Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, May 18

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

The Mechanics

Chicago Wed Dec 30 2015

On Gapers Block and Chicago

If somehow you haven't seen the news anywhere else: Gapers Block is going on hiatus effective January 1. You can read the open letter from our esteemed editor-in-chief here.

There have been many nice things said about Andrew and Gapers Block across Chicago media circles, including this from Mike Fourcher and this from Whet Moser. They provide a lot of context to why this is a big deal, and not just for the people immediately involved.

Now, I'm a Johnny-come-lately. I've been writing about politics here -- and, along the way, also about coffee shops, professional wrestling, and bowling balls -- for about two years. But I'm also here at the moment-before-hiatus, which means I get the chance to write about Gapers Block for Gapers Block. Sure, it's an exercise in the meta. But see: Gapers Block is all about Chicago, and Chicago is especially all about Chicago. It's all one huge ball of meta.

Continue reading this entry »

Phil Huckelberry

Elections Thu Dec 17 2015

Recall: What Could Happen Next?

2017 recall ballotA lot of Chicagoans want to see Rahm Emanuel's second term as mayor end prematurely. Weeks after the release of the Laquan McDonald dashcam video, calls for Emanuel's resignation have not slackened, and one published poll shows an outright majority of Chicagoans favoring such a resignation. Emanuel has been adamant that he will not resign. In turn, some have looked for some other process by which he might no longer mayor.

The leading contender for such a process is House Bill 4356, introduced by State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8). HB4356 provides for a mechanism of recalling the mayor by public election. HB4356 now has five co-sponsors -- perhaps fewer than might be expected, but perhaps more given that the legislature is out of session. While the Tribune took a look at HB4356 this week, publishing what was essentially a hatchet piece, even that article suggests the idea is at least going to stick around for a while.

My take is different from the Tribune. I think recall legislation, whether in the form of HB4356 or some other bill, has a decent shot of passage. It has already lined up some interesting co-sponsors, and prominent politicians such as Lisa Madigan and Pat Quinn have come out in favor of recall at least conceptually. I think it's extremely unlikely that Rahm Emanuel will ever be recalled, but that will not stop legislation from proceeding. The credible threat of recall is important enough that enough political operators will allow it to stay on the table.

HB4356 is of course subject to amendment, and competing bills could also be introduced that would offer different processes. Still, even though it is a largely speculative exercise to consider all of the permutations of how recall legislation might proceed, it is worth stepping back and regarding some of those possibilities. Key distinctions regarding different processes may lead to significantly different results in terms of who might replace Emanuel -- even if no recall ever takes place. The details of pending and prospective state legislation could therefore be of critical importance for the fate of not only Emanuel but the entire city.

Continue reading this entry »

Phil Huckelberry / Comments (3)

Race Tue Dec 15 2015

Want to Stop Police Killings? Then White People Need to Truly Care.

By Dave Stieber

If you haven't heard of Cedric Chatman, then you should know his name. Cedric is another tragic example of a black youth being killed by police and the city trying to cover up the murder. Cedric was killed nearly three years ago, almost two years before Laquan McDonald. To no surprise to anyone in Chicago, Rahm is currently trying to prevent the video from being released.

Black Americans being killed by police is not just a Chicago problem. This is an American problem.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (7)

Chicago Wed Dec 09 2015

La Shawn Ford Introduces Mayoral Recall Bill

mayor rahm emanuelState Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8) has filed legislation in Springfield which would provide for a mechanism for recalling the Mayor of Chicago. The bill is House Bill 4356.

Ford's bill is of course not submitted arbitrarily. With a recent poll suggesting an outright majority of Chicagoans want Rahm Emanuel to resign, Emanuel being steadfast that he will not do so, and no existing legal mechanism in place by which Emanuel might otherwise be removed from office, HB4356 could very well become a very hot topic in Springfield.

Continue reading this entry »

Phil Huckelberry / Comments (6)

Chicago Thu Dec 03 2015

Calling for Resignations is Not Enough

In the aftermath of the release of the video of the killing of Laquan McDonald, the calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's resignation keep coming in. Well, go ahead and add my name to the list. And you all can say it along with me:

Mr. Mayor, the public can have no faith in you at this point, and you need to resign.

That felt great, didn't it?

Now, back to reality.

Continue reading this entry »

Phil Huckelberry / Comments (2)

Chicago Tue Nov 24 2015

Alvarez Needs to Go, and She's Not Alone

Laquan McDonald was shot and killed on Oct. 20, 2014 by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Exactly 400 days later, Van Dyke was formally charged with murder in McDonald's death. The charges were filed one day before the court-ordered public release of the dashcam footage showing the killing.

If the footage was so blatant that no less than Rahm Emanuel called it "hideous" (albeit without actually seeing it), then how on earth did it take 400 days for charges to be filed?

I asked that question online. Within an hour, I saw three other variations on that question asked by other people.

Unbelievably, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez gave the answer that she "moved up" filing the charges, saying her original intention was to wait until the concurrent federal investigation had concluded. You can read that article for more of Alvarez's explanation. I'm not going to rehash it here, because there are limits to how much bullshit I can quote.

Continue reading this entry »

Phil Huckelberry / Comments (4)

Crime Thu Oct 22 2015

Three Female Public Officials Going Down the Corruption Escalator

Three women public officials in Chicago in the past 10 days took rides on the corruption escalator. It's a "down" escalator, from scandal headlines, to indictment, to conviction, to prison, and then emerging at the bottom with a ruined careers and reputations in tatters.

It's a familiar ride taken by many Chicago elected and appointed officials. But this week, the headliners were all women.

Former Alderman Sandi Jackson, Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Dorothy Brown, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk are all on different stages of the corruption ride, but they are all headed in the same direction.

Continue reading this entry »

Thomas J. Gradel / Comments (1)

City Council Thu Jul 30 2015

Proposed STOP Act Would Document "Stop & Frisk" in Chicago

There's never a dull day in the Loop. And there's certainly never a dull day at a City Council meeting. Wednesday morning's meeting got off to a running start as protestors of all sorts packed the second floor of the City Hall building outside the council chamber.

They held signs that said things such as "Save Dyett" (a high school slated for closure) and "Mayor Emanuel where's the justice for black children?" Multiple groups were gathered to give press conferences on upcoming ordinances or to express their displeasure with the City Council. They ranged from the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Equal Access Across Chicago, We Charge Genocide, Chicago Votes, #ChiStops, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and others.

Continue reading this entry »

Jennifer Prohov

Social Issues Tue Jul 21 2015

Staying Safe in Chiraq

News video startup TouchVision today released a short documentary titled Brave in Chiraq: Countdown to Summer, focusing at how youth leaders with the ARK of St. Sabina are attempting to keep young people safe this summer.

Andrew Huff

Environment/Sustainability Fri Jul 03 2015

Rehabilitating Wooded Island and Installing Yoko Ono's "Sky Landing"

Temporary Heavy Equipment Bridge
The temporary heavy equipment bridge through the west lagoon.

Jackson Park's Wooded Island is currently closed to the public while it is being reworked by a consortium of groups led by the Army Corps of Engineers, but last Saturday the Chicago Park District offered a special tour of the island's rehabilitation and Yoko Ono's in-process sculpture,"Sky Landing."

Continue reading this entry »

David Schalliol / Comments (3)

Police Tue Jun 30 2015

Tackling Violence with a Softer Side of Policing

Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga answers questions from children and youth at the Foglia Family and Youth Center in Chicago's East Garfield Park neighborhood. (Photo by Emily Gray Brosious)

When police officers couldn't make it to a scheduled basketball match with youth in the East Garfield Park neighborhood last Wednesday, 11th District Chicago Police Officer Diana Varga swooped in to save the day with an impromptu meet-and-greet of sorts.

Dressed in plain athletic clothes, the outgoing young officer spoke about policing in Chicago to a few dozen people gathered in the gymnasium. Then she opened up for a question and answer session. Children and teens sat cross-legged on the basketball court, eagerly raising their hands to ask Officer Varga about her background, her police work and what it takes to become an officer.

Continue reading this entry »

Emily Brosious

Environment/Sustainability Sun Jun 21 2015

Touring the Deep Tunnel and Thornton Quarry

The Thornton Reservoir
Construction equipment on the bed of the future Thornton Reservoir. Trucks on the Tri-State Tollway can be seen above the quarry.

On Saturday, I joined the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) on one of its tours of Chicago's goliath infrastructure. The tour featured the future site of the Thornton Composite Reservoir, the largest such reservoir in the world, and a Deep Tunnel pumping station 350' below ground at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. Both are part of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)'s gargantuan Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, the multi-decade, multi-billion dollar project designed to protect the Chicago region from the flooding and pollution caused by overflowing sewer and stormwater infrastructure.

Continue reading this entry »

David Schalliol

Op-Ed Wed May 27 2015

Riot Fest and the Problem With Public-Private Partnerships

Riot FestRiot Fest, the increasingly popular punk-themed festival, recently made the decision to move from Humboldt Park to Douglas Park in North Lawndale. The move comes after Ald. Roberto Maldonado vowed to keep Riot Fest from returning, which spurred neighborhood residents to stand their ground and protect the park, which was heavily damaged after the most recent festival.

The conflict is possibly being reduced to just fighting gentrification, but that is not the only problem.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (2)

Police Tue May 12 2015

Chicago Mothers March to Remember Children Killed by Police


Panzy Edwards, the mother of 15-year-old Dakota Bright who was killed by Chicago police in 2012, addressed demonstrators Saturday evening before leading a march to the Third District Police Station. (Photo/ Emily Gray Brosious)

A group of mothers protested police violence Saturday evening on the South Side, near the spot where 15-year-old Dakota Bright was fatally shot by Chicago police in 2012.

"My baby was 15 and he was taken away," said Bright's mother, Panzy Edwards. "And the third district cops have no remorse."

Continue reading this entry »

Emily Brosious

Event Mon May 04 2015

Join Your Neighbors for On the Table 2015

On the Table 2015On May 12, the Chicago Community Trust, the region's largest charitable foundation, turns 100 years old. To begin a yearlong celebration of its centennial, the Trust is once again hosting On the Table, a day of events at which thousands of Chicagoans will come together over a meal to talk about ways we can make our communities stronger, safer and more dynamic through collaboration and philanthropy.

The conversations will happen over breakfast, lunch and dinner -- or even just drinks. They may be in someone's home, a restaurant or the office. There is still time to register to host an On the Table event yourself, or to find one to attend.

Gapers Block is proud to join the organizers of the Sister Neighborhoods initiative for an On the Table event at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., from 6 to 9pm. There will be soup served, Soup & Bread-style, in the back room of the Hideout, followed by a presentation about Sister Neighborhoods -- an initiative to foster hospitality across communities in the city and suburbs by facilitating an exchange of cultural awareness and barrier breaking activities -- and conversation about how to make the idea a reality. The event is free, but donations will be accepted to benefit the Chicago Help Initiative, a nonprofit providing meals to the homeless.

We hope you'll join us. Please register here, and we'll see you on Tuesday, May 12.

Andrew Huff

Election 2015 Mon Aug 18 2014

Six Months in Chicago

Image via NBC5-WMAQ

For six months in Chicago, there may be a rare, once-a-decade opportunity to get some answers. If that sentence seems magniloquent, that's because I had to start big since the subsequent sentence is, "That opportunity is the 2015 Chicago municipal elections."

That opportunity is the 2015 Chicago municipal elections. Chicago is defined by confluence; in the first instance, literally, as sitting at the confluence of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and the Chicago Portage, the connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi watersheds. Soon after, the nation's railroad flowed together there; now, it's the confluence of the nation's air travel and trucking. Today, it is also a confluence of some of the country's biggest challenges.

Income inequality, gentrification, rising housing costs, under-resourced schools and creeping privatization, under-served mental health services, police brutality, street crime, segregation, environmental justice, exploitation of undocumented workers, police militarization, un- and under-compensated care work, wage theft, unemployment, over-crowded jails, hyper-criminalization, lack of government transparency, and crumbling infrastructure. These issues intersect on the orange-lit streets of the Great American City. Chicago is a beautiful city and livable city. It is also suffering.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Tue May 27 2014

I Ran for Local School Council and Maybe I Even Won!

On Monday, April 7, across Chicago, elections were held for Local School Council seats for all CPS elementary schools. I myself ran for a Community Representative seat for Prussing Elementary.

I might have even won!

But maybe the election didn't even happen.

Continue reading this entry »

Phil Huckelberry / Comments (4)

National Politics Mon Mar 10 2014

Big City Mayors, Including Emanuel, Talk Challenges, Success at UChicago Panel

1780704_428485477284572_1392924816_n.jpgPhoto courtesy of University of Chicago Institute of Politics' Facebook Page

The University of Chicago's Institute of Politics hosted a discussion last week on leading America's largest cities. The discussion featured Mayors Bill de Blasio, Rahm Emanuel, Eric Garcetti and Kasim Reed, of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta, respectively.

About a fifth of the country lives in one of these four metro areas.

Continue reading this entry »

Nenad Tadic

Neighborhoods Fri Feb 21 2014

Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards Honors Projects, Recognizes Challenges

Chicago is a city with not only a bustling downtown core, but strong, diverse neighborhoods.

That's what over 1,500 civic leaders celebrated yesterday at the Palmer House Hilton. The Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA), now in its twentieth year, has made Chicago's neighborhood development a model for the country to emulate. At the event, leaders recognized successful neighborhood projects of 2013, celebrated a history of community development, and discussed issues that neighborhoods face today.

The event began with a panel moderated by WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and community organizers David Doig, Demond Drummer, and Michael Rodriguez of Pullman, Englewood, and Little Village, respectively, discussed what local and federal governments can do better to make their communities better. Rodriguez began the discussion by addressing the issue of comprehensive immigration reform--"I don't believe we should have second class citizenship."

The organizers questioned the efficacy of the "War on Drugs," explored the unemployment problem plaguing their neighborhoods and the issue of minimum wage.

Continue reading this entry »

Nenad Tadic

Event Wed Feb 19 2014

Putting Community on the Table

on the table 2014The Chicago Community Trust turns 99 this year, and to celebrate it's asking the people of Chicagoland to gather for events it's dubbed On the Table. On Monday, May 12, residents of Chicago and the rest of the metropolitan area will come together in small groups to discuss how to build, encourage and maintain strong and stable communities.

The Trust's goal is to have more than 10,000 people participate in 1,000 discussions. Groups of around 10 people each may convene in private homes, restaurants, bars, bookstores and community centers to share ideas, bring up topics and propose solutions to the challenges Chicago faces. Participants are encouraged to share their conversations via social media using the #onthetable2014 hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Gapers Block is hosting one of the discussions to explore, in particular, the needs for community journalism and citizen reporting. We'll be meeting at Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St. in Andersonville, at 7:30 on May 12. Join us by RSVPing here.

Andrew Huff

Chicago Thu Jan 23 2014 Streamlines Expungement Process for Chicago Adults and Youth

expungeio.jpgThousands of people in Cook County are eligible to get their criminal records expunged, but only a handful actually do.

Many adults with criminal records as youth are unfamiliar with how the expungement process works, according to Daniel O'Neil, executive director of Smart Chicago Collaborative. This matters -- these adults have difficulty finding jobs and gaining access to school or housing, for instance.

Mikva Challenge and Smart Chicago Collaborative think these adults deserve a second chance. That's where comes in. The web app, created in partnership between the two organizations, launched on January 7 and as of last Friday, 14 users were found eligible for expungement.

Continue reading this entry »

Nenad Tadic

City Council Wed Jan 15 2014

City Council Bans Indoor Use of Electronic Cigarettes

(Photo/Lindsay Fox)

The Chicago City Council voted today to ban electronic cigarette use in most indoor public spaces, including bars and restaurants, and within 15 feet of building entrances.

The measure will also require e-cigarettes to be retailed behind the counter to make it harder for minors to purchase the product.

45 aldermen voted in favor of the ban, which was backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Only four aldermen, Roderick Sawyer (6th), Rey Colon (35th), Nicholas Sposato (36th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd), voted in opposition to the measure.

Continue reading this entry »

Emily Brosious / Comments (4)

Elections Fri Dec 06 2013

Ald. Moreno Endorses Will Guzzardi for 39th District State Representative

By Jeff Bishku-Aykul

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) officially announced his support for 39th District state representative candidate Will Guzzardi at a Wednesday fundraiser for the 26-year-old, who will take on incumbent and fellow Democrat Toni Berrios in a March 18 primary. Guzzardi, a graduate of Brown University and currently a writer for the University of Chicago's admissions office, fell just 125 votes short of beating Berrios in 2012.

"I don't take these sort of endorsements lightly at all," Moreno said in a Thursday interview. Moreno, whose ward overlaps with part of the district Guzzardi is running to represent, supported Gery Chico during Chicago's 2011 mayoral election. Moreno and his Democratic political organization, 1st Ward First, are both endorsing Guzzardi.

Moreno cited inaction in and frustration with Springfield and Guzzardi's independence and accessibility as factors in his decision.

Continue reading this entry »


Good Government/Reform Mon Oct 14 2013

Chicago Organizers Launch Movement to Take Back Chicago

This Tuesday, October 15, thousands of activists, residents and state and local officials will converge on UIC Forum for Take Back Chicago rally and town hall meeting.

Take Back Chicago is convened by Grassroots Collaborative, an alliance of 11 neighborhood and community organizations with the common goal of advancing the interests of working and middle class people in Chicago.

This meeting represents the "launch of a long-term, cross-movement progressive organizing campaign in Chicago," Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative, said in an interview.

Continue reading this entry »

Emily Brosious / Comments (1)

Op-Ed Wed Oct 02 2013

Chicago's Forgotten End Up at Cook County Jail

Cook County Jail has drawn attention to itself lately for collecting large amounts of Chicago's mentally ill, so much so that it has become the largest mental health facility in Illinois.

The story is particularly inflammatory given Gov. Pat Quinn's corresponding funding cuts to Illinois mental health facilities, and the closing of six Chicago mental health clinics last year.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been vocal in condemning the incarceration of Chicago's mentally ill, who he says are regularly falling through the cracks of an at-capacity (and underfunded) prison system despite his best efforts to provide therapy and medication to those in need.

"This is a population that people don't care about and so as a result of that there are not the resources out there to care for them," Dart said in an interview on CBS 60 Minutes Sunday night.

In saying this, Dart touches on an even larger issue with the U.S. criminal justice system -- it has become a place for unwanted members of society to collect. Of course, those suffering from mental illnesses are but one group who, as we regretfully phrase it, "fall through the cracks." One could easily add to this list the poor, those with drug or alcohol addictions and a heartily disproportionate number of African-Americans and Hispanics.

Continue reading this entry »

Taylor Long

Rahm Emanuel Wed Sep 25 2013

Rahm Hoping Chicago Forgets Everything in Time for 2015

By Dave Stieber

The city of Chicago is littered with historians. Depending on where you are in the city, people can remember and share stories of buildings, businesses, train lines or movie theaters that used to be in certain locations that are no longer there. For example, many people on the South Side can remember how the Green Line used to stretch all the way to Stony Island, but has now been reduced to only going as far as King Drive. No matter where you are in the city, if you talk to enough people you will find out what used to be at certain corners or how certain buildings used to look.

Our Mayor Rahm Emanuel, though, is betting that the citizens of Chicago will not remember and will forget everything he has done.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

Crime Tue Sep 17 2013

Funding Interrupted for Violence Prevention in Chicago

Violence. It plagues our television during the 5 o'clock news. It deters suburbanites from ever adventuring to the Windy City. Headlines have tried to cling to the "shock factor" and compare Chicago to Afghanistan and Iraq, with Chicago ranking worse than both war-stricken countries when it comes to murders. It is no secret that Chicago is facing an epidemic of gun violence, gangs, and homicides.

So often we turn to law enforcement for answers. Rarely do we consider non-governmental agencies partners in fighting crime to the extent it needs to be fought in Chicago neighborhoods confronted with homicide. CeaseFire, more recently known as Cure Violence, has been a partner in ending violence since 1995 (1990 in Chicago) under the foundation of Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who believes that violence should be treated as an epidemic using the same strategies and methods as disease control. The organization's website reads that "detection and interruption, identifying individuals involved in transmission, and changing social norms of the communities where it occurs" are critical in preventing and reducing violent crime. A key component of the strategy involves recruiting members of the community in which violence is occurring and even sometimes individuals who were once gang members. They identify potentially lethal situations, identify conflict, and utilize mediation techniques to prevent violence.

Research [PDF] has show that CeaseFire works to reduce gang involvement and gang-related homicides. But critiques of this research highlights the lack of other factors potentially contributing to a reduction in violence. These can include policing tactics such as new initiatives in communities with heavy gang activity, presence of POD cameras, and Hot Spot policing. Additionally, the increased number of incarcerated individuals and the overall reduction inc crime across the nation have been used to explain reductions in violent crime in Chicago neighborhoods. Since the national trend of decreased violent crime starting in the 1990s, every criminal justice agency in Chicago has attempted to take credit for the why and the how.

Continue reading this entry »

Darci Jenkins

Whittier Elementary Sat Aug 17 2013

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolished

As we broke in Merge, the Wittier Field House was demolished Saturday morning. The field house, which came to be known as "La Casita," developed into a vibrant community center after a parents from the community and nearby school demanded it be turned into a library and gathering place rather than demolished in 2010. The parents are now demanding a new field house.

A few photographs from the demolition follow. More information will be added as the situation evolves.

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolition

Continue reading this entry »

David Schalliol

TIFs Fri Jul 12 2013

County Clerk Orr Sounds Quiet Alarm on TIF Overuse

Cook County Clerk David Orr, in a half-hour July 12 press conference releasing his office's required 2012 tax increment financing ("TIF") revenue report, highlighted the enormous amount of revenue siphoned from Chicago and Cook County taxpayers into TIF districts, and called for early declaration of surpluses within Chicago to fund needs like schools. Observing that billions of dollars have flowed into the now-over-500 districts, Orr released a video (embedded below) on the Clerk's website to help taxpayers grasp how the little-understood mechanisms work.

The video's tone suggests a school science filmstrip, kind of quiet in view of the alarming numbers, but this is government, not advocacy. At 2:41, over soothing guitar arpeggios, a pleasant female narrator says, "In most cases, taxpayers outside the TIFs pay more to generate the revenue requested by [their own] taxing districts." TIF critics such as the Reader's Ben Joravsky have hammered relentlessly on this, how TIFs hike your taxes, but it's easy to miss in the video unless you pause.

Orr's press conference was both longer and stronger than the official video. Noting that Chicago's collective TIF districts pull in half as many tax dollars as the City itself, Orr expressed concern that so "many taxpayer dollars are diverted into the Loop," charged that "not enough is being done in the neighborhoods," and that there has been little transparency as to how $5.5 billion in TIF dollars has been spent. He urged Mayor Emanuel and the City Council to declare a TIF surplus this year "as soon as possible" for the benefit of Chicago Public Schools, asking, "How do you explain to the kids in many of these schools that gym, music and art classes are cancelled while profitable businesses downtown ... received 25, 30, 40, 50 million?" Good question.

While Orr's remarks centered on Chicago, they echoed the same requests made by pressed suburban taxpayers for more transparency and accountability, better metrics, declarations of surpluses, and early retirement of no-longer-needed districts.

Overall, the video capably illustrates TIF workings and numbers, whose magnitude needs time to sink in, and Orr deserves credit for shining further light on what is now a gargantuan but opaque component of local governmental taxing and spending.

Jeff Smith

Chicago Thu Jun 27 2013

The Problem With How We View Sports "Celebrations"

Hundreds of drunks in Wrigleyville crowded the streets more than usual on Monday night to celebrate the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. Fireworks were shot off in Wrigleyville and then the Chicago police pushed the crowds south, where windows were smashed in Lake View and Lincoln Park.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (2)

Chicago Thu May 30 2013

Rush vs Kirk

Longtime Rep, Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) had harsh words for Sen. Mark Kirk's (D-Ill.) plan to arrest nearly 18,000 members of the Gangster Disciples. Rush told the Sun-Times on Wednesday he believes its a, "elitist white boy solution." Rush has been an advocate for the black community and he knows prison will not solve decades of urban degradation and economic drought which has led to massive gang recruitment and illegal activity over the years.

Yes, the Gangster Disciples are notorious, dangerous and need to be dismantled quickly but people's lives are at jeopardy so the plan needs to be carefully maneuvered. If Kirk believes mass arrests are a sufficient penalty perhaps we should incarcerate the antagonists behind the banks and mortgage companies which led to the painful housing crisis--which has critically affected the African-American community. In another sense, I applaud Kirk for making targeting gangs a top priority nonetheless he is not too familiar with life in gangs territories. He is foreign to crack houses lining the street, dire poverty, thugs raiding the corners, ill-equipped schools and the fear of being a citizen in urban America.

Continue reading this entry »

Sydney Corryn / Comments (2)

Chicago Sun Apr 28 2013

Political Tweets of the Week

Every week, we round up the best tweets from the cities elected and appointed officials.

This week, the city announces a bike share program and investments in early learning.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Fri Apr 19 2013

Political Tweets of the Week

Each week, we round up interesting tweets from Chicago politicians.

This week, the mayor announces a plan to expand internet access in low income neighborhoods and Chicago responds to the Boston bombing. Read more after the jump.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Mon Apr 15 2013

Talking about Harold Washington, "The Man, the Movement & the Moment"

By Chuck Reed

David Axelrod joined a four member panel convened last Tuesday at the University of Chicago's International House in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Harold Washington's 1983 successful mayoral election. Journalist and political correspondent Laura Washington moderated the discussion between 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns, University of Chicago political science Professor Michael Dawson, Washington campaign advisor Jackie Grimshaw, who now serves in the department of policy, transportation and community development for Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology; and the aforementioned former Obama campaign strategist Axelrod.

After twice polling the plentiful and diverse audience as to our ages and cognizance of the historical election of Chicago's first African-American mayor, the event began with rousing clips of an effusive Mayor Washington speaking of the great responsibility of his office, love for his constituents and contempt for the tactics of Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Continue reading this entry »


Chicago Fri Apr 12 2013

Political Tweets of the Week

Every week, Gapers Block rounds up tweets from Chicago political figures.

This week, a progressive caucus pushes for TIF reform, and the mayor live streams press conferences. Check it out after the jump.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Fri Apr 05 2013

Political Tweets of the Week

Every week, we round up the best tweets from Chicago-area political figures.

After the jump, read the response of Illinois pols to Roger Ebert's passing, and a symbolic walk between two CPS schools.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Fri Mar 29 2013

Political Tweets of the Week

Every week, we round up the stories that are happening on Twitter.

After the jump, read about Chicago politicians supporting marriage equality, an astronaut with a view of the city, and a senator's celebrity connection.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Fri Mar 22 2013

Political Tweets of the Week

Every week, Gapers Block will be rounding up Chicago political stories that happen on Twitter. This week, City Council's Progressive Reform Coalition tweets their trip to Springfield, Alderman Solis gets a citation from the police, and a former Obama advisor weighs in on the Wrigley Field talks.

This week's roundup is after the jump.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Neighborhoods Wed Mar 20 2013

Rogers Park Residents Give Thumbs Up to Touhy Park Renovation Plan

A group of about a dozen Rogers Park residents on Tuesday gave their stamp of approval to plans to renovate the playground at Touhy Park.

Michael Lange, a project manager for the Chicago Park District's planning and construction department, showed a group of residents gathered at the Touhy Park fieldhouse Tuesday night a possible site plan for the renovated playground. Lange said that two new sets of playground equipment - one designed for kids aged 2-5 and another for kids 5-12 - will be installed on the northeast side of the park.

Additionally, Lange said, existing equipment for kids aged 2-5 on the northwest side of the park will be refurbished and new picnic tables, a seesaw and a structure that looks like a car will be installed.

All told, Lange said, the renovation will cost about $450,000.

Money for the renovation will come from 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore's menu money, which is $1.3 million allotted annually to each of Chicago's 50 aldermen to spend at their discretion.

The project was actually voted on by ward residents during the 2011-2012 participatory budgeting process, said Moore, who hosted Tuesday's meeting. Participatory budgeting is a process by which aldermen allow residents of their wards to vote on how menu money is spent. In Chicago, only the 49th, 46th, 45th and 5th wards take part in the process,

Though the residents ultimately gave their approval to the plans presented by Lange, the proposed new play structure for 5-12 year old kids caused some residents in attendance to raise their eyebrows a bit. The proposed structure, according to the proposed site plan, is a spiderweb-looking combination of arches, as well as rope nets and plastic discs for climbing.

Some residents expressed concern that kids might prefer a more traditional platform-based structure. Lange disagreed, saying that he believed kids would enjoy the unique structure.

"Kids can sort of attack it any way they want," he said.

Lange said after the meeting that the renovations will likely begin in late June or early July and hopefully finished by September or early October.

Bill Mayeroff

Chicago Fri Mar 15 2013

Political Tweets of the Week

A lot of Chicago's aldermen and government officials are on Twitter, and some are quite active. The first of a weekly roundup of interesting stories found on Twitter can be found after the jump.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Tue Feb 12 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse: Geopolitics and Guns

The argument over gun control is not, as some want to frame it, primarily partisan, let alone a battle between those opposed to violence and those OK with it. It's as much a geographic and cultural divide as anything else. Understanding the different perspectives stemming from the very different homicide rates in very different areas is key to overcoming simplistic sloganeering or unfounded assumptions, and is critical to basing policy on evidence. Consider Chicago and Iowa, for starters.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

News Fri Feb 08 2013

Chicago Lights Urban Farm Nears Sale to CHA

By Ian Fullerton

The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago has confirmed that it is looking to sell its Chicago Lights urban farm to the Chicago Housing Authority. The deal -- about two years in the making -- could net $3.2 million for the Fourth, but would set the future of the farm property on unsure footing.

Located on the 400 block of W. Chicago Ave, the farm, which has been operational for about three years, provides job training, youth employment and volunteer opportunities to residents in Cabrini-Green.
In a statement sent to the congregation on Jan. 26, Calum MacLeod, executive associate pastor at the church, said that the agreement will include a two-year leaseback option at "no leasing cost" to the Fourth. This would allow Chicago Lights -- the church's charitable arm -- to continue operations at the farm during that period, "while alternate sites and opportunities are pursued for the mission outreach currently taking place there," the pastor said. The contract also includes a potential two-year extension.

MacLoed's letter marked the first time that the Fourth has identified terms or a potential buyer for the farm, even after CHA voted to buy the farm's two parcels in November.

The Fourth has stated that it intends to use the farm sale proceeds to help pay for its recently completed Gratz Center, a $42 million addition to its Gold Coast headquarters. The church had hoped to fund the projection by selling the "air rights" above the 142-year-old cathedral to a neighboring developer, but that deal fell through due to resident opposition. The church has been in talks with CHA since 2011, according to the Fourth's website.

The Chicago Lights farm, which originally opened in 2003 as a community garden, sits on a block that was once lined with public housing; today, only a stretch of rowhouses -- mostly condemned, with a few rehabbed -- remain north of the site. Work on the new Jesse White Community Center, planned for the parcel east of the farm, began last summer.

The sale will "be brought to the congregation" at the Fourth's annual meeting on Feb. 10, said MacLeod. A final vote will then by carried by the presbytery.


Anthony Abbate Jr. Fri Dec 07 2012

Intervention Allowed in Bar Beating Case

anthony abbate jr civil trialBy Julia Gray

Two lawyers who handle cases of police misconduct were given the go ahead by a federal judge on Friday to intervene on behalf of the public good to stop the City of Chicago's attempt to have the "code of silence" judgment of the notorious videotaped assault on a bartender by an off-duty Chicago police officer vacated.

The City of Chicago argued that the case as it stands would be detrimental to the public, taxpayers and the city, because it would open the floodgates of litigation against the City and the police department. City attorney Scott Jebson argued that the "risks of misusing the judgement in future cases" could be costly.

"We don't want the judgment improperly used," Jebson said.

Continue reading this entry »


Public Transportation Tue Nov 27 2012

"Let Them Drive Cars!"

TrafficI met with skepticism the Tribune's report that Mayor Emanuel responded to CTA riders' consternation over hikes to the cost of daily, weekly and monthly passes by suggesting they can choose to either drive or use public transit:

The mayor suggested commuters who don't like the new fare structure are free to get behind the wheel, setting aside the fact many Chicagoans who rely on the CTA to get to and from work don't have cars. "Now you, as a commuter, will pick. You can either drive to work or you can take public transportation, and the standard fare will stay the same," Emanuel said.

This is a stupendously politically tone-deaf thing to say. But forget about the politics of it; it's wrong on the supposed policy justifications as well.

Actually, let's go back to the politics of it. Mayor Emanuel has faced a persistent perception that he's more friendly to big business interests than to working class Chicagoans. Two reports -- one from the Reader and one from the Trib -- have focused on the mayor's meeting agendas, full as they with millionaires and lacking in community voices. The first teachers' strike in a generation aided in this perception, particularly given articles like this one from Reuters pointing out how out-of-town wealthy donors were bankrolling his fight against teachers. Early in his Mayoralty he faced outrage over the closure of mental health clinics for poor Chicagoans.

Whatever the reality of his concern for working-class Chicagoans, the perception isn't great.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Education Mon Nov 05 2012

The Threat and Promise of an Elected, Representative School Board

My friend and much-beloved one-time political consultant Mike Fourcher published an editorial in the Center Square and Roscoe View Journals urging voters to vote against a non-binding advisory referendum on the ballot in many Chicago precincts: whether there should be an elected, representative school board (ESRB).

Mike makes some compelling but ultimately unsatisfying arguments as to why voters should reject this referendum. His arguments, both in the piece and in the comments, are compelling enough to merit a response.

The thrust of the argument against the school board is three-pronged; first, direct elections of technically- or specialty-oriented board are not desirous because of the outsize influence of interested parties; second, more democracy can cut against efficiency; and finally, there is sufficient control over the school board via election of the Mayor.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Privatization Fri Sep 07 2012

Rahm, Obama, and the Future of "Socialist" Infrastructure Funding

Last month, Rahm Emanuel made a curious remark in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek about his plans to upgrade Chicago's infrastructure. While explaining how his newly-created Chicago Infrastructure Trust would operate, he claimed that the United States had the world's most capitalist economy, yet was also "the only economy that still does its infrastructure on a socialist model, state-owned."

Rahm's old boss, President Barack Obama, currently oversees the country's supposed "socialist" road-building enterprise. But if he gets re-elected, he may actually follow Rahm's lead in advocating more private investment in infrastructure projects. In fact, he has been trying to create his own version of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust on the federal level since before he was elected.

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel / Comments (1)

Crime Mon Aug 27 2012

Chicago's Violence at Its Source

by Tyler Zimmer

This past weekend 37 people were shot, nine of them fatally. The previous weekend, there were 30 shootings, six of them homicides. This summer, figures of this magnitude — between 30 to 40 people shot, four to eight killed — have been the norm rather than the exception.

Of course, high levels of gun violence in Chicago have been a persistent problem for years, but the spike in killings this summer — the murder rate is up 49 percent according to recent estimates — has drawn the attention of national media. Recent articles in The Daily and Gawker compare Chicago to the Wild West, on the one hand, and Kabul on the other. Those comparisons may be ill-advised and inaccurate, as Whet Moser points out, but they are indicative of a deeply troubling state of affairs nonetheless.

