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News Tue May 03 2011

Logan Square Farmers Market vs. Alderman Colon?

(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.

lsfm.jpgBased 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.

 

Kelly / May 3, 2011 10:00 AM

I did NOT vote for Rey Colon and as a resident of Logan Square, I would like to see the Farmers Market STAY. OUT WITH COLON.

Sarah / May 3, 2011 10:28 AM

This is about the market, which should be supported no matter who is in office, while whatever parties work out their differences.

Kelly / May 3, 2011 10:32 AM

The Farmers Market was one of the big draws for Logan Square when I moved to Chicago from out-of-state just a few months ago. How would I go about showing my support for it?

Brian / May 3, 2011 10:32 AM

Sad that Alderman Colon has made so little visible change in the neighborhood under his tenure and he wants to wipe out one of the few things that looks like he's working on making it a better neighborhood. Doesn't seem politically smart to smack down a few dissenters while pissing off thousands of residents who've come to love the market.

Seth Pyrzynski / May 3, 2011 11:04 AM

I was vocal about Alderman Colon prior to the Election. He threatened to shut down the bar I work at because he could not express entry his additional guests. He had asked if 3 people could enter, 5 people approached with him, I aksed again if he had 3 guests, he said yes, I then informed him that 5 people were attempting to enter into our already at capacity bar, and he said, "DO you want me to shut you down?" I was shocked that an elected official would threaten a business in this economic environment. I work two jobs and do not appreciate being threatened by an elected official because he feels the need to act like an obnoxious club goer. I did not vote for him.

Don Guss / May 3, 2011 11:42 AM

If he is responsible for the demise of the L.S. Farmers Market, he has little chance of being re-elected next time around.

I hope he realizes that little fact.

People already don't like him. That will turn to hate.

Park Advocate / May 3, 2011 11:55 AM

Concern from Alderman Rey Colon about political activity on public spaces and "conflict of interest"? Colon's girlfriend / Ward Office Chief of Staff was also his 2007 ReElection Campaign Manager. His COS coordinated Colon's "2007 Inauguration Celebration" at Palmer Boulevard Square Park and made some arrangements for his Political Fundraiser event from the Ward Office. Colon's girlfriend - Campaign Manager signed permit for Park District taxpayer funded services for his "Neighbors for Rey Colon" Political Fundraiser as a city employee Ward COS. City never investigated if this was on city paid time. And Rey "El Pollo Loco" Colon voted AGAINST giving City Inspector General authority to investigate ethics violations by Aldermen and their staff.

Park District crew helped Alderman celebrate / Logan Square
Chicago SunTimes May 23, 2007
BY ANDREW HERRMANN staff reporter

Ald. Rey Colon (35th) will be billed for expenses related to a political event held on city property after neighbors complained that Chicago Park District employees were used to set up his "inaugural celebration."

Parks officials initially thought that Colon's Monday night gathering, which carried $25 admission tickets [payable to his Neighbors For Rey Colon political organization] and sponsorships of up to $2,000, was a non-political Logan Square community event, which would not have required a charge, a spokeswoman said.

A stage, requested by Colon's ward office for a plot known as Palmer Boulevard Square Park, was erected by a Park District crew that also did other prep work. After complaints Monday, the district determined Colon needed to be charged, district spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said Tuesday.

She estimated the bill will be "a couple hundred dollars.''

Colon argued that the event, attended by about 300 people, was not a fund-raiser because tickets and sponsorships did not end up covering expenses. "This was a community event -- it was open to the community'' whether attendees had a ticket or not, said Colon.

However, Colon said he was willing to pay the bill.

Community activist Mark Heller, who has clashed with Colon over issues in the ward, accused Colon of "deliberately misrepresenting" the purpose of the event in order to get city services for free.

Colon, asked if he told the park district he was staging a community event or a political event, said, "The arrangements were made through my staff."

