Follies Truth Squad: Silverstein Campaign Mailer, Part II

Any alderman who claims tree trimming as a major accomplishment should not be running for reelection.

The overall impression conveyed by the claims listed in Ald. Silverstein’s newsletter/campaign mailer is that she invests most of her time in relatively trivial pursuits rather than doing the hard work of creating an economic development plan, leading the way on community empowerment, and providing the leadership the ward so desperately needs. Among her many failures on the major issues:

  • Silverstein has failed to deliver the “spirited economic development plan” for California, Devon, Touhy, and Western Avenues that she promised in 2010. She’s had eight years to do so.
  • Silverstein has stubbornly refused to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward, despite widespread neighborhood support, and actively tried to prevent a nonbinding referendum from making the ballot, hiring her elections attorney to challenge the wording of the PB petition and fight the issue before the Chicago Board of Elections. Instead of granting the community a voice in how the $1.3M menu money is used, she spends it all on her major obsession–potholes
  • Silverstein never engaged the community in what she now claims was one of her major priorities–a new Northtown Library. She should have led the community in its attempts to replace the crumbling structure on California with a new building, but she did nothing except discourage neighborhood residents who approached her about doing so. The LEARN Coalition was organized as a direct response to her lack of interest and succeeded in bringing the neighborhood’s needs to the attention of the Chicago Public Library Board and the Mayor’s Office. Silverstein was not the driving force behind the new library, despite her claims otherwise. She refuses to acknowledge that LEARN led the way.
  • Silverstein has failed to attract significant numbers of new businesses to the ward. She has failed to create the business districts that would support the idea of West Ridge being “The International Marketplace,” as its marketing campaign claims. The new campaign, “On Devon,” is built on the fantasy that there are a wide variety of shops selling a vast array of unique goods . In fact, most stores on Devon are small grocers, beauty shops, and cell phone stores. Touhy Avenue is commercially barren, with blocks of vacancies. Western has many vacancies as well.

Yet Silverstein brags about “improving our local businesses” by hanging banners and attending meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and the SSA.  She doesn’t just meet “regularly” with the SSA, she controls it. The poor decisions it makes are made in her office, with Silverstein  in attendance. She chooses the commissioners, who are technically appointed by the Mayor. The hodgepodge of community programs it offers (Movie in the Parking Lot, Devon’s Got Talent) are poorly conceived and executed.

I’ve discussed the new library extensively in various posts. One  important point needs to be reiterated:

  • Silverstein appointed a secret advisory committee to help her make decisions on the library’s final design. Its members were appointed nearly two years ago, but to this day Silverstein refuses to disclose who they are. They were sworn to secrecy by her and forbidden to discuss their deliberations or reveal the names of fellow committee members to anyone. This is public business. Why the need for secrecy?

The Devon Avenue streetscape, her other major accomplishment, is a disaster.

  • The street is now so narrow that it slows traffic and creates constant traffic jams
  • The lack of police foot patrols from Talman to Western–the main shopping area on Devon–has left drivers feeling free to park or stand in bus lanes, forcing passengers to board and exit the bus in the street, while the bus blocks traffic  Many vehicles park or stand in crosswalks while waiting for shoppers inside the grocery stores
  • Many drivers park parallel to the curb bump-outs, and it is impossible for two lanes of traffic to pass each other.
  • Devon is an environmental disaster. The BGA recently released a report on the most polluted areas of Chicago. Because the business model on Devon requires that shoppers be recruited from outside the neighborhood, vehicular pollution is high. You’d think the alderman who claims educating the neighborhood’s children as yet another of her “priorities” would show some concern for the toddlers in daycare centers and the kids in our local schools. Ha! Silverstein’s busy looking for potholes and counting sawed-off tree limbs
  • The sidewalks are simply filthy. Many are stained by pan, a mixture of beetle juice, herbs, and often tobacco that is chewed and spit all over the place. The stains on the new sidewalks are permanent, and the seating areas disgusting. I call them sit-and-spit areas. Pan is banned in India and Canada, among other nations, because its use is unsanitary and indelible. It’s allowed on Devon, and sold by a significant number of stores. The alderman doesn’t care.
  • The streetscape design did not include trash cans in the seating areas, so garbage is dumped in planters and on / under seating

Notice that Silverstein takes credit for attending parades, “Iftar dinners,” and claims she participated in soccer games and the World Cup Final. That’s a sight I’d like to see. But however clumsy the wording, labeling these activities as “celebrat[ing] all our cultures” is ridiculous. I’ve always said she excels at the ceremonial aspects of her job–nobody is more willing to pose for pictures–but this is symbolism, not leadership.

