Dirty Tricks

Thank goodness this election is nearly over. The two candidates with money have also turned out to be the two candidates who told the biggest lies, repeated them often, and spent thousands to make those lies seem like truths.

That’s bad enough.

But let me tell you how power and money influenced the electoral process in this ward.

Take Pete Sifnotis. Nice guy. No money. No lawyer. Two challenges. Both scheduled at the same time. Two different places. This was no accident. This was the big guys jerking the new kid around. He’s now a write-in candidate.

Take Fuji Shioura. Nice guy. So determined not to be corrupted by money that he won’t take donations. No lawyer. Two challenges. One Board of Elections examiner behaved so badly she had to be removed. He’s now a write-in candidate.

Take Zehra Quadri. Challenged a carpetbagger with clear and convincing evidence of his duplicity. The Board of Elections waived its own rules and kept the guy on the ballot. She appealed to Circuit Court. The judge ruled that the guy had good intentions, so never mind the law. The case is now in the Appellate Court, which will not rule until after the election.

Quadri’s campaign office is located in a building which has been without water for the past week. The owner has twice called the city, and twice his requests have been cancelled by another caller. Sixteen other offices are located in this building. The city will not fix the water until after the election.

Quadri lives in one of the buildings at Winston Towers. The morning before the election, copies of Jewish News, which has endorsed another candidate, were left for every resident of the building, including nonsubscribers. But Quadri’s supporters have been told that they may not distribute her campaign literature, and residents who support her have been told that they will be fined $300 if they do–and every time they do. Building management denies knowing who delivered and distributed the papers. Building management did not order the papers removed.

Powerful interests do not want positive change in this ward. The usual suspects have endorsed and contributed thousands of dollars to the incumbent. Wealthy interests from outside the ward have contributed enormous sums of money to buy this aldermanic seat for another.

The three candidates without money have shown the highest ethical standards. The two candidates with the big bucks have demonstrated the lowest character.

Remember that when you vote.

Indo-American Candidates’ Forum

The room was chilly, the candidates a bit tired, the moderator partial to Shajan Kuriakose, and the audience soon bored. The alderman, holding to her re-election strategy of not engaging with residents, wasn’t there.

It went downhill very quickly, right after the first answer to the first question. Shajan was to give the second answer, but first the moderator asked him to speak to a specific issue as part of his response. This set the pattern for the evening, with Shajan redirected on six of the thirteen questions asked. The candidates who had already spoken were not given an opportunity to speak to the redirected issue, however, and it just wasn’t fair.

There were the usual questions about red-light cameras (no candidate supports), fiscal transparency (everybody’s for) and political corruption (everybody’s against). Should the 50th Ward have its own high school? This was a question from the WRPCO forum, and there was nothing new from the candidates.

The forum focused on the problems faced by Indo-Americans: cab drivers vs Uber drivers, illegal immigration, relations with the police, lack of English, fear of discrimination, and domestic violence. Unfortunately, all of the candidates succumbed to the victimhood mindset and agreed that it is the responsibility of the larger community to educate itself so as not to inadvertently offend those with cultural grievances.  There was no discussion of whether such complaints are valid or why the larger society may not ask such uncomfortable questions as why America’s immigration laws should be ignored or how  people who won’t or can’t speak or learn English hope to support themselves or function in a multicultural society. The god of ethnocentrism was on full display.

The solution to domestic abuse, for example, is to agree that it’s a terrible thing and then to educate women not to be ashamed to ask for help after they’ve been beaten to a pulp. It didn’t occur to any of the candidates, unfortunately, that maybe educating men in anger management might be a more effective option. The moderator was just as clueless.

After several such questions, I raised my hand and rose to ask the moderator if the topic of ethnic separatism could be addressed. He said there would be no audience participation, that the format had been decided. In other words, the format was more important than questions arising from topics or responses.

This was the second and final candidate forum. Neither presented an opportunity to create a dialog between audience and candidates. Perhaps I was wrong to expect more, but it seems to me that we go about this part of the electoral process in exactly the wrong way. Voters have a right to expect better than memorized or rote responses. At this stage of the campaign the candidates are tired of talking. The preselected questions reflect the biases of the sponsoring organizations. Candidates make statements that should be challenged, or that call for facts not in evidence, but there’s no opportunity for the voters to engage with those who would be our leaders.

