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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Second Aldermanic Forum

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

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

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

Opening statements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you create a community planning / zoning council?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you attract and retain businesses?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How should we address the coming pension shortfall?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you favor a City or public bank?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you do to improve public transit?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you support the establishment of a police accountability board?

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

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

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

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

Rowlas: Ranked-choice voting works in other cities.

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

It works this way, alderman.

Do you favor reopening and expanding the mental health clinics?

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

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

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

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

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

Silverstein: No. The aldermen know their wards best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rowlas: Yes.

Silverstein: Yes.

Do you support term limits for aldermen?

Silverstein: “Elections are term limits.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you support rent control?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Statements

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

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

 

 

 

The First Aldermanic Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate Change. All three candidates favor renewable energy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candidates remained available to any audience member with further questions.

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

 

Quiz: How Well Do You Know The Alderman?

How much do you know about Debra Silverstein’s performance as alderman?  Take the Follies quiz!

1.  As she has demonstrated over the past eight years, Silverstein’s vision for the 50th Ward includes:

(a) an economic development plan that includes all major commercial corridors and brings residents a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment choices;

(b)  a community development plan that involves residents in ward governance and promotes civic engagement through her Zoning Advisory Board, her Resident-Business Economic Development Council, her Youth Advisory Council, and the 50th Ward Participatory Budgeting Committee;

(c) keeping residents advised on government issues through her weekly ward newsletter that focuses on City and Ward business, emphasizes major issues before the City Council, and reports on Silverstein’s votes in committees and the City Council during the previous week;

(d)  none of the above.

2. The Devon Avenue streetscape is a major accomplishment because:

(a) gridlock gives drivers and passengers more time to look at empty storefronts;

(b) the widened sidewalks and ample seating areas west of California are lovely to look at and not cluttered with shoppers;

(c) Silverstein says it is;

(d) grocery tourism is our ward’s primary growth industry.

3. Silverstein styles herself a law-and-order alderman and believes that community safety is best maintained and advanced by:

(a)  photo-ops of herself at outdoor police roll calls;

(b)  glorifying routine police business like serving warrants and checking on parolees by rebranding such activities “multijurisdictional task forces” or “police stings” and claiming she “organizes” them;

(c) hosting community meetings with police brass to address property crimes occurring north of Pratt while ignoring any and all crime south of Pratt, including murder;

(d) talking to and/or texting the 19th and 24th District police commanders on a daily basis;

(e) all of the above.

4.  Over the past 8 years, Silverstein has used her power as alderman to support which of the following charitable activities:

(a) giving away turkeys to the less fortunate  at Thanksgiving;

(b) organizing coat drives for adults and children facing winter without warm clothing;

(c) arranging for a neighborhood warming/cooling center for the homeless  and those without adequate heat or air conditioning;

(d) creating a neighborhood food pantry;

(e) none of the above.

5. Silverstein brags endlessly about the 50th Ward’s diversity, which is best exemplified by:

(a) buying fruits and vegetables from immigrant-owned stores;

(b) finding new ways to get to work when Devon is closed for parades and religious festivals;

(c) attending one or more of the many cultural festivals Silverstein organizes;

(d) marching in the ward’s annual Fourth of July parade alongside friends and neighbors from other lands;

(e) associating only with people who look just like you;

(f) all of the above.

Sorry–this was a trick question. Options (c) and (d) do not exist.

6.  Silverstein’s claim that “people from all over the city and beyond” are flocking to our “unique stores” are:

(a) true;

(b) false;

(c) boosterism;

(d) deusional.

7. Claiming personal credit for the delivery of routine city services is acceptable because:

(a) an alderman is entitled to claim credit for everything except the rising of the sun;

(b) these things would not happen if anybody else  were alderman;

(c) she was elected primarily to ensure that the City does not slack off on tree maintenance and sewer cleaning;

(d) Silverstein has nothing else to brag about.

8. Silverstein enhances the educational opportunities of 50th Ward students by:

(a) giving them a chance to take part in participatory budgeting so they can get a sense of how government works;

(b) helping them earn community service credits through year-round  projects such as her snow shoveling corps, ward beautification and cleanup projects, and connecting young people with senior citizens who need occasional help shopping, using computers, etc.;

(c)  hosting an annual pizza-on-paper-plates lunch  for 50th Ward school principals;

(d) insisting she personally “fights” for every dollar from any source spent on any ward school at any time.

