Alderman, SSA, Chamber Do Wrong by Residents

I am thrilled that Mayor Lightfoot has begun curbing the excesses of aldermanic privilege. Unfortunately, word that aldermen are no longer absolute bosses in their wards has not yet reached the 50th Ward. Once again Silverstein, her handpicked SSA, the Chamber of Commerce, Republic Bank of Chicago, and the Rogers Park Business Alliance (RPBA) have arranged two more noisy events in the Bank’s failed parking lot.

The events are a two-day live-music fest and a movie night. Neither event has involved resident input. Indeed, residents have been deliberately kept out of the planning process. The alderman and SSA brook no interference with their plans, including legal restrictions. The alderman and her minions are determined to make the failed parking lot into a public place of amusement, even though it lacks both zoning and licensing for such activities. I am tired of fighting about this, have consulted a lawyer, and will be filing a lawsuit. There is no other way to put an end to this.

I have in the past used FOIA to try to obtain information on the permits for these events from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. My requests always generate the same response: there are no records. In other words, Silverstein, the SSA, and the Chamber plan and execute these events while bypassing City law. No approval is needed except Silverstein’s. This has always been wrong, and everybody involved knew  it, but they went on with their activities knowing they could not be held accountable. Now, with the Lightfoot administration, they can. And I intend to see to it that they are. Festivals like this can be a good thing for the community, but not when they are planned in secrecy and held in venues not designed to accommodate them. Both events belong in a park, not a parking lot.

Republic Bank’s parking lot was built in 2012 and failed immediately because the shoppers for whom it was designed refused to pay for parking and engaged in behaviors ranging from outright vandalism (removing gates) to stealing parking services, evading payment by moving gate sensors and manipulating gate positions. The parking lot has never made a profit.

The lot is directly across the alley from multifamily housing–just ten feet–and is zoned B-1-2. The Bank lacks a PPA license and cannot get one because the distance from housing falls far short of the 125 feet required by ordinance. Such legal niceties don’t prevent the SSA from using aldermanic privilege to stage various entertainment programs and religious observances in the parking lot, all of which involve live or recorded music played at concert level (120 decibels and above). The police are unable to stop such activities because the alderman has approved them. Legal restrictions on the uses of this parking lot have been swept aside by aldermanic clout.

I find this especially egregious because Silverstein:

  •  was and remains a member of the City Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs & Special Events, which writes the rules for events of this type–rules that do not apply to events staged with her approval in this parking lot
  • called for extra police to control her drunken neighbors during Purim but sees no problem with inviting several hundred strangers to a beer-fueled music fest ten feet from my home
  • lacks any sense of decency and consideration when it comes to residents around the parking lot, treating us shabbily, something she would not do to residents in single-family housing or the pricey condos where she lives.

Among the public events Silverstein and her handpicked SSA found suitable for this parking lot are:

  • a failed community market (2013-15) that was the lowest-ranked market in the City in terms of attendance and revenue; many vendors refused to participate more than once, and some left before the day ended because of the dearth of customers; live musical performances were part of every weekly event (read my blog post here)
  • musical concerts celebrating India Day, which served food and left a mess, thus attracting rats; stages were placed at the far north end of the lot, closest to housing (read blog post here)
  • Hindu religious observances featuring loudspeakers and heavy incense
  • a failed movie night last October that attracted only two dozen people, mostly children, who were provided popcorn but no water and no access to bathroom facilities (see blog post here).

Hindu religious observance including music and dance, Fall 2018. Note the number, size, and placement of loudspeakers. Music could be heard for blocks.

Imagine such activities suddenly materializing outside your home. I spoke to the alderman during the first community market in 2013, when my TV was drowned out by the live “music.” Hostile to any criticism, she said she would tolerate such noise “for the good off the neighborhood” and I should do the same. When I suggested moving the market outside her home, she walked away.

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence after India Day concert.

The India Day concerts include free food and water. Organizers left messes like this (see left) after every concert. Water bottles were tossed all over the alley, and empty boxes were left inside and outside the parking lot. Live music from tinny loudspeakers was blasted for several hours. It was impossible for nearby residents to shut out the noise.

Audience at Devon Movie Night, Republic Bank Parking Lot, October 2018.

Last Fall’s movie night attracted fewer than two dozen viewers. Moviegoers sat on the parking lot’s asphalt; one woman brought her own chair. This isn’t the case when movies are shown in the north end of the ward, where the alderman lives. Those movies are shown in Chippewa Park, a comfortable distance from housing and viewers sit on soft grass. Why aren’t residents from the south end of the ward granted such amenities?

Note how close the movie screen is to homes–just an alley’s width away. The movie has to be loud to be heard over the din of traffic on Devon Avenue. Do you believe the alderman would permit this outside her home?

Look where the screen was placed! What kind of people think this is the proper way to treat residents? RPBA  is paid nearly a quarter of the SSA’s budget (roughly $100,000) for planning expertise. Have they never heard of zoning? Licensing? Try imposing noise like this outside the merchants’ stores and see how long it takes before police are called and offenders removed. (See City Ordinance O2018-6909 passed 9/18).