How did we get here? Why is gun violence in Chicago such a persistent problem?

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (15)

Chicago Wed Aug 15 2012

Religious Freedom Vs. Aldermanic Privilege? Or the Subversion of Historic Preservation? The Battle Over St. Sylvester's Rectory

st. sylvester rectory protest august 6 2012.jpg
Photo by AJ LaTrace

On Monday, Aug. 6, nearly 200 members and supporters of St. Sylvester Parish marched from their church at 2157 N. Humboldt Blvd. to 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón's office at 2710 N. Sawyer Ave. Holding signs and singing songs of solidarity in English and Spanish, the group picketed for nearly an hour in front of Colón's office, while the alderman held his monthly ward night for constituents.

Claiming their religious freedom had been violated, the protesters rallied over Colón's alleged refusal to help the parish find a way to remove the official Chicago Landmark status of their rectory. While the rectory was designated as a landmark as part of the Logan Square Boulevards District established in 2005, the parish said it never wanted the building in the district, can't afford to maintain it, and would rather tear it down, but can't due to the building's legal protection as a landmark. Furthermore, the parish alleged that the alderman had purposely left his house out of the district, and should use his power as alderman to help St. Sylvester do the same. Meanwhile, a dozen counter-protesters from a group called Logan Square Preservation stood in front of the alderman's office with their own signs and slogans, calling for the preservation of the St. Sylvester rectory's landmark status - and the building itself -- at all costs.

To understand what exactly took place, and why a building typically used to house clergy members even became a historic Chicago landmark, it's necessary to go all the way back to the early history of Logan Square.

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel / Comments (9)

Chicago Fri Jul 27 2012

Either I Just Skewed A Chicago Cultural Plan Town Hall Meeting, Or This Whole Thing Is A Farce

After taking a close look at the Chicago Cultural Plan draft released last week, I wanted to hear what other people had to say about it. More importantly, I wanted to hear how representatives of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and their consulting firm, Lord Cultural Resources, would talk about such a dense, buzzword-filled document to a room of concerned Chicagoans. So I went to Malcolm X College on Tuesday night for the first of four town hall meetings dedicated to the plan, hoping to get some clarity.

The first sign that something was amiss was when I registered and was promptly given a transponder. I was informed that I would need this to vote during the "audience participation" part of the town hall -- nevermind that the implied goal of a town hall is audience participation.

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel / Comments (5)

Technology and Politics Tue Jul 17 2012

The Loop as Hotspot

The Guardian reports that our "hyperactive" Mayor is looking at turning the Loop into one big wifi hotspot, providing internet access to the public. Attempts to create municipal wifi systems have an ignominious history, in part because cities have not been able to figure out how to build the infrastructure and keep it paid for. When the services have been left to private firms to build and operate, the subscriber system do not seem to provide the revenue necessary to make the concession profitable. By starting with the Loop alone, a municipal wifi service may be more realistically profitable, particularly if it were designed along the models used at big airports, where those wanting fleeting access can pay for services or watch ads.

Reports of the plan discuss turning existing infrastructure, including traffic lights, into "smart poles" that ensure universal connectivity, including in the subway. How the service would operated isn't clear--the plan is clearly in its nascent stage. From the general descriptions, though, it sounds like an initial public investment to create the infrastructure would be the first step.

It would be interesting to see how the city's wireless providers--an increasingly competitive market, with companies like Clear moving in on established providers like Comcast--would react to a municipal wifi that is potentially free or provided at a discount. The externalities of a municipal wifi system cause headaches for technocratic planners; a free or deeply discounted wifi system covering the city's most densely populated area and central business district could effect the cost and availability of wireless services in more outlying areas.

However, having a seamless coverage area in the CBD could undergird a broader municipal wifi system that could extend coverage everywhere, and in that way provide free or deeply discounted wifi access to underserved and impoverished areas. The other possible advantages are also significant: having high-speed wireless service everywhere could improve city services and public transportation.

Given the city's past experiences with municipal wifi, how the Emanuel administration approaches the problem should be enlightening, both here and for other cities.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Jun 27 2012

What Uruguay's Marijuana Legalization Bill Means For Chicago

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's recent proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana sparked wide debate in the media. The Chicago Tribune questioned it, Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader called for full legalization, and Whet Moser of Chicago Magazine questioned whether legalization in Chicago was really possible.

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel / Comments (6)

Transportation Fri May 25 2012

Union Station Master Plan Study Provides a Good Step Forward

unionstationdoor.jpgThe Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) released the Chicago Union Station Master Plan Study [PDF] on Wednesday, giving much needed suggestions on how to improve Union Station.

According to the study, the goals were to find ways to improve capacity for a predicted increase in Metra and Amtrak riders, improve transfers and make the terminal more inviting.

As someone who uses Union Station on occasion, I think that all of these are much needed improvements.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (5)

NATO-G8 Thu May 17 2012

Globe Money, Globe Problems

When civic leaders like Mayor Emanuel, his billionaire backers on the World Business Council, or the Commercial Club, talk about making Chicago a "global city," they don't quite mean making it a shining beacon to the world's reformers struggling to make the world a better, more egalitarian place; they mean they want to make it attractive to the already wealthy and powerful. They want to showcase it as a potential playground for those who can enjoy its luxuries; in a piece for Huffington Post, Tammy Webber quotes Richard Longworth from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

"We ought to be known for something more than the old stockyards, smog or Al Capone, but we aren't," said Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "People are surprised when they visit, and that's why" Mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted the summit.

"We have to stop being a surprise," Longworth added.

When you do that, you create a stark relief between those who enjoy the recreation and those who can't pay the price of admission.

The litany of protests planned for the NATO Summit reflect this. If Chicago is to be a locus for convening the powerful, the powerless are going to want to confront them. Activists and reformers from all over the world are targeting the NATO Summit for what it represents: war as a priority, even while a devastating recession has thrown tens of millions of families into the dread of economic insecurity.

Today, Code Pink is marching on President Obama's reelection headquarters to protest "endless war" in Afghanistan and the killing of innocent families with remote-controlled drone attacks. On Saturday, the Mental Health Movement is planning to protest in Mayor Emanuel's neighborhood against the closure of six mental health clinics at the same time the Mayor and his business supporters are raising tens of millions of dollars to provide refreshments and entertainment for some of the most powerful people on Earth.

In turn, the city has a choice; are we going to treat activists and protesters as criminals-in-waiting and militarize our public safety (and expand our already troubling surveillance state) to the same degree that we become more and more global a city? Or accept that with global money come global problems and preserve Chicago's historical place as a center of intellectual and organizational freedom?

The introduction of equipment like the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, is not a good sign. Excellent at dispersing people because of the intense pain and sometimes long-term damage it causes, LRADs win the approbation of police forces because they appear harmless, even while causing real damage--in the words of some experts, a form of "acoustic assault."

Just as the city has been thrown into turmoil for its residents--street closures leading to business closures, traffic snarls making it difficult for people to move around, and intense security cordons that are discouraging residents from moving through areas of the city they'd otherwise enjoy on a weekend.

As we become more of that type of "global city," with more permanent institutions meant for the global elite, will a sanitized corridor controlled and maintained by militarized police empowered with new surveillance tools itself become institutionalized? In other words, is this the first of occasional nuisances, or the trial run for the long-term "globalization" of a portion of our city meant to create a comfortable space for the global elite at the expense of local desires, wishes, and needs?

It needn't be. Insofar as hosting events does indeed bring needed money into the city, that's a good thing; and protests and activists are integral to reminding the city's leadership why we need that money: to promote economic security for all of us and remember our priorities.

A global city is one that provides an example to the world, not a warning.

Ramsin Canon

Op-Ed Tue May 08 2012

Mexican Chicago: How our Families Feel the Drug War from Both Sides of the Border

By Latinos Progresando

shutterstock_29096323.jpgI met with a man who works with the Mexican community to raise money to build hospitals and schools. His job sounds charitable, but it can be tense and dangerous when he works with Mexican towns that are occupied by drug cartels. He would not talk to me about the violence he's encountered.

He was apologetic. He explained that the drug cartels had already approached him and given him two choices: If he does not speak about the drug cartels, they promised they would leave him alone to do his work. If he does speak about them, they promised they would come and "get him." He has stayed silent since.

He has stayed silent, even though he doesn't live in a Mexican city controlled by drug cartels. He actually lives in Chicago. My conversation with him took place in a restaurant in Pilsen.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (4)

Chicago Fri Apr 27 2012

Chicagoans Protest GE, Part of 99 Spring

Chicago activists filled multiple buses to make the five hour drive to Detroit on Tuesday night to take part in the 99% Power and press General Electric to pay their taxes. Reportedly, at least 150 decided to participate including members of Action Now, Stand Up! Chicago, Arise Chicago and more.

"A drop of water can crack a rock," said Deborah Robinson of Chicago. "So if enough of us participate, I believe we can crack the rock."

One in five of the Fortune 500 companies received an average of a two percent tax rebate. As a symbol of American ingenuity and strength, GE stands as an example. But the reality today rests closer to the tax dodging corporation the protesters claim.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

National Politics Tue Apr 24 2012

Chicago Activist to Protest GE in Detroit

Chicago activists will depart the city tonight on their way to General Electric's annual shareholders meeting in Detroit. They will join thousands of other protesters from cities around the country in an attempt to question the company's terrible track record of an American corporation.

More than 150 Chicagoans will attend the protests as GE's tax dodging has cost the State of Illinois $200 million in revenue in 2010 alone, according the Stand Up! Chicago.

The organization also contends the money could be used to create nearly 4,000 jobs or help the state's budget crisis.

"While I've been struggling to find full employment, take care of my son and save my home from foreclosure, there's this multi-billion-dollar corporation that's actually paying less in taxes than I am," said Shani Smith in a news release. "That's why I'm getting on a bus late Tuesday. It's time GE got the message that enough is enough."

GE might be swarmed by nearly 3,000 protesters and a couple hundred proxy shareholders tomorrow. Activists want the company to pay its taxes, invest in American jobs, and stop its part in the ownership of our democracy by the global one percent.

Multiple actions are taking place in Detroit. For more coverage you can follow me on Twitter and read more at my site, The Political is Personal.

Aaron Krager

Chicago Thu Apr 05 2012

Bank of America Ignores Citizen Tax Enforcers

The "99% Ciizen Tax Enforcers" now have a following with their third consecutive day of delivering tax bills to some of the biggest corporate tax dodgers.

Dozens of protesters chanted and marched outside of the Bank of America building pushing the local branch to close for nearly an hour. A few customers tried to enter but did not blame the protesters. A couple people even walked away saying they would close their accounts.

Once again the enforcers wore black suits, sunglasses, and carried briefcases. Security prevented them from presenting the $1.9 billion tax bill to a bank representative. A call by security to headquarters upstairs resulted in the enforcers waiting 20 minutes then told it would be another 20-30 minutes. They would also have to wait outside.

The message was clear. No one was coming. "Several years ago I worked as a foreclosure counselor, said Elizabeth Parisan a researcher with Stand Up! Chicago. "I remember Bank of America being one of the worst saying they would be right with you and then hanging up."

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager / Comments (1)

Chicago Wed Apr 04 2012

Tax Enforcers Crash CME Emeritus Event with Tax Bill

The "99% Citizen Tax Enforcers" visited Evanston yesterday afternoon to present Chicago Mercantile Exchange Chairman Emeritus Leo Melamed with a tax bill and message. The group hoped Melamed would take it to the current chair, Terrence Duffy.

Melamed was a featured speaker on the Northwestern campus and invited to the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new "trading room" in the Business Institutions Program. The enforcers did not have the opportunity to see Melamed but the bill did successfully enter the building as someone inside grabbed it in order to close the door.

The exchange became the group's second target this week and the first local company. CME and Duffy came under fire after posting $2 billion in profits the prior year yet asking for tax breaks from the state. Actually, it was not really an ask but more so an extortion as Duffy said he would move the company to Indiana if the Illinois legislature did not pass the tax breaks totally about $1 billion over the next decade.

The enforcers once again wore their black suits and carried briefcases while an 8-foot tall puppet of Terrence Duffy followed behind.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Economics Mon Apr 02 2012

Bright Ideas Delivered to GE Board Member

Activists from Stand Up! Chicago delivered a light bulb piñata and some suggested "bright ideas" to the residence of General Electric board member Robert Lane on Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Lane is one of sixteen board members for the massive conglomerate that touts themselves as an admired and American company. Meanwhile over the last decade GE paid an average of just 2.3 percent in taxes on $81.2 billion in profits. The marginal tax rate on corporations sits at 35 percent. GE spent more than $84 million in lobbying expenses while garnering tax rebates totaling $4.7 billion over the last three years.

"I am not going to discuss what you are calling about," said Lane in reference to the suggestions. When asked about receiving the package he gave a positive acknowledgement of an "uh huh."

The group planned the delivery in order to appeal to the independence Lane has on the board. A few of the "bright ideas" included asking for the $3.2 billion tax return GE received in 2010 be repaid to the taxpayers and begin paying their fair share in the coming years. They want GE to create jobs here in the United States. The company cut their workforce down to 133,000 in 2010, the most recent statistics available on their site, from 165,000 in 2004.

In an even bolder demand, Stand Up! wants Lane to join them in trying to end the income gap between General Electric executives and the lowest paid employees. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, received $11.4 million in compensation last year that included a $4 million bonus, $3.6 million in stock awards, and nearly a half million in perks.

A full-time minimum wage employee would earn $14,500 in 50 weeks under the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Lane worked as CEO of Deere & Company until 2009 but currently serves as director of Verizon Communications Inc. and Northern Trust Corporation, and a member of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago.

As an independent director of GE's board he has been paid more than a million dollars in compensation from 2005-2008.

Watch the delivery take place:

Originally posted on The Political is Personal.

Aaron Krager / Comments (2)

Election 2012 Fri Mar 30 2012

Cook County Regular Democratic Disorganization: Guzzardi and Berrios

by Caroline O'Donovan

The precinct captains, who had been preparing for election day for weeks, arrived at headquarters at 5:30am. A box of Dunkin Donuts, a campaign staple for liberals and conservatives, incumbents and challengers alike, was already waiting. Polls would open at 6 and not close for 13 hours; the day ahead would be long. Each captain was given a stack of door hangers, a list of addresses and a few volunteers while coffee brewed. The sole goal was to find as voters who had said they would support Will Guzzardi for state representative and ensure that they went to the polls.

To have informed the group of people assembled at Guzzardi headquarters that morning that voter turnout in the 39th District would be a record low this year would not have disheartened them. A low turnout rate could actually have been in their favor, because it meant that the machine operation of incumbent State Rep. Toni Berrios and her father Cook County Democratic Party chairman Joe Berrios, was underperforming.

Tellingly, it was not with voters on the street who campaign workers had the most fraught interactions last Tuesday, but with election judges at the polls. From reluctantly reported voter lists to lost tape to delayed results, many of the individuals who were voting and campaigning in the 39th district last Tuesday pointed to gross mismanagement on behalf of the Board of Elections. This claim made the final count, with Berrios leading Guzzardi by 111 votes, suspect to a number of Guzzardi supporters. The slim margin is frustrating to volunteers, some of whom have found it difficult not to want to find a connection between the strangely unprofessional behavior of the election judges and a loss that was just too close.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

Crime Thu Mar 29 2012

Former Zoning Inspector Found Guilty of Bribery

The Office of Inspector General and United States Attorney's Office announced today that former Chicago zoning inspector Dominick Owens was found guilty of two counts of bribery.

Owens, 45, of Chicago has been sentenced to one year and one day in prison.

According to a press release from the Office of Inspector General, Owens is guilty of accepting two separate bribes of $600 in exchange for certificates of occupancy at four residential properties. The maximum penalty Owens faced was 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of bribery.

A cooperating witness testified that in 2006 he asked Owens for certificates of occupancy for properties at 6109 N. Wolcott and 3713 S. Wallace. On July 10, 2006 Owens filed a request for the certificates in a database and then marked it as completed 12 minutes later. The witness then gave Owens $600 in cash in return for the certificates.

According to the press release, this is the final sentencing in Operation Crooked Code. Operation Crooked Code was launched in 2007 as a joint investigation between the Chicago Inspector General Office, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office. Operation Crooked Code has resulted in 22 convictions, including 16 of former or current City employees in Chicago.

Anyone with any information on corruption in the city government is encouraged to call the Inspector General Office at 866-448-4754.

Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu Mar 29 2012

Chicago Exchange CEO Mic Checked

Stand Up! Chicago's constant targeting of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has been a thorn in the company's side. The organization joined Occupy Chicago and other organizations in the past months protesting outside of the exchange. Craig Donohue, CEO of CME, went to an energy trading industry conference in Houston last Friday where local activists stood in for Stand Up! Chicago.

Protesters greeted him outside of Melcher Hall on the University of Houston campus. Donohue was there to deliver a presentation but before he could really start his speech, protesters interrupted him with a mic check.

"Mr. Donohue, as you stand here today, preparing to give the 1% tips on how to get even richer, you are 1,000 miles away from the struggling families of Chicago and Illinois and they are further from your thoughts, even though CME will line its pockets with over 1 billion of their tax dollars over the next ten years." "You were only able to get that money by making empty threats to relocate. The 99% of Chicago and Illinois can't afford to travel here so we are here to ask you a question on their behalf and on behalf of all 99% families everywhere.

"What will working families get for their billion dollar investment?"

Security escorted the four protesters out of the room before they could finish but the message was clear. Every day people are not happy with the tactics of the rich and powerful.

Just last year, Donohue and CME Chair Terrence Duffy threatened to leave Chicago over their tax rate. The incredibly profitable company, two billion in 2011, demanded tax breaks that will total more than a billion dollars over the next decade. The Illinios state legislature obliged.

Activism such as this will continue over the coming months. Whether it will have a positive impact on the 99 percent is not yet known. It does create a discussion on this issue and frames it in a manner that benefits working class Americans.

Originally posted to The Political is Personal

Aaron Krager

Chicago Thu Mar 22 2012

Letters to Rahm Demand Restoration of Library Hours, Staff

Library advocates, employees, and AFSCME Council 31 members read letters written by concerned patrons out front of the mayor's office Thursday morning. After a long battle in the recent months Mayor Rahm Emanuel ultimately shortened library hours and cut roughly 100 staff members. Council 31 claims that restoring $1 million in funding would allow the Chicago library system to once again function fully.

"Rather than recalling about 100 part-time pages Mayor Emanuel laid off in January, the city is now working other employees overtime--and paying them time-and-a-half--to do page work such as shelving books," said Anders Lindall, the public affairs director for Council 31. "Since pages earned just $11 an hour, it stands to reason the city's overtime scheme is significantly more costly, but the union's repeated requests for relevant payroll data have gone unanswered. The public deserves to know whether the city is wasting money on overtime by its refusal to bring back part-time pages."

In the initial budget battle the mayor tried to slash $10 million from its coffers and 363 employees. The mayor conceded ground following public outcry and pushback from more than two dozen aldermen. The group delivered nearly 600 letters to a mayoral aide where he said the mayor would "most likely read them."

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Chicago Mon Mar 05 2012

My Birthday Wish for Chicago: Desegregation

Chicago is huge. Geographically, very, very big for an old city. At 225 or so square miles, it could fit four Bostons inside it. New York is only 75 square miles larger, despite being almost three times as populous. Excepting Alaska, there are only three cities north of the Mason-Dixon line that are larger. I don't take seriously critiques of Chicagoans' parochialism; we live in a city of neighborhoods and Chicago's sheer scale makes comprehensive circulation throughout the city prohibitive. Besides, New Yorkers tend to stick to their boroughs.

But the city turned 175 this past week, and there is one wish I'd make as we blow out the candles: to make a serious commitment to desegregating the city.

chicago-segregation-map.jpgChicago's desegregation is stubborn. It persists for a variety of reasons, as many invisible as visible, and not all attributable to official political policy or market pressures. But the fact is somewhat inescapable that 44 years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, almost 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there is an easily identifiable white Chicago, Latino Chicago, and Black Chicago.

Polls show that Black Chicagoans in particular are willing and in fact desirous of living in more integrated communities. The lip service our politicians pay to diversity suggests there is at least superficial political support for diverse neighborhoods. But the segregation problem seems intractable. Why?

For one thing, it may be because in our public rhetoric segregation is not seen as a problem. This was particularly conspicuous during the ward remapping debate; the fact that it is still so easy to draw lines around massive areas of the city with homogeneous racial populations didn't seem to raise any questions about our supposedly progressive city.

My little enclave of Noble Square is somewhat integrated. There are still "white ethnic" families, and Mexican and black families despite the strong lacing of white professionals and college students that usually augurs turbo gentrification. Taking my inexhaustible puppy for a long walk around our neighborhood this weekend, one reason for this island of diversity occurred to me: at either end of the neighborhood are large low-income housing developments, with a senior public housing high rise smack in the middle. In between are two high schools and at least two elementary schools, a park, and two- and three-flats with only a smattering of single-family homes and condo blocks.

Could it be that Chicago's segregation problem is a zoning problem?

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Chicago Tue Feb 14 2012

Review: Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Depending on where one lives, Chicagoans take pride in the neighborhood they call home and judge others based on where they live. But how does Chicago being a city of neighborhoods effect us in areas such as with poverty and our persistent segregation?

Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect by Robert J. Sampson examines Chicago and how being a city of neighborhoods affects Chicago and the social problems in our city. The book is bound to be a selection for college classes on urban theory, particularly in Chicago, but it is only a good book for casual reading if one is an urban theory geek.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Budget Mon Feb 13 2012

City Employee Expenses Are Now Public and Searchable

A list of city employee reimbursements was posted on the City's data portal over the weekend, accounting for more than $1 million that the city has spent on various employee expenses over the last 13 months.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Chicago Wed Feb 01 2012

Malaise in the Neoliberal City

Why bother?

I vaguely remember being pugnacious about the direction our leadership was taking the city in, of having some degree of passion about what was wrong and what was right--or at least, what was wrong and what was potentially better. I filled notebooks--I'm flipping through one now--with ideas for articles and research projects that could contribute, in some way, to avoiding calamity, to exposing the material reality under the political rhetoric. Flipping through these notebooks now, scrolling through the myriad unpublished drafts, nothing stirs me. What I feel is more akin to a sad curiosity, how it must feel to look at optimistic battle plans scrawled on maps for some war that was lost long ago.

Our biggest enemy, I realized, is a lack of ideas for how to improve the human family. A complete lack of ambition to create a better world from yet another generation. Chicago, the laboratory neoliberal city, doesn't belong to us anymore. It's a "global" city belonging to people who don't even live here, and we have no ideas how to take it, or any other city, back from them.

When Rahm Emanuel announced his candidacy for the Mayor's office, it was taken as assumed that he'd win. The media never treated any of his opponents seriously--and perhaps they should not have. Though it is a bit of an observer interference problem; the media treatment of candidacy certainly has an impact on their chances of success. Emanuel won the neoliberal's way: he tapped his connections to international business, and particular finance, and drown his opponents in cash. A quirky twitter account got more coverage than his opponents. That was that.

He has since pursued a "business-friendly," or actually working class-hostile, agenda. Nevertheless, people who consider themselves "liberals" and "progressives" support those policies for the same reason they support Barack Obama's neoliberal policies: out of deference to party labels, personal careerism, and forest-for-trees interest in technocratic solutions that nibble at problems.

Politics in Chicago are wholly uninteresting. We've been reduced to sadly cheerleading the release of data as progressive victories for "the people." What else is there to cheerlead? In the neoliberal city, we have to pretend there's been a regime change--we have to play the pretend game Emanuel represents a substantive break from the Daley administration--he does not.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Chicago Fri Jan 27 2012

Digital Divides and the Future of the Chicago Public Library

Wednesday it was announced that Chicago Public Library (CPL) commissioner Mary Dempsey is resigning.

Dempsey was appointed by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and served for 18 years. Under Dempsey, the CPL built 44 new libraries and created programs such as One Book, One Chicago. Her resignation comes after a contentious situation this month due to the branches closing on Mondays due to budget and staff cuts.

Brian Bannon, chief information officer for the San Francisco Public Library, has been named as Dempsey's successor.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (4)

Chicago Thu Jan 19 2012

City Council Passes New Ward Map

After discussion and presentation of multiple new ward maps for Chicago, the City Council came to a compromise and passed a new map today.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

Chicago Fri Jan 13 2012

Chicagoans Voice Concerns Over Remapping Process at Second Hearing

On a snowy Thursday evening Chicagoans filled the Progressive Baptist Church sanctuary for the second ward-remapping hearing of the year, led by Ald. Richard Mell.

At this hearing, a main focus of the evening were concerns over how the 11th Ward, near where the hearing was held, would be drawn on the Map for a Better Chicago, but primarily the problems residents in Back of the Yards face due to being divided.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Technology and Politics Tue Jan 03 2012

Chicago Launches New Website to Aid Winter-Preparedness

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office launched a new website today called Chicago Shovels. The goal of the site is to help Chicagoans become engaged in winter-preparedness efforts in the city.

In a press release, Mayor Emanuel said, "Winter preparedness is everyone's responsibility, and when we come together, community by community, block by block, we can help reduce the dangers and health risks that winter weather can bring. is an important resource that not only informs Chicagoans about how they can help their neighbors, but allows them to see the City's snow program in action during severe weather."

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

Event Mon Dec 05 2011

Preckwinkle and Brizard to Speak at Forum on Dropouts

On Wednesday, Dec. 7 a public policy forum will be held to discuss how to deal with dropouts. The forum is entitled "Re-Enrolling Out of School Youth: A State, County and City Blueprint," and will be held at the Union League Club from 9am until 12:30pm.

The forum will feature Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico.

At the forum a new study entitled "High School Dropouts in Chicago and Illinois: The Growing Labor Market, Income, Civic, Social and Fiscal Costs of Dropping Out of High School," authored by Dr. Andrew Sum of Northeastern University, will be released. Sum will also be one of the participants at the forum.

There is currently no more space for people to attend the forum.

Monica Reida

Environment/Sustainability Sun Dec 04 2011

Reverse Effect: Jeanne Gang on the Chicago River

Jeanne Gang is most commonly associated with the landmark 82-story Aqua building on Chicago's "New East Side." The undulating tower mirrors the river it shadows over and reflects the lake into which its views spill. Water has become a preoccupation for the MacArthur Genius; her designs not only reflect water as a form, but speak to water systems on the whole as meshing with the built environment. Nowhere is there more on display than in Gang's new book Reverse Effect, an innovative design plan that seeks to restore the natural Mississippi River and Great Lakes' watersheds, implement permeable green infrastructure, and reclaim vast swaths of underutilized land along the Chicago River for redevelopment.

Gang's plans for the Chicago River's remediation were revealed in a late November talk at the Harold Washington Library with Steve Edwards of WBEZ and Henry Henderson of the Natural Resources Defense Council. As illustrated in the book's title, Reverse Effect proposes the incorporation of green infrastructure as a way to mitigate the concern of invasive species threatening the entire water system from the Great Lakes down through the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico by restoring the natural watersheds of the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi River. Specifically, Gang proposes erecting a barrier near Bubbly Creek, the still-simmering toxic repository of the Chicago River on the border of the Pilsen and Bridgeport neighborhoods. With the barrier in place that separates the watersheds back to their natural state, and the introduction of adjacent green space to act as wetlands around Bubbly Creek, Gang's designs would work to recharge the lake, and provide an opportunity to reclaim the surrounding fallow, industrial land for redevelopment. As Gang stated, "this water problem is an urban problem. Our solution is to make the urban solution a water solution."

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman

Chicago Sun Dec 04 2011

Occupy Chicago Joins Motel Occupation

Visitors to Pastor Corey B. Brooks Head onto the Roof

At 7p.m. tonight, Occupy Chicago will hold its first overnight occupation on the South Side following a general assembly on property owned by New Beginnings Church. The church is hosting the event in conjunction with its own occupation of the derelict Super Motel at 6625 S. Martin Luther King Blvd, which is across the street from its main sanctuary. Its pastor, Corey B. Brooks, has been camping on the roof of the motel for a dozen days and fasting on water alone. He plans on camping on the site until the church raises $450,000 to raze the former motel and build a community center with mixed-use, mixed-income development on site.

Pastor Brooks said that he was "excited" when contacted by Occupy Chicago. "I think that anybody who -- especially when they're not from this area -- wants to come lend support, we've got to be open to that." Ultimately, the pastor hopes that he can play a role mediating between the group and Mayor Emanuel. "I want to have good relations with everybody. We are the church. We're not supposed to be at war with anybody ... We bring about peace."

Follow developments in the motel case on the Project H.O.O.D. website and through Pastor Brooks' Twitter account, CoreyBBrooks. Occupy Chicago is online at

Additional photographs follow.

Continue reading this entry »

David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Nov 29 2011

Chicagoans Remember Maggie Daley

On Monday, November 28 former Chicago first lady Maggie Daley was remembered at a funeral mass at Old St. Pat's Church on the city's near west side. Daley died on Thanksgiving Day at age 68 following a nine-year battle with breast cancer.

Here's a roundup of some of the coverage and reactions throughout the day:

Continue reading this entry »

Mike Ewing / Comments (1)

Event Thu Nov 17 2011

Chicago Youth Speak About Community Issues in Project Soapbox Citywide Competition

On Saturday, Nov. 19 the Mikva Challenge, an organization focusing on getting Chicago high school students engaged with civics, will hold its fourth annual Citywide Public Speaking Competition.

The Citywide Public Speaking Competition is part of Mikva Challenge's Project Soapbox program, in which students develop and deliver a speech after being given the prompt of "What is the most important issue facing your community?"

"Participating teachers implement a five-lesson curriculum in their classrooms between September and November where students identify effective tools and devices for conveying a message, both by analyzing famous speeches and in the development of their own speeches," said Emma Kornfeld, Issues to Action Manager for Mikva Challenge.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

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:


Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Urban Planning Fri Nov 04 2011

Yglesias on the "Chicago Model"

Interesting short post on Chicago's zoning and development from Think Progress' Matthew Yglesias, with a note on how sprawl is impacted by mandatory parking space creation. I wrote about Chicago's parking policy and regulatory regime (though less as it relates to zoning) here. From Yglesias:

Chicago, though by no means perfect, is largely doing real estate development policy right. It's a city that's both sprawling and dense. It has its share of heavy rail transit serving the center of the city, and downtown where land is expensive the buildings get very tall. At the same time, it also spreads out a great deal since lots of people have a perfectly authentic preference for single family homes and varying degrees of low density neighborhoods.

Ramsin Canon

Police Fri Nov 04 2011

Residents Rally to Save 13th District Police Station

In an attempt to close the Chicago's budget gap, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) announced that three district stations are being considered for closure. Among these stations is the 13th district station at 937 N. Wood St. and the proposed closure of that particular station has prompted residents who live in the district to join together to save the station.

In response to the proposed closing, a group of residents led by Anne Shaw have joined together to create Save the Wood Street Station.

"We have the second lowest number of beat officers in all of the 25 districts and we have a higher crime rate than the 12th district," Shaw said, referring to the district the 13th district would hypothetically be merged with.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

Chicago Fri Nov 04 2011

A Green River is a Green River

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is marching forward with designs to revitalize the Chicago River for recreational use. As he does, the mayor would be wise to look towards other cities worldwide who have undertaken their own river reclamation projects and apply their lessons here. The main question Emanuel needs to be asking is how does turning attention to a long-neglected urban waterway make way for economic growth, increased quality of living and mitigating climate change?

The most definitive answers can perhaps be found trickling through the Cheonggyecheon in the heart of Seoul, South Korea. In the 2009 New York Times article "Peeling Back Pavement to Expose Watery Havens," Andrew Revkin writes of ambitious projects in cities around the world seeking to remediate, reconnect, and unlock the economic potential hidden in the waterways that flow through their borders. In Seoul, the $384 million removal of three miles of elevated highway allowed the Cheonggyecheon to reclaim its rightful place as one of the great gathering spaces of the ancient city. The Cheonggyecheon was an integral component of the city since the days of the Choson Dynasty nearly 600 years past, yet the stream had been replaced with a traffic-choking roadway in the name of industrialization. As the utility of the elevated highway began to wane, officials tore down the highway and returned the Cheonggyecheon to its rightful place.

Despite criticisms from some corners that claim the waterway reclamation project's cost outweigh the benefits, cities around the world are taking Seoul's example to heart and aiming to unravel their own urban rivers and streams. As Revkin stated in 2009, "The restoration of the Cheonggyecheon is part of an expanding environmental effort in cities around the world to 'daylight' rivers and streams by peeling back pavement that was built to bolster commerce and serve automobile traffic decades ago." The movement towards re-opening waterways has only gained force since then, and is part of a broader effort cities are undertaking to create vibrant, livable spaces that attract top-tier talent to settle, work, and live within the confines of the urban area. From Los Angeles to Chicago to Yonkers, NY, the example of Seoul is weighing heavily as American cities begin to retrofit their natural amenities to increase the sense of place that make cities attractive in the first place.

For American cities on the whole, this means applying a different mentality towards the way in which the economic return of their waterways and natural amenities are harnessed, but not necessarily a wholesale culture change in which environmentalism is the prevailing meme. Economic utility is still the motivating force; it's simply that the utility now is found in having accessible and navigable open space.

For a city like Chicago, this means taking the Chicago River and putting it to good use for economic purposes in the same sense it always has, yet doing so in a way that provides for lasting and sustainable development. The river has traditionally been treated with less than great intentions and care throughout the city's history. While the river opened markets and created a reason for permanent settlement in the region, it has historically been an exploitable resource that has been utilized as a dumping ground, sewage container and sink. The industrial concentration and wasting of the river not only led to one of the great engineering marvels of America- the reversal of the Chicago River's flow- but also to the still simmering remains of the toxic Bubbly Creek in the Bridgeport neighborhood.

Chicago is no longer the industrial behemoth it once was. Increasingly, Chicagoans want to utilize the river as a resource that provides an outlet for those looking for a "wilderness" experience within the city. Its economic utility now lies in a clean river that can be comfortably kayaked upon, picnicked by, and perhaps (well, one day) even fished in. It means treating the river as a river, and selling its naturalness
as its main asset.

The return from Seoul has gone beyond the economic as well. A piece from the online journal Grist notes many of the collateral benefits that have resulted from the return of the Cheonggyecheon. Among them are the creation of more value-adding public places, an increase in the species of fish and birds and various wildlife to the city, and a reduction of 5.6 degrees F in the surrounding area, cooling off the "urban island" effect. Domestically, cities like Pittsburgh - with its Walls Are Bad campaign - have begun to see the returns of remediating their waterways into recreational powerhouses. Recently, the Los Angeles River has begun to be revitalized in a fashion other than just a hidden repository of junk.

Chicago is taking steps to harness the potential of its namesake river, with Mayor Emanuel recently declaring "Much like Lake Michigan is Chicago's front yard, the Chicago River is our backyard, and should be an asset that people across the city enjoy, not avoid." For a city needing a flow of cash into its coffers, it's time to wade in.

This post also appears on

Ben Schulman

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

Race Thu Oct 27 2011

"You Even See White People on 43rd Street Now": Income and Segregation in Chicago

by Daniel Hertz

On a recent sunny afternoon, "John," 25, was hanging out at the Lake Meadows shopping center at 35th and King Drive in Bronzeville. He is a new resident of the city's oldest black neighborhood, formed in the first quarter of the 20th century by southern migrants searching for better jobs and living conditions in the North. John is also a migrant: he moved to Bronzeville from southwestern China earlier this year. And, in doing so, he became part of the slow breakdown in the racial order of Chicago that has been taking place for the last few decades.