Is the Movie in the Park really an example of Silverstein working with the community? Did Silverstein really help produce the Indian Boundary Park Harvest Fest? Or did she simply show up for yet another photo-opp?

It’s worth noting that the alderman with more than $190,000 in her war chest could not find a few hundred dollars to buy turkeys for the poor at Thanksgiving. In eight years in office, Silverstein has never organized a food drive or a coat drive for the less fortunate. Yes, her office collects items for Toys for Tots, veterans, and others, but I’ve never felt that she has any compassion for people less well-off than she is. I reviewed her campaign fundraising expense account, and find she consistently makes only two charitable donations: $200 per month to CJE for transportation for the elderly, and $50 per year for the North Boundary Homeowners League.

Four more years?? With this sorry record??

I think not.

Tomorrow: Part III will focus on Silverstein’s claims regarding public safety

 

Signs of the Times

Are the times a changin’ in West Ridge? There are signs…..

Ira’s office is for rent.

 

 

 

And then there’s Wednesday’s invitation from the alderman to joinTeam Silverstein and help her win re-election. I’ve never received a sadder, more desperate message from a politician. This is the first time she has ever asked the community at large for help, support, and money. I think she realizes it’s not going to be a slam-dunk this time.

But then I went to her new campaign website. It’s basically a rehash of the end-of-year newsletter / campaign puff piece she mailed a couple of weeks ago. Like the mailer, her website gives spin a bad name. (I’ll be addressing the issues raised by that campaign newsletter in a three-part Follies Truth Squad report beginning next Wednesday.)

The more desperate Silverstein becomes the more photos she publishes of herself doing the most routine aspects of her job, like posing for pictures with winning athletic teams, and the kind of hokey, staged photo-opps that embarrass everyone except politicians– posing with police roll calls, donning a hard hat and posing with construction workers. Her new campaign website is full of such malarkey.

There are solid candidates opposing her on the February ballot. They have ideas and plans for the neighborhood, and they are willing and able to discuss them with the community in open forums. Her opponents have been active in community organizations, and have pledged a new era of civic engagement in West Ridge.

Silverstein promises four more years like the last eight. She’s always absent when there’s hard work to do, and always sharp-elbowed when it’s time to claim credit. Her opponents have achievements to share, Silverstein has photos.

This should be an interesting campaign.

 

 

 

Community Still Being Misled on Library Housing

Alderman Silverstein proudly announced yesterday that 50th Ward residents could add their names to the waitlist for the new 30-unit CHA housing above the new Northtown Library.

It’s what she didn’t say that’s important.

Both the alderman and the CHA have consistently misled West Ridge residents about their opportunities to move into the new housing ever since the project was announced in October of 2016. In truth, unless a 50th Ward resident is already on the CHA waitlist, there is virtually no possibility that an apartment in the new building will be available. Even then, the chances are slim. Both the alderman and the CHA director were reluctant to admit that, by law, the apartments would be assigned first to those couples and individuals who had spent the longest time on CHA wait lists for senior housing.

[In fact, anyone who had been a CHA resident in October 1999 and qualified under the CHA’s “right of return” policy would be given priority as a resident of the Northtown Apartments.  See the following Follies posts: July 10, 2017; June 7, 2017.  Note that referenced CHA documents are no longer available online.] 

I raised the question of tenancy at the very first public meeting with the alderman and  CHA Executive Director Eugene Jones. The response from Jones was instructive. He bowed his head, rubbed his chin, and said that he assumed residents would want the housing for seniors already living in the 50th Ward. The audience agreed. Silverstein stood silently. But it  wasn’t clearly stated until the final community meeting, held at the Budlong Woods Library, that CHA could not reserve the housing for 50th Ward residents. Only two 50th Ward residents attended this final meeting: John Kane, then-president of the West Ridge Community Organization, and me. The transcript of that meeting is no longer available on the CHA Web site.

Fourteen apartments were added to the original plans. They are under the control of the developer, not CHA. Jones stated at one community meeting that tenants for those apartments would be selected by the alderman and the community. I wondered at the time why the aldermen should have any input, and questioned whether political influence should have any role in tenant selection.

The alderman’s statement in her December 7 newsletter  does not  refer to an application process  for those fourteen apartments.  This raises the question of whether or not those apartments have already been leased and, if so, by whom and how.

I have not seen any announcements of an open application process for these fourteen apartments, and it’s less than two months before the building is to open. But this is in keeping with Silverstein’s policy of not discussing public business with ward residents. For example, we still don’t know the names of the members of the secret committee that advised her on the library building, nor have any minutes of their meetings or notes from their deliberations been made public. It might make you think no records were kept.

