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.



Ira, Four Others File for 8th District Senator

The Illinois State Board of Elections reports that petitions have been filed for the following candidates for Illinois State Senate in the 8th District :

Ira Silverstein
Ram Villivalam
Caroline McAteer-Fournier
Zehra Quadri
David Zulkey

All the candidates are Democrats who live in Chicago.

The next phase of the elections process is for opponents to file objections to these petitions; these must be filed no later than Monday, December 11.  If no objection is filed to a candidate’s nomination papers, the papers are presumed to be valid.

I checked each candidate’s reported campaign funds this morning and learned the following:

Ira Silverstein (Silverstein for Senator) has $89,169.57 on hand. He received $9,200 of that in November, including $1,200 from the Realtor PAC; $1,000 from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association; and $7,000 from the Chicago Land Operators Joint Labor-Management PAC. His October contributions were from lobbying groups (SEIU, AFSCME, and PhRma) and brought in another $5,000.

Ram Villivalam (Friends of Ram) has raised $40,535, all of it between November 7-11, 2017, including $5,600 from himself. Another $5,600 came from his wife, Elizabeth Granato, identified on her November 7 contribution as the Manager of Business Development for the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

Interestingly, there are numerous small donations reported to other political groups, mainly the Indo-American Democratic Organization, from an individual named Ramachandra Villivalam who lives (or lived) in Naperville. This is the name under which Ram Villivalam was employed when he worked for Brad Schneider. Ramachandra’s Naperville address puts him in the 21st Senatorial District.

Nothing wrong with moving to a district where your political chances are better. Maybe he moved after his recent wedding. However, the Indo-American group reported an expenditure of $466.52 for Ramachandran Villivalam for a “mailing” on September 28, 2017. Since Villivalam is their current president, I would think they know where he lives. This donation-in-kind does not appear on his disclosure to the State Board.

The last thing we need is a repeat of the battles of the 2015 aldermanic election, when one candidate claimed to live in the ward but didn’t.

Caroline McAteer-Fournier (Caroline for Illinois) has not reported any contributions or expenses.

Zehra Quadri (Zehra for Illinois) has not reported any contributions or expenses.

David A. Zulkey (People for Zulkey) has not reported any contributions or expenses.

The lack of funding for the latter three candidates indicates how hard it is for female and independent (i.e., not politically-connected) candidates to acquire the obscene amounts of money now required to be considered credible candidates. Huge campaign war chests are often misinterpreted as proof that a candidate has the backing of the people, when the truth may be simply that the contributions of a few wealthy individuals and groups have bought the race.

We finally have the opportunity for participatory democracy in this State Senate race.
Let’s take it.




Ira Files Candidate Petitions; May Have Four Challengers

Yes, Ira’s going to run again for Illinois State Senate for the 8th District. According to The Ward Room, he and Ram Villivalam have filed petitions for the office. Meanwhile, Capitol Fax. another online news site based in Springfield, reports that Caroline McAteer-Fournier, David Zulkey, and Zehra Quadri are also expected to file nominating petitions. Alison Leipsiger, a social worker from Skokie who was mentioned as a potential candidate, has withdrawn.

According to the Illinois Election Data Web site, only Silverstein and Villivalam have actually filed petitions.

Villivalam is a former political director for Rep. Brad Schneider. He is currently president of the Indo-American Democratic Organization. When he announced his candidacy, he noted that the district is heavily Asian-American, and has been lining up local Asian-American politicians for endorsements. He’s the self-identified ethnic candidate. Though he bills himself as a progressive, I don’t see how an ethnicity-based appeal for votes can result in progressive policies. His organization states on its Web site that it wants a seat at the table because its constituency represents two percent of the state’s population, which suggests that the interests of a small group within this diverse district may be his lodestar.