It is not news that this city, like most northern industrial metropolises, is an especially egregious case of American racial segregation. Separation was never explicitly enforced by law, but restrictive housing covenants, social pressure, and violence, both random and coordinated, managed to create very real boundaries outside of which few blacks dared to live. Successive waves of migrants following World War II expanded the black ghetto to encompass much of the south and west sides of the city, while the severity of segregation worsened.

But it is less often noted that since peaking around 1970, black segregation in Chicago has been on a slow, but notable, decline. Now, new data from the 2010 Census gives an in-depth portrait of a still-divided city's tentative steps away from the kind of apartheid that earned it the nickname "Beirut on the Lake" in the 1980s. In neighborhoods like Bronzeville and Woodlawn on the South Side and Garfield Park on the West Side, white, Latino and Asian Chicagoans have cracked open the door to integration. Likewise, black families have started to move into pockets of the northwest and southwest sides where African Americans often made up less than one percent of residents just ten years ago. In some of these places, African American populations have grown by factors of two, three, or even ten since 2000.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

Op-Ed Wed Oct 26 2011

Rainwater In Context: Is Chicago's Water Rate Increase Money Down the Drain?

by John Norquist and Caitlin Ghoshal

As many cities face both costly aging infrastructure and looming budget deficits, public administrators are turning to fee increases to finance system fixes.  Most recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed 2012 budget outlines an up-to-25% increase in the annual fee for water and sewer services. The Congress for the New Urbanism supports Chicago's water modernization efforts, but the Mayor's proposed fee lacks a direct connection to urbanism and green infrastructure.

A rate increase that only patches sewer pipes will flush taxpayers' money down the drain. If this water rate increase only helps the City rebuild - instead of renew - water infrastructure, the same stormwater problems will plague the City's streets.  Innovative and context-sensitive rainwater systems are not only sustainable and environmentally friendly, but also cost-effective. Green water infrastructure, the type(s) as proposed in CNU's Rainwater-in-Context initiative, helps reduce stormwater runoff and its stress on the sewer system.  Permeable pavement, alternative street design, and other context-sensitive rainwater systems protect urban watersheds like Chicago's - undoubtedly one of the city's greatest assets.

The current state of disrepair of Chicago's water infrastructure should be viewed not as a liability that can only be remedied through higher rates for fixes, but rather as an opportunity to create longer-lasting, more sustainable systems that securely plant Chicago at the forefront of green design. As the Mayor is wont to say, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Dense urban areas like Chicago have inherent environmental strengths (especially when compared to conventional sprawl patterns), and incorporating urban-minded water infrastructure can only enhance this standing. In committing to both green infrastructure and new urbanism, Mayor Emanuel has the opportunity to realize sustainable practices that reinforce the urban environment and protect the City's and taxpayers' assets for the long term.

Chicago helped pioneer interdisciplinary water and street planning, such as its Green Alley program. Dedicating water rate increases to broadly implementing urbanist green infrastructure keeps Chicago a leader in sustainable water policy.  Mayor Emanuel's budget proposal to address inefficient water pricing is only part of a more comprehensive solution to better managing Chicago's watershed.  Green - and urbanist - water infrastructure will shower rewards on both local government's coffers and taxpayers' pockets.

John Norquist is the CEO & President of the Congress for the New Urbanism, served as Mayor of Milwaukee from 1988-2004, and is the author of the book The Wealth of Cities

Caitlin Ghoshal is the Program Manager for the Congress for the New Urbanism, and served as a Mayoral Fellow in the Office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel during the Mayor's first 100 days of office.

For more information on CNU's Rainwater-In-Context, please visit


Occupy Chicago Sun Oct 23 2011

More than 100 Arrested as Occupy Chicago "Takes the Horse"

Occupy Chicago Demonstration

More than 1,000 Occupy Chicago demonstrators marched to the corner of Michigan and Congress on Saturday night as the movement attempted to occupy Grant Park for a second week in a row.

After hours of demonstrating, dozens of protestors were arrested around 1am on Sunday while supporters chanted, "ONE - We are the people! TWO - We are united! THREE - The occupation is not leaving!"

The protest was as notable for its size as its orderliness, with demonstrators hosting conversations weighing the pros and cons of risking arrest and police officers glacially moving towards detaining the protestors. Nearly two hours passed between when the police shut down the park and the first protesters were escorted to CPD trucks in plastic restraints.

More photographs from the demonstration are below.

Continue reading this entry »

David Schalliol / Comments (2)

Social Services Mon Oct 17 2011

A North Side Beacon: Shari Fenton's Asian Youth Services

by Alan Lake

Safe havens for children living in gang and drug infested neighborhoods are few and far between, but for over 20 years the Asian Youth Services (AYS) after school program has filled the role. Besides tutoring math, science, history and reading, AYS aims to create a healthy atmosphere for any child who walks through the door, whether the student is the child of Cambodian refugees or recent Latin American immigrants.

Many of the children's families were victims of the Southeast Asian killing fields, so quite a few of their parents or grandparents are without formal education. Most are on public aid and rely on AYS for assistance for extra-academic aid, including for legal, health and housing problems.

As refugees, they can use all the help they can get.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (4)

Budget Thu Oct 13 2011

Reducing Chicago Public Library Hours Might Be a Bad Idea

Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially released the preliminary 2012 budget for the City. (Link opens PDF file.) One of the highlights of the budget is a reduction in hours for the Chicago Public Library system.

According to a press release from the Mayor's office, the reduced hours are expected to save the city $7 million. The press release says, "While many other cities across the country are shuttering libraries in these tough economic times, Chicago will keep all of its libraries open by reducing service hours across the board. Despite reducing the weekly hours, all of the programs and services Chicagoans use at the libraries will remain intact."

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (4)

Good Government/Reform Thu Sep 29 2011

Occupy Chicago, in Photo and Video

It's now been a week since a small group of Chicagoans descended on the Federal Reserve (by way of a brief stint at the Willis — neé Sears — Tower) to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Continue reading this entry »

Megan E. Doherty

Local Government Thu Sep 29 2011

Chicago History Museum to Host Discussion on Current Political Climate

On October 4, the Chicago History Museum will host a discussion on our current political climate entitled, "Politics Today: Red, Purple, and Blue." The discussion is part of the museum's In the K/Now series of discussions, which occur monthly. Moderating the discussions is Laura Washington, columnist for the Sun-Times.

"We will cover both [Cook County and Chicago], particularly the debate in the City Council and on the Cook County Board over budget cutting measures like furloughs, police, cuts to vital service like police, fire and health care, and tax increases," Washington said.

According to Ilana Bruton, Public Programs Coordinator for the Chicago History Museum, the different discussions for In the K/Now have various sized crowds depending on the topic.

"We try to choose hot, contemporary topics that effect Chicagoans today and include a diverse group of panelists," Bruton said.

Panelists for the October 4 discussion will be 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith, Michael Mezey, political science professor at DePaul University; and Christine Dudley, a political and public affairs consultant.

"Being 'in the know' is all about making today's history relevant," Bruton said. "Everything in the museum was at one time contemporary and it is important to continue to stay relevant and remind ourselves that history is ongoing."

For this discussion, a historical perspective for the political strife will be examined.

"We will ask the panelists to look at moments in history when the parties and political operatives were at odds," Bruton said. "We will talk about some of the frustrations with politics today and talk about solutions to stop the bickering and opportunities to forge towards bipartisanship."

The event is free and open to the public, although attendees can reserve seats on the Chicago History Museum's website. The discussion is scheduled to run from 6:30-8 pm.

Monica Reida

Good Government/Reform Tue Sep 27 2011

Chicago Inspector General Offers Budget Ideas, Politics-Free

The Chicago Inspector General, Joseph Ferguson, released a report this morning with recommendations to the city government as to how it could close its considerable budget deficit.

There is constant harping in this space (e.g., from me) about the need for democratic control of institutions and meaningful public input into public processes. Any more than a little complaining about constant deference to more or less unaccountable technocrats. Make no mistake, though--technocrats and experts--and insular bodies--do have an important role to play. One of the best things about "third party" bodies that are insulated from politics yet still part of government is that they can make findings and issue recommendations free of the type of political considerations that the elected incorporate into everything. (Which is just one of many reasons why the IG's office should be well-funded and protected from meddling).

At the same time, being part of government means the recommendations these bodies make carry more weight, generate more instant attention, and carry some imprimatur of officialdom. So I read the IG's report with some interest late last night and early this morning.

One of the things that will strike you right from the executive summary is that a number of these recommendations could save enormous sums annually with fairly straightforward actions. It takes only another moment before you realize that they would be unpopular either with powerful special interests or with casual voters. Creating a 1% city income tax, for example, would cause a stir, and Mayor Emanuel has not shown the particular style of political courage necessary to try something like that. Similarly, this administration is unlikely to take the common sense step of eliminating some of the legions of appointed supervisors who supervise ever fewer employees but enjoy high salaries and benefits.

By Ferguson's estimation, that latter change could save the city as much as $100mn a year.

The option that generated buzz this morning was transforming Lake Shore Drive into a toll road, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of other common sense suggestions that, in the short term at least, could balance the city's budget without necessarily wreaking havoc among working families, including (from a release):

· Eliminating all Tax Increment Financing Districts to increase tax revenues to the City's general fund by an estimated $100 million annually

· Increasing the work week of all City employees to 40 hours to save approximately $40 million annually

· Create a Commuter Tax estimated to generate $300 million in annual revenues

· Implement Congestion Pricing for vehicular traffic that is estimated to generate an additional annual revenues of $235 million

· Broadening the City's Amusement Tax which would produce an additional $105 million in annual revenues

A lot of this is necessarily unlikely. They would be major, if simple, changes, and Emanuel's entire political career is one of risk-aversion, and the City Council is not really equipped to take any initiative. Still, having a body in government that can put forward options and recommendations like this, to at the very least make the public aware of what is conceivable and possible--and what politicians are unwilling, for their own person political reasons, to do--is essential to good government.

To read the full report, follow the jump. Also, check out IG Ferguson on WBEZ's 848 this morning. (I was on after him).

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

TIFs Tue Sep 06 2011

A Look Behind: Mayor Emanuel's TIF Commission; What They "Do and Don't"

Last Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made good on his campaign pledge to reform the Chicago's sprawling Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program. So it would seem from scanning the headlines. Or maybe it's time to double-down on cynicism, because nothing has changed.

Hard to say, really, since there's been precious little analysis of what Emanuel's TIF reform panel actually proposed.

(For a quick refresh of how TIFs work, click here and here.)

So let's take a look. At bottom, their report urges the city to adopt four simple, technocractic habits:

Continue reading this entry »


Labor & Worker Rights Tue Sep 06 2011

Recent OSHA Fine Highlights Risks for Workers at Resurrection Health Care

On August 25, Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston was fined $23,800 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for employees being exposed to patient blood.

According to Robert Malgieri, spokesman for HEART/AFSCME, the employees at St. Francis Hospital contacted OSHA due to their own concern for employee safety.

The 13-page complaint issued by OSHA states that St. Francis has failed to inform housekeeping staff of tasks that would result in exposure to bloodborne pathogens, have materials for bloodborne pathogen training in an appropriate language for the employees, explain what would be the plan for St. Francis Hospital if an employee was exposed to bloodborne pathogens, failed to explain what tasks would result in possible exposure to bloodborne pathogens, did not tell staff of methods that could prevent exposure, and that employees were not given a session to ask questions during the bloodborne pathogens training session.

Bloodborne pathogens include the Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C virus, and HIV as well as viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and Lassa fever.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

Op-Ed Thu Sep 01 2011

Congress Hotel Strike Hits 3000 Days

I did not know where I wanted to go with the story on the Congress Hotel strike when I first started doing some research. I knew it had been eight years, strikers are typically still on the picket line and little of the negotiations are known. I wanted to treat it more as a piece of objective journalism instead of throwing my opinion around as I tend to do. So if you could follow me below I will divert and offer it here.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Chicago Tue Aug 23 2011

It's Hard To Take You Seriously....

From a press release from the Chicago Teachers Union

More than 40,000 homes are foreclosed in Cook County each year. Combined with the illegal lay-off of teachers these foreclosures contribute to housing insecurity for thousands of CPS employees and students. As part of its ongoing negotiations with CPS, the Union requested that the Board turn up the pressure on Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Deutsche Bank until these institutions agree to write down the mortgage principals and interest rates for all homeowners facing foreclosure within the school district to market value as a part of an affordable and sustainable loan modification program. "The decline of safe and secure homes greatly impacts the overall well-being of the children, educators and their families in our public schools. Their interests are our interests," said Lewis. "We urge the school board to stop doing business with the "big five" banks whose policies adversely impact our schools and neighborhoods.
(the emphasis is mine)

Really, the banks should eat all of those losses In order to do business with CPS? I think mathematically alone the losses the banks would suffer would dwarf what they make doing business with CPS.

Continue reading this entry »

OneMan / Comments (2)

Rahm Emanuel Tue Aug 23 2011

Rahm Hits 100 Days, Huge Approval Numbers

Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated closing in 100 days as the leader of our city by touting some of his accomplishments. Some of the steps forward include better transparency and saving taxpayer money but he also accompanied it with a public opinion poll on the side.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Column Mon Aug 22 2011

Growing Minorities Demand Political Action

by Dick Simpson
Seismic political changes are occurring unnoticed. Racial minorities have always been important in Chicago elections, but population changes now have profound effects on national politics as well. Minorities helped Barack Obama win the White House and Democrats control Congress until their setback in 2010 midterm elections.

In 2008, nearly one in four voters was a racial minority. Whites still made up 76 percent of the 131 million people who voted nationally, but blacks were 12 percent, Latinos 7 percent and Asians 2.5 percent.

In the 2010 election 6.6 million Latinos voted, again representing 7 percent of all voters. But they are predicted to cast as many as 12 million ballots in 2012. They continue to grow more rapidly in population and in voters than any other segment of society.
These trends are being played out even faster in Illinois. In 2008, 11 percent of the Illinois electorate was Latino, 13 percent was black and 6 percent was other (mostly Asian). With over 708,000 eligible Latino voters in Illinois, they are enough to swing any statewide election and many local ones.

Continue reading this entry »


Housing Thu Aug 18 2011

Rent Increases and Affordable Housing

The Sun-Times reported on Thursday that the price of apartment rents is increasing and market studies show that rents will likely rise over the next couple of years. The article also says that the demand for rental units has increased due to the economic downturn and uncertainty about the housing market. The article says that the only neighborhood where a large number of new apartments are being built is in the downtown area.

Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for Chicago's Department of Housing and Economic Development (HED), said that the department does monitor the market prices for apartments. That data is used to help determine the rental rates for the affordable housing HED helps create and maintain.

"When we establish our affordable housing guidelines we have to know what the median retail rates are," Strazzabosco said.

Rates for affordable housing is no more than 80% of the area median retail rates, although the number might be lower than 80% for some units depending on where the funding is coming from.

The City has spent about $2 billion on the creation and maintenance of affordable housing units, which includes properties that are for sale. Strazzabosco said that this year HED is aiming to spend $355 million this year on the creation and preservation of 5,600 rental units.

Monica Reida

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (2)

Chicago Thu Aug 11 2011

Action Now Tries to Help BofA but Member is Arrested Instead

Earlier this week Action Now board member Marsha Godard tried to deliver a stack of violation notices to Bank of America headquarters. She entered as customer trying to receive assistance and help bring attention to the plight of vacant homes on the South Side. Instead of simply accepting them and calling it a day, Bank of America called the police and had her arrested for criminal trespassing.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Budget Tue Aug 09 2011

What Might Festivals Mean For the City's Budget?

The City is currently faced with a $635.7 million deficit for the upcoming budget year. Since the City is cutting programs that seem as if they would be necessary in order to save money, what could possibly be cut, or reduced in funding, to save the budget?

A possible answer might be Taste of Chicago.

Taste of Chicago is, for those unfamiliar, a massive food festival that occurs for 10 days in Grant Park. In order to save money, in the past five years the Chicago Country Music Festival has been eliminated and merged with the festival, along with several other music festivals. This was the first year that the Chicago Park District ran the festival, as opposed to the Department of Special Events, which merged with the Department of Cultural Affairs. Prior to leaving office, Daley did attempt to privatize Taste of Chicago, but only found one bidder, who wanted to charge admission to the festival.

Here's the important thing: Taste of Chicago is free for admission, which is great if you're there for the music. If you want to eat the food, you have to buy tickets and use those tickets to pay for the food.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

Chicago Thu Jul 28 2011

No Amount of Austerity: Fixing Chicago's Budget

Chicago's enormous structural budget deficit, which could reach $700 million next year, is due in part to the cratering of the economy, particularly the free fall of revenue from real estate-related taxes and fees. But it is also due to the symbiotic lack of political will by politicians and political appetite by voters (and interest groups) to make painful decisions to meet the problem. The problem, by the way, is obvious: the city (you and me, the people who live in the city, not the abstract City) made promises to our employees--particularly our public safety employees, cops and firefighters--that our revenue simply cannot meet, and will not be able to meet without tax increases as well as cuts and reforms.

According to the Civic Federation, the city has a $14.6 billion dollar pension liability that is unfunded. To meet this liability, the city can rededicate revenue committed elsewhere to pension funding, raise contributions from current employees and decrease future benefits or eliminate cost of living adjustments, raise taxes, particularly property taxes, or some combination thereof. Solely raising taxes, particularly property taxes, would be politically unpalatable as well as eventually regressive--renters are already beginning to feel a squeeze. If we want to meet our obligations, some reasonable and fair combination of reform of the pension system, rededication of existing revenue (i.e., cuts to services in one place to pay for liabilities), and increasing revenue is necessary.

Yet the focus by the city to date has been almost wholly on "reforming work rules," in other words altering public worker contracts. Such reforms may very well be necessary, but they alone will not put a significant dent in the structural deficit. Mayor Emanuel and his team know full well that even with history's most efficient city government and not a single unionized employee, we would not be able to meet our obligations. Chicago News Coop columnist James Warren astutely observed that this is the strategy is meant to make future potentially unpopular actions--i.e., revenue increases--more palatable. If the Mayor also stokes unwarranted hysteria about thieving public employees, so be it.

The City's budget rests on several revenue streams. In descending order of quantity, the most significant of these are sales taxes, utilities taxes, the "personal property replacement tax" (a convoluted tax that boils down to a corporate income tax), transportation and recreation taxes, and business taxes. Licenses and fees provide a significant chunk, as do--or rather, did--income from parking meters.

Between 2007 and 2010, these revenue streams declined immensely, the biggest being the transaction tax, which is mostly a real estate transaction tax, which declined by over 40%, or $120 million, in that time. To make up these shortfalls, Mayor Daley recklessly privatized city assets. These privatization schemes (and they were schemes) amounted to little more than major borrowing programs that take up-front payments to compensate for revenue shocks. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, University of Chicago Professor Julie Roin characterized the supposedly bold privatization moves this way,

"Politicians are calling these deals privatizations, but what they really are is secured loans....Whether you collect the revenue and pay it out to creditors or just divert the income stream to begin with is just inconsequential in terms of the financial ramifications of the transactions."

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Fri Jul 22 2011

The Problems With the Fire Department's Physical Abilities Test

Only 116 members of the Chicago Fire Department are women, which represents about 2 percent of the workforce. A class action suit filed against the Fire Department claims that the test administered on potential firefighters discriminates against women through a physical abilities test (PAT).

The plaintiff in the case, Samantha Vasich, passed the written test in 2006 and took the physical test in 2010, only to be informed that she failed the PAT.

Although it is necessary that a firefighter should be able to physically perform their job, a problem is how the test is administered. The Chicago Fire Department administers their own test, the PAT, which differs from a standardized test created by the firefighter's unions, called the Candidate Physical Abilities Test (CPAT).

"Instead of putting up a ladder, they have you do this lifting exercise," said Susan Malone, one of the attorneys representing Vasich, about the PAT. "For paramedics, instead of pulling a stretcher, they have you doing a gym exercise. These tests are not job related."

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (1)

TIFs Mon Jul 11 2011

Where Do We TIF From Here?

Chicago is perhaps the best place in the country to see the impact, both good and bad, that Tax Increment Financing districts can have on a city. TIF districts - those peculiar redevelopment schemes that hold the line on current property taxes within a designated area, and then funnel all future property tax increases straight back into redevelopment (as opposed to financing basic public services) - were nearly always on standby during Mayor Richard M. Daley's tenure. At their best, Daley's TIFs solidified the tax base and quarterbacked increased development in certain areas, most vividly seen in the Central Loop TIF.

Begun by Mayor Harold Washington in 1984, when the Loop did indeed contain areas of blight, Daley extended the life of the Central Loop TIF to seemingly great effect. Before eventually expiring in 2008, the TIF district helped spearhead the Loop's renewal, ushering in an era of huge expansion that increased the tax base and businesses within its borders, and saw a rise in the estimated assessed land value in the district to $2.6 billion from its original $985 million. The renewed strength and vibrancy of Chicago's core allowed the city to comeback from its "buckle-on-the-Rust-Belt" lows, and become a relevant player on the Global City index.

Of course, the Central Loop TIF is but a tiny part of the story. While TIFs can be great vehicles of investment in neighborhoods, often they are not the simple fix for areas that they portend to be. For starters, the subjective assignment and creation of TIF districts skews the market and incentives for development where demand is inherent. In Chicago, where the disparity between TIF districts is immense, one man's blight is another man's aspiration. Nearly no one would argue with the fact that the destitute area surrounding the Ogden/Pulaski TIF district in the Lawndale neighborhood displays a greater need for subsidy-induced development than Chicago's Loop. Yet, Daley's downtown focus ensured that the "blighted" CBD continued to be invested via TIF well-beyond its logical expiration.

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman

Chicago Tue Jul 05 2011

Raise the Minimum Wage?

Illinois is tied for the third highest minimum wage in the country, only outdone by Oregon and Washington, despite that advocates are calling for an increase is a stagnant economy.

A coalition of organizations are calling upon elected leaders to pass legislation to increase the minimum wage one year after the bump up to $8.25 per hour. Working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks equates to a $17,160 salary - without taking time off.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager / Comments (3)

Chicago Wed Jun 29 2011

Emanuel: Chicago has Created Jobs but Threatens Layoffs

Mayor Rahm Emanuel pitched a room of more than 700 leaders from businesses, nonprofits, and government at the opening session of CGI America on Chicago's plan to create jobs in the city.

Prior to the speech it seems the Mayor has threatened to layoff hundreds of public employees pitting the value of public sector versus private.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Crime Wed Jun 22 2011

A Year of Chicago Crime in 30 Seconds

NYU PhD student Drew Conway took a year's worth of crime data, released on the Chicago Data Portal on Sunday, and visualized it on a map of the city, creating a very clear picture of where and when crime occurs. Read more about it on Conway's blog.

Continue reading this entry »

Andrew Huff

Chicago Tue Jun 21 2011

Biden Joins Axelrod to CURE Epilepsy

IMG_6185.JPGFor a few moments Vice President Joe Biden turned a Navy Pier Ballroom into an intimate setting telling the feeling of loss and of hope for better tomorrow.

Nearly 40 years ago Biden lost his wife and one year old daughter in a tragic automobile accident. He recounted a few of the details of the phone call and visit to the hospital in the aftermath. The story served as a bridge towards empathy and the inability to be in control of the safety and well-being of one's own child. Much like having a child with epilepsy.

Susan and David Axelrod's CURE, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, organization annual fundraiser brought in roughly $800,000. The bipartisan affair, Senator Mark Kirk and former Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias were spotted trading greetings, seated nearly 900 people. They heard testimony of the day-to-day struggle of family members and those afflicted by epilepsy.

The organization utilizes 92% of the money raised as grants to fund research for a cure, according to CEO Carmita Vaughn. Her own mother suffered from epilepsy and died at the age of 52 after consecutive seizures.

"We all have something to live for. We have a reason for being," said Biden. Axelrod, his wife and a group of dedicated people have reason as well.

David Axelrod, who introduced the vice president, talked about the devastating effect epilepsy has had on his family.

"Each one of us holds out some hope that we can make a breakthrough," Axelrod said before the dinner. "What our goal has been is to seed the kind of research that the government won't yet seed because it's not fully proven."

The Axelrods' eldest daughter Lauren began having seizures at seven months of age.

Aaron Krager

Education Fri Jun 17 2011

CTU and School Board Butt Heads

"Lies, damn lies and statistics."

During tough debates both sides try to spin facts and statistics to fit their point of view and provide a stronger foundation to their own argument. The current fight between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago School Board is no different with the new school board president pointing out the following:

* Even without the four percent previously-negotiated raises, 75 percent of all teachers will get automatic raises of between 1 percent and 5 percent for adding another year of experience or for increasing their credentials.

* Based on base salary alone, the minimum CPS starting teachers salary of $50,577 is No. 1 among the nation's 10 largest cities. Its maximum salary, requiring a master's degree, of $87,673 is No. 2, behind New York City. Its average salary also is among the top one or two, Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler told board members.

CTU responded with their own stats pushing their own side.

Lewis called some of Winckler's numbers "ridiculous'' and claimed the added pay for another year of experience or added credentials amount to. at most, $35 to $50 more in take home pay every two weeks over 26 pay periods. "People tell me, `Oh, I thought I would get a raise and it's only 20 bucks,'" Lewis said.

She also noted that across the state, CPS teacher pay is not that competitive. Lewis cited a May 31 Chicago Sun-Times report that found that CPS high school teachers average total compensation, with benefits, ranks No. 71 in the state. CPS elementary teachers came in No. 38.

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Jun 15 2011

The New Employment Relationship: Workers Bear All the Risks while Employers Keep the Profits

by Jamie Hayes

In our work at Arise Chicago, we’ve lately noticed a dangerous new trend: employers are forcing employees to work as contractors, in order to subvert labor laws and their responsibility as employers.

Campaign #1

Margarita (pseudonym) worked for 2 years at a laundromat in the Albany Park neighborhood. She was paid $5/hour, worked over 40 hours a week but never received overtime payment, and worked seven days per week. When Arise contacted her employer to inform him of his legal responsibility to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, and to give employees one day of rest per week, he tried to shirk responsibility by claiming that Margarita was actually an independent contractor. Since Margarita could not make her own schedule, perform her work autonomously, nor bid out the work (the basic marks of a truly independent contractor), this defense was fairly preposterous. However, we are seeing a rise in savvy employers who force employees to sign contracts and incorporate, all for the privilege of toiling day in and day out for the same abusive employer, often at rates below minimum wage, and outside of the jurisdiction of OSHA, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, and the other government agencies that enforce workers’ rights.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (3)

Chicago Thu Jun 02 2011

Crap[s]: A Chicago Casino

Should we bring casino gambling to Chicago, as Mayor Emanuel is aggressively pushing for? I've never been able to come to a solid decision on this issue, whether to oppose or not. Casinos are regularly trotted out as solutions to sagging tax revenues, particularly in declining urban areas like Providence, Hartford, Detroit and Cleveland. And while there is some initial surge in revenues, if Providence and Detroit are our glimmering examples of the wonders of casino gaming development, I'm not certain we should be encouraging their development here in Chicago.

Of course, Chicago is much different from Providence and Detroit. Chicago is a major convention city, the third largest city in the country, and the capital of the Midwest. We already draw huge numbers of tourists and conventioneers. Given that, the social ills that accompany casinos may not manifest; and perhaps their main function of merely sucking more money from low-income workers to enrich the casino developers and provide a trickle of extra tax revenue will be substituted for actually making money from tourists.

One thing does seem safe to say: if a casino attracts new tourists, it will make the casino operators very wealthy, which will have an attendant (small) impact on tax revenue. But it will not have any appreciable effect on other businesses. The Boston Federal Reserve Bank released a paper evaluating a proposed casino in Rhode Island and included this:

In general, whether a casino will benefit or harm a local economy hinges on whether the casino is likely to attract tourists to the region. Destination casinos, such as those in Las Vegas, essentially export casino services to tourists, bringing in new dollars to the local economy. A dollar spent by a tourist in a destination casino may fund a local supplier providing food and beverages to the casino, which then spends that income on other goods and services in the local economy, thus multiplying the effect of the first dollar spent. The tourist, however, does not generally spend much in the communities surrounding a resort-style casino. Steve Wynn, a major casino operator, expressed this point to local businessmen in Bridgeport which also considered a casino, in the 1990s: "There is no reason on earth for any of you to expect for more than a second that just because there are people here, they're going to run into your restaurants and stores just because we build this building [casino] here." Therefore, the main ancillary benefits are from indirect spending in the local economy spurred by tourists to a casino, rather than direct spending by tourists at local restaurants or shops.

(emphasis added).

In other words, the economic impact is strictly trickle down, and rests on some pretty big assumptions. So, in that way it is certainly a risk.

I have to believe however that Chicago given its existing reputation and infrastructure and steady convention business would be able to benefit from an appropriate casino (i.e., something a little classy). Most cities that pursue casino development do so to bring in the tourists; Chicago's casino would be another way for our extant tourists to spend money. If--if--we know that most of the casino's customers would be tourists, it's a good idea. If not, it's just another massive trickle-down project done out of terror of spooking away fragile mega-corporations who flee at the scent of any taxes that prompt a fair share.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Daley Thu May 05 2011

The Measure of a Mayor, The Legacy of a Man

Throughout 2002, Mayor Richard M. Daley waged a public and backroom battle with federal aviation officials to expand the no-fly zone around the city's central business districts. He was met with resistance by bureaucrats and the business users of Meigs Field, who argued that the restrictions would hamper the ability of pilots to use the typical approaches to Meigs and potentially make it more hazardous. The Mayor didn't let up, and pressed the issue; he was granted some temporary restrictions on flights around the CBD, but didn't get the scope he wanted.

The mayor pressed the issue, insisting the CBD was under threat and that Meigs essentially represented a security threat by its mere existence. He responded to the protests of Meigs Field users dismissively, characterizing them as millionaire vanity pilots whose selfish concerns were irrelevant to the average Chicagoan.

Friends of Meigs Field, an advocacy group composed primarily of the little airport's heaviest users, smelled a rat. Meigs was not a big money maker for the city, and Daley clearly had designs on the prime lakefront property. They lobbied furiously to keep the field open and operating, meeting rank indifference, to say the least, from the mayor.

At the same time, Daley was trying to get federal approval for the expansion of O'Hare Airport. His biggest stumbling block was the stubbornly independent junior senator from Illinois, Republican Peter Fitzgerald. Throughout 2002, Fitzgerald was considered a top-tier target for national Democrats, and his reelection chances were in jeopardy. Throughout the last few months of 2002 and the first months of 2003, rumors swirled that Fitzgerald would not run again. Fitzgerald stubbornly refused to permit expansion of O'Hare, and Governor George Ryan walked a compromise path that demanded that any expansion of O'Hare be conditioned on the continued operation of Meigs; Daley agreed to some nominal concessions the Friends of Meigs characterized as minor or hollow. Their saving grace was that they had friends in Governor Ryan and Senator Fitzgerald.

The Little Airport that Could, in other words, was proving to be a pain in the mayor's ass.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu Apr 28 2011

Some About Town

To see:

Also this, Mayor Daley at the Academy for Global Citizenship:

Ramsin Canon

Police Wed Mar 23 2011

Humboldt Park Residents React to WBEZ Video of "Questionable" CPD Actions

WBEZ broke a big story yesterday, releasing a video that appears to show two Chicago Police Department officers engaging in what the station describes as "questionable" behavior. Standing outside a squad car, the officers allow a large group of men to gather closely around the open back door to hurl insults as well as apparent gang signs and slogans at another man, who is visibly shaken, in the back of the cruiser.

The radio station posted the story yesterday, showing the tape along with some words by staffers Steve Edwards and Robert Wildeboer and the station's Pritzker Fellow Samuel Vega, who first found the clip. (Watch the video at WBEZ's site.)

Vega says he first came across the video on Facebook. Assuming it would be quickly pulled, he ripped the video, downloading it to his computer. As he predicted, the video and the user account did disappear within a few days--leaving Vega the only one known to have a copy of the tape besides its original owner.

The CPD responded to WBEZ's request for comment late last night:

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (4)

Immigration Fri Mar 11 2011

Chicago Youth Come Out as "Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic"

The idea is simple: young people getting together in front of cameras and onlookers and telling their stories.

Stories about their lives, their dreams, their fears--which all end with one phrase:

"Undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic."

All photos by Sarah Jane Rhee.

Chicago Tribune reporter Mary Schmich called them "American in every way but the paperwork"--young people born outside of this country but brought here as children. Many call themselves DREAMers, the potential beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, the proposed legislation that would provide legalization to young people brought here as children by their parents that failed in the Senate last year.

Hundreds of such youth and their supporters gathered in Daley Plaza yesterday to out themselves to the world as undocumented and to demand the chance to become full U.S. citizens.

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (10)

Chicago Fri Feb 18 2011

Stratification and Silver Linings: Chicago's Population Drop

On the face of it, no good can be squeezed out of the official 2010 census numbers that came out earlier this week. Chicago proper saw its population drop about 200,000 from 2,896,016 in 2000 to just 2,695,598. The 6.9% fall seems the topper on a series of pitfalls -- think parking meter privatization fiasco and the lost bid for the Olympics -- that certainly mar the way Mayor Daley had wished to go out. Dig a little deeper into the numbers though and a peculiar portrait of the city emerges, and not necessarily a bad one.

The immediate issue to address when confronted with such unflattering statistics is the problem of perception. Long used as the basic measure of civic health, a shrinking city portends death. Shrinking cities, the thinking goes, are Rust Belt Relics. For Chicago to now hold as many people as it did in 1920, after having grown up as the Chongqing of its day, signals an aura of decline. No city, but especially a city that has worked as long and as hard as to rehab itself into the world's sixth most important center, according to Foreign Policy magazine (and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs), wants to be associated with any form of decay. Decay just doesn't look good.

Yet, looks can be deceiving. America has long associated growth, in all forms, as the common denominator of success. The recession, if it hasn't fully done so already, is teaching us lessons about the fallacy constructed within that reasoning. A whole new school of thought, based upon efficiency, output, and potential, is arising. For many places, the concept of growth (economic) without growth (population) is becoming reality.

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman / Comments (2)

Crime Mon Feb 14 2011

Study Chicago's Blue-Light Cameras? Why Bother

This article was submitted by freelance journalist Shane Shifflett.

After seven years and thousands of cameras, neither Chicago's police nor its public officials can claim that their video surveillance program, Police Observational Devices (PODs), is effective at stopping and preventing crimes. This shouldn't be a surprise, though. After sifting through mountains of crime data provided by the police and observing two Chicago neighborhoods, the Urban Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington D.C., couldn't say how well the cameras were working. What may be surprising, however, is that the police department looked into this twice before; they never shared the findings and evidence suggests no one will ever know if the system is truly effective.

