“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.

 

 

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Corrected Devon Bus Reroute Info

The Alderman’s office has provided erroneous information about the rerouting of the #155 (Devon) bus while sewers are being replaced at Mozart.  We are three days into this construction and none of the parties in charge have bothered to keep one another informed. There is no signage advising of the bus reroute at any of the CTA stops west of either Western or California. There are no signs advising motorists not to park or stand in what are now the new, temporary bus lanes. And it doesn’t appear as though all CTA drivers got the new route message, either.

I called the CTA for the correct information.   Westbound buses will NOT turn south at Western Avenue but will continue westbound to California Avenue, where they will turn south to Peterson, then continue West to Lincoln, from Lincoln to Kedzie, and then from Kedzie back to Devon.

This morning while I was waiting for a northbound California bus I saw two  #155 buses turn  north on California, leaving passengers stranded on Devon  just to the west. Worse, there was a car standing in what should have been the bus lane,  forcing the bus to board and deboard its passengers at a 90—degree angle to the street, delaying traffic turning north onto California, and blocking westbound traffic on Devon.

The road closure sign on Devon doesn’t appear until Talman, so how are drivers supposed to know that they should turn south or north at Western? There is a second road closure sign at California  but drivers westbound this morning seemed confused by it, with several drivers being unable to stop in time to turn north or south onto California. If there’s a truck or an oversized van ahead of you, you won’t see the sign until you’re on top of it.

Honestly, how hard can it be to coordinate a project like this? Isn’t this what the alderman’s office is supposed to do? Didn’t the alderman get together with the City and the CTA to ensure that this project could proceed smoothly? Didn’t she realize that pedestrians, drivers, and bus riders would need to be notified, that temporary parking restriction signs would have to be put in plae  so that bus passengers  could get on and off buses safely, that visible signage is required? Isn’t it her job to see to it that everybody involved does what they are supposed to do?

Maybe Silverstein should get out of her office and out of her car and start paying attention to the details involved in projects like this. Maybe if she’d take a walk to see how things are being done, she’d find out that they aren’t.

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 III

From the day she took office in 2011, Debra Silverstein has presented herself as our very own crime-fighting alderman. She is particularly concerned with property crime, and calls public safety meetings every time there’s an outbreak of graffiti or a rash of stolen bikes. She enjoys being viewed as the law and order alderman. But is this image accurate? 

Let’s examine Silverstein’s claims about her influence and activism on issues of public safety as she describes them in her recent newsletter/campaign mailer. Most of her claims are pure malarkey.

We all want to be safe on the streets and in our homes, but heaven help us if public safety is under the direction of a part-time alderman rather than full-time, experienced, highly trained professional police officers. I think we are better served if politicians leave police work to those trained to do it. Silverstein was a CPA and has no background in law enforcement, so her claims that she “organizes” police activities or (her old favorite resurrected on her campaign website) “multi-jurisdictional task forces” are ludicrous.   Of course, as alderman she has an interest in the ward’s safety, and I’m sure the police keep her informed of crime rates and trends, but she is not directly involved in determining police strategy and shouldn’t claim otherwise.

She states that she was “…instrumental in organizing the following activities to assist in fighting crime,” and then assumes credit for decisions such as adding more police officers and introducing smart policing technology. These are decisions and actions taken by the commanders of the Chicago Police Department and do not require input from Silverstein.

To begin with, neither more cops nor improved technology were added to the 50th Ward as she states. They were added to the 17th and 24th Police Districts. This is an important distinction because both districts cover more than one ward.  Silverstein’s wording suggests that these developments are specific to the 50th Ward and result from her work as alderman. This is not so.

More importantly, police officials direct resources where they are needed. Statistically, West Ridge is one of the safest areas in the City; it, too, covers more than one ward. But Rogers Park, where the 24th District Police are headquartered, experiences more crime than West Ridge. Its activist alderman, Joe Moore,  organized the public safety meeting held after the murders of Douglass Watts and Eliyahu Moscowitz in Rogers Park. Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and a host of other police officials discussed the crimes and reassured frightened neighborhood residents.

