No Mind of Her Own

Have you received the alderman’s first campaign mailing? It purports to be the 50th Ward newsletter, but it’s actually a campaign puff piece designed to make Debra look like an effective alderman. It’s filled with her signature blend of half-truths and outright distortions. Twelve of the fourteen photos in its four pages prominently feature Herself; three of those photos show her posing with cops to reinforce her image as the law-and-order alderman. She even stoops to printing a picture of herself addressing one of the prayer services for Eliyahu Moscowitz.

I received my copy of this travesty yesterday, the same day that former alderman Dick Simpson and his team at UIC released their latest report on what they have dubbed our “rubber-stamp” City Council. Silverstein is a charter member of that group. During her first term, she voted 100% of the time with the mayor. During her second term, she has voted with him  96% of the time.

In effect, the 50th ward has had no independent representative in the City Council.  The mayor has always owned Silverrstein’s vote. That’s not surprising. The Illinois Sunshine Database lists committees tied to the mayor as Silverstein’s main funding source. Since her first campaign in 2010, Silverstein has accepted nearly $100,000 in contributions from Rahm, the latest coming just a few weeks ago. Debra and other aldermen who faithfully supported Rahm were rewarded with $20,000 checks at a special luncheon.

It’s another reason to vote against her in the current aldermanic race. We need an alderman who responds to the people who live in this Ward, not an alderman who gets her marching orders from the 5th floor at City Hall.

Look at the current crop of candidates for mayor. Who will be Silverstein’s master should she win reelection?

I find this first campaign piece so offensive that I have decided to resurrect the Follies Truth Squad. Silverstein’s dubious assertions and outright falsehoods cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

Watch for posts beginning this weekend.

In the meantime, recognize her mailing for what it is, a puff piece without substance for a candidate without accomplishments. In this case, the pictures don’t tell the story.

 

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Community Still Being Misled on Library Housing

Alderman Silverstein proudly announced yesterday that 50th Ward residents could add their names to the waitlist for the new 30-unit CHA housing above the new Northtown Library.

It’s what she didn’t say that’s important.

Both the alderman and the CHA have consistently misled West Ridge residents about their opportunities to move into the new housing ever since the project was announced in October of 2016. In truth, unless a 50th Ward resident is already on the CHA waitlist, there is virtually no possibility that an apartment in the new building will be available. Even then, the chances are slim. Both the alderman and the CHA director were reluctant to admit that, by law, the apartments would be assigned first to those couples and individuals who had spent the longest time on CHA wait lists for senior housing.

[In fact, anyone who had been a CHA resident in October 1999 and qualified under the CHA’s “right of return” policy would be given priority as a resident of the Northtown Apartments.  See the following Follies posts: July 10, 2017; June 7, 2017.  Note that referenced CHA documents are no longer available online.] 

I raised the question of tenancy at the very first public meeting with the alderman and  CHA Executive Director Eugene Jones. The response from Jones was instructive. He bowed his head, rubbed his chin, and said that he assumed residents would want the housing for seniors already living in the 50th Ward. The audience agreed. Silverstein stood silently. But it  wasn’t clearly stated until the final community meeting, held at the Budlong Woods Library, that CHA could not reserve the housing for 50th Ward residents. Only two 50th Ward residents attended this final meeting: John Kane, then-president of the West Ridge Community Organization, and me. The transcript of that meeting is no longer available on the CHA Web site.

Fourteen apartments were added to the original plans. They are under the control of the developer, not CHA. Jones stated at one community meeting that tenants for those apartments would be selected by the alderman and the community. I wondered at the time why the aldermen should have any input, and questioned whether political influence should have any role in tenant selection.

The alderman’s statement in her December 7 newsletter  does not  refer to an application process  for those fourteen apartments.  This raises the question of whether or not those apartments have already been leased and, if so, by whom and how.

I have not seen any announcements of an open application process for these fourteen apartments, and it’s less than two months before the building is to open. But this is in keeping with Silverstein’s policy of not discussing public business with ward residents. For example, we still don’t know the names of the members of the secret committee that advised her on the library building, nor have any minutes of their meetings or notes from their deliberations been made public. It might make you think no records were kept.

The existing library is now scheduled to close December 17. The community will be without a library for six to ten weeks. We are told this is because of weather-related delays in constructing the new building. You’d think a city that’s constantly under construction would have been better prepared. My guess is that the delay is really caused by the alderman’s need to gain as much political advantage as possible from the building’s opening. Think of all the pictures! The alderman cutting the ribbon, greeting the new senior tenants, welcoming children, touring the facility, posing with happy residents. Imagine how many extra votes that could mean.

