The Second Aldermanic Forum

The second aldermanic candidate forum was held on Sunday, February 10, co-sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council, and the League of Women Voters. Turnout was low, no doubt due to the weather forecast, but approximately 30 people attended. The day was very cold, and it started snowing during the event, so the hot coffee offered by the hosts was much appreciated

Zehra Quadri did not participate, citing a scheduling conflict, but she did not notify the organizers until just minutes before the forum started. It was beyond rude. The organizers, however, allowed her campaign manager, Bob Babcock, to deliver a short statement on Quadri’s behalf as part of the opening statements.

Silverstein had to leave by 3:25 p. m. so the forum was shortened to accommodate her.

Opening statements

Debra Silverstein repeated  her statements from the first forum, talking about the Devon streetscape, school improvements, and public safety  She beamed at the audience and said how proud she was to be the alderman of such a diverse ward.

The image consultants who have clearly helped her redefine herself for this election have wiped out all traces of spontaneity  and authenticity, not that she started with much of either. 

Andrew Rowlas described himself as a proactive progressive who believes strongly in democracy and community input. He noted that he has held leadership positions in several organizations and believes strongly in community empowerment–citizens should have a voice in governance. He would also like to build for the ward’s future.

The ward’s future, something you never hear Silverstein talk about. She and Ira have done nothing to create a ward organization that will nurture future leaders. On the other hand, that’s probably a good thing, since more leaders like them we don’t need.

Bob Babcock for Zehra Quadri: The community knows Zehra from her community service work. She has done a great deal  for the community. There’s still lots to be done, like economic development, affordable housing, and an end to violence.

Yes, Zehra has done a fine job helping many residents. But she has thus far been unable to expand her appeal. People need to see and hear from candidates. That’s why Silverstein poses for so many pictures. .

What do you think is the most pressing issue in the ward?

Rowlas: Lack of community involvement. He would address this initially through the participatory budgeting process.

Silverstein: Public safety. She said that crime is an issue throughout the United States, and once again referenced the Sikh temple attack in Wisconsin and the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. She also said that people are afraid to go outside because they might be arrested by ICE. Her voice rising, she proclaimed that she had organized roll calls and the entire community stood together in solidarity  against violence and against hate and for love and she was so proud to be representing this diverse community.

It was pure hokum. Silverstein reminded me of the lounge singer with the phony persona who turns in a mediocre performance but ends his act by singing “America the Beautiful” as the audience stands and cheers. The singer basks in glory, but the audience is not cheering him or even the song. They’re cheering for themselves. It’s rank emotional  manipulation but it works.

What is your plan to expand the variety of retailing options in the ward?

Silverstein: She cited “really good stores” that have opened in the ward, like TJ Maxx and Five Below, and claims that new stores and restaurants are opening. She cited Malabar Gold and Diamonds for choosing to open its first US jewelry store on Devon.  She  hopes the new library will attract business to Western Avenue but said Western is “challenging.” She also claims she has ” enlisted” the City to help her with economic development.

Eight years as alderman and she’s only now asking the City for help filling vacant storefronts and advising on economic development? Rowlas has repeatedly said he would first ask the community what kinds of stores it wants in the neighborhood, Silverstein never mentions resident input in her plans. She also did not mention the “spirited economic development plan” she promised in 2011; it has yet to materialize. Replacing one failed sari shop or  Indian restaurant with another is not economic progress. Yes, Malabar Diamonds opened, but Andrazz Jewelers closed–neither the retailing district nor the neighborhood gained anything. Silverstein also failed to address adding variety to neighborhood shopping districts. She remains clueless about what kind of shopping and entertainment opportunities residents want, and she has no intention of asking them.

Rowlas:  There are more than 100 vacant storefronts throughout the neighborhood. He would work with the Chamber of Commerce and other groups to identify businesses that residents want and attempt to attract them to the neighborhood. He views economic development as a continuous process, not a matter of celebrating the occasional store opening. 

Would you be willing to meet with community groups to discuss spending discretionary funding (menu money)? 

Rowlas: “Absolutely.”  He noted that 11 Wards in the city use participatory budgeting to allocate their ward’s discretionary funding, “and it works.” He sees participatory budgeting as a way to involve the community in decision-making.

Silverstein: She repeated her “concerns” that, even if 2, 000 people took part in the participatory budgeting process, they would not reflect the 55, 000 people living in the ward.  Instead, she encourages people to call her office with their suggestions for menu money spending. Her office compiles lists of these requests and conducts field surveys to determine which ones will be funded.

Silverstein’s response reflects her old-fashioned ward boss approach. It demonstrates that she does not understand the participatory budgeting process and that she prefers a labor-intensive focus on clerical work instead of spending her time leading the community. Why is having Silverstein and her staff choose the menu money projects more representative than having 2,000 residents choose them? The truth is that Silverstein opposes any progressive ideas that would lessen her grip on power. Her “concerns” are nonsense. 

Would you create a community planning / zoning council?

Silverstein: She claimed that she created several mini committees on economic development at the end of last summer, and has held several meetings with them. She further claimed that the committee members come from all over the ward, and that she has started to “implement” some of their recommendations. She put their work on hold until after the election so that it would not become “politicized.” 

Let’s review. Silverstein is concerned  that only 2,000 people voluntarily taking part in participatory budgeting would not “reflect” the entire Ward. Yet she has no problem with handpicking a few residents to serve on secret mini-committees that recommend projects for economic and community development. She proudly proclaims that no zoning or community development takes place without a public meeting  yet “implements” these secret recommendations with no public discussion. If these mini committees actually exist, it is highly unlikely the community will ever know the names of their members. We have been waiting two years to learn who served on her secret committee for the new library. 

Why must Silverstein keep her activities in behalf of residents secret? What criteria does she use to select the members of these secret committees? Who do you have to know to get appointed? Who “recommends” appointees to Silverstein? Remember the line, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”  Silverstein doesn’t want “nobody” either. 