To respond to fears  in the Jewish community that Mr. Moscowitz was targeted because he was Jewish, police officials also held a community meeting in the 50th Ward. But Silverstein did not organize this meeting nor did she “bring” them here. This was a police response to a stunned and grieving community.

What Silverstein did do in the weeks that followed was milk this tragedy for political advantage, appearing at two prayer services, outdoor police roll calls, and, as always, having her picture taken. She attended the funeral for Mr. Moscowitz, and announced with great fanfare that a reward had been offered, addressing neighborhood residents via a series of emails.  When the press moved on to other matters, Silverstein lost interest, too. But she has several times used photos of herself taken at the prayer services  in her newsletters and on her campaign website. Tacky.

Silverstein’s response to the death of Mr. Moscowitz was very different from her response to two homicides that occurred within three days on Devon Avenue in 2016. The first was a young man shot by an estranged girlfriend. The second was a 19-year-old gang member executed as he sat in a car in a parking lot outside a liquor store less than two blocks from Silverstein’s office. There were no community meetings to discuss public safety, no police officials to reassure frightened people, no alderman to “organize” a response. Instead, Silverstein dismissed both events with a single line in her weekly newsletter, describing the two murders as “some shootings.”  Where was her compassion and concern for public safety then?

Silverstein believes that outdoor police roll calls help curb crime. I’ve been unable to find any documented research that this is true. The rationale is that these roll calls enhance police transparency and help build solidarity with the community. That appears to be more PR spin than fact. What it does in the 50th Ward is provide yet another opportunity for an aldermanic photo-op, like the silly shot of Silverstein exchanging a salute with police officers that she’s published in her newsletter.

Devising, improving, or supervising policing strategies are activities  outside the scope of Silverstein’s responsibilities as alderman. Her claims of being actively involved in police work and fighting crime are baseless but play well with an audience distracted by photos of her with cops.

Public safety. would be vastly improved if she just did her job and let the police do theirs.

Follies Truth Squad: Silverstein Campaign Mailer, Part II

Any alderman who claims tree trimming as a major accomplishment should not be running for reelection.

The overall impression conveyed by the claims listed in Ald. Silverstein’s newsletter/campaign mailer is that she invests most of her time in relatively trivial pursuits rather than doing the hard work of creating an economic development plan, leading the way on community empowerment, and providing the leadership the ward so desperately needs. Among her many failures on the major issues:

  • Silverstein has failed to deliver the “spirited economic development plan” for California, Devon, Touhy, and Western Avenues that she promised in 2010. She’s had eight years to do so.
  • Silverstein has stubbornly refused to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward, despite widespread neighborhood support, and actively tried to prevent a nonbinding referendum from making the ballot, hiring her elections attorney to challenge the wording of the PB petition and fight the issue before the Chicago Board of Elections. Instead of granting the community a voice in how the $1.3M menu money is used, she spends it all on her major obsession–potholes
  • Silverstein never engaged the community in what she now claims was one of her major priorities–a new Northtown Library. She should have led the community in its attempts to replace the crumbling structure on California with a new building, but she did nothing except discourage neighborhood residents who approached her about doing so. The LEARN Coalition was organized as a direct response to her lack of interest and succeeded in bringing the neighborhood’s needs to the attention of the Chicago Public Library Board and the Mayor’s Office. Silverstein was not the driving force behind the new library, despite her claims otherwise. She refuses to acknowledge that LEARN led the way.
  • Silverstein has failed to attract significant numbers of new businesses to the ward. She has failed to create the business districts that would support the idea of West Ridge being “The International Marketplace,” as its marketing campaign claims. The new campaign, “On Devon,” is built on the fantasy that there are a wide variety of shops selling a vast array of unique goods . In fact, most stores on Devon are small grocers, beauty shops, and cell phone stores. Touhy Avenue is commercially barren, with blocks of vacancies. Western has many vacancies as well.

