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The Mechanics

Election 2015 Thu Jul 31 2014

How Karen Lewis Might Also Help Change Chicago City Council

Karen LewisFirst, the news you already know: Karen Lewis is likely running for mayor. Toni Preckwinkle isn't.

Since the news broke on July 15 that Preckwinkle is out of the race, some dominant themes seem to have emerged. The first, probably best epitomized in Ben Joravsky's "five stages of grief" article, has been lament over the person who was seen as most capable of beating Rahm Emanuel stepping out of the race.

Following closely behind is a reassessment of Lewis. It was easier to imagine what a theoretical Preckwinkle campaign might look like. It's harder to imagine that with Lewis. Preckwinkle was a multi-term alderman and is now Cook County Board President, who has expressed many views on many issues over time. Lewis, as President of the Chicago Teachers Union and having never held public office, has had little occasion to talk about things like potholes, tourism, and appropriate police deployment. There's also the question over what form Lewis's campaign might take, given that it would likely take form outside of existing entrenched political structures.

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Phil Huckelberry / Comments (0)

Aldermen Thu Apr 11 2013

Accountability is the Missing Ingredient

Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett is being called racist for school closings, but no one called other black politicians racist for ignoring the needs of their communities by engaging in corrupt activities for decades. We've seen the downfall of African-American communities from the direct result of the crack epidemic, street gangs, economic collapse, inadequate leadership and years of disinvestment. Evidently, accountability for previous leaders is the missing ingredient.

We are quick to bash her decision; however, where was the opposition when black leaders were becoming greedy off the expense of their citizens? Where was the opposition when black alderman and state representatives knew neighborhood schools lacked resources and were failing? Where was the outrage when parents become negligent? Most of all, where were protesters when residents repeatedly voted for corrupt leaders out of tradition and not for morality?

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Sydney Corryn / Comments (2)

Op-Ed Thu Feb 21 2013

Still Ain't Ready for Reform

By Dick Simpson

Once again the Chicago City Council proved it's not ready for reform. Recently, the council voted unanimously to pass the second set of reforms proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Ethics Task Force, except as the reforms would apply to them.

Under the new ordinance, Mayor Emanuel's newly appointed Ethics Board is granted more power to approve investigations and punishments for ethics violations. But instead of being accountable like all other city employees, aldermen created their own legislative inspector general. They did this instead of allowing the effective city inspector general, Joe Ferguson, to investigate them or their staffs.

The council's special legislative inspector general can only investigate on sworn complaints approved by the Ethics Board, not on his own initiative or from anonymous complaints. It does not matter what evidence is provided in support of the complaints. And making false claims against aldermen will bring a $2,000 fine to anyone who dares to challenge them without sufficient evidence.

Their legislative inspector general is given no staff or enforcement powers. With such a limited budget and authority, in his first year in office he has brought no cases to the Ethics Board or to state and federal prosecutors.

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Mechanics / Comments (0)

Aldermen Fri Jan 18 2013

Psst. Want to be an Alderman?

The City of Chicago posted the application to become the new alderman of the 7th Ward, replacing Sandi Jackson, who resigned Jan. 15. Applications are due by 5pm next Friday, Jan. 25.

Among the requirements to apply, you have to have lived in the 7th Ward for at least a year and be registered to vote there, mustn't be in arrears on your City taxes, and "must not have been convicted in any court located in the United States of any infamous crime, bribery, perjury, or other felony." The application asks for such details as your past governmental experience, community involvement and the extent of your social media presence.

If you want to throw your hat in the ring, fill out the form and drop it off to the 7th Ward Aldermanic Screening Committee in room 406 at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. -- or apply online.

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Andrew Huff / Comments (0)

Aldermen Tue Jan 08 2013

City Hall: Who has Social Media Klout?

By Myles Dannhausen and Andy Crestodina

Chicago Alderman James Cappleman (46th Ward) was taken to task on Twitter in December when he proposed a crackdown on the great scourge of Chicago — pigeons.

(What, you thought it was gang violence? Or drugs? Or deteriorating infrastructure?)

WBBM's Steve Grzanich (@steveGrzanich) called Cappleman out on his odd sense of priorities, as did blogger Dwana De La Cerna (@JustDwana), who tweeted:

To his credit, Cappleman took the criticism in stride, engaging with his constituents and inviting them to meet with him.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Ward Politics Wed Nov 14 2012

Arena Thinks Participatory Budgeting Could Expand

Participatory budgeting, at least at the moment, is not what you would call a widespread phenomenon.

Only four of the city's 50 wards -- the 5th, 45th, 46th and 49th -- are taking part in the process, wherein ward residents -- rather than aldermen -- get the chance to decide what to do with $1 million of aldermanic discretionary funds, which are known as "menu money."

But Ald. John Arena, whose 45th Ward encompasses a large chunk of the Northwest side from Nagle to Elston and from Devon to Waveland, thinks that more aldermen could soon jump on board.

"I think it will spread some more," Arena said Tuesday. "I think it'll expand over time."

The 49th Ward has gone through the participatory budgeting process every year since 2009, but the other three are new to it this year. Arena, who was elected last year, said that from almost the beginning of his term, he was thinking about bringing participatory budgeting into the ward.

"I was intrigued by it because it's a very transparent process," he said.

Participatory budgeting is a four-step process. Last month, each participating ward held several community meetings where residents could spitball ideas for how to spend the money. Step two will take place between now and March, when residents who asked to be community leaders will meet to decide which projects will wind up on the final list for residents to vote on. Step three will be the vote in May and the final step is implementation of the projects residents voted for.

Arena believes the process could work in other wards, though he was unsure about whether it could work at a citywide level. While he doesn't know if any aldermen are thinking about jumping on the participatory budgeting bandwagon any time soon, he knows at least one alderman -- Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward -- did consider it.

Arena does believe, however, that residents would like to see participatory budgeting expand into other parts of the city.

"I think the city of Chicago is engaged in their government," he said.

Bill Mayeroff / Comments (0)

Aldermen Thu Oct 18 2012

Cappleman OK with Giving up a Bit of Power

It's not often you hear about a Chicago alderman willingly relinquishing power.

But Ald. James Cappleman is doing just that.

Cappleman's 46th Ward is one of four wards in the city (the others being the 5th, 45th and 49th) taking part in what's known as participatory budgeting. Through participatory budgeting, ward residents -- rather than aldermen -- get the chance to decide what to do with $1 million of aldermanic discretionary funds, which are known as "menu money." The only caveat? Menu money must only be used for capital improvement projects, rather than programs or services.

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Bill Mayeroff / Comments (8)

Budget Mon Oct 15 2012

Let's Talk About the Budget

Rather than let Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2012 budget go to a vote without any public input, the City Council "Progressive Caucus" -- aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th) -- is holding a series of public hearings, beginning tonight.

"A constituent's idea may not be the best idea, that's OK," Ald. Sawyer told CBS 2 Chicago. "There's nothing wrong with that. There's no bad idea. The worst thing about it is having no input."

The first hearings are tonight at 6pm at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., moderated by the Reader's Mick Dumke. Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) will also hold a public budget hearing tonight at the Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted St., also at 6pm.

Additional hearings are scheduled for Oct. 24 at Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave., and Oct. 30 at South Shore International High School, 1955 E. 75th St. Both meetings will begin at 6pm.

Andrew Huff / Comments (0)

Ward Politics Tue Oct 09 2012

49th Ward residents pitch ideas for capital improvements

If you had an extra $1 million that had to be used to improve your neighborhood, what would you do with the money?

A group of about 30 residents of Chicago's 49th Ward got to answer that very question Monday evening. The group packed into a room in the fieldhouse at Loyola Park for the first of seven "neighborhood assemblies" to discuss the first step of the 2012-2013 participatory budgeting process.

Participatory budgeting, said 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore, is a process by which residentsparticipatory49_02.jpg decide how he should spend $1 million in discretionary funds awarded to each alderman (known as "menu money") for infrastructure improvements in their ward. The 49th Ward, Moore said, was the first place in the United States to implement such a process when it started in 2009.

"The 49th Ward has been on the cutting edge," Moore told the crowd. "Every person has an equal voice. It's not just me making the decisions about how that money's spent."

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Bill Mayeroff / Comments (0)

Ward Politics Thu Oct 04 2012

Ward Nights Shrink, but Moore Still Sees a Use

Joe Moore doesn't get many visitors to his office on Wednesday evenings. He used to get more, but over the years, the numbers have dwindled.

Wednesday evenings are ward nights in Chicago's 49th ward. Each week, from 5-7 p.m., Moore, who became alderman of the far North Side ward 21 years ago, opens the doors of his office at 7356 N. Greenview for constituents to walk in and talk with him about, well, whatever.

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Bill Mayeroff / Comments (0)

Chicagoland Mon Mar 19 2012

Action Now Protests Scrap Yard Accepting Stolen Property

Action Now members rallied in front of JB Metals in the Englewood neighborhood on Thursday morning to highlight a parasitic practice of profiting off of stolen goods. Activists, many residing in the area, claim the scrap metal company knowingly accepts stolen property like fences or aluminum siding from scrappers thus depreciating home values and further harming the neighborhood.

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Aaron Krager / Comments (1)

Aldermen Tue Dec 20 2011

Talking Transportation with 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack

By John Greenfield

chicago alderman scott waguespackAs part of an ongoing project to interview all 50 of Chicago's aldermen about sustainable transportation issues in their districts (previously: 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett Jr.), I recently caught up with Scott Waguespack at the 32nd Ward service office, 2657 N. Clybourn. His ward includes parts of Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Goose Island, Lincoln Park, Lakeview and Roscoe Village.

In 2007 Waguespack defeated Richard M. Daley-backed incumbent Ted Matlak and soon gained a reputation as an independent voice in City Council. Most famously, he was the leading critic of Daley's push to privatize the city's parking meters, a move that the former mayor would eventually admit, "we totally screwed up."

Waguespack is also known as one of the city's most bike- and transit-friendly aldermen. We talked about his commuting habits; his efforts to promote biking and transit use in the ward; plans for developing the Bloomingdale Trail; and his far-fetched idea of connecting his district to the Loop via water taxi.

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Mechanics / Comments (0)

Education Mon Dec 12 2011

Conflicting Views Over Possible 36th Ward Charter School

The United Neighborhood Organization wants to build a new charter elementary school in the 36th Ward's Galewood neighborhood. Alderman Nicholas Sposato might have something to say about that.

Tomorrow morning, concerned parents and students plan to attend a Zoning Committee meeting to object to Sposato's, well, objections. The school, which would occupy a now vacant lot at 2102 N. Natchez Avenue, would enroll 576 students — and, touts the UNO, create hundreds of much-needed jobs as well as improve education opportunities for students.

The UNO has a friend in the Chicago Tribune, which published an editorial in favor of the new charter, which Sposato may be opposing due to pressure from the Chicago Teachers Union.

WHERE: Zoning Committee Meeting at Chicago City Hall, City Council Chambers (121 N. LaSalle Street)

WHEN: Tuesday, December 13, 10am

CONTACT: Ray Quintanilla, UNO Communications Director. 312-505-7862

Megan E. Doherty / Comments (4)

Budget Wed Nov 16 2011

Mayor Emanuel's Budget Passes Unanimously

The City Council voted today to pass Mayor Emanuel's budget unanimously, 50-0. Chicago News Coop reporters Hunter Clauss and Dan Mihalopoulos described Aldermen's comments as "near worshipful" though not without acknowledging the necessary pain that will come with cuts to front-line workers, library and mental services, and elsewhere.

