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.

 

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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

 

 

IDES Holds Job Fair Tomorrow, Politicians Grab Credit

Todayu I received emails from our state representative in Springfield, Yehiel “Mark” Kalish, and from the alderman, both reminding me of tomorrow’s job fair sponsored by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).

Silverstein’s flyer lists her name first, as if she were the primary sponsor, and is accompanied by a large photo of Herself. She lists  Kalish’s name second, and IDES third. Kalish’s flyer lists his name first, with Debra’s in smaller type, and reserves the smallest type of all for IDES. He, too, includes a photo of Himself. At least Debra lists all three “sponsors” in the same size type.

Silverstein also notes that job seekers can register online at “50thwardchicago.com,” which is her private web site. Taxpayers pay for a web site she does not use, 50thward.org. That City web site is subject to FOIA requests, unlike her private site. Be aware that her web site may collect private information that the City-provided web site does not.

The truth is that the job fair is sponsored by IDES, with Silverstein and Kalish just grabbing credit. Misleading the voters, if you will, about how important they are to the event. It’s paid for by your tax dollars and is not sponsored by Silverstein or Kalish. There’s an employment fair like this in every ward in the City of Chicago, and in the suburbs as well. If either one of our elected officials had any integrity, IDES would be listed first on their flyers. Other aldermen include the job fair flyer with their newsletters without altering it to give the alderman or state rep credit. It’s only in the 50th that our “leaders” attach their names and photos to taxpayer-funded events, as if the world couldn’t move forward otherwise.

The event takes place tomorrow at the Croatian Cultural Center, 2845 West Devon, from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Veterans receive preference between 10:00-10:30 a.m.

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.

 

 

 

Alderman, SSA, Chamber Do Wrong by Residents

I am thrilled that Mayor Lightfoot has begun curbing the excesses of aldermanic privilege. Unfortunately, word that aldermen are no longer absolute bosses in their wards has not yet reached the 50th Ward. Once again Silverstein, her handpicked SSA, the Chamber of Commerce, Republic Bank of Chicago, and the Rogers Park Business Alliance (RPBA) have arranged two more noisy events in the Bank’s failed parking lot.

The events are a two-day live-music fest and a movie night. Neither event has involved resident input. Indeed, residents have been deliberately kept out of the planning process. The alderman and SSA brook no interference with their plans, including legal restrictions. The alderman and her minions are determined to make the failed parking lot into a public place of amusement, even though it lacks both zoning and licensing for such activities. I am tired of fighting about this, have consulted a lawyer, and will be filing a lawsuit. There is no other way to put an end to this.

I have in the past used FOIA to try to obtain information on the permits for these events from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. My requests always generate the same response: there are no records. In other words, Silverstein, the SSA, and the Chamber plan and execute these events while bypassing City law. No approval is needed except Silverstein’s. This has always been wrong, and everybody involved knew  it, but they went on with their activities knowing they could not be held accountable. Now, with the Lightfoot administration, they can. And I intend to see to it that they are. Festivals like this can be a good thing for the community, but not when they are planned in secrecy and held in venues not designed to accommodate them. Both events belong in a park, not a parking lot.

Republic Bank’s parking lot was built in 2012 and failed immediately because the shoppers for whom it was designed refused to pay for parking and engaged in behaviors ranging from outright vandalism (removing gates) to stealing parking services, evading payment by moving gate sensors and manipulating gate positions. The parking lot has never made a profit.

The lot is directly across the alley from multifamily housing–just ten feet–and is zoned B-1-2. The Bank lacks a PPA license and cannot get one because the distance from housing falls far short of the 125 feet required by ordinance. Such legal niceties don’t prevent the SSA from using aldermanic privilege to stage various entertainment programs and religious observances in the parking lot, all of which involve live or recorded music played at concert level (120 decibels and above). The police are unable to stop such activities because the alderman has approved them. Legal restrictions on the uses of this parking lot have been swept aside by aldermanic clout.

I find this especially egregious because Silverstein:

  •  was and remains a member of the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs & Special Events, which writes the rules for events of this type–rules that do not apply to events staged with her approval in this parking lot
  • called for extra police to control her drunken neighbors during Purim but sees no problem with inviting several hundred strangers to a beer-fueled music fest ten feet from my home
  • lacks any sense of decency and consideration when it comes to residents around the parking lot, treating us shabbily, something she would not do to residents in single-family housing or the pricey condos where she lives.

