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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

The Library and The Silverstein Way

The new Independence and Little Italy (formerly Roosevelt) branch libraries opened earlier this week. They are two of the three new libraries in the City that are combined with affordable / CHA senior housing.

The third library is our own Northtown, which has the distinction of being the only one of the three which required a secret committee to advise the alderman on its construction. The  members of that committee, sworn to secrecy immediately upon appointment, are still unknown and likely to remain so.. It’s  the Silverstein way

The senior housing component of the Independence Library is not yet finished, being about three weeks behind schedule, but the library is open and fully functioning. This is because Ald. Laurino is not running for reelection.

There is no official opening date for the Northtown but you can bet it will be as close to the election as possible so that Silverstein can do what she does best–place herself front and center, claim credit, and have her picture taken. Taking credit is easier than actually doing the work. It’s the Silverstein way.

The real heroes in the battle for a new library–The LEARN Coalition– will no doubt not be mentioned. Silverstein still cannot bring herself to mention the name “LEARN Coalition” or to give them the credit they deserve. As usual, she did it all herself.

There are similarities between the Independence branch and the Northtown. Both libraries are 16,000 square feet in size and include 44 housing units. But there are striking differences. The Independence branch is two stories, and places the adult area on the second floor. The Northtown library is one floor, with an open floor plan. At least that’s what the community was told before the secret committee and the alderman made the final design decisions, none of which were shared with residents. 

The new library is one of two major accomplishments Silverstein cites as reason to re-elect her, the other being the Devon streetscape. Watch for lots of news coverage, photos with the mayor, and pictures of a grinning Silverstein with happy neighborhood residents, especially kids, flooding into the new building.

Delaying the building’s opening means  solo news coverage and a boost for re-election.

It’s the Silverstein way.

 

 

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

 

Now What?

The old Northtown Library on California Avenue closed on Monday. The new building on Western and Pratt is still under construction. While library staff pack books and prepare to move into the new space, the question of what will happen to the old library needs to be addressed.

The fate of this publicly-owned building is officially undecided. Yet rumors persist that Silverstein has already promised it to either the Indo-American Center for its new home or the Jewish community for a synagogue, private school, or social service agency.

As I understand the procedure, once the building is vacant it must undergo a structural evaluation to determine if it is suitable for repurposing. If it is not, it will be demolished. But if it is, it must first be offered to City agencies and departments. Should none of them be interested in using it, then the alderman plays the largest role in determining its use and tenancy or new ownership.

Given Silverstein’s complete lack of transparency in Ward business it is highly unlikely that the community will have any meaningful input in this matter. She has still not revealed the names or organizational affiliations of the secret committee that advised her on library construction, and it’s been nearly two years since they were appointed.

We shouldn’t permit sham community meetings asking for neighbrhood input, as happened with the old theater at Devon and McCormick. A proposed cultural arts center was deemed impssible due to the lack of parking. In truth, the sale of that property for a storage facility had already been decided. After the sale and the creation of Berny Stone Park, the alderman announced that the Office Depot parking lot aross the street would be available to park users. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Community demand in West Ridge for a cultural and performing arts center available to all members of the community is ongoing and strong. Silverstein should pay attention. There should be open discussion and meaningful community input on the fate of the old library building. It should not be a prize doled out by Silversein, especially in an election year. Nor should it become a reward should Silverstein be reelected.

Other uses have also been suggested. Many less affluent children from the south end of the ward will lose access to the library and its services, like computer usage. A community center with classroom facilities is therefore another proosal, as is a senior center. Can these uses be combined? If the building is found to be structurally sound, would the addition of a second floor be possible?

Let the alderman know that you want the community to determine what happens to this public building. Call her office (773-262-10550) or email her (info@50thward.com).

Andrew Rowlas speaks eloquently about potential uses for this space. Saving this building for the use of the entire community is, in fact, an important part of his aldermanic campaign. Visit his campaign webste for details (rowlasforthe50th.com).

Let’s put an end to secret committees deciding public business. Let’s demand an open process and meaningful community input on the fate of this building that has served our community so well for nearly 60 years.

Community Still Being Misled on Library Housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

CHA Hearing on Senior Apartments Set for Wednesday Evening–Maybe You Should Go

CHA will hold a hearing on the lease, house rules, and tenant selection process (TSP) for the new Northtown Apartments on Wedneday, July 12, at 6:00 p.m. at the Budlong Woods Library, 5630 North Lincoln. This is the only opportunity for West Ridge residents to speak directly to CHA representatives about the project. The public comment period began on June 28 and ends on July 28 at 5:00 p.m. Beginning July 13, all comments will need to be submitted via the CHA Web site.

The lease is marked “Final,” so I don’t know what good comments will do. The House Rules seem to require some clarification. In my opinion, they are overly-restrictive and provide too many opportunities to terminate leases. The proposed rules would, for example, penalize a tenant who went across the hall in her housecoat to have coffee with a neighbor, or who had a visitor who brought a dog. The rules are clearly aimed at restricting criminal behaviors and gang activity–good things–but I understood the Northtown Apartments would be home to middle-class seniors. However, despite statements to the community that the Northtown Apartments will draw its resident pool from people currently living in West Ridge, the TSP indicates otherwise.