The budget affects deep cuts, particularly around staffing, to close the $600+ million budget deficit the city faced. The budget came in at $6.3 billion. Aldermen lauded the Mayor for being inclusive in the planning process. While under Mayor Daley unanimous budget votes were often used as evidence that the Council was a mere "rubber stamp" for the Mayor's prerogative, a unanimity does not necessarily entail that. Aldermen seemed to feel like they got their words in during the preparation process, which is arguably much more important than voting against the final budget. Tracking how the budget has changed from its initial form to today would be more instructive; unfortunately that process is not particularly transparent, or at least self-evident.

AFSCME Council 31, which represents thousands of city workers, released a statement upon passage of the budget bemoaning the deep cuts to basic and needed social services:

"We're very disappointed that aldermen have voted to reduce access to libraries, cut mental health services, privatize health clinics and cut hundreds of good jobs. Many aldermen voiced serious concerns about these cuts today. While the vote is over, the work of minimizing these harmful cuts is an ongoing process in which AFSCME and our labor and community allies will be fully engaged.

Yesterday, mental health advocates staged a sit-in outside the Mayor's office that lasted into the evening to protest the cutting of services at about half of the city's mental health facilities:

fhtyp.jpg

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Rahm Emanuel Wed Nov 02 2011

Mayor Emanuel Applauds, Eases, Introduces & Proposes....

Mayor Emanuel's press shop is tireless. They must have three shifts going at full speed. They are particularly busy on days when the City Council is in session, as they send out press releases regarding the Mayor's initiatives and how they fared. Here's what the Mayor applauded, eased, introduced, commended, and proposed:

MAYOR EMANUEL APPLAUDS CITY COUNCIL FOR ENDING HEAD TAX FOR CHICAGO BUSINESSES

Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel applauded the City Council for passing a City ordinance that ends the City's "Head Tax" - fulfilling a pledge made by the Mayor and the Administration to phase out the tax which is a deterrent for businesses to start and grow in the City. Under the Mayor's plan the "Head Tax" will be reduced by 50 percent in 2012 with its complete elimination occurring in 2014.

---

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Law Wed Nov 02 2011

Today In Coincidences

Two stories today, guys. First, this:

Solís introduced an ordinance to the City Council to issue tickets for pot possession of 10 grams or less instead of sending offenders to jail. The move would free up already bogged-down officers, he said, and put more cops on the streets.

"We are now starting the debate on what specifically marijuana usage is and what kind of system we have in terms of processing people from the beginning," Solis said, "from arrest through it being thrown out in court."

Under the proposed ordinance, offenders would face a $200 fine and 10 hours of community service instead of jail time. Solís and supporters presented statistics showing minorities currently are disproportionately arrested for small amounts of pots.

Meanwhile, over at the Sun-Times, this:

In recent years, Chicago and Atlanta have become key transportation hubs for the cartels, Riley said. Most of their pot comes to Chicago in trains and semi trucks.

A lot of that marijuana is being shipped here by the Sinaloa Cartel and protected with unthinkable violence, Riley said.

"Chapo Guzman, now that Osama is dead, is in my opinion the most dangerous criminal in the world and probably the most wealthy criminal in the world," he said. "Guzman was in the Forbes Top 100 most wealthy people in the world. His ability to produce revenue off marijuana, we've never seen it before. We've never seen a criminal organization so well-focused and with such business sense, and so vicious and violent."

....

"The guy sitting on the patio in Hinsdale -- smoking a joint with his friend and having a drink -- better think twice," Riley said. "Because he's part of the problem."

So no pressure or anything, but smoking a joint on your porch means you love the new Osama Bin Laden.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

News Wed Sep 28 2011

Ramsin Canon on "Eight Forty-Eight"

Gapers Block politics editor Ramsin Canon appeared on WBEZ's "Eight Forty-Eight" on Tuesday to talk about the Cook County commissioners who refuse to take a furlough day, aldermanic travel and other current political news. If you missed it, you can listen to the segment online

Andrew Huff / Comments (0)

Transportation Tue Aug 16 2011

Talking Transportation with 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Jr.

By John Greenfield

As "mini mayors," aldermen have a huge influence on the kinds of projects that are built in their districts. For example, a handful of aldermen have opted to use "menu money" discretionary funds to stripe additional bicycle lanes in their wards or to bankroll innovative transportation projects, like the Albany Home Zone traffic-calmed block in Logan Square. On the other hand, they can stand in the way of progress, like when former 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone vetoed a bike bridge on the North Shore Channel Trail in West Rogers Park.

ald_walter_burnett_jr.jpgAs gas prices rise and addressing the problems of climate change, pollution and traffic jams becomes increasingly important in Chicago, it's important to know where our elected officials stand on sustainable transportation. As one of the city's most bike-friendly alderman and a former board member with the Active Transportation Alliance, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. seemed like an ideal candidate for an interview.

The district covers an incredibly diverse area, including parts of Humboldt Park, East Garfield Park, the West Loop, River West, Cabrini Green and Old Town. Last week I caught up with Burnett, who has been in power since 1995, in his City Hall office. He updated me on new walking, biking and transit projects in the ward, discussed how better transportation options can help low-income people access education and jobs, and gave me a few local restaurant tips.

Tell me a little about your experience working with the Active Transportation Alliance.

The thing about Active Trans is they're always looking at "best practices" nationally and internationally and thinking about how to use those ideas to make biking better in Chicago. I went with them to Quito, Ecuador, [in 2008, along with 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colon and other city officials] for a conference on ciclovias [events that close down a network of streets for car-free recreation]. Every Sunday in Quito they bike around the city, and there's so many kids and parents involved it's a beautiful sight.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Aldermen Fri Aug 12 2011

Decoupling Waste from Ward Map: Garbage as Politics

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is reportedly steaming ahead with plans to unlink the collection of Chicago's residential garbage (for single-family homes, two-flats, and three-flats) from the time-honored ward-by-ward provision of this critical municipal service, a move that may leave some aldermen equally steaming. The potential $60 million savings in play here from collecting garbage along routes that make the most sense for Streets and San, rather than by political boundaries, should make this a no-brainer. So why opposition? Because, while many think of politics as trashy, in Chicago, trash is politics.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Aldermen Thu May 26 2011

Efficiency: Government More Like China

On Monday, the Tribune reported on Mayor Emanuel's first weekend in office, spent working with the University of Chicago on a package of zoning and permitting issues. The University is in a constant state of reshaping Hyde Park according to its growth and development plans, and the City wants to ensure that those plans jive with the the City's and resident's hopes and plans for the area.

The Tribune's story focuses on Emanuel's roll-up-your-sleeves approach to making government "smarter," a theme that was integral to the Mayor's marketing package during the election season. Specifically:

The first actions of any new executive are heavy with symbolism...So what did Mayor Rahm Emanuel do during his first weekend in office? He went to City Hall on Saturday morning in jeans and a dress shirt and met with top officials from the University of Chicago to hammer out an agreement on, of all things, zoning and construction permits.

It was a nice little story about a new Mayor dedicated to overhauling government. What jumped out at me though was that in a story about major development plans in Hyde Park, Hyde Park's alderman, Will Burns, was not mentioned.

Apparently, Burns noticed this too, because within a few hours, he posted this on Twitter (read from the bottom up):

aldburnsresponsetwitter.jpg

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Aldermen Mon Mar 28 2011

Influence Pedaling in Uptown

An impressive crowd of about 75 turned out a few nights ago at Gill Park to hear the two runoff candidates for alderman in Chicago's 46th Ward, Molly Phelan and James Cappleman, weigh in on transportation issues at a forum hosted by Walk Bike Transit (WBT) , a newcomer to the political scene who may end up having an important impact. The non-partisan WBT says its mission is "to mobilize voters throughout Chicagoland [on] biking, pedestrian, and transit issues." The event was the first in a week of near-nightly matchups between the two would-be successors to Helen Shiller, and, while billed as a forum rather than a debate, it nonetheless offered insight into the contrasts between the candidates as well as showcasing the interest in issues affecting those who use their own footpower, or public transportation, to get around.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (5)

Good Government/Reform Mon Mar 14 2011

Time for Participatory Budgeting to Grow?

This article was submitted by Austin Smith.

In most communities, residents who see the need for an infrastructure project must send letters, make phone calls and attend meetings. In the 49th Ward, they simply need to vote.

The North Side neighborhood uses a process known as participatory budgeting, which puts the fund allocation decisions in the hands of the community itself.

In 2007, Ald. Joe Moore first learned about the concept from a presentation by Josh Lerner, director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. Over the next few years Moore further researched the potential to use the process for city funds known as menu money. In fiscal 2010, his ward became the first jurisdiction in the United States to implement participatory budgeting.

SMITH_PB6.JPG

Each ward receives the same amount of menu money, last year that amount was about $1.3 million, and it can be used for any infrastructure projects the Alderman's office chooses. Ald. Moore created a four-step election process whereby any resident who is 16-years-old or older can propose and ultimately vote for expenditures, regardless of citizenship or voting eligibility.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Aldermen Mon Mar 07 2011

Runoff Math: A Word Problem

Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of those men and women running the campaigns for the runoffs that will take place in April.

You ran a tough race, slogging through phone lists and knocking doors in frigid weather for three, six, nine months. Still, your candidate couldn't top 50%. You spent most of your money, but raising money won't be too much of a problem: you've got a list, and your candidate has proven their viability.

The question is: how do you get those X votes you need to top 50%?

Presumably, the people who voted for your opponent won't vote for you. So you need to try to get enough of the votes that went to the other candidate or candidates. If you're challenging an incumbent, maybe the answer seems easy: the people who voted for the candidates who couldn't cut know the incumbent and presumably don't like them, so just snatch up those votes.

Let's go with an easy set up. You've got Andrea, Beth, and Carl. Andrea is the incumbent, Beth and Carl challengers.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Aldermen Mon Feb 21 2011

Changes in the 50th Ward: From Devon to the Alderman's Office

This feature was submitted by Alizah Salario

Last summer, Chicago's 50th Ward alderman and Vice Mayor Bernard Stone was contemplating retirement -- until Mayor Richard Daley announced his own.

"I feel it's my duty to come back," said Stone, noting that no matter who is elected, Chicago's next mayor will be a "neophyte."

At 83, Stone is Chicago's oldest and second longest-serving alderman. The days when he chugged throughout the ward in a motor home to speak with voters may be long gone, but Stone's sense of obligation to his constituents hasn't changed in nearly four decades.

Yet the four challengers vying for Stone's City Council seat -- attorney Michael Moses, architect and community activist Greg Brewer, CPA Debra Silverstein, and 26-year-old community organizer Ahmed Khan -- insist he hasn't answered the call of duty during his past term, and that's why they're angling to change the ward's future. Though the candidates up against the 10-term incumbent diverge on the issues, they agree on one thing: the 50th Ward needs change.

