News from Working Aldermen

The problem with the Alderman’s weekly newsletter is that it never contains any news. It’s a rehash of events taking place everywhere in the city except here. No events take place here without her approval, and she doesn’t approve of anything unless she controls it.

Debra never tells us what’s going on in the City Council, even the committees on which she sits. After 10 years as alderman, she doesn’t consider City business to be any of our business.

So I’ve decided to publish an alternative Ward newsletter that will actually contain news that Ward residents can use. First, let me give you some examples of what I hope to accomplish.

The following is the kind of information that I think a good alderman provides his or her constituents. These are the opening paragraphs of 49th Ward Ald. Maria Hadden’s current newsletter:</p

“This week our city and our ward were again rocked by gun violence and loss. My condolences go out to all of the loved ones of those lost this week. Since May, I’ve had dozens of conversations with individuals, groups of residents, community organizations, the 24th District, and other neighborhood partners about how we can address the violence and build a safer and more connected community. Solving systemic issues isn’t easy work in the best of times; during this pandemic, it is daunting. I know that many of you are scared, angry, sad and frustrated by the situation we’re all in. You’re not alone in this. Some of you demand more police for security, some of you demand we defund police and redirect resources to other services. I don’t know what the exact solutions are, but what’s clear to me is that what we’ve done in the past hasn’t been working. I also know that everyone wants to feel safer in their homes, walking down their street and being out in our ward. I want that for us too. And in working on solutions, I am trying to find a balance.

“In service to those goals, my office has convened an Anti-Violence Table for our ward to work on reducing violence and increasing community safety. The Table currently consists of several community organizations and we’re in the process of bringing in residents, businesses, schools and parks. We are currently focusing on gun violence reduction in the Howard St border area with Evanston, as that is where many of our most recent shootings have taken place, but the work will not be exclusive to this part of the ward. Solutions that are going to stick and show results must be rooted in community and designed and implemented with the inclusion on [of] the people most impacted by the issue. This is why we’re taking a hyper-local approach as we begin. Thank you to the people who have taken time to speak with me over the last several weeks on this issue. We will share updates from the group on a monthly basis.

“This week I met with a number of our neighborhood community organizations to work on anti-violence planning, worked through a 7-hour Zoning Committee meeting, met with small businesses  to talk about the impact of reopening rollbacks, spoke with real estate professionals about ordinances that impact them that passed Council this week, spoke up for accountability and transparency against the Green Settlement…, saw my first piece of legislation pass City Council with the passage of the Senior Housing Ordinance, am hosting another free COVID-19 testing event, and spoke on Chicago Tonight about the CPS reopening plan. We also have a new 24th District Commander, Joseph Brennan. My office will be requesting he join us for a 49th Ward Town Hall for you all to be able to meet virtually meet him and engage.”

This is the kind of clear, concise report we should receive on a weekly basis from Silverstein. Instead, she pads her newsletter with the kind of photos more suitable for a family album in an attempt to con us into thinking that she’s working. Notice that Maria not only told her constituents about the new police Commander but she also immediately sought to organize a virtual town hall meeting so the commander and the residents could “engage” with one another. Silverstein mentioned in her last report that there was a new commander and gave his name, but there’s no payoff for her in arranging a virtual Town Hall–there’s no opportunity for photo ops that she can use in her political mailings.  We all know that if you want her attention it’s best to wave a camera in her direction. I wouldn’t hold my breath while waiting for a virtual Town Hall with the new Commander– or on any other subject. 

Crime

Again, a thoughtful crime report from Maria (I was unable to reproduce the charts or their link. To see the charts, type CPD reports in your browser. Go to Area 3. Remember that the 24th district results include data from the various wards or parts of wards that make up the 24th district. ) :

“I’ve heard a lot of folks comparing what we’re experiencing now to a year or two years ago, sharing that things feel more dangerous and wondering about the cause for the change. The complaints and concerns we get in the office and those I see on social media often look for simple explanations in an effort to make sense of the chaos. I want to address some of the concerns and start with sharing where our District is on on crime statistics according to the CPD reports.

