The Alderman Speaks

We all know  that Ald. Debra Silverstein does not like to speak to her constituents. Curious about what she has to say to her fellow Council members about the issues facing the City, I decided to look at the record.

All quotes below are taken directly from the “Journal of the Proceedings of the Chicago City Council.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debra Silverstein is paid $120,000 per year, a total of nearly one million dollars during her two terms as alderman. One million dollars to represent the 50th Ward.

Without saying a word.

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It’s Not “Just a Parking Lot” Anymore

Most of us treasure these last days of summer, as the days get shorter and the breezes warmer and the backyard tomatoes are ripe for picking. There’s nothing like sitting on the porch or in the yard or even in one’s own kitchen, enjoying the evening breezes, Sinatra singing, and a fresh tomato tart.

That is, unless you live around the Republic Bank parking lot, which this week will be the site of both a Wednesday movie night and a Saturday evening India Day program that includes a concert. The Minutes of the SSA meeting reveal that initial plans for tonight called for a restaurant crawl, movie night, and ribbon cutting starring the Mayor. He may show up. He’s running for reelection and what better way to show the Indian community he loves them? It will boost Silverstein’s reelection campaign as well–another photo for the weekly family album, er, constituent newsletter.

June 18 minutes

The India Day event, including the parade and the party-in-a-parking lot , is expected to cost $100,000, most of it privately funded. The original proposal included a talent show, a fashion show, and a concert. I wonder how much of that is being spent for the privilege of eating cake alongside an alley. You’d think the organizers would want to do better by their guests.

May 30 minutes.                                                          April 16 Minutes

The SSA is also planning a back to school event for next August in the same parking lot. How this will drive business to Devon is a mystery. No stores on the street sell school supplies or children’s shoes or clothing. The Indian businesses long ago made it clear they don’t want local residents in their stores, and I doubt if many tourists shop here for pencils and paper.

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Addendum to “The Alderman’s Secret Housing Meeting”

Sources tell me that parking was the only issue raised at last night’s meeting on the new housing development at Western and Morse Avenues. About a dozen people attended and were satisfied that the 26 parking spaces proposed would suffice.

Each townhouse is expected to sell for about $450,000, while each condo will cost about $340,000. These price points raise some interesting questions about property taxes and gentrification, but those issues were not part of the discussion.

Are residential buildings rather than commercial buildings the best choice for this stretch of Western Avenue? Should that be decided  only by a dozen residents, the developers, and the alderman?  What are the risks that existing residents will be forced out of the neighborhood because of higher property taxes? Can we talk about the fact that this development permanently alters  the character  of that part of our neighborhood? Should the larger community have any input? What exactly is the alderman’s vision for the community and how does this new development fit into it? Or is that a secret too?

So many questions. So few answers. Will the alderman meet with the entire community to discuss them?

Stay tuned.

 

 

Devon’s “Branding Campaign”

The alderman’s newsletter today asks for comments from the community on a branding campaign that it’s hoped will bring business to Devon Avenue. A project of the Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), the Rogers Park Business Alliance, which administers the SSA, and the alderman, you can go to a meeting or take the online survey to give your opinion. I used the online survey. I don’t know that the community’s opinions will matter much, if at all.

It’s clear that lots of time, money, and effort have gone into the branding concept and its expression. But I believe a branding campaign is the wrong approach at this point. Shabby stores, so-so merchandise, vacancies and boarded-up buildings, too many grocery stores and cell phone stores, the absence of true diversity and real choices–these need to be remedied before we start promoting Devon as an international marketplace. The relentless campaigns of the past few years branding Devon as Little India have deprived the merchants east of Western and west of California of recognition and thus real opportunities to build their businesses; they have no representation on the SSA, and the proposed branding campaign doesn’t recognize them either.

I think the first priority is building a business district worth a marketing campaign.

This will be a problem given the alderman’s lack of interest in economic development and the fact that the SSA is run by and for the benefit of Indian business owners. I’ve been tracking the businesses on Devon since 2014, and in that time have found that buildings and storefronts remain vacant for months–even years–before yet another sari shop, cell phone store, or grocery opens. When I check the building ownership for these properties, I find that they are Indian-owned. It’s no accident that only Indian businesses are permitted to rent storefronts on that stretch of Devon.

