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News Tue May 03 2011
(UPDATED)This always happens after an election, eh? Residents of the 35th Ward, which houses the beloved Logan Square Farmers Market (which is scheduled to start up again in June), were given notice yesterday that the City's Committee on Special Events is holding a hearing today at noon at City Hall "to address Ald. Colon's opposition to the Farmer's Market being held in the 35th Ward." An Everyblock post suggests that Colon's actions were done out of spite because an organizer of the farmers market supported an opponent of Colon's in the February aldermanic elections. While Alderman Colon did not return my call for a response to these allegations, several people visited his ward office hours last night--an opportunity for residents to get one-on-one time with the alderman--and spoke candidly with him about the future of the farmers market.
Based on several accounts elsewhere on the web and a person I interviewed who requested anonymity, Colon was upset by political campaigning done at the farmers market this past summer--mainly, people collecting signatures to get candidates on ballots for the upcoming mayoral and aldermanic elections. Separate accounts of last night's meetings, however, say that Colon specifically claimed that Paul Levin, the executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, was campaigning for aldermanic candidate Nancy Schiavone (who lost to Colon this past February) while on the clock for the Chamber. A source close to Levin denies this allegation, saying that Levin was careful to not mix business with politics; additionally, the Chamber did not endorse any candidate for public office. Schiavone herself issued a denial that Levin worked for her campaign on LSCC's time.
Colon reportedly contacted the Chamber in recent months, stating that if Levin were removed from his post, they would retain their permit; the Chamber did nothing and went ahead with their application for this summer's market. As Colon has ultimate control over permits and zoning issues in the ward, he opposed LSCC's application, which prompted today's hearing at City Hall. If passed, the changing of permits could wreak major havoc for the upcoming Farmers Market season. Applications for vendors, which required a nonrefundable deposit, were due at the end of March. Colon has not publicly identified a group to replace LSCC's management were the permit be revoked.
Despite criticisms of Colon's recent actions, the politician who only a few months ago received endorsements from several news outlets and political organizations for his progressive tactics could succeed in his eleventh-hour attempt to wrestle control of a new but thriving farmers market enterprise. Colon is a member of Committee on Special Events, the very group that will decide the fate of the permit.
"It is not legal to bestow government favors because of politics," said Beth Milnikel, director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School. "If [Colon] has a legitimate reason [for denying LSCC's permit], he certainly hasn't expressed it." Does it make sense that Colon would be miffed that another prominent member of the community didn't support his bid for re-election? Sure, especially given that Levin volunteered for Colon during his previous campaigns; obviously tension exists. Adding to the strange ties Colon has with LSCC, he recently hired John Pennycuff, a former LSCC worker who also oversaw the farmers market, to work for his staff.
The farmers market helped revitalize a previously dormant stretch of Logan Boulevard. In an era when the neighborhood is beginning to attract nationwide attention for its nightlife and arts scene, putting the future of the farmers market in jeopardy--reportedly over an irrelevant political difference--has the potential to hurt the identity and the health of the neighborhood. Did you vote for that?
SECOND UPDATE (1:15pm): Alderman Colon withdrew his request for a hearing. No word on the status of LSCC's permit application.
THIRD UPDATE (~10pm):
I had an opportunity to speak with Paul Levin of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce late this afternoon. The permit is likely to happen now that Colon cancelled his hearing; at this afternoon's hearing, following a long delay, Colon spoke to a crowd of 100+ attendees, stating that the farmers market "should be free of high-fructose corn syrup, pesticides, and political activity." The remainder of the committee meeting agenda was adjourned until tomorrow; Levin noted that several of the permit requests were for other farmers markets in the city. Levin maintains that LSCC was never formally notified of the hearing; he learned of it yesterday via a phone call from an unnamed colleague. Last Wednesday's Everyblock post about the hearing seems to be the first mention online of the hearing; the dating of city documents and their public annoucement seem to have a lag time of a few days, which Levin found to be a curiousity.
The remaining concern is that even though the permit will be issued, Colon may not approve a waiver for the pricey permit, which would cost the Chamber around $1500. Aldermen typically waive the fee for enterprises such as farmers markets.
Levin suspects that Colon's actions were "electoral revenge" for supporting Schiavone in this February alderman election, and he confirms that Colon did individually meet with Chamber staff to encourage the removal of Levin as Executive Director--and went as far as to threaten that he would "go after the money [the Chamber] gets from the City" for other services the organization does in the community unrelated to the market, which amounts to an annual $24,000.
Levin is unfazed by the whirlwind events of the last 24 hours, emphasizing that the Chamber looks forward to another season of the market, fee or no fee, which begins June 5.