“You can see from the report for July 13-20 that, year to date, we are seeing a moderate increase in some violent crime (murder and aggravated battery), an increase in shooting incidents (from 15 to 26), and an overall decrease in total crime. The second chart shows you historical comparison of the stats for years 2016-2020 to give you better context of year to year changes for the same time period.

“Here’s the same data for the same time period for the City of Chicago overall.

“Another question that has come up in recent weeks is whether or not we have fewer police resources this year than in previous years. The answer is, it’s complicated. You can compare month to month changes using the charts here, but the average number of officers assigned to the 24th District for 2018 was 294, for 2019 it was 298, and to date this year it is 293. District assignments are constantly in flux and, based on available data, there isn’t a clear pattern of what to expect any given month. One thing is known, and that is that these numbers show official assignments, but police are frequently shifted to other temporary duties based on needs determined by the Superintendent. The tables below show the District assignments for all months/years available from the Inspector General’s Public Safety Dashboard. You can find other valuable data here like Complaints, Tactical Response Reports, Arrest Data, and more.

8/2019 – 7/2020 (last 12 months)
2020 – 7 Month Average – 293

2019 – Average 298 Officers
2018 – Average 294 Officers
2017 – Partial, Average 267 Officers

So What’s Really Happening?

“What we are seeing is unquestionably a result of the fact that we’re all living through a global pandemic. None of us has been through this before and the way it’s affecting us as individuals is only eclipsed by the way it is impacting our society. The loss of lives and livelihoods has been tremendous. Our local and national economies are forever changed and the immediate impact is directly seen in our neighborhoods. Now, more than ever, we need creative problem solving, block-level organizing and compassion. We have an opportunity to identify and lift up values as we build solutions to problems, old and new. We have an opportunity to make all of this loss mean something. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve our ward and our city during this trying time.”

Imagine having these in the 50th Ward:

“… creative problem solving and block-level organizing. “

Ald. Waguespack  published a list of armed street robberies  with addresses and times of the crime  in his latest newsletter.  This is a real public service. Silverstein is too lazy to compile such information. If she did, it would shatter the carefully nurtured illusion that West Ridge is a peaceful kosher Mayberry rather than an urban neighborhood.

What about involving the community in a response to Covid-19? While Silverstein chose to go it alone, shutting residents out, look what the 49th Ward did:

“The Rogers Park Community Response Team is an action-oriented group created in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. RPCRT was created by 49th Ward Alderwoman Maria Hadden in coordination with local service providers and community organizations. Partners include IL State Representative Kelly Cassidy, Protect RP, Northside Community Resources, Loyola Community Nursing Center, and hundreds of deeply committed community volunteers.

“We are working together to support each other. We will do so, to the best of our combined ability care for all of our RP family, with fierce love and compassion. We want every Rogers Park resident to know that you are cared for and not alone.

“Contact us at rpcrt49@gmail.com or call our Support Hotline at 773-831-7668. Volunteers are available to answer your questions and direct you to resources now.

“Please also take a moment to look at the Rogers Park Community Response Team’s robust website, rpcrt.org. This website acts as a centralized location where a variety of resources can live to help residents in the wake of COVID-19.”

City Council

For City Council news  I always read the newsletters from Maria’s 49th Wand and those of the 47th Ward and  the 32nd Wards (Ald. Matt Martin and Ald. Scott Waguespack, respectively). Their combined newsletters  give up-to-date information  on  proposed ordinances as well as those that have passed the City Council . Each provides a different perspective.

All are smart aldermen committed to the improvement of their wards for the benefit of their constituents. They are not afraid to report to their constituents on what is happening in the committees on which they serve.

Debra tells us nothing, unless she can praise herself in some way. Regular readers will remember that she attended barely half of City Council and committee meetings during her last term.