Among the public events Silverstein and her handpicked SSA found suitable for this parking lot are:

  • a failed community market (2013-15) that was the lowest-ranked market in the City in terms of attendance and revenue; many vendors refused to participate more than once, and some left before the day ended because of the dearth of customers; live musical performances were part of every weekly event (read my blog post here)
  • musical concerts celebrating India Day, which served food and left a mess, thus attracting rats; stages were placed at the far north end of the lot, closest to housing (read blog post here)
  • Hindu religious observances featuring loudspeakers and heavy incense
  • a failed movie night last October that attracted only two dozen people, mostly children, who were provided popcorn but no water and no access to bathroom facilities (see blog post here).

Hindu religious observance including music and dance, Fall 2018. Note the number, size, and placement of loudspeakers. Music could be heard for blocks.

Imagine such activities suddenly materializing outside your home. I spoke to the alderman during the first community market in 2013, when my TV was drowned out by the live “music.” Hostile to any criticism, she said she would tolerate such noise “for the good off the neighborhood” and I should do the same. When I suggested moving the market outside her home, she walked away.

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence after India Day concert.

The India Day concerts include free food and water. Organizers left messes like this (see left) after every concert. Water bottles were tossed all over the alley, and empty boxes were left inside and outside the parking lot. Live music from tinny loudspeakers was blasted for several hours. It was impossible for nearby residents to shut out the noise.

Audience at Devon Movie Night, Republic Bank Parking Lot, October 2018.

Last Fall’s movie night attracted fewer than two dozen viewers. Moviegoers sat on the parking lot’s asphalt; one woman brought her own chair. This isn’t the case when movies are shown in the north end of the ward, where the alderman lives. Those movies are shown in Chippewa Park, a comfortable distance from housing and viewers sit on soft grass. Why aren’t residents from the south end of the ward granted such amenities?

Note how close the movie screen is to homes–just an alley’s width away. The movie has to be loud to be heard over the din of traffic on Devon Avenue. Do you believe the alderman would permit this outside her home?

Look where the screen was placed! What kind of people think this is the proper way to treat residents? RPBA  is paid nearly a quarter of the SSA’s budget (roughly $100,000) for planning expertise. Have they never heard of zoning? Licensing? Try imposing noise like this outside the merchants’ stores and see how long it takes before police are called and offenders removed. (See City Ordinance O2018-6909 passed 9/18).

Nearby residents never receive proper notice of these events but learn of them only when the blasting starts. This past weekend, this ad was hung on Republic Bank’s Devon Avenue fence. It is the only notice nearby residents have received about  the next movie night, scheduled for Sunday, June 23.

The SSA and Chamber announced at last week’s WRCO meeting that they are sponsoring a two-day live-music festival in the parking lot over the Labor Day week-end. The organizers are seeking a liquor license for the festival, which will also include “a tent city of shopping” and will close Washtenaw Avenue up to the east-west alley. No word on where the Port-a-Potties will be located.  The SSA has been planning this event for months, but has not yet advised nearby property owners or residents. It was also announced last week that marketing materials have been finalized and are ready for distribution. At no time has the community been invited to be part of the process. (See the SSA’s 2019 Minutes from January, February, March, and April. May’s minutes have not been posted at this writing.) Note that discussions of this event are classified in the Minutes as “Public Input.” This is not to be misconstrued as input from nearby residents, who have been excluded from the process. Note also that “beer sales” have been identified as one of the main funding sources. Gee, who can their target audience be? Is West Ridge ready to welcome hundreds of rowdy drunks cheering their favorite bands? Would any or the organizers do this where they live?

At no time have the residents living directly alongside the parking lot been given the legally-mandated notices of any of these events. These notices require a 30-day period during which residents may object to such activities and also require notice of street closings. All of the events staged in the parking lot are broadcast on loudspeakers at concert levels (120 decibels or higher). City law prohibits such levels in residential areas. In 2018 another law was passed regulating musical concert noise because of noise complaints from condo owners in high rises along Sheridan Road. I believe my neighbors and I are entitled to the same consideration.

Labor Day is the last holiday of summer, a time when families enjoy backyard barbeques and back-to-school parties, all of which will be impacted by the noise, crowds, and parking issues arising from the planned music festival. Festival-goers seeking parking will converge on residential streets, thus depriving residents’ friends and relatives of parking. Who gave the alderman, SSA, and Chamber the right to invite hundreds of people to drink outside our homes? There is an ongoing backlash against this kind of event wherever it is held. Such fests have been moved because of noise complaints (Riot Fest);  and there is a new controversy over the move of the Mamby Music Fest to Montrose Beach because of the impact of the noise on birds in the nearby Montrose Bird Sanctuary. I can assure you that the birds can expect to receive more consideration than the neighbors on Washtenaw and Fairfield Avenues. The alderman, the SSA, the Chamber, and the Bank have always treated us like shit on their shoes.