This approach typifies Silverstein’s outmoded way of thinking. She prefers to address ward issues as individual problems to be solved rather than parts of a larger system has no longer works efficiently–or democratically. She prefers to keep the larger community at bay while she and a few handpicked supporters define and determine the ward’s priorities.

Silverstein then added that whenever a zoning change is requested, her “first response is, we have to have a community meeting, I have to hear from my constituents about this.” She claimed there were “four or five” meetings on the new library, at least four meetings on the streetscape and numerous community meetings  on zoning .

Even for a machine hack like Silverstein, these untruths are whoppers. See the timeline of public meetings  on the new library. Note that there was one two-hour meeting and two one-hour meetings on a building expected to endure for 30 years.The City held two meetings on the Devon streetscape, and it was clear that residents’ concerns were irrelevant. The City insisted it had traffic studies and plans for parking.

Gridlock on Devon on a Sunday afternoon. Note that vehicles block the intersection. This is Devon & Fairfield, looking west.

I live just north of the east-west alley behind Devon, and my neighbors and I tried to tell the alderman and the City that reducing the traffic lanes would drive cars and trucks into that alley. They wouldn’t listen. Dozens of cars ignore the “No Thruway” signs and enter that alley every day. It’s become a highway because drivers can’t stand the traffic jams on  Devon. Vehicles often blast through the alley from California to Rockwell, rarely signaling their presence at forks in the alleys.. Devon buses are delayed and workers arrive late, often missing connections to bus and rail lines. The street is now too narrow for buses and trucks to safely pass one another.

I have never been invited to a community zoning meeting. I have never even seen any announcement of a community zoning meeting. 

We still don’t know whether she would include the community in an economic development planning board or create a zoning committee. She chose not to answer the question. But based on her aversion to contact with or input from residents other than members of her secret committees, you know what the answer is. No, she won’t.

Rowlas: He is unaware of these mini committees or of any public meetings on economic development held by the alderman. He would definitely establish a community economic development planning board and also a zoning council. He believes that community input is necessary, adding as an example participatory budgeting, which started out small but grew as more people become used to participating in the process. Rowlas believes that leadership should come from the bottom up, not the top down, and thinks that too many things occur in the ward that people don’t know about.

I think Rowlas has offered a key insight: this community is not used to participating in civic life because the Silversteins have effectively co-opted or thwarted all attempts at community participation. It’s worth noting that the public had four hours of input into the new library, while the alderman’s secret committee had many times that. The meetings on the Devon – McCormick development were a sham, all decisions having been reached before the public was invited to give its meaningless opinions. If residents truly had meaningful input on community business, such participation would grow. It’s the last thing Silverstein wants.

How would you attract and retain businesses?

Rowlas:  He repeated that he would first work with the community to determine the kinds of businesses residents want and avoid having businesses that will not thrive in the neighborhood. He noted that a business like Trader Joe’s will do its own research to determine if this neighborhood is the right one for it.

Rowlas sees the lack of variety in retailing options as a problem, citing the more than 50 groceries and 30 beauty shops lining Devon Avenue. He said it could become an international shopping district but can be currently viewed that way only in a very narrow sense.

Where are the toy stores? Shoe stores?  Casual clothing shops? Candy stores? Art galleries? Italian and Greek restaurants? Clothing stores for kids?  Can you buy winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves? Where’s the florist? The café? Non-religious bookstore? Stationers? What if you want better-quality clothes than those available  at discounters? These things–and many more–are missing. Residents must shop outside the ward to get them.

Silverstein: She personally thinks Devon is an international shopping district. She said her office works hard to help business but that unfortunately sometimes businesses set up shop before learning that they will have zoning and licensing issues, and then her office has to help them get organized properly.

Silverstein just doesn’t get it. Buying cucumbers and cell phones from merchants from Iran, India, and Syria is not an international shopping experience. After eight years in office, she has failed to put in place any economic plan or process for new enterprises that wish to set up shop in the 50th Ward. Her hand-picked SSA has failed to work with commercial landlords to prevent them from making the same mistakes over and over and over. For example, there is one storefront on Devon that in less than 10 years has been home to four failed sari shops–one combined with a dental office–then housed a nonprofit grocery, and is  about to become a mattress and furniture store. In the last month, two other storefronts selling mattresses and furniture have opened on the next block. The alderman brags about inviting residents to special events and ribbon cuttings as business builders, but without retailing that appeals to the entire community, it’s just lipstick on a pig. “Special events” held in a parking lot?  Unique to the 50th Ward, where for some reason the parks the alderman touts are off-limits for special events. 

The differences in the candidates’ approaches could not be more clear. Rowlas wants to work with the community to create an economic development plan. Silverstein wants to fill storefronts with any business that wants to move in, and does not want any community input except for what comes from her secret committees.

How would you balance the city budget? What would you cut?

Silverstein: The big issue right now is pensions  but “pensions are a promise” that have to be kept. She thinks that new revenue could be found from expanding gambling and legalizing pot as long as proper safeguards are in place. She didn’t say what those might be. She also thinks that casinos would help the hospitality industry, filling hotels and restaurants thus generating tax revenue

Rowlas: A graduated city income tax has worked very well in New York. The state collects the money and transfers it to the city. He believes it is unfair to taxi drivers that Uber and Lyft services are not taxed, because taxi medallions are extremely expensive, yet Uber and Lyft drivers do not have to buy any equivalent. He also thinks a temporary commuter tax is a possibility. Rowlas noted that income from selling pot and from gambling is not reliable. He does not believe in taxing groceries, non- prescription medicine, low-cost clothing, or shoes.

Silverstein should read Crain’s Chicago Business on hotel building in Chicago.

How should we address the coming pension shortfall?

Rowlas: The Center for Taxation & Budget Accountability recommends issuing bonds and putting the proceeds into the pension funds.

Silverstein: Silverstein was annoyed at having to “repeat” herself and gave the same answer she gave to the previous question

Do you favor expanding TIFs to include large businesses relocating to Chicago?

Silverstein:  TIFs should be reformed, they’re supposed to be used for blighted areas only. We need more transparency and developers need to state their intentions clearly.

