Deb & Ira, Talk to Us

The lesson of Watergate is that “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” The sexual harassment scandal involving Ira Silverstein cannot be covered up–the lady provided proof of her allegations. Unfortunately, the Silversteins have chosen to ignore the charges, which will make the expected outcome–his resignations as senator and Democratic committeeman–seem even worse. And it may well haunt her own re-election campaign.

The alderman began her Friday newsletter by reporting that her thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by last week’s terror attack in New York. Nowhere did she mention the same week’s accusations against her husband. Ira hasn’t issued any statements to his constituents either, even after the proofs of his behavior cost him his post as majority whip. What is he waiting for?

A public official accused of sexual harassment must respond with more than a bland statement that he is sorry if anything he did made a woman “uncomfortable” and that he awaits the Ethics Committee report on the propriety of his behavior. It’s simply astounding that he doesn’t understand the nature of his offenses. Once the proofs were provided (audio of phone calls, hundreds of Facebook posts), I think he became obliged to issue a statement to his constituents admitting that the accusations can be substantiated, that he is considering his options, and that he plans to remain in office pending the Ethics Committee decision. Both of his political jobs (senator, Democratic committeeman) are on the line, and it’s difficult to see how he can continue to serve in either position regardless of what the Ethics Committee does.  But he needs to communicate with the voters before that happens.

The alderman’s lack of rapport with the people she serves is well-known. She is difficult to approach, and visibly uncomfortable with constituent contact. I think she is simply unable to relate to her constituents well enough to acknowledge that allegations were made against her husband, that she supports him whether the charges are sustained or not, and that she, her husband, and their family would appreciate our prayers at this difficult time. That’s the standard PR line all politicians facing self-created scandals use. A few words could mean a lot. She has her own political future to consider.

The people of the 50th Ward and the residents of the 8th Senatorial District have a right to know Ira’s side of the story, including an explanation of the audio recordings and Facebook posts. We also have a right to know what will happen if Ira resigns as state senator and Democratic ward committeeman. The 50th Ward is not known for political activism or participation, and must guard against new candidates with the same old ideas. But we should have some information on what to expect and when, and that needs to be communicated now.

I wonder how much of a role the hubris arising from the Silversteins’ absolute political control of the 50th Ward played in all this: alderman, committeeman, state senator, de facto bosses of the Regular Democratic Organization. Every bit of power is theirs, and the stories of the way that power has been used are told in whispers. They destroy all rivals and take no prisoners. It’s easy to see how two political figures driven by power rather than service would find it unnecessary to acknowledge what happened last week. That doesn’t make it acceptable.

They had both better say something, and soon.

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The News About Ira

I’m stunned by the sexual harassment allegations leveled against Ira Silverstein. I just don’t see Ira as the kind of guy who’d think that if the lady wants her bill passed she’d better make herself available for midnight chats. I’ve never heard a whisper that he’s a womanizer, and that’s the kind of thing that gets around fast. Allegations aren’t proof; in America, one is still presumed innocent until proven guilty, even though the lynch mobs in the press and on social media don’t seem to know this.

Of course, if it turns out that Ira did send this lady more than 400 Facebook messages, that he did make midnight phone calls to her, that he did block a bill from a vote because he thought she  had a boyfriend, then he can’t continue to serve as state senator or ward committeeman. Let’s see what the Ethics Committee has to say first.

There are many troubling aspects to this story, not least of which is the inaction of State Senate President Cullerton, who knowingly referred the matter to the office of a legislative inspector general who doesn’t exist as well as to an ethics panel that has done nothing about the charges for a year. Ira has been aware since 2016 that a complaint was filed against him. It’s been one of the best-kept political secrets in Springfield and Chicago, proof that the Old Boys Network has gone underground, but hasn’t gone away.

The corruption that has so permeated every level of government in Illinois shows its ugly face here, too. Sexual harassment is so pervasive in Illinois government that legislators are rushing to amend the state’s ethics and lobbyists’ ordinances to include prohibitions against it. Unfortunately, the bill as proposed is weak, merely requiring that each state officer, legislator, and agency establish an anti-harassment policy and imposing $5,000 fines on state employees and lobbyists found guilty of such harassment. Those not taking anti-harassment training will have their names published. Imagine trying to shame an Illinois politician or lobbyist by telling the public that he doesn’t follow the rules!