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Mechanics / Comments (6)

Election 2011 Wed Feb 16 2011

Chicago Works on Your iPhone

Ameya Pawar, one of the candidates for 47th ward alderman, created an iPhone app that lets you report problems, make service requests and send feedback to your alderman. Whether Pawar wins or not (he's up against Schulter-backed Tom O'Donnell and two other candidates) let's hope this app or something like it gets some City Hall backing.

Andrew Huff / Comments (1)

Aldermen Tue Dec 14 2010

A Peek at Election Law Tweaks

On Monday, Dec. 13, a small group of journalists, reform advocates, and political junkies gathered in a conference room at the Michael A. Bilandic Building to hear a three-person panel review some of the important changes to Illinois election law enacted last year in what was finally passed as Public Act 96-0832 (click preceding link to view text of Act as it amended existing law; click here to download as a PDF). Cindy Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Andy Nauman from the State Board of Elections' division that regulates campaign finance reporting, and Cara Smith (no relation), the Public Access [FOIA] Counselor for the Illinois Attorney General, did their best in a quick review to navigate attendees through a pastiche of legislation that, as Canary put it, is "like going into the inner chamber of hell." The changes have some immediate impact on the municipal elections barreling down upon us all, with larger ramifications for other future races. However, reviewing what the law does and doesn't do also highlighted new ambiguities created, and how in significant areas much remains to be done.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (0)

City Council Sun Dec 12 2010

Should the City Council be Reduced in Size?

Consider this a bit of an open blog -- open to many different ranges of opinion on this. I can understand the more fiscal angle to this, as many believe that aldermen get a lot of money in terms of salary, especially if this elected office is considered a part-time job. Also, they get money to hire staff in addition to an allowance to run their offices. Consider this in context with other major cities in this nation, courtesy of the Better Government Association (BGA):

According to the US Census Bureau, Chicago's population reached 2.8 million in 2009. The City is broken down into 50 districts, or wards, each with its own alderman to represent it in City Council. That gives each alderman roughly 57,000 constituents to represent.

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Levois / Comments (3)

Elections Sun Oct 31 2010

No Friends in Politics: Doherty v. Mulroe on the Northwest Side

This article was submitted by David Jordan

It's personal.

Two sons of Irish immigrants, mutual childhood friends from the old neighborhood, are in a close, nasty fight for a state Senate seat on Chicago's Far Northwest Side.

23533_1218424465630_1379445299_30512914_451227_s.jpg
John Mulroe (next to the young woman) at a party in the North Austin neighborhood in 1979. Photo courtesy of Brendan Egan

Like me, both Brian Doherty - for the past 19 years the city's sole Republican alderman--and his foe in the November 2 election, John Mulroe--appointed to the seat in August after a long-serving fellow Democrat resigned from it--graduated from St. Angela School, in the North Austin neighborhood on the West Side. I am SAS '74, Mulroe is '73 and Doherty, '71.

Neither candidate for 10th District senator--Doherty, 53, a standout amateur boxer as a young man, who started in politics as a volunteer to a Northwest Side state representative 30 years ago; Mulroe, 51, a mild-mannered but tough and tenacious accountant-turned-lawyer, who is a relative political neophyte--is pulling many punches in the bout, which has been heavily financed by both party organizations.

Both candidates, like me, are from big Irish Catholic families.

Mulroe was the third of five children, all boys. The family, like mine, lived for several years in a two-bedroom apartment in a two-flat with relatives occupying the other flat, near tiny Galewood Park, a North Austin neighborhood hangout for countless youths, including me and several of my nine siblings.

Mulroe's father, a longtime laborer with Peoples Gas, often carted a gang of us kids in his station wagon to various sporting events.

On the campaign trail, Mulroe often recounts how he began his work career at age 13 as a janitor's assistant at St. Patrick High School, an all-boys Belmont Avenue institution, where I was a year behind him, just as I had been at SAS, where he later was a director of the St. Angela Education Foundation.

In the 1980s, while Mulroe was working days at Arthur Anderson as an accountant, he attended Loyola University law school at night. Then he served as a Cook County prosecutor for six years before, in 1995, opening a small, general legal practice in an office that is a block from Doherty's aldermanic office, down Northwest Highway in the Edison Park neighborhood, where the senator and his wife, Margaret, live with their two sons and two daughters.

Similarly, Doherty, the third of nine children, was a presence in my youth. My father, the late Jack Jordan (SAS '38), St. Angela's longtime volunteer athletic director, became close to the future alderman while working as a manager for the Chicago Park District boxing program.

At the time, the future alderman was in the midst of his amateur boxing career, in which I remember seeing the slim Doherty out-pound heavier boxers on his way to a 19-2 record and Park District and Golden Gloves championships.

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Mechanics / Comments (21)

Election 2011 Tue Oct 19 2010

Alderman Rhymefest?

One Monday hip hop artist Che "Rhymefest" Smith teased a "big announcement" at 10:30am this Thursday, Oct. 21, at Exclusively Yours Auto Spa, 5820 S. State St.

The video all but says he's running against Willie Cochran for alderman in the 20th Ward, and Smith has been coy about what he's announcing. But he proclaimed his candidacy Oct. 9 at a hip hop festival in Atlanta (see below). "I'm from a community named Englewood," Smith told the audience. "This is the same neighborhood where Jennifer Hudson's parents and people got killed. I'm from the fifth most violent ward in the city. And in that ward, in that district, I'm currently running for City Council."

"I want to let you know, y'all see me drinking, hanging and all like that, but I'm in my right mind. I see what shorties need. We need jobs, we need re-education, because the education we got ain't hot, and we need our police, we need mentors. When I was growing up, grown men used to go out and play football with the kids on the block. They're not doin' that no more. People go to work, they come home, they're like, 'I ain't got time to deal with nothin' but me and mine.' But you gotta realize your village is you and yours. And that's, hopefully, why the next element of hip hop is political power."

Smith is already listed as a candidate for his upcoming appearance on Mark Bazer's Interview Show. Consider this ward battle joined.

UPDATE 10/21: As expected, Smith has announced his candidacy.

Andrew Huff / Comments (0)

Daley Tue Aug 10 2010

Nobody Does It Better, Makes Me Sad For Ourselves

Governance by sloganeering results in things like this:

The private parking meter company that runs the metered street parking system in Chicago expects to reap at least $11.6 billion in revenues over the 75-year term of its lease deal with the city, according to a new report from Bloomberg News.

The Chicago News Cooperative recently reported that the 218 percent rate hike introduced since the parking privatization has barely reduced meter use, resulting in better-than-expected profits for the investors. The new profit estimate goes well beyond the earnings projected last year in documents uncovered by the Chicago News Cooperative, the first time that the internal financial projections of the privately held partnerships were disclosed.

Did you know profit-seeking organizations can do everything much better than government? It's a truism because lots of people say it. If you inject the profit motive into something, then it will work better. Every time. We don't need to study it. Just know that it's true because it's true.

tautology-map.png

Mayor Daley's reckless pursuit of "public-private partnerships" based solely on his wafer-thin rationale that the private sector can do everything better than government, has essentially cost the next three generations of Chicagoans billions of dollars both in lost revenue and jacked-up parking costs. At least, we should hope that is his sole motivation; because we could be less charitable and say that shameful impuissance also contributed. Mayor Daley is so terrified of making a "hard" (also obvious) decision regarding raising revenue that he would sell off city assets in a panic. This the "CEO Mayor" that BusinessWeek fell in love with?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Chicago Tue Aug 10 2010

Ald. Leslie Hairston Eyes Daley's job

Ummm well Charles Thomas may well have his first woman or first black to express interest in running against Mayor Daley. Of course, one could only wonder if she'll run if Daley actually chooses to run for re-election next year.

South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said Monday she's being urged by people "at the grass-roots level" to run for mayor and, "I won't rule anything out."

"People are pleased with the job I do and pleased with my stance on the parking meters," said Hairston, one of five aldermen to oppose the 75-year, $1.15 billion lease that turned into a political albatross for Mayor Daley after meter rates soared and meters broke down during the transition to private control.

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (0)

City Council Wed Aug 04 2010

A Remade City Council and Mayor Daley's Last Term

Is Machine Lite doomed?

Chicagoist's political guru Kevin Robinson reports on rumored aldermanic retirements before the upcoming February 2011 municipal elections, indicating that we may end up seeing as many as nine or 10 new faces in the City Council by next year, to add to the half dozen or so freshmen who came in in 2007. If this scenario plays out, seasoned mayoral allies could be replaced by neophytes, always an unwelcome change for a long-time incumbent executive.

If the Mayor runs again (and I don't see how he can't), he'll almost certainly win, though with a significantly smaller margin, even if he only gets token resistance from a dimly suicidal opponent. That potential challenge will certainly not be what dissuades him; in fact, a challenger emerging will probably whet his appetite and prove he's still got the muscle -- and perhaps more importantly to his psyche, the popular support -- to crush all comers.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Election 2011 Mon Aug 02 2010

Shiller Won't Re-Up

Via Chicagoist, 46th Ward (Uptown) Alderman Helen Shiller has announced she won't seek reelection for a seventh term. This will no doubt come as good news to Shiller's many local political enemies, who have rallied around the controversial Wilson Yard development and recent localized spikes in crime. Shiller's '03 and '07 reelection campaigns were both hard fought and the latter was particularly bitter, with accusations of racism and corruption thrown around liberally.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Daley Mon Jul 19 2010

A Potential Challenge to Mayor Daley From the 32nd Ward

Scott Waguespack, the 32nd Ward Alderman who took on and beat the fading remnants of the Rostenkowski/Gabinski machine in the Bucktown/Ukrainian Village/Lakeview ward in 2007, told the Sun-Times that he is considering taking a run at the Fifth Floor whether or not Mayor Daley still resides there. (He lives there right?)

Give the man credit. Waguespack has been a City Council pest, voting against the Mayor's budgets, embarrassing the Mayor's staff by doing the actual math on the parking meter lease, and hectoring the Mayor in public about tax increment financing, or TIFs. Management of his ward is another issue; Waguespack has faced on-and-off criticism by his constituents for perceived slips in service in the ward. Still, by announcing a potential campaign to call attention specifically to the Mayor's failings, he's going out on a limb. Plenty of politicians have been ready to criticize the way the city has been run and the "Chicago Way" but rarely call the Mayor out by name. Mayoral pretenders almost universally qualify their interest by adding that those interests are post-Daley.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Environment/Sustainability Sun Jul 18 2010

Clean Power Ordinance for South Side Plants Gets a National Boost

This article was submitted by Chris Didato.

On Thursday, two national environmental groups, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, joined Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Clean Power Coalition in their effort to pass an ordinance that would limit the emissions of two South Side coal-fired power plants by 90%. At the press conference, held in Pilsen's Dvorak Park, with Midwest Generation's Fisk plant looming in the background, included several aldermen and community supporters, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, and Global Warming Campaign Director Damon Moglen. All gave the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance their support.

The proposed ordinance, introduced by Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward), would have the two coal-fired power plants in Chicago limit their emissions of "particulate matter" (or soot) and carbon dioxide.