FYI: Average wait times for CHA buildings for seniors run from six months to ten years, depending on the building. This estimate comes from a listing of wait times for CHA senior buildings from January 2018 that I was able to access but whose link could not be copied. There is no information on wait lists for senior buildings on CHA’s Web site.

View my video of the press conference announcing the new library / CHA building and my Oct. 22 post, “Whose Library Is It Anyway?”

Read my post of November 15, 201 6, “People Power and the New Library,” for more background.

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.

 

Tragedy and Grandstanding

There’s nothing like an alderman so crass that she exploits fear, grief, and mourning to help herself get re-elected.

The Jewish community is reeling from shock, grief, and fear over the murder of Eliyahu Moscowitz, one of two men murdered by an unknown killer in Rogers Park last month, and the synagogue killings in Pittsburgh. And Debra Silverstein both shares and exploits those emotions. She cannot do enough to comfort and protect the Jewish community:

  • Special bulletins were issued by her office providing updates on the hunt for Mr. Moscowitz’s killer.
  • The alderman attended his funeral.
  • A special “community safety meeting” was called on Oct. 4 so residents could hear top police brass discuss progress on the case and measures undertaken to ensure the safety of the Jewish community and its synagogues. [City officials stated that there were no overt threats. Nor is there any evidence that Mr. Moscowitz was targeted because he was Jewish.]
  • At the alderman’s request—or so she implies–police patrols were increased in the 50th Ward on the morning of the Pittsburgh shooting, with police visiting each synagogue and offering condolences and protection in addition to the police squads stationed outside the synagogues during the Sabbath.
  • The neighborhood was invited to an outdoor police roll call and prayer service for the eleven people killed at the Pittsburgh synagogue. (The roll call was canceled after the officers stood in formation for awhile because they had to get to work.)
  • The alderman’s newsletter featured four photos of the roll call/prayer service, two of which featured the alderman. .
  • The alderman has just announced another outdoor roll call, this one for Nov. 7 (today) on the 3600 block of Devon, and has invited residents to attend, adding that they will also have an opportunity to meet the new police commander of the 17th District.

Contrast all this with Silverstein’s actions in 2016, when two men were murdered in three days on Devon Avenue.

  • Silverstein dismissed the murders in her newsletter as “some shootings.” Both victims were men, one shot in a domestic dispute, the other executed gangland-style as he sat in a car outside a liquor store less than two blocks from Silverstein’s office
  • There were no bulletins on the hunt for the killers.
  • Silverstein did not attend the funerals.
  • There were no community safety meetings. No police brass were asked to address the community. No one—not the alderman, not the police—assured residents in the surrounding area that they were safe, or that extra measures were being taken to protect them. Yet we were scared, too.
  • The alderman did not call for or suggest increased police patrols in the area.
  • There were no outdoor police roll calls.
  • There were no photos of the alderman comforting frightened neighbors.

The lives of these two young men were no less valuable than that of Mr. Moscowitz or the Pittsburgh victims. Their life choices may have led them in very different directions, but they, too, were someone’s sons. They, too, had family and friends who mourn their loss. They, too, left a stunned and frightened community.

We all live in an increasingly unsafe world. While Jewish communities rightly and understandably have special concerns, having been targets for millennia, murder is a horror that terrifies every person and every community everywhere. One of the requirements for public servants is that they show compassion and understanding for every member of the community. It’s the art and the act of leadership. .

Silverstein is clearly exploiting the recent tragedies affecting the Jewish community for political gain. She has put her re-election first. Enough with the outdoor roll calls and photos of herself intruding on police business. This isn’t leadership.

Grandstanding is not the next best option. Taking photos at prayer services for later use in re-election materials is appalling.

Someone should tell Silverstein.

 

It Pays to be a Friend of Rahm

Ald. Silverstein has received a $20,000 donation from Chicago for Rahm Emanuel, the mayor’s fundraising operation for his now-abandoned campaign for reelection. The mayor, who announced earlier that “..no friend gets left on the field,” rewarded his most loyal City Council supporters with the donations  at a luncheon last Wednesday.

Alderman Silverstein, always quick to tout her relationship with the Mayor, failed to mention the gift in her Friday newsletter but immediately deposited the funds and now has almost $171,000 in her reelection coffers.