There are alternative sites for this event, which properly belongs in one of our many neighborhood parks. Why not Warren Park, where fest goers can visit the Pakistani stores east of Western as well as the many restaurants on Western itself? Why not Stone Park, gateway to Devon, where the fest might attract visitors from Skokie and Lincolnwood? Holding the fest in Stone Park would give visitors the opportunity to stroll the length of Devon and see for themselves all the international shopping the alderman claims is here. It might also provide some much-needed business for the few merchants west of California. There are two large adjacent parking lots on Devon & Leavitt, near the home of the Chamber’s president. Why not stage the Fest there? Or will his neighbors object to noise and crowds and drinking and parking issues? As to the movie, why not use the vacant space on the second floor of Republic Bank? That way, the kids would at least have toilet access. Maybe there will be a Porta-a-Potty in the pwrking lot. Classy.

The organizers are not interested in moving either event and are moving ahead with distributing their marketing materials. Once word gets out about the festival, it will be all but impossible to stop, another dirty trick played on unsuspecting residents by the alderman and her pals.

It isn’t surprising that the alderman and officials from the SSA, the Chamber, the Bank, and the merchants they represent feel entitled to treat the lot’s  closest neighbors with such appalling disregard and disrespect. They insist that these events are an attempt to “give back” to the community. It’s a lie. They are trying to improve their businesses while (a) keeping the problems generated by these “give-backs” away from their businesses; and (b) not making any of the retailing changes residents want. Devon is littered with empty storefronts, and business is down across the board. The recent “International Marketplace” promotional campaign failed. Shoppers know that a cucumber is a cucumber, and buying it from a Syrian, Egyptian, or Iraqi merchant doesn’t make the experience international. The new campaign, “On Devon,” promises experiences that do not yet exist. This music fest will not provide them. Neither will another movie night. The merchants represented by a tone-deaf SSA and alderman refuse to interact with or show consideration for neighborhood residents, and such communication is the only way to improve the business climate.

The lack of simple decency toward residents is astounding. The members of the SSA who conceive of these events choose to disregard the rights of those of us who live in the vicinity. The area around Devon is home mainly to an immigrant community, many of whom are in the country illegally (the Census Bureau indicates that 12-15% of the residents of the 50th Ward are undocumented). The alderman and the SSA know that these residents will not complain no matter how badly they are treated.  The few American-born residents, like me, are ignored by the powers that be, who, protected by the alderman, are used to running roughshod over residents. None of the guilty parties–Silverstein, the SSA, the Chamber, the RPBA–would dare to behave this way toward residents in the more affluent end of the ward. Don’t expect to see this behavior west of California, or anywhere on Western. The merchants have become as arrogant and unaccountable as the alderman.

I was recently told by one of the businessmen I respect that there should be harmony between the merchants and the residents. I agree. But after six years of this shit, I just don’t feel the love.

Maybe a judge can help.

 

 

Ten Days In and Reform Looks Good

I never thought I’d live to see a Chicago Mayor tell Ed Burke to sit down and shut up. Nor did I ever expect to see a Chicago Mayor tell the members of the City Council that they would have a “voice but not a veto” in their wards.  Her Executive Order restricting aldermanic privilege was issued in her first hours in office.

When Mayor Lightfoot told the press that she was elected to “get shit done,” she spoke true Chicagoese. No matter what neighborhood you live in, you heard her, loud and clear, and you knew exactly what she meant.

The Lady said reform, and she meant it.

She appointed Scott Waguespack as Finance Chair. The press reports that lots of other aldermen consider him a scold and a know-it-all. Good. Scold away. He’s always been one of perhaps ten aldermen who actually read and understand the budget documents received from City Department heads outlining how much money they need and what they intend to spend it on. Richie and Rahm never gave the Council the time needed to read, analyze, and discuss the budget requests.. I think Lightfoot will.

Pat Dowell replaces Carrie Austin as Chair of the Budget and Government Operations Committee. Lord help us, Debra Silverstein was appointed Vice Chair, even though her overall attendance at Council and committee meetings during her last term was only 56%, she skipped two-thirds of the budget meetings held especially for aldermen, and she hates working. I suppose this appointment is related to her background as a CPA.  Any other reason escapes me.

Lightfoot is mulling over a new ethics ordinance that could give voters a real voice in elections. It would, for example, restrict union contributions to $1,500 per year instead of the current $57,800 allowed by the state. It would similarly cap contributions from corporations. Lightfoot said during the campaign that people “should not have to kiss the alderman’s ring” to obtain City services, so the ethics ordinance may well prevent aldermen like Silverstein from amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from unions and corporations with business before the Council. Many businesses in the 50th Ward contribute to Silverstein on a regular basis, and many new businesses contribute after opening. It smacks of pay to play, even if everyone denies that’s the case. For more details on the proposal, click here.