No talk yet of filling the IG position.

The look on Speaker Madigan’s face while Ms. Rotheimer stated her case was hard to gauge. Was he as shocked as appeared at times, or was he thinking ahead to the possibilities that Ira’s departure from office would create? The late Avy Meyers maintained for years that the big guys in Springfield wanted to get rid of Ira but couldn’t risk alienating the Orthodox vote. If Ira implodes on his own, then there are openings for state senator, majority whip, and ward committeeman. All the big shots who make our state so corrupt—Rahm, Madigan, Cullerton, et al.—will profit in some way if Ira’s forced to resign.

His district includes all or part of several wards and stretches through several suburbs, including Skokie and Niles. Ira’s been in office 18 years, and has run unopposed since 2004.  Could another Chicago candidate be elected? Or is it time for a suburban senator? Which ethnic or religious group would be favored? Figure that governor nominee-presumptive Pritzker will have a say as well. And his money could be the determining factor in candidate selection.

Ira was last re-elected Democratic Committeeman in March 2016. Most aldermen are also their ward’s committeemen, so Debra could theoretically assume that role, too. Of course, she’s in way over her head as alderman, so party bigwigs may recognize that adding the committeeman’s position might not be too smart. When there’s a mid-term opening for committeeman, the replacement is selected by votes cast by all other City committeemen. Would a trusted Silverstein ally or member of the 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization – the Silverstein Machine – take over? Or would there finally be an opportunity for an independent Democrat to begin building a functioning democracy in the 50th? Would somebody who’d do so stand a chance of being elected?

Is it time for the first non-Orthodox committeeman? If so, which ethnic or religious group’s candidate should be selected? Who could be chosen who would not alienate the majority of residents / voters? The Silversteins have done nothing to build community, so it’s likely to be a free-for-all..

How might these accusations impact Debra’s race for re-election next year? Ira told the press he discussed the charges with her, told her he did nothing wrong, and that she believes him. She has thus far declined to comment. But his conduct does make her vulnerable as a candidate, fairly or not.

A Silverstein sex scandal. Can you believe it?

2015 Year in Review – Part II

This is the second part of the month-by-month listing of events omitted from the alderman’s 2015 year-end mailer and newsletters. Events from January through June were published on January 13.

July
2906-10 West Devon Lawsuit

  • Ccourt hearing cancelled
  • Defendant-Owner not yet served
  • Two more defendants added to suit (KJS Properties LLC and Centrue Bank)

Devon Community Market

  • Off to strong start, with superb performances from the dancers of Performing Arts Limited and Music House Academy of Music and Dance
  • Good selection of vendors

Town Hall Meeting

  • Alderman hosts annual meeting with constituents
  • Speakers from City government and local CAPS office address residents’ concerns about rats, flooding, crime, and other problems
  • Alderman introduces speakers. but contributes little to discussion
  • Some of ward’s most affluent residents express dismay over presence of homeless people walking on streets and blocking access to parking garage driveways as well as having cell phones (i.e., folks living under a bridge in Lincolnwood not quite poor enough); police action requested
    • Stunning lack of compassion for fellow human beings leads to involvement of social workers, who relocate homeless people to shelters, out of sight of offended well-to-do residents

August
2906-10 West Devon

  • Court hearing cancelled
  • Defendant-Owner served August 27, after hearing date

Devon Community Market

  • Annual slide into irrelevance begins as customers and vendors fail to show up

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • Alderman hosts community meeting with Bob Kingsley, owner of Green Gate Compassion Center, who outlines plans for MMD and engages residents in discussion
  • Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) votes 2-1 to grant tentative approval to Green Gate Compassion Center
  • Board member Sheila O’Grady, former chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley, absent; will vote later

India Day

  • Organizers set up performance area six feet from residential housing; hours of loud, screeching entertainment force nearby residents from homes
  • Organizers once again fail to meet City requirements for public performance events
    • fail to notify nearby residents in advance of proposed concert
      • residents denied opportunity to object to rock concert-level loudness of musical performances
    • fail to notify residents of street closures
      • street signs not installed until late afternoon
      • street signs not properly placed, permitting traffic to enter Washtenaw at Arthur but not to exit except through east-west alleys
    • fail to obtain permit to exceed City’s noise regulations