McAteer-Fournier is an advocate for children with epilepsy and former president of the Danny Did Foundation. She describes herself as “…a mom, a higher-education professional, a health care advocate, and a neighbor…” but not a politician. She’s running because of the allegations against Ira, and promises that she’s ready to fight for regular folks. She’s never run for office before, which could be a good thing. However, I don’t know that I’d want another “fighter” in Springfield. I’d prefer to vote for someone who’s willing to reason and negotiate for the common good, not engage in more partisan bickering which will ensure that the current do-nothing gridlock continues.

Zulkey is an attorney and member of the Board of Directors of the Sauganash Community Association. I could not locate a Web site for his campaign, nor any public statements about this reasons for running.

Quadri was a candidate for 50th Ward alderman in 2015, finishing third in a race that included two write-in candidates. Only thirty votes separated her from the second-place finisher in a contest won by Silverstein’s wife, Debra, who was re-elected to her second terms. Quadri runs the social services agency Zam’s Hope. She had a close working relationship with the late alderman Bernie Stone but the Silversteins terminated her agency’s contracts with the City and the State of Illinois as soon as Ira became committeeman and Debra alderman.

It’s a given that multiple candidates make the incumbent more likely to remain in office. There hasn’t been much public outcry over the claims of sexual harassment made against Ira, and neither he nor his wife have made any public statements about the charges that cost him his leadership position. I think that’s a mistake. I think they owe their constituents an acknowledgment of his troubles, at the very least, but both are too aloof from the citizens they represent to deign to say anything.

If the ethnic vote goes to Villivalam and/or Quadri, and the women’s vote to McAteer-Fournier and/or Quadri, Ira could well be re-nominated. Or forced into a run-off. Maybe there are other candidates trying to get their petitions signed by next Monday.

David Zulkey, speak to us!



Food Carts, Commercial Kitchens, and Politics

The City Council at its Thursday meeting voted to license food carts. The sponsor of the ordinance, 26th Ward Alderman Robert Maldonado, estimated that the move would create around 6,400 jobs and bring in several million dollars in sales tax revenue annually. The requirements are stiff: vendors must pay a $350 license fee every two years, have their carts professionally cleaned and serviced, ensure that carts have heating and refrigeration systems, and prepare their food in commercial kitchens. The user fee for the commercial kitchen tacks on another $300+.

The 50th Ward has a commercial kitchen, paid for with a grant from the City of Chicago. But the kitchen isn’t operational. It’s part of ZAM’s Hope, the community resource center run by former aldermanic candidate Zehra Quadri. The plan was to offer kitchen space and marketing advice to residents who wanted to turn family recipes into successful food businesses. A strong supporter of Ald. Bernie Stone, Quadri has had many funding problems since the Silversteins began running the 50th Ward. While Ira cut funding for many of her programs, Debra outdid herself in pettiness and vindictiveness after her February re-election.

Quadri needs a zoning change to allow her kitchen to operate. Silverstein refuses to provide Quadri with a letter that would allow Quadri to obtain that zoning change. As a result, a taxpayer-funded commercial kitchen sits unused. It could have offered much-needed help for food cart vendors and other food entrepreneurs in the 50th Ward, but the alderman won’t allow it. No political rival will be permitted to support entrepreneurs or contribute to economic development if Silverstein has anything to say about it. And, unfortunately, she does.

Silverstein’s economic development record since her re-election is nothing short of appalling. A proposed art center lost out to a storage facility. A medical marijuana dispensary that would have invested nearly $500,000 in property improvements AND hired neighborhood residents was not approved. A commercial kitchen that could have helped 50th Ward residents create successful, sustainable businesses was not allowed to open.

Silverstein 3, economic development 0.

And we’re only five months into her second term.



Dirty Tricks

Thank goodness this election is nearly over. The two candidates with money have also turned out to be the two candidates who told the biggest lies, repeated them often, and spent thousands to make those lies seem like truths.

That’s bad enough.

But let me tell you how power and money influenced the electoral process in this ward.

Take Pete Sifnotis. Nice guy. No money. No lawyer. Two challenges. Both scheduled at the same time. Two different places. This was no accident. This was the big guys jerking the new kid around. He’s now a write-in candidate.