The existing library is now scheduled to close December 17. The community will be without a library for six to ten weeks. We are told this is because of weather-related delays in constructing the new building. You’d think a city that’s constantly under construction would have been better prepared. My guess is that the delay is really caused by the alderman’s need to gain as much political advantage as possible from the building’s opening. Think of all the pictures! The alderman cutting the ribbon, greeting the new senior tenants, welcoming children, touring the facility, posing with happy residents. Imagine how many extra votes that could mean.

FYI: Average wait times for CHA buildings for seniors run from six months to ten years, depending on the building. This estimate comes from a listing of wait times for CHA senior buildings from January 2018 that I was able to access but whose link could not be copied. There is no information on wait lists for senior buildings on CHA’s Web site.

View my video of the press conference announcing the new library / CHA building and my Oct. 22 post, “Whose Library Is It Anyway?”

Read my post of November 15, 201 6, “People Power and the New Library,” for more background.

The Alderman’s Secret Housing Meeting

This evening, in what should have been an open, public community meeting, the alderman discussed with a few select residents a developer’s proposal to build 16 housing units across the street from the new library. The development consists of two buildings, each containing five townhouses, and one six-unit condo building. The only residents invited to attend are those who live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development.

The buildings would replace the vacant lots on Morse and Western Avenues. The exact addresses are 6911 and 6915 North Western and 2339 West Morse. A special-use permit is required for the development. Continue reading

New Info on Library-Senior Housing Building

There’s some new information that the alderman won’t tell you about but I will.

CHA has made available its “Draft Tenant Selection Plan (TSP), Lease, and other documents that will apply to resident occupancy at Independence or Northtown Apartments.” Note that the posted Lease from Evergreen is in its final form. Some of Evergreen’s House Rules may require modification or explanation.

For example, no volunteer work may be performed within any apartment. Does this include phone calls in behalf of a neighborhood group, or stuffing envelopes? No turkey frying is permitted, and neither is a turkey fryer. No candles, either. Tenants with a prescription for medical marijuana may not smoke the pot in the building. This seems unduly harsh. Forcing the old folks out into the snow so they can smoke medical marijuana for pain relief? Sheesh.

I found the pet policies interesting. Only one fur-bearing animal or two birds per unit, although tenants can have an “unlimited number of fish,” or at least as many as will fit in a 10-gallon tank. Tenants can have visitors, but play dates for their dogs or cats are not allowed in the building.

Tenants can have overnight visitors only 20 days per year.

NOTE: The public comment period began at 8:00 a.m. on June 28 and expires at 5:00 p.m. on July 28. The public hearing will be held  July 12 at  6:00 p.m. at the Budlong Woods Library, 5630 N Lincoln, Chicago, IL

 

 

A Brief Community Meeting

The alderman has called a “brief community meeting” to discuss the new library building, this time with an emphasis on the senior housing to be built on the second and third floors. The meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 12, at Warren Park at 6:30 p.m.

Since last October’s announcement that a new library would finally be built, the alderman has held three meetings with residents (November 14, March 20, May 1) to discuss plans and listen to the concerns and opinions of the library’s users, residents, and the new building’s neighbors. The first meeting lasted two hours, the others one hour each, for a total of four hours of neighborhood input.

Two surveys were distributed. One, created by the LEARN Coalition, offered the alderman, the designers, and City officials detailed information about what library users want in the new facility. The other, created by the alderman and her secret advisory committee, provided information collected largely from non-users and schoolchildren. At best, it reinforced the information acquired by LEARN. Overall, it was a joke.

The alderman has yet to tell the residents of West Ridge who serves on her secret advisory committee and why and how they were chosen. She announced on March 17 that the committee had been formed but chose not to tell her constituents who was selected to represent them in critical discussions with CHA and the designers. As I understand it, the secret advisory committee learned of the June 12 meeting when residents did. This strongly suggests that all the decisions have been made and no further input is needed or wanted from residents or the secret advisory committee.

I wonder who’ll advise the CHA on which of the alderman’s supporters should score apartments for themselves, family members, and friends. CHA has already decided to create a new applicant pool for the building, rather than select the next 30 West Ridge residents on its current waitlists. Too many waitlists, better to start over, we were told. Politics should not play a role in tenant selection, but this is West Ridge, where one-family rule has rendered transparency irrelevant.