9. Silverstein improves residents’ quality of life through such initiatives as:

(a) paying close attention to the environmental pollution generated by traffic gridlock, and seeking ways to alleviate the damage to public spaces, private yards, and residents’ lungs;

(b) waging a public information campaign to encourage residents not to  toss household garbage in street corner trash cans, thus improving the cleanliness of our streets and decreasing the amount of food available for rats;

(c) working with the CTA to ensure that bus routes are adequately staffed, reasonably timed, and available to residents 7 days per week;

(d) hosting multicultural events for residents, helping to break down ethnic and religious silos and fostering neighborliness;

(e) none of the above.

10. Which of the following is not true: Driving around the ward looking for potholes is:

(a) an important aldermanic function neglected for many, many years before Silverstein was elected;

(b) the ward superintendent’s job;

(c) a distraction from the more important work Silverstein should be doing;

(d) an overwhelming personal obsession.

11. Silverstein has not yet been endorsed by any mayoral candidate because:

(a)  she’s a machine hack, and the reformers won’t go near her;

(b) an endorsement from Daley, Mendoza, or Preckwinkle would remind voters that Silverstein is part of the Chicago Machine;

(c) Silverstein wants to be absolutely sure who the next Boss will be before kneeling in supplication;

(d) all of the above.

12. There have been no public meetings on the fate of the old Northtown Library building because:

(a) none are needed– Silverstein has already promised the structure and will announce her decision after the election;

(b) Silverstein’s been too busy counting the number of tree limbs removed in the past 4 years;

(c) Silverstein’s been focused on how City Council reforms might limit her power and force her to actully work;

(d) Silverstein can do only one thing at a time, and the building isn’t empty yet.

13. Which of the following is not true: Silverstein has not revealed her economic development plan over the past eight years because:

(a) she has absolutely zero interest in planned economic development;

(b) she’s busy supervising police activities;

(c) an occasional store opening is fun, while economic planning is work;

(d) the ward’s economy is fine just the way it is;

(e) she has no clue how to begin;

(f) she learned her lesson with the Devon Community Market;

(g) the plan is in development.

14. Silverstein deserves reelection because:

(a) Ira lost his job;

(b) she doesn’t want to be a CPA any more;

(c) she loves the unchecked power she has over others and uses it to benefit her friends and punish her enemies;

(d) she qualifies for a pension after one more term;

(e) all of the above;

(f)  none of the above.

15. Silverstein’s commitment to transparency in government is best demonstrated by:

(a) using a private email address rather than her City-furnished email address to conduct public business;

(b) ignoring community input when approving any and all zoning changes;

(c) using a private ward website that collects personal information from users not collected by the ward website provided by the City;

(d)  appointing a committee to advise her on final decisions for the new Northtown Library, then swearing its members to absolute secrecy about who they are and what they discuss;

(e) blocking the opening of a medical marijuana clinic and then secretly changing the zoning for that parcel of land from commercial to residential;

(f) what transparency?

Answers:
1 – d; 2 – c; 3- e; 4 – e; 5 – f; 6 – d; 7 – d; 8 – c; 9 – e; 10 – a; 11 – d; 12 – a; 13 – g; 14 – f; 15 – f

Give yourself one point for each correct answer. A score of 12-15 makes you an expert. If you scored 6-11, you’re ready to vote for someone else. Did you score 1-5? It’s okay, you’re beginning to catch on and glossy mailers won’t fool you.

 

 

Follies Truth Squad: Silverstein Campaign Mailer, Part II

Any alderman who claims tree trimming as a major accomplishment should not be running for reelection.

