Bread & Circuses and the Mall of India

Fuji Shioura is plainspoken. He isn’t offensive in the least, and he tells the truth as he sees it. In both recent candidate forums, Fuji said, quite directly, that a return to resident shopping on Devon is a must, and not only because the community is demanding it. Fuji said, quite simply and eloquently, that Devon’s real competition for customers will come from the new Mall of India, scheduled to open in Schaumburg in the Spring.

An entire mall devoted to traditional Indian clothing, food, arts and crafts, and cultural events, the Mall of India is expected to attract Indo-Americans from Chicago’s suburbs as well as the entire Midwest. It is expected to be a major tourist attraction, a symbol of the growing wealth and influence of Indo-Americans.

And it will lure away those customers who now come to Devon for dal and saris and a taste of home. Shabby little Devon will all but collapse once the beautiful new Mall of India opens.

That’s why the merchants are spending like mad to get Shajan Kuriakose elected. They need economic control of the ward, although even they couldn’t tell you why.  Once the mall opens Devon is toast.  Shajan told an Indian newspaper in a recent interview that his business plan for the ward includes parades, festivals, and events designed to lure tourists.  That’s not what he tells non-Indian residents, but never mind.

The merchants think business will boom if the street becomes a three-ring circus. But the tourists and the rest of their customers will be in Schaumburg.

The party’s over on Devon.

 

 

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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.

Shajan Never Voted in City Elections

Shajan Kuriakose, the carpetbagger who wants to be alderman, has never voted in an aldermanic election in the City of Chicago. NEVER. Not even ONCE.

This information came to light thanks to Zehra Quadri’s challenge to his residency. Voting records show that the man who has been busily registering residents to vote for HIM has never bothered to vote for anybody else who ran for alderman.

The man is shameless:

First, he established residency in February 2014, which is different from actually living in the ward.

Next,  he files a notice of intent to run for alderman.

Then he begins a charm offensive designed to overcome the hard evidence that he lives downtown and not in the 50th Ward. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, ignoring its own rules, allowed him to remain on the ballot. Zehra Quadri appealed that decision to the Circuit Court, which accepted Shajan’s attorney’s statement that Shajan had voted in another ward last March just because he wanted to do his duty and vote. The judge ruled in his favor based on his alleged intent, not his provable actions.

He never voted in a City election before, he never voted for alderman before, but last March his right to vote became so compelling that he just HAD to do it. In another ward.

Zehra Quadri now has appealed that decision to the Appellate Court. There will be no decision before Election Day. The stench of political influence is everywhere in this election challenge.

The court appeals made the records submitted in the Board challenge publicly available. They were obtained using a FOIA request.

Read the records carefully.

They reveal a man who is willing to lie–and lie brazenly–just to get elected.

His claims of having grown up in the 50th Ward are lies. His family left the neighborhood when he was four. Visiting relatives is not the same as living here.

His claim to have volunteered for Harold  Washington is a lie–Shajan was 4 years old when Washington ran the first time, and 8 years old when Washington ran for his second term.

His claim that he is a successful businessman is dubious. He’s also the man who forgot to get a lease for the apartment he allegedly lives in on North Albany Avenue.

His claim that he lives full-time in the neighborhood is a lie. His electric bill shows a total of $1.61 for six days of service. At that rate, his monthly bill is less than $10.

His claim that he moved into the ward in February 2014 is a lie. Records from the Board of Elections clearly show that he swore he lived in the 3rd Ward in March 2014. Was he lying then? Or is he lying now?

The proof can be found here.

Do we really want a hypocrite for alderman?

Poaching Campaign Workers

It’s easy to tell that the campaign is in the final stretch. Shameless behavior rules the day.

A couple of days ago Shajan’s fiancée, a Latina, approached one of Zehra Quadri’s top Latina campaign volunteers and offered her money to switch sides.

How much does Zehra pay you?  What? You volunteer? No pay?  Work for us. We’ll pay you $15 per hour.

The offer was turned down. Zehra’s people are passionate about their support for her. Zehra’s people want to put an end to pay-to-play politics. You can’t buy Zehra’s people. They aren’t in it for the money.