Nearby residents never receive proper notice of these events but learn of them only when the blasting starts. This past weekend, this ad was hung on Republic Bank’s Devon Avenue fence. It is the only notice nearby residents have received about  the next movie night, scheduled for Sunday, June 23.

The SSA and Chamber announced at last week’s WRCO meeting that they are sponsoring a two-day live-music festival in the parking lot over the Labor Day week-end. The organizers are seeking a liquor license for the festival, which will also include “a tent city of shopping” and will close Washtenaw Avenue up to the east-west alley. No word on where the Port-a-Potties will be located.  The SSA has been planning this event for months, but has not yet advised nearby property owners or residents. It was also announced last week that marketing materials have been finalized and are ready for distribution. At no time has the community been invited to be part of the process. (See the SSA’s 2019 Minutes from January, February, March, and April. May’s minutes have not been posted at this writing.) Note that discussions of this event are classified in the Minutes as “Public Input.” This is not to be misconstrued as input from nearby residents, who have been excluded from the process. Note also that “beer sales” have been identified as one of the main funding sources. Gee, who can their target audience be? Is West Ridge ready to welcome hundreds of rowdy drunks cheering their favorite bands? Would any or the organizers do this where they live?

At no time have the residents living directly alongside the parking lot been given the legally-mandated notices of any of these events. These notices require a 30-day period during which residents may object to such activities and also require notice of street closings. All of the events staged in the parking lot are broadcast on loudspeakers at concert levels (120 decibels or higher). City law prohibits such levels in residential areas. In 2018 another law was passed regulating musical concert noise because of noise complaints from condo owners in high rises along Sheridan Road. I believe my neighbors and I are entitled to the same consideration.

Labor Day is the last holiday of summer, a time when families enjoy backyard barbeques and back-to-school parties, all of which will be impacted by the noise, crowds, and parking issues arising from the planned music festival. Festival-goers seeking parking will converge on residential streets, thus depriving residents’ friends and relatives of parking. Who gave the alderman, SSA, and Chamber the right to invite hundreds of people to drink outside our homes? There is an ongoing backlash against this kind of event wherever it is held. Such fests have been moved because of noise complaints (Riot Fest);  and there is a new controversy over the move of the Mamby Music Fest to Montrose Beach because of the impact of the noise on birds in the nearby Montrose Bird Sanctuary. I can assure you that the birds can expect to receive more consideration than the neighbors on Washtenaw and Fairfield Avenues. The alderman, the SSA, the Chamber, and the Bank have always treated us like shit on their shoes.

There are alternative sites for this event, which properly belongs in one of our many neighborhood parks. Why not Warren Park, where fest goers can visit the Pakistani stores east of Western as well as the many restaurants on Western itself? Why not Stone Park, gateway to Devon, where the fest might attract visitors from Skokie and Lincolnwood? Holding the fest in Stone Park would give visitors the opportunity to stroll the length of Devon and see for themselves all the international shopping the alderman claims is here. It might also provide some much-needed business for the few merchants west of California. There are two large adjacent parking lots on Devon & Leavitt, near the home of the Chamber’s president. Why not stage the Fest there? Or will his neighbors object to noise and crowds and drinking and parking issues? As to the movie, why not use the vacant space on the second floor of Republic Bank? That way, the kids would at least have toilet access. Maybe there will be a Porta-a-Potty in the pwrking lot. Classy.

The organizers are not interested in moving either event and are moving ahead with distributing their marketing materials. Once word gets out about the festival, it will be all but impossible to stop, another dirty trick played on unsuspecting residents by the alderman and her pals.

It isn’t surprising that the alderman and officials from the SSA, the Chamber, the Bank, and the merchants they represent feel entitled to treat the lot’s  closest neighbors with such appalling disregard and disrespect. They insist that these events are an attempt to “give back” to the community. It’s a lie. They are trying to improve their businesses while (a) keeping the problems generated by these “give-backs” away from their businesses; and (b) not making any of the retailing changes residents want. Devon is littered with empty storefronts, and business is down across the board. The recent “International Marketplace” promotional campaign failed. Shoppers know that a cucumber is a cucumber, and buying it from a Syrian, Egyptian, or Iraqi merchant doesn’t make the experience international. The new campaign, “On Devon,” promises experiences that do not yet exist. This music fest will not provide them. Neither will another movie night. The merchants represented by a tone-deaf SSA and alderman refuse to interact with or show consideration for neighborhood residents, and such communication is the only way to improve the business climate.

The lack of simple decency toward residents is astounding. The members of the SSA who conceive of these events choose to disregard the rights of those of us who live in the vicinity. The area around Devon is home mainly to an immigrant community, many of whom are in the country illegally (the Census Bureau indicates that 12-15% of the residents of the 50th Ward are undocumented). The alderman and the SSA know that these residents will not complain no matter how badly they are treated.  The few American-born residents, like me, are ignored by the powers that be, who, protected by the alderman, are used to running roughshod over residents. None of the guilty parties–Silverstein, the SSA, the Chamber, the RPBA–would dare to behave this way toward residents in the more affluent end of the ward. Don’t expect to see this behavior west of California, or anywhere on Western. The merchants have become as arrogant and unaccountable as the alderman.

