Sewer Work to Make a Mess of Devon

You may have heard the alderman’s late announcement that westbound traffic on Devon will be disrupted for the next 6 weeks because of sewer replacements at Richmond. It was nice of her to tell us the night before the work starts, although I had learned about this earlier Monday when traffic was slowed to a crawl at Talman by an angled, oversized street sign advising of the construction, which begins today.

Apparently Silverstein’s office was unaware of this project until the last minute. Or perhaps they were too focused on her re-election campaign to pay attention.

Westbound traffic will be rerouted at Western south to Peterson, then to Lincoln, then Kedzie, and eventually back to Devon. Eastbound traffic will not be affected.

What this really means for those of us who live in the area is that the East-West alleys on both sides of Devon will be even busier than usual with vehicles whose drivers ignore “No Thruway” signs.

Don’t look for an increased police presence to monitor traffic. They won’t be able to get through either.

This doesn’t say much for Silverstein’s working relationship with City departments. On the other hand, maybe it speaks volumes.




Follies Truth Squad: Silverstein Campaign Mailer–Part I

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

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.

Legislative Update

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.





More 50th Ward Challengers

This is what happens when I go to sleep. Last night there was one challenger to Zehra Quadri’s nominating petitions. This morning there are two, along with two new challengers to Maajid Mustafa.

Armando Ramos and Mark M. Tannbebaum have both filed objections to Mr. Mustafa’s petitions.

Mr. Ramos, as many of you know, is my nephew. He and Mr. Mustafa  have been enemies since Mr Mustafa changed his testimony during the Berny Stone vote fraud scandal that sent Mr.  Ramos to jail for a few weeks. Mr Mustafa was not prosecuted even though he admitted to taking absentee ballots to his home and “completing,” stamping, and mailing them. That would make me mad, too.

Mr. Tannbebaum is unknown to me, but is undoubtedly acting in someone else’s behalf, especially since he has also challenged Zehra Quadri’s petitions. Gee, I wonder who’s hiding behind him.

It’s interesting that Andrew Rowlas was not challenged. Apparently Debra Silverstein thinks he’ll be easy to beat, since she has nearly $200,000 in her campaign fund and Mr. Rowlas has less than $2,000. This signals another campaign-by-mailer from Silverstein. You’ll recall that in 2015 she refused to meet in debate with her opponents, citing the presence of unworthy beings known as write-in candidates on the same stage as Herself. Her strategy is simple: she can’t be asked to explain her poor job performance if she’s not there.

Rowlas and Quadri did not launch any challenges, directly or indirectly. That speaks well for them. They prefer facing their opponents in an honest and open campaign focused on the issues to wasting time and money in a bruising pregame battle.

The 50th Ward deserves better than shenangans like this.


Objections to Quadri Signatures Filed

Today was the first day to file objections to candidate nominating petitions.  As expected, signatures filed in behalf of Zehra Quadri have been challenged.

The objector is Abdul Rehman Shaikh, a petition circulator for Majid Mustafa, the only one of the four 50th Ward aldermanic candidates who does not yet have a campaign committee. Forgive me for asking  how his operation is being funded.

The point of objections to petition signatures is to harass other candidates, forcing them to spend precious campaign dollars on legal help to get on the ballot.

You may have heard that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle planned to object  to 14,000 petition signatures for fellow mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza.  Former 50th Ward aldermanic candidate Shajan Kuriakose is one of the objectors to Mendoza’s petitions. He’s also filed objections to signatures for Lori Lightfoot, another Preckwinkle target. And he’s filed objections to signatures for two little known candidates for mayor, Catherine Brown D’Tycoon and Conrein Hykes Clark. Busy man.

I wish candidates had the guts to file their own objections. This business of hiding behind surrogates doesn’t fool anyone.

The dates for the challenges to be heard have not yet been determined. Stay tuned.


It Pays to be a Friend of Rahm

Ald. Silverstein has received a $20,000 donation from Chicago for Rahm Emanuel, the mayor’s fundraising operation for his now-abandoned campaign for reelection. The mayor, who announced earlier that “ friend gets left on the field,” rewarded his most loyal City Council supporters with the donations  at a luncheon last Wednesday.