Even if the money exceeds the minimum wage.

 

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.

Racism, Sexism, Religion = One Nasty Endorsement

A local journalist has attacked Zehra Quadri in print and online for being Muslim, female, and having Arab supporters. It’s shameful. Avy Meyers and his paper, Jewish Chicago, are a disgrace. His is the only election coverage I have read that makes the candidate’s religious affiliation a criterion for office. His undisguised sexism is appalling. His racism is shocking from a journalist living in a multicultural ward.

He claims that people suspect Quadri is in league with Silverstein because she didn’t challenge Silverstein’s petitions. He does not say that his candidate, Shajan Kuriakose, did not challenge Silverstein’s petitions, either, although it’s true. Nor does he say that Silverstein had hundreds more signatures than required, that challenges are expensive, and that it’s just good political strategy to challenge rivals who barely met the signature requirements because they are the most vulnerable. He carries on about Quadri’s challenges (to Fuji Shioura, Peter Sifnotis, and Kuriakose) but does not note that Silverstein and Kuriakose challenged Peter Sifnotis through surrogates. Poor Zehra can’t even get credit for having the integrity to challenge in her own name. For shame. Good reporting means telling the whole truth.

Meyers claims that if Silverstein wins it will be mostly Zehra’s fault. He does not acknowledge that Kuriakose is the tool of commercial interests who planted him in the ward to work against Zehra and force a run-off. The ultimate goal is for these special interests to get full political and economic power over the ward through a Kuriakose victory OR to strengthen their bargaining position with Silverstein should she be the victor. While both sides attempt to sell Zehra short, they are sufficiently concerned that they needed a third entrant in the race, and Kuriakose moved into the ward last year to be that person.

Avy engages at one point in a self-serving tirade about his own integrity and not letting friendship affect his endorsements, then adds that he’s not suggesting Zehra was thinking that way. Well, no, Avy, she wasn’t. You attack her later in the piece for alleged disloyalty, but your own is wrapped in self-righteousness, not that it fools anybody.

He dismisses her organization as a “nice charity” and then slams the help Zehra provides, snidely remarking that she’s “well-intentioned,” although he uses almost the same word (“good-intentioned”) to praise Peter Sifnotis. He suggests that she is siphoning funds from what he denigrates as the “charity” she runs by questioning how she survives if she takes no salary. It is not an issue he raises about any of the male candidates: Peter is a full-time college student, and Kuriakose is not working during the campaign. Are you curious about how they pay their bills, Avy? Or just about how the Muslim woman does? He also makes an issue of Zehra’s campaign finances and claims she has the smallest campaign fund of any aldermanic candidate in the city. Peter Sifnotis, for one, has less, not that Avy mentions it. He also notes that she didn’t itemize incoming funds, as if he didn’t know that funds are reported when received, not when pledged. Sexism, anyone?

He denigrates the social service work she does by calling her organization a “charity” in the first place. Keeping Zam’s Hope running, managing its finances, supporting the most vulnerable in the community with after-school programs and housing help, creating and directing outreach programs, organizing fundraisers, seeking and obtaining grant monies, directing volunteers, creating a successful boutique and tailoring business, developing a commercial kitchen, finalizing the creation of a small restaurant–yeah, Avy, that is a “nice charity.”

He finds nothing to praise in her relations with other politicians. He attacks Quadri for having the grace to acknowledge the Silversteins as the ward’s elected officials by inviting them to her annual fundraiser. Would he prefer a display of bad manners? Contrary to what he says, she was the manager of the county grants program under Toni Preckwinkle. He’s well aware that being friendly with politicians does not guarantee an endorsement. Politicians give their endorsements to other politicians who give them money, and the money is with Silverstein, who has nearly $140,000 in reported contributions in her war chest plus a hotline to Rahm’s Chicago Forward slush fund. Zehra doesn’t have any political endorsements because she didn’t buy any. Avy knows that casual betrayals are the norm in politics, so the fact that her political friends DIDN’T endorse her may in fact be a plus. She won’t have any political debts to pay once elected.