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Mechanics / Comments (0)

Aldermen Thu Jul 01 2010

Joe Moore, Champion of Progressivism, Defends Pro-Walmart Vote

Back in 2008, The Nation magazine's John Nichols named Alderman Joe Moore of the 49th Ward the country's most valuable progressive local official. The bestowing of this distinction upon Moore sent some Rogers Park residents into a tizzy. (Although the extent to which residents were actually upset is difficult to gauge--in the 21st century one yahoo's pissed-off blog post can become fodder for reports of residents foaming at the mouth, ready to march up Sheridan Avenue with pitchforks to Moore's office.)

Moore has always been a somewhat polarizing figure--folks tend to really, really like him, or really, really hate him. (Granted, this could be more of a reflection of Ward 49 residents than Moore himself.) Whatever your opinion on the man, though, it seems illogical to accuse him of not being a progressive.

But the MVP alderman took to the Huffington Post today to defend a vote for a company whose name makes most progressives recoil in disgust: Walmart.

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (0)

Media Wed Jun 16 2010

What Mick and Ben Said

Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, the Readers' star political reporters, had an important piece in the Reader a couple weeks back analyzing the TIF budgets and how exactly the money is dispersed. Much of what they found reinforced the suspicion that a lopsided amount of TIF dollars go to pet projects in non-needy neighborhoods, thus flouting the purpose of the state TIF statute. Interestingly, some of what they found actually overturned some conventional criticisms of TIFs, for example that it was weighted towards the clout-heavy (as an example, Finance Committee Chair and light tenor Ed Burke's 14th Ward received comparatively little from TIF funds).

Here's one important thing about their piece: it revealed no scandal.

In the larger sense of good versus bad government and policy, it certainly could spark outrage. But in the traditional sense of public corruption or betrayal of public trust or even rank hypocrisy, the Reader piece didn't serve the narrative of corrupt politicians swindling the public. Instead, it very methodically made a case that the current policy regime was ill-serving constituents, and did it in a sober (though entertaining) way. Yet even with that sober tone, it was enough to get people's cackles up.

That is the type of reporting that is threatened by the collapse of journalism. Yet, at the same time, the dailies aren't really known for this type of research and journalism--the type that doesn't look for a scandal as a hook, but rather just tries to tell the story of how the city works fundamentally, and make a case for fundamental change. That's not advocacy, that's just stripping the system down, rather than dressing politicians down. It's an important distinction.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece, Getting Past Daley, that tried to make the case that focusing on political personalities is beside the point, that the corruption that causes such outrage when it's reported in the Trib or Sun-Times is a result of material conditions and powerful institutions, not the whims of quasi-criminal elites. When we began organizing against the Olympics, we were disheartened by how much people wanted to focus on the Mayor as the problem, when the problem is clearly deeper than him.

Joravsky and Dumke in their analysis of the TIF program actually bust some myths about how the TIF money is spent--it isn't going to the clouted necessarily, it is money luring money, not petty local political clout dominating the process. By breaking down the mechanics of the process, Joravsky and Dumke create outrage out of picayune politics, not sensationalized scandal:

Consider:

About a quarter of all TIF spending, or $358 million, went to a single ward, the Second, which includes much of the Loop and gentrified areas on the near south and west sides. That's more than the bottom 35 wards got altogether.

Approximately $267 million more was spent in the 27th and 42nd wards, which include the Gold Coast and near west and near north sides. Together the three downtown wards received about 43 cents of every TIF dollar spent between 2004 and 2008.

Portions of the Second, 27th, and 42nd wards are in fact struggling economically--but those areas are largely missing out too. Some aren't covered by TIF districts; in other places the TIF districts aren't collecting much money. For example, the 27th Ward reaches into parts of Garfield Park where the landscape is dominated by empty factories and vacant lots, but little TIF money has been spent there.

When we get analysis like this--and it's reasonable to disagree with the analysis itself--then we can start to really figure out how to attack the problem, including the politicians we reflexively blame for everything, despite a rotating cast of characters falling into the same pattern over and over, endlessly repeating.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Good Government/Reform Fri May 28 2010

Grades for City, Sunshine on the Aldermen

Thumbnail image for Simpson, Dick.jpgLess than a year from now, Chicagoans will decide whether or not to re-elect Mayor Richard M. Daley -- assuming he throws his hat back in the ring one more time -- and the incumbent aldermen who take another shot at city council.

Voters need a reliable scorecard to grade the performance of city government and a way to track when the mayor and the aldermen agreed and disagreed on the most important issues that came before city council during this past legislative term.

These two tallies are now available in an easy-to-use online format. Click over to to ChicagoDGAP check the Developing Government Accountability to the People Web site, a project for which I provided analysis of aldermanic voting patterns and served as a voting member of the citywide report card committee.

And the grades we gave out to our city government were not encouraging -- overall, the City of Chicago received a D.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Mon May 10 2010

Alderman Balcer Wins the Muzzle

Last year Aldermen James Balcer covered up a mural that depicted the Chicago Police Department's "cop-in-a-box" lightpole cameras in a critical way. Free speech and public arts advocates cried foul, but Balcer won the acclaim of...well, I'm not sure who, exactly, but probably a lot of people who still use expressions like "damn hippies" and "crumb bums".

Now he's won an actual award for his brave act of censorship: via Edmar of the Bridgeport International, we get this:

3) Chicago Alderman James A. Balcer

The private owner of the property and the artist have a right to some due process before an alderman simply orders troops out."

- Ed Yohnka of the ACLU reacting to Chicago Alderman James Balcer ordering the painting over of a mural on private property.

For claiming the authority to destroy a work of art based on his personal assessment of the work's content, a 2010 Jefferson Muzzle goes to...Chicago Alderman James A. Balcer.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Thu Apr 15 2010

Nowotny to Run for Alderman in 46th Ward

The 46th Ward on the city's North Side is a hotbed of political activity. Highly organized and home to many of the city's good government activists, the Uptown centered ward can be relied upon to seethe with invective come election time. The entry of Don Nowotny, the Ward's Streets and Sanitation Commissioner, into the race to replace long-time alderman Helen Shiller, ensures we won't be disappointed. Nowotny's entry also means the race will have at least three openly gay candidates--creating the potential for Chicago's City Council to have two openly gay aldermen.

Updated to improve my geography reputation; original post included Edgewater.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Aldermen Thu Apr 15 2010

Feudalism in Chicago

An analysis by The Chicago Reporter shows that once appointed by the Mayor, aldermen are nearly unbeatable:

Daley appointees to the Chicago City Council seeking their first full term have won 90 percent of time. Click here to see a chart of the mayor's 35 city council appointments. Only former 49th Ward Alderman Robert Clarke, former 27th Ward Alderman Dexter Watson and former 7th Ward Alderman Darcel Beavers lost their first elections after being appointed.

The Reporter's research did show that the coronation effect lessened over time.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

City Council Wed Apr 14 2010

Anthony Beale (9th) Named to Head Police Committee

Ninth Ward Alderman Anthony Beale has been named to head the important Police and Fire, a post left vacant when 29th Ward Alderman Ike Carothers resigned after pleading guilty to accepting bribes for zoning changes.

Beale is an ally of the Jackson family political organization and a generally loyal Daley vote. Beale is hotly pursuing a certain big box store in his ward.

Interestingly, Beale's scant Wikipedia entry contains this line,

Beale voted himself and his fellow 49 Alderman a 6% pay raise, yet denies the police a pay raise. Beale in a media interview requested that some benefits be stripped from police.

added by a an anonymous user on 07 August of last year. This doesn't seem to appear in the "Aldermanic careers" of any other Chicago aldermen.

The Chair of the Police and Fire Committee has responsibility for civilian oversight of the Police Department, and can exert extraordinary pressure on the Department through specification of spending priorities and periodic hearings of Department leadership. Of course, traditionally the Chair of that Committee defers to the Mayor on big picture Department issues.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Budget Thu Apr 08 2010

Participatory Budgeting in Rogers Park Unleashes the Creativity of the People

democracy in real time

The residents of Chicago's 49th ward will vote on Saturday to determine what to use $3.1 million of city money on. The far north side ward was covered with fliers urging residents to vote in what is the first attempt in Chicago to use a democratic process for determining how to use infrastructure funds.

Each ward is given a budget to use for infrastructure, and the money is usually spent by the Alderman's office on permanent items such as street lights and pavement repairs. However Alderman Joe Moore in the far north side ward decided to open the process to the community and to let residents vote on proposals created in open committees.

The Mess Hall, an artist space with anarchist tendencies has a display that highlights the various proposals on the ballot. The space has had extended hours and has been packed with residents hoping to find out about the proposals.

Some of the proposals include: street lights, repaved streets, police surveillance cameras, bike lanes, historical markers, dog parks, decorative and educational bike racks and free wi-fi.

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Matt Muchowski / Comments (0)

State Politics Fri Mar 05 2010

The Big Purple Dog Barks

The Chicago News Cooperative looks at the Service Employees International Union's state council and their growing importance in state and local politics.

SEIU was a major backer of Rod Blagojevich and the Democratic caucus in Springfield, and was the cash and manpower engine behind the 2007 challenges to incumbent alderman after the big box living wage ordinance fight. With CFL president Dennis Gannon easing out the door, SEIU State Council President Tom Balanoff is left standing as arguably the most high profile labor leaders in local politics.

The piece is worth a read for background on an organization that will undoubtedly have a large impact on the 2011 elections; though I would think they would have mentioned that the state council was a founding sponsor of Progress Illinois, which has done yeoman's work in reporting on complex state and regional policy issues.

An early supporter of Barack Obama's White House aspirations, the service employees union also backed the winners in the three highest-profile state primary races this year. Besides Mr. Quinn, it sided with Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic nominee for Mr. Obama's former United States Senate seat, and Toni Preckwinkle, who toppled Todd Stroger, the Cook County Board president.

"It was a good day for us," Tom Balanoff, president of the union's state council, said in an interview last week.

The union's successes culminated a long push for prominence that has seen it become the biggest financial contributor to Illinois political campaigns. Its campaign committees, which were only bit players in local politics a decade ago, have spent more than $10 million across Illinois in the past six years, a Chicago News Cooperative analysis of state campaign finance records found.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Aldermen Thu Mar 04 2010

Name that Alderman!

Okay guys, I'm sure Fran Spielman won't give up her "source", but I'm equally sure if we put our heads together, we could figure out who said this:

Every time Daley gets his ... in a ringer, he throws it on the aldermen. If he really wants this, he should give us something.

Keep in mind, Bill Beavers is no longer an Alderman. Now git to guessin'.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Column Thu Mar 04 2010

How to Reform Cook County

Simpson, Dick.jpgThe epic spree of corruption exposed in Illinois in recent years have us confirmed as national laughingstock.

Who can blame television viewers for chuckling and shaking their heads when watching indicted ex-Governor Blagojevich perform on the Today Show? A New York Times columnist says our political culture is the "most awful." Expect more of the same with the stalled Blago trial begins this summer.

While this sort of coverage continues, let's get specific for a moment, and talk about solutions for one section of local government that doesn't get much play on the cable networks or other national outlets: Cook County.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Chicago Mon Mar 01 2010

Will Progressives Stand Up for Democracy?

Getting on the ballot should be easy. There are some regulations that make sense, but they should be stripped to their bare minimum: a small number of verified signatures and residency. The voters are perfectly capable of rooting out the losers and fringe candidates in the ballot booth. There's no argument against the loosest possible ballot access regulations that can't be answered by the fact of voting itself. Restricting access to the ballots is among the most effective tools of incumbents to protect their incumbency, and for political parties to protect their dynasties. There's no excuse for increasing restrictions.

