Debra Silverstein, Ward Boss

The Daily Line  reports this morning that Ira Silverstein resigned as 50th Ward Democratic committeeman over the weekend, and Debra is taking over the job. All of this was done with the usual secrecy so characteristic of the Silverstein era in the 50th Ward.

Ira wants to focus full time on his run for a judgeship. Being committeeman won’t add any burdens to Debra’s workload. Ira never did anyting with the position, and Debra won’t do anything, either. All this does is make official what everyone always knew– the Silversteins are all about power, not about service.

The Daily Line  also noted that there is a challenger for democratic committeeman. Halle Quezada is a 50th Ward resident with a sincere desire to improve our neighborhood. She is thoughtful and open to all ideas and would be a very fine public servant if elected.

Debra as Ward committeeman. Ira as a judge.

It would be laughable were it not so sad.

 

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Don’t Attend the “On Devon” Festival

I strongly urge community members not to attend the “On Devon Festival”  scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Its concept, planning, and development are an insult  to the community at large  and a slap in the face to residents living closest to Republic Bank, like me. How? Let’s see:

  • Is a “special event” in a parking lot really the best that West Ridge can do? This event belongs in a park, not a parking lot. Events staged in the north end of the ward always occur in parks. Even Silverstein’s backpack giveaway was in a park. Why do events staged in the south end of the ward always occur in the Republic Bank parking lot? Especially a so-called family festival? Is this really the best place to celebrate community? It’s an insult to the entire West Ridge community.
  • We are a neighborhood of beautiful parks, and Berny Stone Park is on Devon.  It’s underused, with plenty of room for all the events the SSA and Chamber promise. To the planners of this event, thought, kids from the south end of the ward deserve to run around on hot, hard asphalt instead of soft green grass. Nor do they see anything wrong with subjecting babies, young kids, and neighbors to concert-level music for hours on end.
  • Live music? Beer sales? Port-a-potties? On sidewalks and in alleys? Stone Park is too close to the 24th and 25th precincts, filled with Silverstein supporters in single-family homes who might object to all the noise, drinking, and filth. The parking lot is in the 19th Precinct, whose residents have never supported Silverstein.
  • Lots of “free” kids’ activities are planned to lure the parents to what is basically a retooled Devon Community Market. The Chamber promises lots of vendors selling goods residents have already declined to buy.
  • The Chamber will be selling beer. The musical entertainment is geared to attracting lots of young people. Nothing like having a bunch of rowdy young drunks right outside your windows. Especially when there are kids present. What guarantees are there that heavy drinkers won’t vomit all over lawns and parkways?  Who pays for clean-up on private property? Minutes from one of the SSA meetings suggested that one-third of the event would be paid for via beer sales. This has all the earmarks of an officially-sanctioned drunkfest. Do West Ridge residents really want to support a mini-Lollapalooza?
  • SSA minutes indicate that the cost of all the “free” entertainment will be shared between the SSA and the Chamber. The SSA gets its operating funds from a 1.5% extra tax (over and above property taxes) levied on all property owners living within the SSA boundaries (Kedzie east toDamen, Granville north to Arthur). This tax is passed on to renters of both businesses and apartments. The SSA committed to spending at least $15,000 on this event. Should taxpayer money be spent on bread and circuses when there are more than 40 vacant storefronts on Devon?
  • According to its Charter, the SSA’s mission is to promote existing businesses and attract new ones on Devon, a task at which it has failed spectacularly. Instead, the SSA spends its time creating dubious “business builders” like Devon Movie Night (attracting a crowd of fewer than 20 children and perhaps 4 adults), a talent show called “Devon’s Got Talent,” and this beer-fueled community market/festival. No wonder the Rogers Park Business Alliance was given oversight of the SSA once it proved itself incapable of managing its own affairs. The RPBA has not done much better, although it gets nearly a quarter ($99,000) of the monies raised by the SSA’s tax levy for management fees and staff salaries.
  • There will be trolley service from Western to the festival. You’d think the alderman, who’s so proud of her beautiful streetscape, would want visitors to travel the whole length of Devon, not just through Little India. But most of the vacant storefronts are west of California, and she’d prefer that no one see the desolation. Who’s paying for the trolleys? Look in the mirror.

