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



BGA Speaker Presents at WRPCO Meeting; New Officers Elected

Last night the West Rogers Park Community Organization (WRPCO) held its annual meeting. After the election of new officers, Judy Stevens of the Better Government Association spoke about the state of the City, its current relationship with the State, the budget morass in Springfield, and the ways that local communities can positively impact government.

Judy Stevens assessing the state of the city at WRPCO Annual Meeting 2016.

Judy Stevens assessing the state of the city at WRPCO Annual Meeting 2016.

Ms. Stevens noted that the “uncertainty” produced by the inability of state lawmakers to work together to create a compromise budget is causing “tangible harm” to state residents in the form of higher costs and funding losses.

Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will be ready with any plans for new revenue sources or pension deals before the November elections. She reviewed the history of budget bills under Gov. Rauner, noting that both the Governor and Speaker Madigan have each introduced two budget bills, each time with a larger deficit.

Ms. Stevens added that Chicago’s City Council recently passed a bill that would provide more transparency in financial matters like the toxic debt swaps used by the Daley Administration that have cost taxpayers more than $500M. This blog reported on that ordinance in May.  It’s a direct result of the 2015 privatization ordinance, passed with BGA help, that will prevent future debacles like the parking meter deal that has cost the City so dearly. As Ms. Stevens noted, Daley could have received $1B more for the City had anybody bothered to read the fine print in the contract.

How do citizens begin to impact public policy? Ms. Stevens suggests working on local issues by joining and supporting groups and organizations working for neighborhood improvement is a good way to start.

Check out BGA’s Web site here.

WRPCO’s new officers include John Kane – Chair, Andrew Rovlas – Vice Chair, Pamela Stauffer – Secretary, and Irv Loundy – Treasurer. Board members include Daniel Azulay, Jose Abonce, Jane Sullivan, Ahmed Khan, and Hameedulah Khan.

WRPCO’s Facebook page is here.

WRPCO Annual Meeting

The 2016 Annual Meeting of the West Rogers Park Community Organization will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, at Devon Bank, 6445 North Western Avenue. The Guest Speaker is Judy Stevens, Senior Policy Coordinator for the Better Government Association.

Among the topics Ms. Stevens will address are the current state of the relationship between City and State government (read Rahm and Rauner); how the City has fared under Rahm’s leadership, and, most importantly, how citizens can impact government in the digital age–what should we do to get the kind of government we want and need?

Ms. Stevens’ background is quite impressive. She’s worked in Chicago government and in Washington for a major labor union, and she’s written extensively on public policy. In 2014 she testified before the Chicago City Council in support of an ordinance permitting the Office of the Inspector General to monitor the activities of the Public Building Commission, which until then had hired its own inspector general to track millions of dollars in public construction spending. The ordinance passed.

You don’t have to be a WRPCO member to attend, but it’s an organization worth supporting, and new members are always welcome.


Poll: Does the City Need 50 Aldermen?

I’ve been wondering if it’s time to have a serious debate about the number of aldermen in Chicago. Given the ongoing budget crisis, do we really need 50 wards? Would administration of city services be improved if we had only 25 wards?  How much would taxpayers save in administrative costs if we had to support only 25 ward offices? What are the trade-offs?

The Better Government Association studied this question in depth and published a provocative report in December 2010. Read its report here.

What do you think?  Poll results will be reported March 10.

[I lost my first poll, about the election, when I tried to move it and another post to another page. Both disappeared. I promise not to do that again.]