Devon used to be known all over the City and suburbs for its magnificent retailing. The neighborhood had everything–dress shops, toy shops, restaurants, men’s clothing stores, shoe stores, kids clothing shops, a hobby shop, linen, barber, and beauty shops, Crawford’s Department Store, a stock brokerage, bakeries and cigar stores, among other retailing offerings. In 1974, when Patel Bros. opened its first grocery store on Devon, it was welcomed to the mix. But as Indo-Americans bought the properties along Devon, , only Indian businesses were permitted to rent the storefronts. Do the Indian owners discriminate against non-Indian tenants? Yes, they do. It’s clear, and it’s illegal. I’ve tracked it for too long to believe otherwise. And I’ve talked with at least one non-Indian prospective business owner who wasn’t able to rent.

Maybe the RPBA, the SSA, and the alderman can work on that.

Here’s another hint:

An international marketplace sells quality goods from around the world. Diversity is in the merchandise, not in the merchants.

Devon includes store owners from around the world, but their businesses–which could thrive and become successful–are doomed to failure because they do not get the support and assistance they need. Many  are woefully under-capitalized and need access to funding as well as basic marketing, merchandise display, advertising, and retailing skills.  Devon is not a road in some dusty village where a single store sells everything from milk to suitcases. It’s a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago, and middle class people do not patronize stores with dusty bags of rice in the windows, or sun-faded boxes. If the alderman, the RPBA, or the SSA really want to build a business district rather than promote Little India, they would contact the SBA, the City’s business development office, and the State of Illinois for assistance in creating such training and making such resources available to merchants in the entire SSA area  (Leavitt to Kedzie on Devon, Arthur to Granville on Western).

Creating a “branding campaign” for the current dreary array of vacancies and shabby little shops selling so-so merchandise is a mistake. Mislead people once and you won’t get a second chance.

Build a business district that’s truly remarkable and it will sell itself.

Debra’s Pathetic Year-End “Newsletter”

It’s time for the alderqueen’s annual end-of-year newsletter, her statement of her achievements for the past twelve months. Every year it gets worse. This year it’s just pathetic. Pure malarkey.

Four glossy pages, seven pictures of Herself, and–lest we forget– her name and title mentioned 28 times.  The words “Alderman Silverstein” begin 20 of the report’s 32 paragraphs.

Ira, who usually figures prominently in these fluff pieces, is nowhere to be found. He-who-must-not-be-named apparently also must not be seen.  One of three photos on page two shows a male torso in a checked shirt with its head carefully lopped off. Maybe this is her  first public statement on last Halloween’s sexual harassment charges. [See the uncropped photo here.]

Front Page
She begins by noting that she opposed the property tax increase. That’s so last year, 2016, in fact. She’s voted for every tax since, including water and sewer taxes, and voted just last month to to support the Mayor’s 2018 budget that includes increased taxes on phones, ride-sharing services, and amusements.  If we’re going to report on the past, let’s include her vote for the 2012 budget, which closed half the City’s mental health clinics.

She proudly claims co-sponsorship of bills increasing the minimum wage, requiring paid sick leave for all workers in the City, and making Chicago a “Welcoming City” for illegal immigrants.

Why does she call the minimum wage bill a “new law” when it was passed three years ago (December 2014)? Why is she still claiming credit for the Welcoming City bill, passed in 2012? Her claims to co-sponsorships are overblown. She was one of 33 co-sponsors for  the minimum wage bill, one of 40 co-sponsors for paid sick leave, and one of 28 co-sponsors for the Welcoming City bill. She’s not a leader, not a mover in the City Council, and not a risk-taker. She co-sponsors bills when she can hide safely among her colleagues.

[It’s worth noting that the Welcoming City ordinance (amended this year to prevent Chicago police from working with immigration authorities to apprehend and deport criminals illegally in the U.S.) led to the Municipal ID, which will permit the same illegal immigrants to vote next year and in 2019. Despite claims that the card will be used as a library card and for public transit, its primary purpose is to give non-citizens the right to reward–er, vote for–the Democrats who made the Municipal ID possible.]

Public Safety
Her actions to improve public safety are laughable. How does requiring working police officers to serve as background extras so the alderman can pose for pictures improve public safety? One of her weekly newsletters published a ridiculous photo of her taking a salute from the officers – to what purpose? It was almost as bad as when she claimed credit for the Neighborhood Watch Program, posing in one of the jackets worn by participants. Why? She “regularly” speaks with the police commanders?  What does she discuss? While no troubled area in the ward can get a beat officer who actually walks around, she did manage to arrange for police to be on hand to protect the “rights” of Hindu dancers disturbing residents by blasting music via loudspeakers in a parking lot. Twice. Great sense of law enforcement priorities, Deb.