The Chamber of Commerce, the alderman, and  the commissioners of Special Services Area #43 should be ashamed of the disregard and disrespect they have shown for the families living closest to the Bank. None of the parties involved in this so-called “community” festival would dare to treat residents of single-family homes in such a manner. But under this alderman, shitting on residents in the south end of the ward has become acceptable–the south end, where shootings are never acknowledged and the residents, primarily immigrants, tend to come from governments run by arrogant tyrants who do not see them as fully human. No wonder they don’t dare object. No wonder they’re right at home in the 50th.

This event has been planned since late last year. At no time was the community involved in the planning. Rather than discuss this festival with the residents most affected, plans proceeded under a veil of secrecy, the alderman’s preferred mode  of operation.  And Eden Seferovic, the Chamber’s executive director, chose to announce the event at a meeting of the West Ridge Community Organization last June.  The first that most nearby residents knew about the fest was when the alderman announced it  in her newsletter at the end of July. This is a shabby way to treat Ward residents. It’s to be expected from the alderman, the Chamber, and the SSA, none of whom have ever exhibited the slightest decency toward residents who live around the parking lot.

The bank’s plans to profit from the streetscape by building a parking lot did not work out. The parking lot has failed because the shoppers for whom it was created refuse to pay for parking and prefer instead to break the gates rather than pay. I have been out with my dogs and witnessed the various ways that shoppers evade payment for parking– removing the exit gate, moving or removing the sensors that allow the exit gate to open and close, rolling their vehicles back and forth until the exit gate lifts and then not pulling out until the gate freezes in the up position, etc.

Republic Bank’s failure to properly design, build, and maintain its parking lot does not give the Bank, the Chamber, the SSA, or the alderman the right to turn the lot into a public place of amusement. That requires a license, which is impossible to get because of the housing just across the alley. So the Bank, the Chamber, the SSA, and the alderman simply ignore the legal requirement. It should be noted that the alderman has served for years on the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the committee that writes the rules for events like this.

But nearby residents are expected to sacrifice the last family-oriented holiday of summer to the alderman’s so-called community festival. Our backyard BBQs and family get-togethers will be lost in a tsunami of noise from concert level music. In addition, Washtenaw Avenue is to be closed from Devon to the east-west alley, a fact unknown until a letter from the Chamber about the festival was placed on building doorknobs yesterday. With characteristic sloppiness, the letter misstates the block to be closed as the 6200 block of Washtenaw. It is actually the 6400 block. The Chamber is listed as the event’s sponsor in an attempt to hide the SSA’s involvement. Those tax monies are a problem.

Community members who attend the On Devon Festival will be acquiescing in the abuse of other community residents. Ask yourself: would you want this across the alley  from your home? Would you want others to support it if it were?

I should add that the event is from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Sunday night and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Monday night. Live music. Drunks. Screaming children. If past events are any guide, set-up will begin at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. Takedown will continue until near midnight on Monday. Kids in the surrounding buildings will go to their first day of school sleep-deprived. But hey! These are the poor kids in the neighborhood, so who cares? Not the Bank, not the alderman, not the SSA, not the Chamber.

Everyone connected with this event should hang his or her head in shame. Shame on Dewbra Silverstein, Robert Taylor, the manager of Republic Bank and president of the Chamber of Commerce, Eden Seferovic, the Chamber’s executive director, and the commissioners of SSA 43: Irshad Khan (Chair), Pete Valavanis (Vice Chair), Sanhita Agnihotri (Treasurer), Maura Nemes (Secretary), Jayesh Shewakramani, Payam Bereliani, and Rebeca Vasquez.

Let’s not forget to heap shame on members of the Rogers Park Business Alliance who helped organize this event: Sandi Price, executive director, Gina Caruso, and Tony Pelikan. Then there’s Bonnie Towse, business consultant for the Chamber. She was invited to all the planning meetings, although members of the nearby community were not. A consultant was needed to deliver another Devon Community Market? What didn’t the powers-that-be get about the failures of the previous three?

Please support your fellow community members. We are people, too, even if the alderman, the Chamber, the SSA, and their enablers don’t believe it. We deserve respect and courtesy, even from Silverstein and her minions.

Don’t attend the On Devon  Festival!