Many of the reform aldermen have been appointed to important committees. The Council may actually learn to engage in discussion before approving legislation. Most importantly, all Council and committee meetings will be live-streamed, so taxpayers can watch our elected officials working–or not.

A ProPublica Illinois analysis of legislation before the City Council from 2011-2018 found that less than 10% of the proposals dealt with budget, tax, or citywide issues, the majority of legislation being ward-specific for things like sidewalk cafes, awnings, and loading zones. Mayor Lightfoot has indicated that she wants the Council to focus on citywide issues and leave administrative matters to the proper City departments where such a mandate exists in the law. Actually, it isn’t necessary to call the alderman for routine City services at all. The new 311 form allows residents to deal directly with the City, thus freeing aldermen and their staffs to work on more important issues, such as, say, economic development.

Mayor Lightfoot has proved in her first ten days in office that Chicago made the right choice when it chose reform over machine.

There may be hope for the 50th Ward yet.

 

 

People or Property?

Yesterday the alderman sent out a special bulletin alerting the community to property crimes that occurred around local synagogues, linking the broken car windows to recent attempted arsons at synagogues in Lakeview, while noting that the two do not appear to be connected. It’s too bad that she was not equally concerned with publicizing alerts abut two recent strong-arm robberies that occurred on the 6100 and 6300 blocks of North Fairfield Avenue, or recent business burglaries and thefts of catalytic converters throughout the 50th Ward.

Residents were beaten and robbed on April 25 and 26 at 8 and 9 p.m. while minding their own business walking down our streets. It appears that the same robbers were involved in both incidents.  The alderman never alerted the community. I think people being beaten and robbed in the street is somewhat more important than the breaking of car windows.

Nor did she have anything to say about recent business burglaries or the thefts of catalytic converters, both crimes occurring in various areas of the ward.

During the recent campaign, there were several shootings on or near Devon Avenue. The alderman did not acknowledge them, nor did she send out a community alert about them. She did issue a statement that she had asked that Cook County Police patrol neighborhood streets for 30 days but never said why this was necessary. Yet she has held several community meetings to address property crimes like bike thefts and garage break-ins, graffiti, etc.

I understand Silverstein’s need to pander to her base.  By all means let’s keep the synagogues safe. But let’s not forget that the rest of the ward should be safe, too. As alderman for the entire ward, Silverstein should make it her business to alert the entire neighborhood  to crimes serious enough to warrant community alerts.

I strongly suggest that neighborhood residents regularly check the 24th District CAPS  https://caps24.org/ for community alerts and attend CAPS meetings to support and work with our police.

Don’t depend on the alderman to keep you informed. Silverstein’s eight-year record shows that her first priority is property, not people.

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.

 

 

 

Silverstein Has Not Earned Re-Election

The City of Chicago is struggling to overcome decades of mismanagement and financial irresponsibility that have resulted in declining neighborhoods, violent crime, population loss, overwhelming debt, pension shortfalls,  ruinous interest payments, corruption, and potential bankruptcy. The new mayor and City Council will have hard work to do and tough decisions to make.  Finding solutions to Chicago’s most intractable problems requires electing a strong mayor and a stronger City Council.

The 50th Ward’s representative to that City Council must be an active, involved, community-oriented individual focused on neighborhood improvement through resident empowerment and community economic development.  Our alderman must also serve the City as a thoughtful,  informed,  and independent  legislator willing to establish cooperative relationships with other Council members to accomplish common goals, and be capable of offering creative, innovative, and practical solutions to help resolve our City’s dilemmas.

Debra Silverstein is not that person.

Silverstein’s eight years as alderman have worsened the 50th Ward’s economic depression. Every one of our major shopping corridors–California, Devon, Lincoln, Touhy, Western–has declined, with vacant storefronts sometimes covering entire blocks.  Some storefronts have been empty for years, as have some commercial buildings. Most residents must travel outside the ward to shop for the goods they need and want. Silverstein is simply not interested  in doing the hard work  involved in restoring  the vitality  that once characterized our shopping districts. She has  offered no vision for the ward, instead insisting that it is “flourishing” despite the demonstrable evidence otherwise–more than 100 empty storefronts, unoccupied commercial buildings, and vacant lots. The ward is still waiting for the “spirited economic development plan” she promised in 2011.