Don Washington / May 3, 2011 12:20 PM

I voted for Rey because I thought him the best choice but this is the sort of petty thing that drew him an inept challenger. If he keeps acting like this he is going to draw a real progressive challenger and is going to get his teeth kicked in. Rey needs to be an Alderman and a public servant not a King who acts like a thug. He's a better man and leader than this. He just needs to remember he is and act like it.

Aaron / May 3, 2011 12:42 PM

Call me crazy but I find it hard to believe that Rey, who always seems to have done his best to be pro-business, would be so dumb as to jeopardize the Farmer's Market over this.

HarkinB / May 3, 2011 12:58 PM

Sounds like a typical, run-of-the-mill bastard. M. Emmet Walsh would be proud.

gothrus / May 3, 2011 1:19 PM

I just got back from the City Council Hearing. Over 100 people came so they moved it from a meeting room to the Council Chambers. The meeting was 45 minutes late so the group started clapping and chanting. It worked. The committee came in and Rey Colon withdrew his request for a hearing, basically silencing everyone who came to speak. Then he gave a short speech stating that he was in favor of the Farmer's Market but against people using it for political gain. The crowd hissed and that was the gist of it. The permit issue will be taken up at another committee hearing. It sounds like Ald. Colon will approve the permit but I can't see him offering the fee waiver. It will be up to us to stay vigilant and to keep bombarding his office with calls and visits in support of the permit and fee waiver.

Jennifer / May 3, 2011 2:09 PM

What I took away from the meeting was that Rey Colon would like to see the Logan Square Farmers Market continue and be free of political campaigning. I can support that. Most of the people in attendance at the hearing from Nancy Schiavone's campaign or her supporters and they were disruptive and rude by clapping, shouting out and hissing. It was obvious that they had another agenda in mind than just the continuation of the Farmers Market. Rey Colon said the Logan Square Farmers Market should be about fresh foods that are corn syrup and pesticide free and it shouldn't be about political campaigns. At the end it did sound like Colon will approve the permit for the Logan Square Farmers Market. Hopefully Paul Levin will do the right thing for our community and he will tell Schiavone and other candidates that there will not be any more political campaigning. It's a good thing when a local politician comes to the market to shop and show his or her support for our community it's not such a good thing when farmers market shoppers have to run a gauntlet of political campaigners just to make it to the veggie stand. Hopefully Levin will meet with Colon and get this done and get his permit fees waived so the savings can be passed down to the vendors. I think Levin and the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce has done a very good job running the Farmers Market so hopefully this will all work out for what turns out to be the best for our neighborhood and not just what's best for the politicians.

gothrus / May 3, 2011 2:24 PM

I don't think Rey Colon or Paul Levin has the authority to tell people they can't canvass for petitions at the farmer's market. It is legal and probably protected by the 1st Amendment. I think Nancy had a booth there last year and that it what is stuck in Rey's craw.

Personally, I enjoy meeting and talking to my elected officials and candidates in person and think the Farmer's Market is a GREAT venue for that. Honestly, I'm surprised Rey isn't showing his face there more. It's an excellent opportunity to talk to his constituents...unless he doesn't care about that.

r / May 3, 2011 2:28 PM

@Jennifer: Political campaigning in a public space is protected by law. Yes, being asked to sign a petition can be a bit annoying but that's how our political process works, and it's a good show of how diverse our community is. Would Colon have been as upset if those volunteers were working to re-elect him? Context is everything.

Mary / May 3, 2011 2:42 PM

I agree with Jennifer's comments from 5-3-11 at 2:09PM. I just want to add to a voice of support. I think most of the people commenting on this are really invested in one side or the other. Most people in LS just want access to the Farmers' Market, and they want BOTH sides to stay away from this petty political maneuvering.

For what it's worth, I thought that what I saw at the Farmers' Market and received in the emails was definitely the LS Chamber of Congress and Paul Levin taking a political stance. I just didn't give it enough thought to realize that it was an organization that should not have a public stance on the matter. We are all bombarded by this stuff so much around election time that I start to tune it all out.