Yet Silverstein brags about “improving our local businesses” by hanging banners and attending meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and the SSA.  She doesn’t just meet “regularly” with the SSA, she controls it. The poor decisions it makes are made in her office, with Silverstein  in attendance. She chooses the commissioners, who are technically appointed by the Mayor. The hodgepodge of community programs it offers (Movie in the Parking Lot, Devon’s Got Talent) are poorly conceived and executed.

I’ve discussed the new library extensively in various posts. One  important point needs to be reiterated:

  • Silverstein appointed a secret advisory committee to help her make decisions on the library’s final design. Its members were appointed nearly two years ago, but to this day Silverstein refuses to disclose who they are. They were sworn to secrecy by her and forbidden to discuss their deliberations or reveal the names of fellow committee members to anyone. This is public business. Why the need for secrecy?

The Devon Avenue streetscape, her other major accomplishment, is a disaster.

  • The street is now so narrow that it slows traffic and creates constant traffic jams
  • The lack of police foot patrols from Talman to Western–the main shopping area on Devon–has left drivers feeling free to park or stand in bus lanes, forcing passengers to board and exit the bus in the street, while the bus blocks traffic  Many vehicles park or stand in crosswalks while waiting for shoppers inside the grocery stores
  • Many drivers park parallel to the curb bump-outs, and it is impossible for two lanes of traffic to pass each other.
  • Devon is an environmental disaster. The BGA recently released a report on the most polluted areas of Chicago. Because the business model on Devon requires that shoppers be recruited from outside the neighborhood, vehicular pollution is high. You’d think the alderman who claims educating the neighborhood’s children as yet another of her “priorities” would show some concern for the toddlers in daycare centers and the kids in our local schools. Ha! Silverstein’s busy looking for potholes and counting sawed-off tree limbs
  • The sidewalks are simply filthy. Many are stained by pan, a mixture of beetle juice, herbs, and often tobacco that is chewed and spit all over the place. The stains on the new sidewalks are permanent, and the seating areas disgusting. I call them sit-and-spit areas. Pan is banned in India and Canada, among other nations, because its use is unsanitary and indelible. It’s allowed on Devon, and sold by a significant number of stores. The alderman doesn’t care.
  • The streetscape design did not include trash cans in the seating areas, so garbage is dumped in planters and on / under seating

Notice that Silverstein takes credit for attending parades, “Iftar dinners,” and claims she participated in soccer games and the World Cup Final. That’s a sight I’d like to see. But however clumsy the wording, labeling these activities as “celebrat[ing] all our cultures” is ridiculous. I’ve always said she excels at the ceremonial aspects of her job–nobody is more willing to pose for pictures–but this is symbolism, not leadership.

Is the Movie in the Park really an example of Silverstein working with the community? Did Silverstein really help produce the Indian Boundary Park Harvest Fest? Or did she simply show up for yet another photo-opp?

It’s worth noting that the alderman with more than $190,000 in her war chest could not find a few hundred dollars to buy turkeys for the poor at Thanksgiving. In eight years in office, Silverstein has never organized a food drive or a coat drive for the less fortunate. Yes, her office collects items for Toys for Tots, veterans, and others, but I’ve never felt that she has any compassion for people less well-off than she is. I reviewed her campaign fundraising expense account, and find she consistently makes only two charitable donations: $200 per month to CJE for transportation for the elderly, and $50 per year for the North Boundary Homeowners League.

Four more years?? With this sorry record??

I think not.

Tomorrow: Part III will focus on Silverstein’s claims regarding public safety

 

Signs of the Times

Are the times a changin’ in West Ridge? There are signs…..

Ira’s office is for rent.

 

 

 

And then there’s Wednesday’s invitation from the alderman to joinTeam Silverstein and help her win re-election. I’ve never received a sadder, more desperate message from a politician. This is the first time she has ever asked the community at large for help, support, and money. I think she realizes it’s not going to be a slam-dunk this time.