I was recently told by one of the businessmen I respect that there should be harmony between the merchants and the residents. I agree. But after six years of this shit, I just don’t feel the love.

Maybe a judge can help.

 

 

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Ten Days In and Reform Looks Good

I never thought I’d live to see a Chicago Mayor tell Ed Burke to sit down and shut up. Nor did I ever expect to see a Chicago Mayor tell the members of the City Council that they would have a “voice but not a veto” in their wards.  Her Executive Order restricting aldermanic privilege was issued in her first hours in office.

When Mayor Lightfoot told the press that she was elected to “get shit done,” she spoke true Chicagoese. No matter what neighborhood you live in, you heard her, loud and clear, and you knew exactly what she meant.

The Lady said reform, and she meant it.

She appointed Scott Waguespack as Finance Chair. The press reports that lots of other aldermen consider him a scold and a know-it-all. Good. Scold away. He’s always been one of perhaps ten aldermen who actually read and understand the budget documents received from City Department heads outlining how much money they need and what they intend to spend it on. Richie and Rahm never gave the Council the time needed to read, analyze, and discuss the budget requests.. I think Lightfoot will.

Pat Dowell replaces Carrie Austin as Chair of the Budget and Government Operations Committee. Lord help us, Debra Silverstein was appointed Vice Chair, even though her overall attendance at Council and committee meetings during her last term was only 56%, she skipped two-thirds of the budget meetings held especially for aldermen, and she hates working. I suppose this appointment is related to her background as a CPA.  Any other reason escapes me.

Lightfoot is mulling over a new ethics ordinance that could give voters a real voice in elections. It would, for example, restrict union contributions to $1,500 per year instead of the current $57,800 allowed by the state. It would similarly cap contributions from corporations. Lightfoot said during the campaign that people “should not have to kiss the alderman’s ring” to obtain City services, so the ethics ordinance may well prevent aldermen like Silverstein from amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from unions and corporations with business before the Council. Many businesses in the 50th Ward contribute to Silverstein on a regular basis, and many new businesses contribute after opening. It smacks of pay to play, even if everyone denies that’s the case. For more details on the proposal, click here.

Many of the reform aldermen have been appointed to important committees. The Council may actually learn to engage in discussion before approving legislation. Most importantly, all Council and committee meetings will be live-streamed, so taxpayers can watch our elected officials working–or not.

A ProPublica Illinois analysis of legislation before the City Council from 2011-2018 found that less than 10% of the proposals dealt with budget, tax, or citywide issues, the majority of legislation being ward-specific for things like sidewalk cafes, awnings, and loading zones. Mayor Lightfoot has indicated that she wants the Council to focus on citywide issues and leave administrative matters to the proper City departments where such a mandate exists in the law. Actually, it isn’t necessary to call the alderman for routine City services at all. The new 311 form allows residents to deal directly with the City, thus freeing aldermen and their staffs to work on more important issues, such as, say, economic development.

Mayor Lightfoot has proved in her first ten days in office that Chicago made the right choice when it chose reform over machine.

There may be hope for the 50th Ward yet.

 

 

Mayor Lightfoot: Reform is Here

Mayor Lori Lrightfoot’s determination to reform the political culture in Chicago may have some effect on the way business is conducted in the 50th Ward.

Lightfoot was elected because voters are disgusted with politics as usual. Voters want an end to cronyism, autocracy, boss politics, insider deals, secrecy, big money, and pay-to-play politics–all the things that characterize the 50th Ward, still the only ward in the City where religious affiliation is a prerequisite for election. Under the Silversteins, civic participation is at an all-time low, just the way they like it. It makes things so much easier when residents have been trained to mind their own business and not ask questions.

The April 2 runoff brought out only 27.64% of the ward’s eligible voters; citywide participation was nearly 32%. This downhill slide in civic engagement began when the Silversteins acquired all the political power in the ward. In the 2011 municipal elections, more than 45% of the ward’s voters went to the polls, a better turnout than the City as a whole (42%). By the 2015 elections, only 32.5% of the ward voted, less than the City total (34%). Barely one-third (33.5%) of 50th Ward voters took part in the February 2019 elections, as opposed to 35% of voters citywide.

The City Council has changed since February 26. The Progressive Caucus and its allies now hold 16 of the City Council’s 50 seats. Ald. Burke is expected to be indicted soon, and rumors are that he’ll be taking others down with him, which could give Mayor Lightfoot the opportunity to appoint even more reformers to the Council. Scott Waugespack–for my money the most honest member of the Council–will be named Finance Chair, replacing Burke, unless the Old Guard aldermen decide to put up a fight. Mayor Lightfoot plans to name reformers and supporters to committee chairmanships. She has also advised the incoming firebrand aldermen to calm down. She wants reform, not chaos.