Silverstein blocks all attempts at empowering residents. In 2016, she hired an attorney to challenge the petition to place a non-binding referendum  on the ballot to bring participatory budgeting (PB) to the 50th Ward. During a recent aldermanic forum, she declared that even if 2,000 Ward residents voted for PB, she would be concerned they didn’t represent the entire ward. She has withheld zoning change requests from the community, and refused to establish a resident  Zoning Advisory Board or hold community meetings on zoning changes, despite her claims to the contrary.

Her lack of transparency is nothing short of appalling. She conducts public business using a private email address and a private website instead of the ones provided by the City. Silverstein conducts public business via secret committees whose members are not accountable to residents and whose deliberations and recommendations are never made public. Two years after it was formed, the names of the members of the alderman’s secret advisory committee on the new library are still unknown. Silverstein recently revealed that last year she created yet more secret committees to advise her on economic development. She never reports on business before the City Council, or tells constituents how she voted on major issues. This level of secrecy does not exist in other wards. And it begs the question of why Silverstein thinks it’s necessary here.

There are objective data supporting the contention that she is a lazy, disinterested alderman. A recent report from WBEZ and The Daily Line documented aldermanic attendance at Council and committee meetings from May 2015 through December 2018. Silverstein managed to get to 200 of 360 meetings for an attendance rate of 56%. In 2016 alone, she attended only 31% of hearings on the City budget. She holds open office hours only once a week, for 2 hours, no rescheduling if Monday falls on a holiday. Her office closes early on Friday (currently 3:30 p.m.) but she never holds weekend hours. Silverstein has, however, been observed campaigning on Sundays.

A reliable rubber-stamp for Mayor Emanuel, Silverstein fails to fulfill her responsibilities as a legislator. She votes as she’s told to vote in the Council. She never takes part in Council debates, such as they are. She is never interviewed by radio or TV reporters, never asked to join broadcast panel discussions. Nobody cares what she thinks. She is a cipher in the Council.

There is a particularly telling moment in the recent PB documentary. City residents  are testifying about their experiences with PB before the City Council, and Silverstein can be seen in the background, ignoring the speakers while entranced by her cell phone. When she realizes she is within camera range, she puts the phone down, sits up, and puts on an attentive face. The only thing that brings her to life is a camera.

Silverstein avoids the normal give-and-take between alderman and constituents. When she holds a town hall meeting, her function is to introduce the other speakers. She never appears alone and is visibly uncomfortable if asked a direct question.

Silverstein babbles incessantly about the diversity of the 50th Ward, but has done nothing to bridge the divides between groups. Skokie has a Festival of Cultures celebrating its diversity, but the 50th Ward doesn’t. Other wards have community picnics and Fourth of July parades, but the 50th Ward doesn’t. Other wards have winter festivals, farmers markets, and a wealth of cultural activities, many co-sponsored by the alderman, but the 50th Ward doesn’t.

Her sharp elbows are legendary. Silverstein takes credit for the work of others, whether City departments, local community groups, or her fellow Council members. Her campaign literature is filled with silly statements about how she “directed” the cleaning of sewers and the trimming of trees. She portrays herself as “fighting” for the money spent by Chicago Public Schools on building upgrades, additions, and recreational opportunities for students, when these are line items in the CPS capital budget. Silverstein didn’t secure one dollar. She claims on her campaign website that it was her “leadership” that brought the neighborhood the new library, when it was actually the vision nd initiative of the LEARN Coalition. Silverstein’s campaign literature arrogantly states that she “passed” legislation in the City Council without mentioning the work, help, or support of her fellow Council members.

She spends much of her time annoying the police in her efforts to supervise and direct their work. One of her favorite public safety initiatives involves posing with the police at outdoor roll calls. In one particularly ridiculous photo-op, she is exchanging a salute with uniformed officers. Silverstein recently claimed she “arranged” to have Cook County Police patrol Devon Avenue  in response to a recent  spate of shootings that she refused to discuss with the community. If she is indeed bypassing police command structures and negotiating directly with another branch of local government for police protection, she needs to be reined in for the good of the community, not to mention the police.

A vote for Debra Silverstein is a vote for laziness, secrecy, and incompetence. She has failed to create economic opportunity in the Ward. She has failed to deliver on past campaign promises. She has failed to articulate an inclusive vision for the Ward and its residents. Most importantly, she has failed to create community–that vital energy and spirit that motivates and empowers residents to work together for the common good. These failures are inexcusable.

Silverstein has not met her obligations as a City legislator. She has not fulfilled her duty to bring a strong voice to the City Council, or to adequately represent the views of her constituents. How can she speak for us when she doesn’t speak with us? 

The problems facing the City of Chicago and the 50th Ward are too perilous to re-elect Debra Silverstein.