The following is from Matt Martin’s current newsletter:

“City Council met this past Wednesday and passed several ordinances which will benefit our community both now and in the future. One such ordinance, championed by the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and co-sponsored by me, will help improve the safety conditions in our larger senior housing facilities by mandating more frequent health check-ups as well as assistance with grocery shopping and obtaining medication. City Council also passed an ordinance that extends the time frame within which a renter must be notified of a rent increase or a lease non-renewal, as well as an ordinance that reduces the fine and types of alleged offenses for which the city can impound a vehicle.”

 These ordinances are important for City residents to know about. So why won’t Silverstein tell us about them?</em>

I could go on and on but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I will be synthesizing information from these and other sources to keep West Ridge residents informed of taxpayer business and other matters the alderman declines to inform us about.

The aldermen I’ve cited also provide opportunities for residents to serve the community, another Silverstein failure. She is too afraid that sharing her power would lead to its loss. As long as she keeps her core constituency happy, she has nothing to fear.  She can remain in power indefinitely, pulling down her $10,000 per month salary and retiring on her generous $80,000 per year pension. In the last election she had a serious challenger from within the Jewish community.  He dropped out before the race began. I said at the time that it was my belief that Jewish Community leaders were dissatisfied with her performance but that she cut a deal with them for another term so she could get her pension.

Meanwhile, the laziest alderman in the city will be riding off into the sunset, well compensated for having accomplished nothing in 12 years of “service.” She’ll be paid in retirement exactly as much as those aldermen who worked hard for their constituents. It’s a shame. Taxpayers should demand that the pension rules for aldermen be reviewed and reformed on the basis of Silverstein’s windfall alone.

The alternative 50th Ward newsletter will make its debut in August 2020.

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

 

The Alderman’s Private Email: Comment and Response

I’m always happy to hear from readers, whether they agree or disagree with what I’ve said. It’s that ongoing conversation that makes writing this blog such a rewarding experience.

Yesterday I heard from Chuck, who commented on my post about the alderman’s private email account and Web site. He wrote:

“You sound like a very bitter organization. You also sound like a an organization trying to oust Democratic elected officials. Alderman Silverstein is all over the 50th Ward map attending events, parties, funerals, business openings, business forums, CAPS meetings, etc.. She hosts countless information gatherings for her constituents, and is constantly doing her best to take care of peoples issues within the Ward. Her husband Senator Silverstein also attends most of events as well. From my experience, her office has helped me on multiple issues of which I’m thankful. Alderman Silverstein is an open book regarding her activities because she works tirelessly and is continuously out and about in the 50th Ward. I suggest you stop your baseless fear mongering. It’s tiresome, tedious and provides no value to the 50th Ward. Thank you for allowing my input.”

I appreciate that Chuck took the time to write, and think I understand his POV, but I respectfully disagree. My response follows:

I’m glad you’ve had positive interactions with the alderman. I do think, though, that you rely too much on the weekly photos of her attending events throughout the ward as evidence that she’s doing a good job. I don’t fault you for that. I’ve always said she excels at the ceremonial aspects of being alderman. There’s nobody better at ribbon-cutting, posing with smiling children, or standing behind a lectern introducing guest speakers at seminars that attract only a handful of residents. It’s the more substantive work—leadership—that is clearly beyond her abilities or interest. It can’t be measured by photo ops.

The point of my post is that there is no reason for any alderman to have a private email account or Web site to transact the people’s business. The real issue is transparency: The City-provided systems are subject to FOIA requests, the private systems are not. You may not care how government works as long as you get what you need in city services when you need it. But it’s precisely because people don’t care about the mechanisms of government that our political system is so corrupt.

When those mechanisms are fully accessible to the public, voters get the facts about how the system really works. We can see how elected officials arrive at the decisions that affect our daily lives, something we can’t do when officials use private emails and Web sites that may collect, track, and store our private information without our knowledge or consent.

Overtaxed citizens are already paying for secure email and Web sites via the taxpayer-funded City system. It’s outrageous that we’re also paying through expense account reimbursements for private systems designed to keep the public’s business hidden.

There’s no hope for political reform in Illinois if people remember the pictures but don’t care about the stories behind those photo-ops. Our political system counts on voters to do just that.