Rowlas:  TIFs should be reformed. He hopes Silverstein will vote against the Lincoln Yards development because that’s something the new mayor and the new council should deal with. Rowlas also thinks that a TIF earmarked for a specific project should end when the project is completed and not at the end of the standard 23-year time frame. He noted that one of the problems with TIFs is that they divert money from schools and parks and libraries.

Do you favor a City or public bank?

Rowlas: Yes. North Dakota has had a successful public bank for 100 years. It would be a tough sell in Chicago because so many banks are headquartered here.

Silverstein: Undecided. There’s only one public bank. She needs more information.

The alderman should read this explanation about the work of public banks and this article on public banks in the U.S. and internationally. 

What do you plan to do about the ward’s aging infrastructure? Lead pipes?

Silverstein:  The city needs to take action The city gives out test kits but people don’t always return them. Ordinances should be passed to ban lead and lead materials from new housing and use in major renovations. The city needs more revenue so perhaps there could be a cost-sharing program with property owners like there is with sidewalks.

Rowlas:  He was able to place a clean water referendum on the ballot last November in three precincts in the 50th ward. It received overwhelming support–more than 95%. He thinks the first step is to determine how extensive the problem is. He would then hold public hearings and develop a plan to address the issue.

What would you do to improve public transit?

Rowlas: We need to encourage the use of public transit to alleviate environmental damage and traffic congestion. Cost may be a factor. He’d like to see better ways of communicating with waiting passengers about where the buses are.

Rowlas is certainly right about the poor communication between CTA and its riders. Many of the notification systems within the bus shelters don’t work and CTA Bus Tracker is too often unreliable.

Silverstein:  She’s had many conversations with the CTA. Their process is to study ridership levels to determine where transit can be expanded. We don’t have rail transit which is unfortunate because she’d like to make it easier for people to get to Devon Avenue.

She can’t do anything to improve transit in the ward? She bragged recently that when she saw the state of Rogers school, she picked up the phone, called the mayor, and told him, “we can’t have this,” then obtained $47M million for the ward’s schools. But she can’t do that for public transit riders?  The truth is that when Silverstein doesn’t want to do anything she relies on the argument that it’s the bureaucracy that stops her. 

It was little noted at the time, but Silverstein was one of three aldermen who last year proposed expanding the #155 Devon bus to the west as far as the Metra station at Caldwell, giving more people access to the Little India shopping on Devon. But she can’t do anything about getting the #93 California or #96 Lunt to run on Sundays and holidays so workers and shoppers can get to Evanston and Lincolnwood?

Do you support the establishment of a police accountability board?

Silverstein: As a member of the city council, she just signed off on the Obama Justice Department’s consent decree. She thinks it was the best option.

Rowlas: He favors the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) largely because it’s democratically elected. He thinks that more civilian control over the police will improve police – community relations.

In August 2016, the city held various meetings on police reform in every sector of the city. Silverstein was the only alderman in our area not to attend. She scheduled a property tax appeal session with Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin for that night. She could have moved this session to another night but chose not to. She evaded her responsibility to the city and to the 50th Ward, many of whose residents attended the session. As  alderman, Silverstein is one of only 50 people who would vote on the final agreement. But rather than join her fellow aldermen at the only north side session, she chose to spend her time doing a job Larry Suffredin can do in his sleep.

Would you support ranked-choice voting  in Chicago run-off elections ?

Rowlas: Ranked-choice voting works in other cities.

Silverstein: She doesn’t have enough information to decide.

It works this way, alderman.

Do you favor reopening and expanding the mental health clinics?

Silverstein: Yes. At the time she voted to close the clinics, she was told that they were not at full capacity. She also noted that all 50 alderman voted to close the clinics.

That’s Silverstein ducking for cover from a decision she made that went bad. It wasn’t just me, everybody else did it, too. 

Rowlas: He served on the board of a mental health clinic when he lived in Indiana. Yes, reopen and expand. The matter should never have come before the City Council.

Many routine matters are handled by the aldermen. Would you support allowing City departments to make decisions on matters governed by ordinance?

Rowlas: City government needs to be reformed, not sure it’s efficient. We have too many aldermen compared to cities like New York, which has 15 council members who focus on legislative issues rather than administrative tasks..

Silverstein: No. The aldermen know their wards best.

Silverstein want to continue doing her part-time clerical job while earning $120,000 per year and collecting a fat pension if she is re-elected. 

Would you support permitting City Council committees to elect their own chairmen rather than consulting with / having them appointed by the mayor? 

Silverstein: She thinks it’s a good idea. A new mayor and new council will be more independent. She’d like to see more diversity and more women.

Rowlas: We  are supposed to have a strong council but we don’t. We have rubber stampers who do whatever the mayor wants. There isn’t a lot of deliberation. He thinks one reason for that is because the mayor has so much money in his political fund that he can help elect people who will support him.

Would you support restoring the city’s Department of the Environment?

Rowlas: Yes. Has two overall concerns, climate change and income inequality.  We need to restore this department and really look at ways carbon is emitted and how we can stop it. We need to look at ways to make Chicago green, provide clean water, get rid of lead pipes, pollution, and address health issues.

Silverstein: Yes. She also supports it for public health reasons and is proud that in our ward there are a lot of requests for solar panels.

Since the 50th Ward is so diverse, multilingual and multicultural, why is there no public art or cultural arts center to reflect that?

Silverstein: We’re about to get a “fantastic” new mural in the new library, and we have a sculpture in Stone Park, and we’re looking at getting another sculpture for Thillens Park. She’s looking forward to getting more public art in the 50th Ward.

Silverstein is so clueless about art that when the sculpture was selected for Stone Park, Silverstein mistakenly thought that the community had a choice of three sculptures and asked residents to let her know which of the three they preferred,  adding that she couldn’t decide which one she liked best. In fact, the three pieces joined together to form one sculpture.

As for adding to the sculptures at Thillens Park, Silverstein is apparently unaware that Thillens Park belongs to Lincolnwood. It is leased by the Chicago Park District. It’s the Park District and Lincolnwood that will decide what if any sculptures are added, not Silverstein.