Alderman Silverstein, always quick to tout her relationship with the Mayor, failed to mention the gift in her Friday newsletter but immediately deposited the funds and now has almost $171,000 in her reelection coffers.

Since her first race for alderman  in 2010, Silverstein has received nearly $90,000 from three committees tied to the mayor.–and they are three of her five largest donors.  The “New Chicago Committee” gave her $49,523 in 2011, while the  “For A Better Chicago PAC” donated $20,200. Now “Chicago for Rahm Emanuel” has given her $20,000.

[The other two major donors to Silverstein are “Unite Here TIP State & Local Fund”($42,464) and “Unite Here Local 1″($28,269), for a total of $70,733.]

The mayor was frank about rewarding the more than two dozen aldermen who consistently gave him their votes. Because this is Chicago, no list of awardees was issued. But why should such a proud accomplishment be shrouded in secrecy?

Debra has certainly benefited politically from her near-total support of the mayor over the last eight years. In exchange for her unquestioning devotion to the mayor, the 50th Ward has a new library, and the Mayor was here last week to pose for photos alongside Debra while breaking ground for improvements to Armstrong School and announcing an annex for Rogers School.

Silverstein supporters will argue that the 50th Ward has reaped real benefits from Silverstein’s abandonment of  her responsibility to her constituents. Silverstein’s opponents will counter that we did not elect Rahm alderman of the 50th Ward, and that in gifting her vote to him Silverstein betrayed the ward on other issues.  Where is the voice in the City Council representing the 50th Ward? Silverstein never speaks, never takes part in any debates on pending issues, and never raises any questions about or objections to any proposal coming from Emanuel. The sole exception was her vote against the recent property tax increase, but that was less an act of political courage and more an avoidance of political suicide.

Think about it. $171,000. That kind of money buys a lot of glossy mailers, the kind that substituted for participation in candidate debates in 2015, when the alderman grandly refused to appear on stage with write-in candidates. Instead, she flooded Ward mailboxes with photos of herself with children and the elderly, handing out school supplies or visiting senior seminars, or showing her support for schools by a photo of her lunching with principals. Watch for this week’s photos to reappear in campaign advertising.

Voters can’t ask questions of mailers.

Silverstein earns nearly $120,000 per year for her silence.

Plus donations.



Jason Honig Ends Aldermanic Campaign

Jason Honig has ended his campaign to become alderman of the 50th Ward.

In a statement released to supporters, Honig stated that his decision was  “…due to health challenges and family issues that need our urgent and full attention.” Jason promises that once the situation is under control, he will “continue to implement and support many of the issues we care about.” That’s good. He is a young man who can make a difference in this Ward. We wish Jason and his family well.

There are still two main challengers to Ald. Silverstein, Andrew Rowlas and Ira Piltz. Silverstein is vulnerable on a host of issues, and she won’t be able to campaign by mail this time around.

More Challengers for Silverstein

Two new challengers have entered the race for 50th Ward alderman, Lawyer Ira Piltz and former candidate Ahmed Khan.

Ira is a graduate of DePaul University Law School and has a wide-ranging practice that includes real estate, corporate law, estate planning, and civil litigation. One particularly important court victory resulted in a change in Illinois law to allow religiously observant women to cover their hair in State ID photos.

Ira’s announcement notes that he is not running against an individual, but for the 50th Ward. He cites ” traffic, parking and zoning” as among his concerns, along with education. He notes that housing affordability and taxes are key issues in the City. As alderman, he would address the needs of the various communities within the ward and encourage contact between the various groups.

He intends to run “a campaign of ideas,” noting that “fresh ideas” are needed. As he said in his announcement, “We are all in this together and it is my goal to create a coalition that represents the entirety of our community.”

Ahmed Khan, who challenged Ald. Bernard Stone back in 2011, has also joined the race. One of four challengers in that election, Khan finished in fifth place with just under 6% of the vote. That race resulted in a runoff between Stone and the eventual winner, now alderman, Debra Silverstein. The other challengers were Michael Moses and Greg Brewer.

Khan recently received a Master’s degree in Communications from Northwestern University, where he is employed as assistant director of the alumni reunions program. He was a field organizer for both Bob Fioretti and Chuy Garcia in the 2015 mayoral election, and deputy executive director  for the Draft Biden campaign. Although he has considerable organizing experience, he has never worked on a winning campaign.