Debra Silverstein is far from a reformer. She lied repeatedly, openly, and shamelessly throughout the recent campaign. She admitted to forming yet more secret committees, this time to develop economic policy. She has yet to reveal the names of the members of the secret committee that advised her on the construction of the new library. She continues to use a private email server and a private website to conduct public business. Her obsessive need for secrecy and her determination not to tell residents what she’s doing are troublesome and quite possibly illegal. She is now adrift, having left no mark on the City Council in the previous eight years. She has no allies. Without Rahm, she has no protector.

The photo with Lori Lightfoot in Silverstein’s recent newsletter is intended to convey the idea that she’s a player at City Hall. She isn’t. Silverstein is opposed to everything that Lori Lightfoot stands for, everything that got Lori Lightfoot elected:

  • Lightfoot promises transparency. Silverstein is obsessed with secrecy.
  • Lightfoot wants an end to aldermanic privilege. Silverstein is a ward boss
  • Lightfoot wants aldermen to remember their responsibilities to the City as a whole. Silverstein has only a 56% attendance rate for Council and committee meetings
  • Lightfoot wants results. Silverstein relies on photo-ops and outright lying to provide the illusion of achievement
  • Lightfoot believes in power through democracy. Silverstein is an autocrat who operates through shadowy unknown advisors accountable to no one

The election did not settle the many issues facing the 50th Ward. A reform mayor and a more progressive City Council might well benefit 50th Ward residents who believe in participatory democracy. For example:

  • Silverstein opposes participatory budgeting because she says she “has concerns” that residents taking part in such efforts might not fully represent the ward. Yet she herself was elected by only 8% of the ward’s residents. The 50th Ward is home to 72,211 residents, and only 6,014 of them voted for Silverstein. What’s especially laughable about Silverstein’s “concerns” is that she presumes that she and her staff–6 people–are more reliable judges of what the ward needs than 2,000 PB voters. Only a ward boss would dare make such a claim.
  • The new mayor supports term limits, as do many of the incoming reform members of the City Council.  Silverstein echoed her husband’s  2016 comments opposing term limits, claiming that “…elections are term limits.”  But elections aren’t term limits for Silverstein. The majority of registered voters in the 50th Ward–50 to 60%—are Orthodox Jews who will not consider voting for any candidate who is not Jewish. There shouldn’t be a religious test for public office. In fact, it’s illegal. And, no, it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize political behavior based on religious bigotry.
  • Lightfoot famously stated that no one should have to “kiss the alderman’s ring” to receive proper City services, licenses, permits, or zoning changes. Yet it’s an open secret that many new and existing businesses in the 50th Ward make generous contributions to Silverstein’s political fund, as do many of her appointees to our local Special Services Area #43, a taxing body that exists ostensibly to promote Devon Avenue as a business destination but fails spectacularly at that job (more on that soon).
  • Lightfoot wants to end aldermanic privilege with regard to zoning, a long-overdue reform. Silverstein has shut down businesses that wanted to open in the 50th Ward (a microbrewery and a medical marijuana clinic, for example) 4 reason she could not articulate and engages in stealth zoning changes, never letting the community know what she plans to do. There is no 50th Ward Zoning Advisory Committee, unless there’s yet another secret group that Silverstein won’t discuss.

I intend to take the Lightfoot administration at its word. The new mayor has already signed one executive order prohibiting City agencies from deferring to the aldermen unless required to do so by the Municipal Code. Lightfoot has pledged herself and her Administration to transparency in government. Silverstein is a City employee.  Will Silverstein comply with the new rules?

I expect Silverstein’s newsletter on Friday to be filled with pictures of herself and the new mayor. But don’t be fooled. Silverstein is not a player in this game. She sold her vote to Rahm Emanuel in exchange for free reign over the ward. That won’t happen with Lightfoot.

We will know on May 29 whether Silverstein will support reform or join the obstructionist forces.  Her votes at this first City Council meeting of the Lightfoot Administration will tell us. There will be no more hiding in the middle of the pack, no more ducking for cover.

I wish the new mayor and the new Council all the best. They will need all the strength and support they can muster to bring even the most basic reforms to City government.

And it’s already time to prepare for the next elections, in 2020. The March primary will elect committeemen, an unpaid but important post.  As we learned recently, it took only two committeemen to appoint our new state representative. The electorate was not consulted.

The process of reform in Illinois is going to be long and difficult. It’s time to get to work.

 

 

 

A Very Crowded “Suite B”

City law forbids the use of City-funded offices for political work, including the solicitation, receipt, or processing of campaign contributions. City employees are not permitted to perform work for political campaigns on paid City time. 

Unless the candidate is Debra Silverstein.

Today Silverstein posted on Facebook a photo of her campaign staff busy at work  in the campaign office, otherwise known as the conference room of her aldermanic office, which for campaign purposes is known as Suite B.

Silverstein’s aldermanic office at 2949 West Devon Avenue also houses the 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, a fundraising organization that supports the political work of the 50th Ward Machine. 

Silverstein’s aldermanic office at 2949 West Devon Avenue is also the mailing address of Friends for Debra Silverstein, her year-round fundraising organization, which solicits, accepts, and processes money.  

Silverstein’s aldermanic office at 2949 West Devon Avenue is also, according to the Illinois Secretary of State, the corporate headquarters of Jamestown Realty, whose owner is Demetrios Spyrakos. To my knowledge, Silverstein’s office is the only aldermanic office in the City that serves as corporate headquarters for a private business.