Notice that she didn’t answer the question of a cultural arts center for the 50th Ward. Residents have been working  to secure the old  Northtown library for a Cultural Arts Center. There have been rumors for the past two years that Silverstein has already promised the building to the Jewish community for either a synagogue, a school, or a social service agency. The Indo-American Center would also like to acquire it.

There will be no cultural center in the ward as long as Silverstein is alderman. She has a vested interest in keeping the various ethnicities and religions in their silos. Getting together in a cultural endeavor could mean finding common ground politically, and this is a danger for her.

Rowlas: Art is an important aspect of the community. We don’t have anything like a cultural arts center here (in the 50th). It’s important to support our local artists and  a cultural arts center will support the community, our local artists, and put on productions that will attract others who will spend money in our retailing corridors.

Should the City support a Green New Deal similar to the one proposed at the federal level? 

Rowlas: Yes.

Silverstein: Yes.

Do you support term limits for aldermen?

Silverstein: “Elections are term limits.”

When Ira held a town hall meeting in 2016, I asked if he would support term limits for state office. He replied that term limits are elections, that people have an opportunity to vote for someone else. The Silversteins share this opinion with most machine politicians–throw us out, if you can. Well, Ira’s gone.

Rowlas: Yes, two terms for mayor and three terms for aldermen. He would also term-limit committee chairmanships. He believes in publicly financed elections to encourage more people to get involved because elections are too expensive for most people who would like to run.

What would you do about the increase in crime in the 50th Ward?

Rowlas: Relatively speaking, our community is one of the safest in the city. That doesn’t mean we don’t have crimes. Economic development would help deter crime by providing stability and jobs and an expanded tax base would help the schools.

Silverstein: There are all kinds of crimes–shootings and property crimes. She receives calls about crime throughout the city. Many crimes are preventable. She would educate people about calling the police. She intends to continue to work with the police. “I will make sure the police do their job.” There are 38 new cops this year alone. She’s advocating for more.

Yes, that’s what she said. Do you believe that 50th Ward residents are calling Silverstein about crime in other areas? Do you believe the police will slack off if Silverstein doesn’t crack the whip over them? She keeps stoking the fear that there are criminals on every block. This is nonsense. 

Do you support rent control?

Silverstein: She’s “open” to considering it but is concerned that the affordable housing stock would be diminished with rent control.

What “affordable housing stock”? Those 44 units above the library? As long as tenants don’t break the rules, they can live in those apartments until death. So what is Silverstein talking about?

Rowlas: Yes. There are ways to make housing affordable and help landlords, too, through grants and loans to maintain property..

Would you support shifting affordable housing decisions from the ward level to the city?

Rowlas: Yes. Central control would be more efficient. He thinks affordable housing should be extended to the middle class as well.

Silverstein:  She thinks there should be a “combined effort.” She doesn’t think “somebody downtown” should decide but sees community liaisons as helpful with community input.

What Silverstein means is that she’s kept affordable housing out so far, and she will continue to do so while paying lip service to affordability.

Several recently published studies highlight the role that racial and ethnic segregation play in Chicago, leading to disparities in education and job opportunities. What is the role of the City Council in addressing this issue? 

Silverstein:  The 50th Ward is flourishing. Our schools are filled to capacity and with only one exception are all rated +1. She meets with an advocates for 50th Ward school principals and there is $40M coming into the ward schools.  She’d like to see that throughout the city.  She wants all children to get the education they need to be successful.

See how she ducked the question while appealing to the audience’s pride in the 50th Ward?

Rowlas:  We need to look at how to promote more tolerance and acceptance of different groups among the citizenry. Some things are illegal, like segregation. This city is experiencing an exodus of people right now and part of this is the search for opportunity. This is a serious issue and needs a top-down approach.

Are there too many aldermen? Should we reduce the number to 15?

Rowlas: Yes. Some services performed by the aldermen would be more efficient if performed by the City. Some aldermanic functions need to be broadened to include the whole city in order to become efficient.  We need to look at our city government and try to make it ready for this century. There’s been talk in recent years of reducing the city council to 25 members but perhaps we could go lower. New York is much larger and has only 15 council members.

Silverstein: No. Being alderman is a very difficult 24/7 job and  it’s really important to constituents that they get their services and needs fulfilled. She really thinks that it should be based on numbers  so we should look at the census. She is concerned  that if we lowered the number of aldermen to15 it would take longer to get service requests in.

Yes, this is what she said. Silverstein cannot let go of the idea that service requests should go through her office. She does not accept that it’s more efficient to use the City 311 service directly. She is so bogged down by routine clerical work that she cannot imagine her office without it.  While other alderman have the time and interest to devote to cultural and economic affairs within their wards, Silverstein is focused on delivery of routine city services. This is partly a reflection of her vocational training. CPAs focus on details. Silverstein likes having power but is incapable of the broader vision required of a leader. 

Why do you want to be / continue to be alderman?

Silverstein: Loves her job, loves meeting  with the community, and loves how much has been accomplished in the last 8 years.

Rowlas: He wants to be alderman to work for the common good of all residents. He would like to break down the silos that separate us. He would hold more community meetings to discuss neighborhood issues, and would engage the community in governance. Rowlas believes we should celebrate our diversity. He also believes we should end the secretive way of operating and create jobs for the community. Rowlas believes elections should be about democracy.

How would you encourage young families to move into the ward?

Rowlas: We  have good schools. We are somewhat underdeveloped, and need to create economic and recreational opportunities. There are no places for families to socialize. There are no toy stores. He would establish those things.

Silverstein: Thinks the ward is flourishing. The schools are full and most are rated 1+. There’s just one school that fluctuates. She doesn’t want to see anybody leave the ward because of high housing costs.

Closing Statements

Silverstein: It’s an honor and a privilege to be alderman. A lot has been accomplished but there’s a lot still to do. She will continue to work with school principals, the police, and on economic development.