So why are some Chicago Democrats trying to make those regulations more burdensome?

More importantly, will the so-called progressives in the local party step up to push back against this initiative first reported by Progress Illinois:

We recently stumbled across a bill (HB6000) introduced by State Rep. Joe Lyons (D-Chicago) that would make it a whole lot harder for new candidates to get on ballots in 2011. Lyons is attempting to bump up the number of required signatures on nominating petitions in Chicago elections to 500. Compared the current requirement -- a mere 2 percent of the votes cast in the ward during the preceding election year -- enacting the measure would raise the threshold in every ward. In some, the increase would be dramatic; last election cycle, for example, a 22nd Ward candidate only needed 87 names.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Cook County Board Sat Feb 27 2010

Ald. Preckwinkle at the Interview Show

Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, who recently won the Democratic nomination for the Cook County Board presidency, will be appearing at the Hideout for Mark Bazer's Interview Show. Bazer's interviews are irreverent and typically hilarious, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the unperturbable Preckwinkle. Also there will be beer there. Here's Bazer's interview with local superstar chef Paul Kahan. See you all there!

The-Interview-Show-No-22-po.jpg

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City Council Thu Feb 25 2010

Chicago Zoning Committee Decisions

The City's Zoning Committee is meeting today to determine the disposition of a number of properties. These are them. The agenda (with intended new uses) after the jump.

(Click on image to expand it)
Chicago Zoning Decisions 2.25.10.jpg

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu Feb 18 2010

A Riddle: Central Planning in the Carother's Case

Ike Carothers pled guilty to accepting a bribe to fix a zoning case for a developer, Calvin Boender. According to Ben Joravsky at the Reader, Boender sought the relief in order to develop a more profitable use (commercial and residential) despite the city's official position that the desired use for that property be industrial. A TIF was created with stipulations that the funding should only go to fund the creation of an industrial use. When previous owners tried to secure a rezoning, the city refused, citing their finding that the property should remain industrial. Eventually, Boender prevailed on Carothers ("prevailed on" in this case means "paid a bribe to") to back the subdividing of the property and its rezoning half of it to the more lucrative use. Carothers' attorney has stated that while his client admits to the bribe, the outcome was essentially a good one for the community (there's that process-versus-distributive justice thing cropping up again).

There are arguably two "process" abuses here: on the one end, the administration not going through an objective hearing processes to consider the rezoning to commercial/residential, and on the other end an Alderman taking a bribe to make that change regardless of that process. It's pretty easy to come to a libertarian interpretation and see that the problem is the government's ability to control the use of the land in the first place. The rule creates the corruption.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Thu Feb 18 2010

Intake Application for Alderman Leaked

I got my hands on a copy of the intake application for interviewees angling for one of the open Aldermanic positions. The city is asking residents who feel they are qualified to submit applications.

Intake Application for Employment as an Alderman

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Machine Lite Tue Feb 16 2010

Debbie Downer Returns

So having recovered from spending the last couple weeks shaking and crying in a dark corner somewhere in Pilsen after the Hoffman defeat, and bringing all of you down with me in my last post, I'm back to depress the masses yet again with a Chicago tale.

I was reading this article today, written back in January, about state House speaker Michael Madigan. It was filed in the Tribune's "Watchdog" category, which I was browsing in need of some civic inspiration--something I've been severely lacking as of late. It's about Madigan trying--and, of course, succeeding--in using his influence to drum up business for his tax law firm. See, after a developer sought and received zoning changes for his newly acquired downtown property, Madigan swung by his office to see what other properties might need his firm's services.

"When Mike Madigan calls and asks for a meeting, you meet with him," the developer says. "I mean, I was born and raised in this town."

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Danny Fenster / Comments (2)

City Council Tue Feb 09 2010

Daley: More Power to the Inspector General!

Mayor Daley on Monday announced that he was going to introduce an ordinance to the City Council that would grant greater power to the independent Inspector General's office, granting that office power to investigate aldermen, a power currently prohibited to it by law. Good government types are supporting the measure--to wit, Michael Shakman (of Decree fame), Joe Moore (49th)--as is the Inspector General himself. Tribune City Hall reporter Hal Dardick and Todd Lightly have a run down over at Clout Street.

Alderman Berny Stone is opposed to the measure, natch. But the reason he gives is somewhat compelling--that it would give the executive branch a cudgel to use against the legislative branch. Of course, this would be a more believable rationale were it not coming from the Vice Mayor who volunteered to get batted around by Mick Dumke on Chicago Tonight while defending the honor of the parking meter deal, and also had he ever supported any limit on Mayoral dominance of the City Council ever in the history of ever ever.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Aldermen Tue Feb 02 2010

The 29th, the 31st.

The snuggly looking West Side Alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers plead guilty yesterday to corruption charges for fixing a zoning case in favor of a developer who literally put a new wing on his house. This makes 29th Ward Alderman Carothers the 31st Alderman since the 1970s to be convicted of public corruption.

Ike simultaneously resigned his position as Alderman, creating a second vacancy in the City Council (with a potential third if Alderman Preckwinkle should win her race for the Cook County Board Presidency). Should that happen, Mayor Daley will have directly appointed 20 of the sitting 50 alderman in the City Council*. For those of you who work for the Mayor's Asset Leasing Financial Analysis Task Force, that's 40%. Now, some of those appointments have gone rogue--Ricky Munoz and Freddy Lyle, mainly--but generally it's a list of Mayoral deputies.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Cook County Board Tue Jan 26 2010

The Preckwinkle Campaign Finds the Path to Victory

On paper, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th) was likely to be the only candidate with the record, temperament, and political wit to survive a crowded field looking to replace the doomed Todd Stroger as President of the nation's second largest County organization. Her zest for picayune policy matters and her regular conscientious objections to Mayoral initiatives squared with a carefully cultivated reputation for good government progressivism, and her South Side lakefront political base offered both an early fundraising engine and added diversity to her electoral appeal. But Cook is a big and tough county with maddeningly feudal politics--it would take uninterrupted hard work to define and pursue the path to victory.

Preckwinkle's run for the Presidency was born out of frustration over a comparatively obscure policy issue: the overhaul of the County's temporary juvenile detention facilities. Todd Stroger tapped Preckwinkle, a well-regarded "progressive" South Side alderman, to serve with high-powered attorney Demetrius Carney to serve on a transition team to advise him on how to fix the system. Preckwinkle says she and Carney worked intensely to produce a report for Stroger. The result?

"He ignored it. He appointed the judge to oversee the system. I asked Demetrius why we went through all that work, and he told me that was the first he was hearing about it himself." Stroger was unresponsive and uninterested in the type of reform that Preckwinkle claims as her primary motivation: making government transparent, efficient, and a force for good.

These principles are encapsulated in one of Preckwinkle's primary campaign messages, that she is the only independent and progressive candidate running for the position.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Aldermen Mon Jan 04 2010

Ald. Flores to Head Energy Commission, Daley to Replace Him

First Ward Alderman Manny Flores has accepted a position at the head of the Illinois Commerce Commission, an important consumer protection position. Flores was first elected in a rough street level contest with incumbent Jesse Granato in 2003. The First Ward, which encompasses parts of Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, and Bucktown, is a majority Latino ward with large gentrified pockets on its eastern end. The First Ward is also part of the power base of Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a critical supporter of Governor Quinn.

As per the municipal code, the Mayor will appoint Flores' successor. The Mayor has appointed approximately 30% of the sitting Council.

Alderman Flores gained some attention in 2009 for his various transparency initiatives--both on TIFs and the Olympics spending ordinance--and his green initiative, Green Economy Chicago, that encouraged residents to contribute ideas for new green business programs.

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Daley Mon Jan 04 2010

Getting Past Daley: An Open Chicago

Crains' Greg Hinz covered a new website, Next Chicago Mayor, that calls whence the next local executive. There's much fun to be had in voting for Bill Murray to run for Mayor, but that the site is getting mainstream coverage is telling of the fatigue people are beginning to feel for the Mayor's brand of power politics. But is Richard M. Daley the problem? Would just replacing him at the ballot box really fix any long-term problems?

Richard M. Daley infuriates people. Frustration mounts: the Mayor's long tenure in office and the unwillingness of elected officials and high-profile institutional leadership to frontally challenge him makes his critics feel helpless. Helplessness contributes to anger, to the point it becomes irrational. That element of the so-called "anti-Daley crowd" allows the Mayor's supporters to color all opposition as unserious, jealous, or neophytic.

Mayor Daley is powerful, but he isn't the problem, and the focus on him makes true grassroots democracy difficult to build. He has with the help of a diverse group of institutions and organizations rebuilt the Machine, though it looks quite different from the classical city Machine associated with his father. It's Machine Lite, and it doesn't wholly fit any particular political ideology or specific set of interests. Nor is it a reflection of one individual's thirst for political power: undoubtedly, the Mayor and his allies perceive the current political system as the best--or only--way to govern a city with a painful history of racial turmoil and class warfare. When the Mayor gets flustered and denies he controls a "machine" he isn't being duplicitous, he honestly believes it. He is surrounded by powerful people from different racial and ethnic groups, business and labor interests, who willingly cooperate with him precisely because they see a benefit to the concentration of power in the Fifth Floor.

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Aldermen Tue Dec 15 2009

Tough TIF Questions Asked on Dearborn Street

Braving the cold, more than 200 members and supporters of the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition gathered outside of Alderman Robert Fioretti's office (2nd Ward) at 429 S. Dearborn St. Tuesday morning, sometimes shivering from the bitter temperature but united in their chant:

"What do we want? Affordable housing!"

Members of the Coalition, which unites three unions and nine community organizations, marched outside of Firoetti's office, urging the alderman to support an ordinance that requires 20 percent of future money generated from tax increment financing districts (TIFs) go toward affordable housing. In a TIF district, property taxes are frozen, freeing up money that would normally go to schools or parks in order to spur development in "blighted" areas. But the city's management of these funds has come under scrutiny lately, thanks to the tireless work of Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader, the Block 37 fiasco and thoughtful tracking from Progress Illinois.

According to the Coalition, Firoetti has supported TIF subsidies for wealthy corporations but has yet to support TIF funding for affordable housing. The Coalition released a report today (.pdf) showing that $91.8 million in city funds designated for these "blighted" areas instead has gone toward offices for companies that average billions of dollars in profits. According to the report, Firoetti has supported six of the ten projects the Coalition reviewed. In addition, members of the Coalition argue that if the $91.8 million instead went toward affordable housing, 2,944 residents could have received accommodation.

While the 20 percent won't fix all of the city's affordable housing woes, Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, argues that it's a strong step toward creating more permanent affordable housing. "We decided that would be an adequate amount to spend on housing," she says. "We thought it was realistic. We're not asking for all of the money. We're asking for something that we think would make a significant impact."