Silverstein claims that she “enhanced” the community via the new library, the street scapes on Devon and Howard, and the new lighting in Warren Park. Not true.

She was as blindsided as the rest of us by the Mayor’s sudden decision to combine a new library with senior housing, an idea that has been used in Europe for over a decade. We got the library only because more than 2,000 citizens signed a petition demanding that the old library be replaced. This was never a priority for Debra, so ignore her claims to “years of hard work and planning.”  She had nothing to do with it. And if you attended any of the meetings you might have noticed that “deer in the headlights” look she gets when she’s asked a question about one of “her” projects. The alderman is clueless.

The Devon streetscape has created a traffic nightmare. The Howard project was almost entirely an Evanston project. The bike bridge at Devon & McCormick had nothing to do with Silverstein. The Park District handled the lighting at Warren Park without her help. And “Stone Park” is actually “Bernie Stone Park.” She still can’t bring herself to speak her predecessor’s name. It’s hardly a “destination.” It’s out of the way, has no playground equipment, and is backed by a hulking storage facility. She’s so on top of things that in one newsletter she asked her constituents which of three sculptural panels they favored for the park, not knowing that the three pieces were components of a single piece.

Supporting Education
She supports education by lunching annually with the ward’s school principals. Then she takes credit for the job they do. Yet in 2013 she voted against the TIF surplus ordinance, which would have returned money to our public schools, and in 2012 she voted for the closure of 50 public schools. .

Community Services
The tax appeal workshops don’t need her, they’re Larry Suffredin’s responsibility.

The Senior Fraud seminar had roughly a dozen participants. Poor attendance for a ward with thousands of senior citizens. See her April 21 newsletter for the photo.

Both the Hiring Fair and the Flue Shot Clinic are sponsored by the City and paid for with tax dollars. Many aldermen find it possible to “host” both events without slapping their own names on all the promotional materials, as Deb does, and without referring to them in the possessive.

One Community, One City
Silverstein’s meetings with “community leaders” on solidarity were embarrassing. Her newsletters of March 13 and March 31 show that they were poorly attended. She didn’t organize either of them, and throughout the year leaves the problems that arise from cultural and religious misunderstandings strictly alone. She’d rather not get involved, thank you, just stopped by for a quick photo for the gullible.

The SSA Meetings are a farce. The SSA covers a limited area (Devon, and Western from Arthur to Granville). No merchants west of California are involved, and the community property-owner representatives do not reflect the diversity of the community.

The other events listed are not Debra’s projects, she participates for the photo ops they bring.

Back Page
I hardly know where to begin. She didn’t announce the new library, Rahm did, and he left without taking questions.

It’s interesting that she brags about the affordable housing, since she chose not to support the “Keeping the Promise Affordable Housing Ordinance.” Although the ordinance would reform CHA (which this year gave public land to developers for $1 for a 99-year lease, and loaned $2 million at zero interest to developers). Deb ain’t interested in reform. In any case, despite misleading statements to West Ridge residents at the open community meetings, the CHA announced at its final meeting that the 30 CHA-controlled apartments at the new library would be assigned to the next thirty individuals or couples on the CHA wait list, not to community residents. This is a matter of law. The other fourteen apartments at the new library were added so the developer could make money (I have no problem with that), and will be subsidized so tenants will pay around $700 per month rather than 30% of their income, as CHA residents do.

I haven’t a clue as to what Silverstein means by “amenities,” unless it’s the seniors’ laundry room.

The newsletter reveals that she’s still using private e-mail and Web site addresses rather than those provided at taxpayer expense by the City. Before you write to her or sign up for her newsletter, you should understand that (a) her continued use of a private e-mail address to conduct City business raises serious ethical questions; and (b) her use of a private Web site permits the collection of private information from your IP address.

Sheesh.

 

Deb & Ira, Talk to Us

The lesson of Watergate is that “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” The sexual harassment scandal involving Ira Silverstein cannot be covered up–the lady provided proof of her allegations. Unfortunately, the Silversteins have chosen to ignore the charges, which will make the expected outcome–his resignations as senator and Democratic committeeman–seem even worse. And it may well haunt her own re-election campaign.