Take Fuji Shioura. Nice guy. So determined not to be corrupted by money that he won’t take donations. No lawyer. Two challenges. One Board of Elections examiner behaved so badly she had to be removed. He’s now a write-in candidate.

Take Zehra Quadri. Challenged a carpetbagger with clear and convincing evidence of his duplicity. The Board of Elections waived its own rules and kept the guy on the ballot. She appealed to Circuit Court. The judge ruled that the guy had good intentions, so never mind the law. The case is now in the Appellate Court, which will not rule until after the election.

Quadri’s campaign office is located in a building which has been without water for the past week. The owner has twice called the city, and twice his requests have been cancelled by another caller. Sixteen other offices are located in this building. The city will not fix the water until after the election.

Quadri lives in one of the buildings at Winston Towers. The morning before the election, copies of Jewish News, which has endorsed another candidate, were left for every resident of the building, including nonsubscribers. But Quadri’s supporters have been told that they may not distribute her campaign literature, and residents who support her have been told that they will be fined $300 if they do–and every time they do. Building management denies knowing who delivered and distributed the papers. Building management did not order the papers removed.

Powerful interests do not want positive change in this ward. The usual suspects have endorsed and contributed thousands of dollars to the incumbent. Wealthy interests from outside the ward have contributed enormous sums of money to buy this aldermanic seat for another.

The three candidates without money have shown the highest ethical standards. The two candidates with the big bucks have demonstrated the lowest character.

Remember that when you vote.

Indo-American Candidates’ Forum

The room was chilly, the candidates a bit tired, the moderator partial to Shajan Kuriakose, and the audience soon bored. The alderman, holding to her re-election strategy of not engaging with residents, wasn’t there.

It went downhill very quickly, right after the first answer to the first question. Shajan was to give the second answer, but first the moderator asked him to speak to a specific issue as part of his response. This set the pattern for the evening, with Shajan redirected on six of the thirteen questions asked. The candidates who had already spoken were not given an opportunity to speak to the redirected issue, however, and it just wasn’t fair.

There were the usual questions about red-light cameras (no candidate supports), fiscal transparency (everybody’s for) and political corruption (everybody’s against). Should the 50th Ward have its own high school? This was a question from the WRPCO forum, and there was nothing new from the candidates.

The forum focused on the problems faced by Indo-Americans: cab drivers vs Uber drivers, illegal immigration, relations with the police, lack of English, fear of discrimination, and domestic violence. Unfortunately, all of the candidates succumbed to the victimhood mindset and agreed that it is the responsibility of the larger community to educate itself so as not to inadvertently offend those with cultural grievances.  There was no discussion of whether such complaints are valid or why the larger society may not ask such uncomfortable questions as why America’s immigration laws should be ignored or how  people who won’t or can’t speak or learn English hope to support themselves or function in a multicultural society. The god of ethnocentrism was on full display.

The solution to domestic abuse, for example, is to agree that it’s a terrible thing and then to educate women not to be ashamed to ask for help after they’ve been beaten to a pulp. It didn’t occur to any of the candidates, unfortunately, that maybe educating men in anger management might be a more effective option. The moderator was just as clueless.

After several such questions, I raised my hand and rose to ask the moderator if the topic of ethnic separatism could be addressed. He said there would be no audience participation, that the format had been decided. In other words, the format was more important than questions arising from topics or responses.

This was the second and final candidate forum. Neither presented an opportunity to create a dialog between audience and candidates. Perhaps I was wrong to expect more, but it seems to me that we go about this part of the electoral process in exactly the wrong way. Voters have a right to expect better than memorized or rote responses. At this stage of the campaign the candidates are tired of talking. The preselected questions reflect the biases of the sponsoring organizations. Candidates make statements that should be challenged, or that call for facts not in evidence, but there’s no opportunity for the voters to engage with those who would be our leaders.

Sorry. Back to the forum.