Sorry. Back to the forum.

Ethnocentrism raised its ugly head again in responses to a question about remaking Devon Avenue. Zehra Quadri described her idea of turning large storefronts into indoor malls that would support new businesses until they are successful enough to move to storefronts. Peter Sifnotis noted that the ward is filled with vacancies, and Devon isn’t the only street in need of business. He spoke forcefully about the need to curb needless regulation. Fuji Shioura nailed the problem when he said that he hears complaints all the time about the lack of responsiveness from the Devon merchants to the needs of the community. Fuji also pointed out that the new Mall of India in Schaumburg is Devon’s real competition, and further reason for Devon to return to family shopping for West Ridge residents.

But Shajan again supported the idea that gimmicks like 5K runs and events geared to outsiders will revitalize Devon. He is prepared as alderman to work with landlords, business owners, community organizations, and the newly-formed South East Asian Chamber of Commerce (not to be confused with the existing and ongoing West Ridge Chamber of Commerce) to remake Devon. He did not include residents in his plans, and I don’t think this was an inadvertent omission. He is the merchants’ handpicked candidate, supported by powerful Indo-American political organizations who hope to gain control of the ward through him.  Shajan even issued a campaign piece promising to protect the merchants’ interests.

West Ridge is the only community in the city that has to fight its dominant merchant group for control of its main business district.  Nobody spoke to that.

There was one further twist. The moderator asked the candidates to combine their closing statements with their answer to the question of what they see as the ward’s biggest problem over the next four years. I’ve never been to a real debate or a candidates’ forum that ended with such a bizarre request, and I hope I never attend one again.

After the forum ended I approached the moderator to ask him a question. He rudely brushed past me, snarling “I don’t want to talk to you.” I said he was an asshole, nearly got into a brawl with his parents, and went home.





WRPCO Candidates’ Forum

Not surprisingly, the alderman was the only no-show at last night’s Candidates’ Forum sponsored by the West Rogers Park Community Organization (WRPCO). The other four candidates and a lively audience showed up despite the freezing temperatures.

Silverstein was represented by a letter stating that she would not be attending because (a) WRPCO Chair Ahmed Khan personally endorsed Shajan Kuriakose, and (b) write-in candidates Fuji Shioura and Peter Sifnotis were present. Khan was acting as a private citizen and not as WRPCO chair but the alderman seized on the opportunity to avoid the event. She apparently considers it beneath her aldermanic dignity to associate with mere write-in candidates.  Her behavior is another reason not to re-elect her.

The first part of the forum was devoted to questions prepared by WRPCO, and the second part to written questions from the audience. Many of the questions were long-winded, with rambling preambles and multi-part questions that were at times difficult to understand. Each candidate was blindsided at least once by questions like this, but all of them did their best to provide a credible answer.

I was impressed by all four candidates. Each gave thoughtful, reasoned answers. There were no personal attacks, a tribute to both the candidates’ integrity and their focus on community and citywide issues rather than personalities or other disagreements. None attacked Debra, an opportunity I must admit I would have taken. Instead, they let her absence speak for itself.

They are all class acts. Zehra, Shajan, Fuji, and Peter, thank you for a lively, informative evening.

My Endorsement

Some voters are still undecided about this aldermanic election. That’s understandable. We have five candidates, and campaign mailers and candidate Web sites are full of half-truths, outright lies, and long-winded visions that are so carefully worded they are essentially meaningless. We are not living in a Disney movie but in a ward where politics this year is especially treacherous.

I do not support Debra Silverstein. She has been a disaster as alderman. If she has any ideas she’s kept them hidden. If she understands that her actions affect real people she hasn’t shown it. She’s produced some of the slickest political ads I’ve ever seen, and most of them go overboard trying to turn her minor administrative work into major success stories. She does not deserve re-election.

I do not support Shajan Kuriakose. He is the tool of special interests on Devon that are seeking political power to match their business clout. That their businesses are in decline, and some are failing outright, is all the more reason for them to pour money into Kuriakose’s campaign. They must win to keep from making the changes the community has been demanding for years.