Dworkin acknowledges that the ordinance is "not the whole solution," but it's the best thing the city can do now. "We're in this terrible recession," she says. "There isn't extra money lying around, except in these TIF pots. We know it's there...It's urgent right now in the recession because the need for housing is so much greater. We have this foreclosure crisis, we have unemployment rising, the numbers from Chicago Public Schools shows with homeless children, there's 25 percent more this fall than last fall, so this is the time when the need is really great...In Chicago, we've been dismantling public housing, so we have lost thousands and thousands of units through the demolition of public housing. We've been building some more, but we have not nearly made up for what's been lost."

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (2)

Aldermen Tue Dec 01 2009

Alderman Flores Talks Budget, Part 1

I sat down with First Ward Alderman Manny Flores last week to discuss the budget and some other issues facing his ward, which encompasses parts of Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, Bucktown and Humboldt Park.

Alderman Flores and I discussed his opinion on the structural problems with the city budget, highlighting pension obligations and the reliance on property taxes as a funding source for much of the budget. The alderman laid out a general idea that a new process that seeks a new formula for funding, particularly around pension obligations, would be necessary if we are to avoid not only budget shortfalls but the reliance on privatization as a solution.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Cook County Board Mon Nov 09 2009

Could Todd Stroger Get Knocked Off the Ballot?

Rumors are going around that Todd Stroger's petition signatures are so fraught with error that he could lose his place on the primary ballot.

With news of Danny Davis dropping out today (assuming he would stay dropped out should the remarkable happen and Stroger actually get knocked off the ballot), that could potentially boil the race down to Hyde Park Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Courts Clerk Dorothy Brown, and Water Reclamation District Chair Terry O'Brien.

Preckwinkle got the top position on the ballot. If Stroger is knocked out, Preckwinkle would have to be the frontrunner for the job, particularly if the Mayor is in fact going to lend her outright or behind the scenes support (as has been supposed). While Brown gets elected County-wide (with little challenge) and O'Brien is the sole white dude, Alderman Preckwinkle has the "independent" credibility with none of O'Brien's contractor problems.

Should Stroger get knocked out--and really, this would be a bombshell--I think Toni Preckwinkle has to be considered the prohibitive favorite. The question would be--behind whom would the Stroger organization line up? And would Davis jump back in (that's a timing issue, as well)?

Interesting stuff--personally, I thought Preckwinkle was the favorite since the mysterious timing of the Community Benefits Agreement on the Olympics/Announcement for Board Presidency/Sneed rumor about Daley support for Preckwinkle stuff. She has the right mix of smarts, reformist appeal to contrast with Stroger with the advantage of still having connections to heavy hitter pols and appealing to parts of the South Side African-American primary electorate.

UPDATE: Thanks commenters! I can't believe its already the 9th. Indeed, today, not next Monday, was the deadline for withdrawal. Davis is out for good.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Aldermen Thu Nov 05 2009

Carothers Wire Nabs Naperville Man in O'Hare Deal

Austin-area alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers was wearing a wire for a year or so after being nabbed in a zoning-for-cash bribery scheme. His wire has netted an arrest, of Wafeek Aiyash, a Naperville businessman.

The Chicago Sun-Times has learned that the cooperator is Ald. Isaac "Ike" Carothers -- who was charged earlier this year with corruption. Carothers is one of 14 members of the City Council's Aviation Committee.

Ike & the G.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Chicago Wed Nov 04 2009

End Residential Permit Parking?

The Parking Ticket Geek makes an excellent case for ending residential permit parking in Chicago. I tend to agree--this falls into the general area of "commonly owned infrastructure" that I'm very fond of.

The creation of residential permit parking districts ends up exacerbating parking problems because the more of them you have, the more competition you get for the fewer and fewer free parking spots--making convenient targets for the city to squeeze more money out of people. While permit parking makes sense immediately around certain institutions--particularly big schools and hospitals--just creating permit parking because developers are over-building on density is silly and counter-productive. If your street parking can't handle it, there's no gun to your head saying you have to up-zone a piece of property to allow those extra five condo units.

I don't know if this means repealing all the districts (goodbye, every incumbent alderman) or restricting them to distances from certain classes of land use (hospitals, schools, stadiums).

There's one thing for certain, though: with better buses and trains, you wouldn't need them at all.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Aldermen Mon Nov 02 2009

Drip, drip, drip: Budget Hearings

Aldermen criticize Daley for his use of financial reserves. In this Sun-Times piece, Aldermen Tom Allen, Anthony Beale, and Joe Moore are all quoted essentially accusing the Mayor of being financially irresponsible--and politically cowardly. The Mayor has designed much of his administration around the premise that as long as you don't yourself raise taxes and provide the basic services Chicagoans demand (snow plowing, garbage) you can reign forever. I don't know if these budget hearings will necessarily lead to some sort of Aldermanic revolt (not likely) but exposing the fiscal house of cards the Mayor has designed to avoid a tax outrage will harm his image as a shrewd "city manager," the image he's spent now two decades cultivating.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Wed Oct 14 2009

Solis to Head Zoning Committee

It's the oldest story in city politics. Tom Wolfe probably has about nine or ten 100 page short story sketches about it. Young firebrand activist organizes the neighborhood to fight city hall. Eventually professional activist gets to the point where his organization is powerful enough to challenge City Hall. City Hall grants community activist his/her demands; lures them in with job security and speeches about how being a grown up means learning that you have to work with the powerful to get anything done, and everything else is just naive youthful idealism.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Cook County Tue Sep 22 2009

To Judge How To Be A Judge

Sun-Times reporter Abdon Pallasch has a beautifully written and deeply researched piece on the slating of Cook County Judges. The slating process--or "ballot management"--is a practice sacred to the County political bosses. The authority of slating is where they generate much of their political capital. Not only from the people they choose, but from the legions of people who serve the Party loyally in hopes of one day being slated--or of having a big enough name to get somebody else slated. Pallasch mentions a judge named William Haddad--Haddad's experiences gave me the idea to write the piece on ballot management I posted in 2004. It was an off the record conversation with Haddad about his endorsement by the Party that gave me some of the background ideas. That piece of course was based on casual hearsay conversations with various political hacks and precinct workers I would never call "journalism". Pallasch's piece refers to that 2004 Haddad campaign and really gets into how slating looks and works.

There is something to be said for this process--for all the horse-trading and political hackery involved, a society where the courts harden into a clubbish aristocracy is not what we want, either. There is a middle road in there somewhere.

My favorite bit, but, really, read the whole thing:

Here's who wins judicial elections in Cook County: Women with Irish names. For whatever reason in this county where roughly half the residents are women and 17 percent claim Irish ancestry, women lawyers with Irish names win more than 50 percent of all countywide judicial elections.

That's why lawyers of Jewish or other ancestry often legally adopt Irish names to run for judge here. That's why when party leaders slate men without Irish names, such as William Haddad, who would have been the first Arab-American full-circuit judge in Cook County, the party must recruit Irish women lawyers to run as "ringers" or "stalking horses" to flood the ballot and fracture the Irish-woman vote.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Cook County Fri Sep 11 2009

WBEZ On the Slating Meeting

WBEZ has a great report from inside the Cook County Democratic Party Slating Committee meeting this week. The full meeting happens today. Here are some interesting facts* that WBEZ didn't report on:

  • Alderman Dick Mell asked candidate for County Board Terry O'Brien, "I'm interested to know, in terms of the veto override provisions that are ultimately determined by the state legislature, Irishdingussayswhat?" To which O'Brien responded, "What?"
  • County Recorder of Deeds Eugene "Gene" Moore actually introduces himself by saying, "Hello, I'm Eugene 'Gene' Moore" while making air quotes.
  • Karen Yarborough, Commiteeman for Proviso Township, travels around with an aide who announces, "Proviso Township, Entering!" when she enters a room, and "Proviso Township, Retiring!" when she leaves.
  • Ald. Toni Preckwinkle yawned loudly during one of Committeeman Ira Silverstein's questions, and then interrupted him and said, "Man, Silverstein, you're so boring you make P.J. Cullerton (38th) sound like Randy Barnette (39th)!" She actually said the parentheticals.
  • Committeeman John Fritchey head-butted Steve Landek, but it was a "friend head butt".
  • When hotel staff wheeled in refreshments, Secretary of State Jesse White asked for a "tumbler" of Diet Pepsi. Nobody laughed.
  • Mike Madigan peeled an entire apple without breaking the skin, then revealed that it was actually a human heart.
  • In a spirit of unity, Secretary of State Jesse White pledged that the Party would unite behind any candidate it endorsed. "We'll tumble for you," he added. Some people laughed.
  • Committeeman Bob Rita took Committeeman Wilbert Crowley's hand and slapped him across the face with it, then asked him why he was hitting himself.
  • Howard Brookins asked John Daley if he liked Harry Potter more than Twilight. Daley rolled his eyes and said, "Is John A. Pope (10th) Catholic?"
*None of these are actually facts. Although I do think John A. Pope is Catholic.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Olympics Thu Sep 03 2009

No Cap on Public Money + No Oversight = Unmitigated Disaster

Good ol' Gentle Ben Joravsky over at the Reader reports on what a bunch of us got in our inboxes this morning: an oversight ordinance introduced by Ald. Manny Flores, and a "substitute" ordinance backed by Mayor Daley. Alderman Flores' staff sent out a side-by-side comparison a few hours later. Guess what? The Mayor's version sucks.

Manny Flores is a professional politician. It's not his, or any Alderman's job to be right all the time. It's our job to argue forcefully--or yell at the top of our lungs--to get them to do the right thing. Keep in mind that every sentient moment (evaporation of sentience is common in Zoning Committee meetings) of an Alderman's professional life he is hearing from lobbyists, deal-cutting colleagues, and a high-pitched voice from the Fifth Floor. So when Ald. Flores withdrew his Olympic spending cap--a bill that wouldn't have forestalled disaster had we been granted the Olympics, but which would likely have killed the possibility that we'd get it in the first place--we were justified in our booing and hissing.

Good on Alderman Flores for at least making a peep. Unfortunately, the only reasonable option, based on all the available evidence, is that we should not seek or accept the 2016 Olympic Games. Any other position on this issue is not nuanced, or pragmatic, or anything but wrong.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Aldermen Thu Aug 20 2009

Dumke v. Stone, Cf. Globetrotters v. Generals

Watch Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader take on Berny Stone (50th) over the Parking Meter Privatization deal. By "take on" I mean "throw confetti from a bucket on," or "pretend to throw a basketball to with a string attached to the ball and the hand". (Via Whet Moser at the Reader.)

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Fri Aug 14 2009

Steve Rhodes: Ouch

Rhodes:

Is there a cojone anywhere in the house?

I'm sure Flores' move has nothing to do with his desperate desire to run for Congress (a desire also held by Munoz) at his earliest possible convenience and not face a Daley-installed opponent marking him as the guy who killed the city's Olympic bid.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Aldermen Thu Aug 13 2009

Was Alderman Munoz Wrong?

Kids getting preferential admission because of who their parents are is wrong--although, of course, it happens in higher education all the time and basically creates America's version of a ruling class--but I'm not fully convinced that what Alderman Munoz did, in placing a call to request admission of his daughter to Whitney Young despite her grades, was wrong.

He is a parent. And parents call schools and ask for reconsideration all the time, particularly in cases where they want to keep siblings together (and I imagine for a dad, keeping his young daughter with her older brothers would be a particularly strong motivator). Should he not do what any other parent would do simply because he is an alderman?