The alderman began her Friday newsletter by reporting that her thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by last week’s terror attack in New York. Nowhere did she mention the same week’s accusations against her husband. Ira hasn’t issued any statements to his constituents either, even after the proofs of his behavior cost him his post as majority whip. What is he waiting for?

A public official accused of sexual harassment must respond with more than a bland statement that he is sorry if anything he did made a woman “uncomfortable” and that he awaits the Ethics Committee report on the propriety of his behavior. It’s simply astounding that he doesn’t understand the nature of his offenses. Once the proofs were provided (audio of phone calls, hundreds of Facebook posts), I think he became obliged to issue a statement to his constituents admitting that the accusations can be substantiated, that he is considering his options, and that he plans to remain in office pending the Ethics Committee decision. Both of his political jobs (senator, Democratic committeeman) are on the line, and it’s difficult to see how he can continue to serve in either position regardless of what the Ethics Committee does.  But he needs to communicate with the voters before that happens.

The alderman’s lack of rapport with the people she serves is well-known. She is difficult to approach, and visibly uncomfortable with constituent contact. I think she is simply unable to relate to her constituents well enough to acknowledge that allegations were made against her husband, that she supports him whether the charges are sustained or not, and that she, her husband, and their family would appreciate our prayers at this difficult time. That’s the standard PR line all politicians facing self-created scandals use. A few words could mean a lot. She has her own political future to consider.

The people of the 50th Ward and the residents of the 8th Senatorial District have a right to know Ira’s side of the story, including an explanation of the audio recordings and Facebook posts. We also have a right to know what will happen if Ira resigns as state senator and Democratic ward committeeman. The 50th Ward is not known for political activism or participation, and must guard against new candidates with the same old ideas. But we should have some information on what to expect and when, and that needs to be communicated now.

I wonder how much of a role the hubris arising from the Silversteins’ absolute political control of the 50th Ward played in all this: alderman, committeeman, state senator, de facto bosses of the Regular Democratic Organization. Every bit of power is theirs, and the stories of the way that power has been used are told in whispers. They destroy all rivals and take no prisoners. It’s easy to see how two political figures driven by power rather than service would find it unnecessary to acknowledge what happened last week. That doesn’t make it acceptable.

They had both better say something, and soon.

The News About Ira

I’m stunned by the sexual harassment allegations leveled against Ira Silverstein. I just don’t see Ira as the kind of guy who’d think that if the lady wants her bill passed she’d better make herself available for midnight chats. I’ve never heard a whisper that he’s a womanizer, and that’s the kind of thing that gets around fast. Allegations aren’t proof; in America, one is still presumed innocent until proven guilty, even though the lynch mobs in the press and on social media don’t seem to know this.

Of course, if it turns out that Ira did send this lady more than 400 Facebook messages, that he did make midnight phone calls to her, that he did block a bill from a vote because he thought she  had a boyfriend, then he can’t continue to serve as state senator or ward committeeman. Let’s see what the Ethics Committee has to say first.

There are many troubling aspects to this story, not least of which is the inaction of State Senate President Cullerton, who knowingly referred the matter to the office of a legislative inspector general who doesn’t exist as well as to an ethics panel that has done nothing about the charges for a year. Ira has been aware since 2016 that a complaint was filed against him. It’s been one of the best-kept political secrets in Springfield and Chicago, proof that the Old Boys Network has gone underground, but hasn’t gone away.

The corruption that has so permeated every level of government in Illinois shows its ugly face here, too. Sexual harassment is so pervasive in Illinois government that legislators are rushing to amend the state’s ethics and lobbyists’ ordinances to include prohibitions against it. Unfortunately, the bill as proposed is weak, merely requiring that each state officer, legislator, and agency establish an anti-harassment policy and imposing $5,000 fines on state employees and lobbyists found guilty of such harassment. Those not taking anti-harassment training will have their names published. Imagine trying to shame an Illinois politician or lobbyist by telling the public that he doesn’t follow the rules!

No talk yet of filling the IG position.

The look on Speaker Madigan’s face while Ms. Rotheimer stated her case was hard to gauge. Was he as shocked as appeared at times, or was he thinking ahead to the possibilities that Ira’s departure from office would create? The late Avy Meyers maintained for years that the big guys in Springfield wanted to get rid of Ira but couldn’t risk alienating the Orthodox vote. If Ira implodes on his own, then there are openings for state senator, majority whip, and ward committeeman. All the big shots who make our state so corrupt—Rahm, Madigan, Cullerton, et al.—will profit in some way if Ira’s forced to resign.