In 2005, a group of Northwestern University students led by Dr. Mark Iris, professor of law and politics and former head of the semi-independent Chicago Police Board, examined 137 cameras throughout the city to conclude the system has "mixed levels of effectiveness." Which is more or less what the Urban Institute has said. Just one year later, in 2006, the Chicago Police Department evaluated 111 of its own cameras to uncover a measurable 13.7 percent decrease in reported crime incidents near cameras. Iris' study contained 100 pages of detail and analysis (with 42 pages of crime data provided by the police) while the police department's examination consisted of eight pages of findings and an additional 18 pages of crime data. But both of these studies have remained under the lock and key of the police department since they were conceived.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (2)

Rahm Emanuel Mon Jan 24 2011

Someone Really Wants to Vote for Rahm

I Want My Right to Vote for Rahm
Photograph by David Schalliol

Rahm Emanuel's campaign organized a demonstration at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners office tonight following an Illinois appellate court's 2-1 ruling that he does not meet residency requirements to run to be Chicago's mayor. For their efforts, several dozen demonstrators showed up, some with handmade flyers, most with official "Rahm for Mayor" signs. While the demonstration only lasted a few minutes before leaving the office, the issue will be around until the Illinois Supreme Court rules on the case.

Read Ramsin Canon's "Make Sense, Be Honest: Emanuel's Ballot Access" for an analysis of the issues.

David Schalliol

Mayor Mon Jan 17 2011

Who Sends the Somebodies? Building a Mayoral Campaign

The Mayor's race has a settled field. Four major candidates have emerged: Rahm Emanuel, Gery Chico, Carol Moseley-Braun and Miguel Del Valle. Now that they know their opponents, the campaigns are now in a furious infrastructure-building phase based on what their leadership and staff believes is their electoral Path to Victory.

"Path to victory" is a media concept, really, meant as a sort of executive summary of the realism of the strategies of a campaign's communications, field, and fundraising arms (note the absence of research and policy). The realism of a given campaign's path is subjective, and journalists often use poll numbers as a quasi-objective measure of its likelihood.

In big-city politics, these paths to victory are in practical terms processes of growing social, economic and community networks to generate cash and organizing activities -- door knocking, neighborhood meetings, get-out-the-vote (GOTV) volunteers. Each candidate is building their campaigns on these networks, jealously guarding them from other candidates and meticulously cultivating relationships within them.

This isn't about popular support. Candidates will appeal to voters only after they've built campaigns from the ground up; that goes for all the candidates. Despite the simpler narratives, none of these politicians simply flies in with a message and organizational capacity in hand. All of these candidates need to build networks of supporters through outreach to individuals and organizations that will, in the final weeks of the campaign, generate popular support from a voting public that tends to not pay attention until the last few weeks. Despite notions that voters come in foreseeable blocs, they are actually quite discerning, and no one candidate can be pigeonholed into narrative characters.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

The Left Thu Jan 06 2011

Teachers Union Condemns Recent FBI "Witch Hunt"

The Chicago Teachers Union passed a resolution yesterday condemning the FBI raids on activist group in Chicago and Minneapolis, calling the recent federal grand jury subpoenas on activists a "witch hunt." (See the full text of the resolution after the jump.)

In the fall, FBI agents raided six homes in Minneapolis and two in Chicago, issuing subpoenas to eight people to appear in front of a federal grand jury in Chicago. The search warrants for the raids cites a federal law that prohibits "providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations," according to Democracy Now; the bureau claims they are looking for ties to terrorist groups in Palestine and Colombia.

Second protest of FBI raids 08
Photo by Alan Wilfahrt

Numerous groups have condemned the raids--the subpoenaed activists held a press conference condemning what they called a "fishing expedition." Joe Iosbaker, one of the activists targeted in the raids, saw the subpoenas as part of a history of bureau suppression and disruption of social movements, saying, "The FBI acts today as they have always acted: to intimidate and disrupt the anti-war movement and the movements for peace and justice."

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (1)

Environment/Sustainability Tue Dec 21 2010

So Many Shades of Green

As the first decade of the new century comes to a close, the term "sustainability" deserves inclusion on the long list of buzz words and popular trends that have made up the cultural canvas in recent times. All sorts of green boosterism has arisen in the past few years as a clever marketing tool, especially from companies most vulnerable to the march towards sound environmental practices, as seen in commercials from the likes of BP and Toyota. The use of the word sustainability as a catchy marketing term doesn't diminish the legitimate intent behind the process that seems to be taking place, but its lazy application is reminiscent of 19th century bloodletting or perhaps more aptly, the mid-'90s Saturday Night Live "Crystal Gravy" commercial. Remove the direct impediment -- the bad blood, the heavy brown sludge of gravy, the easily seen sprawl of space and pollution of unclean energy -- and the problem is magically solved.

Again, there's no doubt that the intentions behind the greening of resource use is a real and noble purpose, but the problem with the majority of the current commercialization tactics being employed is that it makes something serious and concretely needed feel like a fad. The call for sustainability is being treated as an emotional argument, which tends to create a chasm between those who intrinsically feel compelled to agree with sustainable practices, and those who don't. Therefore, it ends up becoming a divisive issue between those who "get it" and those who fall on the periphery of the argument.

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman / Comments (2)

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (3)

Housing Wed Dec 01 2010

The End of High-rise Housing in Cabrini-Green

Moving Trucks at 1230 N. Burling

The Chicago Housing Authority recently surprised residents of the last Cabrini-Green high-rise by moving their eviction forward by several weeks. The new date? Tuesday.

While some residents indicated they would resist leaving 1230 N. Burling, moving trucks slowly filled and drove to new residences. By evening only a couple of families remained -- and it was unclear if they would stay the night.

See Mary Schmich's recent piece at the Trib for more information about Tuesday's evictions.

A few photographs from the scene are below.

Continue reading this entry »

David Schalliol

Chicago Wed Nov 24 2010

Mayor Harold Washington -- 23 Years Ago This Week

Harold Washington died 23 years ago this week--it'll be 23 years tomorrow. Reqiescat in Pace.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Nov 17 2010

CMAP and Chicago Community Trust Launch MetroPulse

Today marks the official launch of MetroPulse Chicago, a new website that is the heart of the joint Regional Indicators Project being championed by The Chicago Community Trust and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).

MetroPulse acts as an open-source data platform that allows press outlets, government officials, and concerned citizens to access over 20,000 data sets on 200+ different indicators that track quantifiable issues throughout Chicagoland. Using a broad array of indicators, from unemployment to foreclosure density to infant mortality rates to political participation, MetroPulse provides a picture of quality of life as measured in data.

The site serves many purposes, no small part being an ongoing checklist for the implementation of many of the recommendations of CMAP's GO TO 2040 Plan. By making such an aggregation of information readily available to any and every interested party, the Community Trust and CMAP are truly providing a means for mass engagement in development and community issues. While a site as exhaustive as MetroPulse will require constant upkeep and inputs of new data, its ability to level the playing field in terms of access to the details that shape the region - with both elected official and constituent feeding from the same source - carries the potential to change the tenor of discussion between political bodies and their public into something more frank than normal.

Give your neighborhood a test run on the site now, and start thinking about all the questions in store for those aldermanic candidates popping up all over the place.

Ben Schulman

Obama Thu Nov 11 2010

Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President

Edward McClelland's Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President is an engaging account for anyone interested in the dynamics of personality and politics. Tracing Obama's steps from his first sojourn in Chicago as a community organizer to his post-Harvard Hyde Park return en route to the presidency, McClelland breezily tells the story of a singularly focused and immensely ambitious individual often itching for his accomplishments to catch up with his intellect. While Young Mr. Obama does carry a psychological portrait of the 44th President through biography, its main theme however is how the historic forces behind the power structures of South Side Chicago -- replete with its black elite and Hyde Park goo-goos -- created the conditions that would allow for the ascendancy of an African-American to the highest office in the land.

McClelland's ending to the first chapter, "And if Harold Washington had never been mayor of Chicago, Barack Obama would not have become president of the United States" pretty much defines the series of events that would transpire in providing Obama with the platform to grow into a political personality. Moving backwards in time, McClelland does a great job illustrating how the gerrymandering of Chicago's First Congressional District and the emergence of early 20th century black leaders such as Oscar DePriest and William Dawson established strong foundations for black leadership to emerge in Chicago and across Illinois, well before it became accepted elsewhere. Coupled with the "if-it-plays-in-Peoria" demographics of Illinois, the stage was long being set within the state for the emergence of not a national black leader (of which the city has produced many, most prominent being Jesse Jackson), but a national leader who also happened to be black.

Obama stepped into that role as a highly decorated and driven academic. An eager organizer, McClelland focuses on the pragmatism that led Obama to recognize he could have more sway on the inside of the political spectrum (i.e., dishing out money) rather than petitioning for it (i.e., begging for money). It wasn't a completely easy ride for the aspiring Obama, most vividly seen in his loss to Bobby Rush for the US House in 2000. From that loss, the Obama story has already reached epic and enduring myth, but the problems currently besetting his presidency mirror his defeat in 2000.

Derided as professorial and detached throughout the campaign, much like many of his detractors state today, Obama used his loss as a way to regroup his public face into becoming a reflection of the room in which he was speaking. Always a great orator of substantive ideas, Obama had to learn to be a great communicator. As he rebounded to run and eventually win the US Senate Seat in 2004, Obama increasingly was able to adopt a chameleon-like pose that allowed his hopeful constituents to invest whatever their best hopes, or otherwise, were in him. In a sense, this has followed Obama into the White House, where belief -- and not necessarily communication -- remains his strongest suit.

Ben Schulman

Chicago Tue Nov 09 2010

Chicago Assyrians Protest Iraq Attacks, Official Inaction

AssyrianRally1.jpgMore than 1,500 members* of Chicago's Assyrian community filled the plaza in front of the Thompson State of Illinois Building on Monday, Nov. 8, to protest the killing of 58 Christians in Baghdad a week earlier, during a siege of a church by Islamist militants and a subsequent storming of the church by Iraqi commandos. The march was dubbed the "Black March" because of the decision by the protestors to wear black. Pre-made and hand-lettered signs carried slogans such as "Stop the Killing of Christians" and "Cheap Oil - Precious Lives."

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Classroom Mechanics Thu Nov 04 2010

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project: Lindsey Rohwer

Lindsey Rohwer is a 26-year old Spanish teacher who lives in Lakeview. A native of Omaha, she began teaching in Chicago in 2006 at Corliss High School on the South Side through Teach for America, a non-profit organization that places recent college graduates in schools in low-income communities. Rohwer fulfilled her two-year commitment with Teach for America in 2008 and worked at Corliss for another year. In August 2009, she started a new position as a Spanish I and II teacher at TEAM Englewood Community Academy High School. A few weeks before Rohwer began her second year at TEAM Englewood, I sat down with her at a Starbucks in Bridgeport to discuss her experience teaching and why she remains committed to staying in a classroom beyond her tenure with Teach for America.


I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. My mom and both my aunts were public school teachers. I grew up in the suburbs of Omaha, and it was a really fantastic school district. So my experience with public school is that it is very high quality, just excellent education from those schools. Then I went to school at the University of Kansas and was a Spanish and International Studies major. I thought I wanted to go to grad school and do foreign policy, sort of more on the politics side of things. During my senior year, I heard a couple of people that had done Teach for America and I started to find out more about it. To be honest it seemed at the time like a good two-year buffer before I actually had to decide what I was really going to do, so that is what drew me to it. I had done tutoring and teaching throughout college, and really enjoyed it, but I did not have an interest in having a career in public education. So it was really like, 'This will be something I will enjoy doing for two years. It will be a challenge.' Then I will go on to do what I really planned to do.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (2)

Elections Mon Nov 01 2010

Who Cares About a State Representative's Race?

As you may have heard, some people (but probably not very many) are going to be voting on some stuff tomorrow. It's been a wild campaign season locally and nationally, and both will probably see some shakeups. But unlike the fights for governor or senator, there's one tight race that isn't between a Republican and a Democrat and most Chicagoans (particularly those outside of the Northwest Side) know little about: the fight for state representative in the 39th district.

State rep races usually fly well below the media's radar, overshadowed by races for higher offices. This year has been no exception: much attention has been paid to Quinn vs. Brady and Kirk vs. Giannoulias. But the fight in the 39th district between eight-year incumbent Democrat Toni Berrios and insurgent Green Party candidate Jeremy Karpen should be worth watching tomorrow. While the winner will not be the most powerful politician in Illinois, an incumbent loss would result in the only Green Party politician in any state house in the country.

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (7)

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.

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (21)

Elections Sun Oct 31 2010

Moving America Forward Rally with President Barack Obama Photo Essay

Democrats rallied on the Midway Plaisance in Hyde Park on Saturday evening for the "Moving America Forward Rally with President Barack Obama." The estimated 35,000 attendees heard performances by Chicago rockers Dot Dot Dot and hip-hop artist Common, as well as speeches by a variety of officials and citizens, including Mayor Richard M. Daley, Senator Richard Durbin, State Treasurer and US Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias, Governor Pat Quinn, Alderman and Cook County President Candidate Toni Preckwinkle and -- of course -- President Barack Obama.

A photo essay of the event by David Schalliol is below.

David Schalliol / Comments (2)

Elections Wed Oct 27 2010

Tennessee Tennessee, Ain't No Place I'd Rather NOT Be

Despite the title of this post, no offense is meant towards the lovely state of Tennessee. Its Smokies are indeed majestic, who could argue with a town like Memphis, Dollywood calls it home, and Nashville is home to the legendary Skull's Rainbow Room, first established by honky-tonk legend "Skull" Schulman. You won't find any qualms with the state here. But when GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady exclaimed the following at a debate last week, it's cause for consternation:

"If the viewers are happy with the way Illinois is going, elect Pat Quinn. But if you want an Illinois that looks more like an Indiana or a Tennessee --- a state that can turn the page -- we need new leadership in Springfield"

The Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn immediately picked up on the quote and did some quick head-to-head statistical comparisons that highlight Brady never would have made the allusions if he had done any amount of research at all. The sentiment behind Brady's statement though is something to keep heavily in mind when heading out to the polls next Tuesday. What Brady's comment conveys is a cultural argument meant to rile up Downstaters to challenge Chicago and urban hegemony against their interests. Politically, it makes a bit of a sense. Logically, it's an absurdity.

It is a further illustration of the tension between the political unit of measurement that is the State -- that is, Illinois -- and the economic force that enables its being -- Chicago. In a recent article by Bruce Katz, the Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, he notes that ""Greater Chicago contains 67 percent of the residents of Illinois and generates 78 percent of the state's economic output. But Illinois has pursued transportation and infrastructure policies that divert tax revenue from Chicago to subsidize inefficient investments in the rest of the state." Unless leadership can start being aboveboard about the realities of the economic structure of our co-dependence, Illinois will remain a mess, and Chicago will stagnate. All the while, Chicago will be forced to continue searching for private dollars for public works, as it becomes an ever-larger welfare donor to the rest of the atrophying state.

At some point, there has got to be a critical mass when the untenability of the illusion of the versus culture that pits states like Tennessee against Illinois and towns like Bloomington against Chicago becomes politically apparent. All places are equally vital and important in their own regard, but the truth dictates that some carry larger weight than others. As the process of right-fixing spaces across the nation begins, realizing that the one-size-fits-all prescriptions of growth that had been counted on for so long have become unsustainable, hopefully an embracing of the actual place one occupies will accompany this development.

Any potential candidate for statewide office is foolish not to be actively selling further investment in Chicago. Whatever faults it may carry, the reality of it is that Chicago is a top-tier alpha city in a region devoid of any others. It is an exceptionally powerful place of prestige could be utilized as a tremendous asset. Aside from the states of California and New York, no other state has a city as influential as Illinois. Not only should Tennessee be so lucky to have such a problem, but Brady's thoughtless thought process indicates Chicago is somehow apart from the rest of the state. With 78% of the economic output coming from the city, a responsible candidate would encourage more growth in the city to solidify the strength and virtues of the small, rural hometown. Poison the source of the river and soon, the banks of all of its tributaries will be bare.

There are two solutions here: honesty in management, or go it alone and have Chicago take measures to decouple itself from the state. The latter isn't a political reality, so the former better become in vogue fairly soon. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be so happening this election season.

The Grateful Dead's "Tennessee Jed"

Ben Schulman

Chicago Fri Oct 22 2010

Bishop Arthur Brazier, Pastor Emeritus of ACOG, Dead

Pentacostal Bishop Arthur Brazier, the founder of the Apostolic Church of God and spiritual leader of thousands, died of as-yet unreported causes. Bishop Brazier's son, the current leader of the ACOG, announced the Bishop's passing on the church's website.

Bishop Brazier was a nationally prominent leader in the Black Christian establishment. He was also an early civil rights activist in Chicago, despite refusing to talk politics from the pulpit.

He was also an immensely influential political figure on the city's South Side, and a key ally of Mayor Richard Daley. Brazier's church is one of a handful of the most influential in the city.

He was 89.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Tue Oct 19 2010

Where Do We Go From Here on the Education Front?

This editorial was submitted by Valerie F. Leonard

The Chicago Public Schools has been under Mayoral control for the past 16 years. Under the Mayor's leadership we have had School Reform, Renaissance 2010 which called for school closings and reopening them as charter schools, and attempts to qualify for the national Race for the Top (which seems to have been modeled after the local Renaissance 2010 initiative). The changing of the guard in City Hall could have serious implications for the direction of education in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune ran an interesting article regarding the fact that the State's standardized tests have been made increasingly simpler over the last 5 years. ("Students Can Pass ISAT With More Wrong Answers"). It should be noted that the article does not mention the fact that Chicago Public Schools lobbied the State to simplify the test 5 years ago.

At the same time, the Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board is urging the next Mayor to continue the course that has been laid by the current Mayor, and suggested that the new Mayor keep the current CPS CEO on board to continue the reforms that have been made. ("Reform on the Ropes?").

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

Rahm Emanuel Mon Oct 18 2010

Rahm Takes Chicago, Willing or Otherwise

ON OCTOBER 1, Rahm Emanuel announced that he would be leaving his post as President Barack Obama's chief of staff to return home to Chicago to run for mayor. By the end of the weekend a few days later, he had released his first campaign video and launched his campaign Web site. The following Monday, he was walking Chicago's neighborhoods on a misnamed "Tell It Like It Is" tour. And by the end of that week, over 27,000 people had "liked" his campaign's Facebook page.

Emanuel made his move fast, with all the confidence of a longtime ally of current Mayor Richard Daley and a veteran operative who knows in the ins and outs of Chicago politics.

Still, Emanuel's reentry into Chicago politics wasn't received well by everybody at City Hall. A number of alderman were less than enthusiastic about Emanuel's campaign. Alderman George Cardenas told the Chicago Sun-Times, "He's gonna come here and run roughshod over everybody? I don't think so. It's a new day. People want a different path. People want somebody they can work with. They don't want another bully. I want someone who's gonna respect me and respect the people I represent."

Cardenas' posturing may signal the potential for behind-the-scenes infighting within the Chicago Democratic Party--not to mention some good political theater. But it's unlikely to affect the outcome of Chicago's mayoral campaign considering that voters have watched Chicago's alderman kowtow to Mayor Daley for the past 21 years.

Emanuel is entering the mayoral race with significant advantages over other candidates. In just the first week of his campaign, the media attention surrounding Emanuel dominated the news in Chicago, far outweighing the combined coverage of all other candidates.

Continue reading this entry »

Bob Quellos

Chicago Thu Oct 14 2010

BREAKING: Gutierrez Declines Mayoral Run

After some hype, Congressman Luis Gutierrez has decided not to run for mayor. Details are few now but it's worth noting that he and Sheriff Tom Dart had a private meeting very recently when it looked like Gutierrez was planning to announce a run today.

UPDATE: Here's the statement from Rahm Emanuel:

Luis and I are friends who worked together on important issues for Chicago as colleagues in Congress. He has always brought passion and ideas to the conversation about the city's future, and while he has announced that he is not running for Mayor, he will continue to be a respected leader with a powerful voice in our community. As we discussed today on the phone, we look forward to continuing to work together as we strive for the best way to address our city's challenges.

SECOND UPDATE: Via The Washington Independent. Gutierrez's statement is below the fold.

Continue reading this entry »

Daniel Strauss / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu Oct 14 2010

What's In The Budget?

This post has been corrected. Special thanks to Mechanics reader Aaron for clearing this up.

Mayor Daley released his 2011 preliminary city budget earlier this week and it's been creating quite a stir but how many of us have actually read the document? Here's your chance! Below is the actual budget. Sift through it dear readers and tell us in the comments what sticks out to you.

Continue reading this entry »

Daniel Strauss / Comments (2)

Chicago Sun Oct 10 2010

Dave Zirin on Immigration, Public Money in Sports, and the White Sox

Dave Zirin, sports columnist for The Nation magazine and author of a number of books including, most recently, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love, stopped by La Decima Musa in Pilsen. GB caught up with him over some taquitos and guacamole to get his take on sports in and outside of Chicago.

Micah Uetricht

Daley Thu Oct 07 2010

Durbin Knows Who's A Serious Mayoral Candidate

Early and Often reported today that on Chicago Tonight the other night Dick Durbin gushed about three (possible) mayoral candidates: Rahm Emanuel, Tom Dart, and Gary Chico. Why these three candidates? Well because they're the three most serious candidates. Emanuel and Dart are the two frontrunners. Chicago is close to Mayor Daley. As for the rest, well:

Bur Durbin did not have the same sort of praise for his former Senate colleague Carol Moseley Braun — “She loves this city and is being encouraged by some to get involved” — and said he disagreed with state Sen. James Meeks on gay rights.

Durbin had little to say about City Clerk Miguel del Valle: “I worked with him on education issues when he was a state senator.”

Durbin was not asked about the mayoral aspirations of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who is circulating petitions to get on the ballot but has not declared that he will certainly end up running.

This is all more a reflection on the strength of the candidates. Durbin is generally a no-drama guy when it comes to Chicago politics. He tries to stay out of that stuff as much as possible. The fact that he doesn't say much about Braun, Meeks and the rest is really an indication of how viable each mayoral prospect is. Durbin isn't worried about the backlash from the candidates that aren't Dart, Emanuel, or Chico now or later on, in all likelihood because there probably won't be much.

Daniel Strauss

Election 2011 Thu Oct 07 2010

From Plebiscite to Forum

Early and Often, the new Chicago politics reporting venture, had a story about a proposed "plebiscite" of Black political and community organizations to find a single candidate to represent the interests of the Black community. This was a compelling idea that could have really started something of a groundswell and, to some degree at least, consensus. It also generated possibly the best quote of the cycle so far, from state Senator Ricky Hendon, who said the original crowded Mayoral field "looked like the Universal Soul Circus." Bless that man's wit.

One of the organizers of the meeting, NEIU political science professor Robert Starks, is backtracking or correcting the record, stating that the second meeting of organizations will be a candidate forum rather than a plebiscite:

But less than 24 hours later, the chair of the meeting, Robert T. Starks, a professor of political science at Northeastern Illinois University, said "it's not going to be a plebiscite."

"It's going to be a forum, a candidates forum," he said, sighing deeply. "There will be no vote."

Ramsin Canon

Elections Mon Oct 04 2010

All Bets are Off for 2010 Elections in Illinois

We interrupt this 24-hour Rahm Emanuel coverage to give you something only related to Rahm Emanuel. Don't worry dear readers, you'll be able to read about exactly where Rahm stood and what shirt he was wearing on day 1 of his listening tour soon enough. In the meantime I wanted to call attention to this PPP poll released Friday of last week. There's been a good amount of commentary about some of the poll's results but the truth is that the findings are really so subtle you have to read it for yourself:

PPP Release IL 101

Continue reading this entry »

Daniel Strauss

Chicago Mon Oct 04 2010

It Seems Running for Mayor of Chicago...

Is national news right now, considering that a hometown man just so happens to be President of the United States. Also his now former chief of staff has recently announced a run for mayor of America's third largest city.

You saw a video of him announcing his candidacy for mayor here yesterday.

However, you had to know a story such as this would come up, right? (Hat-tip Instapundit)

But an Emanuel spokeswoman, Lori Goldberg, confirms that the video itself was actually filmed in Washington, D.C., in the offices of AKPD Message and Media, the firm founded by David Axelrod.

The fact that Emanuel's use of the word "here" wasn't accurate is an amusing footnote to what Illinois lawyers say may be a serious legal problem: Rivals are challenging Emanuel's residency, and his right to run will hinge on where his "home" actually is. Emanuel didn't respond in detail Monday to a question on the subject.

How big a legal problem this is remains unclear, and may wind up in court. It is not, in any case, an ideal subject for the launch of his campaign.

As most us know by now he was home in Chicago today, even stopped by Izola's in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood.

Also, check this out: in Merge, a link to a Sun-Times article with regards to questions about Emanuel's residency.


Election 2011 Mon Oct 04 2010

Modeling an Open Chicago: Taking The City Back

This is the first in a series.

They know what's best for you.

cover2.jpgWith an open Mayoral seat, Chicagoans a generation removed from the last competitive election for that office are unsure of their footing. The media is either causing or reflecting that confusion, unsure where to start an analysis of what this election "means," what will determine its outcome, who the players are. Path of least resistance: we focus on the personalities running, the staff they're hiring, the money they're raising. Is this a new chance at democracy? Have we had democracy all along? Does Chicago need a strong hand? Or are we looking for the next Harold? White? Black? Latino? Man? Woman? Gay? Straight? Machine? Progressive?

The cat's away. The mice are frantic.

"Progressives" are eager to make this election a change election, to "take the city back" from what they perceive as decades of corporatist policies under Daley's leadership. Their archenemy is Rahm Emanuel, the insider's insider who has openly mocked progressive leadership nationally and who made a curious insta-fortune on Wall Street after his years in the Clinton White House. And, it should be noted, who made his bones raising money for Mayor Daley. Whet Moser of the Reader directs us to a painfully prescient piece by David Moberg from those days, wherein Moberg by simply looking at Daley the Younger's fundraising deduces that the "new Machine" will be run by big money rather than neighborhood patronage.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Media Mon Sep 20 2010

Around the City Reads

Some good stuff to catch up on this morning:

CBS 2: Daley Mentored Others as He Shaped Chicago: But he's still "absolutely the best mayor in the country," Berry said. "Nationally there's no question he's been probably one of the most successful and important big-city mayors in the last couple decades."

Progress Illinois: Shift Expected at CAPS: The ground continues to shift at the Chicago Police Department. On Thursday, outgoing Mayor Richard Daley said he wanted civilians rather than uniformed police officers to run the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program. Ron Holt, the CAPS director, told the Tribune that too many of the 200 to 300 officers assigned to CAPS were doing administrative and civilian tasks. Many are expected to be reassigned to patrol work.

In These Times Working Blog: Hotel Quickie Strikes Build Union, Workers' Determination for Contract Battles: Workers in Chicago, like most of these cities, are responding with overwhelming strike authorization votes, protest rallies, sit-ins and civil disobedience, campaigns to persuade organizations and individuals to boycott certain hotels, and-last week-a planned one-day strike against hotel union UNITE HERE's national target, Hyatt, in four cities.

People of Color Organize!: Solidarity With Whittier School Occupation: The Whittier Parents' Committee has been organizing for seven years to push Pilsen alderman Daniel Solis to allocate some of the estimated $1 billion in Mayor Daley's TIF coffers to their school for a school expansion - he finally agreed to give $1.4million of TIF funds for school renovation. Cynically, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has earmarked a part of this money for the destruction of the school's field house, which has been used for years as a center for community organizing and services. This would directly undermine the ability of the Whittier community to organize and struggle for educational rights. Parents are demanding to be part of the decision-making process.

Austin Talks: March against violence challenges community to fight back: Graham urged residents to take a stand against gun, gang and domestic violence. Rev. Jennie Jones of Pleasant Ridge Missionary Baptist Church led the group in prayer and pleaded for strength in the fight against violence plaguing Austin.

Chicago Union News: Adjunct faculty at Chicago college cries foul while trying to organize: With only a few weeks until fall classes begin, some part-time instructors at East-West University in Chicago's South Loop are still waiting to see if they will be hired back to teach after what has been a "messy" summer-long conflict involving efforts to unionize.

Ramsin Canon

Election 2011 Mon Sep 13 2010

Chicago's First Latino Mayor--Gutierrez' Case

Is one of Mayor Daley's legacies ending the city's explosive racial politics?

Given the concerns that the race-based "Council Wars" of the 1980s could boil over again without a strongman at the top, that seems to be a hard case to make. Something that was truly ended wouldn't loom as an existential threat. The Mayor incorporated major identity groups into his ruling coalition using a not dissimilar approach from that of Harold Washington: minority contracting rules, grants and contracts to influential community organizations, and appointments of local leaders to influential city and state boards and commissions. He kept a balance that didn't fundamentally alter Chicago's racial politics, but merely placated the actors most willing or able to intensify those politics.

If identity does come to play an important role in the coming election campaign, years of idle speculation tell us that a Latino is the best placed to win the day. The Latino population has grown significantly in the last two decades--to approximately 25% of the population, when "Hispanics of all races" are computed--while the Black population has dropped by about 10%. Given the Black-brown affinity on economic issues and the prevalence of mixed white-Latino neighborhoods, there is some circumstantial evidence for that view. The candidacies of Luis Gutierrez and Miguel Del Valle could help us walk through whether there is a strong likelihood of a Latino Mayor in 2011.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (8)

Chicago Fri Sep 10 2010

Chicago's Right Fix

Last week, this space took a peek into various projects underway nationwide that are essentially right-sizing transit infrastructure to be compatible and appropriate for its surroundings. For infrastructure on the whole, more and more cities, such as New Orleans, are at the very least talking about attacking their present sense of being with a more symbiotic view of their natural sense of place. In addressing more realistic uses of land, and recognizing that the old standard of growth as a panacea is basically outdated, a city like Cleveland is just now starting to operate in the here and now by reclaiming vacant land for new purposes, and in the process directly addressing its future and not hoping for one to simply take hold of it. Under the still-new Mayor David Bing, Detroit is beginning to realistically assess its assets in terms of proper use, and not regrowth.

And with mention of mayors, it brings us home to Chicago. After hearing that Mayor Daley would not be running for reelection, the Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamen noted in his Cityscapes blog that Daley "...was the Boss and the Builder -- a democratically-elected king who could remake vast swaths of the city at will," and that "whether you loved Daley or loathed him, this much was indisputable: He cared passionately about the way Chicago looked." For all of the much-needed repairs the CTA requires, for all of the neglected spaces and neighborhoods that need further tending to and attention, and for all of the unlocked potential within the city, we've got to admit Chicago's got good bones to work with. Where at one point in time the city could have very easily ossified, Daley ensured that for the past 21 years, there was a check against that atrophy.

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman

Chicago Fri Sep 10 2010

Jesse Jackson Jr. Ready To Criticize Rahm But Not Announce Decision On Mayoral Race

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. isn't quite ready to say whether he'll run for mayor but he's more than ready to criticize a potential run by Rahm Emanuel. Last night on John King U.S.A. Jackson was asked what he thought of the possibility of an Emanuel mayoral bid. He warned that if Emanuel did run, the race would no longer be about local politics, it would be about the Obama Administration:

JACKSON: Well, again, I have not made that judgment. But suffice it to say if Rahm Emanuel does make the decision to run for mayor of the city of Chicago, it will become a national campaign. This will not be a local race run by local candidates just debating just local issues. It will be about urban policy. It will be about the president's agenda. He has served as chief of staff.

The president's record will probably be brought into that campaign. And given that the president was a state senator in my Congressional district, he was a -- a U.S. senator from the state of Illinois, and he, for two years now, has a record that he has to run on, Rahm Emanuel will have to answer the questions about those communities that have been left behind --

It got more confusing when later on Jackson said Emanuel was an outsider.

JACKSON: Well, Rahm, as a member of Congress, was the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His job was helping House Democrats regain control of Congress, not much time in Chicago.

As chief of staff, he is a -- he's an outside Washington hand. He works in Washington.

And so he has the big money. He has the fame. He has the -- potentially, the charisma. And don't get me wrong, Rahm has tremendous strengths that he brings to the debate. But there are some profound weaknesses and many of them are very local.

This is an organization town and there will be a reaction.

Jackson neglected to mention the obvious fact that Emanuel, like Jackson now, was an Illinois Congressman not so long ago. Of course, that would make it harder for Jackson to highlight the differences between himself and Emmanuel and why exactly wouldn't Jackson want to do that?

One last point. During the interview King asked Jackson what the Obama Administration had done wrong. Jackson said that "The American people are not in the mood for more federal stimulus dollars coming into the cities." Reached for comment Jackson's office said it had no additional comment on whether that meant Jackson would be against additional stimulus dollars going to Chicago.

Daniel Strauss / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu Sep 09 2010

Dart May Run For Mayor

Rahm Emanuel may be getting most of the national attention about the soon-to-be-vacant mayor's job but Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's name is also making the short lists. In fact, an informal We Ask America poll making the rounds today found that, among ten names, Emmanuel leads with almost 30 percent followed by Dart with about 14 percent. That isn't bad considering Dart hasn't been as direct as Emanuel about running for the job. A press person in the Cook County Sheriff's office emailed me the following statement today:

Sheriff Dart recognizes the tremendous contributions Mayor Daley has made to the city and knows he'll be missed. Like everyone else, he was surprised by the decision. Sheriff Dart has been focused on running for re-election in November and concentrating on winning that office. He always said he would only leave that position if he saw an opportunity to have a greater impact on people's lives than he has now as sheriff. Mayor certainly fits that.

So basically, Dart isn't ruling out a run.

Update: The Associated Press reports that at an event today Dart said he's seriously considering a run and could make crime a central topic of his platform.

Daniel Strauss

Chicago Tue Sep 07 2010

How Mayor Daley and Senator Meeks May Kill Pat Quinn's Chances.

As you are well aware Mayor Daley has decided not to run for re-election and the first round of elections to figure out who is going to be the next mayor of Chicago is only 168 days away.

This may seem like plenty of time but in fact it isn't much time at all and the timing of this election is going to potentially have a significant impact on the statewide races, in particular Pat Quinn's race in November for several reasons.

Continue reading this entry »

OneMan / Comments (2)

Daley Tue Sep 07 2010

Daley Will Not Seek Re-Election

This is the biggest political news story Chicago has had in maybe twenty years: Mayor Daley will not be seeking re-election, according to several different sources.

Let the jockeying begin. Is the Regular Democratic Organization based in the County Party organized enough to anoint a successor? Will the Mayor tap somebody? Are we looking at an imminent run by Rahm Emanuel--just in time to step down after the mid-term elections? Will the rumors about County Board candidate John Fritchey turn into a run? Will the Mayor's tenuous coalition--Lakefront Liberals, South Side ward organizations and the Southwest and Northwest Side "ethnic" wards--hold together or will individual ambitions tear it apart?

Will the city's racial politics, subdued in deference to a Mayor who knew how to divvy up the goods, explode back into the fore?

Is there time for anybody to raise the money necessary to take on any candidate deemed a Daley-tapped successor?

Will the independent politics resurgent in places like the near Southwest Side provide the backbone of a legitimate independent candidacy? And with no Mayor Daley, what will "independent" mean?

Stay tuned as we follow.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

TIFs Mon Aug 23 2010

TIF for That: Fritchey Teams Up With Teachers, Parents on Reform

State Representative John Fritchey, who will be giving up his seat in the state house representing the 11th District to replace Forrest Claypool on the Cook County Board of Commissioners (assuming he wins in November), is teaming up with the Chicago Teachers Union and the Raise Your Hand Coalition to push comprehensive reform of the tax increment financing, or TIF, program. The reforms could end the exploitation of TIFs by the Mayor's office as a cudgel, and restore significant funds to taxing bodies--particularly the schools--that have seen billions of dollars disappear over the last couple decades.