Another Silverstein Credit Grab

Despite her claim in today’s newsletter, Debra Silverstein is not single-handedly responsible for bringing Sunday hours to the city’s libraries. Silverstein attended the private meeting between the Orthodox community and the new mayor at which the issue of Sunday hours was raised, but Silverstein’s claim that she has been working to restore Sunday hours to the city’s libraries and her suggestion that the mayor acted after a meeting  with her,  is yet another of Silverstein’s bald-faced lies. She never supported the idea in the past, and would never dare cross Rahm, since she was well-paid in the form of political contributions from him to keep her mouth shut on anything controversial. Let’s not forget that it was Rahm who cut library hours to save money.

It’s so typical of Debra to take credit for other people’s work.

Again, I salute Kang Chiu and the members of the Coalition of Friends of the City’s libraries for their years of hard work in researching facts and figures and bringing this issue to the attention of the library Board, the City Council, and the public.

They should get the credit, not a sharp-elbowed, lazy alderman like Silverstein.

 

Library Matters

Mayor Lightfoot recently decided to reinstitute Sunday hours for Chicago’s public libraries. We should all thank Kang Chiu, president of the Friends of the Rogers Park Library and founder of the Coalition of Friends of Chicago’s libraries, for this development. Kang has been advocating for this chamge for the past three years, and in 2016 he testified before the Chicago City Council about the importance of restoring Library hours. He even figured the dollar cost so the library and the City administration would know how much additional expense would be incurred. 

You can find Kang’s testimony on this blog. The entry is dated March 1, 2017, and is entitled “Chicago Public Library  Survey,” referring to a survey being conducted at that time. His testimony is included in that post.

Kang’s leadership on this issue should not be overlooked. He has kept this matter before the library board and the public. I’m delighted that someone in city government–in this case, our new mayor–has finally paid attention.

Thank you, Kang Chiu, for your vision and your leadership  on the issue of restoring public library hours .

On another library matter, the alderman still says that she has no idea what’s going to happen to the old library. Just a few weeks ago, in April, another vacant library was sold to a Latino community group for $1.  The group plans to develop the site as shared community space. Silverstein voted “yes” on the sale. 

It’s time for the 50th Ward to have a community meeting on the fate of the old library. It’s time for our various community groups to pull together and demand that this building be used to advance  our common goals. Let’s not make it a zero-sum game that only one group can win. Instead, let’s consider forming a neighborhood council of community groups and visionary individuals to guide this enterprise.

Check the City ordinance here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vcypdl4fgq0wlx7/O2019-2817.pdf?dl=0

 

 

Joggers & bikers, please use common sense

Ten minutes ago, as I turned into my walkway after walking my dog, the dog suddenly whirled around and jumped at a jogger who appeared out of nowhere and ran past us on the inside part of the sidewalk. I called out to him but he continued running. Last week, as Adam and I walked on California, two bikers suddenly zoomed past us without warning. I’ve had the same experience when my back is to the sidewalk while I pick up after Adam.

It’s amazing to me how many people behave irresponsibly around dog walkers in the mistaken belief that it is the dog walker’s responsibility to foresee any and all possibilities for trouble and to take preventive action. This is a two-way street, folks. I cannot see you if my back is to you. I cannot hear you if you are running in crepe soled shoes. I cannot protect myself or Adam if you suddenly zoom out of an alley or a gangway on your bicycle. If you can yell at me afterwards about my goddamn dog, then you have the vocal power to signal your presence before there’s a problem.

It’s important that we show some consideration toward one another. Please, jog in place or call out to me while doing it so that I know you’re there. Give me a few seconds to step out of the way. If you are biking, please know that if you are over the age of 15, you have no business biking on the sidewalk, no matter how close you are to your destination. Devon Avenue, in particular, is plagued by adult bike riders who do not signal their presence, preferring instead to weave in and out of pedestrian traffic. This is dangerous for everyone.

A little common sense and a bit of courtesy are enormously helpful in these situations.

 

 

So the Mayor Was Here…

I stand corrected. I’ve learned through the friend of a friend that the mayor was here to meet with members of the Jewish community,  and that no pictures were taken because she was here on the Sabbath. 