Records available online from the Assessor’s Office do not list Debra’s office in a property address search; do a PIN search (13-01-104-004-0000) for the property record and note that the buildingg housing Silverstein’s aldermanic office is tax-exempt.

Then check that PIN number with the Recorder of Deeds, and discover that the Recorder shows the building is owned by FREE (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe), which is why it’s tax exempt. Yes, that’s correct, an income-producing storefront rental is tax exempt. 

The lease signed by Debra Silverstein and paid for by the taxpayers is an agreement between Silverstein as alderman and Demetrios Spyrakos.

  • The taxpayers of Chicago paid monthly rent to Demetrios Spyrakos, not Jamestown Realty, for the City-leased alderman’s office.
  • The 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization paid rent irregularly–three to four times per year–to Jamestown Realty, not Demetrios Spyrakos, for its use of space within the City-leased alderman’s office. 
  • Silverstein’s campaign committee in 2014-15 did not pay any rent to the City for its use of space within the City-leased alderman’s office.
  • Silverstein’s campaign committee in 2018-19 has not paid any rent to the City for its use of space within the City-leased alderman’s office. 
  • It is not known whether Jamestown Realty paid the City for its use of space within the alderman’s office.

Internet sources state that Jamestown Realty has three employees and its own phone number, all located within the alderman’s office. It’s to be expected that Mail is delivered and phones are answered. But where are the Jamestown employees? The only staff inside the alderman’s office are City employees. If Jamestown Realty employees work at the Jamestown Realty Corporate Offices within the alderman’s office, where do they sit? Where are their phones? Where is their equipment? Surely City employees on City time are not handling Jamestown Realty mail or answering Jamestown Realty phones? Interestingly, when the alderman’s office is closed in observance of a holiday, or the alderman gives her staff other paid time off–as she did at Christmas–the corporate offices of Jamestown Realty are also closed.

Where are the staff for the 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization? Who answers the phones? Who processes the mail and the donations? Do they share Suite B with the re-election campaign staff?

And what about Debra’s re-election campaign office and staff? They are supposedly located in Suite B.  But there’s a recent picture of Debra hosting a paper-plate pizza lunch for public school principals in the conference room. Where did the campaign staffers go during this event? Were theyworking in another part  of the  City-leased aldermanic office? In the photo Silverstein posted on Facebook, they are clearly sitting around her conference table–isn’t that City-owned property? This isn’t nitpicking. These are supposed to be totally separate operations. By law.

Look at the Facebook picture again. Where did all those boxes of literature and posters go while the  principals ate pizza? Where does the campaign staff hold meetings and interact with volunteers?  We know campaign staff  come in on weekends because they send emails like the one about the library’s opening date. Have you noticed how often the Facebook and Twitter links on ward announcements go to Debra’s re-election sites? This isn’t coincidence. The line between aldermanic business and re-election campaigning has blurred to the point of nonexistence.  

Ira’s a lawyer, familiar with election law. Deborah is a CPA, familiar with election law So what’s going on here?

  • Why is the 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization housed within the taxpayer-funded aldermanic office?
  • Why is Debra Silverstein’s re-election campaign situated within her taxpayer-funded aldermanic office?
  • Why are the Friends of Deborah Silverstein soliciting and receiving campaign contributions year round from within her City-funded aldermanic office?
  • Why is Jamestown Realty’s official corporate  headquarters located within the City-leased alderman’s office?

Something’s rotten, and it ain’t in Denmark.

Independent Researcher Anne Sullivan shared her own work on this topic with Follies. I am grateful for her diligence and generosity. 

Rowlas for Alderman

50th Ward Follies proudly endorses Andrew Rowlas for alderman of the 50th Ward.

He is the opposite of Debra Silverstein.

Rowlas is committed to empowering the residents  of the 50th Ward. Silverstein blocks resident input and initiatives.

Rowlas supports

  • Participatory budgeting
  • Zoning Advisory Board
  • Economic Development Council
  • Community Service Corps
  • Community Cultural Arts Center

Silverstein opposes all five initiatives. She has said repeatedly that she does not support participatory budgeting. She will not even consider citizen input on zoning or economic-development. She has never organized volunteers–including students in need of community service credits–to engage in opportunities for community  benefit, like shoveling snow from bus stops and street corners so bus passengers and pedestrians can move freely, or assisting elderly residents with shopping, pet-walking, or just chatting over iced tea on a hot summer day. She does not support creating a cultural arts center.

Rowlas believes in open and transparent democracy.  Silverstein hides what she is doing from her constituents.

Rowlas pledges:

  • An end to secret committees advising the alderman
  • An end to the practice of conducting the public’s business via private email and website
  • An open and transparent decision-making process, with frequent community meetings and opportunities for resident input on both Ward and City issues
  • An end to governance by photo-op

Silverstein’s penchant for secrecy will disappear from the 50th Ward.  Why is it necessary to hide public business from residents? What is it that residents are not supposed to know? What secret deals benefiting special interests are in the works? It will never be necessary to ask those questions of Andrew Rowlas.

