents of police brutality? Yes.
Does it ever protest against Blacks killing other Blacks? No. Don’t their lives matter, or is this just empty rhetoric?

On the BLM website BLM leaders themselves proudly proclaim that they are trained Marxists whose goal is the overthrow of the existing system, i.e., the American government. To say that their movement has been infiltrated by anarchists is just plain wrong. Their goals are the same. As Maya Angelou said, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.”

Cowardly politicians are afraid to stand up to these mobs because they fear “being on the wrong side of history” will cost them votes in the next election. What they don’t realize is that democracy ends if the anarchists triumph. And politicians won’t be a part of anything because lawful government will cease to exist.

So who stands up for America? Who stops the mob? Who says “No” to looters and rioters? Who guards our streets and protects us from the threat of encountering angry mobs in our neighborhoods?

Our cops. Yeah, the men and women who put their lives on the line for the rest of us every single day. The very people the mobs and BLM want to defund. That’s the first step on the road to the destruction of law and order. The ensuing chaos will result in a new order, and it won’t be rooted in fair, unbiased laws justly administered.

I agree that our entire political system is corrupt and that this corruption has infected government at all levels. But let’s not single out the police for radical restructuring. A few rogue cops are the least of our problems. Defunding the police is not the answer to what ails America. I believe the institution in need of immediate reform is the Democrat Party.

The Democrats have sought power by slicing and dicing America into ever-smaller special interest groups. These groups are fighting one another for an ever-smaller piece of the economic pie. Meanwhile, the upper class gets a larger and larger slice. Investors and technocrats keep the Democrat leadership structure in place because it works for them, if not the country. And as we’ve seen, especially over the past 3 years, the Democrats have no moral compass. They lie with straight faces. They support the destruction, both personal and economic, of those who disagree with them. Now, all politicians lie. But the Democrats have wasted time and money on political vendettas rather than working constructively on national problems. They are consumed by such an irrational hatred of Donald Trump that they will do anything to get him out of the White House. They will even put on Kente cloth and take a knee to terrorists. Blue cities in blue states burn because cowardly Democrats will not stand up to anarchists. Democrats are fueled by their hatred of Donald Trump rather than any passion for justice or the common good.

I think we all need to take a step back. Let’s think about what we believe and what ideas we support. Let’s find or start groups that match our ideals, groups without hidden agendas, groups that support the common good. Throwing out the entire system may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it’s a bad idea overall. Let’s return things to the way they were supposed to function from the beginning. Let’s not join a march unless we’re sure of the people and cause. Let’s spend more time making thoughtful choices when we vote.

The cops are not the enemy. Cops do, their best to keep us all safe. Yes, a few cops do overreact. Let’s help them do better. Let’s train them in de-escalation techniques. Let’s train our kids and young people to respect the police and the work they do. Columbus is not the font of all evil. He was an Italian explorer who discovered America for the Europeans, who didn’t know there was such a land mass. It is not his fault that a more primitive hunter-gatherer society succumbed to a more industrialized culture and its germs. History can teach us much, but we have to read, reflect, and think for ourselves.

Remember: Anarchists don’t read books. They burn them.

Alderman’s Worst Traits Showcased During Coronavirus Lockdown

Ald. Silverstein’s worst traits have surfaced during the long coronavirus lockdown. In keeping with her long-time policy of keeping residents out of public business, Ald. Silverstein has not reached out to residents for help in combating the virus, other than to encourage social distancing, hand washing, and masking. As usual, she sought to do it all herself with the aid of her secret advisors. Other aldermen sought out and created ways for Ward residents to help one another and make a positive impact on their Ward’s rate of virus infection. They found ways for residents to help mitigate the economic effects  of business closings. They were open and honest about communicating and giving residents the information they needed to help fight this pandemic.

Contrast the Silverstein approacch with that of freshmann Alderman Matt Martin of the nearby 47th Ward, who empowered residents to put together a coronavirus Survival Guide, which is available on his website. Alderman Martin, along with several other aldermen, also republished full government-issued bulletins about where residents could go for help and information, including links to specific offices and programs. Silverstein couldn’t be bothered.