Ethnocentrism raised its ugly head again in responses to a question about remaking Devon Avenue. Zehra Quadri described her idea of turning large storefronts into indoor malls that would support new businesses until they are successful enough to move to storefronts. Peter Sifnotis noted that the ward is filled with vacancies, and Devon isn’t the only street in need of business. He spoke forcefully about the need to curb needless regulation. Fuji Shioura nailed the problem when he said that he hears complaints all the time about the lack of responsiveness from the Devon merchants to the needs of the community. Fuji also pointed out that the new Mall of India in Schaumburg is Devon’s real competition, and further reason for Devon to return to family shopping for West Ridge residents.

But Shajan again supported the idea that gimmicks like 5K runs and events geared to outsiders will revitalize Devon. He is prepared as alderman to work with landlords, business owners, community organizations, and the newly-formed South East Asian Chamber of Commerce (not to be confused with the existing and ongoing West Ridge Chamber of Commerce) to remake Devon. He did not include residents in his plans, and I don’t think this was an inadvertent omission. He is the merchants’ handpicked candidate, supported by powerful Indo-American political organizations who hope to gain control of the ward through him.  Shajan even issued a campaign piece promising to protect the merchants’ interests.

West Ridge is the only community in the city that has to fight its dominant merchant group for control of its main business district.  Nobody spoke to that.

There was one further twist. The moderator asked the candidates to combine their closing statements with their answer to the question of what they see as the ward’s biggest problem over the next four years. I’ve never been to a real debate or a candidates’ forum that ended with such a bizarre request, and I hope I never attend one again.

After the forum ended I approached the moderator to ask him a question. He rudely brushed past me, snarling “I don’t want to talk to you.” I said he was an asshole, nearly got into a brawl with his parents, and went home.





Quadri to Bring 500 Jobs to West Ridge

Zehra Quadri announced yesterday that she is opening a new business in West Ridge that will create 500 to 1,000 jobs. Quadri’s business will produce linens for hospitals in the United Arab Emirates. It will be the first factory in West Ridge to produce American-made goods for the UAE.

“I am very happy to create so many permanent, skilled jobs in the 50th Ward,” said Quadri. “These positions offer full on-the-job training, good pay, and benefits, and will enable members of our community to support their families, ensure themselves a successful future, and earn a part of the American Dream.”

“Just imagine: American goods produced by American workers right here in the 50th Ward!”

“I am so proud that we were able to create this opportunity for our community. I used my own contacts in Dubai to secure this contract. My neighborhood needs jobs, and we can build on this opportunity to open more small manufacturing facilities in West Ridge, thus  creating more jobs. We’ll be turning vacancies into revenue-producing businesses.”

Positions to be filled will include production work in sewing, quality control, shipping and receiving, administrative work, including accounting and managerial jobs, and security. She also expects to train a sales force to help grow the business.

“I’m looking at different locations in the ward to set up shop,” Quadri said. “I think that one of the large vacant buildings on Western would be good, but I haven’t decided yet.” The factory is expected to open later this year. “They are as eager as we are for production to begin.”

Quadri won the contract over competition from other countries, including China, which has been producing the linens. “There is a market in the Middle East for goods made in America. The high quality of work produced by American workers is known and valued throughout the world.”

When I spoke to Zehra she told me that the factory is an example of the kind of business mix she believes the ward needs. She said at the candidates’ forum that her full economic development plan will be available on her Web site on Friday.

Zehra Quadri for Alderman

I believe Zehra Quadri is the best qualified candidate for 50th Ward Alderman. She has the experience, the talent, and the vision to restore this ward to its former status as a political and commercial heavyweight in the City of Chicago.

Zehra knows how to get things done. She created a community resource center, Zam’s Hope, from nothing more than a desire to help others like herself.  She had no money, no political clout, no friends in high paces. But she did have one asset: former Ald. Bernie Stone. Zehra talked to Bernie, explained what she wanted to do and why, and secured his backing for her endeavors. Bernie was committed to our community, and he recognized Zehra’s work as important. He supported her grant applications. He worked with her on the programs she began offering for after-school homework help, for abused women, for immigrants new to the city and the country.