Since her first race for alderman  in 2010, Silverstein has received nearly $90,000 from three committees tied to the mayor.–and they are three of her five largest donors.  The “New Chicago Committee” gave her $49,523 in 2011, while the  “For A Better Chicago PAC” donated $20,200. Now “Chicago for Rahm Emanuel” has given her $20,000.

[The other two major donors to Silverstein are “Unite Here TIP State & Local Fund”($42,464) and “Unite Here Local 1″($28,269), for a total of $70,733.]

The mayor was frank about rewarding the more than two dozen aldermen who consistently gave him their votes. Because this is Chicago, no list of awardees was issued. But why should such a proud accomplishment be shrouded in secrecy?

Debra has certainly benefited politically from her near-total support of the mayor over the last eight years. In exchange for her unquestioning devotion to the mayor, the 50th Ward has a new library, and the Mayor was here last week to pose for photos alongside Debra while breaking ground for improvements to Armstrong School and announcing an annex for Rogers School.

Silverstein supporters will argue that the 50th Ward has reaped real benefits from Silverstein’s abandonment of  her responsibility to her constituents. Silverstein’s opponents will counter that we did not elect Rahm alderman of the 50th Ward, and that in gifting her vote to him Silverstein betrayed the ward on other issues.  Where is the voice in the City Council representing the 50th Ward? Silverstein never speaks, never takes part in any debates on pending issues, and never raises any questions about or objections to any proposal coming from Emanuel. The sole exception was her vote against the recent property tax increase, but that was less an act of political courage and more an avoidance of political suicide.

Think about it. $171,000. That kind of money buys a lot of glossy mailers, the kind that substituted for participation in candidate debates in 2015, when the alderman grandly refused to appear on stage with write-in candidates. Instead, she flooded Ward mailboxes with photos of herself with children and the elderly, handing out school supplies or visiting senior seminars, or showing her support for schools by a photo of her lunching with principals. Watch for this week’s photos to reappear in campaign advertising.

Voters can’t ask questions of mailers.

Silverstein earns nearly $120,000 per year for her silence.

Plus donations.

 

 

Movie Night on Devon — Another Silverstein/SSA Failure

Crowd attends Devon Movie Night. It ebbed and flowed during the event, but at no time were there more than two dozen people. Don’t they look comfortable?

Movie Night on Devon, another noisemaker in a parking lot sponsored by the alderman and the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), attracted a crowd of two dozen people on a windy and chilly October Thursday night. Most were kids, many unattended by adults, and most were far more interested in the free popcorn than the movie. Many left before the movie ended because it was so cold and the popcorn machine shut down.

Who can blame them? What kind of organization seeks to build goodwill and increase business by inviting people to sit on asphalt on a 57-degree October night to watch an old movie?

What insensitive louts would consider placing this screen and loudspeakers alongside other people’s homes? The Devon SSA #43 and the alderman, of course.

The SSA’s characteristic lack of attention to detail was evident throughout the evening. The event, scheduled on a school night, was barely underway when the screen-loudspeaker combination blew a fuse. Near the end of the movie, the popcorn machine overheated and blew another one. Kids who had gorged on thirst-inducing popcorn were disappointed to learn that the SSA had not provided any water. There were no trash cans for the empty popcorn bags or the plastic wrappers from the giveaway plastic sunglasses, so the lot soon resembled the rest of Devon–littered with bags and food garbage. A couple of SSA big shots showed up to check on attendance.

A sharper view of the proximity to housing. The alderman wouldn’t dream of doing this where she lives, nor would the SSA members. But the impact of these events on the quality of life for residents here before the parking lot was built has never concerned them.

To his credit, Robert Taylor of Republic Bank had the excessive volume turned down, but it had to be loud to be heard over Devon’s traffic. It was a courtesy to neighbors who were largely unaware of the event because the SSA chose not to notify them, as required by law, and placed its advertising only in select businesses east of California Avenue. Oh, the alderman did announce it in her newsletter the week before, but she apparently didn’t have time to tend to the legal details or common courtesy, either. She and the SSA never do. You’d hear them screaming if something like this were scheduled outside their own residences, though.

The Shree Ganesh Temple celebrated a Hindu holiday in the parking lot, complete with loudspeaers that blasted for five hours. It also shut down Devon so dancers could march from the temple to the parking lot.