Rowlas believes we must reform Chicago’s government.  Silverstein is an old style, machine politician– a ward boss who is not accountable to her constituents.

Rowlas supports:

  • Term limits for mayor, aldermen, and committee chairs
  • Reducing the size of the City Council
  • Realigning aldermanic responsibilities so that aldermen focus on legislation rather than routine City service requests

Silverstein has arrogantly declared that her term limits come every four years, when she stands for re-election.  As a loyal member of whatever Chicago machine is in power, Silverstein has no interest whatever in government reform. This will become even more obvious once a new mayor is elected and the boot-licking begins.

Andrew and I have talked extensively about his plans for the ward. He sees himself as a transitional figure, a one-term alderman who will, as he put it,  “sow the seeds” for the Ward’s future. He believes strongly that empowering residents produces future leaders. As a former educator, he values the importance of giving our young people a stake in the future of the 50th Ward. Andrew would strengthen our Ward’s democracy by practicing democratic values.

Yes, his personal beliefs are on the left side of the ledger. But he understands that his role as alderman is to represent the values of his constituents. 

Yes, he’s run a low-key campaign. That’s what happens when you raise small amounts of money from ordinary people. Silverstein received more than $200,000 from special interest groups and wealthy individuals.  They are her real constituency, not the working families her expensive mailers claim she supports. Silverstein has no small donors.

No, Rowlas is not a dynamic, mesmerizing speaker. He expresses his ideas and opinions in a slow, measured cadence that reflects his Indiana upbringing. Rowlas is what we Irish call “comfortable in his skin.”  If  you’re looking for verbal fireworks you won’t find them with Andrew, but you will discover a thoughtful, reasonable man who is willing and able to consider other people’s viewpoints, and is open to suggestion and change. Authentic and sincere, he does not need the services of an image consultant. He spent a lifetime becoming who he is.

I’ve known Andrew for several years, and have enjoyed many conversations with him on political and other issues. Our discussions have been lively, to say the least, since he is a liberal Democrat and I am a  moderate Republican. Andrew has two delightful pets–a dog and a cat–and he’s an accomplished cook–his baklava is to die for. Friends and associates can vouch for his loyalty and reliability.

The 50th Ward is desperately in need of leadership.

I believe Andrew Rowlas is the best choice for Alderman of the 50th Ward. I hope you’ll vote for him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silverstein Has Not Earned Re-Election

The City of Chicago is struggling to overcome decades of mismanagement and financial irresponsibility that have resulted in declining neighborhoods, violent crime, population loss, overwhelming debt, pension shortfalls,  ruinous interest payments, corruption, and potential bankruptcy. The new mayor and City Council will have hard work to do and tough decisions to make.  Finding solutions to Chicago’s most intractable problems requires electing a strong mayor and a stronger City Council.

The 50th Ward’s representative to that City Council must be an active, involved, community-oriented individual focused on neighborhood improvement through resident empowerment and community economic development.  Our alderman must also serve the City as a thoughtful,  informed,  and independent  legislator willing to establish cooperative relationships with other Council members to accomplish common goals, and be capable of offering creative, innovative, and practical solutions to help resolve our City’s dilemmas.

Debra Silverstein is not that person.

Silverstein’s eight years as alderman have worsened the 50th Ward’s economic depression. Every one of our major shopping corridors–California, Devon, Lincoln, Touhy, Western–has declined, with vacant storefronts sometimes covering entire blocks.  Some storefronts have been empty for years, as have some commercial buildings. Most residents must travel outside the ward to shop for the goods they need and want. Silverstein is simply not interested  in doing the hard work  involved in restoring  the vitality  that once characterized our shopping districts. She has  offered no vision for the ward, instead insisting that it is “flourishing” despite the demonstrable evidence otherwise–more than 100 empty storefronts, unoccupied commercial buildings, and vacant lots. The ward is still waiting for the “spirited economic development plan” she promised in 2011.

Silverstein blocks all attempts at empowering residents. In 2016, she hired an attorney to challenge the petition to place a non-binding referendum  on the ballot to bring participatory budgeting (PB) to the 50th Ward. During a recent aldermanic forum, she declared that even if 2,000 Ward residents voted for PB, she would be concerned they didn’t represent the entire ward. She has withheld zoning change requests from the community, and refused to establish a resident  Zoning Advisory Board or hold community meetings on zoning changes, despite her claims to the contrary.

Her lack of transparency is nothing short of appalling. She conducts public business using a private email address and a private website instead of the ones provided by the City. Silverstein conducts public business via secret committees whose members are not accountable to residents and whose deliberations and recommendations are never made public. Two years after it was formed, the names of the members of the alderman’s secret advisory committee on the new library are still unknown. Silverstein recently revealed that last year she created yet more secret committees to advise her on economic development. She never reports on business before the City Council, or tells constituents how she voted on major issues. This level of secrecy does not exist in other wards. And it begs the question of why Silverstein thinks it’s necessary here.