I am also unable to overlook the circumstances under which he moved here. It seems to me that one does not seek the top leadership position in a ward after living in it for less than a year, regardless of how fond one’s childhood memories of that ward may be. I cannot overlook the fact that he voted from another ward last March, swearing that he lived somewhere else. I don’t care how often the Chicago Board of Elections chooses to overlook the evidence of its own records, something is wrong with this decision. It is a fact that the business interests on Devon invited Shajan to move here and run for office, and that they promised him whatever it takes to win. He’s had no opposition from the Silversteins, no attack ads although he’s attacked her, which is also telling.

The two write-in candidates are good men, but I don’t want to use  my vote as a protest that might put Debra or Shajan in power.

I heartily endorse Zehra Quadri. My next post will explain in detail why.

Money, Endorsements, and Real Accomplishment

The election is only one week away. The campaign ads are clogging the mail. The candidates’ claims usually bear no relation to reality. It’s called spin. The fewer accomplishments a candidate has, the greater the need to distort the truth, to make nothing into something, to use clever marketing to persuade voters to support candidates with hidden agendas that all too often are underwritten by special interests.

The truth is that candidates owe their political and financial backers. Every endorsement comes from the confluence of power and money, and the influential know how to collect what’s due. This is why it is almost impossible to change our corrupt political system. It’s also why the same people run for office and get elected over and over again.  Political office is bought and sold just like any other commodity.

Which brings us to the aldermanic race in the 50th Ward. Neither of the write-in candidates (Fuji Shioura, Peter Sifnotis) has much money. What they have came from their own pockets.  Fundraising begins at least two years before one runs for office. Political contacts must be cultivated via money and favors. It takes time and money, and Peter and Fuji were at a distinct disadvantage. Candidates with money to begin with were already knocking on doors. [Check each candidate’s fundraising reports on the State of Illinois Board of Elections Web site here. Use the search bar at the very top, above the Search by Committee box.]

Debra Silverstein has raised over $500,000 since 2010, first for her run against Bernie Stone and then in her own behalf. Her donors include labor unions, political PACs, corporations with business interests in the City of Chicago, and business owners with commercial interests within the 50th Ward. Not surprisingly, she has a laundry list of endorsements, every one of which can be tied in some way to donations or political influence.

Shajan Kuriakose has fewer endorsements, but the ones he has follow the money and influence path. For example, he has the endorsement of the Indo-American Democratic Organization, a PAC set up to support the interests of Indian-Americans. Its president is a past chairman of the West Rogers Park Community Organization, which is sponsoring tomorrow’s aldermanic forum. The group’s current chairman has endorsed Kuriakose, although he insists he is acting as a private citizen and not as the group’s chairman. That he chose to make his endorsement in a letter released on social media just days before the candidate forum is questionable at best.

Kuriakose is the candidate of the Asian business owners on Devon Avenue. It was representatives of this group that Kuriakose admits invited him to run for alderman and found for him the apartment he claims in his official residence. [See earlier posts for the history of his disputed residency.] It is not surprising that his announced priorities as alderman support their business interests over those of the community.

Neither Silverstein nor Kuriakose, for all their money and all their endorsements and all their influential political backers, can truthfully claim to have created a single business or a single job in the 50th Ward.

Zehra Quadri has no endorsements and very little money. She has only her record of service to the community and her stated intention of transforming the 50th Ward into a place that truly reflects the many cultures represented among its residents.  She truly believes that politics can and must be combined with service to the community.

Zam’s Hope, the community resource organization she founded, has created jobs and business opportunities for ward residents. She has established two successful businesses. Two more are nearly ready to open. Her commercial kitchen will provide local foodies with the opportunity to develop family recipes and test them in her new small restaurant/carry-out business. She’s created a business incubator with the potential to develop the next big food entrepreneur—right here in the 50th Ward.

Neither Debra Silverstein nor Shajan Kuriakose can say they have done the same.

If Zehra Quadri can accomplish all this from a small office on a side street off Devon Avenue, think what she could accomplish as alderman!

Zehra envisions a ward whose businesses are not limited to retailing. She sees small factories, import/export businesses, and boutique shopping experiences. She looks at our dismal commercial districts and sees streets that with the right mix of businesses could come alive again, providing jobs and producing tax revenues.

Zehra Quadri has big dreams, and a proven record of turning those dreams into a reality that benefits others. Her reward comes from seeing them succeed..

Zehra Quadri has no endorsements and no political backers. This is good. It means she will come into office with no debts to anyone except the community that elected her.

Remember that when you read your political mail.