Rowlas: He believes in working for the common good, bridging the silos that keep residents separated. He would hold more community meetings and encourage civic engagement. He thinks we should celebrate our diversity. He would create jobs. He supports CPAC.

 

 

 

The First Aldermanic Forum

Andrew Rowlas impressed, Zehra Quadri was nervous, and Debra Silverstein tried on Rahm’s 2015 sweater at Thursday’s aldermanic forum. The format was time-efficient but did not permit the candidates to question or challenge one another’s statements. Audience members submitted written questions before and during the forum.

The West Ridge Community Organization sponsored the event and did an excellent job hosting about 50-60 residents on a cold, blustery night.

The candidates’  statements clearly reflected  their  worldview, life / work experiences, and  problem-solving approaches.

Quadri’s nerves got the better of her in the early part of the evening, but she made some important observations about the ward based on her nearly two decades of community service work through the organization she founded, Zam’s Hope. Quadri identifies problems, defines solutions, and seeks funding for programs to relieve suffering and improve people’s lives. She has worked extensively with small business owners and knows firsthand the difficulties involved in starting up and nurturing a new enterprise.

Rowlas, who has a PhD in education, emerged as a reflective and pragmatic thinker who takes a holistic approach to solving problems. He connect the dots and believes that systemic change is necessary if we are to return to more democratic ways of accomplishing our goals.

Silverstein bought a lot of professional help this time around and was accompanied by Ira, several staff members from both her office and her campaign, and a videography team. She debuted a new, gentler persona that reminded me of the 2015 election and Rahm’s campaign sweater. Immediately after the election the sweater was tossed and it was–and will be– business as usual. She had nothing new to say– streetscape, public safety, new library, blah blah blah.

Opening statements. Andrew Rowlas said that among the reasons he is running for alderman is his concern that “we have lost our deliberative democracy,” noting that while Chicago is one of the largest cities in the United States, it no longer functions well. He believes we can and must do better. Zehra Quadri detailed nearly two decades of community service work. Debra Silverstein stated and restated her three key talking points–the Devon streetscape, the new library, and public safety.

The streetscape has created a traffic nightmare that leaves the area choking on vehicle emissions. The new library is no longer “state-of-the-art” but has been surpassed by the South Shore branch, which is larger, will contain a recording studio for teens and young adults, and will  have a teacher on staff after school.

Silverstein’s obsession with police work is beginning to worry me. West Ridge consistently ranks as one of the safest areas in the City, and not because of anything Silverstein has done. Middle class communities tend to have lower crime rates overall, and most of the crimes in this neighborhood are property crimes–stolen bikes, graffiti, garage break-ins. There is occasional violence, and sometimes residents are the victims of violent crime elsewhere, but it’s the officers of the 24th and 19th police districts who keep the neighborhood safe, not Silverstein. They don’t need her advice on how to do it, either. 

Aldermanic priorities. Quadri cited education, youth and senior services, economic opportunity, and availability to the community. Her legislative priorities would include funding community programs and participatory budgeting. Rowlas would focus on encouraging civic participation through initiatives such as participatory budgeting and community councils to guide zoning and economic and community development. Silverstein would continue to emphasize public safety, education–specifically her “work” with school principals, and said she hopes  to “continue” her work on economic development. Continue? When did she start? Judging by her own newsletter, her “work” with principals consists of the annual paper-plate pizza lunch.

Participatory budgeting. Rowlas and Quadri are for it, Silverstein against, saying she has “concerns” that, if only 2,000 residents take part in the process, it isn’t “reflective” of the ward’s 59,000 residents who didn’t participate. Yes, that’s what she said. She was re-elected in 2015 by roughly 20% of the ward’s registered voters, which is not “reflective” of all the ward’s residents, either. Not all eligible residents are registered voters, and in that election fewer than 30% of registered voters went to the polls. Her argument is nonsense. She doesn’t intend to give up one iota of power and doesn’t want the community involved in public business.

Zoning.  Rowlas and Quadri support residential input into zoning matters. Silverstein said she always meets with residents before every zoning change, sometimes with the community as a whole, sometimes only with those affected by the change. Yes, that’s what she said. I’ve never been invited to any zoning change meetings, have you? And how does Silverstein know who’s “affected”?

Corruption. Rowlas sees this as  a structural problem in City government, and noted that there’s a code of silence among aldermen, with most not challenging the corruption they encounter.  Silverstein said she voted for more oversight of the City Council in 2016, and stated that with a new mayor and changes in the City Council, there would be more independence for the aldermen, adding that she wants a more independent council. Yes, that’s what she said. Never mind that she was one of Rahm’s most reliable allies, voting with him 98% of the time in the last two years. Never mind that she rarely speaks at Council meetings and simply goes along with whatever the mayor wants.

New Revenue. Rowlas pointed out that all current revenue sources are negative–taxes, fees, and fines. Quadri would seek government grants and other funding. Silverstein thinks that a casino is a possible source of new revenue and that it would also help the hospitality industry–hotels and restaurants. According to recent reports, lack of interest by millennials and market saturation are seriously affecting the gambling industry, and gambling income in Illinois has been consistently shrinking.

Aldermanic Communication. Both Rowlas and Quadri would make better use of technology to communicate with residents. Rowlas would hold more frequent meetings with the community, use his newsletter to discuss business pending before the City Council, and get community input before making decisions. Silverstein touted her weekly two-hour ward night, her weekly newsletter, and her frequent contacts with the community through “her” flu shot clinic, annual movie night, and job fairs. She noted that residents frequently approach her in the “neighborhood” Jewel and Target. The events she cited are City-sponsored, paid for with tax dollars; that she takes credit for bringing to the ward . In fact,  every ward in the city  is included in these programs . The “neighborhood stores” she mentioned are both in Evanston. Even the alderman has to leave the ward to do her shopping.