The library is scheduled to open in December 2018, just in time for the February 2019 municipal elections, not that there’s any connection. The existing library will close in September of 2018, just as the school year begins, to allow the transfer of books and other materials to the new building. A cynic might think that the political futures of the mayor and the alderman take precedence over the futures of neighborhood children.

Can’t you just see the gala opening? Ice and snow, subzero cold, gale-force winds, frozen microphones, shivering populace standing awestruck as Power lauds itself for spending our tax dollars to build a library and public housing with working electricity and a roof that doesn’t leak? Or maybe the building will open quietly, with the gala reserved for the following Spring.

After the elections.

Libraries

I don’t like the interior design of the new library because I think it panders to our worst behavioral excesses. Library administrators seem to believe that turning places for learning into Starbucks with books will somehow improve scholarship and build community. “This is the way libraries are used now,” is what I hear. But should we exchange peace and quiet for excessive noise and bad behavior?

I visited the Chinatown library to see the new design and booked a computer for a couple of hours in the afternoon. A few minutes later, two men arrived with their coffee and newspapers, and began a long, laugh-filled talk at normal conversational levels. A young man sat with his laptop and cell phone, and began returning a series of calls while surfing the Web. People called out to one another across the room. At the Edgewater library it’s especially bad when teens are present, because their TV is blasting and they scream at one another as if they were in a park. When the kids take over after school, Northtown is so noisy it’s hard to think.

Why do we encourage such behavior? Why is it so wrong to tell people who demand safe spaces and freedom from bullying that their own behavior is antisocial? That disturbing other people is unacceptable? That running, shouting, and other behaviors acceptable outside do not belong indoors?

CPL gave up on encouraging good behavior when it allowed cell phone use and coffee in the library. I’ve listened to people discussing their HIV status, toileting habits, overdue bills, and domestic fights while they browse the stacks or surf the Web. Kids run through libraries the way they run through parks. Adults greet neighbors and carry on conversations as though they were in their own homes and not in a public place where other people are trying to read, write, or perform some research activity, whether a term paper or family tree. Libraries used to be the places one could find peace and quiet for reading and reflection. Now they’re designed to encourage conversation and raucous behavior.

Someone once said that Starbucks is where we go to be alone together, everyone in his own chair focused on a laptop or phone, latte at hand.

Libraries are like that now. Too bad.

Post-Survey Thoughts

So, where were we? Oh, yes. The alderman gave the architects the results of her library survey—the one that showed that 7 out of 10 respondents don’t use the Northtown Library, slightly more than half of respondents (52%) never even visit the Northtown Library, and 76% of the 600 respondents under age 16 voted in favor of a coffee bar but did not support space for the community to meet. She said these results would aid in designing the library we all need and want.

The alderman also stated in her newsletter that the LEARN Survey obtained similar results. It did not. It asked different questions, but even where the questions were comparable, results differ significantly. This is because the LEARN Survey was a serious attempt to gather information from the community, and not a last-minute pastiche of poorly-conceived questions designed to deflect attention from the lack of information coming from the alderman’s office.

Had the alderman been serious about gathering information, she would have taken the time to properly design her survey: First question: Do you use the Northtown Library? “Yes” respondents should have been directed to one set of follow-up questions, “No” respondents to another set. It’s more important for planners to know WHY someone doesn’t use the library than to know that non-users would like to have a coffee bar. It should not be up to the alderman, the architects, or the residents to guess at the reasons people don’t use the Northtown facility; that question should have been part of the survey. If answers are subject to interpretation, then the survey has failed its most important test: Does it tell us what we want to know?

Input from the neighborhood’s children could have been captured by a separate survey designed with them in mind. Children should have a voice in selecting books and media bought for their use, but they should not be voting on the need for a community meeting room.

Whoever thought it a good idea to have the kids take the survey in class or for homework or whatever other reason has done the community a disservice. I’m sure it was meant well, but the overwhelming number of under-16 responses means the survey’s results are distorted and therefore almost meaningless.To disregard the children’s vote is as bad as giving it too much weight. Did the alderman attempt to mitigate the disproportionate response from the youngest group when she sent the results downtown? If so, how? If not, why? Was there any cover letter outlining her interpretation of the results?  Can we see it?

The survey-takers did not include one key demographic—those aged 17 to 25. These young adults are finishing high school, starting or in college or grad school, or just beginning their work lives, seeking jobs and opportunities to help get a start in life. Only seven people in this age range took the survey, and that is simply not representative of the neighborhood.