But then I went to her new campaign website. It’s basically a rehash of the end-of-year newsletter / campaign puff piece she mailed a couple of weeks ago. Like the mailer, her website gives spin a bad name. (I’ll be addressing the issues raised by that campaign newsletter in a three-part Follies Truth Squad report beginning next Wednesday.)

The more desperate Silverstein becomes the more photos she publishes of herself doing the most routine aspects of her job, like posing for pictures with winning athletic teams, and the kind of hokey, staged photo-opps that embarrass everyone except politicians– posing with police roll calls, donning a hard hat and posing with construction workers. Her new campaign website is full of such malarkey.

There are solid candidates opposing her on the February ballot. They have ideas and plans for the neighborhood, and they are willing and able to discuss them with the community in open forums. Her opponents have been active in community organizations, and have pledged a new era of civic engagement in West Ridge.

Silverstein promises four more years like the last eight. She’s always absent when there’s hard work to do, and always sharp-elbowed when it’s time to claim credit. Her opponents have achievements to share, Silverstein has photos.

This should be an interesting campaign.

 

 

 

Alderman’s Holiday Office Hours

In case you didn’t see the Alderman’s newsletter today, she announced that her office will be closed both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This was expected. What was not expected is that her office will be open only 4 hours per day for the rest of next week.

Silverstein announced that on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of next week her  office will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

When you work for the laziest alderman in the city, you get a lot of paid time off.

 

Now What?

The old Northtown Library on California Avenue closed on Monday. The new building on Western and Pratt is still under construction. While library staff pack books and prepare to move into the new space, the question of what will happen to the old library needs to be addressed.

The fate of this publicly-owned building is officially undecided. Yet rumors persist that Silverstein has already promised it to either the Indo-American Center for its new home or the Jewish community for a synagogue, private school, or social service agency.

As I understand the procedure, once the building is vacant it must undergo a structural evaluation to determine if it is suitable for repurposing. If it is not, it will be demolished. But if it is, it must first be offered to City agencies and departments. Should none of them be interested in using it, then the alderman plays the largest role in determining its use and tenancy or new ownership.

Given Silverstein’s complete lack of transparency in Ward business it is highly unlikely that the community will have any meaningful input in this matter. She has still not revealed the names or organizational affiliations of the secret committee that advised her on library construction, and it’s been nearly two years since they were appointed.

We shouldn’t permit sham community meetings asking for neighbrhood input, as happened with the old theater at Devon and McCormick. A proposed cultural arts center was deemed impssible due to the lack of parking. In truth, the sale of that property for a storage facility had already been decided. After the sale and the creation of Berny Stone Park, the alderman announced that the Office Depot parking lot aross the street would be available to park users. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Community demand in West Ridge for a cultural and performing arts center available to all members of the community is ongoing and strong. Silverstein should pay attention. There should be open discussion and meaningful community input on the fate of the old library building. It should not be a prize doled out by Silversein, especially in an election year. Nor should it become a reward should Silverstein be reelected.

Other uses have also been suggested. Many less affluent children from the south end of the ward will lose access to the library and its services, like computer usage. A community center with classroom facilities is therefore another proosal, as is a senior center. Can these uses be combined? If the building is found to be structurally sound, would the addition of a second floor be possible?

Let the alderman know that you want the community to determine what happens to this public building. Call her office (773-262-10550) or email her (info@50thward.com).

Andrew Rowlas speaks eloquently about potential uses for this space. Saving this building for the use of the entire community is, in fact, an important part of his aldermanic campaign. Visit his campaign webste for details (rowlasforthe50th.com).

Let’s put an end to secret committees deciding public business. Let’s demand an open process and meaningful community input on the fate of this building that has served our community so well for nearly 60 years.

Campaign Updates

Petition Challenges  There were no challenges to petitions for either the alderman or Andrew Rowlas.  Objections are pending for the other two potential candidaes, Majid Mustafa and Zehra Quadri.

Both were challenged by a Silverstein proxy, Mark Tannbebaum, who is represented by Silverstein’s elections attorney. No hearing dates are set yet for Tannbebaum’s objections.