The overall impression conveyed by the claims listed in Ald. Silverstein’s newsletter/campaign mailer is that she invests most of her time in relatively trivial pursuits rather than doing the hard work of creating an economic development plan, leading the way on community empowerment, and providing the leadership the ward so desperately needs. Among her many failures on the major issues:

  • Silverstein has failed to deliver the “spirited economic development plan” for California, Devon, Touhy, and Western Avenues that she promised in 2010. She’s had eight years to do so.
  • Silverstein has stubbornly refused to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward, despite widespread neighborhood support, and actively tried to prevent a nonbinding referendum from making the ballot, hiring her elections attorney to challenge the wording of the PB petition and fight the issue before the Chicago Board of Elections. Instead of granting the community a voice in how the $1.3M menu money is used, she spends it all on her major obsession–potholes
  • Silverstein never engaged the community in what she now claims was one of her major priorities–a new Northtown Library. She should have led the community in its attempts to replace the crumbling structure on California with a new building, but she did nothing except discourage neighborhood residents who approached her about doing so. The LEARN Coalition was organized as a direct response to her lack of interest and succeeded in bringing the neighborhood’s needs to the attention of the Chicago Public Library Board and the Mayor’s Office. Silverstein was not the driving force behind the new library, despite her claims otherwise. She refuses to acknowledge that LEARN led the way.
  • Silverstein has failed to attract significant numbers of new businesses to the ward. She has failed to create the business districts that would support the idea of West Ridge being “The International Marketplace,” as its marketing campaign claims. The new campaign, “On Devon,” is built on the fantasy that there are a wide variety of shops selling a vast array of unique goods . In fact, most stores on Devon are small grocers, beauty shops, and cell phone stores. Touhy Avenue is commercially barren, with blocks of vacancies. Western has many vacancies as well.

Yet Silverstein brags about “improving our local businesses” by hanging banners and attending meetings of the Chamber of Commerce and the SSA.  She doesn’t just meet “regularly” with the SSA, she controls it. The poor decisions it makes are made in her office, with Silverstein  in attendance. She chooses the commissioners, who are technically appointed by the Mayor. The hodgepodge of community programs it offers (Movie in the Parking Lot, Devon’s Got Talent) are poorly conceived and executed.

I’ve discussed the new library extensively in various posts. One  important point needs to be reiterated:

  • Silverstein appointed a secret advisory committee to help her make decisions on the library’s final design. Its members were appointed nearly two years ago, but to this day Silverstein refuses to disclose who they are. They were sworn to secrecy by her and forbidden to discuss their deliberations or reveal the names of fellow committee members to anyone. This is public business. Why the need for secrecy?

The Devon Avenue streetscape, her other major accomplishment, is a disaster.

  • The street is now so narrow that it slows traffic and creates constant traffic jams
  • The lack of police foot patrols from Talman to Western–the main shopping area on Devon–has left drivers feeling free to park or stand in bus lanes, forcing passengers to board and exit the bus in the street, while the bus blocks traffic  Many vehicles park or stand in crosswalks while waiting for shoppers inside the grocery stores
  • Many drivers park parallel to the curb bump-outs, and it is impossible for two lanes of traffic to pass each other.
  • Devon is an environmental disaster. The BGA recently released a report on the most polluted areas of Chicago. Because the business model on Devon requires that shoppers be recruited from outside the neighborhood, vehicular pollution is high. You’d think the alderman who claims educating the neighborhood’s children as yet another of her “priorities” would show some concern for the toddlers in daycare centers and the kids in our local schools. Ha! Silverstein’s busy looking for potholes and counting sawed-off tree limbs
  • The sidewalks are simply filthy. Many are stained by pan, a mixture of beetle juice, herbs, and often tobacco that is chewed and spit all over the place. The stains on the new sidewalks are permanent, and the seating areas disgusting. I call them sit-and-spit areas. Pan is banned in India and Canada, among other nations, because its use is unsanitary and indelible. It’s allowed on Devon, and sold by a significant number of stores. The alderman doesn’t care.
  • The streetscape design did not include trash cans in the seating areas, so garbage is dumped in planters and on / under seating

Notice that Silverstein takes credit for attending parades, “Iftar dinners,” and claims she participated in soccer games and the World Cup Final. That’s a sight I’d like to see. But however clumsy the wording, labeling these activities as “celebrat[ing] all our cultures” is ridiculous. I’ve always said she excels at the ceremonial aspects of her job–nobody is more willing to pose for pictures–but this is symbolism, not leadership.