Perhaps that is something you sacrifice when you enter public service. But if you put, "sacrificing basic parental prerogatives" on the list of things you sacrifice when you become a public servant, I'm not sure you'll ever get any quality public servants.

The background:

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) acknowledged Wednesday that his daughter was admitted to Whitney Young Magnet High School for the upcoming school year after he called the principal to ask that his daughter be allowed to follow in her brother's footsteps.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the follow-up was this bit of candid talk from the Mayor, who apparently has abandoned any pretension that the City Council's statutory powers are anything but a formality:

"As a parent, he is speaking for not only his family, but his own constitutents," Daley said. "They don't have to accept the child. They can refuse the child because [aldermen] have no power over the Board of Education. They don't fund them. They don't review their budgets or anything else."

The City Council does approve the Board of Education's property-tax levy and ratifies the mayor's appointment of school board members.

[Emphasis added]

I'm ambivalent. What do you think?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Chicago Sun Aug 02 2009

On Wal-Mart Expansion in Chicago

You know I can't believe that I missed Thursday's CapFax question of the day (or our own in Fuel), asking about whether or not Wal-Mart should be allowed to open more stores in the city. I could go further, should Wal-Mart be allowed to open a supercenter or a store in the West Chatham neighborhood.

I've basically been saying let Wal-Mart in, but I will say that as a person who may not find myself in there every chance I got. Even though there are Wal-Marts ringing the city in addition to one in the Austin neighborhood, I can't say I'm a regular customer. I can say I have no problem with any employer coming in looking to set up shop and bringing in new products and services as well as jobs for the community.

I noticed at the CapFax an image that lists all the location near 83rd & Stewart (the likely location for the West Chatham Wal-Mart). In addition to maps such as this...


View Larger Map

Now, to analyze the map and the list of stores that sell food or produce, I would throw out those convenience stores or those stores that merely trade in junk food or whatnot instead of much healthier foods.

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (4)

Daley Mon Jul 27 2009

Daley Replaces Ocasio With Domino Commissioner Maldonado

Outgoing Alderman Billy Ocasio, who left to work for Governor Quinn, originally wanted accused homophobe Wilfredo de Jesus to replace him; he reneged on that and then the word was he wanted his wife to replace him. Mayor Daley decided to appoint popular Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado to replace him, meaning now there will be a vacancy on the Cook County Board. Yay!

Here's an endearing little video of Roberto Maldonado, so that we can like him a little bit before he votes for the Mayor's plan to privatize Lake Michigan or smiles or whatever:

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Thu Jul 16 2009

Chicago Journal On Aldermanic Privilege

Aldermanic privilege dictates that the local alderman should be deferred to on all matters impacting his or her ward directly. The tradition is so deeply entrenched that we notice when it fails to prevail: most notably in the Wal-Mart zoning fights in 2005 and the Chicago Children's Museum vote (aka, the Grant Park Privatization vote) in 2008.

Chicago Journal editor Micah Maidenburg has been covering a generally ignored federal court case challenging the constitutionality of this privilege. The case was brought by the owners of the infamous Congress Hotel, which tried to get a permit for a sidewalk cafe. The Congress' workers have been on strike for years as the Congress management refuses to bargain a contract, and the union rightfully feared that a sidewalk cafe would interfere with their right to picket, and generally opposed the plan. Newly elected Alderman Bob Fioretti also opposed the sidewalk cafe, and urged their petition be rejected. A land use decision with wide-ranging political ramifications, as now the privilege seems to be in jeopardy.

Maidenburg:

Aldermanic privilege and its alleged application at a strike-embattled South Loop hotel were at the heart of a trial that ended Monday in federal court. [Former Alderman and current UIC Poli Sci professor Dick] Simpson said the case "could well be" the first time a plaintiff has challenged the constitutionality of the tradition.

After three days of testimony from 11 witnesses, attorneys representing the Congress Plaza Hotel and Convention Center and the City of Chicago rested their cases and agreed to submit briefs outlining their respective arguments to the court within 10 days.

The trial stems out of a 2007 lawsuit brought by the Congress. The hotel alleged in the suit that Ald. Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward includes the hotel, used his aldermanic privilege to condition issuance of various permits, including those for a rooftop expansion and a sidewalk cafe, on resolution of what's now a six-year-old strike at the hotel.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Chicago Mon Jul 13 2009

Homero Tristan and Scandal Fatigue

A well-reasoned (and researched) post by EveryBlock (and Chicago City Payments) co-founder Daniel X. O'Neil plunges into the Homero Tristan affair, separating fact from narrative and going to the heart of exactly why we should care about things like this, even when we're all scandal fatigued. If you've read James Merriner's great book Grafters and Goo Goos, you know that the modern era's reform efforts have become institutionalized and prone to make-workism. This has the dual effect of boring the general population, and eliciting backlash from the political class who see "reform" as just a cover for political ambition by outsiders. O'Neil's exploration of what the actual ethical lapses were in the Tristan "scandal" is instructive: it was a failure of protocol as a symptom but not an example of power politics, and our reaction to it should be calibrated as such (and, we should also think about why we have these protocols in the first place).

On June 26th, the city's inspector general, David Hoffman, put out a report criticizing the behavior of Human Resources Commissioner Homero Tristan, and calling for him to be sacked. Tristan subsequently resigned. The news reports focused on the fact that a "former top aide" to Mayor Daley has resigned in a "hiring scandal". But, as always, it's important to know exactly what happened, before a scandal turns into A Scandal, where everybody knows the personalities but not the facts. Tristan's resignation and reporters' questions about it caused much Mayoral huffing and puffing, with the Mayor claiming Tristan had done nothing seriously wrong, and insinuating that the IG was running wild.

The Mayor sounding a note like that means something, and there has been a subsequent pushback against Hoffman from several quarters. Tristan's lawyer, Bill Coulson (husband to state Representative Elizabeth Coulson) wrote a publicized letter to the Mayor defending Tristan's conduct in the matter and accusing the IG of being irresponsible in making his report public and playing fast and loose with the facts (Hoffman didn't respond). Rumors of Hoffman's political aspirations, always the best way to cast doubt on a civil servant ("He just wants to be one of the cool kids, like us!") have begun to leak.

The Tribune ran an edging on asinine op-ed accusing Hoffman of being overzealous:

it seems Chicago's inspector general, David Hoffman, is intent on turning everyday networking into guilt-by-association, as well as casting clouds of suspicion on those engaged in the civic arena as if it were a criminal act. My intention here is not to defend the commissioner, but to sound the alarm on the death of civic participation.

Hoffman's most recent report is the latest example of an investigator run amok. Never mind him tarnishing the career and damaging the reputation of Tristan, his newest target. Hoffman is a reformer's reformer. Democracy be damned!

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Aldermen Tue Jun 30 2009

Burked

It's good to know that despite our impressions that our City Council has been completely absent from governing the city (see: TIFs, Parking meters, etc.), that at least Ed Burke, 14th Ward Alderman, silken-tongued financial expert, and Council War veteran has been hard at work. Well, to be fair, he's been hard at work enriching connected constituents and reworking zoning laws to his own benefit. Not only that, but he's been busy developing his own political dynasty, with his wife working as a state supreme court justice and his brother, "Quiet Dan," working the levers of power in Springfield as a state representative whose office is apparently not located in the 23rd district he "represents."

It's hard to find the words to describe the level of disgust that one should feel about the fact that the man who leveraged his considerable oratorical and parliamentary skill to support the unabashedly racist opposition to Harold Washington has now accumulated power at the state and city level to do nothing more than enrich himself and his friends and have a big house with special parking permits required to park in front of it. For far too long, the Burkes, both Ed and Silent Dan, have flown under the radar of Chicago politics, winning elections with developer money and the support of the precinct captains at whom they throw the crumbs of soon-to-be-cut city jobs. Both Burkes represent neighborhoods that have significantly changed over the long time that Ed and Disappearing Dan have used them for their personal enrichment. Not like either of the Burke boys care much.

It could be argued at earlier points in Chicago history that the machine served to incorporate immigrants in political and economic leadership in the urban jungle of the United States. Now the vestiges of the machine hold on like a lamprey to the body politic, providing little to nothing for the working class Latinos, Poles, and others they represent while acquiescing to the looting of the City by the Mayor and his obsession with short-term privatization schemes. As Steve Rhodes puts it:

Ed Burke gets what he wants because he's Ed Burke. And his wife is a state supreme court justice. She lives there too. They don't have to play by the rules.


It's time for us as voters to stop letting the Burkes, the Popes, fly under the radar. Our future as a city depends on it.


Jacob Lesniewski / Comments (0)

Cook County Board Thu Jun 18 2009

Preckwinkle Launches Website, Internet Makes Things Real

Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (Hyde Park) has launched a website in support of her campaign for Cook County Board President. A primary poll done by SEIU back in April--before, it should be noted, the sales tax veto issue--had current Commissioner Forrest Claypool leading incumbent Todd Stroger and Preckwinkle 28-23-18. "Preckwinkle" isn't the most voter-friendly name; I wonder if they'll come up with some kind of witty slogan to help people remember it. (Or do something like they did for Blagojevich's campaign, have people mangling it in a commercial to make light of it). "Preck for Prez" doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Looking at that SEIU poll, it should worry Stroger that Preckwinkle performs nearly as well among black voters as he does. Claypool, though he cleaned up in many of the North Side wards east of the river, couldn't handle the enormous disparities in black-majority wards. Without those huge majorities, Stroger is done for. He will have trouble collecting votes in many of the north, west, and south west suburban townships, and if Preckwinkle performs this well among black voters, it's curtains.

The questions is--can Alderman Preckwinkle take enough votes in the lakefront liberal and inner-ring suburban townships (where she is better known and where her relationship to the city's "progressive" establishment will play) to keep Claypool from sailing in on his existing support on the North and Northwest Sides? I'm sure Russ Stewart will have a hyper-specific breakdown of this at some point, if he hasn't already.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Aldermen Mon Jun 08 2009

Carothers Pleads Not Guilty

Jeff Coen of the Chicago Tribune says Alderman Ike Carothers (29th) is pleading Not Guilty. (Via Twitter).

UPDATE: Coen on Carother's pleading: "Lawyer hints Carothers might change plea to guilty"

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

City Council Fri May 29 2009

Carothers Was A Cooperator!?

I don't know how else to express this but Holy Shit.

Alderman Isaac "Ike" Carothers, who was indicted yesterday for mail and wire fraud in a corruption case where he allegedly accepted $40,000 worth of home renovations in exchange for lucrative zoning relief, was reportedly wearing a wire for the G the last year or so.

Drip, drip, drip. An alderman wearing a wire is--really astounding. The fact that the government felt the need to "flip" a member of our City Council, as though it is an on-going criminal conspiracy, is unbelievable, shameful, really--holy shit.

From the Sun-Times:

The document identifies Carothers as "Public Official A" -- with clear identifiers pointing to him, including a reference to one of his family members running for Congress in 2004.

The government filing says Carothers, 54, had been "consensually recording conversations with individuals suspected of engaging in ongoing criminal conduct."

"These recorded conversations include meetings Public Official A has had with other public officials and real estate developers. The government expects Public Official A to continue his cooperation into late May 2009."