There are objective data supporting the contention that she is a lazy, disinterested alderman. A recent report from WBEZ and The Daily Line documented aldermanic attendance at Council and committee meetings from May 2015 through December 2018. Silverstein managed to get to 200 of 360 meetings for an attendance rate of 56%. In 2016 alone, she attended only 31% of hearings on the City budget. She holds open office hours only once a week, for 2 hours, no rescheduling if Monday falls on a holiday. Her office closes early on Friday (currently 3:30 p.m.) but she never holds weekend hours. Silverstein has, however, been observed campaigning on Sundays.

A reliable rubber-stamp for Mayor Emanuel, Silverstein fails to fulfill her responsibilities as a legislator. She votes as she’s told to vote in the Council. She never takes part in Council debates, such as they are. She is never interviewed by radio or TV reporters, never asked to join broadcast panel discussions. Nobody cares what she thinks. She is a cipher in the Council.

There is a particularly telling moment in the recent PB documentary. City residents  are testifying about their experiences with PB before the City Council, and Silverstein can be seen in the background, ignoring the speakers while entranced by her cell phone. When she realizes she is within camera range, she puts the phone down, sits up, and puts on an attentive face. The only thing that brings her to life is a camera.

Silverstein avoids the normal give-and-take between alderman and constituents. When she holds a town hall meeting, her function is to introduce the other speakers. She never appears alone and is visibly uncomfortable if asked a direct question.

Silverstein babbles incessantly about the diversity of the 50th Ward, but has done nothing to bridge the divides between groups. Skokie has a Festival of Cultures celebrating its diversity, but the 50th Ward doesn’t. Other wards have community picnics and Fourth of July parades, but the 50th Ward doesn’t. Other wards have winter festivals, farmers markets, and a wealth of cultural activities, many co-sponsored by the alderman, but the 50th Ward doesn’t.

Her sharp elbows are legendary. Silverstein takes credit for the work of others, whether City departments, local community groups, or her fellow Council members. Her campaign literature is filled with silly statements about how she “directed” the cleaning of sewers and the trimming of trees. She portrays herself as “fighting” for the money spent by Chicago Public Schools on building upgrades, additions, and recreational opportunities for students, when these are line items in the CPS capital budget. Silverstein didn’t secure one dollar. She claims on her campaign website that it was her “leadership” that brought the neighborhood the new library, when it was actually the vision nd initiative of the LEARN Coalition. Silverstein’s campaign literature arrogantly states that she “passed” legislation in the City Council without mentioning the work, help, or support of her fellow Council members.

She spends much of her time annoying the police in her efforts to supervise and direct their work. One of her favorite public safety initiatives involves posing with the police at outdoor roll calls. In one particularly ridiculous photo-op, she is exchanging a salute with uniformed officers. Silverstein recently claimed she “arranged” to have Cook County Police patrol Devon Avenue  in response to a recent  spate of shootings that she refused to discuss with the community. If she is indeed bypassing police command structures and negotiating directly with another branch of local government for police protection, she needs to be reined in for the good of the community, not to mention the police.

A vote for Debra Silverstein is a vote for laziness, secrecy, and incompetence. She has failed to create economic opportunity in the Ward. She has failed to deliver on past campaign promises. She has failed to articulate an inclusive vision for the Ward and its residents. Most importantly, she has failed to create community–that vital energy and spirit that motivates and empowers residents to work together for the common good. These failures are inexcusable.

Silverstein has not met her obligations as a City legislator. She has not fulfilled her duty to bring a strong voice to the City Council, or to adequately represent the views of her constituents. How can she speak for us when she doesn’t speak with us? 

The problems facing the City of Chicago and the 50th Ward are too perilous to re-elect Debra Silverstein.

 

 

 

 

 

Silverstein Politicizes Police

Late Wednesday evening, Ald. Silverstein announced that she and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart “arranged a new partnership” with the 24th District CPD that will allow Cook County Police to patrol 50th Ward streets. She also announced that the 24th District police would send “saturation patrols” to do the same thing.

This simplistc over-reaction to recent gun violence along Devon Avenue is little more than Silverstein political grandstanding. It doesn’t speak well for Dart that he would send county police to the 50th Ward when they’ve never been sent to wards on the south and west sides where truly extreme violence is a daily occurrence. 

County Police will assist the 24th District for the next 30 days. Then they and the saturation patrols will depart. This is a classic case of preparing for situations that have already occurred. The waste of police resources is simply staggering.

Despite calls on social media for a community meeting to discuss the recent criminal activity along Devon, Silverstein  chose to ignore residents and politicize the police in order to advance her re-election efforts. 

The CAPS Coordinator for Beat 2411, Richard Concaildi, provided a fact-based, informative summary of the recent violence on social media platform nextdoor.com. Silverstein could not be bothered to do so. Instead, she once again shamelessly exploited tragedy for political gain.

In her email to residents, Silverstein couldn’t resist adding that Cook County Police have been involved “at (her) request” in other activities in the ward. Silverstein is referring to her bogus claims that she “organizes” multi-jurisdictional task forces to serve warrants and check on parolees.

