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

 

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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.