Sun-Times Endorsement: What Sikh Temple?

The Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Debra Silverstein, citing the streetscape and her work on securing funding for the library as its first two reasons. Never mind the traffic jams and the air pollution. Never mind delaying the library’s opening date to benefit the alderman’s re-election campaign. From downtown, everything seems just fine.

But the Sun-Times goes completely off the rails when it cites the alderman’s work with the police after the attack at a Sikh temple in the 50th Ward. Come again?

There is no Sikh temple in the 50th Ward. There never has been a Sikh temple in the 50th Ward. No temple of any faith has been attacked in the 50th Ward. The alderman, who never misses an opportunity to tell residents how dangerous the neighborhood is and how tirelessly she works with the police to keep everyone safe, was referring to the attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. In August 2012. Nearly seven years ago. The Sun-Times didn’t bother to check the facts.

The fact is that Silverstein has cited this attack several times, including at both recent candidate forums. She’s also referred to the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. In the first forum, she did not specify where these attacks took place. After Follies called her out on this in its report on the first aldermanic forum, she was careful to name the locations when she again referenced the attacks at the second forum.

The Chicago Sun-Times should be ashamed of itself for not fact-checking the alderman’s statements. The residents of the 50th Ward deserve better from a paper that bills itself as “the hardest-working paper in America.”

And Silverstein should be ashamed of using this scare tactic to help win re-election.

 

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Having It Both Ways

Debra Silverstein says a lot of things about what a good job she’s done for the 50th Ward. Most of them are not true. In some cases, she tries to associate herself with–and thereby claim credit for–routine City services, like sewer cleaning and tree trimming. In other cases, she claims credit for the vision and work of others, as she does with the new Northtown Library / senior apartments. Silverstein still can’t bring herself to utter the words “LEARN Coalition,” but it was this group of neighborhood improvement activists who actually deserve the credit for bringing a new library to this neighborhood.

Silverstein’s latest exercise in artful political lying arrived in my mailbox yesterday. This one is about how she votes against “…any budget that included a property tax hike…” and will “…continue to hold the line against any new middle-class taxes.” Yes, she has voted against budgets with property tax increases. But she’s voted for the tax increases themselves. (See my earlier post for details.)

If she had any political courage or any real convictions, she’d vote against both the budget and the tax levies that fund it.

Silverstein wants to have it both ways. As usual.

Take the Laquan McDonald case.

Silverstein voted to pay the family of Laquan McDonald $5.5M so they wouldn’t sue the City for his death, effectively allowing Rahm to keep the video of the shooting from the public. Every alderman who voted for the settlement knew about the video and what it showed. There was no discussion in the City Council when the settlement in the matter “In re Estate of McDonald” was presented. As she has in settlement after settlement after settlement,  Silverstein asked no questions  and voted to pay the money. When a judge ordered the video released, Silverstein claimed in her weekly newsletter that she was shocked by what it revealed. Really? It begs the question:

If she didn’t know about the video, why did she vote for the hush money? If she did know about the video, where was her conscience?

Silverstein recently said that she is a strong supporter of working-class families and looks forward to negotiating with Chicago’s labor unions during her next term. But which side will she be representing? True, the taxpayers pay her $120,000 year for her part-time job. That’s roughly a half million dollars every term, or just under $1M for the past eight years.

But over the past 8 years, UNITE Here has donated $42, 464 to Silverstein, while its Local 1 has contributed another $28,268. SEIU Illinois PAC has given her $14,397. The Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC donated $12,293, and AFSME Local 31 has given Silverstein $12,000. The Chicago Teachers Union has given her $6,500.

That’s roughly a year’s salary in political donations right there. Add the money she’s received from Rahm over the past eight years–a staggering $90,000–and the money donated by Ira’s senatorial  campaign ($12,500) and the 50th Ward Democratic organization ($7,650). Silverstein has received almost two years salary from six unions, the mayor, her husband, and the 50th Ward Democratic organization he controls.

Do you really believe she’s representing the people of the 50th Ward? Or her donors?

These amounts do not include funds received from local merchants and other businesses.