He is also a former chairman of the West Ridge Community Organization.

Piltz and Khan join Andrew Rowlas and Jason Honig as potential candidates for alderman.

Ald. Silverstein is seeking re-election to a third term.


Andrew Rowlas Releases Ethics Statement

Andrew Rowlas, candidate for 50th Ward alderman, has released the following ethics statement:

” I shall maintain in my campaign for alderman of the 50th Ward the highest ethical and legal standards as a candidate and as a public servant.

” I will work to keep people informed of important issues, restore trust in our government and fulfill governmental duties to the people for the common good. People want to know about issues that impact them; they are not interested in personal attacks, but prefer practical results that improve our community.

“I see myself as a man of integrity. I pledge to uphold high ethical standards and practices.”

Rowlas is the first of the three announced candidates for 50th Ward alderman to release a formal ethics statement.

Candidates, Petitions, and School Property

It’s a beautiful summer morning, bright and sunny, birds singing, the temperature cool and breezy. Your child is headed for the first day of school, perhaps for the first time. Both of you are excited and happy, waiting to greet the teacher,  the principal, your child’s friends and all the other parents. It’s one of those moments you’ll always treasure. Focused on  this special day,, you ignore the woman walking in the carpool lane. You help your child with his backpack as you walk to the front door.

And there she stands. The alderman. With her nominating petitions. On school property. At the front door. She– the woman in the carpool lane–smiles and asks for your signature on her nominating petitions, extending pen and clipboard. You’re trapped. And resentful.

Is nothing sacred?

Petition circulators–including aldermen –have no business on school property, whether the school is public or private. A circulator’s presence on the property of a religious school is especially troubling. When that circulator is also an elected official, it raises the question of the proper separation of church and state–is it legal and ethical for a religious Institution to permit such activity on its premises?

From a legal standpoint, permitting political activity that benefits any candidate or party could lead to the loss of IRS tax-exempt status for private and religious schools.  Political neutrality is required.

The alderman has a history of ethical violations and illegal activities during election campaigns. During early voting for the 2015 aldermanic election, she and her husband, Sen. Ira Silverstein, paid a visit to Warren Park, where they stood inside and greeted voters while talking to a park official. On Election Day, the alderman, the senator, and their daughter visited select polling places throughout the ward to inquire about voter turnout. Both Silversteins are seasoned politicians and well aware that candidates are not permitted in polling places unless they are casting ballots in their home precinct.

The 50th Ward should demand  more ethical behavior  from the alderman and candidates for her position. No candidate should circulate petitions on any school property, public or private.  I think we can all agree that schools and religious or community organizations should not be used for political campaign purposes.

Debra, Andrew, and Jason, can the 50th Ward count on you not to politicize our schools during your petition drives?


The Alderman Awakens

Yesterday was an interesting day. First, the alderman actually responded to a constituent. Then she asked for volunteers for her reelection campaign.

She seems to have suddenly realized that she represents the community.

In the first instance, she responded to a direct question from a constituent about the construction project on Kedzie between Touhy and Pratt. It turns out to be improvements to Thillens Park (officially Park 538) by the Chicago Park District. It speaks volumes about Debra’s approach to transparency that it never occurred to her to advise Ward residents about the project beforehand. Maybe she didn’t know.

But then she still has not advised the wider community about the luxury townhouse and condo development to be built a block from the new library. She did hold a meeting with about a dozen property owners in the immediate vicinity of the new development, but apparently doesn’t think it’s anyone else’s business.

And her request for volunteers to help her get her nominating petitions signed? Since petitions can be signed anytime on Tuesday, it’s hard to believe her political machine won’t be out at the crack of dawn– if not promptly at midnight– getting the necessary 473 signatures she needs to get on the ballot. Frankly, all she has to do is visit Winston Towers to get twice that number.

It looks like her appeal for volunteers is a self-serving response to years of complaints that she’s out of touch with her constituents. Such complaints have also been strongly voiced by both of her announced challengers.

But I have to give the alderman credit. After 8 years in office, she has begun to recognize that she needs the community.

It’s also been long enough for us to recognize that we don’t need her.