I also don't agree with Colon potentially taking away the Market based on this matter, and I called and emailed to tell him that.

It seems to me that both sides are walking a fine line when it comes to the ethics of the matters involved. Please, let's suggest that all parties do what's best for the community.

Ted / May 3, 2011 2:46 PM

Jennifer - I too was at the meeting. I live just outside the 35th ward, so I'm not a supporter of either Alderman Colon or his electoral opponent.

The market is a weekly community gathering place and is a perfect example of “the public square” we so often hear about, but seem to be lacking in many communities. I’m heartened every weekend in the summer to see a variety of goings-on at the market: fresh food vendors, prepared food vendors, impromptu yard sales and buskers tap dancing on a box. I don’t see what harm campaigning does at the farmers market. It seems like a great opportunity for Alderman Colon or any of his political opponents to engage with the community, or a the very least, be amongst the community.

Putting aside the specifics of the Chamber and Alderman Colon's disagreement, too much of what happens in Chicago neighborhoods is dependent on our aldermen. A farmers market so engaged with the community like Logan Square’s shouldn’t operate at the pleasure of its alderman.

ires / May 3, 2011 2:51 PM

Hey, I've seen and talked to the Alderman many times at the farmers market, at palmer square park, and other places around town. I agree, it does seem that he "drags his feet," but people, the political environment in Chicago is absolutely byzantine. NOTHING gets done without influence. Give him some credit. The Alderman has tried to revive the Milwaukee corridor, backed the artist festival, continued to improve public spaces, supported the historic aspects of the community, and is working to get MORE BIKE LANES (woo!) Anyone actually been to the Alderman's office? It's a busy place. And, the Alderman just does not have that much "power" as you might believe or think. He doesn't just "grant" or create business permits, or zoning changes with the wave of a magic wand. Come on!

Killing the farmers market would be a suck-ass-disaster.. but someone else would take it up, just not this year.

Dominick / May 3, 2011 2:56 PM

@Jennifer: I was in attendance at this afternoon's hearing and I voted for Alderman Colon in the last election. I also think that the Farmer's Market, being in the public space, is an appropriate forum for reasoned and respectful political discourse and activity.

Furthermore, when I went to the Alderman's Ward office this afternoon to ask why he was all of a sudden opposed to the Farmer's Market a member of his staff said that it was related solely to safety concerns that he and 14th District Commander Linda Flores had expressed to the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce. She said that these concerns were expressed on multiple occasions and ignored by the Chamber. It appears that this is not the case.

David Sacks / May 3, 2011 3:03 PM

Rey Colon has used the Logan Square Farmer's market to petition and meet-n-greet constituents for years. It's the height of hypocrisy for him to complain about someone else doing it. It's also constitutionally protected. Paul Levin didn't do anything unethical unless it was also unethical not to kick Rey out of the market every time he showed up with his dog in one hand, and clipboard in the other.

If the permit is approved, but the fee waiver isn't granted, it's still a death sentence for the market. The farmers and vendors aren't going to pay hundreds of dollars per week for a booth.

Rey's lost a lot of support over the last 8 years. It's not that surprising that he immediately alienated and broke promises to the affordable housing people. It's astounding that he's fallen out with the Chamber of Commerce and small businesses too. He's not going to gain any support back by lashing out at those who've already deserted him. No one is going to take his side in this (except his girlfriend-appointed-chief-of-staff).

It's not enough for him to be marginally better than the inhuman monster that was Vilma Colom. He actually has to be a decent human being himself. It doesn't even look like he's trying.

Paddy / May 3, 2011 3:46 PM

The Farmer's Market is held on public property. Please keep in mind that whenever the current Alderman appears in public, he is campaigning. Frankly, that right should be afforded to all. As for the allegation "Most of the people in attendance at the hearing from Nancy Schiavone's campaign or her supporters and they were disruptive and rude by clapping, shouting out and hissing" is incorrect. It was my observation that the objectors were in large part former supporters of Rey, expressing their dissatisfaction with his action of taking out his personal vendetta at the expense of the community. What was more shocking was that he was being prodded by other Aldermen behind the scene to 'stick it to the community' - - as recounted by another Alderman who thought Rey was wrong.

silentk / May 3, 2011 4:46 PM

@Jennifer:
Clapping happened *before* the Committee appeared, in frustration of waiting 45 minutes for the meeting to start.