Transmitting highlights of the survey results to the community via the alderman’s weekly newsletter was in my opinion the wrong way to make the results available. For one thing, not everybody subscribes to her newsletter; for another, those who get print copies don’t have access to the full survey results (the link to those is a “click here” function, not a URL). I had hoped that the alderman and her Advisory Board would take the time to pull the results of her survey and the LEARN survey together so that the community—and the architects—might gather truly useful information that would be fully and fairly considered as the building plans move forward. I had also hoped that the alderman would then discuss these results with residents.

Instead we got an information dump on the weekend before Passover and Holy Week, with the alderman’s Devon office closed for three of the following five work days.

Time is rapidly slipping away and I wonder if it’s already too late for residents to play a significant role in this project. If the building is to be delivered on schedule—December 2018, 20 months from now—you can bet more decisions have already been finalized than we now know. Maybe the quest for  “community input” is nothing more than the sham already suspected.

The last community meeting was on March 20, more than three weeks ago. The “many, many meetings” promised are not being scheduled. Alderman?

 

 

 

 

The Alderman’s Library Survey

Results from the alderman’s survey, released yesterday, make interesting reading.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. According to the alderman’s newsletter, “more than 1,500 people have completed” her survey, reportedly “…a broad and diverse segment of the 50th Ward” including “speakers of all the major languages spoken in the neighborhood….”  [There was a question on the survey asking which languages respondents speak, but the survey itself was available online only in English.] The alderman says that she’s “…given the survey results to the project architects, so they can use your comments and input to design a library that fits the unique needs and desires…” of West Ridge residents.

A closer look at the results reveals that:

  • 68% of respondents don’t use the Northtown Library
    • 32% use a different library
    • 36% don’t use Northtown
    • 32% use Northtown.
  • 52% of respondents don’t even visit the Northtown Library
  • 37% of respondents are over age 50 (555 respondents based on 1,500 total)
    • Their votes were distributed most evenly across choices; the only group to highly rank adult reading space and community meeting rooms as top priorities
    • 63% want an outdoor reading space
    • 56% want a coffee bar
  • 23% of respondents are between ages 16 and 49 (345 respondents) with  (2%, or 7 respondents, between ages 16 – 25)
    • Overwhelmingly in favor of children’s space and technology; fewest votes for community meeting rooms and adult reading spaces (no surprises here–these are the prime parenting years)
    • 73% want an outdoor reading space
    • 63% want a coffee bar
  • 40% of respondents are children 16 and under (600 respondents)
    • Most votes for technology, children’s and teen spaces; very little interest in adult reading space; least interested in community meeting rooms
    • 83% want an outdoor reading space
    • 76% want a coffee bar

This is community input? The alderman passed this along to the architects as what the community wants? A coffee bar chosen by children? Results determined by people who don’t use the library? Who don’t even visit? Who apparently took the survey as a classroom exercise? If we build the coffee bar, will the children come?

I sometimes wonder if the alderman is paying attention to what she’s doing. It’s simply inexcusable to present her survey results to the architects when they are clearly just plain goofy.  It’s irresponsible of her to ignore the results of the LEARN survey, which was not heavily influenced by kids but was taken by thoughtful adults trying to provide serious input on a major community project. Had she gone to the community for input sooner, she might have designed a survey whose results could have been useful in planning the new library.

The alderman should have scrapped her survey results and started over.

Unless we want 600 kids to be the determining factor in what kind of library we get.

 

 

 

 

We Need Answers from Ald. Silverstein

Alderman Silverstein needs to hear from residents about two important matters related to the new library.

First, when is the next community meeting?  This needs to be scheduled as soon as possible, since the building is scheduled to be completed by December 2018, and it’s already April 2017. If residents are going to have meaningful input, it needs to happen NOW.

Second, who are the members of the alderman’s Advisory Board? The alderman must reveal their names and affiliations and tell us why they were chosen to represent the neighborhood, given that there was no call for volunteers. How were its members chosen from among all eligible residents? Further, because this Advisory Board meets with the alderman to discuss a government-funded building, the Minutes of those meetings should also be released to the community.

Contact the Alderman via phone (773-262-1050) or email (info@50thwardchicago.com).

NOTE: The alderman continues to use a private, untraceable email account for public business. According to the official City of Chicago Web site, her proper official email address, using the taxpayer-funded, city-provided secure system, is ward50@cityofchicago.org.

As regular readers know, the alderman is not subject to FOIA requests because individual aldermen are not “public bodies,” i.e., they cannot act alone. However, emails sent or received using her City-provided email address can be FOIA’d because the City is a public body.

A secret Advisory Board. Minutes from its meetings unreleased. Public business conducted via a private email address.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?