I am happy that the Jewish community had an opportunity to discuss its concerns with the mayor. I am dismayed that they felt that the wider community could not be included. When I have scheduled meetings in the past, such as to discuss participatory budgeting, I have been roundly criticized by members of the Jewish community for arranging those meetings on Saturday mornings. I was told that the Jewish community felt deliberately excluded. How do they think others feel upon learning that the Jewish communiy arranged a meeting with the new mayor and deliberately excluded everyone else? Don’t the concerns of others matter as well?

Positive change is impossible in a neighborhood where every religious and ethnic group exists in a silo, requiring exclusive attention to its needs without regard to the needs of the broader community.  The powers-that-be are the only ones who benefit from this lack of inclusiveness.

I guess Christians, Muslims, and non-believers will have to invite the mayor to meet with us, too. We have concerns as well, and she should hear from us.

 

 

Mayor Visits 50th Ward?

The alderman announced in her newsletter yesterday that Mayor Lightfoot had visited the 50th Ward last weekend. Silverstein claims  that she and Lightfoot toured the ward  and spoke to residents about their concerns. Curiously,  no photo of Silverstein with the mayor and residents accompanied this announcement.

Earlier this week, Silverstein tweeted a photo of herself with children at a West Ridge Nature Preserve event. During the recent campaign, she tweeted several photos of herself escorting the city’s commissioner for business development around Devon. Does anyone seriously believe that Silverstein’s full time photographer failed to capture a photo of her with the mayor? We all know that no event in the ward officially occurs without a photo of Silverstein as proof.

Where was the mayor’s tour? Who were the residents with whom she met? Who chose the route and the residents? The mayor doesn’t just show up. Who invited her? Why wasn’t her visit advertised to the rest of the ward? It sounds like this was a private event to address the security concerns that’s some residents have. Was Silverstein a guest? Is she making more of her participation than is warranted? 

That weekend happened to be the the weekend the mayor went to New York. She was gone from Sunday through the following Tuesday. Silverstein’s office closes early on Fridays so she can observe the Sabbath, which does not end until sundown Saturday. Did the mayor stop on her way to the airport? Did she just wave as she drove by? Did she come  for coffee  and a quick chat?  Without the pictures, it’s hard to tell.

Silverstein visually memorializes her every move, so it’s curious that there’s no photo in this case. It’s not surprising that our secrecy-obsessed alderman would not tell the community in advance that the mayor was coming, but it’s atounding that there’s no picture of the alderman and the mayor afterwards.

If you were there, if you spoke to the mayor, I’d like to hear from you. Maybe you have a picture of the alderman with the mayor and residents. Maybe you have a photo of the walking tour.

Silverstein has trained residents to wait for the pictures. Visual documentation after the event is her preferred method of communication. It’s very strange that a photo is lacking in this case.

Here in the 50th, seeing is believing.

 

 

 

Mayor Lightfoot: Reform is Here

Mayor Lori Lrightfoot’s determination to reform the political culture in Chicago may have some effect on the way business is conducted in the 50th Ward.

Lightfoot was elected because voters are disgusted with politics as usual. Voters want an end to cronyism, autocracy, boss politics, insider deals, secrecy, big money, and pay-to-play politics–all the things that characterize the 50th Ward, still the only ward in the City where religious affiliation is a prerequisite for election. Under the Silversteins, civic participation is at an all-time low, just the way they like it. It makes things so much easier when residents have been trained to mind their own business and not ask questions.

The April 2 runoff brought out only 27.64% of the ward’s eligible voters; citywide participation was nearly 32%. This downhill slide in civic engagement began when the Silversteins acquired all the political power in the ward. In the 2011 municipal elections, more than 45% of the ward’s voters went to the polls, a better turnout than the City as a whole (42%). By the 2015 elections, only 32.5% of the ward voted, less than the City total (34%). Barely one-third (33.5%) of 50th Ward voters took part in the February 2019 elections, as opposed to 35% of voters citywide.

The City Council has changed since February 26. The Progressive Caucus and its allies now hold 16 of the City Council’s 50 seats. Ald. Burke is expected to be indicted soon, and rumors are that he’ll be taking others down with him, which could give Mayor Lightfoot the opportunity to appoint even more reformers to the Council. Scott Waugespack–for my money the most honest member of the Council–will be named Finance Chair, replacing Burke, unless the Old Guard aldermen decide to put up a fight. Mayor Lightfoot plans to name reformers and supporters to committee chairmanships. She has also advised the incoming firebrand aldermen to calm down. She wants reform, not chaos.