Is the Movie in the Park really an example of Silverstein working with the community? Did Silverstein really help produce the Indian Boundary Park Harvest Fest? Or did she simply show up for yet another photo-opp?

It’s worth noting that the alderman with more than $190,000 in her war chest could not find a few hundred dollars to buy turkeys for the poor at Thanksgiving. In eight years in office, Silverstein has never organized a food drive or a coat drive for the less fortunate. Yes, her office collects items for Toys for Tots, veterans, and others, but I’ve never felt that she has any compassion for people less well-off than she is. I reviewed her campaign fundraising expense account, and find she consistently makes only two charitable donations: $200 per month to CJE for transportation for the elderly, and $50 per year for the North Boundary Homeowners League.

Four more years?? With this sorry record??

I think not.

Tomorrow: Part III will focus on Silverstein’s claims regarding public safety

 

Economic Development Community Meeting at Northtown Library

Every year the Chicago Community Trust invites City residents to participate in discussions of topics of public interest and public policy. The program, known as “Open Table,”  organizes these citywide discuussions neighborhood by neighborhood.

This year, the West Ridge Community Organization and the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce are co – sponsoring the OpenTable program that will take place on Thursday, May 10th, at the Northtown Library, 6435 North California, from 6 to 8 p.m.  The selected topic is economic planning and development in West Ridge.

Discussions will begin with a presentation by Abraham Lentner, city planning instructor att the University of Illinois at Chicago. After his presentation, the audience will break into small discussion groups to share ideas about potential eonomic dvelopment improvements for our neighborhood. The audience will then reconvene to share each group’s ideas, concerns, and recommendations.

The event is free. If you have any questions please contact the West Ridge Community Organization or the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.

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.

“Between States” – The Chicago Architecture Foundation Project

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF)  invited West Ridge residents to be part of an exciting new experiment in urban design that will be showcased at CAF’s second Biennial Exhibit beginning in September and lasting through January 2018. The last such event, in 2015, drew 250,000 visitors to the Chicago Cultural Center, with another 250,000 attending CAF events in other venues throughout the City.

The theme of this year’s Biennial is “Between States,” that is, moving from one state of being to another. Every ward in the City of Chicago has ts own project, its own opportunity to shine. The project for the 50th Ward involved imagining new uses for a local strip mall.

Architect Jay Longo, a resident of our ward and a principal with the firm Solomon, Cordwell,  Buenz, selected the strip mall located on the northwest corner of Granville and Western for this project.  His vision was informed by two workshops with local residents and business owners, who imagined the mall transformed into housing, a commercial urban garden, and a plaza lush with green space and flowers, perhaps enriched by a mural and a neighborhood marker. The final rendering will reflect the shared dream resulting from this active, creative collaboration between a neighborhood architect and members of the West Ridge community.

POWR (People of West Ridge), was selected as the project’s community partner and, together with Jay’s research partner, Cheryl Dahle, CEO of FlipLabs, coordinated input from 50th Ward residents, input that we believe could be the start of a long-overdue conversation about economic development throughout the 50th Ward, currently home to too many vacant lots, vacant stores, and vacant buildings. While it’s important to begin the process of revitalizing all of our commercial districts, the project focused on a small part of Western Avenue, a street in search of an identity. Anchored at both its Granville and Howard ends by half-empty strip malls, a street littered with vacancies, empty buildings, and unused lots, Western presents an opportunity for the community to reflect on and discuss what kind of overall development best serves West Ridge now and into the future, and to plan ways to achieve its collective vision.

Note that no actual demolition or building will take place. This project is conceptual only. No businesses will be displaced, nor are there any plans for future displacement. The point of the project is not to solve urban problems, but to demonstrate how good design and good architecture contribute to community life. The project is designed to stir the imagination, to awaken an awareness of new possibilities, and to create new ways of observing the public and private spaces in which we live and work every day.

Jay will present renderings of his project at several community meetings to be scheduled in September.  Copies of his rendering will also be on display at several locations throughout the ward, and a copy will be presented to the alderman for her office. The meetings will be open to discussions about the project and the ongoing research into economic development opportunities in the 50th Ward. Resident participation in these discussions is a critical. Good planning starts with solid research, and that research includes open community conversations about the kinds of sustainable development residents want as well as a hard, realistic evaluation of existing possibilities and constraints.