Mustafa petition circulator Abdul Rehman Shaikh is also objecting to Quadri’s petitions, and Armando Ramos is objecting to Mustafa’s petitions. (As noted here before, Ramos is my nephew.) Preliminary hearings are set in these two challenges for this Thursday.

Tweet, Tweet The alderman has sent two campaign tweets. The first shows a medical office  and darkened storefronts  at a deserted intersection with one sad and lonely lamp post draped in Devon Avenue’s sorry holiday lights. Does this say happy holidays to you?

https://twitter.com/Debra4Alderman/status/107081069772502630

Her second tweet announces that she and the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs  took a tour of Devon Avenue. Naturally there’s a photograph. Naturally it prominently features the alderman. Naturally she praises our “unique” shopping, then takes a photo inside Tel Aviv Bakery, not the first place I think of for holiday shopping.

https://twitter.com/Debra4Alderman/st8atus/1074791855664054273

Campaign Fundraisers  Andrew Rowlas and Zehra Quadri have both held successful fundraisers in the past week. Nobody has raised anywhere near as much money as the alderman–she has over $190,000– but they have ideas and plans. The only question is whether the community can get past the barrage of glitzy mailers from Silverstein and focus on the issues the mailers are designed to hide.

Debates  I hear that two debates are being organized, one by the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park (JCC-WRP) and one by the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO). No dates have been announced.

The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce usually also sponsors a debate, but in 2015 it was a luncheon event with a ticket price of $40 per person and wasn’t widely advertised outside the business community.

Personally, I think there should be as many debates as possible. Both the ward and the City are facing serious issues that require serious discussion. We have a right as citizens to hear about their ideas and plans directly from the people who would lead us.

In 2015, the alderman refused to take part in any debates on the grounds that write-in candidates would be present. Many in the neighborhood were outraged by her arrogance but no amount of voter fury could force her to attend. This year it has to be made clear to her that no such high-handedness will be tolerated. She must attend all debates and defend her record–if she can.

I’ll keep you posted on futher developments. Don’t wory. There are just two more months until  election day.

 

 

 

No Mind of Her Own

Have you received the alderman’s first campaign mailing? It purports to be the 50th Ward newsletter, but it’s actually a campaign puff piece designed to make Debra look like an effective alderman. It’s filled with her signature blend of half-truths and outright distortions. Twelve of the fourteen photos in its four pages prominently feature Herself; three of those photos show her posing with cops to reinforce her image as the law-and-order alderman. She even stoops to printing a picture of herself addressing one of the prayer services for Eliyahu Moscowitz.

I received my copy of this travesty yesterday, the same day that former alderman Dick Simpson and his team at UIC released their latest report on what they have dubbed our “rubber-stamp” City Council. Silverstein is a charter member of that group. During her first term, she voted 100% of the time with the mayor. During her second term, she has voted with him  96% of the time.

In effect, the 50th ward has had no independent representative in the City Council.  The mayor has always owned Silverrstein’s vote. That’s not surprising. The Illinois Sunshine Database lists committees tied to the mayor as Silverstein’s main funding source. Since her first campaign in 2010, Silverstein has accepted nearly $100,000 in contributions from Rahm, the latest coming just a few weeks ago. Debra and other aldermen who faithfully supported Rahm were rewarded with $20,000 checks at a special luncheon.

It’s another reason to vote against her in the current aldermanic race. We need an alderman who responds to the people who live in this Ward, not an alderman who gets her marching orders from the 5th floor at City Hall.

Look at the current crop of candidates for mayor. Who will be Silverstein’s master should she win reelection?

I find this first campaign piece so offensive that I have decided to resurrect the Follies Truth Squad. Silverstein’s dubious assertions and outright falsehoods cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

Watch for posts beginning this weekend.

In the meantime, recognize her mailing for what it is, a puff piece without substance for a candidate without accomplishments. In this case, the pictures don’t tell the story.