Detailing the corruption scandals that have rocked Chicago in the last twenty years--Phocus, Haunted Hall, Greylord, Silver Shovel, Gambat, Incubator, Lantern, and of course the Hired Truck Scandal--often turns into rank raconteurism; Chicago definitely has a loose tooth love for its colorful public figures. And scandal fatigue likely has taken the edge off of new revelations. But Ike Carothers is a West Side institution, a power broker who dominates the politics there, particularly at the street level.

Carothers is also a critical pillar in Mayor Daley's political establishment that effectively coopted enough black and Latino political organizations and institutions to keep the ground unsteady under any potential challenger. The Mayor views this as critical to governing the city; his critics as a cynical way to squash dissent.

If Ike Carothers' purpose was to ferret out corruption among his colleagues in the Council, the Mayor's governing majority could begin to crumble. And all those organizations and "leaders" that for years have cozied up to the Mayor and establishment in the name of "pragmatism" will suddenly find themselves tied to a coalition that can't guarantee them anything. Council leaders will begin to fight for the scraps. It could get ugly.

It is important to remember that Carothers was critical to the Mayor's ruling coalition; he was always a counterbalance to the established black political institutions on the city's South Side, represented by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his son Junior, among others.

Comme ca:

At an unrelated news conference, Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th) let loose on [Congressman Jesse] Jackson, [Jr].

Carothers, who defeated a Jackson-backed aldermanic challenger in 2003, accused Jackson of being a do-nothing congressman with "an ego as big as this building" and aspiring to be "king of the world."

The vitriolic broadside unnerved Daley, who was nearby. The mayor turned to Carothers and said, "Ike, give it a rest."

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Sat May 16 2009

Alderman Destroys Public Art

Could this be just another WTF moment featuring another Chicago alderman?

When Humberto Angeles woke up on Thursday morning, he heard a truck outside his Bridgeport apartment. He looked out the window and saw the city's graffiti blasters painting a brick wall across the street. They covered over a mural that Angeles says he rather liked.

ANGELES: What I got from it, it was just a mural for peace. That's what I got out of it. Peace.

The mural was a painting of three Chicago Police Department blue light camera's that you see on light posts in high crime areas. The Chicago Police logo is on the cameras but then the artist also painted Jesus on one post, a deer head on another, and a skull on the third camera. What the mural is supposed to mean is anyone's guess. Angeles agrees that it's a rather inscrutable work of art but he liked it and he says he feels bad for the artist.

So why did Ald. Ed Balcer decided to blast this mural out of existence?

11th ward alderman James Balcer says he called in the graffiti blasters because the owner of the building never got a permit for the mural. He says he got 3 or 4 complaints from residents. He says he got some from police too and he says he agreed that the piece was distasteful.

BALCER: You know I don't know if there was hidden gang meaning behind it with the cross, with the skull, with the deer, with the police camera's. Was there something anti-police about it? I don't know what's in his mind. That's how I viewed it.

But wait, isn't this wall on private property? Why should he just up and overthink the owner of this property and just decide that he needed to violate the property owner's rights by painting his building without permission?

A spokesman for Chicago's buildings department says section 13 25 50 of the City Code requires building owners to have a permit for painted signage or to alter or repair painted signage on a building. But a spokesperson for the city's law department says there's no permit necessary for a mural on the side of a private building as long as it's not an advertisement and as long as the property owner has given their permission.

But they did it anyway even with the city code that might back the owner of this property owner up, but what about the artist:

Gabriel Villa is the artist who spent much of the last two weeks working on the mural. He says he even took a week off work to do it.

VILLA: It's in a really good area in terms of visibility so you get to see if from a good distance.

Villa did the work as part of a local art festival. The mural itself was on private property, on a wall owned by the mother of a festival organizer. Villa says several Chicago Police officers approached him about the work while he painted. He thinks they may have been offended but he says the painting doesn't have an anti-police message.

VILLA: This mural was not a quiz. A lot of contemporary art tries, you know it tries to baffle you, or tries to confuse you, or kind of flip things on its head. I wasn't asking anything.

Should it be easy to remove artwork only because you don't like it? I understand that some art might offend people. At the same time it almost reeks of censorship.

Should we be concerned about how we respond to it? Should we be concerned that there are those in power who might be willing to trample on the rights of private property owners because they don't like the work?

Levois / Comments (2)

Aldermen Thu Apr 16 2009

Three Bags of Tea for the Disloyal Opposition

It's hard not to guffaw like a frat boy every time I come across news or analysis of yesterday's "Tea Parties" (Rachel Maddow=genius). It is particularly hard to hear clips of protestors talking about how "it's time for us to wake up those folks in Washington to what people really think," as I heard over and over again on NPR last night, as if Obama wasn't just elected by fairly comfortable margins and doesn't enjoy 60% approval rating. (or even that a large percentage of Americans think the tax system is fair). Those of us who lived through the Clinton years had very few illusions about the ability of the "extra-chromosome right" as Al Gore called them to exist in loyal opposition. So we're now subjected to debates over Obama's role in promoting piracy, governors advocating secession, and whatever other outrages emerge from the miasma of the right-wing politics of victimhood.

Stepping away from the hypocrisy and potential danger of the inflamed rhetoric on the right, one can't help but be impressed with the fearlessness of conservative politicians, pundits, and activists. It doesn't matter that the last eight years are widely viewed as a series of exhibits on the failure of their essential ideology or that they were roundly repudiated at the polls in November. Even if their grievances are fuzzy and inchoate and their way out of the current situation is to apply the same medicine that got us here, only in higher does, they are so convinced of the dire consequences of not opposing the current president that they will engage in pretty ridiculous behavior to see him stopped.

It's becoming pretty obvious from the reporting of Ben Jovarsky, budget woes, and the three tires I've had to change in the last month that calling Chicago the city that works is a rhetorical stretch, to say the very least. A broke, pock-marked city that attempts to replace front line police officers with cameras, sell off all its assets to the highest bidder in return for slush funds for Mayoral fantasies of grandeur is not one headed down the right road. But yet we have a more or less completely compliant City Council that marches in lock-step with the flailing failing policies of our mayor while the media focuses on Todd Stroger's foibles while letting Daley's slide by. It's probably also true that the Mayor has done a great job of making himself, and not the tenant farmers of the City Council represent government in this city, so that voters and non-voters alike rarely hold alderman accountable. The situation is especially disappointing to those of us who worked hard to elect a slate of independent alderman, only for them to come back and say "you don't understand how scary the Mayor can be." Our city is crumbling and the most those who are charged with fixing it can say is that they can't speak out because of the hypothetical fear of losing city services in their wards

Maybe Chicago needs some disloyal opposition, some crazy "tea-baggers" who will throw caution to the wind and not be afraid of the retributive consequences, real or imagined. If right wing Republicans aren't scared of the President and Democratic Congress who just thumped them in elections, then why are we still electing alderman who defeat the machine candidate in their wards and remain afraid of the mayor?

Jacob Lesniewski / Comments (0)

Column Thu Apr 09 2009

The Erosion of Daley and the Coward Defense

I would like to take a moment from my current leave-of-absence to comment on Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke's extraordinary piece from this week's Chicago Reader. Joravsky and Dumke's piece is in fact a perfect case study of much larger issues, namely, the utter failure of neoliberal public policy and the accelerating erosion of Mayor Daley's precarious political order. Both are implicated in an exhaustive piece that demonstrates how and why decisions that affect millions of human begins are made.

And I would like to direct this piece not just to our wonderfully loyal Mechanics readers, but also to the current under-class of political professionals, legislative and district staffers, public policy Masters students, and the rest of the "next generation" of leadership that think leadership means gripping the pant legs of today's elected officials and auctioning the public good off to private interests. And also to elements of the city's so-called "progressive leadership", which are, like Dorian Gray's portrait, at risk of transmogrifying themselves into the shakedown artists the hard-core right always accuses us of being.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Cook County Board Fri Jan 23 2009

Preckwinkle Definitely In

You can add Toni Preckwinkle to the list of Democrats who want to end the Stroger dynasty. Preckwinkle would likely join Commissioner Forrest Claypool to make this at least a three-way primary. Sam Cholke at the Hyde Park Herald has the scoop.

I suspect that the County Democratic Party recognizes the liability the Stroger administration has become. It will be interesting to see how the County party aligns on this race. It will also be interesting to see how the Mayor plays it; obviously the Daleys and Strogers go way back and presumably the Mayor's considerable resources (not to mention his brother's, who runs the County's finance committee) would be devoted to Stroger or at least stay neutral, particularly considering his past relationship with Claypool (not that that turned out to be particularly helpful in 2006). Still, the city is on an all-out offensive for the Olympics, and having a friendly, predictable alderman in the 4th Ward must be awful tempting.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Aldermen Fri Dec 19 2008

Joravsky on the "Aldermanic Revolt"

I love when Ben Joravsky gets mad. So should you.

So when it came time to vote on the Reese deal, the aldermen let Mayor Daley know exactly how they were feeling: Mad. Hurt. Insulted. Unwilling to take it anymore. Ready to stand up for the people...I figured, yes, here it comes: The long-awaited aldermanic revolution! The aldermen rise up in rage to vote against the Olympics once and for all! And leading the charge would be the fiery-tongued Bob Fioretti, Pat Dowell, Leslie Hairston, Freddrenna Lyle, Walter Burnett, Ed Smith, and Ray Suarez...And when push came to shove, what was the vote? 47-0. In other words, they rolled over. Just like always. If these guys had a backbone, it would be made of rubber.


All this -- and we haven't even won the bid yet. In fact, it's still a year away. If we win the bid, the aldermen will have even less leverage to protect taxpayers and residents and provide oversight on Olympic spending.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (0)

Aldermen Thu Nov 06 2008

Chicago Aldermen Have Wish List for Obama

From Clout St., Obama just became president-elect, but city aldermen are already expecting some favors from him. Relax a minute, he hasn't even been inaugurated.

I like this quote by Ald. Ed Smith (28th):

But Ald. Ed Smith (28th) sounded a rare cautionary note, warning that local expectations for Obama may be unrealistic.

"We can't dump all the problems on him," Smith said. "There's thousands of cities out there and he has to look at all of those cities."

Levois / Comments (0)

Aldermen Wed Nov 05 2008

WTF??? Banning Ice Cream Trucks???

I would certainly call this a very busybody move. Aren't there more important issues to tackle than an ice cream truck. At least they can prove what small plastic baggies can be used for, but this is the floppiest reasons for banning ice cream trucks. From the Chicago Reader blog, The Food Chain:

Lane's explanation? Suspected ne'er-do-wells. She related a story of one dodgy truck. "The truck arrived down the block and its playing the regular ice cream music," she told me. "The kids left the truck and he left the end of the block, and it was like a cul-de-sac where you have to come back around and come back up the same block. And when he got down there he started playing a different tune of music. And I'm sitting down there but I'm writing this. And so then there were guys--people coming out of homes that were going to the truck coming back with something. You see them exchange something at the window of the truck but they didn't have any ice cream. So I assumed that they were dealing drugs. I'm not saying every truck is doing that but I prefer them not to be in the 18th Ward. That way we're sure that they are not."

Because she thought they were dealing drugs? You know shouldn't you prove something before you just plain take action like it's really happening.

SILLY!!!

Levois / Comments (1)

Feature

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