Devon shut down on Sunday, September 23, to allow 150 Hindu celebrants to march to thr parking lot from the temple. The temple’s owners have admitted that the temple exists primarily to increase business for Devon’s Indian merchants. They have voiced no concerns over its impact on non-Hindu residents.

This was a bad idea right from the start. The SSA and the alderman are determined to turn the failed parking lot into a neighborhood entertainment center. In the past six weeks, it’s been home to an India Day celebration, a political protest, a Hindu holiday celebration, and now this movie night. The lot is zoned only for parking and lacks a license for religious or entertainment events, but the SSA and the alderman don’t care. The Silverstein-selected SSA members (technically appointed by the Mayor) ignore the laws because Silverstein  encourages it. It’s paid off for her. There’s no Asian candidate for alderman this time around. There were two in 2015, and they garnered one-third of the vote.

There is no evidence that any of these loudspeaker-fueled occasions have increased business, and Devon east of California is littered with vacant stores–just like Devon west of California. The lot between Campbell and Maplewood, site of a fire during Berny Stone’s last term, is still vacant nine years later, overrun with weeds, used as a garbage dump by passers-by, and cursed with a sagging fence. A good alderman would take the owner to court on a sell-or-build lawsuit, but not Silverstein. You’d think the SSA could ask the lot’s owner to open his lot for such events. It’s right in the heart of what the SSA publicizes as Little India, and would be perfect for movie events, since there’s no nearby housing. But if your intent is to drive longtime residents out of the area, you want to stage your parties in a parking lot alongside an alley in a display of arrogance and contempt that would not be tolerated north of Devon.

It’s so hard to protest without loudspeakers. Look at this monstrosity on wheels! Naturally, this group appeared during the dinner hour.

I’ve noted before that Silverstein’s annual ward movie night, held in the north part of the ward, takes place during the summer in Chippewa Park. Why not hold Devon Movie Night in Berny Stone Park? Or is that too far from the SSA members’ businesses?

Every parking-lot event produced by Silverstein and the SSA has failed. They make a lot of noise, but they don’t build good will or business. Remember the Devon Community Market? The Family Fun Fest? What were they thinking?

I’m not opposed to movie nights. But they belong in parks. In August.

 

 

Another Jackass Idea

The jackasses who run SSA #43 have come up with yet another crackpot idea to build business in Little India. They have invited shoppers on Devon to bring blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy an evening on the asphalt watching a movie at the Republic Bank parking lot. Yes, you heard that right.

The idea is so stupid it defies logical analysis. On a Thursday night, a school night, from 8 to 10 p.m., the SSA will be showing an animated film in the parking lot. Who would want to sit on a blanket on wet asphalt to watch a movie? What kind of parents think this is a good opportunity to entertain children who have to go to school in the morning? Who wants to carry enough chairs for an entire family?

The SSA, as usual, has not bothered to inform or involve neighbors living 10 feet away from what the SSA–with Ald. Silverstein’s full cooperation–has made its private entertainment venue. I learned about this event only because I saw the poster taped to one of the store windows on Devon. I’m sure the alderman will promote it in her newsletter today, mainly because she doesn’t care what an imposition it is on residents living directly next door. As long as it doesn’t disturb her, she’s fine with it.

It’s worth noting that when there’s a movie on the north end of the ward, where the alderman lives, it’s held in a park, not a parking lot. But that end of the ward votes for her. Our precinct never has.

If there are any plans for parking, crowd control, noise abatement, or clean up, the SSA has not shared them with the people living alongside this parking lot. Given the way other events have been handled, spilled popcorn, soda, candy, and other food debris will simply be left overnight. Residents will just have to cope with the scores of rats attracted by all the goodies.

Who will handle the drunks? Will there be yet another taxpayer-funded police detail assigned to cover this private event?

Has the SSA applied for a special events permit? If so, it has failed to comply with any of the requirements imposed on it by the city. Nearby residents are supposed to get a 30-day notice that such an event is scheduled so they can object if they choose to. The SSA is also supposed to furnish detailed plans for parking, crowd and noise control, and clean up. It never does, because it does not communicate with residents.

It’s the time of year when the 2019 contract for the SSA is being negotiated. I think keeping this independent taxing body in operation should be an issue in the aldermanic campaign. This SSA has demonstrated time and time again that it has no respect for community residents or for the laws governing community events.