Tax increment financing was created by state statute in the 1970s as a way to provide incentives to develop blighted areas. TIF areas are designated by municipalities; within those areas, property tax assessments are frozen at the level they were at when the zone was designated. The land is still assessed and the taxes on the increase are still collected, but they are diverted into a site-specific fund rather than being paid to the various taxing bodies that typically collect them. Those bodies are, primarily, school districts, counties, the municipality itself, and sanitation and fire districts, among others. The idea is that without the incentive, that tax money would never have been raised in the first place, and so those taxing bodies are not actually losing anything.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Urban Planning Fri Aug 13 2010

Let's Make Parking Policy Fun!

How market-pricing of parking can clear up congestion and make your life better (supposedly): now with fun graphics and cartoons!

SFpark Overview from SFpark on Vimeo.

Ramsin Canon

Race Wed Aug 11 2010

Couple Allegedly Denied Bridgeport Home Sale For Being Black

Chicago consistently ranks among the most racially segregated cities in the country--which shouldn't surprise anyone who has traversed the city with their eyes open. But Chicago Breaking News is reporting a particularly bold case of alleged racial discrimination by two white homeowners in the Bridgeport neighborhood who, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, agreed to sell a home to a black couple for $1.7 million, then inexplicably took the home off the market.

According to the complaint, Lowe [the sellers' real estate agent] said in an interview while under oath that while he was representing the Sabbias [the sellers], Daniel Sabbia told Lowe "he would prefer not to sell the home to an African-American, though he qualified the testimony, saying 'but if it was for the right price he did not care who bought the house.' "

George Willborn, a local comedian who was attempting to buy the house with his wife, summed up his feelings on the case:

"It's amazing that in 2010, in this day and age, this type of thing is still going on."

Micah Uetricht / Comments (2)

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.


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

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 »


Crime Tue Aug 10 2010

The Politics of Watching: Cost/Benefit of the Cop-In-A-Box

[This piece was submitted by freelance journalist Shane Shifflett, photos by Andrew Huff]

Millions of federal dollars have been invested in miles of fiber optics in Chicago and more than 1,000 surveillance cameras to create one of America's most sophisticated crime-fighting networks. There is, however, a problem: No one knows how well it actually works.

Nancy La Vigne, the director of the Criminal Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, and her team of researchers want to rectify this.

Their conclusion, which has yet to be publicly released, seems unique among the small number of similar studies conducted in other U.S. cities.

"The use of cameras is cost beneficial," La Vigne said.

To reach their conclusion, researchers compared the number and types of crimes in Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park to other neighborhoods that were statistically similar but without cameras. They discovered that for every $1 spent on cameras, the city saves $2 by preventing crimes, she said. By reducing the burden on the legal system society saves money, La Vigne said.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (6)

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

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)

Chicago Mon Aug 02 2010

Not Your Typical Summer Read: Klinenberg's Heat Wave

Every summer, as the thermometer pushes 90 and the humidity makes a walk around the block sure to drench you in sweat, I have friends and family who complain about the heat. Usually I tell them two things: first, quit whining--you'll be trudging through sub-zero windchill in, like, two months, and longing for these days. Second, have you ever read that book about the Chicago heat wave that killed over 700 people?

Maybe I should recognize that people shooting the breeze about the weather don't want to get into a conversation about a massive natural and human-made disaster and the governance model that helped spawn it. But Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago is a damn good book--GB's own Book Club read it on the disaster's tenth anniversary--and I think people who want to understand how this city operates should read it.

On July 14, 1995, Chicago saw the beginning of a record-breaking heat wave where temperatures reached well above 100 degrees. The heat was brutal, and at the spell's end, over 700 Chicagoans lay dead. But Eric Klinenberg, a former Northwestern professor of sociology, writes in Heat Wave that "[t]he weather...accounts for only part of the human devastation that arose." The extreme temperatures laid bare the effects of the city's notoriously segregated populace, he argues, as well as a governing model that led to a city unprepared for the heat's devastation--unwilling or unable even to follow their own emergency plan.

Klinenberg is a good social scientist, of course, and states from the outset that his intention is not to place blame on any one public figure or institution for the devastation wrought by the extreme weather. But the "market model" Mayor Daley has pushed for city services such as water and parking does not come out of the book looking too desirable. Klinenberg also has an entire chapter, entitled "Governing By Public Relations," devoted to the mayor's office's astute defense of their handling of the crisis. The author writes, "While the city neglected to follow its own guidelines for coordinating an emergency public health reaction to the dangerous heat, the administration accomplished a tetbook public relations campaign to deny the severity fo the crisis, deflect responsibility for the public health breakdown, and defend the city's response to the disaster."

The book is full of rich analysis, from a comparison of the heat wave's effects in North Lawndale versus Little Village and the racial and gender dynamics of social isolation, to social service provision that "reflects a systemic prioritization of cost containment over life preservation"--there's even a table of denial (p. 181) that goes through all the different variations utilized by city officials to deny responsibility for the crisis. As you bake in the still-somewhat-sweltering sun this summer, consider picking up Heat Wave. It's not exactly the perfect beach read, but your comprehension of the state of the city in the second Daley era is guaranteed to improve.

Micah Uetricht

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Daley Mon Jul 19 2010

How To Challenge the Mayor

This is an Op-Ed by UIC Professor and former Lakeview Alderman Dick Simpson, courtesy of the Chicago Journal

Reading the tea leaves suggests Mayor Richard M. Daley will run for reelection this fall, asking for a seventh term from Chicago voters.

He hasn't announced his intentions yet, but the mayor is unlikely to decline taking another shot to sit in the big chair on the fifth floor of city hall for a simple reason: getting out now means leaving the city's top job and leaving Chicago in the lurch.

Getting out now means finishing his tenure scarred by the Olympic collapse. Getting out now means leaving while some of Daley's biggest projects -- the transformation of public housing perhaps most prominently -- remain incomplete, stalled out like a car with a shot carburetor.

Despite his demurrals and recent above-the-fray attitude toward the grit of electoral politics, politics courses through the mayor's bloodstream. He won't leave, at least not yet.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / 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.

Continue reading this entry »


Public Transportation Mon Jun 28 2010

Brand the CTA

The MTA in New York recently announced that beginning this week they would be cutting two subway lines and 37 bus lines from service. With other reductions set to take place system-wide, New York's transit agency aims to shave $93 million from its operating costs. In July, when the MTA unveils its new budget, many expect the already rumored 7 precent fare hike actually to be much higher than anticipated. While the cuts in New York will indeed cause consternation and confusion amongst many, and fuel the fire of the MTA's naysaying watchdogs, it is interesting to note here the difference in tone from these drastic reductions in service in New York to the incessant "doomsday" chatter that hangs like an ever-present cloud over the CTA in Chicago. The MTA seems to have taken these operational measures without engaging in the process of alienating and villainizing the majority of the patrons who utilize their trains and buses. Leading up to the last series of service cuts experienced here in Chicago over the past winter, the CTA made a spectacle of itself by often throwing up its hands in the face of the City, Springfield and most importantly, its riders, by essentially saying "Look, there's no way. What do you want us to do? You deal with it."

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman / Comments (4)

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:


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

Urban Planning Tue Jun 15 2010

The Story at South Works: Malling the Lakeshore?

Op-Ed Contributed by GB Contributing Writer Bob Quellos

Last week, the Chicago City Council approved a $96 million TIF for the South Works development site, the largest ever given to a private developer in the City of Chicago. The plan for South Works calls for the eventual building of over 17,000 dwelling units on the 500-acre site at the location of the former U.S. Steel South Works, near 79th Street and east of U.S. 41. The project is to be run by a development group that includes the Chicago-based McCaffery Interests. The first phase of construction is scheduled for groundbreaking in 2012; located on a 77 acre portion of the site, it will compromise an astounding million square feet of retail space alongside residential dwellings. Decades from now if the project eventually is completed, it will create an entirely new neighborhood along Lake Michigan on Chicago's South Side.

But if you had $96 million dollars to invest in the City of Chicago what would you do with it? Would you build the infrastructure for a new neighborhood, or perhaps take a shot at filling the ongoing budget hole that is wrecking havoc on the Chicago Public School system. Perhaps you would find a way to put the over 1,100 employees at the CTA who were recently laid off back to work and restore transit services that were axed. Or maybe (hold on to your seat, this is a crazy one), reeling with disgust from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico you decide to make a ground breaking attempt to move Chicago away from a dependance on non-renewable resources and invest the $96 million dollars in wind power that would provide free and clean energy to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (7)

Education Sat Jun 12 2010

Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) Takes Over Chicago Teachers Union

A slate for union leadership run by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) has defeated the incumbent United Progressive Caucus (UPC) leadership in a run-off election, and decisively. Approximately 60% of the teachers voting in the run-off (of a total of about 20,000 votes) chose CORE over the incumbents. CORE also swept all of the "functional Vice President" positions with the exception of one, the VP for "PSRPs", the clerical and support staff in the schools. The mandate for change is clear.

CORE began only two years ago as a caucus of teachers determined to push the union to take a more aggressive and adversarial posture on the issues of privatization, school closures, and to push the union to work more closely with community and parents organizations as a way to protect and improve public schools. CORE's leadership has been especially critical of Ron Huberman and Mayor Daley, indicating that the go-along, get-along posture of the CTU over the last decade will be coming to an end.

CORE forced a run-off after nearly out-polling the UPC in the first round of voting two weeks ago. Despite a contentious election, the other slates--the ProActive Chicago Teachers and the Coalition for a Strong, Democratic Union--quickly endorsed CORE and campaigned among their supporters to ensure an insurgent victory in the run-off. President-Elect Karen Lewis addressed the media this morning at King High School in Bronzeville. The leadership slate is rounded out by Jesse Sharkey (Vice President), Michael Brunson (Recording Secretary) and Kristine Mayle (financial secretary). More video to come.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Thu May 27 2010

Gun Control Supporters Consider Breaking City's Handgun Ban

In the very neighborhood where Officer Thomas Wortham was murdered (that neighborhood being covered heavily at The Sixth Ward) we see a movement by residents to want to arm themselves. To be sure, there are those who, in spite of the handgun ban, own handguns anyway. This is sure to put another dent into Mayor Daley's attempts to continue this handgun ban:

In middle class black neighborhoods like Chatham, people have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic politicians who have overwhelmingly supported gun control.

But now many are scared and angry over the killing of Officer Wortham, late Wednesday night in Chatham.

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (3)

Labor & Worker Rights Fri May 21 2010

Decision Time: Chicago's Teachers Vote

Today is election day for the Chicago Teachers Union, an election we've covered over the last few months, which touches on issues we've covered exhaustively since Mechanics launched in '08.

Teachers will be choosing between several caucus slates; the incumbent United Progressive Caucus, the Coalition for a Strong, Democratic Union (CSDU), Pro-Active Chicago Teachers and School Employees (PACT), the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), and the School Employees Association (SEA Caucus). Voting is open all day today and the results will be announced by the union's press secretary, Rosemaria Genova, "between 2am and 4am" according to a press release.

Earlier this week, CORE's co-chair, Jackson Potter, filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education to force them to reveal the calculations that go into their budget projects--the same projections they are using to justify increasing class sizes and demanding union concessions.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Urban Planning Wed May 19 2010

South Shore Developer Lost Property to Foreclosure

Southworks_Field.jpgThe principal developer of the proposed massive redevelopment at the former U.S. Steel South Works site, McCaffrey Interests, lost one of their featured developments, The Market Common Myrtle Beach, to foreclosure last week.

The project--termed, perhaps ominously, The Market Common SouthShore--will feature nearly 14,000 new residential units, 800,000 square feet of retail and residential construction, and a 1,500 slip marina (finally!). Covering nearly 400 acres of a recently industrial zoned lakefront area, the Market Common SouthShore will rely on a massive $96m TIF subsidy and be developed in several phases over the next 20-45 years. The Market Common Myrtle Beach site also used TIF dollars.

Since 2000, McCaffrey Interests has given $27,100 to local campaign committees, including $3,850 to 10th Ward Alderman John Pope, $7,900 to Finance Committee Chair Ed Burke, $2,550 to 7th Ward Alderman Sandi Jackson, and $5,000 to Mayor Daley. Obviously all four of these local pols would have direct input into the Market Common plan.

The City's Plan Commission granted approval to the first phase of the project on April 21st, and the Community Development Commission gave their blessing on May 11--just a couple of days before the Myrtle Beach foreclosure.

Given its scope and cost, the Market Common could end up changing the South Side Lakefront completely. We'll be looking a little more closely at the plans over the coming weeks. A spreadsheet of McCaffrey's political giving is below the fold.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Good Government/Reform Wed May 19 2010

Chicago IG: Hundreds of Millions in Unreported City Payments

Well, you won't find these in City Payments' database. The Chicago News Cooperative's Dan Mihalopolous brings us the story of $769m in undisclosed payments by the City of Chicago to vendors. That's just in one year. Yeah.

Dan is a real journalist, so I'm going to add some Mad Libs-y color commentary to this quote:

Mayor Richard M. Daley's hilarious assertions that he has run a transparent administration suffered a fresh blow following the release of a new one-freaking-year audit report showing that the city neglected to disclose nearly $769 goddamn million in payments made with taxpayer money.

The new unfreakingbelievable report from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson states that "direct voucher" payments, in which the city makes payments for goods and services that it obtains outside the normal quotecompetitiveunquote bidding process, weren't made public even after the city vowed to open up all contracts and payments made to companies for goods and services to public view through the Department of Procurement Services at

You can catch the IG's full report below the fold.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu May 13 2010

Chillin' with the FOIA

Mayor Daley today announced that, henceforth, City Hall would not merely log (as required by law) but post online the names, requesting organizations, and documents requested for each Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request. The log is already posted online at the City's Department of Law web page, showing, for instance, that the Sun-Times's Chris Fusco is looking into the mayor's security detail, and that the Chicago Justice Project is investigating verdicts and settlements paid by the City in civil rights lawsuits.

Posting such a log is not required by state FOIA law and was done, the City said, in interests of transparency. But who is being made more transparent by this? Someone at the City doesn't seem to get that transparency is about making what government does more visible to citizens. Here, it's citizens who are being made more visible.

Maybe such a log will help avoid a few duplicative requests. But, overall, the immediate obvious effects suggest a curtailment, rather than implementation, of the purposes behind FOI law. NBC Chicago termed the measure "turnabout" and suggested that the mayor seemed "gleeful" in announcing it.

A couple of negatives jump out. For the average citizen, this provides just one more way in which your name can get spread around the Internet. Who might make commercial or even malicious use of a list of FOIA-requestors, one can only speculate, but there's little limit to the imagination of identity thieves, privacy invaders, data-miners and worse. The only possible impact on the average citizen is a chilling effect.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (1)

Housing Thu May 13 2010

CHA Waiting List Reopens--Will Chicagoans Receive Public Housing?

The Trib reported Monday that the Chicago Housing Authority is reopening the waiting list for public housing that it closed in 1999. Five thousand families are still on that list--families who make less than 80 percent of their area median income.

The article does not give any estimates on how many families will apply to the list, but if the recently reopened Section 8 waiting list is any indication, demand will far outstrip supply.

"In 2008 the CHA opened up its waiting list for Section 8 housing, which provides vouchers to help people pay for rent with federal and state money. For that waiting list, about 232,000 people applied for 40,000 slots," the article said.

D. Bradford Hunt, associate professor of social science at Roosevelt University and author of Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing, foresees a torrent of new applications.

"I have no doubt the waiting list will just explode," he said.

Chicago has been part of what Hunt called an "affordable housing crisis nationwide" for many years, and the city's attempts to mitigate the crisis are held up as how not to provide housing for poor residents. But with 5,000 low-income families still waiting for public housing after more than a decade and a ratio of Section 8 applicants-to-openings of nearly six to one, how are poor families in Chicago keeping a roof over their heads?

"I have no idea," said Hunt. "They're paying a lot of rent somewhere."

Micah Uetricht / Comments (27)

TIFs Wed May 12 2010

Midwest TIF Gets a $32 Million Raise

This Op-Ed was contributed by Valerie F. Leonard, a community development consultant on the city's West Side.

The City Council approved an ordinance on April 14, 2010 to increase the redevelopment budget for the Midwest TIF district from $100,500,000 to $132,865,000. This represents a 32% increase from the district's original budget. The City of Chicago's Projected TIF Balances Report 2009-2011 indicates that the Midwest TIF is projected to have a cash deficit of -$6,842,003 at the end of 2010 if every project on the schedule is implememented, and projected 2010 incremental tax revenues of $13,000,000 materialize. The projected deficit is expected to grow to -$7,213,492 by the end of 2011.

Midwest TIF Graphic-Redevelopment Budget.jpg

Midwest TIF Boundaries.jpg

Continue reading this entry »


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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Education Mon May 03 2010

The Education Revolt: The Chicago Model's Fallout

Teachers, parents, and students are not happy at Chicago's education leadership--there is mounting frustration with the Board of Education, the CPS bureaucracy, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership. As President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan take the Chicago model of slow-burn privatization national, Chicago may just be seeing a full fledged revolt against it. With the recent revelation that there are now no educators among the CPS' top leadership, scrutiny of a reform program dominated by entrepreneurs and private interests (including a Board of Education stacked with financiers and real estate developers) is likely to sour people further.

Teachers, Parents, and Students, Oh My

Chicago's teachers are angry; but that matters less than the fact that even more are discouraged, leaving the profession, burning out and warning the next generation away from teaching all together. Teachers have been under a full assault by corporate interests and the disingenuous reformers they underwrite for decades, and this assault has only intensified since the election of Barack Obama to the White House and the elevation of former CPS CEO Arne Duncan to the top of the Department of Education. Obama and Duncan have undertaken to bring Chicago-style education reform to the level of national policy, without any evidence whatsoever that that reform works.

The (arguably illegal) Race to the Top program, which embodies Chicago Renaissance 2010 model of school turnarounds, privatization, and "pay-for-performance" incentives, is just getting underway, and teachers around the country are finding out, too late, that Obama et al are hostile to public educators.

But here in Chicago, where the method to this madness was born, teachers and parents are organizing revolts to protect their schools. Unhappy teachers are lining up to challenge a union leadership they characterize as ineffective or accommodationist and an insular Board of Education, as parents and students are fighting to keep their schools public and democratically controlled. And what happens here, at ground zero of school privatization, could presage what happens nationally as the federal government tries to strong arm school districts into dismantling their public schools; a policy instituted as a sop to "centrism" could end up sparking a serious fight in the moderate liberal wing of the Democratic Party as urban community groups and teachers union factions resist.

That's Why There Will Be a Change

The Chicago Teachers Union is in the middle of a bruising factional fight as union elections approach in May. Several caucuses are vying for leadership by running slates to unseat the current ruling caucus, the United Progressive Caucus (UPC) and CTU President Marilyn Stewart. The gentlest of the criticisms against the UPC are that they are inept, unable to effectively advocate for teachers and students; the more stinging criticisms allege outright accommodation by union leadership of the Board of Education (and, by proxy, Mayor Daley). Whatever the various grievances, there is undoubtedly frustration among teachers that they are being vilified and left hung out to dry with little support. Teacher activism is as high as it has been in years, and that activism is a direct result of the privatization policies of Renaissance 2010 and the inability of the CTU--under different administrations--to halt those policies.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Immigration Sun May 02 2010

Scenes from May Day 2010 in Chicago

The international workers holiday May Day used to be celebrated pretty much everywhere in the world except the U.S--an irony, given that the day commemorates the Haymarket Massacre that took place here in Chicago in 1886. In 2006, the immigrant rights movement resurrected the holiday in its country of origin, and thousands flood the streets in cities and small towns across the country every May 1.

Yesterday's marches come at a time when the national immigration debate is heating up. Arizona's recent harsh anti-immigration bill SB 1070 propelled larger crowds than usual into the streets around the country on Saturday. In Chicago, the bill has led to a protest at Wrigley Field urging a boycott of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the state of Arizona as a whole; at a civil disobedience for immigration reform at a detention center in Broadview, activists chanted "Illinois is not Arizona!" as they were arrested. Yesterday, Chicago Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Congress's strongest proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, was arrested with 34 others in Washington, D.C., at another civil disobedience in front of the White House.

At today's march, SB 1070 was mentioned frequently, as some of the photos below show.

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (9)

Wage Theft Tue Apr 27 2010

Wage Theft Crime Spree: What Will Stop It?


Victor Hernendez addresses a rally in the state capital in Springfield. Hernendez was a victim of wage theft.

You work assuming you'll be paid, but too often, workers are simply denied what they're owed. It happened to Kim Kambra who worked at Jericho Products in Springwood. "They didn't pay me. I worked over 55 hours a week and they paid me for one week out of the last 10 weeks. My house went into foreclosure and I lost the legal rights to my house even though I still live there."

Kambra was one of many Jericho employees who were not paid. Computer programmer Bill Van Dusen worked for 12 years at Jericho but for three months in 2008 and another three months in 2009, Dusen was not paid. "I had to use the money we saved for our kids' education to pay our bills."

Jericho went beyond not paying their employees. The company "stole our deductions for health insurance and child support. They collected that but didn't pay it to the proper person they needed to pay it to," according to Van Dusen.

However, Jericho's owners have been paid handsomely. Kevin Lynch, one of the owners of Jericho Products would have wild venison for his dogs and chrome parts for his car delivered to the company while three employees' homes went into foreclosure.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Apr 27 2010

Wobblies Return to Chicago

A new tenant has moved in to a street level office space on Irving Park. Driving past the office past dark, you can see a neon sign in the window that reads "IWW." On closer inspection a number of fliers and posters are tapped up to the windows, letting passer-by's know about upcoming rallies and benefit concerts. The Industrial Workers of the World have returned to Chicago, where under the leadership of a new General Secretary Treasurer, they hope to revitalize their organization and the labor movement.

The Industrial Workers of the World, or as they are often called, the Wobblies, were founded in 1905 in Chicago. The first industrial union, they allowed women, minorities, immigrants, skilled and unskilled workers to join. The IWW was always radical, calling for a society where "from each according to their ability and to each according to their need," was a reality.

The Wobblies led successful fights in the early 20th century, organizing seamstresses and lumberjacks and leading free speech fights throughout the country. However in the Red Scare of 1919, the wobblies became a target. Many members were deported, jailed or intimidated by the FBI. For decades the IWW was a shadow of its former self. The radicalism of the 1960's gave the group some life, but since then the IWW has remained a small group which many claimed resembled a labor history club more than a real union. That most members didn't even have contracts with their employers, but were individual dues paying members, didn't help.

However in the last decade the wobblies have watched their membership rolls increase. The 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization seem to have awakened a generation of young people to labor issues and the war in Iraq seems to have radicalized them.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (3)

Chicago Sun Apr 25 2010

Lawmakers Want National Guard to Handle Gun Violence in City

In the past week the 6th Ward has been rocked with violence. Especially painful was the death of a 20-month-old baby who was shot only because the shooter was actually targeting the baby's father!

Today state Representatives LaShawn Ford, John Fritchey released statements calling for Gov. Quinn and Mayor Daley to mobilize the state National Guard to supplement our undermanned police.

State lawmakers are calling on Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Daley to deploy the Illinois National Guard in Chicago to deal with continuing gun violence and fatalities here.

The action, in coordination with Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, should be taken as soon as possible to help get guns and criminals off the street, Rep. John Fritchey and Rep. LaShawn Ford, said in released statements today.

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (2)

Crime Fri Apr 23 2010

Cameras in Cabs Coming Soon to Prevent Crime

Think twice before you act a fool in a Chicago cab: the driver will soon be able to snap a picture of you to use if you get out of line.

The Trib is reporting that cameras will be installed in cabs around the city in an effort to curb crimes against drivers.

According to the article, in other cities where cameras have been installed, such crimes have dropped considerably. Already installed in some cabs, they've been used to easily solve crimes against Chicago drivers in the past.

Last fall, local journalist Kari Lydersen wrote a disturbing Chicago Reader cover story on the dangers that faced cab drivers in the city, focusing on the case of Walid Ziada, who was beaten last January in Lakeview. His experience is fairly common: a 2009 University of Illinois-Chicago study reported one in five cabbies have been assaulted on the job.

In addition to the dangers of driving, most cab drivers make far less than minimum wage. According to a 2009 study by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Center for Labor and Employment Relations and the American Friends Service Committee, "cabdrivers are chronically overworked and underpaid close to the point of 'economic failure,'" working grueling 12-hour days and making an average of $4.38 an hour. Michael McConnell, regional director of the AFSC, called Chicago cabs "sweatshops on wheels."

Insanely long hours, miniscule pay, high risk of robbery, frequent acts of brutal violence--it's enough to make you think twice before complaining about the high price of your cab fare next time. Besides, you should probably straighten up now that your driver will have a snapshot of you.

Micah Uetricht

Race Thu Apr 22 2010

Michael Steele: Selling Minorities Real Estate in Lake Michigan

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele makes Joe Biden look gaffe proof. It seems like every time you turn around on CNN, or load up Huffington Post, Steele is explaining how the Republican Party is the party of one-armed-midgets, Republicans fought to outlaw slavery in the Bill of Rights (it was actually the 13th amendment, not the first 10), and apologizing to Rush Limbaugh.

Which is why I went to the Chairman's appearance at DePaul University. I appreciate good stand up comedy.

Steele's appearance was sponsored by the campus Republicans and the DePaul Cultural Center. An odd combination considering that the Conservative Alliance had once sponsored an Affirmative Action Bake Sale targeting the cultural center and organized pickets against the speakers the Cultural Center invited such as Ward Churchill.

Steele is the first Black person to be the national chairman of the RNC and was to speak on Conservatisms appeal to minority communities. Instead he talked about its lack of an appeal.

When asked , "Why should Blacks vote Republican?" Steele responded without hesitation, "You really don't have a reason to, to be honest. We really haven't really done a good job of giving them a reason to... We have failed miserably in that regard. We have lost sight of the historic integral link between the party and African Americans."

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Housing Mon Apr 19 2010

The Housing Struggle Then and Now

The growing number of mortgage foreclosures in African American communities has not only created a housing crisis among Black homeowners, but one for Black renters in properties where the owner has defaulted as well.

According to several recent news reports, the number of foreclosures on multifamily rental dwellings across the country is growing. The Washington Post noted that in Washington, D.C., some 475 foreclosure proceedings were initiated against owners of multifamily rental properties during the first three quarters of 2009, versus 458 for all of 2008.

In Los Angeles, 78 buildings with five or more units--a total of 1,344 units--were in foreclosure in the first three quarters of 2009, versus 49 buildings with 432 units in all of 2008 and 13 buildings in 2007.

In New York City, housing experts predict that between 50,000 and 100,000 units of housing are at risk because of "upside down loans"--that is, when owners owe more on their mortgages than the value of the property.

The Post also noted that across the country, between 65 and 75 percent of multifamily buildings could "face problems refinancing at their current rates," raising the specter of a wave of foreclosures directly affecting the rental market. In Chicago, the Chicago Reporter found that two of every three small apartment buildings foreclosed upon are in African American neighborhoods.

Of course, the wave of foreclosures has already had a particularly harsh impact on African American renters. Blacks, especially women, are especially vulnerable to the perils of evictions, and the foreclosure crisis has made that danger even more acute.

For example, the research of sociologist Mathew Desmond on evictions in Milwaukee has shown that while Black women make up 13 percent of the population in the city, they account for more than 40 percent of those who are evicted from rental residences. The New York Times noted similar numbers in other cities.

Many of these evictions of renters are the result of unemployment and other problems created by the recession. But the foreclosure crisis has affected renters who are able to pay their rent.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

Immigration Sun Apr 11 2010

Democrats Target Immigration Reform - How Far Will They Go?

Immigration rally

Immigration activists wave American flags at a recent rally.

Immigration rights activists held a large rally Saturday at the Teamsters Local 705 hall in Chicago. Activists were calling on Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform, and hoped that with the health care bill passed, that immigration reform would be next on the Democrats agenda in Washington. The loud and raucous crowd had immigrants from all over the world including South America, Asian, Africa and Europe.

It seems that immigration will be the next big issue for Democrats. The rally was joined by Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip and the second most powerful senator in the country. While one speaker urged Congress to ignore "cynics like Rahm Emanual who say that now is not the time for immigration reform," it seems as though they may not have to as Emanual is now stating that he supports taking action on immigration reform sooner rather than later.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (9)

Wage Theft Thu Apr 08 2010

More Than $7 Million Stolen From Locals Every Week

A group of researchers released a report [PDF] this week finding that local low-wage workers are the victims of wage theft to the tune of more than $350 million a year, or $7 million a week. The researchers, primarily from the Center of Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, surveyed over a thousand workers from low wage industries, including those paid "under the table," undocumented workers, and those considered "independent contractors". This shocking finding is just the most appalling; the study is rife with data demonstrating widespread criminal exploitation of employees throughout the Chicagoland area. A shocking number of workers are criminally denied vested rights in the workplace, including denial of overtime and breaks, a lack of accounting of wages owed and paid, and sleight-of-hand to avoid providing legally required vacation or paid time off. This failure to enforce these laws and protect these people is grievous, but not surprising: it is part of a pattern of coddling employers.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Democrats Thu Apr 08 2010

Forrest Claypool's Frontal Assault

Former County Board Commissioner Forrest Claypool has announced he'll take on County Democratic Party Chairman and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Claypool in announcing his independent candidacy called Berrios a "clear threat" to Cook County taxpayers. That strikes a similar tone to his slogan when he ran for the Board Presidency in 2006, "It's YOUR Money, Vote Like It". Claypool's 2006 voters provided a base for Toni Preckwinkle's 2010 primary victory; good government Lakefront and suburban voters whose primary interaction with County government is to pay it. Preckwinkle's resounding primary victory may have provided a template for Claypool's path to an independent victory.

Still, going outside the Democratic Primary process is a cardinal sin in local politics. Taking on the Party Chairman is even more of an affront to party discipline, and making the Assessor's office an organizing focus for the good government wing of the party--as against the traditional Machine Lite elements--must be particularly galling for the party faithful. This is because party-connected attorneys have long made property tax appeals a lucrative revenue source.

If Claypool can get on the ballot, watch him gobble up the Preckwinkle voters--whether that will be enough to overcome Berrios' party line advantage is impossible to predict, but it could exacerbate a rift in the Machine Lite ruling coalition. Mayor Daley and the county party rely on a truce with the "Lakefront Liberal" good government groups on major issues; Claypool candidacy could force a public break between the party and independent organizations that would rub raw some sores.

Keep in mind that getting on the ballot is no sure thing--Claypool will need 25,000 valid signatures, and none of his petition-passers can have passed petitions during the primary. And with the Party apparatus behind him, Berrios will surely be scouring the petitions for technically invalid signatures.

Ramsin Canon

Social Issues Mon Apr 05 2010

Sex Trafficking In Chicago: "Victimless" Crimes & Their Victims

Maria is lying on the bed. She's been trying to get up, lifting her head, maybe rolling over onto an elbow, but she's gotten nowhere. Another half attempt to sit upright. She reaches in her pocket and fumbles with a cell phone. She wants to call her best friend Tammy, but her fingers forget where they're going and never make it past the US Cellular logo above the keypad. "Tammy, you wouldn't believe what I'm about to do," she'd tell her. But she can't get as far as calling her.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (7)

Police Wed Mar 31 2010

Marvin Reeves is Free

There are very few injustices worse than the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent person--and the loss of decades of their life in incarceration. Reading the brutal story of Marvin Reeves, tortured by Jon Burge and friends into a false confession and stuffed in prison for nearly 25 years, the moral certitude of the maxim that it is better to let a hundred guilty men go free than to punish one innocent man is plainly self-evident.

MARVIN TELLS me to pull into an alley, and we get out of the car. He points to a boarded-up window of another large brick apartment complex. "This was where the bedroom was," he says. "It was my sister Sonya's apartment, and I stayed there sometimes. I worked just around the block at a mechanic's shop, and I would come here and park my car right here, outside the bedroom window, so I could see the car."

He goes back in time to the day--August 26, 1988:

It was 4 o'clock in the morning when the cops knocked on the door, and my sister Sonya went to answer it. She unlocked the door, but before she could open it, they busted the door in and broke her toe.

She started screaming--that's what woke me up. The next thing I knew, there were two cops at my bedroom door, guns drawn and pointing at me, yelling, "Nigger, if you move, I'll blow your fucking brains out." I had no idea what was going on.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Education Tue Mar 30 2010

Finkelstein Lecture Controversy

Norman Finkelstein was once a popular professor at DePaul University. He was on the tenure track and was publishing books critical of the occupation of Palestine and the use of the Holocaust to silence critics of Israel's human rights record.

Finkelstein was denied tenure in a dramatic confrontation, where Harvard law professor and torture apologist Alan Dershowitz lobbied DePaul and students supporting Finkelstein occupied the office of the President of DePaul for three days before being kicked out under threat of arrest.

Since that time, controversy has not failed to follow Finkelstein. He was set to speak at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago on April 16 about his new book This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.

However, on March 24, event organizer Shirien Damra received a letter from the church.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Education Wed Mar 24 2010

Big Bill Thompson, Clout Lists, and Local Control

Arne Duncan is a disaster. His model for school improvement (e.g., "privatize it") is a failure, as even former staunch supporters of charter-focused reform like Diane Ravitch are realizing:

If this plan is enacted as proposed, it will eventually become just as toxic as NCLB. Only we won't know it for another five years or so after the evidence of devastated schools and communities has accumulated.

It's not too late, Secretary Duncan, turn back and offer a helping hand, not a death sentence. Send help, not a firing squad.

Now a story is gurgling in the local press about former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan's involvement in clouting kids into better schools. Duncan hasn't responded to the report, as I could find, but the evidence is fairly damning that Duncan exploited the discretionary powers of magnet and selective-enrollment school principals to admit kids outside of the usual channels. (Consider this psychic fuel in our on-going quest to have Arne Duncan justify his existence).

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

The Left Sat Mar 20 2010

Reflections on Anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq

Eugene Cherry from Iraq Veterans Against the War Speaks at Chicago's Anti-War Rally.

Every year around March 20th, I attend an anti-war rally. On March 17, 2010 over a thousand people rallied at Federal Plaza and marched on Michigan Ave. It came as President Obama is intensifying the war in Afghanistan. The protesters seemed to be mocking Mayor Daley's challenge, "Where are the anti-war people? They disappeared! They stopped marching!" No, we never did stop marching, even as Daley has continued to antagonize us.

It was March 20, 2003, seven years ago, that shock and awe began and our country invaded and began to occupy Iraq, the second largest source of oil in the world, a country with a civilization that dates back to before the bible was written. I was arrested that day at a protest, like 900 Chicagoans, and many more around the country were.

It was a scary time. Less than two years since 9/11, and it felt like the whole country was against the anti-war protesters. I had nightmares that I was thrown in Guantanamo Bay. Today, the majority of the country is against war in Iraq and most of the country has it's doubts about the war in Afghanistan.

I asked a friend if he was going to attend this year. He would rather apartment hunt. He asked me what difference going to the rally would make. Would it end the war? Would it stop the bloodshed? After we had such massive anti-war rallies before the invasion and those failed to stop it, what difference would this one rally seven years later, 95,000 dead Iraqis later, make?