Zehra and Bernie worked together on workforce development programs to help West Ridge residents prepare for and obtain employment. He gave Zam’s Hope the contract for delivery of emergency food boxes to needy families. Until Debra Silverstein, in an astounding act of political meanness, cancelled that contract, Zehra provided food for more than 200 families each month. Zehra didn’t care about the race, religion, or ethnicity of the people she served. She cared only that they were in need.

People need to work if they are going to stand on their own two feet in this world, and Zehra decided to create a boutique clothing business that would employ immigrant women as sewers, embroiderers, and tailors. It would give them business experience and allow them to make a place in the world for themselves and their families. That boutique is successful, and has spun off a tailoring business as well.

Zehra built a commercial kitchen at Zam’s Hope so that West Ridge residents thinking of going into the food industry can develop and test their recipes. When the kitchen is fully operational, it will provide food for a small restaurant and carry-out business; customer ratings will determine which recipes will be developed and marketed. West Ridge could produce the next Graham Elliott!  All because Zehra believes that people and work are important, and that people who work at the things they love to do contribute immeasurably to their community.

Zehra also has a third business on the horizon. I won’t spoil her announcement by telling you anything other than that it is amazing! Watch for her announcement and see if you don’t agree.

She has created businesses and put people to work in permanent jobs.

She has experience as an entrepreneur, as a community activist, and as a government employee. She was manager of the grants program under Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

She has contributed enormously to the well-being of members of this community through Zam’s Hope and other volunteer activities. She has received numerous awards for her community service work, including the Volunteer Service award from the Chicago Police Department, 24th District. She has also been named its Citizen of the Year.

None of the other candidates can match her record of service to the community.

Zehra has a sound economic development plan that will strengthen viable ward businesses and create job opportunities for West Ridge residents.  She knows how to turn our high vacancy rates into tax-producing businesses because she’s done it. She knows how to turn declining businesses into success stories. She understands the proper commercial mix that will make our business districts viable again.

She has pledged to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward because she believes the community needs to be involved in decision-making that affects their lives. She has pledged a higher level of constituent services, beginning with office hours that will include weekends and holidays, since problems don’t occur on a Monday through Friday schedule. She has pledged to create an advisory council chosen by ward residents to advise her in her work as alderman, a council that will include residents as well as businesses. Most importantly, she has pledged an inclusive ward, one where every individual counts equally. There will be no more favoritism.

It’s time to get rid of the old-style politics, the divide-and-conquer strategies, that plague our ward. It’s time to throw off the special interests and put the community first. This, too, is something Zehra knows how to do.

I urge you to vote for progress, openness, and a solid record of community service, business building, and job creation.

Vote for Zehra Quadri for Alderman of the 50th Ward.



My Endorsement

Some voters are still undecided about this aldermanic election. That’s understandable. We have five candidates, and campaign mailers and candidate Web sites are full of half-truths, outright lies, and long-winded visions that are so carefully worded they are essentially meaningless. We are not living in a Disney movie but in a ward where politics this year is especially treacherous.

I do not support Debra Silverstein. She has been a disaster as alderman. If she has any ideas she’s kept them hidden. If she understands that her actions affect real people she hasn’t shown it. She’s produced some of the slickest political ads I’ve ever seen, and most of them go overboard trying to turn her minor administrative work into major success stories. She does not deserve re-election.

I do not support Shajan Kuriakose. He is the tool of special interests on Devon that are seeking political power to match their business clout. That their businesses are in decline, and some are failing outright, is all the more reason for them to pour money into Kuriakose’s campaign. They must win to keep from making the changes the community has been demanding for years.

I am also unable to overlook the circumstances under which he moved here. It seems to me that one does not seek the top leadership position in a ward after living in it for less than a year, regardless of how fond one’s childhood memories of that ward may be. I cannot overlook the fact that he voted from another ward last March, swearing that he lived somewhere else. I don’t care how often the Chicago Board of Elections chooses to overlook the evidence of its own records, something is wrong with this decision. It is a fact that the business interests on Devon invited Shajan to move here and run for office, and that they promised him whatever it takes to win. He’s had no opposition from the Silversteins, no attack ads although he’s attacked her, which is also telling.