There was a moment when people from the gallery shouted out questions, regarding waiving the permit fee (which has not been answered) - but was immediately quashed by the Assistant Sergeant at Arms, with no further outbursts.

Ald. Colon's comment about restricting political activity at the market did receive hisses. Suggesting we should curtail our civic duty of participating in the electoral process (collecting signatures) at a public venue is lamentable - and hissable.

Big Shoulders / May 3, 2011 4:58 PM

One of the things I love about the LSFM is that it is a different space, one where a higher vision of community emerges: organic produce, meat from humanely raised animals, vendor/buyer interaction, neighbors seeing and greeting each other, people politely waiting in line, performers performing in the open air, providing free entertainment. I love the strollers, the dogs, the older people mingling with all.

I think our elected alderman is in a different category from aldermanic aspirants. When he's out in the community, he's fulfilling an obligation to make himself available to his constituents. He's doing his job. Rey has done an outstanding job of being available, and I've never seen him turn away from a question, whether it's at a big gathering in Palmer Square or when he's just trying to grab a quiet moment at Cole's.

Maybe he's made a tactical misstep with this permit business, but maybe not. It sounds like he's raising a legitimate issue: the market should not become a place where we have to run the gauntlet of election petitioners. Nor, frankly, a place where we have to stop and figure out which hat the Chamber's XD is wearing: representing the Chamber or representing a political candidate.

Uriel Crum / May 3, 2011 5:46 PM

Hahaha, death by farmer's market. I agree, annoying as it is, it is easy to say no thank you, I don't want to sign your petition. But another major error on the part of said Colon is to delay the meeting and then reschedule it. Yes, he was able to immediately quash his detractors and not allow them on record, yet, but this blatant abuse of the constituents and supporters of the LSFM time is unconscionable. Dig your political grave, and apparently dig it deep! The community is whom votes one into office and thereby can finito your political aspirations, unless, of course, your last name is Daley!

Rey - Come on now / May 3, 2011 6:51 PM

I am a transplant and have never given two craps about local politics but this pisses me off.

I am a LS resident who voted for Rey, but will actively assist campaigns against him in the future if he does something to hinder the success of the Farmers' market. The market is a wonderful public venue; political discourse should be encouraged not restricted. People can certainly choose to not participate in any political activities.

Did the market deny any candidate an opportunity to campaign there? Did residents complain about political activities there? And even if they did, does it make sense to deny a permit to the market and thus deny residents a convenient opportunity to purchase fresh food?

Clearly, the answer is no.

TAOS / May 3, 2011 9:17 PM

This is starting to sound like a lot of sour grapes resulting from the last election. I'm sure that with due time everyone will have their say and the Farmers Market will be back in full swing. Its a shame that the side involved have to use this venue to express their selfish interest. The only people that are getting hurt from this is the vendoers and the community that they serve. Both side need to be cautious because their is always someone or some other ward waiting in the wings to pick up this event. To all involved, put your differences to the side and make this happen for our community and the vendors that need this during these tough economic times!

silentk / May 4, 2011 7:12 AM

@Big Shoulders
Having been part of the gauntlet challenge of collecting signatures, I’d have to say that it is one of the more difficult aspects of our political process. Finding a bevy of committed citizens who care about their community and might also care about who is to be their elected official can be elusive. It’s surprising the apathy you find in trying to engage people in the political process.

Engaged citizens go to farmers markets. They should have the opportunity to encounter exactly what you love about the LSFM “ …that it is a different space, one where a higher vision of community emerges: organic produce, meat from humanely raised animals, vendor/buyer interaction, neighbors seeing and greeting each other, people politely waiting in line, performers performing in the open air, providing free entertainment. I love the strollers, the dogs, the older people mingling with all.”