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (3)

Media Thu Mar 18 2010

Amy Goodman Speaks at DePaul

On Friday, March 12, Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now!, spoke at DePaul University. She was one of the best speeches I have seen in a long time. She covered a range of topics; from the history of colonialism in Haiti, where she encouraged solidarity over charity; to the anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie and her parents civil suit against the Israeli military, to former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld's home which was the same home that abolitionist Fredrick Douglas and other slaves were beaten in.

Goodman spoke about the late historian Howard Zinn and how as a teacher at the historically Black Spellman College, he incited students to become active in the civil rights movement. His reward was to be kicked out of the school. However, 42 years later Zinn was asked to return to Spellman, where he gave a commencement speech and received an honorary degree.

Goodman then pointed out that, "Times do change. I hope time changes for DePaul too. I hope it takes less than 42 years for Norm Finkelstein to be invited back," which garnered applause. Goodman described Finkelstein's research as important. Finkelstein was a professor at DePaul who was denied tenure, after he raised controversy over Israel's human rights record in the occupied territories of Gaza.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Thu Mar 18 2010

Warehouse Workers Demand Justice


Warehouse Workers for Justice Rally Outside the Housewares Show at McCormick Place.

On Sunday, March 14, Warehouse Workers for Justice rallied outside the McCormick Convention Center, which was hosting the International Home & Housewares Show, to demand justice from Bissell, a vacuum manufacturer. Clergy, warehouse workers and community members rallied to call attention to Bissell's role in the firing of workers who were trying to organize a union.

Warehouse Workers for Justice was founded by the United Electrical Workers union and helps warehouse workers organize and fight for their rights. The group has had substantial support from churches in the Joliet area; Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic and Unitarian Universalist have all provided support for the Warehouse Workers for Justice.

According to United Electrical workers organizer Mark Meinster, Bissell is one of hundreds of manufacturers that store their goods in the Centerpoint Intermodal Center in Elwood, Illinois. Since Chicago is the only place on the continent where all of the major rail lines meet, corporate America has made Chicago the third largest storage warehouse hub in the world, after Singapore and Hong Kong. The Centerpoint Intermodal Center is actually a designated foreign trade zone, so corporations like Wal-mart and Bissell do not have to pay duties on the products shipped through the center until they are shipped out of the center and toward retail outlets.

The companies that store their goods in the warehouses use a system of contractors and sub-contractors to employee temporary employees instead of full time employees. According to Meinster, "It's very easy for these employers to hide behind other companies in terms of liabilities for labor law violations. And that's what Bissell is trying to do here." Warehouse Workers for Justice have filed several complaints with the Department of Labor, and their attempts to meet with Bissell have been blown off. Which is why they felt it was important to take their message to the public, Meinster says. They want to "make sure those retailers [at the convention center] know that they are selling a sweatshop product."

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Urban Planning Wed Mar 17 2010

Park Place: Parking Policy and Public Transportation

Tn-500_MON_TD_BB_Blu_ParkPlace.JPG"The Parking Meters" will not mean just "the parking meters" in Chicago for at least another generation. The popular outrage over privatization of the city's parking meters was one of the largest expression of popular discontent of the Daley era, and caused a crack, albeit a fine one, to appear in the Mayor's monolithic governing coalition. Given as we are to think of government and politics as a collection of personalities, the Daley administration's ham-handed negotiation and rolling out of the parking meter privatization have taken center stage. The concession agreement has been treated as a political disaster, with reports that the entire lease was undervalued adding to rage over an opaque process.

But are the projected sharp increases in parking costs and the potential coming of variable or market rate pricing projected over the coming years really a blessing in disguise?

Indeed, urban planners have been arguing for more realistic parking costs in cities for years, and market pricing is increasingly looked at as a critical component to make cities more "sustainable" -- that is, more efficient, less dependent on exhaustible sources of energy, more carbon-neutral, and more conducive to healthy lifestyles. These (largely academic) planners looked at the abundance of cheap parking and deduced that the prevalence of cheap parking stimulated demand, and that the abundance was a result of direct and indirect government intervention. This is primarily in the form of mandated creation of parking in the zoning code. As a result, non-drivers end up subsidizing drivers, since developers build the cost of parking construction and maintenance into their business models. What's more, in outlying areas mandatory parking lots create expanses that incrementally push commercial and residential districts further and further apart, making alternatives to driving -- particularly walking and biking -- less feasible.

A two for one solution appears: make parking sensitive to demand (i.e., increase the rates) and reinvest the revenue in foot and bike friendly urban design and public transportation. Result: efficiency and diversity of transportation options.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Privatization Tue Mar 16 2010

Chicago's privatization as an example for Cleveland has a series with Drew Carey (host of The Price is Right & star of The Drew Carey Show) taking aim at struggling Cleveland, Ohio. They highlight Chicago's schemes to privatize Millenium Park and the parking lot below in addition to the Chicago Skyway and the parking meters. I know many of you may have issues with privatization in Chicago, especially with parking meters so I invite you to cut up Chicago privatization as an example for Cleveland.


Daley Fri Mar 12 2010

Hell Hath No Fury Like the Reader Scorned

Not long ago, Mayor Daley's press office unceremoniously denied the Reader's entreaties to sit down with them for an interview that might actually force him to answer some of their many, many pieces on his administration and its shortcomings:


We respectfully decline your request for an interview.

Thank you.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Republicans Thu Mar 11 2010

IL GOP Attempting to Form Patronage Army?

I stumbled across this website, a few days ago, and was pretty stunned.

Republicans often criticize Illinois Democrats for running a patronage army of loyal state employees. However this website is encouraging loyal republicans to be given state jobs as well.

Of course new administrations are able to appoint people to implement their vision for the state, to implement the policies that they campaigned on and were elected to enact. What is odd about this website is its tone, a confidence that the GOP will win Springfield back, and a gleeful lust for 6 figure jobs. In particular the site exhibits a tendency towards the corrupt and a disdain for "the awshucks-we're-sorry-for-having-principles-types."

When you click on the Jobs List, it lists different state departments that the Governor is able to appoint heads of. What is disturbing is the partisan descriptions for the jobs. Is the head of the Historic Preservation Society a partisan position?

The site implies that Republicans would only be interested in jobs enforcing Human Rights because, "Check out the pay scale here!"

It describes Homeland Security as "the new patronage place to be." A scary thought that our security and safety be entrusted to partisan hacks instead of trained and specialized experts.

It describes positions on the Illinois Gaming Board as though it were a casino, "Great spot to meet people and make money, come to work every once and a while, too!"

In what should be a scary comment to organized labor, the site claims that the GOP will, "rebuild [the Department of Labor] and remake it so that it is more efficient. Get on board and help."

The site is run by a woman named Jenifer Sims. It is unclear if she has any connections to the Brady campaign, the state GOP, or if she is just a crank writer. Attempts to gain quotes from the Brady for Governor campaign and the Tea Party Patriots were made. Neither gave any quotes.

Matt Muchowski

Education Thu Mar 11 2010

UIC Graduate Employees Prepare for Mediation


GEO President Charles Moss delivers petitions to UIC Chancellor's office.

The Graduate Employees Organization of the University of Illinois at Chicago is a union for graduate student employees. GEO members have been working this school year without a contract and are facing a heated battle with UIC's administration.

GEO has been attempting to negotiate a contract with the administration, but has reached a stalemate over a number of issues including guaranteed assistantships. They began mediation with the university and a neutral mediator last week.

On March 10, the day before they began mediation, members of the Graduate Employee Organization of the University of Illinois at Chicago delivered petitions signed by UIC community members urging the university to bargain in good faith and to take the mediation process as serious as GEO does. The petition urged the chancellor to direct the universities bargaining team to negotiate fairly.

Charles Moss, the president of GEO said that GEO, "takes the mediation process seriously. We would rather settle the contract through mediation than go on strike." Moss added that GEO organizers have been putting in a lot of work to obtain a fair contract.

A group of GEO members went to the 28th floor of the University building hoping to give the petitions to Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares. Allen-Meares was at a trustees meeting and the GEO members gave the petition to Assistant Monica Rausa Williams.

Matt Muchowski

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Mar 10 2010

Chicagoist Looks at Life Inside The Beast from Bentonville

Kevin Robinson at Chicagoist continues his great coverage of Big Blue, sitting down with some employees to get an inside look at life on the floor:

Linda Haluska, who works at the company's Glendale store, stocks the Health and Beauty Aids (HBA) section on the overnight shift. "On a nightly basis, when a truck gets in, I might have three pallets of cosmetic items to stock, which is about 50 boxes. That's quite a bit for one person." HBA is four aisles, and there are two aisles of cosmetics, each about 40 feet long. The pallets come in loaded with boxes of small items. "One aisle may have between 300 - 500 individual products: mouthwash, deodorant, toothpaste, bath and body wash, pads. And that's just one department."

Ramsin Canon

Health Care Tue Mar 09 2010

On International Womens Day, Group Rallies for Mammogram Funding


Sheila Rogers addresses a crowd of activists.

The Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force protested and demanded better funding for the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program on March 8, International Women's day.

The IBCCP provides free screenings and treatment for breast and cervical cancer, however over 4500 women are on a wait list because of lack of funding for the program. While over 300,000 women are eligible for mammograms through the program, there is only funding for 33,000 women.

The Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force attempts to end the racial disparities in health care and was applying pressure before the governor announces his budget. An extra $8 million for the IBCCP would eliminate the waiting lists. Another $31 million would double the number of women served by the program.

While 20 activists rallied outside the Thompson Center shouting, "pay for screenings now or pay more later!" Shelia Rogers attempted to gain a meeting with Governor Quinn. Rogers was able to obtain the governor's scheduler's phone number and the group will continue to apply pressure.

Breast Cancer surviver Dorothy Warren works for the support line of the Breast Cancer Network of Strength, "we have a database where we recommend women to get free mammograms because they cannot afford it. without this resource [the IBCCP] we would be lost."

Warren said that the program "saves lives" and described it as a last line of defense for women. "Some women have lost their jobs, they can't afford it but they need screenings. This program is their only resource."

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Mar 09 2010

Westboro Baptist Church Embarrass Themselves


Activists demonstrate against the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group that chartered themselves as a church to get away with their harassment of Queer groups, Jews, military families and others, conducted a tour of Chicago on March 8th.

The group of five lonely haters targeted Jewish centers, protesting everything more modern than the middle ages at Hillel's at UIC and the University of Chicago before holding their signs outside of the Israeli consulate.

Hundreds of queer rights activists rallied against the Westboro group. Activists used humorous and satirical signs to mock WBC. UIC student Jason Connell used the appearance of the hate group to raise money for queer rights groups such as Human Rights Campaign, International AIDS Foundation and Chicago based Jerusalem Open House. Donations were named in honor of the Westboro Baptist Church and community thank you cards will be sent from the non-profits to WBC leader Fred Phelps. Connell called it a, "Lemons to Lemonade" situation.

Kurt Esslinger Lee, an Presbyterian ordained minister from the UIC Agape House Christian Campus Ministry said, "We don't care so much about this group of hate, we know that they are not going to listen to anything we say. What we are care about is the closeted, afraid LGBTQ students around UIC who are are taught to hate themselves to think that god is also loathing them, so we reaching out to them to break through that ignorance."


Activists demonstrate against the Westboro Baptist Church.

Video of the event is available through Dogstar7's Youtube Channel.

Satire of WBC is at the Youtube Channel of CrazyPastorFred.

Matt Muchowski / Comments (9)

Daley Tue Mar 09 2010

Daley Calls for New State Laws on Guns

In response to the increasing gun violence that has long plagued Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley called for yet another law to restrict gun sales and to strengthen penalties for criminals who use them. Although new gun-control initiatives are announced every year, this one in particular brought on more attention because the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to overturn the city's handgun ban.

In a statement, standing next to tables loaded with weapons confiscated by Chicago police, Daley says:

"The aggressiveness of the gun advocates is just one reason it's more important than ever that we work for common-sense gun laws focused on stopping the flow of illegal guns into our communities and keeping the guns out of the hands of the criminals."

Others, such as Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association oppose the initiative. Pearson states that instead of reducing crime, the new law would make it more burdensome to law-abiding citizens to obtain firearms.

"It provides a smokescreen for the mayor and many of the aldermen, so they don't have to deal with the real problems in Chicago," said Pearson, whose group is backing legislation in Springfield that would let people carry guns in public.

In addition to state law that would require gun dealers to be licensed, background checks and a limit on the number of handgun purchases to one per person per month, Daley is also asking the General Assembly to make it a Class 1 felony to knowingly sell a gun to a gang member as well as severe penalties for unlawfully using a weapon.

Deysi Cuevas / Comments (2)

Education Mon Mar 08 2010

UIC Students, Faculty, Staff Demand, "Chop From the Top!"


UIC Students, Faculty and Staff Rally Against Budget Cuts.

Several hundred students, faculty and staff rallied at the University of Illinois Chicago campus on March 4th, to demand an end to budget cuts that target the poor. They rallied in the Quad, before marching around campus and marching to University Hall where the administrative offices for the school are. It was part of a national day of action to defend public education.

SEIU Local 73 chief Steward Joe Iosbaker led the crowd in chants, "They Say Furlough Day, We Say No Way! They Say Cut Back, We Say Fight Back!" and the sarcastic, "They Say Fee Hike, We Say, Yea, Right!"

At University Hall SEIU members served Soup to passer-by's "to prepare us for what we'll be eating if the budget cuts go through." They then sang a parody of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy, "Is UIC crazy? They must be crazy,to think that they can defeat, local 73."

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

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)

Chicago Thu Mar 04 2010

Gunning down the US Constitution

A South Carolina "Conservative" (placed in quotes so that you can decide for yourself what his philosopy is) who calls himself The Southern Avenger says that if the US Supreme Court just so happens to overturn Chicago's gun ban it can only damage the Constitution and increase the power of the Federal government. FTR, I do support a repeal of the gun ban.

What do you think?

Here's a news item about where the Court is at on the case regarding Chicago's gun ban.


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.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Thu Mar 04 2010

Jobs With Justice Tells Wall St. "You Broke It, You Bought It!"

A crowd of 100 gathered in Federal Plaza on March 3, to demand that Congress tax Wall St in order to provide for a jobs bill. The rally was planned while Senator Bunning was filibustering a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits. Now that Bunning has withdrawn his filibuster, organizers used the opportunity to point out how much more needed to be done.

Organizer Susan Hurly explained, "What they did last night to extend unemployment for 30 days is rather pathetic in the light of the crises that we are facing. We are here to say that we need more, we need a federal jobs program" with better and long unemployment benefits. She continued, "Wall Street broke it, they gotta buy it."


The Senate Soup Kitchen intended to highlight the need for a jobs bill.

Matt Muchowski / Comments (2)

Economics Wed Mar 03 2010

Northwestern University Community Fights for a Living Wage

The Rally

On Wednesday February 24, despite a chilly 27 degree day, over 400 Northwestern University students rallied outside a meeting of the university's board of trustees to demand a living wage for cafeteria workers at the school. It was a high point in the student anti-sweatshop movement at Northwestern.

Tom Breitsprecher, a lead cook who has worked at the Northwestern University cafeteria for 31 years, said that this was the largest demonstration he has seen on campus since an anti-war rally in the early 1980's.

According to Northwestern University activist Matthew Fischler, the average cafeteria worker at Northwestern makes a measly eight to nine dollars an hour. This poverty is compounded with the fact that the health insurance offered by Sodexho still includes expensive co-pays and premiums that many employees can not afford. It becomes especially difficult for many workers who lose their health benefits when their hours are cut during winter, spring and summer breaks.

According to Breitsprecher, "Many workers on campus live in government subsidized housing. Even if they are offered a discounted health insurance plan, many can't afford the premiums. Many qualify for food stamps for their families... if the government subsidizes workers, aren't they really subsidizing a company that pays such low wages?"

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Thu Feb 25 2010

What's the Future of Education in Chicago?

The Chicago School Board voted yesterday, the 24th of February, to approve the closing of a school, the phasing out of another, and the turn-over of management at 5 others. Despite a large crowd that opposed the cuts and complained of being excluded from the process, it appears that Renaissance 2010, the city's plan to increase charter schools, and privatize schools, was victorious in the school board.

It was in this context that I attended the The Public Square's discussion on Chicago charter school's on February 23 to hear James Thindwa, the former head of Chicago Jobs With Justice and current Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff speak. The Public Square is a joint project between Chicago Public Radio and the Illinois Humanities Council's Cafe Society. The discussion was held at the Chicago Public Radio West Side Bureau.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

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

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Wed Feb 24 2010

Full Body Scanners to Arrive @ O'Hare in the Next 2 Weeks

In hopes of better security (and fear of invasion of privacy for many), the first full body scanner is set to arrive at O'Hare International airport next week. Jim Fotenos, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday that the scanner will be installed at United Airlines' Terminal 1 within the next two weeks, where randomly selected local passengers will have the option of going through the scanner or being subjected to a pat down. O'Hare and Boston's Logan Airport, which will receive three machines, will be the first to get new full body scanners purchased with federal stimulus money. The other machines will be distributed by the end of June to airports across the country. O'Hare will use the machine as an initial screening device, which will show an explicit silhouette of passengers that can identify explosives among other items concealed on the body. The use of only one full body scanner in an airport like O'Hare means that only a small percentage of passengers will be asked to go through the machine. The scanning is optional, however, and those who choose not to go through it will be screened by a metal detector and/or hand wand. Some have expressed concerns over the full body scanners and feel it's an invasion of privacy.

The full-body imaging machines peer through clothing -- showing shapes, folds of fat and other anatomical characteristics -- to identify possible hidden objects.

Even though facial features are blurred to protect privacy, the images reveal breasts, buttocks and other private parts, prompting some civil liberties groups to call the machines an unacceptable intrusion.

"We have continued to express concerns about the use of these machines as a primary screener because it's an invasion of privacy that isn't necessary," said Edwin Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "There is no justification for compelling people to go through a virtual strip search to go on an airplane."

The passengers who agree to the scan will stand inside a phone booth sized compartment, raise their hands over their heads and place both feet on markings on the floor. The officers viewing the images will be standing away from the passengers and the person's face will be blurred.

"Passenger privacy is insured through the anonymity of the image," Fotenos said. "The officer attending the passenger will not view the image."

The Transportation Security Administration determines which airports get the scanners based on "risk, airport readiness and operational suitability," Fotenos said.

The use of machines in airports is a big part of the Obama Administration's plans to improve airport security, ordering hundreds more after the attempted Christmas day terror bombing of an airliner headed for Detroit.

Deysi Cuevas

Chicago Sun Feb 21 2010

Operation PUSH: A Rally for CTA Workers

It looks as though there's little hope left for those who got laid off as a result of the CTA service cuts on Feb 7. As service cuts head into their third week, laid off CTA workers see little hope in coming to a solution between management and unions. There were approximately 250 CTA bus workers, both employed and laid off, who attended a rally Saturday at Operation PUSH. The Reverend Jesse Jackson said he was reaching out to state and federal officials to bring more money to public transit.

"Why would you build a new rail system from Chicago to St. Louis without fixing service to 63rd Street?" Jackson asked, referring to a recent $1.1 billion federal grant for higher speed rail in Illinois.

Asked about the impasse at a North Side event Saturday, Mayor Richard M. Daley noted both sides have been discussing the budget problems for three months, but that union members have said "no" to taking unpaid time off and "you have to respect that."

Jackson and the unions hope to meet again on Tuesday but as of yet, no improvements have been made and believes too much is being asked of CTA workers.

if they gave up a 3.5 percent pay hike and agreed to 10 furlough days, that alone would only bring back 200 of 1,057 laid off workers. The civil rights leader noted workers are also being asked to pay increased health costs and give up holiday pay and paid lunch time.

In order to make up a $95.6 million budget deficit, the CTA cut bus service by 18 percent and rail service by 9 percent as well as laid off workers on February 7. This was in result to the lower sales and property transfer tax revenues due to the ailing economy.

Deysi Cuevas

Urban Planning Fri Feb 19 2010

Resiliency Theorists in Chicago

Seed Magazine has a fascinating piece about efforts to apply scientific "resiliency theory" usually reserved for ecological systems, to urban centers. Resiliency theory is a way of conceiving dynamic systems to gauge how they react to changes in inputs and how embedded feedback systems behave over time. By looking at cities through a resiliency lens, theorists hope they can better understand how cities change, grow, and safeguard themselves, and perhaps even better plan systems to protect the general welfare and improve quality of life.

From the piece:

The Urban Network has research sites in 12 cities: Bangalore, New Dehli, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Chicago, New York City, Phoenix, Canberra, Helsinki, Istanbul, and Stockholm. These cities span the globe and differ vastly in terms of culture, history, and economic development. The ultimate goal, according to Thomas Elmqvist, lead researcher of the Network, is to do a comparative analysis of these cities. How are they similar or different with respect to handling development? How do they compare it comes to withstanding shocks and surprises?

"As humans, we should try to understand how to manage systems in order to avoid passing thresholds," says Elmqvist. But this is especially difficult in urban contexts, which have already been so transformed by humans that they've breached most of the thresholds ecologists are familiar with. When great expanses of concrete and steel now exist where trees and streams once did, new tipping points must be defined for places that are, as Elmqvist puts it, "already tipped."

Case studies are now underway in each of the Network's 12 participating cities. But in deciding what kind of data to gather, researchers have had to ask themselves: What would a city look like through the lens of resilience?

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu Feb 18 2010

Health Care Activists Rally Against Insurance Company "Death Panels"

On February 16, 2010, about 150 people attended a rally outside the Chicago offices of the death panel Aetna. While Aetna claims to be a health insurance company, the statistics tells a different and morbid tale.

The rally was organized by Health Care for America Now!, a project of Citizen Action Illinois, to publicize their report "Health Insurers Break Profit Records as 2.7 Million Americans lose coverage." The report publicized that the combined profit of the top 5 health insurance companies was up 56% to $12.2 billion in 2009. The companies were able to make such a sickening profit by literally allowing their paying customers to become sick. They dumped paying customers who became a liability, and denied coverage to those who apply. This ended up growing the number of people on public assistance and those without any coverage. The report claims that "people without health insurance coverage are more likely to delay care, to get less care, and to die when they fall ill."

The report cites one study which claims that 52 million Americans will be without coverage in 2010. That is 1/6th of the United States, with no realistic way to afford health care.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (4)

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

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."

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (2)

Education Fri Feb 12 2010

A Bad Year for Teachers, a Bad Year for Public Education

This is going to be a bad year for public education.

After the State of the Union address and GOP response, there was a lot of back and forth about different policy points and the challenge the President laid down and the people standing behind Bob McDonnell and the number of times the President used certain words. What nobody commented on was that the two men agreed enthusiastically on exactly one thing: the need to privatize public education.

The take away from that night is that the American political duopoly supports the privatization of public education. They honestly believe that injecting the profit motive into education is the way to make sure that all American children get a decent education. That is a major policy shift that is so harmonious with the corporate policy tune that no news operations expressed any surprise or outrage.

But, of course, it is an outrage. The privatization of schools is sold as "ingenuity" and as a way of "leveling the field" by offering that cornerstone of free market fundamentalist mythology, "choice". Give parents choice and all problems go away. Because education is like used cars.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Chicago Thu Feb 11 2010

Free Parking?

It's the first good news regarding parking meters since the city's decision to privatize them in 2009. Last month, Mayor Daley proposed a free parking exception which will allow motorists one five-minute reprieve per year.

"The change will assist motorists who are occasionally ticketed for accidentally overstaying the time on their pay box receipt by a few minutes, despite trying to comply with parking requirements by purchasing adequate parking time," Daley said in a statement.

Drivers will have to hang on to their receipt in order to apply for a one-time freebie. The new ordinance also orders parking meter employees not to ticket cars whose time has immediately expired.

Deysi Cuevas / Comments (3)

Chicago Tue Feb 09 2010

Sold Out Premiere of Disturbing the Universe Impresses Chicago Crowd

On Jan. 22, William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe, a documentary about the legendary left-wing lawyer, premiered to a sold out crowd at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Directed by William Kuntsler's daughters Emily and Sarah Kuntsler, the film looks at the life and cases of one of America's most controversial lawyers.

William Kuntsler fathered Sarah and Emily late in life, and when he died, they were still young, so the movie became a way for them to know their father in a more adult way. It became a way for them to shed the simple childlike images of their father, and come to know him in a complex way.

The sold out Chicago premiere was hosted by the Next Gen, the young lawyers group of the Chicago chapter of the radical National Lawyers Guild. The theater was filled with activists, lawyers and law students. The amazing thing about the showing was how many people in the crowd had met or knew William Kuntsler.

National Lawyers Guild Next Gen members Sarah Gelsomino and Robert Luderman at the Chicago premiere of Disturbing the Universe.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Feb 09 2010

Reporter Denied Entry into Canada

Martin Macias, a 20-year-old independent journalist from Chicago, says he was detained and questioned at the Vancouver airport Saturday afternoon. Macias, an outspoken Olympic critic who is associated with No Games Chicago, a group that opposed the city's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, was planning to attend a number of Vancouver rallies leading up to the start of the games, when he was detained, denied a phone call and sent back to the United States.

According to CTV News:

"The 20-year-old part-time reporter says he spent two and a half hours being interviewed by customs about his fellow protesters."

"They wanted to know more about the people who are organizing the conference, about who I was staying with, if I could contact them, if I knew what they were wearing," Macias said. "It was very, very strange."

Macias also stated that someone called the people with whom he was supposed to meet -- anti-olympic crusader Chris Shaw and Bob Quellos -- and imitated his voice.

The caller told Shaw about his "brutal" interrogation, and that he was asked "a thousand questions." He then tried to arrange a meeting.

"We gave him an intersection to meet us at. I waited for two hours, but he didn't show up so we knew something was wrong," said Quellos.

Macias, however, says he never contacted either of them.

Although some would agree that the money spent on the marketing of an Olympic event seems pretty wasteful, not to mention the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies, some would argue if it is fair to cancel the Olympics based solely on funding. Should poverty and housing be taken into account? What will happen to the sports facilities that were built specifically for the Olympics?

Deysi Cuevas / Comments (1)

Elections Wed Feb 03 2010

What This Means

Just kidding.

The most immediately important race for Chicagoans is probably the Cook County Board President's race, with the addition of insurgent candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's win in the Southwest Side 7th District. John Fritchey, another reformer--based on his activities in Springfield--won election to replace Forrest Claypool, who retired this year.

If Cook County is truly cleaned up, a huge spigot of patronage dollars--of both the old-school and pinstripe kind--can suddenly go dry for significant portions of the Chicago machine. Contracts with the County and particularly it's hospital system are an important source of income and campaign donations for Regulars and their associates. Commissioner Moreno himself was embroiled in a scandal whereby he allegedly shook down a health care software company to hire a political ally in order to qualify as a minority-owned business.

Assuming the Board's reformers have the gumption to take that system head on, the machine system in Cook County, and particularly the city, could show the kinds of weaknesses that open up electoral fronts.

In other news, wow, Terry O'Brien. Dude spent a lot of money to do as poorly as he did. Also, Quinn versus Brady may poll close, but Quinn will have to do a lot wrong to lose the enormous Cook County advantage that Democrats enjoy. Bill Brady, among the most conservative of the GOP candidates, will have trouble bringing back those suburban Republicans-turned-Democrats. In the Senate races, lots of speculation that Hoffman is perfectly positioned to run against Mayor Daley in '11. That election happens in mid-winter 2011--a year from now. If Hoffman plans to run against the Mayor, he better start in the Spring. The Mayor raised more than $50 million dollars for the Olympic bid. What do you think he could squeeze out of people for a competitive race against a prosecutor? Hoffman of course lost to Alexi Giannoulias. Speculators as to Alexi's "baggage" forget exactly what Hoffman's three-week meteoric rise should have taught them: nine months is a long, long, long time in politics. Who knows what's going to happen by November? Nine months ago the only tea party we talked about here happened at the Drake Hotel, in white gloves.

Ramsin Canon

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Elections Sun Jan 31 2010

Xavier Nogueras Hit Piece in 8th District

A nasty hit piece hit residents of the 8th Cook County Commissioner's district. Coming from the phantom "Taxpayers Coalition Initiative" which provides no return address, the piece delves into Nogueras' tenure with the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and unpaid water bills. The piece is huge--22x17--full color, glossy. The 60647 post office, from where the piece originated, did not provide information on the owner of the "Permit #1" used to send the piece out.

Nogueras' opponent, Ed Reyes, is an ally of 33rd Ward boss Dick Mell, who engineered his elevation to the seat after Roberto Maldonado was appointed by Mayor Daley to replace Billy Ocasio, who in turn was appointed to Governor Quinn's staff after he replaced Rod Blagojevich. To get that straight: Blagojevich gets impeached, Quinn taps Ocasio, Daley taps Maldonado, Maldonado pushes for Nogueras to replace him but gets outmaneuvered Mell.

The Nogueras campaign offered this comment:

We are certainly aware of the piece. It is without a doubt a last minute effort from the Reyes campaign to make up for what has been a rough couple weeks on their end. The Fox story [Cf., This] really knocked the wind out of them. This particular hatchet job should be called for what it is. We put our name out front and center in every mailer we send out.

Some scans of the piece (hard to get, given its size) after the jump.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Chicago Sat Jan 30 2010

Chicago grandfather plaintiff in Supreme Court case against city gun ban

To be entirely honest I do believe I should at least have a gun at home for my own self-defense. Thankfully I've never had the occasion to really need one. I'm elated to see that most of the Republican candidates for governor (sans Jim Ryan) believes that there should be concealed carry in this state. With reasonable restrictions I support that do because there are some people in the streets who would do harm to people.

Either way I'm going to have to hand it to this elderly gentleman who is fighting for his right to have a gun for his protection!

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (5)

Chicago Fri Jan 29 2010

No Shit

This just in from the always breaking, always facetious No Shit News Desk at Gaper's Block: "constant danger of illegal hiring at City Hall." Ah-chhhem: No shit.

So the IG, Joe Ferguson, filed a report Friday concluding that "the dangers of political hiring remain real and constant." Late last year the Mayor made mention of his plans to end the independent oversight installed in the wake of the 2006 trial of Robert Sorich , the mayor's former patronage chief who in that trial was found guilty of rigging city hiring for political concerns.

Weeks after the Sorich verdict the city found itself again in the grips of a campaign season. Two years later, as a journalism student at Columbia College, I wrote a retrospective, quasi-investigative story looking at one election that year that involved the real dangers in how political hiring effects city government (which I have since submitted to my esteemed and estimable editors for publication here--if you'd like to see it, let 'em know in the comments section).

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (2)

Chicago Thu Jan 28 2010

Inspector General Recommends Termination of Water Department Official

Chicago's Inspector General Joe Ferguson--appointed to replace Senate candidate David Hoffman--has recommended the termination of a high ranking Water Department official for using public resources to fix a private problem.

The Water Department's Deputy Commissioner, Tommie Talley, popped up during the trial of Mayor Daley's so-called "patronage chief" Robert Sorich. The Water Department is the great white whale of the patronage arm of "Machine Lite". Water Department watchers (yes those exist) have been whispering about this investigation since December.

Robert Herguth at Chicago Union News has the scoop:

Talley also dispatched city water department crews to work at private sites -- including Nativity of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church, the mayor's ancestral parish in Bridgeport, Chicago's inspector general found, according to city government sources.

Talley, a veteran city worker allied with the Daley family's 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, couldn't be reached, and a city spokesman had no immediate comment.

At the Sorich trial several years ago, Talley was mentioned on the stand by Hired Truck czar-turned-government witness Donald Tomczak as one of the city officials who helped facilitate the city's rigged hiring process.

Sorich, who oversaw Mayor Daley's patronage activities, was convicted in the case and sent to prison. Talley was not charged, and kept his city job.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Jan 27 2010

Matt Taibbi on Chicago's Parking Meters

True/Slant blogger and Rolling Stones reporter Matt Taibbi wants to hear from you:

Any Chicago residents out there with some strong opinions on the parking meter issue? If so, I'd like to hear from you.

I'm also interested in hearing from people in Nashville or in any other city that is planning to sell off part of its infrastructure to help pay off the budget.

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Jan 26 2010

Why Can't We Be Friends?

I wrote previously on this blog about the state of media in Chicago, specifically that branch of journalism that goes by so many names which I shall call public accountability journalism (see last section). With traditional media in the state of disrepair it finds itself, the civic-minded are in a fit over what will become of their beloved citizen watchdog.

My previous comments pointed the way to some exciting new ventures trying to fill that void in Chicago, a motley group of start-ups with interesting but uncertain business models. But there is another sublimity to the forsaken print newspaper that has to a debatable degree been lost in the bifurcated world of online media and it's seeming preference for niche publication. This idea, which is far from new or my own, I'll call the General Reader Principle.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster

Chicago Tue Jan 26 2010

Chicagoist Reporting on Front Group

Hey guys? Why don't bloggers do real journalism? Did you know the end of the world is coming because reporting is impossible to do from your pajamas in a basement? Cell phone reception is terrible in basements, and the footys on your pajamas make it hard to put on shoes.

Yet Kevin Robinson of the Chicagoist decided to not just swallow at face value the suspicious looking pro-Beast of Bentonville "community group" that is agitating for the super retailer to come to town--and which regularly sends commenters out and about to accuse everybody else of being outsiders who don't care about food deserts. He did some digging and voila--found that it was in fact a corporate front group. He also did all this while adhering to self-imposed ethical standards, too.

This revelation could end up undermining the company's claim to organic support for the duration of their fight to take over the Chicago retail market.

Go read Kevin's work, which I don't want to quote at length.


Chicago Wed Jan 20 2010

Twitter and the Chicago News-O-Sphere

Woke up on the couch I call bed the other day, rolled over and popped open my Mac. Email; check. Facebook; check. Grab some coffee, head back to couch. Twitter feed; new updates from @ChicagoCurrent, @WBEZ, @chicagonewscoop, not to mention the dinosaurs.

Checking my twitter feed in the morning is sliding comfortably into that sacred place once occupied by pouring over the broadsheets, grey paper no longer splayed out across the table, coffee in hand, trying awkwardly to fold the page back upon itself.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (4)

Education Tue Jan 19 2010

Chicago Board of Ed Hit List Released

Via Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), the hit list of CPS schools as Ren 2010 marches on (more on that later):

* Curtis Elementary, 32 E. 115th
* Guggenheim Elementary, 7141 S. Morgan
* Prescott Elementary, 1632 W. Wrightwood.
* Las Casas Occupational High School, 8401 S. Saginaw.

* Ruggles Elementary, 7831 S. Prairie
* Gillespie Elementary, 9301 S. State
* Deneen Elementary, 7257 S. State
* Phillips High School, 244 E. Pershing
* Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams

* McCorkle Elementary, 4421 S. State
* Paderewski Elementary, 2221 S. Lawndale
* Marconi Elementary, 230 N. Kolmar
* Mollison Elementary, 4415 S. King Dr.

* Schneider Elementary, 2957 N. Hoyne

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Jan 19 2010

Center Square Ledger Launches Today

Last year, political consultant and occasional Mechanics contributor Mike Fourcher and former Chicagoist, TimeOut Chicago, and current Playboy editor (though not strictly speaking a playboy editor) Scott Smith organized the Chicago Media Future Conference to help new and traditional media types get their bearings and at least begin to talk about what the media was going to look like in the future.

