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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Lightfoot for Mayor

The mayoral contest between Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle is a choice between real governmental reform and old-style machine politics. I’ve supported Lightfoot since the day she announced, and I believe she will lead the City forward without leaving its residents behind. Rahm’s plans for Chicago did not include the ordinary citizen. Lightfoot’s plans do.

Lori Lightfoot is a leader, not a boss. She had the courage to challenge Rahm when he seemed all but invincible. She made a strong case for City Hall reform and took it directly to the voters. Her honesty and integrity stood out in that crowded first round of candidates. She is smart and tough but not arrogant. She connects with people, she understands the frustration that turns to anger when government is unaccountable. She knows how to direct that anger into meaningful reform.

Lori Lightfoot campaigning in the 50th Ward in February 2019, listening to aldermanic candidate Andrew Rowlas addressing the crowd.

Lori Lightfoot will help reform City Hall. She opposes aldermanic privilege. She has said that nobody should have to “kiss the alderman’s ring” to get City services, and she recognizes the dangers in allowing aldermen absolute control over zoning and economic development in their wards. Lightfoot can be expected to demand that aldermen be held accountable, and to see that they are. She will not be hand-picking the chairmen of City Council committees. You can bet that Lightfoot won’t be cutting $20,000 checks to aldermen who support her while ignoring their responsibilities to both the City and their constituents.

Lori Lightfoot will help wreck the Chicago Machine. With Lightfoot as mayor, we’ll finally realize the beginning of the end of The Chicago Way. Lightfoot won’t owe her victory to the usual influencers, or the mega-rich, or the out-of-towners. She will be accountable to the people who elect her, not to special interests. Wealthy, powerful people always have a private line to the mayor’s office. But Lori Lightfoot won’t cave. That’s not the Lightfoot way. She didn’t get where she is by going along. She will not tolerate business as usual. The City can’t afford it, and Lightfoot knows it. It’s why she decided to run for mayor.

Lori Lightfoot will help reform Illinois politics. Illinois is widely recognized as the most corrupt state in the U.S. Tens of thousands of people are leaving every year. Many of them are Chicagoans fed up with corruption, high taxes, high fees, and poor services. Illinois may well lose at least one congressional representative because of state population loss. Next year’s national census will redraw congressional, state, and local political maps in 2021.The Fair Maps movement is making progress on state and national levels to eliminate partisan gerrymandering. The boundaries of every ward in the City will be redrawn. The Mayor of Chicago will have a strong influence on all these matters.

Everything about her, from her family history to her professional achievements to the way she has chosen to live her life, tells me that Lori Lightfoot is the right person to lead Chicago.

Lori Lightfoot for Mayor.

 

 

 

Meet Lori Lightfoot and Andrew Rowlas

Join mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot and 50th Ward aldermanic candidate Andrew Rowlas at a meet and greet in the 50th Ward.on Wednesday, February 20, from 6-8 p.m. at Urban Convene, 2711 West Peterson Avenue.

Lightfoot is one of the original challengers to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, getting into the race before Rahm dropped out. She has an impressive resume: Assistant United States Attorney, President of the Chicago Police Board, and Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. She is a reform candidate for mayor, and endorsed Rowlas a few weeks ago. Lightfoot has been endorsed for mayor by the Chicago Sun-Times, which said of her:

“More than any of the other 13 mayoral candidates, she has the vision, values, qualifications and policies to be an effective leader for the whole city, from the hedge fund managers to the fast food workers. She is calm, focused, principled and independent.”  The paper noted that, while mayor would be her first elected office, “…she has been a powerfully influential public servant. She has been an outspoken critic of bad moves by City Hall, calling out her own bosses. She has also — and this is not widely understood — been a force for honesty and integrity behind the scenes.”

Rowlas is a former educator and current community activist. He served as president of the West Ridge Community Organization until stepping down to run for alderman. A strong believer in community empowerment, Rowlas single-handedly arranged to have a referendum on clean drinking water on last November’s ballot in some 50th Ward precincts, and is currently petitioning to have the old Northtown Library become a cultural arts center. He also served as a member of the LEARN Coalition, the group responsible for bringing the community the new Northtown Library.

Rowlas plans to empower 50th ward residents through initiatives like participatory budgeting, a ward zoning committee, and a ward economic and community development council–all measures opposed by current alderman Debra Silverstein.

City Hall and the 50th Ward both need reforming. Come and hear what these two outstanding candidates for political leadership have to say.

Campaign News

Tuesday, August 28, is s the first day that candidates for alderman and other City offices can legally ask registered voters to sign nominating petitions.

Andrew Rowlas has released his first campaign newsletter. Contact his campaign to get on the mailing list (rowlasforward50@gmail.com).

Jason Honig is hosting a campaign kickoff at Warren Park on Saturday, August 25, from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.  Contact his campaign for more information (honigfor50th.com).

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot has released her proposed ethics reform plan. It targets outside jobs for municipal workers and addresses mayoral term limits, among other sound ideas.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-met-lori-lightfoot-chicago-mayor-ethics-proposal-20180820-story.html