The community meetings will be announced as soon as dates are finalized. In addition, there will be walking tours of the neighborhood and other activities to attract visitors. Who wouldn’t want to come to West Ridge for a tour of our lovely historic district, or  a stroll through one of our beautiful parks, and end the day with a meal at one of our many restaurants? It’s an opportunity for us to show off our architectural heritage as well, our beautiful churches and synagogues, and our beautifully landscaped residential areas. If you have a special place you’d like visitors to see, feel free to email us at HopeComm@gmx.com.

To ensure that the community outreach for the CAF project included a wide variety of people representing the diversity of our neighborhood, POWR enlisted the help of individuals and organizations who became the founding members of the HOPE Committee, a group committed to the long-term goal of working with the community to create sustainable economic development throughout the ward.  Please see the HOPE Committee page on POWR’s Web site for the names of the groups and individuals who together made this project possible. The Committee also has its own page on POWR’s Web site while HOPE’s own site is under construction.

West Ridge residents can look forward to an exciting opportunity to work together with neighbors, students, organizations, and business interests to help create the 50th Ward of the future. Our section of Western Avenue, the longest continuous street in Chicago, stretches more than 15 blocks. Similar opportunities exist on Touhy and on Devon, on Lincoln and on Howard. This project is just the starting point.

I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

“Affordable Housing & Community Design”

I attended this lecture yesterday and it was well worth attending. Jeff Bone of Landon Bone Baker Architects presented a wonderfully informative slide show about his firm’s approaches to affordable housing. It got me to thinking about how West Ridge residents might approach repurposing our current library and developing affordable housing in our neighborhood.

His firm has repurposed existing buildings to house homeless youth, low-income families with at least one family member suffering from a physical disability, and rehabbed SROs. Working with Casa Norte, for example, Bone’s firm created housing for 16 homeless young men, including a communal kitchen where they prepared and shared their meals.

In Roseland, his firm built several kinds of senior housing, including apartments for independent living and a building for assisted living as well as grandfamily housing for grandparents raising children as well as townhouses for single mothers.  It has also built new 3-bedroom homes.

The firm is also building developments of tiny houses (325 sq. ft.), currently a 12-house development centered around individual gardens, perfect for single adults or empty-nesters. Bone explained that, while a standard new house runs about $350,000 to build, a tiny house costs in the neighborhood of $80,000.

The firm has developed commercial spaces as well, and has worked with private developers as well as CHA.

West Ridge residents should hear what he has to say about developing / repurposing existing building, affordable housing, and building community–all with a green thumbprint. Some developments also include training kitchens so residents can work in the food service industry, and other vocational training.

Many thanks to Derrick Everett of West Ridge for bringing this talk to my attention. Now it needs a wider audience.

 

Is This Community Input?

This morning the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) approved a $1.25M lease of public land to Target for a Target Express on Sheridan near Devon, contingent on “community input.” Baloney.

This is a done deal and the way it’s been handled is particularly instructive for West Ridge residents because of the proposed new library-senior housing complex to be built at Western & Pratt. Nobody–not the aldermen, the developers, the CHA, the hidden interests that stand to benefit–has been straight with the residents of either ward. Worse, the game of “community input” obscures the fact that powerful people are running roughshod over the powerless. There’s no real input, and the game is over for the community before it even begins.

The Target development is in the 49th Ward. Public land is being taken from a senior housing building, The Caroline Hedger Apartments, In order to build the Target; above it, the CHA will build 111 multigenerational apartments (60% of them subsidized or affordable, the others market rate; the developer suggesting $2,000 for a two-bedroom unit). The property, to be called “The Concord at Sheridan” [beware of buildings with pretentious names], will include underground parking and commercial space. The land to be taken from the Hedger seniors is used for their garden and community room; the garden will be replaced by a rooftop of potted plants to be shared with the new building’s tenants, and a new community room will be built for them in the new building; it will be accessible by elevator; the existing room is at ground level.