Economic Development. Quadri would invite the community to participate in economic development and planning via community meetings. She would also develop special projects and work to ensure there is more variety and less duplicative retailing. Rowlas also noted that the neighborhood does not have a wide variety of stores and only one coffee shop. He would create a community development board to find out what kind of retailing residents want and work to bring those businesses in, noting that celebrating the occasional store opening is not an economic plan. Silverstein stated that “there is no zoning change that happens without a community meeting.” That’s what she said, but it’s a lie, as demonstrated by her stealth zoning change for the parcel that would have become the medical marijuana clinic. After the City’s zoning board granted Silverstein’s wishes and voted against the clinic, Silverstein changed the zoning to “residential” without any public notice.

Affordable Housing and Rent Control. Quadri noted that affordable housing brings funds into a community and there is a need for rental assistance programs. Such measures also bring jobs. Rowlas noted that “affordable” is defined as no more than 30% of one’s income, and stated that people are entitled to housing they can afford, and that it should be “decent and clean.” Silverstein bragged that in the past eight years she has brought 44 units of affordable housing to the community–44!–all of them located in the new library. She added that rent control would have to be “greenlighted” by Springfield, and was concerned that rent control could affect housing availability. She said she wants to keep the neighborhood affordable for families, but didn’t define “affordable.”  The alderman has never attempted to create affordable housing in the 50th Ward. The new housing development she authorized on Western Avenue consists of  condos and townhouses in the $400,000-$500,000 range, well out of reach for working-class families.

Public Safety.  Silverstein bragged about “organizing” police roll call meetings, voting for the municipal ID card and against ICE activities. She cited attacks on Sikhs and last October’s synagogue shooting as reasons for concern, and even referenced the 2012 mass shooting of Sikhs. These events happened, respectively, in Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. There is no credible threat in Chicago.

I think that Silverstein’s obsessive focus on public safety results from (1) the understandable fears of the Orthodox community that it might come under attack at any moment, and (2) the fear felt by  new immigrants, strangers  in a new land whose language and culture they often do not understand.

The recent shooting of Eliyahu Moscowitz in Rogers Park magnified Jewish fears, though he was one of two victims and there is no evidence he was targeted because he was a Jew. Anti-Semitism is a powerful force, and it crosses all racial, ethnic, religious, and class lines. The threat is  real. What I object to is the alderman’s constant stoking of that fear for political gain.

Many new immigrants often perceive common American behaviors as threatening because of their own life experiences in their countries of origin. This is especially true when their children begin to cast off traditional ways and enjoy the new freedoms they have found in America.

But I think Silverstein’s obsessive focus on crime does not reflect the community viewpoint and can instead instill the belief that one lives surrounded by criminals. That’s just not so. Silverstein’s obsession with police and police activities is beginning to be a bit creepy. 

Quadri, who serves on the CAPS Board, also believes the ward is not safe, saying that people are afraid to be out after dark. Rowlas pointed out that crime is reduced by economic development, good jobs, good schools, forming block clubs so neighbors get to know one another, and community empowerment. He  recommends building police-community trust by having beat cops that neighbors can get to know.

Police Reform.  Rowlas favors CPAC (Civilian Police Accountability Council). He believes there is too much power in the Mayor’s office and too much “yielding” in the City Council. Silverstein favors the consent decree negotiated between the Obama Justice Department and the Chicago Police. Quadri would give more power to the police and “let them do their job.”

Public Bank – Yes or No? Quadri – No. Rowlas – Yes. Silverstein – Undecided.  But if the new mayor’s for it, Silverstein will be too. 

Who are you endorsing for Mayor? Quadri – No one. Rowlas – Lori Lightfoot. Silverstein – Undecided. No surprises here. Quadri has no  money so she is of no interest to mayoral candidates. Lightfoot endorsed Rowlas. Silverstein will not risk offending the next boss but will find plenty of nice things to say once she knows who it is.

Climate Change. All three candidates favor renewable energy.

CTA (specifically, extending the route  of the 49B Western bus to Howard). Quadri would meet with the community. Rowlas would move the end of the route to Howard, and review needs on each transit line. Silverstein claimed “constant conversations with the CTA” but said transit  depends on ridership levels.

The “ridership levels” argument is typical of the old way of thinking about city services. Residents need to travel to work and shopping. Public transit–an essential service–must be available regardless of ridership level. 

Retaining Chicago Residents. Silverstein said the 50th Ward is “flourishing.” She noted  that the SSA promotes Devon Avenue and that people are flocking here from all over the City and beyond to shop in our unique stores.

This is the standard Silverstein line on Devon Avenue, in use since the 2015 election. It isn’t true. In fact, there’s been a huge drop in retailing revenue in the 50th Ward during Silverstein’s tenure as alderman. A “flourishing” Ward does not have blocks of vacant storefronts and empty commercial buildings. Why Silverstein thinks the streetscape will help retain residents is a mystery. But that’s what she said

Quadri believes that residents will remain in Chicago and new residents will be attracted to the city if they have options and feel comfortable here. Rowlas said that he saw community empowerment as key, citing the need to involve residents in community development, economic planning, and participatory budgeting. He would also improve communications between the alderman and the people.

Closing Statements. Rowlas talked about building a cultural and performing arts center that would serve local residents and bring tourists and residents from other communities to the 50th Ward. He noted that people would then spend money at restaurants and shops. Quadri discussed her community service work and the need to support families. Silverstein declared that she is honored to be the alderman, has brought major improvements to the ward, cited her work with the police and the schools, and continues to work on economic development.

Candidates remained available to any audience member with further questions.

The next 50th Ward candidate forum will take place on Sunday, February 10, at 2 p.m. at the Bernard Horwich Center. It will focus on economic development.

 

Questions for the Candidates

The first of only two forums for the 50th Ward aldermanic candidates will take place tonight at 7 p.m. at Devon Bank. I have some questions for them.

For Debra Silverstein:

1.  Other than the Devon streetscape and the new library, what do you see as your main achievement for the ward over the last four years?

2.  In one candidate questionnaire, you said that no zoning change is ever considered in the 50th Ward without community input. Can you recall a single community meeting that you organized that was devoted to a zoning change?

3.  What will be your process for determining the fate of the old Northtown Library building? Please be specific.

4.  You claim that public safety is the most pressing issue in the 50th Ward. Statistics show  that the 50th Ward is one of the safest in the City. Are you overreacting to isolated incidents?