At least Silverstein mentions 24th District Commander Roberto Nieves and gives him some indirect credit. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson played no role in Silverstein’s version of events. She didn’t need to consult with Rahm Emanuel or Toni Preckwinkle either. And the last people she would talk with are her constituents. Instead, she and her little band of image consultants devised a self-serving and false narrative to impress voters.

If Silverstein really wants to be Police Superintendent, let her run for the job. Otherwise, she should allow police professionals to do their work without political interference.

The 50th Ward does not need the Cook County Police. The 50th Ward needs an alderman committed to the hard work of leadership, conomic development, and community empowerment.

Neither of her challengers is a perfect candidate. But each offers a vision for the ward that does not include turning it into a mini police state. Silverstein stokes fear because it translates into votes.

These are not the values of the 50th Ward.

 

 

Our Lazy Alderman

A new report from WBEZ-The Daily Line proves once again that Debra Silverstein is one of the laziest aldermen in the City. Silverstein attended only 56% of meetings of various committees and the City Council between May 2015 and December 2018. Silverstein managed to attend 200 of 360 meetings to earn her $10,000 per month salary. The average attendance rate for aldermen was 65%..

At both recent forums and in her campaign literature, she claims to be a hardworking alderman, “fighting” for money for the 50th Ward. At the Feb. 10 forum, she claimed that being alderman is “a 24/7 job,” and at the earlier forum said that people stop her while she’s shopping in Evanston to discuss ward problems.

Time to review.

Silverstein holds open office hours once per week for two hours. Should that time be cancelled due to holidays, it is not rescheduled. But you can call her office, maybe speak with her or arrange an appointment. Or wait til next week.

Silverstein rarely holds community meetings, preferring to communicate via her weekly Newsletter, where more space is devoted to pictures of herself than to discussions of Ward or City business.

Silverstein attended only 31% of 2016 budget committee hearings, according to a report from Illinois Policy. Continue reading, and you’ll learn that between May 2015 and May 2017, the City Council spent more time and effort on honorary resolutions (8%) than on “substantive” legislation (1.5%)–you know, matters of public policy.

Silverstein was the only alderman who failed to attend the only North Side hearing on police reform. Instead, she scheduled a property tax seminar with Larry Suffredin for that night. She could have rescheduled the seminar, or let Suffredin handle it on his own, but chose, as always, the less important task on which to spend her time.

Silverstein says in her most recent campaign piece that she “directed” sewer cleaning, pothole patching, tree trimming, and rat extermination in our Ward. We have entire City departments devoted to those tasks under the management of well-paid department heads. But Silverstein is one of only 50 people who can initiate or vote on City legislation.

A 56% attendance rate at committee and Council meetings is not acceptable. Since Silverstein’s too lazy to do the job to which she was elected, maybe we should allow her to retire. Now.

 

 

 

 

A Week of Shootings

In the past 9 days there have been four shootings in the 50th Ward.

On February 7, at 5:30 p.m., a young man was shot in the leg at Devon and Oakley.

On February 14, at 1:30 p.m., a young man was shot in the leg at Devon and Leavitt

On February 15, at 11:30 p.m., two young men were shot in the 6500 block of North Albany. One of them, shot in the head, died. The other man, shot in the face, was hospitalized.

These shootings follow two other violent incidents:

On January 26, police were fired upon in an apartment on the 6400 block of North Kedzie. One officer’s bullet-proof vest was grazed by a bullet. The shooter, a man in his 30s, was described by his parents as mentally ill and was taken to the hospital for a mental evaluation by the police.

On February 5, police arrested a man who barricaded himself inside his home in the 6400 block of North Ridge. It was a domestic dispute; the woman involved alleged that the man had a weapon.

The alderman neither responded to nor even acknowledged any of these incidents until the double shooting on Friday. Those shootings led off her Newsletter, in which she declared that police patrols were increasing and that neither of the victims lived in that area.

Typical Silverstein response. During her campaign for re-election, she has repeatedly declared public safety her top priority. Are we supposed to feel safer because the two most recent victims don’t live “in that area”? Increased police patrols won’t prevent what has already happened.

During her re-election campaign, Silverstein has repeatedly referenced shootings in Oregon, California, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania as the reasons for her obsessive focus on police activity. Maybe she should pay attention to what’s occurring closer to home. Maybe she should work with the police and the community to identify potential problems in the ward. Maybe she can try to explain why shooters from outside the ward are coming here. Does West Ridge have a gang problem? A drug problem? A gun problem? Where is the police – community meeting?

All of these incidents happened on Devon or within a block or two of Devon. This is the heart of the 50th Ward’s immigrant community where families are struggling to survive in an environment they don’t understand. They are losing their children to gang activity because these young people have no jobs to go to and no safe place to hang out together.

What we are seeing here is the result of Silverstein’s refusal to engage in the hard work of economic and community development. There are no businesses hiring after-school help. There is no opportunity for kids to participate in after-school cultural activities, such as music and art programs. After 8 years in office, Silverstein has failed to build a single community center. There is little to no help available for at-risk youth in the 50th Ward.

Silverstein prefers directing the cleaning of sewers to the tough work of providing economic and cultural opportunities for the community’s children.

Remember that when you cast your vote for alderman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.