His district includes all or part of several wards and stretches through several suburbs, including Skokie and Niles. Ira’s been in office 18 years, and has run unopposed since 2004.  Could another Chicago candidate be elected? Or is it time for a suburban senator? Which ethnic or religious group would be favored? Figure that governor nominee-presumptive Pritzker will have a say as well. And his money could be the determining factor in candidate selection.

Ira was last re-elected Democratic Committeeman in March 2016. Most aldermen are also their ward’s committeemen, so Debra could theoretically assume that role, too. Of course, she’s in way over her head as alderman, so party bigwigs may recognize that adding the committeeman’s position might not be too smart. When there’s a mid-term opening for committeeman, the replacement is selected by votes cast by all other City committeemen. Would a trusted Silverstein ally or member of the 50th Ward Regular Democratic Organization – the Silverstein Machine – take over? Or would there finally be an opportunity for an independent Democrat to begin building a functioning democracy in the 50th? Would somebody who’d do so stand a chance of being elected?

Is it time for the first non-Orthodox committeeman? If so, which ethnic or religious group’s candidate should be selected? Who could be chosen who would not alienate the majority of residents / voters? The Silversteins have done nothing to build community, so it’s likely to be a free-for-all..

How might these accusations impact Debra’s race for re-election next year? Ira told the press he discussed the charges with her, told her he did nothing wrong, and that she believes him. She has thus far declined to comment. But his conduct does make her vulnerable as a candidate, fairly or not.

A Silverstein sex scandal. Can you believe it?

The Alderqueen Strikes Again

Like many of you, I received the alderqueen’s newsletter on Wednesday of this week. As usual, it displayed a couple of pictures of Herself enjoying her favorite job activity–having her picture taken.

Like many of you, I missed the community invitation to the official ribbon-cutting of the new Bernie Stone Park at Devon & McCormick. At least Bernie’s family was invited. But Rahm and the alderqueen share a disdain for ordinary folks (you know who you are) and neither of them missed any of us. Rahm clearly doesn’t like to spend any more time in the 50th than he has to. He was in and out of the official groundbreaking for the park so fast that the few people in attendance didn’t know the “event” was over til he rushed away. And Queenie hates mixing with her constituents. Watch for the ribbon-cutting picture to surface in next year’s election campaign.

The newsletter also pictures the alderqueen with the principal of Decatur School. Regular readers will remember that West Ridge nearly lost the school to Rogers Park just last year, and Queenie didn’t lift a finger to help save it. But, in preparation for re-election, she’s suddenly the school’s biggest cheerleader.  That picture, too, will no doubt be used in the campaign to show her support for education.

Here’s what the newsletter didn’t tell you: The owner of the new Hindu temple on Devon managed to get a family member, Jayesh Shewakaramani,  appointed as a Commissioner in Special Services Area #43 (SSA #43), otherwise known as Devon Avenue. This is a special taxing body that assesses a 1.5% extra property tax on all property owners on Devon from Kedzie to Damen and on Western from Granville to Arthur. The temple, now officially declared a religious institution by the Zoning Board of Appeals (only in Chicago!), is exempt from the tax because the temple pays no property taxes. This is true even though the temple’s owner has admitted that the temple is intended to boost the other businesses he owns on Devon.

The appointment was presented to the City Council for approval at last week’s meeting. Interesting, because the SSA’s January 2017 minutes list him as a commissioner already. His status was changed to “Commissioner Applicant” for subsequent meetings. You see how well things are planned in advance? Approach the alderman for support; announce that you are bringing the community together by creating a religious temple that will boost your commercial interests; get a relative on the SSA; abuse residents with “religious” performances next to residential housing, have this abuse enforced by police protection ordered by the alderman.

Only in the 50th Ward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Ridge #3 in Rat Complaints in Chicago

According to today’s DNA Info, West Ridge ranks third in rat complaints in the City of Chicago. Of the 46,879 resident complaints about rats in 2016, 1,529 came from West Ridge. The 2017 City total is already 1,500 complaints higher than 2016.

The article notes that the areas with the greatest number of complaints also have the highest-density population, the greatest number of restaurants, and the largest amount of trash. Construction also plays a role. To be fair, West Ridge includes parts of the 40th and 48th Wards as well as the 50th.

But doesn’t Devon Avenue immediately come to mind?