Machine politicians find it easy to raise money from organizations and people they insist are NOT looking for favors, while finding it nearly impossible to locate funding for basic public services without raising taxes and/or fees. 

Responding to a question raised by the Burke scandal  about whether  staff member should have outside jobs , Silverstein recently told a Chicago newspaper in her endorsement questionnaire that she “…would not employ staff who have outside jobs or contracts with entities that do business with the city.” Yet her campaign manager, Keith Sokolowski, is also a Community Relations Commissioner for the Village of Niles, and spent the last 18 months as an organizer for now-Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

This is why political reform is so hard to enact. Machine politicians like Silverstein get re-election help from professionals with ties to special interests and a strong interest in keeping things as they are. Special interests are where the money is. Silverstein has more than $212,000 in her campaign fund.

Her closest competitor is Andrew Rowlas, who has less than $3,000.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

50th Ward Candidates Forum

The West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) is sponsoring the 50th Ward Aldermanic Candidates Forum on Thursday, January 31, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Devon Bank.

At this writing, Andrew Rowlas and Debra Silverstein are the only candidates on the ballot. Both Majid Mustafa and Zehra Quadri are awaiting decisions from the Chicago Board of Elections on challenges to their nominating petitions. Both were challenged by Silverstein surrogate  Mark Tannbebaum; the Board is scheduled to make a final decision on those challenges  on Saturday, January 19.

The challenges to Mr. Mustafa’s petitions by Armando Ramos and Ms. Quadri’s petitions by Abdul Shaikh Rahman have not been settled.

I understand there will be a second candidates forum sometime in February, sponsored jointly by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council (formerly the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park).

 

“D” for Diversity

The alderman released a campaign video last week with high production values and nothing to say, except that the 50th Ward is the most diverse ward in the City, she is proud to represent our diverse community, diversity, diversity, diversity.

Last week The Center for Racial and Gender Equity released its report ranking  the City Council and each alderman on support for diversity as demonstrated by their support for political and economic equity for Black Chicagoans. Overall, the council received an “F.”

Silverstein earned a “D.”

Individual aldermen were ranked by their sponsorship on key issues identified by the Center, which points out that “…the vast majority of aldermen rarely act independently, but rather vote with the mayor and council leadership over 90% of the time.” (Silverstein voted with Rahm 96% of the time according to a recent UIC report.) One point was awarded for each time an alderman introduced or co-sponsored an ordinance aimed at improving black communities. Silverstein co-sponsored 10 of 35 bills tracked by the Center, and did not receive any points for introducing any bills. 

As usual, Silverstein was careful not to be a prominent co-sponsor of any of  those ten bills.  She’s always hiding  in the middle of the pack, careful not to offend the mayor and incapable  of  taking a stand  on any issue. She plays as much of a leadership role in the council as she does in the ward. 

Silverstein constantly babbles about diversity because she has no accomplishments to talk about. The streetscape is old news and the library was brought to the ward by the LEARN Coalition and the Mayor, although Silverstein would have residents believe it was all her doing. On her watch, the sole cultural asset in the less affluent, more racially mixxed. south end of the ward was relocated to the mostly white north end. Affordable housing has been built for seniors–but not families–on the north end, and a new luxury housing development is being constructed just a stone’s throw from the new library.

On the south end, whose residents are primarily Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Black, with a heavy population  of immigrant families, there is no new cultural institution or affordable housing being built– or even discussed. The alderman has remained silent  amid persistent rumors  that the fate of the old library building has already been decided, and that it will not become a community center or cultural center as mamy residents had hoped. Silverstein has never held a single public meeting to get input from the community on this issue.

Silverstein doesn’t seem to understand that her attendance at an Iftar dinner does absolutely nothing to help struggling non-white families or promote intercultural or interracial harmony. But then, she stays away from her white constituents, too–except at election time. She has never organized  a single event that promotes and celebrates all the ethnicities and races within our Ward. Yet she attempts to use that same diversity to get herself reelected.

Do we really want an alderman with a sorry record like Silverstein’s representing the values of the 50th Ward to the City? Diversity is yet another issue on which Silverstein talks a good game, but doesn’t deliver.

A “D” for support of racial equity should rate an “F” for reelection.