Fourcher may know: today, along with Patrick Boylan, he is officially launching the Center Square Ledger, "Your Definitive Neighborhood Guide to North Center, Lincoln Square and Ravenswood Manor".

There are some "microlocal" (or "hyperlocal" depending on your preference) political stories there: specifically about the heated Madigan-Steans state Senate race. As local politics bleeds out of the large media outlets, local media like the Ledger will be the only place to get verified "news" (as opposed to message board or forum gossip) about these kinds of street fights. At least, that's the thinking: the reality is that the Sun-Times and the Tribune haven't been covering these kinds of politics for years, and not without good reason.

Neighborhood papers have always existed, and always provided coverage of these local street level politics that are of interest to a pretty narrow group of people. But as reporting talent drifts away from the big institutions and spreads itself across the web, outlets like the Ledger may end up not only picking up where shrinking traditional political media left off, but actually creating something new: a new strata of good political journalism at a level of focus we've never really had, and infinite availability.

Ramsin Canon

Media Mon Jan 18 2010

CLTV Reporter Carlos Hernandez Gomez Passes Away

Chicago and Illinois suffered a serious blow over the weekend with the loss of CLTV political reporter Carlos Hernandez Gomez. He was the type of reporter with such a sharp mind and wealth of knowledge that he made you want to know more, do more, be better. Head over to Capitol Fax for reminisces and obituaries of a great reporter and wonderful human being.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Mon Jan 18 2010

Where's the Neighborhood Stabilization Money?

An ad hoc group of community activists and community groups have come together to ask the city to hold a public hearing on the use and disbursement of federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds:

About a year ago, the City of Chicago received $55 million in HUD Neighborhood Stabilization funds with the expectation of leveraging an additional $58 million in private financing. The proceeds were to be used to purchase 425 abandoned foreclosed properties for rental and for sale housing in 25 neighborhoods most heavily impacted by the mortgage foreclosure crisis. An additional 100 dilapidated properties were to be purchased for demolition with the resulting vacant lots to be land banked and sold to developers and not for profit developers to build new homes. While HUD guidelines provide that essentially all NSP funds be committed within 18 months, public records indicate that 12 properties have been acquired to date. HUD announced on January 14, 2010 that Chicago will get an additional $98 million in Recovery funding to continue the program in the upcoming year.


The group, Chicago Citizens for Neighborhood Stabilization, has penned a letter to City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate chairman Alderman Ray Suarez (31st) asking him to help initiate a public hearing on the NSP funds:

Letter to Alderman Suarez

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Mon Jan 11 2010

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The trafficking of human beings from foreign lands into the United States has caught plenty of media attention. The narrative of young women from Eastern European and South Asian countries being promised work in America, only to be forced into labor- or sexual-exploitation is familiar.

But homegrown trafficking is just as serious. Because of the illicit nature of the industry, numbers are hard to come by. The legal and academic literature on the matter is littered with phrases like "to an unknown extent" and "ambiguity in scope." But in Chicago, many women are forced into prostitution by family members and boyfriends, pimped out for money by force, or worse.

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness day, and the Chicago group Traffick Free is spreading awareness tonight by screening the film Cargo: Innocence Lost, followed by a Q&A with local experts on the matter. The event takes place at Park Community Church, 1001 N. Crosby St., at 7pm. See Traffick Free's website, linked above, for more information.

Danny Fenster

Chicago Fri Jan 08 2010

Rahm Emanuel For Mayor Says More About Daley

So Rahm Emanuel isn't interested in running for Mayor of Chicago. No reason to stop the presses, it isn't a big surprise. But I, at least, raised my eyebrows when I saw this Chicago Current poll:

Now, this is just an online poll at a niche publication. It's probably less accurate than a poll put in the field by, say, PPP polling or Gallup. At the same time, the support among people who do read the Current, people who are very interested in Chicago politics, does suggest something about Daley as a mayor. The Current readers pay a fair amount of attention to what's going on in City Hall. If they don't like Daley that means his actual performance --not just the shallow stuff-- is pretty bad.


UPDATE: There's been some headscratching over what I'm trying to say in this post. Apologies. Here's my point: Rahm Emmanuel hasn't shown any interest in running for Mayor of Chicago but these polls still exist and they aren't terribly discouraging for the White House Chief of Staff. Thus the fact that people are conceiving of an Emmanuel campaign for mayor shows, I think, also how unpopular Daley is currently. If Daley were somewhat or really popular there wouldn't be this dreaming of a mayoral run by a politician who has a reasonably good reputation within Democratic party and is from Chicago . Emmanuel hasn't shown any interest in the mayor job but people are so dissatisfied with Daley that polls like this exist. I apologize for the lack of clarity.

Daniel Strauss / Comments (6)

Chicago Thu Jan 07 2010

Rumble in the Park

You have to care at least a tiny bit who your elected representatives are to leave home on a cold wintry night in Chicago, so naturally, the showing last night at the Wicker Park Field House for the Fritchey-Matlak debate was slight (yes, Chicago, I'm saying you don't care who gets into local office--please, prove me wrong).

Fritchey and Matlak are running for the Cook County Commissioner seat to be vacated by Forrest Claypool, representing the 12th district. Fritchey is currently a state rep and Matlak was alderman of the ward encompassing Bucktown and Wicker Park before losing the seat in 2007 to Scott Waguespack.

Steve Rhodes, a brilliant mind of political wit if there ever was one, considers Fritchey's time in Springfield impressive. The best that can be said for Matlak, on the other hand, is that he's no longer in office. He angered residents as alderman with his cozy relationship with real estate developers in the area and lack of communication with residents. When I heard Matlak was going to be there, I was excited for a good Chicago brawl, but things remained fairly civil save for one outburst at the end. A resident approached Matlak and exchanged some words, then walked out of the room shouting "you know damn well what I'm talking about!" Matlak donned a confused look that was hard to take seriously. I asked the guy what the beef was, but he responded brusquely "this is between me and Matlak."

A source familiar with the situation tells me that Matlak approved spot zoning on both sides of the man's home, which is now sandwhiched between two so-called McMansions.

The candidates began seated at a fold-out table before a crowd of forty or so residents, nudging one another and sharing some laughs and whispered words. When it came time to speak, the two danced that same old dance; one pointed out the others flaws then conceded that that's not what's important--"it's the issues that matter"--and the other followed suit.

Most residents I spoke with didn't quite share the impressions of Rhodes. They voiced disappointment with the lack of choices, a lose-lose set of options. "It's like two of the same guys up there talking," said one.

I headed back out into the winter evening and biked down the road, past the six corners, past bulging new condos and corporate retail chains.

Danny Fenster

Chicago Thu Jan 07 2010

Lori Healey Overcomes Obstacles, Goes to Work for Developer

None of my business who John Buck Co., a "blue chip" property developer, wants to hire to "drum up more public-sector business."

Lori Healey, formerly a top aide to Mayor Daley, one of the designers of the much-celebrated and adored late 90s early 00s TIF boom, and head of the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee that did so fantastically well, will "start next week as a principal at Chicago-based Buck, where she'll focus on building the firm's pipeline of public sector projects. Government work hasn't suffered as much in the recession as other commercial real estate market sectors.

"Ms. Healey, 50, would seem tailor-made for the job." Indeed.

Healey of course worked for the city department (Planning and Development) involved with TIF planning, approval, and management, from the late 90s through the turn of the century. As recent investigations have demonstrated, those TIF funds have gone disproportionately to corporate welfare, to the joy and approbation of the Chicagoans for whom Healey ostensibly worked.

Andy Shaw: TIF funds constitute corporate welfare

After her work expanding TIFs, but before her gig heading up the non-humiliating public relations undisaster called Chicago 2016*, Healey helped implement the widely-praised noticed Plan For Transformation at the CHA.

At the City, Healey specialized in luring private dollars for development.** Now in the private sector, Healey will lure public dollars for her bosses.***

Where the Left and Libertarians agree is that government and business have become too interdependent, to the point of being nearly indistinguishable. Where they diverge is who started it.


** See also ***
*** See also **

Ramsin Canon

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.

Ramsin Canon

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Chicago Tue Dec 29 2009

The Decline and Fall of Richard M. Daley

Like clockwork, it happens every year. It begins with the subtle deception of the changing leaves, a cold wind blowing in from the lake. Soon comes the onslaught of the brutal Chicago winter, the Hawk stalking 'round every corner. And every year, from behind a thick wool scarf, I declare: "god damnit, this is the last year I spend in this miserable city!"

Alas, I'm still here. But I swear to god, Chicago, if you don't throw this clown out of office in 2011, I'm gone.

And there's hardly been a more likely time to see that happen.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (2)

Republicans Mon Dec 21 2009

GOP seeking out candidate against Mike Madigan

If you've read American Pharoah, a biography of the late great Mayor Richard J. Daley, there were tales of the machine running a paper Republican against a Democrat. Not saying that's the case here, but that's what this story reminded me of:

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the Illinois GOP has launched a public hunt for one Patrick John Ryan, who has filed as a Republican to run against Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan next year.

In a press release Monday entitled "Has anyone seen Patrick John Ryan?" the GOP notes that though Mr. Ryan filed as a Republican, he lives in Mr. Madigan's home 13th Ward and pulled a Democratic ballot in the past three primary elections.

Yet, the release adds, Mr. Ryan "is now a Republican who believes in less government, lower taxes, true ethics reform and the need to end business as usual" in Illinois.

Given all of that, "Will Patrick John Ryan call (312) 201-9000 to discuss this historic opportunity?" the GOP asks. "We look forward to providing him the necessary support to win this election."

I saw that very press release in my e-mail this morning. It was just the most unusual thing I have ever seen.

Could this mean that the state Republican Party might out anyone who just so happen to run against powerful Democrats who aren't running very serious campaigns?


Cook County Mon Dec 21 2009

The Cook County Wars

[Ed. Note: This is an editorial by UIC professor and former alderman Dick Simpson]
Simpson, Dick.jpgWhen it comes down to voting patterns, Chicago aldermen are easily dominated by Mayor Richard Daley, who has ensured the city council serves as a rubber stamp of his policies.

The reverse happens when the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Todd Stroger, gavels a meeting into session. Members of the county board are in full-scale rebellion with Stroger at the helm, sharpening their rhetorical weapons and casting, more often than, nay votes on his priorities.

As he wades into a reelection campaign that could make or break his political career, Stroger must contend with the realities of his diminished executive power. He can't wield the bully pulpit like other politicians and he can't browbeat commissioners into sticking with him.

Take a look at the numbers my colleagues at the University of Illinois-Chicago and I recently compiled.

Since 2007, 23 of Chicago's 50 aldermen agreed 100 percent of the time with Mayor Daley's take on controversial issues that divided the council and required a roll call vote. Another seven aldermen cast their ballots with the mayor more than 90 percent of the time on such votes.

In other words, for the past two years, the mayor has been able to count on two-thirds of aldermen agreeing with his positions on the most contentious issues that come before city council the vast majority of the time. Stroger's hard-core supporters on the 17-member county board are few, however. Just four commissioners supported Stroger on divided roll call votes more that 75 percent of the time. They are William Beavers (100 percent), Jerry Butler (93 percent), Deborah Sims (92 percent) and Joseph Moreno (93 percent).

The trend is particularly evident in the battles to pass and then repeal an increase in the county share of retail sales taxes.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Sun Dec 06 2009

The Regressive Tax Regime

Fees and consumption taxes like the sales tax are essentially regressive. While those with more money spend more (and thus pay a larger dollar amount in sales taxes), the tax as a transaction is the same no matter how much of a proportion of your wealth it takes away. And fees are the same for everybody. The reliance of local governments on these taxes, and the concurrent shifting of federal tax dollars from cities to states, leaves regressive taxes, disproportionately impacting the working class, as the bedrock of local government funding.

Liquor isn't the only commodity taxed at higher rates from five years ago. In that time, various local governments have imposed a variety of higher taxes, fees and fines, with many increases topping 100 percent, a Chicago Sun-Times review found.

Moreover, most of the increases far outpaced the rate of inflation over the same period: 14.4 percent.

For most, there's no way to dodge these extra expenses. Stop driving to avoid the parking tax and meter hikes? You'll still have to pay more to ride the bus or L.

The sales tax for Chicagoans on everything but groceries went up by more than 17 percent, to 10.25 percent.

Ramsin Canon

City Council Wed Dec 02 2009

Mayor Daley's Budget: One Fine Piece of Assets, Pt. 2

Mayor Daley's budget, which relied on draining the reserve fund and making deep cuts (in some places) to last year's budget, passed easily today after some heated debate. Voting against the budget were Aldermen Flores, Fioretti, Dowell, Jackson, Munoz, Dixon, Waguespack, Allen, Reilly, Daley, Tunney, and Moore. In there you have a mix of Aldertypes: instinctual independents like Moore and Munoz; the newcomer class of good government types, like Waguespack and Reilly; and then some headscratchers--like usual Mayoral auto-votes Tom Tunney and Vi Daley, who represent well-heeled lakefront wards (Vi Daley, Lincoln Park; Tom Tunney, Lakeview). Then you have Sharon Dixon, who opposed the budget because she saw nothing in it for her ward, and was particularly incensed that TIF funds were not being fairly allocated; Fioretti who couldn't abide the drain on reserves with no long-term plan to replenish it--and presumably the same rationale for Flores (see interview with him, below). Alds. Dowell and Jackson, like Fioretti, argued that it was fiscally reckless.

The big sticking point for many, in fact, was the drain on the long-term reserve; Ald. Moore also expressed problems with the cut to certain health services.

There's no doubt that the budget represents stop-gap governing; much of the funds are coming from the leasing of assets that will stay in private hands for literally generations to come, and with the revenue from those assets controlled by private interests, the evaporation of the funds they created is literally taking away from future generations to avoid painful decision making today. To be fair, what the alternative is isn't clear. Aldermen offered lots of platitudes about mortgaging our future without any concrete solutions or proposals as to what to do about it; there isn't enough to cut, and nobody wants to propose tax increases.

The final vote count was 38-12. Alderman Burke recited the lyrics to "Tomorrow" by Annie.

Typically, Daley budgets pass with 49-0, 48-2 type margins. This 38-12 vote represents his worst margin of victory.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue Dec 01 2009

Obama Needs to Be the Big City President

I remember when everybody was swooning over our first cosmopolitan "big city" president, who was going to "get" big city issues. Chope hange.

Now mayors are pointing out that the stimulus package was supposed to help cities avoid this nightmare scenario. During the bill's conception, mayors stressed that a state-focused stimulus would bring slow, inefficient results, and that more jobs could be created if money were funneled directly to urban areas. In a report issued last winter, the U.S. Conference of Mayors listed more than 15,000 "ready-to-go" projects that could provide 1.2 million new jobs in just two years.

So what happened, exactly? "I think we were listened to," says Stamford, Connecticut, Mayor Dannel Malloy, who will run for governor of his state as a Democrat in 2010. "I just think we were then ignored. And I don't think we were necessarily ignored by the president. I think we were ignored by the Congress." Vice President Biden, the stimulus sheriff, has echoed this explanation. In a September speech on the stimulus, he lamented that "Congress, in its wisdom, decided that the governors should have a bigger input."

But the White House can't blame this shift entirely on Capitol Hill. Biden, Emanuel, and other administration officials spent late nights and much political capital shaping the finer details of the stimulus package in ways that thrilled states but disappointed cities. As Brookings scholar Thomas Mann has observed, "Obama's hands were all over this bill from start to finish. ... The nitty-gritty legislative work identifying where and how these decisions could be implemented ... was done in Congress with the direct participation of key Obama administration staff."

Ramsin Canon

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Social Issues Wed Nov 25 2009

Thanksgiving for a Thousand on South Michigan Avenue

Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Chris Gray, an independent journalist in Chicago.

The north end of Michigan Avenue boasts the Magnificent Mile, where on Friday shoppers will clog the sidewalks aside the gilded skyscrapers as they seek the perfect gifts.

At the south end of Michigan Avenue, the Kids Off The Block will be happy just to have a warm turkey dinner for Thanksgiving on a normally somber, city-owned lot.

Dozens of plaques like headstones are stacked in a pyramid across from the Kids Off The Block youth center. The plaques start with Blair Holt, shot to death when a gangbanger aimlessly opened fire on the 103 bus in Roseland in May 2007.

Continue reading this entry »

Andrew Huff / Comments (3)

Chicago Tue Nov 10 2009

A Chicagoan reflects on the Iron Curtain

Jan Lorenc immigrated from a small town in southern Poland to Chicago's south side in 1962. Despite his young age--8 years old--he remembers living behind the Iron Curtain and suddenly finding himself in a new place where his first memory is riding in a pink Cadillac convertible.

Lorenc is now a successful designer in Atlanta, running a 31-year-old business that he founded in Chicago in 1978. He's also my dad.

As the world celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this week, I spoke to my dad about his memories of living in a country with one-party rule, moving to the United States, and watching Soviet tyranny dissolve.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (8)

Cook County Board Mon Nov 09 2009

Danny Davis Out of County Board Pres Race

Danny Davis will announce this morning that he will seek reelection for his 7th District Congressional seat. Davis' announcement didn't come with any endorsement, but he did say that at least part of his reasoning was not wanting to split the black vote among four black challengers.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Nov 04 2009

"It's a First": IGO Sues City, Mayor's Office

Via Carol Marin and the Sun-Times:

NBC5 and the Chicago Sun-Times have learned the city Inspector General's Office is taking the Daley administration to court after issuing a subpoena last month.

The IGO is demanding the city Law Department and its boss, Mara Georges, turn over documents and records concerning an unspecified no-bid contract awarded in 2006.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Daley Wed Nov 04 2009

Fast-Tracked Privatization Negotiations--Really!?

I came across this bit on a blog about transport project finance:

In separate news reports, Daley indicated that his administration is prepared to fast-track the Chicago Midway long-term lease without another auction process. The mayor would, instead, negotiation [sic] directly with the pool of potential bidders attracted to the airport in the previous process. Since the first quarter, traffic at Chicago Midway has rebounded with sequential gains in each month since March and positive year-over-year results from July. The improving passenger volume and newfound cargo flows bode well for the bidding process.

We own Midway Airport. The process should be open, with citizen review and real deliberation. After the parking meter debacle, that this type of "fast-tracking" could be discussed among these finance professionals in regards to Chicago's municipal assets is appalling.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

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)

TIFs Wed Nov 04 2009

How We Can Use TIF Funds

As the issue of tax increment financing (TIF) districts and the non-appropriated "shadow budget" they generate moves into mainstream media coverage, it's important to remember a couple two tree things about TIF funds, the main one being that the money in TIF accounts is not interchangeable with the money that is missing (the deficit) in the city budget.

First, TIFs are ultimately regulated by state statute. [PDF]

Second, TIF funds are property tax funds, and they can't just be spent however. The state statute limits what the money can be spent on. So although the Mayor controls some $1 billion in TIF funds, that money can't just be spent the same as the corporation funds the City spends on most of its budget; by state law it has to be spent inside the TIF district (or an adjacent district) and on statute-defined things.

Third, and related to that, is that the money in TIF funds is not the city's money per se. So if the TIF districts had not existed, the subsequent money raised would not be "freed up" for the city to use; it would return to the following taxing bodies (via the now-defunct NCBG):


Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (9)

Environment/Sustainability Wed Nov 04 2009

Chicago's Chief Environment Officer Interviewed

The city's Chief Environment Officer, Sadhu Johnston, was interviewed by the American Society of Landscape Architects. Some interesting stuff that reminds you of just how hard it is to get anything done in a democracy:

Chicago is now famous for installing millions of square feet of green roof across the city. How critical are these green roofs to the city's program for a sustainable stormwater management?

They play an important role. However, we couldn't give credit to a new development for installing a green roof until we passed our storm water ordinance a couple of years ago. Now, every new development is required to calculate stormwater runoff and figure out how they can keep at least a half-inch of that first rain onsite for utilization and bioswales, green roofs, or other green infrastructure, like permeable pavements. Green roofs can play a significant role in stormwater plans for each site.

You hear that, hippies? You wanna save the earth, you better start brushing up on those 200-page stormwater ordinances.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Column Wed Nov 04 2009

South Side Non-Profits Struggling to Keep the Heat On

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was submitted by journalist Christopher Gray.

The roof leaks and large, brown circles mar the ceiling where the panels aren't missing entirely. People for Community Recovery is used to shabby quarters in the Altgeld Gardens housing project at the southern end of Chicago.

The environmental justice group's small office is crammed with desks and cluttered with papers. People for Community Recovery shares a mostly vacant commercial strip with a liquor store and a fried chicken outlet, set in the middle of a labyrinth of the identical barracks-style row houses of the Chicago Housing Authority project.

But lately, the office has a new feature: electric space heaters — after People's Gas turned off the organization's heat for non-payment.

People for Community Recovery, along with other South Side non-profit organizations, is fighting for its survival as the recession continues to bear down.

Continue reading this entry »

Andrew Huff / Comments (1)

Democrats Mon Nov 02 2009

So You Are Going to Run for State Rep....

We got an email from Jonathan Goldman about his candidacy for state rep in the Democratic primary for the 10th district.

I suspect when the email was sent they didn't figure it would be the suburban Republican who would do the item on it. But he makes some points I would like to take a closer look at. You can find what was in the email here.

Work to put Illinois' fiscal house in order. "We need to get serious once and for all about fixing the State budget, rather than lurching from one fiscal crisis to another. We need to restructure our tax policies based on ability to pay and address our structural deficit so that we can pay our bills on time and fully fund our pension obligations," said Goldman.

So bottom line, who is going to pay more? Who is going to pay less? As for the pension system, do you think the current state pension system should be available to folks who go to work for the state three years from now?

Continue reading this entry »

OneMan / Comments (1)

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

Labor & Worker Rights Thu Oct 29 2009

Union Workers Are Not All White Millionaires

Laura Washington has been launching quiet barbs against unions in Chicago in her column space, specifically around the issue of the big blue retailer from Bentonville, most recently shoe-horning it into a piece about GOP gubernatorial hopefuls.

The existence of food deserts in Chicago is very real, and has a very nasty effect. The lack of any availability of affordable, healthy food in poor communities is probably directly related to the dangerously high rates of obesity among the poor, and the correlative high rates of heart disease and diabetes among the poor.

But the option of Big Blue is not the only option to solve this problem. There are more constructive solutions, ones that don't involve decimating the ability for small businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive, or exist; and ones that don't undercut the working conditions of the thousands of grocery and retail workers who have hard-fought benefits through their unions at unionized groceries.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Wed Oct 21 2009

Mayor Daley's Budget: One Fine Piece of Assets

Mayor Daley will be dipping into the city's reserves, specifically the $1bn+ fund created by the leasing of the city's parking meters to a private operator, to cover the enormous budget deficit of half a billion dollars that the city projects for next year.

The Mayor is holding to his pledge not to raise taxes and fees, saying that it isn't the time to ask families to pay more.

From Dan Mihalopolous and Hal Dardick, here's what some aldermen had to say:

"I think this is what reserve are made for," said Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., 21st. "Clearly, it's raining. While we don't know when this economic recovery will come, it's not going to be for a couple of years."

But Ald. Manuel Flores, 1st, said he was "very concerned" about dipping into the reserve fund. "That was intended for us to generate additional revenue through interest," Flores said. "You are selling off that asset. You are throwing that asset away."

"If the parking meter money is depleted within five years, then what happens for the next 70 years of that contract?" asked Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, one of five aldermen who voted against the meter lease.

Ramsin Canon

TIFs Tue Oct 20 2009

PI on TIF Welfare

Josh Kalven of Progress Illinois digs into the business-luring TIF deal--a program the Mayor once referred to as the only game in town for economic development--and points out just one of the many problems with it: it puts the public on the hook without making any real demands on the corporations who receive our largess. It's harder to reduce your student loan payments than it is to get tens of millions of dollars of public money.

Indeed, when the ink dries on the each of these deals, the debate in the press inevitably surrounds the cost-per-job estimates and the various long-term revenue projections stemming from the agreement. But what's missing is any method for examining the previous contracts. No one digs into the earlier relocations to see whether they fulfilled expectations and were ultimately worth the public investment. Instead, we're greeted with a perpetual refrain: "Trust us." "We know what we're doing." "Trust us."

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Fri Oct 16 2009

What a Waste

The Chicago Journal on the impending demolition of the Gropius-style Michael Reese hospital campus:

Barring a sudden policy reversal by the city, the Michael Reese Hospital campus in Bronzeville appears set to be cleared of its buildings, despite the results of Chicago's Olympic bid.

The Reese site, bound by 29th, 31st, Cottage Grove and Metra tracks, was slated to host the Olympic Village. Twenty-one 12-story new structures were planned for the parcel.

Thanks Bid Committee.

Ramsin Canon

Local Government Wed Oct 14 2009

Mapping the Plan for Transformation

With the Chicago Housing Authority's Plan for Transformation in full swing, it's hard to keep track of the location of new mixed income developments -- not to mention which of the old family developments haven't been demolished. Because the CHA website doesn't have the entire listings, I submitted a request for the full data and mapped it.

The family developments are indicated by blue markers, while the mixed income developments are indicated by targets. Additional information listed on the mixed income development tabs state which public housing project was the original development. Approximate addresses have been substituted where the exact addresses of developments were not listed by the CHA.

View CHA Properties in a larger map

David Schalliol / Comments (2)

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Fri Oct 09 2009

Tom Dart For Mayor? Unlikely

Kevin Robinson of Chicagoist and Don Rose of the batshit crazy Chicago Daily Observer Chicago Daily Observer think Sheriff Tom Dart could run for mayor and win. Since Dart turned down the possibility to run for senate (and probably win) I doubt he'd go for the mayoral job. It's not as prestigious as the senate ,rife with corruption --as we all know-- and just much murkier. If I had to bet money I'd say he's happy being sheriff and plans to stay sheriff for quite a while.


Daniel Strauss / Comments (1)

Olympics Wed Oct 07 2009

Talking about the Olympics from the Hood to Downtown

A vid by Marc Sims talking to Randy Evans discussing the Olympic bid. Of course this video had to have been filmed not too long after we found out that Chicago won't be hosting the games in 2016. Basically the discussion revolves around the impact of the games in a given city, especially the possible impact in the areas surrounding Washington Park. In other words they're arguing that the Olympics would cause a negative impact.

Levois / Comments (1)

Chicago Fri Oct 02 2009

Latin King Corona Arrested

The "Corona" or head of the Chicago Chapter of the Latin Kings has been arrested in a massive FBI sweep of the enormous and sinisterly sophisticated gang.

The Latin Kings keep minutes of their meetings and are organized into block-level cells that have members pay dues and hand out discipline. They rent guns out and organize street level control.

Check out these minutes:

Transcription of the Internal Records of The Albany Park Chapter of the Latin Kings

For A Six Month Period in 1990


Member list: Flaco, Kasper, Hitman, Shy, SHort, Mousie, Joker, House, Gunner, Lotto, Angel, Sinbad, Killer, Al, Turtle, Wedo, Ponyboy, Sinister, Delfino, Whitey, Babyslick, Lover, Slick, Flaco.


January 13, 1990 6:30 P.M. Flaco's House

I Kato becomes A Latin King: he is on preliminary probation until March 13, 1990

II New counsel:

Since 2 members of the present counsel have been incarserated and I cannot attend the meting regularly, we picked 3 new counsel members. The new counsel is as follows: Chairman - Stony; members - Hitman, Wedo, Shy, and Shorty. Slick and Sir Lover have the chance to gain their rank back when they get out.

III (Marked in large letters OVERRULED FEB. 11, 1990)

It was decided today by a majority vote that Baby Slick will have to pay $50.00 for the .32 pistol because he told the police where to find the gun during the interrogation. Baby Slick will have a chance to defend himself as soon as possible.

IV Violations:

Today Flaco got a 15 second violation because he let his lady thrown down the crown to his face.

Stony got a 30 second violation for disrespecting Flaco by telling him "I wish you weren't a King so I could smash you".

signed by secretary: Angel

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Olympics Mon Sep 28 2009

An Open Letter to Barack Obama: For the good of Chicago, don't go to Copenhagen.

Dear President Obama:

This summer has not been easy for many people who reside in Chicago. As the city entered into the final leg of competition for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Chicago citizens witnessed cuts in services, and city employees were forced to take furlough days to balance the budget. At the same time, many state programs and jobs were slashed.

While funds were nowhere to be found for basic services, the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois lined up nearly $2 billion in taxpayer funds for the 2016 Olympics.

A recent WGN/Chicago Tribune poll found that less than half of Chicagoans support the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, and that 84 percent were opposed to using tax revenue to cover any losses incurred. Only recently did the Chicago 2016 bid committee make any effort to engage the community in citywide meetings where it was evident that many in Chicago had deep concerns about hosting the Olympics, including the potential for cost overruns and resident displacement.

As a longtime resident of Chicago, you are well aware that in this city, cost overruns and delays of large civic construction projects go hand in hand.

Continue reading this entry »

Bob Quellos / Comments (12)

Education Thu Sep 24 2009

Charter Schools: Changing Lives

Today the Illinois Policy Institute is releasing a new short film about charter schools and their success in Chicago.

Entitled 'Charter Schools: Changing Lives,' the documentary profiles students, teachers and administrators in three Chicago charter schools: Chicago International Charter School's Ralph Ellison campus, Noble Street Charter School's Pritzker College Prep, and the Urban Prep Academy for Young Men.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (6)

Chicago Mon Sep 14 2009

UIC vs St. Francis UPDATED

It's been over a decade since parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi church broke into the historic cathedral to halt its demolition in 1996. It was neither the first nor the last time that Gerardo Reyes felt that his church was threatened by its neighbor - the University of Illinois at Chicago.

As UIC has developed and expanded its south campus, Reyes and others feel there has been a pattern of deception and unfriendliness that is designed to chase out the St. Francis community. These machinations are surfacing once again, say members of The St. Francis of Assisi Preservation Committee, this time in the form of parking fees.

"UIC says they are a good neighbor," said Reyes, head of the preservation committee, "but if they are a good neighbor, why did they close and narrow the roads? And why are they taking away the parking that they promised us?"

The parking in question was allotted by UIC for the St. Francis Community before south campus construction began. Parking was free in designated university parking lots on Sundays for parishioners attending mass.

The promise that Reyes cites is documented in the Jan. 24 edition of The Chicago Journal, in which UIC spokesman Bill Burton is indirectly quoted as having said that "university officials plan to make room there for parishioners indefinitely."
There was never any written agreement, however. The lack of such documentation made Reyes and other preservation committee members nervous from the get-go. Now their worries have come to fruition.

Mark Rosati, a spokesperson for the university, says that parking was provided to the parish to minimize disruption to the community during the construction phase.
"But now that the construction is over, we cannot continue to allow free use of public property to an outside party, under state law," Rosati said.

Rosati describes the fee, two dollars for two hours, as being "very reasonable."
But a press release issued by the St. Francis Preservation Committee states that it will be two dollars for parking permit-holders, and eight dollars for those without permits. This worries Reyes, who says that, as The Mother Church of Mexican Immigrants, St. Francis attracts people passing through town; people without permits who may now attend mass elsewhere.

"I don't know anything about that," Rosati said of eight dollar parking ticket.

Admittedly, it can be hard to see what the big deal about a parking fee could possibly be.
"[The parking fees] eventually will drastically reduce church attendance and lead to its shut down," said Steve Balkin, a professor of economics at Roosevelt University, in a recent letter.

Balkin's argument goes like this. The St. Francis community is largely blue collar, with little money to spare. Put that money toward parking, it comes out of the collections plates. Less money in the collection plates means less money for the church, which may mean that the Catholic Archdiocese might try to close the church again, like they did in 1995 and 1996.

"A supposed need for parking space is the pretext for getting rid of poor and working class immigrants whose presence does not fit into UIC's vision for a homogeneous campus and gentrifying condo development," wrote Balkin.

The parking fees were first implemented during mass last weekend, and it has yet to be determined what effect they will have on the parish in the end. Reyes remains hopeful.

"This is our home. We've defended it before, and we can do it again," Reyes said.

Caleb Melby is a journalism student at the Medill School.

UPDATE: Mechanics received the following reply from Mark Rosati, associate Chancellor for Public Affairs at UIC.

Dear [Mechanics]:

Regarding the recent Gaper's Block item about parking at UIC, the Chicago Journal article which reported that the campus would provide free parking to St. Francis Church parishioners "indefinitely" was from January of 2002, not 2009.

As for the quote in your story from an individual alleging that UIC has a vision of a "homogeneous campus," it is unfortunate that your reporter didn't ask me for a response. If he had, he would have learned that UIC has for many years been among the most diverse university campuses in the country (check the annual US News & World Report rankings) and that many of our 26,000 students come from families of limited financial means, recent immigrants or their children, and are the first generation in their families to attend college. To give just two examples of the diversity of our campus, UIC educates more Latinos at the undergraduate and graduate level combined than any university in Illinois, and we are No. 1 in the Midwest in baccalaureate degrees earned by Latino students.

In education, healthcare, economic development and community engagement UIC is a good neighbor - and that will continue to be the case.


Mark Rosati

Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs

University of Illinois at Chicago

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

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)

Chicago Tue Sep 01 2009

Chicago Justice Project Makes a Connection Traditional Media Won't

As we said over and over again during the budget fight, politics eventually ends up on the streets. The activists, professionals, and politicians who duke it out in the halls of power are usually fairly insulated from the actual effects of their policies. We feel those out on the streets. We, the public.

So when Mayor Daley makes a move to close down mental health centers, some will celebrate "cutting waste", where waste = any social spending. Others will attack the Mayor's callousness, in the abstract. The local media will pick one of those tunes, typically, and sing in that chord. Meanwhile, the Chicago Justice Project makes the connection between the streets and politics that we rarely see anywhere else:

Anyone who pays even a minimal amount of attention to the Chicago media is constantly bombarded with evidence of our society's failures. This week is different in that we have proof of the fallout of a past failure (the shooting of a mentally disturbed homeless man in the loop) mixed with a forecast of what is to come based on decisions currently made by our political leaders (the closing of numerous area mental health clinics). Confused? Allow me to explain with examples drawn from the last seven days of Chicago's history.

Ramsin Canon

Education Tue Sep 01 2009

The Education Bubble

To the speculator, "saturation" is the filthiest word. When a market is robust and investments see steady and steep returns, all is good. When too many of his cohort are vying for the same investments, the rate of return diminishes.This situation forces these investors to get creative.

The "edupreneur"- a creature that is one part philanthropist and a thousand parts venture capitalist- is the paving the way for the newest, untapped market; our schools.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Tue Sep 01 2009

City-wide Hotel Contract Expired Today

The Chi-Town Daily News' Adrian Uribarri reports on the expiration of the city-wide hotel contract between members of UNITE HERE's Local 1 and the city's downtown hotels. The negotiations have not gone well:

"The hotels are using the economy as an excuse to slow everything down," Strassel said. "We're willing to continue to negotiate, but at a certain point, we're going to hit a breaking point. Tomorrow's about putting the hotels on notice."

Strassel said the hotels are not only trying to cut medical benefits, but also overworking some employees as they lay off others.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue Sep 01 2009

Farewell, David Hoffman. Now Let's Talk General Inspecting.