The SSA lacks any sense of courtesy or responsibility toward residents. Its members are arrogant, selfish, and downright mean when it comes to what they want, and they have consistently ignored the rights of nearby residents on both sides of Devon.

Ald. Silverstein attends the SSA meetings; in fact, they are held in her office. She and the Rogers Park Business Alliance, the SSA administrator, are fully aware of and complicit in this arrogant behavior. But it is she who sets the tone, she who fails to ensure that the laws she is sworn to uphold are followed.

It’s another reason to vote her out of office.

We need an alderman who understands that building a business district doesn’t start with a jackass idea.

Jason Honig Ends Aldermanic Campaign

Jason Honig has ended his campaign to become alderman of the 50th Ward.

In a statement released to supporters, Honig stated that his decision was  “…due to health challenges and family issues that need our urgent and full attention.” Jason promises that once the situation is under control, he will “continue to implement and support many of the issues we care about.” That’s good. He is a young man who can make a difference in this Ward. We wish Jason and his family well.

There are still two main challengers to Ald. Silverstein, Andrew Rowlas and Ira Piltz. Silverstein is vulnerable on a host of issues, and she won’t be able to campaign by mail this time around.

Candidates, Petitions, and School Property

It’s a beautiful summer morning, bright and sunny, birds singing, the temperature cool and breezy. Your child is headed for the first day of school, perhaps for the first time. Both of you are excited and happy, waiting to greet the teacher,  the principal, your child’s friends and all the other parents. It’s one of those moments you’ll always treasure. Focused on  this special day,, you ignore the woman walking in the carpool lane. You help your child with his backpack as you walk to the front door.

And there she stands. The alderman. With her nominating petitions. On school property. At the front door. She– the woman in the carpool lane–smiles and asks for your signature on her nominating petitions, extending pen and clipboard. You’re trapped. And resentful.

Is nothing sacred?

Petition circulators–including aldermen –have no business on school property, whether the school is public or private. A circulator’s presence on the property of a religious school is especially troubling. When that circulator is also an elected official, it raises the question of the proper separation of church and state–is it legal and ethical for a religious Institution to permit such activity on its premises?

From a legal standpoint, permitting political activity that benefits any candidate or party could lead to the loss of IRS tax-exempt status for private and religious schools.  Political neutrality is required.

The alderman has a history of ethical violations and illegal activities during election campaigns. During early voting for the 2015 aldermanic election, she and her husband, Sen. Ira Silverstein, paid a visit to Warren Park, where they stood inside and greeted voters while talking to a park official. On Election Day, the alderman, the senator, and their daughter visited select polling places throughout the ward to inquire about voter turnout. Both Silversteins are seasoned politicians and well aware that candidates are not permitted in polling places unless they are casting ballots in their home precinct.

The 50th Ward should demand  more ethical behavior  from the alderman and candidates for her position. No candidate should circulate petitions on any school property, public or private.  I think we can all agree that schools and religious or community organizations should not be used for political campaign purposes.

Debra, Andrew, and Jason, can the 50th Ward count on you not to politicize our schools during your petition drives?

 

The Alderman Awakens

Yesterday was an interesting day. First, the alderman actually responded to a constituent. Then she asked for volunteers for her reelection campaign.

She seems to have suddenly realized that she represents the community.

In the first instance, she responded to a direct question from a constituent about the construction project on Kedzie between Touhy and Pratt. It turns out to be improvements to Thillens Park (officially Park 538) by the Chicago Park District. It speaks volumes about Debra’s approach to transparency that it never occurred to her to advise Ward residents about the project beforehand. Maybe she didn’t know.

But then she still has not advised the wider community about the luxury townhouse and condo development to be built a block from the new library. She did hold a meeting with about a dozen property owners in the immediate vicinity of the new development, but apparently doesn’t think it’s anyone else’s business.

And her request for volunteers to help her get her nominating petitions signed? Since petitions can be signed anytime on Tuesday, it’s hard to believe her political machine won’t be out at the crack of dawn– if not promptly at midnight– getting the necessary 473 signatures she needs to get on the ballot. Frankly, all she has to do is visit Winston Towers to get twice that number.

It looks like her appeal for volunteers is a self-serving response to years of complaints that she’s out of touch with her constituents. Such complaints have also been strongly voiced by both of her announced challengers.

But I have to give the alderman credit. After 8 years in office, she has begun to recognize that she needs the community.

It’s also been long enough for us to recognize that we don’t need her.