But how can you engage in a higher vision of community without also engaging political civic duty? I would include in your description of community: political petitioners, which are one weave in the fabric of our free society.

Remember, too, that we have come off an extraordinary political season in Chicago. The intensified petition drives for President Obama, filling the vacated Rahm Emanuel Congressional seat, and the first open Mayoral election in over two decades. (The Mayor-elect’s team needed 12,500 signatures and over 90,000 were collected.)

So, admittedly, we may be a little petitioned-out in Chicago. But let’s not allow this over-hyped political season diminish the free exercise of democracy at our public spaces.

Logical Lion / May 5, 2011 11:35 AM

I don't know any of the parties involved here, and I'm a supporter of the Market, but I think Colon has every right to do what he did.

It seems to me that if you are the head of an organization like the LSCC, and your organization benefits from its relationship with elected officials, then you probably shouldn't actively seek the ouster of those officials who you rely on. Put another way: You don't bite the hand that feeds you.

And if you decide to get into the political arena, you have to be prepared to face the consequences when your pony loses. That's just a fact of (political) life. So if Levin, the director and public face of the LSCC, was actively campaigning against Colon, it's only natural that Colon would withdraw his support for the LSCC's sweetheart permit deal.

Why should he do any favors for the guy who tried to kick him out of office?

The $1,500 permit fee is a small price to pay to have virtually exclusive rights to the public way along that stretch of Logan Boulevard ... every Sunday.

If you ask me, and I realize you haven't, a more troubling issue is the removal last year of the impromptu yard sale from the grassy area adjacent to the Market. Many of these folks actually lived in the area and helped contribute to the country fair atmosphere. Where is the outrage over area residents being told they can't sell old coffee mugs in front of their own homes?

I also wonder why there isn't more representation of Logan Square businesses at the Market. There is no disputing that the neighborhood as a whole benefits from the Market, but how many of the non-farming vendors are actually from Logan Square? Not many.

Suz / May 5, 2011 12:10 PM

Good idea Logical Lion, you should start a Logan Square second outlet for your LS business market.

Another Chamber director campaigned for Colon and he won. When you or your pony wins, take the prize with grace.

enquiring mind / May 5, 2011 5:18 PM

Instead of ranting, I think I'll ask a few questions.
First, who "owns" the farmers market? If it is the Chamber of Commerce, do they recieve the proceeds (if any)? Do they make a profit or loss?

If not the chamber, then is it a private citezen? does he/she earn any money or is it a charitable project?

Next, what is the goal of the Chamber of Commerce? To create economic developement ie entice new business to the area?new customers to area? or to provide fresh produce for healthy eating? or to creat an open public forum for the community?(before you answer in your head, NO IT CANT BE ALL OF THE ABOVE - AT LEAST NOT EFFECTIVELY. For example, Coca cola doesnt mind sponsoring the olympics, and likes selling collectables, but their goal is to make a profit. If it is by selling the old recipe-great. but if it means selling water and powerade , then so be it.

I would assume (by the name) that it is to create commerce. If so, then maybe they should quit advocating for affordable housing, pimping for pet social causes, and running petition drives.

I guess it is for the chamber board to decide.

Robyn / May 6, 2011 9:11 AM

@Enquiring Mind: Levin did say during our talk that LSCC registered a copyright for the Famers Market (not sure what that means beyond a name/logo), and that Colon has no operational control over the event other than issuing the City permit and the waiver.

dangermaus / May 10, 2011 12:34 AM

Logical Lion -
It sounds to me like you're saying it's OK for a politician to use the powers of his office to keep himself in power...

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Craft Beer, Community and Creativity: An Interview with Locally Brewed Author Anna Blessing

By Christina Brandon

In the introduction to Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America's Heartland, author and photographer Anna Blessing writes that she wants "to tell the story of the people behind the beer."
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