His piece contains factual errors (Juliana is a restaurant, not a nightclub; her financial statements are up-to-date and on file) and omissions that result in half-truths and self-serving coverage. Note that Kuriakose took out a full-page paid ad in Avy’s paper, not that it influenced the endorsement.

He needs 27 paragraphs to attack Zehra Quadri, and more than 80 to attack Debra Silverstein. His endorsement of Kuriakose runs 6 short paragraphs. Even the endorsement is tainted. Continuing his race and religion-based rant, Meyers notes that Kurkiakose is a Christian and actually says: “Don’t let his being an Indian throw you, he’s an American through and through….” Personally, I’d be embarrassed and ashamed to accept an endorsement from somebody with that kind of mindset.

Avy Meyers’ paper is free. That’s about what it’s worth.

Click here for the aldermanic issue of Jewish Chicago.

Fighting for Immigrant Businesses?

I just received a very disturbing mailing piece from Shajan Kuriakose’s campaign. Let me say that I’m aware that the text can be interpreted in different ways. It’s the subtext that concerns me. The headline reads:

“As the son of immigrants, Shajan Kurkiakose knows that we are extremely invested in this community and he will fight to protect those interests.”

The text appears over a panorama of immigrant-owned businesses. The rest of the text notes that Shahan is a former small business owner (he owned a franchise but has not been more specific) and states that he “has been involved in progressive causes since he and his father volunteered for Harold Washington’s campaign for mayor.”

Let’s dispose of the Washington claim first. Shjajan is 36; Washington ran for his first term in 1983, when Shajan was 4 years old, and for his second in 1987 when Shajan was 8. It’s unlikely Shajan “volunteered” in the normal sense but he probably accompanied his father while his dad worked on Washington’s behalf. It’s simply ridiculous to claim to have been a political “volunteer” at age 4 or age 8, and shows a politician’s disregard for truth. Not a good sign.

But the piece raises a far more important question. When did it become “progressive” to pit one group against another? In this case, immigrants against the native-born? In West Ridge we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, and this kind of pandering reeks of an us vs. them mentality that is wholly unacceptable. It’s this kind of political thinking that is destroying the very idea of community in America. It also raises uncomfortable questions about Mr. Kuriakose’s true agenda.  As I’ve noted before, in his first interview after declaring his candidacy he talked about the Indian community on Devon and its need for growth, including a Diwali festival. He did not mention any other ethnic group or festivals celebrated by them.  Was this just an accidental omission from a novice candidate or did he inadvertently reveal his true focus if elected? [See full interview here.]

I find Shajan’s campaign mailer offensive. It’s not clear who his backers are or whose interests are being threatened. But it clearly has not occurred to the merchants whose “investments” he wants to protect that other merchants were on Devon before them, and that they lost their investments–and their businesses–when the current business owners decided to make Devon so ethno-specific that no other business could thrive there. Those merchants were invested in the community, too–and they lived here, unlike most of the current merchants, who live in the suburbs. By saying they will “fight to protect [their] interests” they are, in fact, signaling that they will not yield to any attempt to make Devon more inclusive or more reflective of the entire community. I find this extremely troubling.

For the record: We are ALL “extremely invested in this community,” whether we live here or own businesses here. I’ve seen property values on my block and the next one decline because of selfish business decisions imposed on the residents without any warning or opportunity for negotiation. The needs of residents have been sacrificed time and time again to the selfishness of a business community that takes and takes from the residential community but won’t give an inch to meet the needs of residents.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that the problem of failing businesses on Devon Avenue lies in an exclusionary approach to retailing that relies on nonresident shoppers and tourists rather than the West Ridge community to support the businesses. The merchants have no one but themselves to blame.

It’s the reason that Devon has become little better than a 24-block strip mall, home to 47 businesses that sell groceries but not one shoe store.

If the merchants want a fight to retain their kind of shopping, they’re likely to get it.

See Little Tyber, Part I and Part II for a little history lesson. I called it a fable but it’s a shame.