Debra Silverstein is far from a reformer. She lied repeatedly, openly, and shamelessly throughout the recent campaign. She admitted to forming yet more secret committees, this time to develop economic policy. She has yet to reveal the names of the members of the secret committee that advised her on the construction of the new library. She continues to use a private email server and a private website to conduct public business. Her obsessive need for secrecy and her determination not to tell residents what she’s doing are troublesome and quite possibly illegal. She is now adrift, having left no mark on the City Council in the previous eight years. She has no allies. Without Rahm, she has no protector.

The photo with Lori Lightfoot in Silverstein’s recent newsletter is intended to convey the idea that she’s a player at City Hall. She isn’t. Silverstein is opposed to everything that Lori Lightfoot stands for, everything that got Lori Lightfoot elected:

  • Lightfoot promises transparency. Silverstein is obsessed with secrecy.
  • Lightfoot wants an end to aldermanic privilege. Silverstein is a ward boss
  • Lightfoot wants aldermen to remember their responsibilities to the City as a whole. Silverstein has only a 56% attendance rate for Council and committee meetings
  • Lightfoot wants results. Silverstein relies on photo-ops and outright lying to provide the illusion of achievement
  • Lightfoot believes in power through democracy. Silverstein is an autocrat who operates through shadowy unknown advisors accountable to no one

The election did not settle the many issues facing the 50th Ward. A reform mayor and a more progressive City Council might well benefit 50th Ward residents who believe in participatory democracy. For example:

  • Silverstein opposes participatory budgeting because she says she “has concerns” that residents taking part in such efforts might not fully represent the ward. Yet she herself was elected by only 8% of the ward’s residents. The 50th Ward is home to 72,211 residents, and only 6,014 of them voted for Silverstein. What’s especially laughable about Silverstein’s “concerns” is that she presumes that she and her staff–6 people–are more reliable judges of what the ward needs than 2,000 PB voters. Only a ward boss would dare make such a claim.
  • The new mayor supports term limits, as do many of the incoming reform members of the City Council.  Silverstein echoed her husband’s  2016 comments opposing term limits, claiming that “…elections are term limits.”  But elections aren’t term limits for Silverstein. The majority of registered voters in the 50th Ward–50 to 60%—are Orthodox Jews who will not consider voting for any candidate who is not Jewish. There shouldn’t be a religious test for public office. In fact, it’s illegal. And, no, it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize political behavior based on religious bigotry.
  • Lightfoot famously stated that no one should have to “kiss the alderman’s ring” to receive proper City services, licenses, permits, or zoning changes. Yet it’s an open secret that many new and existing businesses in the 50th Ward make generous contributions to Silverstein’s political fund, as do many of her appointees to our local Special Services Area #43, a taxing body that exists ostensibly to promote Devon Avenue as a business destination but fails spectacularly at that job (more on that soon).
  • Lightfoot wants to end aldermanic privilege with regard to zoning, a long-overdue reform. Silverstein has shut down businesses that wanted to open in the 50th Ward (a microbrewery and a medical marijuana clinic, for example) 4 reason she could not articulate and engages in stealth zoning changes, never letting the community know what she plans to do. There is no 50th Ward Zoning Advisory Committee, unless there’s yet another secret group that Silverstein won’t discuss.

I intend to take the Lightfoot administration at its word. The new mayor has already signed one executive order prohibiting City agencies from deferring to the aldermen unless required to do so by the Municipal Code. Lightfoot has pledged herself and her Administration to transparency in government. Silverstein is a City employee.  Will Silverstein comply with the new rules?

I expect Silverstein’s newsletter on Friday to be filled with pictures of herself and the new mayor. But don’t be fooled. Silverstein is not a player in this game. She sold her vote to Rahm Emanuel in exchange for free reign over the ward. That won’t happen with Lightfoot.

We will know on May 29 whether Silverstein will support reform or join the obstructionist forces.  Her votes at this first City Council meeting of the Lightfoot Administration will tell us. There will be no more hiding in the middle of the pack, no more ducking for cover.