The two write-in candidates are good men, but I don’t want to use  my vote as a protest that might put Debra or Shajan in power.

I heartily endorse Zehra Quadri. My next post will explain in detail why.

Money, Endorsements, and Real Accomplishment

The election is only one week away. The campaign ads are clogging the mail. The candidates’ claims usually bear no relation to reality. It’s called spin. The fewer accomplishments a candidate has, the greater the need to distort the truth, to make nothing into something, to use clever marketing to persuade voters to support candidates with hidden agendas that all too often are underwritten by special interests.

The truth is that candidates owe their political and financial backers. Every endorsement comes from the confluence of power and money, and the influential know how to collect what’s due. This is why it is almost impossible to change our corrupt political system. It’s also why the same people run for office and get elected over and over again.  Political office is bought and sold just like any other commodity.

Which brings us to the aldermanic race in the 50th Ward. Neither of the write-in candidates (Fuji Shioura, Peter Sifnotis) has much money. What they have came from their own pockets.  Fundraising begins at least two years before one runs for office. Political contacts must be cultivated via money and favors. It takes time and money, and Peter and Fuji were at a distinct disadvantage. Candidates with money to begin with were already knocking on doors. [Check each candidate’s fundraising reports on the State of Illinois Board of Elections Web site here. Use the search bar at the very top, above the Search by Committee box.]

Debra Silverstein has raised over $500,000 since 2010, first for her run against Bernie Stone and then in her own behalf. Her donors include labor unions, political PACs, corporations with business interests in the City of Chicago, and business owners with commercial interests within the 50th Ward. Not surprisingly, she has a laundry list of endorsements, every one of which can be tied in some way to donations or political influence.

Shajan Kuriakose has fewer endorsements, but the ones he has follow the money and influence path. For example, he has the endorsement of the Indo-American Democratic Organization, a PAC set up to support the interests of Indian-Americans. Its president is a past chairman of the West Rogers Park Community Organization, which is sponsoring tomorrow’s aldermanic forum. The group’s current chairman has endorsed Kuriakose, although he insists he is acting as a private citizen and not as the group’s chairman. That he chose to make his endorsement in a letter released on social media just days before the candidate forum is questionable at best.

Kuriakose is the candidate of the Asian business owners on Devon Avenue. It was representatives of this group that Kuriakose admits invited him to run for alderman and found for him the apartment he claims in his official residence. [See earlier posts for the history of his disputed residency.] It is not surprising that his announced priorities as alderman support their business interests over those of the community.

Neither Silverstein nor Kuriakose, for all their money and all their endorsements and all their influential political backers, can truthfully claim to have created a single business or a single job in the 50th Ward.

Zehra Quadri has no endorsements and very little money. She has only her record of service to the community and her stated intention of transforming the 50th Ward into a place that truly reflects the many cultures represented among its residents.  She truly believes that politics can and must be combined with service to the community.

Zam’s Hope, the community resource organization she founded, has created jobs and business opportunities for ward residents. She has established two successful businesses. Two more are nearly ready to open. Her commercial kitchen will provide local foodies with the opportunity to develop family recipes and test them in her new small restaurant/carry-out business. She’s created a business incubator with the potential to develop the next big food entrepreneur—right here in the 50th Ward.

Neither Debra Silverstein nor Shajan Kuriakose can say they have done the same.

If Zehra Quadri can accomplish all this from a small office on a side street off Devon Avenue, think what she could accomplish as alderman!

Zehra envisions a ward whose businesses are not limited to retailing. She sees small factories, import/export businesses, and boutique shopping experiences. She looks at our dismal commercial districts and sees streets that with the right mix of businesses could come alive again, providing jobs and producing tax revenues.

Zehra Quadri has big dreams, and a proven record of turning those dreams into a reality that benefits others. Her reward comes from seeing them succeed..

Zehra Quadri has no endorsements and no political backers. This is good. It means she will come into office with no debts to anyone except the community that elected her.

Remember that when you read your political mail.