5.  There have been two serious incidents in the neighborhood in the past two weeks involving mentally unstable residents. Do you now regret your vote to close the city’s mental health clinics?

6.  You are one of 35 aldermen on the Finance Committee. You have never publicly protested Alderman Burke’s way of handling taxpayer business or his recusals because of conflicts of interest with his private law practice. Why?

For Andrew Rowlas:

1.  What would be your first priority for the ward if you are elected alderman?

2.  Would you join the Progressive Caucus of the City Council or remain an independent voice?

3.  Alderman Silverstein has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations from local businesses. Would you accept such donations and, if so, would you institute caps on the amount of money you would accept?

4.  The 50th Ward is neither politically conservative nor politically liberal but a mix of the two, with a healthy dose of political moderates. How would you effectively represent all the differing political viewpoints?

5.  What would be your first priority with regard to economic development?

6.  How would you as a former educator support our neighborhood schools?

For Zehra Quadri:

1.  You have not reported any donations or loans to your campaign. How is your campaign being funded?

2.  The services you offer at Zam’s Hope are available to all Ward residents regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. How has working with our diverse community informed your view of what this Ward could be?

3.  What would be your first priority as alderman?

4.  You have said that the ward needs a far broader retailing base. How would you persuade businesses to locate here?

5.  What kinds of innovative and creative businesses do you see moving to the 50th Ward if you are elected alderman?

6. Do you support turning the old Northtown Library into a Cultural Arts Center?

For all candidates:

1.  One of the dangers of an elected school board is that it could be co-opted by slates of candidates backed by special interests. What would you do to prevent this?

2.  The city will have to find $270M in additional funds to make required pension payments this year. Changing state law and/or the state Constitution will require too much time to be an effective solution. What do you think is the single best source of additional revenue? Please be very specific.

3. Would you support a binding referendum to cut the City Council from its current 50 aldermen to no more than 15? Please answer yes or no. Do not explain your answer.

4. Do you agree that an independent, non-partisan commission is the best way to redistrict the City of Chicago after next year’s census? Please answer yes or no. Do not explain your answer.

5.  The 50th Ward contains a diverse array of people who tend to exist in ethnic, racial, or religious silos, with little contact between them. What specifically would you do to promote coöperation and interaction between these groups?

6. We are one of the few Wards in the city without a movie theater, a bowling alley, and other forms of recreation. What would you do to bring such attractions to the neighborhood?

 

 

January Campaign Updates

January has been a busy month for the four candidates for 50th Ward alderman: Majid Mustafa, Zehra Quadri, Andrew Rowlas, and Debra Silverstein.

Candidate Forums

The West Ridge Community Organization is sponsoring the first candidate forum on Thursday, January 31, at Devon Bank beginning at 7 p.m.  All candidates have been invited to participate. The group’s announcement on its Facebook page states the forum ends at 10:00 p.m., but other sources say it will end at 8:30 p.m. No information on the forum is available on the WRCO Website. 

A second forum jointly sponsored by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council will be held in February. Details have not yet been finalized.

Candidate Questionnaires

The Chicago Sun Times, the Chicago Tribune, and WBEZ Public Radio invited candidates to submit responses to questionnaires about their candidacies and positions on local issues. Click on the links above for their responses. (The Sun-Times site is not working, although the questionnaires were accessible earlier; it appears to be under construction.)

Mustafa, Rowlas, and Silverstein filled out questionnaires for the newspapers. Rowlas is the only 50th Ward candidate who provided answers to WBEZ.  Quadri did not respond to either the newspapers or the radio station.

Challenges to Nominating Petitions

Mustafa and Quadri have both overcome the challenges filed by Silverstein surrogate Mark Tannbebaum.

On Friday, January 25, the Chicago Board of Elections will rule on  the challenge to Quadri’s petitions by Mustafa petition circulator Abdul Shaikh Rahman as well as the objections to Mustafa’s petitions by Quadri supporter Armando Ramos.

Endorsements

Rowlas has been endorsed by Northside Action for Democracy.

Quadri has been endorsed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. A video of the endorsement is posted on her Facebook page.

Fundraising (all figures from the Illinois Sunshine database) 

Mustafa has loaned his campaign $85,603.04. He has not reported any donations, but has a cash-on-hand balance of $171,206.08. It appears that his loan has exactly doubled in size, which could be a reporting error.

Quadri has not reported any donations and has not yet registered her campaign committee with the state of Illinois. The only active committee supporting her is the committee established for her run for state senate last year. It shows a balance of $40.01.

Rowlas reports total receipts of $2,891.29.

Silverstein has received $192,625.67 in donations, much of it from labor and business PACs.  She also received $20,000 from Rahm Emanuel, who gave that sum to all of his most loyal City Council supporters, and a total of $1,000 from two separate donations (August 2018 and July 2017) from the S4 PAC, the political action committee of The S4 Group, the lobbying firm formerly headed by our newly-appointed state rep, Yehiel Mark Kalish.

Reclaim Fair Elections.org has created a database that maps donations to incumbent aldermen by ward. Click here to see where Silverstein gets her money.

The Illinois Sunshine database is easily searchable by candidate and by donor. Be sure to click on “All Donations” or “All Expenditures” to see the most recent transactions in both categories. If you want to know who else a donor gave to, click on the donor’s name on the far left side of the page.

Websites

Majid Mustafa -none found
Zehra Quadri – none found
Andrew Rowlas – https://www.rowlasforward50.com/blog
Debra Silverstein – http://www.debrasilversteinforalderman.com/index.html

 

 

50th Ward Candidates Forum

The West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) is sponsoring the 50th Ward Aldermanic Candidates Forum on Thursday, January 31, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Devon Bank.

At this writing, Andrew Rowlas and Debra Silverstein are the only candidates on the ballot. Both Majid Mustafa and Zehra Quadri are awaiting decisions from the Chicago Board of Elections on challenges to their nominating petitions. Both were challenged by Silverstein surrogate  Mark Tannbebaum; the Board is scheduled to make a final decision on those challenges  on Saturday, January 19.