The day the City released information on the number of cases ward by ward, Silverstein finally admitted that the 50th Ward had the highest number of cases in the city at that time. How long did she know this, and why weren’t residents told? It turns out, according to news reports, that the highest number of cases in the 50th Ward have been reported among the elderly in nursing homes and the Orthodox community. These are facts and they could have been and should have been stated plainly. No blame attaches to having the coronavirus. Why not just tell the truth? Is it because Silverstein adheres to her community’s fear of blame, shame, and scapegoating?

As usual,  Silverstein is trying to use the pandemic to promote herself as the only thing standing between the 50th Ward and disaster. She started one  newsletter  by reporting that “our area” had one of the best rates of social distancing as measured by an independent study. You might have thought she was talking about West Ridge, but it turns out that “our area” is the entire City of Chicago. Why not just tell the whole truth?

She starred in three unnecessary and just plain silly videos, one offering “support” to the community, one an attempt at humor about wearing a mask, and the other a demonstration about how to make a face mask. Other aldermen simply published the illustrated instructions for mask making and moved forward to organizing concrete ways that neighbors could support one another. Only Silverstein tried to score political points.

Almost two months into the stay-at-home orders, she finally scheduled her first virtual town hall meeting on this issue. She has not previously sought any virtual contact with residents, whereas other aldermen have found it possible to continue their weekly open office nights online. They have continued to report to their constituents on City business. But the laziest alderman in the city can’t be bothered. She doesn’t consider it our business anyway.

The economic destruction resulting from the coronavirus has hit West Ridge particularly hard. Block after block of vacant stores can be found in all of our commercial districts. It’s a sure thing that special interests have noticed and will be profiting at the expense of local residents. Silverstein has demonstrated over the past 10 years that she has no interest in or ideas for economic revitalization so the ward is particularly vulnerable to economic exploitation.

Silverstein’s penchant for secrecy, her determination to avoid direct interaction with the majority of her constituents, her inability to state simple truths, and her lack of leadership and creativity have never been more obvious. Her need to be the center of attention even in a pandemic is simply appalling. Silverstein simply has no idea how to approach any problem facing the ward except to push herself at the center and assure us that the Boss knows what she’s doing. The details are none of our business.

Here’s one of the things she doesn’t talk about in her videos. The south end of the ward has been experiencing an increase in crime. Some of that is now beginning to spread to the area north of Pratt, so it may catch her attention.

Thanks to reader Christopher Khaya I learned about a valuable tool for tracking neighborhood crime. It’s called SpotCrime and it provides a wealth of information about local incidents. Sign up at SpotCrime.com, and receive daily and weekly reports on incidents near your home. The Daily Report includes a map of West Ridge with the location of the incidents identified by a letter corresponding to a listing below the map. That listing tells you how the crime is classified, where and what time it occurred, and details about the crime itself. The exact address is not specified but the block and street are.

The weekly report provides pie charts comparing the past week with the week before and listing the number of incidents in the area for each type of crime.

Just type in your address to see what’s going on where you live.

Several incidents have involved weapons, including guns and box cutters. There have been several armed robberies where the assailants employed guns and box cutters. There have been three documented murders in the area around Devon, including two at Devon and California, where the bodies of two men were dumped, and one on Troy street, where a man walking down the street was shot. The Tribune publshed short reports on each of these incidents.

Several people have been assaulted on the street in broad daylight, in the mid to late morning hours, as well as in early afternoon. Not surprisingly, many assaults take place after dark.

There’s also been an increase in vandalism, which seems to be equally divided between vehicles and property.

Many of the most violent incidents are occurring in the 2300 block of Devon, although I heard that a grocery store west of California was robbed at gunpoint at closing time. I have not been able to confirm this, although crime spot did show it. In the past few days I’ve noticed reports of burglaries and assaults north of Pratt. I have also noticed more police patrols on Devon and surrounding streets.

This is a serious public safety issue, so be careful out there.

And don’t wait for Silverstein to tell you things you need to know.