 LEARN Coalition

  • Coalition launched to begin process of fundraising and site selection for new Northtown library
    • Founding groups include West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, North Boundary Home Owners League, Rogers Park Business Alliance, West Rogers Park Community Organization, and Jewish Community Council
    • Official name is Library Enhancement and Renovation of Northtown (LEARN)

September
Friends of the Northtown Library

  • Group organized by Pete Sifnotis to raise funds to support library programs
  • First meeting plans two-day book sale to benefit library

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • ZBA Board member Sheila O’Grady votes against MMD; zoning change denied
  • ZBA not at full strength; one position unfilled; 2-2 tie vote appealed by Green Gate lawyer
  • Pot bust in Warren Park at 4 p.m., when and where children play; three adults, two teenagers, several pipes, and bag of drugs taken into police custody
    • Police at park because of report of man with handgun

Economic Development News

  • Building leveled at Pratt & Western
  • Alderman announces she knows nothing about site plans

October
2906-10 West Devon

  • Various affidavits and summonses issued
  • Case returned to management call

Devon Community Market

  • Market Manager holds community meeting to discuss reorganization
  • Six residents attend

 Devon Streetscape

  • Phase 3 of streetscape (Western to Rockwell) completed without fanfare
    • No ribbon-cutting, cameras, or aldermanic presence marks occasion
    • Alderman schedules no appearance by or pictures with Mayor enmeshed in Laquan McDonald scandal

Devon Arts Festival

  • Collaborative Palette Project organized by Richard Trumbo, owner of Music House, as part of Chicago Artists Month
  • Residents enjoy collaborative art projects and musical entertainment
  • Arts celebration expected to become annual community event

November
In Re Estate of McDonald

  • Alderman announces she “watched in disbelief the video of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald….”
  • Now believes “…there needs to be a more detailed investigation…”
  • Now agrees “…that the U.S. Justice Department [should] intervene”
  • Does not refer to nor explain her April vote to pay McDonald family hush money to make matter go away

Devon Community Market

  • Market Manager tells me market must remain on Devon (within SSA district), retain current name, and remain in current parking lot location
    • Who made boneheaded decision not stated

2906-10 West Devon

  • All parties finally served
  • Lawyer for defendants files appearances
  • Court hearings to be determined

Friends of the Northtown Library

  • Friends group hosts successful two-day book sale
  • Raises more than $1,000 to support library programming

 Ward Committeeman Election

  • Important unpaid position responsible for overseeing integrity of elections
  • George Milkowski is Green Party candidate for committeeman
  • Pete Sifnotis is Republican candidate for committeeman
  • Alderman’s husband to run as Democratic candidate again; re-election guaranteed; family’s hold on power to continue
    • After February election, Silverstein family pettiness ensured precinct assistants disappear from some precincts that did not support alderman
    • Election judges in those precincts denied traditional largesse of morning coffee, lunch, and end-of-day candy as thank-you gift for long day
    • Bernie Stone’s example of grace in power lost on raptor-like Silversteins

December
Medical Marijuana Dispensary

  • Final rejection of 50th Ward MMD when newest commissioner, Jenner & Block attorney and Preckwinkle ally Blake Sercye, votes against economic development opportunity for 50th Ward
    • Alderman’s behind-the-scenes role unclear

Ward Committeeman Election

  • Silverstein in-law challenges Sifnotis nominating petitions
  • Sifnotis knocked off ballot

Economic Development News

  • Another dreary holiday season on Devon marked by absence of holiday decorations and seasonal joy
    • Sparse strings of lights wound around bare light poles from Maplewood to Rockwell and Mozart to Sacramento provide clue that holidays occurring
    • Lack of interest in acknowledging other people’s holidays continues to negatively affect sales performance of former premiere shopping district
    • Residents leave ward for holiday shopping and nonresidents shop elsewhere
  • Streetscape fails to attract shoppers

Goodbye to all that.