The challenges to Mr. Mustafa’s petitions by Armando Ramos and Ms. Quadri’s petitions by Abdul Shaikh Rahman have not been settled.

I understand there will be a second candidates forum sometime in February, sponsored jointly by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and the Jewish Neighborhood Development Council (formerly the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park).

 

Ballot Order for 50th Ward

The lottery for first and last ballot positions conducted by the Chicago Board of Elections determined that candidates for 50th Ward alderman will be listed on the ballot in the following order:

Debra Silverstein

Andrew Rowlas.

Majid Mustafa

Zehra Quadri

Mustafa and Quadri first must overcome signature challenges to remain on the ballot.

The election is February 26, 2019.

More 50th Ward Challengers

This is what happens when I go to sleep. Last night there was one challenger to Zehra Quadri’s nominating petitions. This morning there are two, along with two new challengers to Maajid Mustafa.

Armando Ramos and Mark M. Tannbebaum have both filed objections to Mr. Mustafa’s petitions.

Mr. Ramos, as many of you know, is my nephew. He and Mr. Mustafa  have been enemies since Mr Mustafa changed his testimony during the Berny Stone vote fraud scandal that sent Mr.  Ramos to jail for a few weeks. Mr Mustafa was not prosecuted even though he admitted to taking absentee ballots to his home and “completing,” stamping, and mailing them. That would make me mad, too.

Mr. Tannbebaum is unknown to me, but is undoubtedly acting in someone else’s behalf, especially since he has also challenged Zehra Quadri’s petitions. Gee, I wonder who’s hiding behind him.

It’s interesting that Andrew Rowlas was not challenged. Apparently Debra Silverstein thinks he’ll be easy to beat, since she has nearly $200,000 in her campaign fund and Mr. Rowlas has less than $2,000. This signals another campaign-by-mailer from Silverstein. You’ll recall that in 2015 she refused to meet in debate with her opponents, citing the presence of unworthy beings known as write-in candidates on the same stage as Herself. Her strategy is simple: she can’t be asked to explain her poor job performance if she’s not there.

Rowlas and Quadri did not launch any challenges, directly or indirectly. That speaks well for them. They prefer facing their opponents in an honest and open campaign focused on the issues to wasting time and money in a bruising pregame battle.

The 50th Ward deserves better than shenangans like this.

 

Objections to Quadri Signatures Filed

Today was the first day to file objections to candidate nominating petitions.  As expected, signatures filed in behalf of Zehra Quadri have been challenged.

The objector is Abdul Rehman Shaikh, a petition circulator for Majid Mustafa, the only one of the four 50th Ward aldermanic candidates who does not yet have a campaign committee. Forgive me for asking  how his operation is being funded.

The point of objections to petition signatures is to harass other candidates, forcing them to spend precious campaign dollars on legal help to get on the ballot.

You may have heard that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle planned to object  to 14,000 petition signatures for fellow mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza.  Former 50th Ward aldermanic candidate Shajan Kuriakose is one of the objectors to Mendoza’s petitions. He’s also filed objections to signatures for Lori Lightfoot, another Preckwinkle target. And he’s filed objections to signatures for two little known candidates for mayor, Catherine Brown D’Tycoon and Conrein Hykes Clark. Busy man.

I wish candidates had the guts to file their own objections. This business of hiding behind surrogates doesn’t fool anyone.

The dates for the challenges to be heard have not yet been determined. Stay tuned.

 

Quadri, Mustafa File for Alderman

Zehra Quadri and Majid Mustafa filed petitions yesterday to become Alderman of the 50th Ward. They join Andrew Rowlas and Debra Silverstein as potential candidates for alderman.

To secure a place on the ballot, all four must survive challenges to their nominating petitions. Such challenges can be  filed by the candidates themselves or private citizens acting on their own or, as is common, acting as surrogates for candidates who prefer not to be seen as blocking opponents before they can appeal to the voters.

Ira Piltz did not file any nominating petitions although he had announced that he would run. I have heard that there was concern that his running would split the Orthodox vote and result in a non-jewish alderman for the ward. Such an event has not occurred more than 70 years. Although the Jewish community is only about 30% of the ward, it accounts for approximately half the ward’s voters.

Objections to nominating petitions are due on Monday, December 3.  If no challenges are filed to a candidate’s petitions, and the petitions are found to satisfy all legal requirements, that candidate’s name will be placed on the ballot for the February election.

Defending against petition challenges is time-consuming and expensive, requiring the challenged candidate to pay attorneys fees for representation before the Chicago Board of Elections. Although challenged candidates can defend themselves, it’s not a good idea, since they are up against skillful, well-paid attorneys who are generally in the employ of experienced,  well-funded campaigns. This tactic depletes the already scant funds of those who challenge incumbents, and is yet another reason why the same people keep getting reelected, no matter how poor the job they do.

I’ll have more to say about each candidate as we move through this week.

Objections, Objections

Formal objections have been filed to the nominating petitions of each of the five candidates in the 8th District senatorial contest. Objectors don’t have to admit that they are objecting in behalf of another candidate, and the candidates themselves rarely deign to be so open with the public.

Then there’s Zehra Quadri, who filed objections to petitions for  Ram Villivalam and Caroline McAteer-Fournier in her own name. Good for you, Zehra, it shows integrity and courage. Leaders lead.

Three candidates are being opposed by ordinary citizens acting on their own. Nobody’s frontin’ for nobody, as we say on the south side. If you want to sift through 1,000-3,0000 signatures (the legal minimum and maximum for the Senate position; the required totals are higher for independent, i.e., non-party, candidates), looking for “gotcha!” moments,  that’s your right.

Rulings on objections will occur next week. Losers will have the opportunity to seek judicial review if they believe the State BOE made the wrong decision. If there are no appeals to the judiciary, then the Board’s decisions stand.

Petitions were filed by Ira Silverstein, Ram Villivalam, Zehra Quadri, Caroline McAteer-Fournier, and David Zulkey.