I wish the new mayor and the new Council all the best. They will need all the strength and support they can muster to bring even the most basic reforms to City government.

And it’s already time to prepare for the next elections, in 2020. The March primary will elect committeemen, an unpaid but important post.  As we learned recently, it took only two committeemen to appoint our new state representative. The electorate was not consulted.

The process of reform in Illinois is going to be long and difficult. It’s time to get to work.

 

 

 

Our Lazy Alderman

A new report from WBEZ-The Daily Line proves once again that Debra Silverstein is one of the laziest aldermen in the City. Silverstein attended only 56% of meetings of various committees and the City Council between May 2015 and December 2018. Silverstein managed to attend 200 of 360 meetings to earn her $10,000 per month salary. The average attendance rate for aldermen was 65%..

At both recent forums and in her campaign literature, she claims to be a hardworking alderman, “fighting” for money for the 50th Ward. At the Feb. 10 forum, she claimed that being alderman is “a 24/7 job,” and at the earlier forum said that people stop her while she’s shopping in Evanston to discuss ward problems.

Time to review.

Silverstein holds open office hours once per week for two hours. Should that time be cancelled due to holidays, it is not rescheduled. But you can call her office, maybe speak with her or arrange an appointment. Or wait til next week.

Silverstein rarely holds community meetings, preferring to communicate via her weekly Newsletter, where more space is devoted to pictures of herself than to discussions of Ward or City business.

Silverstein attended only 31% of 2016 budget committee hearings, according to a report from Illinois Policy. Continue reading, and you’ll learn that between May 2015 and May 2017, the City Council spent more time and effort on honorary resolutions (8%) than on “substantive” legislation (1.5%)–you know, matters of public policy.

Silverstein was the only alderman who failed to attend the only North Side hearing on police reform. Instead, she scheduled a property tax seminar with Larry Suffredin for that night. She could have rescheduled the seminar, or let Suffredin handle it on his own, but chose, as always, the less important task on which to spend her time.

Silverstein says in her most recent campaign piece that she “directed” sewer cleaning, pothole patching, tree trimming, and rat extermination in our Ward. We have entire City departments devoted to those tasks under the management of well-paid department heads. But Silverstein is one of only 50 people who can initiate or vote on City legislation.

A 56% attendance rate at committee and Council meetings is not acceptable. Since Silverstein’s too lazy to do the job to which she was elected, maybe we should allow her to retire. Now.

 

 

 

 

Meet Lori Lightfoot and Andrew Rowlas

Join mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot and 50th Ward aldermanic candidate Andrew Rowlas at a meet and greet in the 50th Ward.on Wednesday, February 20, from 6-8 p.m. at Urban Convene, 2711 West Peterson Avenue.

Lightfoot is one of the original challengers to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, getting into the race before Rahm dropped out. She has an impressive resume: Assistant United States Attorney, President of the Chicago Police Board, and Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. She is a reform candidate for mayor, and endorsed Rowlas a few weeks ago. Lightfoot has been endorsed for mayor by the Chicago Sun-Times, which said of her:

“More than any of the other 13 mayoral candidates, she has the vision, values, qualifications and policies to be an effective leader for the whole city, from the hedge fund managers to the fast food workers. She is calm, focused, principled and independent.”  The paper noted that, while mayor would be her first elected office, “…she has been a powerfully influential public servant. She has been an outspoken critic of bad moves by City Hall, calling out her own bosses. She has also — and this is not widely understood — been a force for honesty and integrity behind the scenes.”

Rowlas is a former educator and current community activist. He served as president of the West Ridge Community Organization until stepping down to run for alderman. A strong believer in community empowerment, Rowlas single-handedly arranged to have a referendum on clean drinking water on last November’s ballot in some 50th Ward precincts, and is currently petitioning to have the old Northtown Library become a cultural arts center. He also served as a member of the LEARN Coalition, the group responsible for bringing the community the new Northtown Library.

Rowlas plans to empower 50th ward residents through initiatives like participatory budgeting, a ward zoning committee, and a ward economic and community development council–all measures opposed by current alderman Debra Silverstein.

City Hall and the 50th Ward both need reforming. Come and hear what these two outstanding candidates for political leadership have to say.