Under the CHA’s right-of-return policy, CHA residents who held housing vouchers on or before October 1, 1999, have the right to apply for housing at the Northtown Apartments. Further, such applicants will be given priority over new applicants. This is not what CHA or Evergreen officials said at community meetings discussing eligibility  for the West Ridge housing.  I raised the question at one meeting: why wouldn’t the next thirty people on the CHA waitlist not be selected? In response, Eugene Jones, CHA Director, asked the audience directly if they didn’t want the tenants to be selected from the neighborhood’s own seniors, which the audience overwhelmingly did. I have no objections to the race or ethnicity of any individual applicant or tenant, but I do object to being misled by City and Evergreen officials. We are a neighborhood which welcomes all people, so there’s no need for this kind of subterfuge.

Another housing project proposed by Evergreen, developer of the Northtown Apartments, recently folded because of Evergreen’s failure to submit a final application to the State for the necessary tax credits, for which it had already received preliminary approval. Ald. Arena’s office said Evergreen had not requested a zoning change for the property. The 43-unit building would have been built at Milwaukee and Wilson.

The news report on this building notes that Evergreen failed to obtain tax credits for a proposed senior housing complex in 2011. I wonder if the tax credits for Northtown Library have been solidified.

I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Good thing there’s one public meeting. Too bad it couldn’t be held on a night when the Northtown Library is open late. And it’s too bad the alderman didn’t see fit to announce the public comment period, provide info on where and when the CHA meeting would be held, and invite neighborhood residents to attend.

Click here to read the Final Lease and the house rules.

The TSP can be read here.

 

A Brief Community Meeting

The alderman has called a “brief community meeting” to discuss the new library building, this time with an emphasis on the senior housing to be built on the second and third floors. The meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 12, at Warren Park at 6:30 p.m.

Since last October’s announcement that a new library would finally be built, the alderman has held three meetings with residents (November 14, March 20, May 1) to discuss plans and listen to the concerns and opinions of the library’s users, residents, and the new building’s neighbors. The first meeting lasted two hours, the others one hour each, for a total of four hours of neighborhood input.

Two surveys were distributed. One, created by the LEARN Coalition, offered the alderman, the designers, and City officials detailed information about what library users want in the new facility. The other, created by the alderman and her secret advisory committee, provided information collected largely from non-users and schoolchildren. At best, it reinforced the information acquired by LEARN. Overall, it was a joke.

The alderman has yet to tell the residents of West Ridge who serves on her secret advisory committee and why and how they were chosen. She announced on March 17 that the committee had been formed but chose not to tell her constituents who was selected to represent them in critical discussions with CHA and the designers. As I understand it, the secret advisory committee learned of the June 12 meeting when residents did. This strongly suggests that all the decisions have been made and no further input is needed or wanted from residents or the secret advisory committee.

I wonder who’ll advise the CHA on which of the alderman’s supporters should score apartments for themselves, family members, and friends. CHA has already decided to create a new applicant pool for the building, rather than select the next 30 West Ridge residents on its current waitlists. Too many waitlists, better to start over, we were told. Politics should not play a role in tenant selection, but this is West Ridge, where one-family rule has rendered transparency irrelevant.

The library is scheduled to open in December 2018, just in time for the February 2019 municipal elections, not that there’s any connection. The existing library will close in September of 2018, just as the school year begins, to allow the transfer of books and other materials to the new building. A cynic might think that the political futures of the mayor and the alderman take precedence over the futures of neighborhood children.

Can’t you just see the gala opening? Ice and snow, subzero cold, gale-force winds, frozen microphones, shivering populace standing awestruck as Power lauds itself for spending our tax dollars to build a library and public housing with working electricity and a roof that doesn’t leak? Or maybe the building will open quietly, with the gala reserved for the following Spring.

After the elections.

Help WRCO Save the Old Library

The current Northtown Library will close in Fall of next year as its contents are transferred to the new facility at Pratt & Western. The alderman stated at the most recent community meeting that the old library building belongs to the City.

Concerned residents have been asking about saving this building for community use. Although not of major architectural significance, it is a fine example of mid-century modern design and is still in solid shape. It could be repurposed to serve the community as an arts, community, or senior center. It’s important that the West Ridge community have a say in the fate of this facility.

Therefore, the West Ridge Community Organization (WRCO) has decided to launch a petition drive to save the old library building. More than that, it will soon release a community survey seeking input from residents on the best uses for the building. Petitions will be available soon, and in the meantime you can contact WRCO directly through its Web site. The group is currently conducting a membership drive, and has launched an impressive series of community improvement initiatives in addition to the save-the-library activity.

Be part of the change that’s sweeping over West Ridge!