Ald. Joe Moore held a community meeting on January 30 at which all interests (CHA, Target,  and Three Corners Development) except those of the Hedger residents were presented to the public. Community opposition was strong. More than 150 Hedger residents have signed a petition opposing the loss of their garden and community room; Moore later claimed in a written statement to the community that  “only about 20 residents” oppose his plans. The lease is for 99 years.

Residents pointed to the numerous vacant storefronts throughout Rogers Park as evidence that additional commercial space is not needed, and many worried about the Target’s effect on the neighborhood’s small businesses.  Neighbors noted that the extremely high rents being charged in existing buildings have led to high vacancy rates in the area surrounding the proposed development. The statement that a two-bedroom unit in the new building would cost $2,000 per month was met with derision. A building less than a block away, The Morgan [what did I just say about pretentious names?}, is said to be one-third empty because of its cost.

The comments on commercial space were especially interesting because the 49th Ward is getting yet another new apartment building at Morse & Wayne. The developer for that building refused to add commercial space on the ground that the existing market did not support the idea, and Moore agreed. When he announced that he approved the developer’s decision, Moore cited all the vacant storefronts in the various commercial areas in Rogers Park, and said that no new storefronts were needed. Since that announcement, Three Corners has built a residential-commercial building a block from Hedger on Devon; its storefronts are vacant, as are most of the apartments.

[Last week it was announced that the two-story Woodruff Arcade Building on the southeast corner of Devon and Sheridan would be razed; it will be replaced by a six-story building which may be a mixed-use development with additional apartments.]

[Moore has been alderman of the 49th Ward for 24 years, and  is chairman of the City Council’s real estate committee. Three Corners Development has contributed to Moore’s political fund.]

CHA today required additional community input on the new building; decided it would not approve the project until it sees the building’s final design; and also insisted that the community have input into that design. But Moore was clear at the January 30 meeting that aldermen have the final say on development in their wards. In other words, when an alderman decides what the community wants, that’s what it gets. “Community” in Chicago sometimes means a community of one.

What does all this have to do with the 50th Ward library-senior housing building?

Well, for one thing, nobody pushing for a new library expected it to be coupled with senior housing. This was one of the Mayor’s bright ideas, and the alderman appeared to be as surprised as the community to learn about it. There’s almost no CHA or affordable housing in West Ridge, and very little support for getting any. There’s also the matter of which seniors would move into the building–seniors on the CHA waiting list or neighborhood residents? What are the politics involved in that decision?

[A proposed 100-unit building in Jefferson Park (45th Ward) recently met with fierce opposition by homeowners; the idea of CHA housing was so contentious before the meeting that it was restricted to people whose IDs proved they lived in the neighborhood. Even statements by Ald. Arena that the apartments would go to people already living in the neighborhood, primarily veterans, didn’t help. This building’s concept changed between its announcement and the community meeting, a worrisome sign.]

The LEARN Coalition, which created the petition for the new library and was solely responsible for obtaining more than 2,000 signatures from West Ridge residents in support of a new library, was left out of the process. Even though it has repeatedly told the alderman that it stands ready to work with her and the community on this library-senior housing project, she has not been forthcoming.  Indeed, the alderman has yet to publicly thank the group by name for its work on the issue.

Then there’s the “no information” community meeting held last November, at which we were repeatedly told that “everything’s on the table” and “nothing has been decided.” The drawings and pictures provided to the community at that meeting were only “renderings” of what the building, the apartments, and the library “might” look like. The design competition that was to end December 23 was extended, then three unnamed firms were selected to design the proposed building.  A community meeting in January was abruptly cancelled due to a “scheduling conflict” (Moore’s meeting was held the night before). It has not been rescheduled.

The alderman has consistently failed to update the community on the progress of the proposal via her weekly newsletter. In other words, the community will know nothing until presented with the final choices selected by the alderman and CHA. How can the community offer input if the design is already in place, the uses determined, and space for various activities already allocated?

Given the way the powers that be run things in the 50th Ward, the community had better start calling and writing Ald. Silverstein and telling her this way of doing the people’s business isn’t acceptable.  The building belongs to the community of West Ridge, and residents want to know what’s going on at every stage.

We have a right to be kept informed. She has a duty to see that we are.