 

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Sifnotis Out as Candidate for Committeeman

Pete Sifnotis has been removed from the ballot as a candidate for 50th ward committeeman.

Pete made a cryptic comment on Facebook about being kicked off the ballot twice by Ira Silverstein, and I verified this morning that he’s indeed been removed from the March ballot.

I’ve asked what happened and will let you know as soon as I hear.

 

Payback Pettiness

My precinct voted against Debra Silverstein in February. Such independence requires payback.

For the mayoral run-off, my precinct was not assigned a PA (Precinct Assistant) to set up the electronic equipment. Precincts that supported Debra were. Judges didn’t get any coffee or lunch, either, although judges in precincts that supported Debra did. I also heard that two other precincts that came out against Debra in February had malfunctioning equipment in April.

The ward committeeman is responsible for the election process, so this was Silverstein-controlled from start to finish. And there was no warning that no PA would be available to us. We had to call downtown to find that none had been assigned.

Now, it’s true that the Board of Elections makes it clear that judges should not expect to be fed by anybody other than themselves. But assigning PAs? It’s telling that the precincts that supported Debra in February were the only ones that received support from the ward committeeman’s office in April.

This is exactly the way the Silversteins apportion city services in the ward: friends and supporters get more than their fair share of street cleaning, road paving, and new lighting.  The rebellious southeast side of the ward gets nothing. The decision not to support all precincts equally is troubling because the electoral process is taxpayer-supported, just like City services. Public resources should be allocated fairly and equally, a concept unknown to the Silversteins.

Except the street scape. Storage facilities. And political pettiness.

I have a feeling payback season is just beginning. Stay tuned.

Silverstein Dirty Tricks

As she heads downhill toward certain defeat, the Silverstein dirty tricks machine–commonly known as Ira–is in full swing.

Residents at Winston Towers who support Zehra Quadri have been informed that they will be fined if they distribute any literature on her behalf. Yep. Exercising your constitutional rights will cost you $300. Per incident.

Silverstein’s literature is all over the place. So is literature for Shajan. But not for Quadri.

The Silversteins cannot do enough to undermine Zehra Quadri and her work. They  tried and failed to put Zehra’s community resource center, ZAM’s Hope, out of service. One of Debra’s first acts as alderman was to cancel Zehra’s contract with the city to distribute free food boxes to hungry families in the 50th Ward. Ira has cancelled state funding for her after-school programs and other community service initiatives. The reason her commercial kitchen hasn’t opened is because Ira stopped her bank loan. Imagine. A local bank accepted her application, cashed her check, then told her it couldn’t help her. Guess where the evidence trail led.

Debra’s reputation for high-handedness is exceeded only by Ira’s. He’s called Quadri supporters and told them to back off on any public support. And private as well. The powerful politician delights in terrorizing potential contributors to Quadri’s campaign. He stops just short of overt threats but the message is clear. .

The stories about Ira are legion. Debra’s vindictiveness is known throughout the ward.

It’s just about over. She’ll be voted out on Tuesday.

Then it’s his turn.

Illegal Electioneering?

Is it true that Debra and Ira Silverstein showed up at Warren Park during early voting on Friday not to vote but to do a little campaigning?

Is it true that they were seen talking to voters who had just entered the field house?

Is it true that they were not asked to leave until Zehra Quadri, who had been greeting voters on the sidewalk outside the park, walked into the field house and asked what they were doing?

Zehra Quadri tells me that Ira parked his car near where she was standing, and that Zehra jokingly asked Debra if she wanted one of Zehra’s palm cards. She asked if they were going to vote, and they said no.  Zehra waited until the Silversteins were in the field house and then went in herself and found them with the park manager, the Board of Elections supervisor, and three voters with whom Zehra herself had just spoken on the sidewalk.  Zehra quite rightly pointed out that the rules are the same for all candidates, i.e., they have to stand a certain distance from the polling place, and that this rule applies to Debra as well as it does to everybody else. It was then that the Silversteins were told they had to leave.

The Silversteins know better than this. They had no business at the early voting site unless they were voting. No information on turnout would have been released to them that they couldn’t have obtained with a phone call.

It’s the start of the final full week of campaigning, and things are bound to get dirtier.