That former Inspector General David Hoffman is working with AKPD Media, the political consulting shop of David Axelrod, which counts the Mayor as a client, in his bid for the Democratic Senate nomination raised questions about just why he chose now to leave the IG's office and run for the US Senate. Such speculation is going to happen--"promote him out of here" is a perceived modus operandi of the Cook County Democrats. The last thing the Daleys and Madigans and Strogers of the world want is a local politician with a wide base outside of party auspices. There is rarely much evidence to prove that such "promote them out" schemes were intended or orchestrated.

Let's wish him well and appreciate the fact that he raised the stature and importance of a critical government office. And look to the future.

The sensitivity many may feel to Hoffman's departure is that, given his public disputes with powerful City Council factions and the Mayor himself, attacks on his budget or independence would have been politically risky. Hoffman seemed uniquely positioned to take on the powerful precisely because he had so publicly taken them on. This makes accusations of limelight-seeking easy, though perhaps paradoxical. High-level criticisms are what was needed, and would earn high-level attention. That very attention is what would have protected his office. Undermining his office would have been seen, quite rightly, as political retribution and would have outed those undermining him as being opposed to good and ethical government.

That is why it's up to "us"--the media, new and old, and the activists, left and right, and the people--to make sure that the Office of Inspector General, which clearly has enormous potential to be a force for local democracy and transparency, doesn't lose its increasing relevance simply because it lost its temporary caretaker.

So let's take a look at some of the potential replacements:

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Mon Aug 31 2009

The Great Inflation

The Sun-Times and the Chicago Teachers Union conducted a joint survey of Chicago Public School teachers that revealed that a shocking percentage--among High School teachers, more than half--have felt pressure to change a student's grade. Given the high stakes of the "percent graduating" statistics as a metric of public schools, it makes sense that the heaviest percentage would be among High School teachers. Still, more than a quarter of middle school teachers also reported feeling pressured to change a student's grade.

Of seven thousand teachers in CPS, fourteen hundred responded to the survey; while that provides more than enough for a statistically valid survey, it should also be considered or understood that the fact that it was self-selected to some degree could have altered the results.

With that in mind, this is still absolutely shocking, and adds yet another piece of evidence to the (well, my) on-going case that Arne Duncan was hardly qualified to be named Secretary of Education.

Obviously it was not Duncan pressuring teachers. According to the survey, the pressure came primarily from principals. But as the "CEO" of the schools, the buck must stop with him. And if principals felt the need to put the arm on teachers, that did not come from nowhere. There must have been in-turn pressure on them to meet statistical standards no matter what the cost.

While that pressure may have gotten Mr. Duncan the press needed to ascend in his career, it has done nothing for students.

Of course, this is not Duncan's school district. Many of these teachers had been teaching well before Duncan came on the scene--but the vast majority (64%) of teachers reporting have been teaching less than ten years, which puts them under either Duncan or Vallas, and certainly inside the Amendatory Act, Daley-control era.

Have our schools made progress since William Bennett described them as the worst in the nation in 1987? Perhaps; but with each new revelation and report, we seem to be getting further away from being able to actually answer that question.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Education Thu Aug 27 2009

The Mystery of De La Cruz and Renaissance 2010

De La Cruz, in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, was a small middle school, taking kids mainly from Whittier Elementary and sending them on to Juarez HS. Small--a few hundred students. To the Chicago Public Schools, under the auspices of the Renaissance 2010 program, that is a bad thing.

Because the school was small, the class sizes were, relatively speaking, small. But the teachers, being unionized, tenured, and with in many cases decades of experience teaching in that neighborhood, were expensive. That, according to Ren2010, is "under-utilization". Too few kids, too much school. Yet, of course, small school size is touted as among the benefits of charter schools--more personalized instruction and care from teachers.

De La Cruz, in a neighborhood with a high number of Spanish-speaking families, in a neighborhood periodically plagued with gang problems, is an award-winning school. It won the Spotlight Award from the state Board of Education. Not a decade ago. Not five years ago. In 2009.

So here was a public school where the kids were learning. The school was making progress. The school was small and the class sizes manageable. And it had to be closed.

Why? Why close a successful, small school in a working class neighborhood?

The residents, teachers, and students surely didn't understand. A heart-wrenching "hearing" last year in February featured parents and students astounded at the callousness of a Board of Education indifferent to local control, so sure were they in the magical wizardry of the "market" to fix education. Given what happened to De La Cruz, is Ren2010 about fixing public schools? Or destroying them?

The neighborhood, the Board argues, simply doesn't need a school.

Well, except when they do.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (8)

IL-SEN Wed Aug 26 2009

IG Hoffman to Run for Senate

City Inspector-General David Hoffman, hired away from the US Attorney's office in the wake of the Hired Truck scandal, has tendered his resignation and will be entering the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate race.

During the Homero Tristan affair, IG Hoffman earned the scorn of Juan Rangel, CEO of a public education privatizing outfit called UNO, and Mayor Daley for being a political aspirant more concerned with making headlines to advance his career than being a fair dealer. Now the Mayor is saying he's not not sad (ie, glad) to see Hoffman go:

"No, I'm not," Daley said. "You want a headline that 'Daley's happy, smiling,' and all that. The sanctity of taxpayers' money -- people work hard, they want their money protected."

Hoffman's June report on the handling of the parking meter fiasco and his recommendations for how such asset sales/leases should be handled in the future helped keep the issue alive in the press and in voters mind and kept Mayor Daley on the ropes, just as the "transition" was beginning to infuriate residents. Hoffman's decision may come from the fact that with his current record of fighting the Mayor, and with the issues that are currently on the table, he'll never have a better chance. I have to wonder who was whispering in his ear, as well, goading him to get into a primary where he stands a considerably less than good chance of winning. He's going to have to raise a lot of money from lawyers, because the party apparatus, I imagine, will put the word out on him.

We could have used him at the city; hopefully his replacement is as independent and committed as he is (though hopefully a bit less ambitious).

Ramsin Canon

Daley Tue Aug 25 2009

A Different Kind of Do-Over in the Alleys

How about a kind word for our cuddly Mayor?

Inhabitat posts on the Mayor's initiative to "green" our 1,900 miles (over 3,500 acres) of alleyways, thus improving storm water run off and retention issues, remove impermeably services and urban heat island effects, among other potential advantages.

The inititative is a refinement of Chicago DOT's existing alley program which focused on creating more permeable surfaces. Chicago alleyways, which outnumber those of any other city in the world, are lacking in proper sewer connections causing serious flooding issues. Rather than simply opting for expensive sewer hookups, the city started retrofitting alleys with permeable pavements and pavers.

Our alleyways are one of my favorite things about Chicago. I have some very fond memories of running through and playing in alleys as a very little kid, and partying and otherwise escaping through alleyways as a man-child. Our alleys are a great asset and a great urban space; it's good to not just take them for granted, but always be thinking about what all that space--3,500 acres is a lot of acres--can be used for.

Ramsin Canon

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

Chicago Mon Aug 17 2009

The Coming Chicago News Vacuum

The following is a repost from Mike Fourcher's blog, Vouchification.

The increasingly desperate straits of Chicago's news outlets is already having an impact on what - and how much - news gets covered. More cuts are coming. In the next year we should expect a significant decrease in community and political news coverage in the Chicago area. Small start-up are trying to fill the gaps, but they lack resources and readership to make up the difference.

How is this happening?

Recent studies show 2008 newspaper advertising shrank 16.4%2009 television advertising will shrink 4.6% and online advertising to grow 13%. While online advertising is growing, its starting from a much smaller base than newspaper or TV. Newspapers sold $37.9 billion in ads last year. Online sold $3.1 billion.

Last week I reviewed the financial states of Creative Loafing, Inc. and the Sun Times Media Group. Although CLI is suffering, friends from the Chicago Reader assure me their paper remains profitable - despite CLI's debt. But STMG regulatory and bankruptcy filings seem to show that the Chicago Sun Times is the major money loser among STMG properties. It seems possible - even likely - that the Sun Times may not exist in 2010.

Earlier this year the Chicago Tribune's parent company, the Tribune Company, went into bankruptcy, burdened by $12 billion in debt created by Sam Zell's leveraged buyout of the company. Although recent news suggests Zell will be muscled out and the company will become the property of creditors - especially Deutche Bank - it seems likely that the new owners will be looking for ways to increase cash, reduce expenses, prepare the company for sale, or dismember it into parts for individual sales.

Continue reading this entry »

Mike Fourcher

Federal Government Tue Aug 11 2009

A Mob of Senior Citizens

Via Reason:

Former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (once the chairman of the US House's Ways & Means Committee) back in 1989 was chased down by some senior citizens protesting legislation, Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. They complained that they had to pay more taxes for the additional benefits. Rostenkowski seemed more rattled by the citizens than some of the Senators facing their own angry mobs in the current health care debate.

If only we had those types of contentious townhalls here. I can't argue about the people putting their politicians to the fire!

Levois / Comments (2)

State Politics Mon Aug 10 2009

Dan Seals Should Be Happy, Mark Kirk...Not So Much

Things are finally looking up for ol' Dan Seals. Chris Cilizza has the scoop:

Seals Far Ahead in IL-10 Survey: Dan Seals, the Democratic nominee against Rep. Mark Kirk (R) in 2006 and 2008, holds a wide lead in the 2010 Democratic primary, according to a survey done for his campaign and obtained by the Fix. Seals takes 63 percent of the vote compared to to just eight percent for state Rep. Julie Hamos and two percent for attorney Elliot Richardson in a hypothetical Democratic primary matchup. The survey, which was conducted by Anzalone-Liszt Research for Seals campaign, also showed Seals -- not surprisingly -- as by far the best known candidate in the Democratic race with 83 percent name identification. Hamos, who won the endorsement of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) last Friday, has a meager 18 percent name identification. And, roughly two-thirds of voters agreed with the statement that Seals had earned the right to a third run for the seat while 23 percent said it was time to give someone new a chance. With Kirk leaving the 10th to run for Senate, Democrats have a very good chance of taking over this North Shore district.

Meanwhile, Mark Kirk may be in trouble...okay probably not, but he does need to watch what and when he tweets.

Daniel Strauss / Comments (2)

Chicago Thu Aug 06 2009

Making the Old Post Office Deliver for Chicago

The New York Times published an article Tuesday regarding the upcoming auction of the 2.7 million square feet Post Office building that rests on top of the Congress Expressway. The auction price of $300,000 comes along with $2.5 million in annual operating expenses, even as the building sits unoccupied. However, the city has previously pledged $51 million dollars in TIF financing to assist the developer with the puzzling property. It is unclear if there will be any takers, given the condition of the downtown real estate market. As the ubiquitous John Buck states, "There's nothing developable downtown for the foreseeable future in any category. There's no retail market, no office market and no residential market." Given that rosy outlook, I'd like to propose an alternative to selling the building to a private developer; the city should buy it and lease it for free to start-up companies and small businesses.

Continue reading this entry »

Carl Giometti / Comments (4)

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)

Chicago Wed Jul 29 2009

Police Want Expansion of Deadly Force Powers

What's worse than a fat cop that beats up women in a bar on the Northwest Side and gets away scot-free? Not a lot, to be sure. But this may come close: Chicago cops legally being allowed to shoot at drivers in vehicles that they believe to have carried out felonious actions.

As the article states, cops were formerly only able to shoot at a moving vehicle if it were coming towards the officer or an innocent bystander. Now, they would be able to put a few slugs through your car (and, by proxy, you) for such crimes as: murder, rape, assault & battery, grand theft, arson, illegal drug usage or sales, burglary and robbery. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not sure I want Chicago cops turning any more incidents deadlier or more violent than usual. Just because someone was smoking dope and broke into a garage doesn't mean that a cop should be able to end their life (if for no other reason than to imagine someone getting shot while carrying a Huffy out of some poor guy's garage - what a way to go).

However, this provision may be tempered or snuffed out all together by a Supreme Court precedent - Tennessee v. Garner. Garner states that "deadly force...may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others".

Surely, our officers put their lives on the line every day. But granting the use of deadly force should only be reserved for circumstances where all other avenues are unavailable or have been exhausted. Maybe this will finally be the push that Chicago needs to finally install an independent civilian review board.

Timothy Morin / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Jul 28 2009

"Boutique" Parking?

An article in the San Francicso Chronicle details a plan to relieve parking congestion by allowing neighborhoods to decide how much to charge for parking, and adding "perks" that would come along with the privilege:

They suggest replacing the 1970s-era lettered parking sticker program with "parking benefit districts," a boutique approach to parking in which residents decide how much to charge for parking in their neighborhoods, the boundaries for paid parking and what perks should come to those who pay premiums to park.

The idea is to raise money for the city, make it easier for people to park in front of their house, and also reduce pollution by encouraging transit use, said San Francisco County Transit Authority planner Jesse Koehler, who presented his three-year report Tuesday to the authority's plans and programs committee.

At first glance, applying this to Chicago, this just struck me as a terrible idea that would further segregate the city. But...

Parking is scarce in part because residential parking permits are so cheap, Koehler said. For $76 a year - pennies a day - people can park all day on their streets, in some cases using their garages for workshops or storage.

Good point. Seems the problem starts at the level of demand--we need to discourage car ownership by making transportation not only in Chicago but in the region swift and simple. Will fees discourage car ownership without matching it to better public transport?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Chicago Sun Jul 26 2009

Saint Boniface Is a Danger to Residents

...not a project for preservationists or some sort of symbol of the Archdiocese's spite.

Two years ago (almost exactly) I wrote this about Saint Boniface church:

Saint Boniface -- the saint, not the long-abandoned church at the northeast corner of Noble and Chestnut on the city's near northwest side -- was a German saint. He was a high-ranking official in the Church who had converted and grown Catholicism throughout much of Germany before a group of as-yet unconverted heathens fell upon him and 52 of his fellow travelers on the banks of the River Borne.

Well, good for him, but seriously, can we do something about this church? For those of us who live in its very near vicinity, Saint Boniface causes no little consternation. For years, crackheads and meth addicts lived in the rectory north of the church. Local hoods use the church as a staging ground for breaking into cars and homes, since it constitutes nearly an entire city block without prying eyes. The convent which once stood east of the building, on Chestnut, is now a pile of bricks, recalling something more like Beirut in 1986 than Chicago in 2007.

The need to preserve this beautiful and historical building needs to be balanced with the economic and physical safety of local residents. This morning, we woke up to a scary surprise. This:




Clearly, if somebody had been in the car, or walking by, they could have been seriously injured or just as likely killed. Killed by the neglect of the Archdiocese and inaction by the city. This is unacceptable. A buildings department official was on the scene to make a report. Let's see what the city does.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Obama Fri Jul 24 2009

A Few Instances Where President Obama Has Broken, Despite Being From Chicago


Cheney Obama refuses to release visitor logs showing which energy health care company executives visited the White House.

Late Update: It's an especially painful continuation of Bush policies since candidate Obama promised to let CSPAN in to cover the creation of a health care bill and his campaign website still promises transparency in meetings between White House staff and outside interests.


This is what the gay community wants from President Obama. Leadership on our issues, leadership on his campaign promises. Not a simple reiteration that he will support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the repeal of DOMA, and the passage of ENDA should Congress decide to ever get to it, but rather, as the president has now recognized with the health care reform debate, America wants him to lead the debate over these issues. America wants him to recognize that he has the ability, and the imperative, to lead.


An important new report (.pdf) was released today by Human Rights First regarding the overwhelming success of the U.S. Government in obtaining convictions in federal court against accused Terrorists. The Report squarely contradicts the central claim of the Obama administration as to why preventive detention is needed: namely, that certain Terrorist suspects who are "too dangerous to release" -- whether those already at Guantanamo or those we might detain in the future -- cannot be tried in federal courts. This new data-intensive analysis -- written by two independent former federal prosecutors and current partners with Akin, Gump: Richard B. Zabel and James J. Benjamin, Jr. -- documents that "federal courts are continuing to build on their proven track records of serving as an effective and fair tool for incapacitating terrorists."

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Ward Politics Wed Jul 22 2009

Homeless "Sweeps" in Edgewater

The Chi-Town Daily News reports on mixed reactions from the Edgewater community over homeless "sweeps" of neighborhood parks.

While understandably wanting to keep neighborhood parks clean and free of crime, it's frustrating to hear residents talk about homeless people as if they should be rats targeted for extermination by city crews. Instead of helping to address the problems underlying homelessness (substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of sustainable employment), many seem to miss the point that with a few false steps and a lack of family support, it could be them sleeping on a park bench.

Timothy Morin / Comments (13)

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.


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

Chicago Thu Jul 16 2009

The streets are hot. What's the solution?

...the Olympics, of course.

Seriously though, crime in Chicago is on the rise. Entire neighborhoods are turning into killing fields, and no part of the city is inured to this. Crime moves. Danger moves. The Daleys of the world tend to think the solution is just to privatize security--in other words, make sure just the well off are protected. Privatizing public space is his thing, after all. But the best crime fighting program is secure, well-paying entry level jobs.

Check out this breathless report from the Sun-Times:

Three men were fatally shot. One man was fatally stabbed. Police shot one man and at least seven other people were wounded by gunfire -- including an 8-year-old boy sitting in his bedroom -- during an especially violent six hours late Wednesday and early Thursday mainly on the South and West Sides.


About 12:30 a.m. Thursday, a man in his 20s was shot in the head at 1109 N. Wood St. -- less than a block from numerous busy Division Street bars and restaurants, police said.

At 12:37 a.m., a 24-year-old man was shot at 7935 S. Cottage Grove Ave, according to police, who said the shooting appears to have been over a $15 debt.

About 12:50 a.m. Thursday, a male was shot in the leg during an argument with a person he knew in the 3500 block of South Western Avenue, police said.

Near northwest side, southwest side, south side--this violence is everywhere and spreading. I don't know what the answer is--but I do know that the Earned Income Tax Credit and community college are not it. This is a class problem and requires a class solution.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (8)

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)

Cook County Thu Jul 09 2009

Burris Out, What About Dart?

Well thank god. Roland Burris isn't going to run for reelection. It's not such big news since his polling indicated he had a steep climb to retain the senate seat. That leaves Mark Kirk as the probably Republican contender and who knows for the Democrats. Maybe Chris Kennedy? We'll see.

I actually had a crazy thought today: What about Illinois Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart? You may recall Dart as that Sheriff from around Chicago who got fed up with evicting people from their houses. Yup, that's the guy I'm talking about. In the process he also stood up to banks who had been critical of him for not enforcing the law. In short, Dart disagreed.

So basically, this sheriff stands up to banks, he's a Democrat, he's popular, and he's a law abiding citizen. That's a pretty rare combination in Chicago and Illinois and a pretty appealing resume these days.

Daniel Strauss

Chicago Wed Jul 08 2009

Skepticism on the Taste of Chicago Violence

I know it's generally bad to start a blog post with a bunch of caveats, but I'm going to do it anyway. I deeply respect Mike Doyle of Chicago Carless and the folks at Second City Cop blog. Mike especially has been a role model for me in the use of social networking to get out progressive messages and stories. I am a little worried about Mike's current mission, which is to dig out claims of more violence than reported at the Taste of Chicago/July 3rd fireworks.

I am fully prepared to accept the premise that Chicago authorities ever fearful of the Mayor's wrath, knowing that any snafus at the Taste this year could reflect negatively on the Olympic bid covered up violence at the Taste. I know also that violence is up across the city. To the extent that Mike and others are able to uncover official malfeasance and potentially sink the city's misguided Olympic bid, I'm all for it. To the extent that his reporting leads to individual and collective accountability, he's doing the Lord's work.

I'm also a bit nervous about what is more likely to happen whether or not any smoking gun is discovered by Mike, commenters on Chicago Now or other anyone else. Comments like "Gangster Disciples took over Buckingham Fountain" or "Latin Kings coming 50 deep up Congress" make me worry that the good work of uncovering official deception will be overwhelmed by the negative effects of the knee jerk "solutions" the city will come up with. How can we be sure that the large groups of young African-American or Latino men were gang members and not just, well groups of young men enjoying the Taste and fireworks? I have little faith in those who claim to have see gang signs being thrown, given the large number of NBA commentators who periodically go through conniptions of gang sightings every time a player throws up three fingers after making a three pointer.

I hope the majority of people who are banging this drum in the blogosphere are concerned with transparency in city government, using city funds to support public safety rather than developer subsidies and not reacting to a perceived invasion of downtown by young, boisterous, brown and black residents of the South and West sides. There's already enough criminalization of youth in Chicago without suspecting every group of black and Latino kids of being gang members.

As I said before, I know Mike pretty well and know that he would be strongly opposed to any sort of racial profiling or a city response to his work that negatively affects innocent young men from the South and West Sides. Sometimes, though, concern over neighborhood quality of life, safety, and comfort bring out the worst of even the most progressive minded, good-hearted people. All residents of the city of Chicago have a right to inhabit the city and enjoy its public spaces and events. That requires a strong, transparent, and accountable public safety presence by the city. It also requires that a lot of different people are able to occupy the same spaces without suspicion.

Jacob Lesniewski / Comments (2)

Chicago Tue Jul 07 2009

Recycling Update: Streets & Sanitation Responds

In late June, I questioned the possibility of making recycling easier for pedestrians in the Loop, and also posted on the few BigBelly solar trash compactors around the city. At that time, I couldn't get a response from the Department of Streets & Sanitation, but shortly after I posted, spokesperson Matt Smith sent me an e-mail. (He couldn't get back to me right away because the department was bombarded with calls regarding floods as the city was in the midst of a strong storm, he said).

In an e-mail, Smith noted that in and near the Loop, there are currently three solar trash compactors, which besides being cool to look at, help reduce garbage overflow. They are located at: the southwest corner of State and Randolph, the northwest corner of Madison and Canal and the northwest corner of Michigan and Pearson. There's also one on Devon Avenue, which was funded by the Devon Avenue Special Service Area.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (2)

Olympics Mon Jul 06 2009

Blue State Cowboys Olympic Dis Track

This is the best country western municipal politics dis track in the last two or three years.*

Check out the Blue State Cowboys on the city's Olympic bid:

Well, you can scrap that bid from old Madrid Say adios to Spain And just say no to Tokyo With its fancy bullet train

And if you're ill at ease speakin' Portugese Then Rio ain't your town Oh, but Good King Rich, he'll scratch your itch When he throws that cash around


Ramsin Canon

Feature Tue Jun 30 2009

Inside a Toxic Tour

Rafael HurtadoAs he pauses at the corner of 31st Street and Central Park in Little Village, Rafael Hurtado can only think about factories. Turn any way, and they're all he sees, and on the worst days, they're all he smells. On a drizzly April morning, the smell isn't nearly as repugnant as it is on unbearably hot summer days, but Hurtado still has a message for anyone listening. Hurtado, an 18-year-old Little Village resident, volunteers as a tour guide for Toxic Tours, which guide people around the load of manufacturing plants and chemical sites that have been polluting the community for years.

The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) started the tours about seven years ago as a way to educate the community and others about the looming toxic presence of several industries right in their backyards.

On this April morning, in the midst of the murmuring steady rainfall, the noise of sirens, trains and cars passing through puddles briefly disturbs his message, but Hurtado continues with his story. He became involved with LVEJO in 2002 after noticing a rally outside his home protesting for more parks in the area.

"We only have one park in Little Village, and it's only accessible to one-third of the community because it's all the way on the west side," he says. "For you to go over there, you don't have to be part of a gang... they'll harass you."

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

Aldermen Tue Jun 30 2009


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

Chicago Tue Jun 30 2009

Panhandling is (Not) a Crime

I visited my favorite (slightly overpriced) bakery in Hyde Park yesterday. The bakery had a white 8.5"x11" sign on the door that usually portends some sort of neighborhood crime alert, which it did. Surprisingly, the sign was not about a rash of burglaries or strong-arm robberies, but rather to alert us to the fact that panhandling is a crime and that we should call 911 if we witness it happening.

I left the bakery quite conflicted as I chewed on some flaky, buttery, chocolaty goodness. On the one hand, that stretch of 57th Street, while nowhere near the panhandling obstacle course other stretches of real estate in Chicago can be (I love working downtown during the Taste of Chicago, don't you?), it is still, or at least was, home to a couple of pretty aggressive men scamming for change. They were generally less annoying or vaguely threatening as the gentlemen who pull you aside and tell you their life story, but still it was always important to not make eye contact or at least whip out your cell phone while walking that block, a strategy which doesn't seem to work with the Environment Illinois folks, incidentally. There is something to be said for just being able to walk down the street on a nice summer day and not have to be made to feel guilty for not having some spare change.

On the other hand, is annoying people on the street really a crime? At some point, yes, some professional panhandlers can get aggressive and down right scary, but if we make panhandling a crime in general, then what other options do those folks have? Should they just "get a job," should we foist them off on an already overburdened social welfare system, should we lock them up in some sort of modern-day debtors-prison? I suspect that part of the annoyance that panhandlers bring for a lot of us is the ambiguous moral and ethical position they put us in every time we walk by them. I know I am privileged to live in a nice neighborhood and suckle at the teat of the social welfare system of the university. I know that families, men and women live all around me who can't say the same, who have to bust their humps and hustle just for a Polish and a pop, I just wish they wouldn't intrude on my world to do so. And so I am left with, much like I imagine most of us are, no overwhelming set of principles to guide every action, just the ambiguity of every individual experience with panhandling demanding a different reaction.

Maybe I should just see it as a character-building exercise. The persistence of the urban poverty and inequality that leaves so many with no (perceived or real) option other than to beg for charity outside bakeries in the bright light districts is only matched by our efforts to put that poverty and inequality on reservations as far away from our imagined communities of prosperity as possible. Maybe it's an advantage of city living to have to deal with it. Or maybe I should just not carry cash and always have an excuse.

Jacob Lesniewski

Chicago Sat Jun 20 2009

When Will Chicago Get Serious About Recycling?

334ed5d7297d__1245165363000.jpegI'm sure this question has been posed a lot, but after spending a few days in Ann Arbor, it was on my mind even more. Granted Ann Arbor (population: 114,024) is miniscule compared to Chicago's standards, but in A2's modest and pedestrian-friendly downtown, there are these recycling bins for anyone strolling around town. It'd sure be great to have these around Chicago.

On the Mag Mile, I've seen some improvement with the one BigBelly Solar trash compactor I spotted (there may be more). Though trash isn't recycled in these things, a solar-powered compactor helps reduce nasty garbage overflow. I couldn't get a response from a spokesperson from the Department of Streets and Sanitation on how many of these are installed on city streets, but Zvez Kubat, a spokesperson for the Park District, told me the district has 25 of these trash cans along the lakefront, in addition to the separate blue containers for recycling. Kubat says she hopes people this summer pay more attention to what bin they're throwing garbage into. If a recycling bin has too much trash inside, it can't be recycled. "In some cases, I don't know if people aren't paying attention, but there's been some unfortunate instances of not being able to recycle because it's contaminated," she says.

I may be missing something - or just haven't seen anything like this predominately around the city - but doesn't it seem reasonable Chicago could have something like this, at least in the Loop?

Sheila Burt / Comments (1)

Olympics Tue Jun 16 2009

No Games Chicago Live in Switzerland

Cool. NGC sent a delegation to Switzerland to meet with IOC members and make the case: don't wreck our city.

Three members of the No Games Chicago Coalition have been in Lausanne, Switzerland since Monday morning! Martin Macias, Tom Tresser and Rhoda Whitehorse have traveled to the headquarters city of the International Olympic Committee to tell them NOT to award the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.

As far as we know, this is the first time a citizen's delegation has made such a journey to make such a demand in the one hundred year plus history of the modern Olympics.

Disclosure: I was a co-founder of No Games Chicago

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Labor & Worker Rights Mon Jun 15 2009

Congress Hotel Strike Enters 6th Year

One of my very first posts on Gapers Block (awwww) was about the Congress Hotel workers going on strike ("The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (Local 1) is still on strike, dragging out a fight with the Congress Hotel (Congress and Michigan) that started in early June."). Gapers Block is celebrating our 6th year anniversary this year. That's right--the Congress Hotel strike has become the longest hotel strike in the history of the United States, with even the President making an appearance on the picket line (when he was a US Senator). Today is the anniversary picket.

Because I'm a worldly man, I have a subscription to the "number one Jewish newspaper" in the country, The Forward. They had a fascinating piece last week about how the Hotel strike has split the Jewish faith community in Chicago:

This fight, though, has taken on its fiercest and most unusual form within the city's Jewish community. The hotel is controlled by Albert Nasser, a wealthy Jewish philanthropist with residences in Geneva and New York. To run the day-to-day operations at the Congress, Nasser brought in Shlomo Nahmias, an Israeli-born businessman who has put up mezuzas on the hotel's doors and won public support from his Orthodox rabbi for the hotel's battle with its striking workers.

"You do not find in Chicago one hotel that has mezuzas on every door," Nahmias told the Forward proudly in a short interview in his office, just upstairs from the lobby.

Nahmias's foe -- the local branch of the hotel union Unite Here -- is itself led by a longtime Jewish labor leader who put a young Jewish organizer in charge of the strike when it first began. Since then, the workers -- most of them immigrants from Latin America -- have received growing support from Jewish communal organizations and rabbis around the city, who have criticized the conduct of the hotel's management. Just this spring, a high school student who had learned about the strike through his synagogue convinced his school to move the senior prom from the controversial hotel. The strike has become the clearest available case study in the conflicting ways in which Jews approach labor issues today. It is enough to leave some of the workers in the middle of it thoroughly confused.

Will you join the Congress Hotel workers on the picket today, and show your support for Chicago's service workers?

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Thu Jun 11 2009

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning Wants Me To Design Our Future

You guys ready for bus stations made out of gummi and the tearing up of roads to install 13,000 miles of bumper car track? Because if you leave it to me, that's what our region will look like.

Unfortunately for me, but lucky for you, CMAP isn't ONLY asking me to help plan the region. They're asking all of us to contribute in a project called GO TO 2040. The site has unbelievably cool tools that allow you to fiddle with different planning factors--land consumption, infrastructure spending and priorities--and develop a plan for the region.

In 2040, I'll be 60 years old and preparing to be supported by young whippersnappers of different varieties. Hopefully the unfocused growth and haphazzard development of the Chicagoland area over the last forty years will not continue--we pay a huge price in inefficiency and redundancy. Head on over to CMAP and have your say.

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Jun 10 2009

CORE Files Discrimination Charges Against Board of Education

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators has filed charges against the Chicago Board of Education under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that the "turnaround" policy of the Renaissance 2010 initiative has amounted to discrimination against African-American teachers in the Chicago Public Schools. According to a CORE release, there are 2,000 fewer African-American teachers in CPS today than there were at the beginning of the Renaissance/Turnaround process in 2002.

Title VII prohibits formal or practical discrimination in hiring and firing practices--so even where a system is formally fair, if the practice or operations are discriminatory, legal action is possible.

In a statement, CORE co-chair Karen GJ Lewis said, "Since the beginning of the year, I've met black teachers who are working as substitutes. They are in tears, not just about the loss of their jobs but also about the loss of their status in the community. These school and position closings are insidious and Draconian. They are based on only one measurement -- test scores -- which say more about socio-economic status than they do about teaching and learning."

Copies of the complaint were not immediately available. A spokesperson for the Board of Education declined to comment.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Mon Jun 08 2009

Public Employees = Services for the Public

The big widely-known secret about the city's financial situation is that revenues are down and there are budget shortfalls, but the Mayor does have access to reserves built up through privatization over the last few years.

The Mayor has made efforts to balance the budget by cutting services--although this is couched as asking for givebacks from city workers--with disastrous results (e.g., the unplowed side streets). I think its important to always remind people that when you ask workers to take unpaid days off, or cut their pay, you are cutting the services that we often take for granted, and that make our city work efficiently, and better. The Reagan-era stereotype of the lazy public employee needs to die, because it's inaccurate. The reality is that your average public employee works in understaffed situations and is overworked. The reason your DMV lines are long is not because the DMV workers are moving in slow motion but because there aren't enough of them.

Here's AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer talking about city workers' negotiations with the Mayor.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Olympics Fri Jun 05 2009

Telander to Daley: You're a Joke

Damn. Rick Telander is wearing his stuff on the outside today.

The City of Chicago, led by Mayor Daley and a vast and tumorous army of aldermen and bagmen and yesmen and opportunists and spineless, parasitic political-machine halfwits of forms never seen outside the roiling cesspool of governmental slop-trough greed, has proven itself unworthy of something as potentially delicious and fulfilling as the 2016 Olympic Games.

I'd quibble that the modern Olympics aren't something we want anyway, but damn.

Telander goes on:

Alderman Isaac Carothers, a longtime West Side Daley hack and political operations insider, is allegedly so corrupt that even wearing a wire for the feds (which he did) didn't prevent him from being indicted the other day for fraud and bribery.

Michael Jordan and even Barack Obama himself are going to speak out for the Chicago Olympic bid.

Who cares?

Do you know how much money Chicago stands to lose in this deal? Are you a wheeler-dealer? A connected guy? A Daley relative hooked up to pension-fund investments?

You'll pay, if you're not.

I guarantee you.

I promise you.

The Chicago bid folks have a massive public-relations war chest.

All we citizens have is common sense, and the knowledge of what goes on here.

In Louisiana, they have governmental corruption that is so over-the-top it's funny.

Ours is just dumb as snot.

Bad kids should be punished.

To bed. No food. The end.

Damn. Holy shit. Telander gives the Mayor the business.

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Jun 03 2009

Union Democracy: Live-Tweeting the Chicago Teachers Union

Follow @coreteachers to follow the debate over the budget within the Chicago Teachers Union, one of the largest unions in Chicago.

The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) is a teacher-led movement to bring transparency and democracy to the Chicago Teachers Union.

(and by the way, since we're talking about can follow me at @ramsincanon)

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Jun 03 2009

KassWatch: Imaginary Friends Edition

I was probably a little hard on John Kass my last time out on KassWatch, but I couldn't help it; he can be incredibly annoying (many of you would say the same about me I'm sure; see? Circle of life). What can I say? He gets under my skin. That's what he's trying to do, so I guess that means he's good at his job.

Anyway, I avoided touching on Kass' frustrating piece on the Sotomayor nomination because I think it deserves a longer consideration and it's an issue that I know will gin up a lot of emotion, so it deserves to be addressed seriously, instead of just me poking fun at a guy who loves the smell of his own ink.

So how about a lighter topic?

I am completely at a loss to figure out what the point of Kass' latest column was. It's about...uh...Patti Blagojevich being more manly than Eminem? Or a better washed up celebrity? I'm not sure that Eminem is washed up though; and I'm certain Patti Blagojevich is not a washed up celebrity because she was never a celebrity, and certainly wasn't one long enough to be considered "washed up". Eminem went out at the top of his game and has been producing records and making zillions of dollars. He just released a record that will definitely go zintuple SpacePlatinum. I realize that he's just trying to have a spot of fun and the piece isn't really meant to be taken too seriously--after all, it's about Eminem getting a face full of Sasha Baron Cohen's hairy ass, and Kass subsequently being put off his raisin bran--but there's an equivalence problem here.

There's no relationship between the Eminem incident/stunt, which happened at an awards show, and Patti's appearance on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here (which the Tribune's Jeff Coen abbreviated on his twitter feed as IAC...GMOOH, which I think would be pronounced Yak Gmooh, which we can all agree is a much cooler name). I think Kass is trying to call out the Blagojeviches for trying to "taint the federal jury pool" (yet he failed to make the obvious pun there) but couldn't get to his word count, so he thought he'd comment on how gross it would be to get touched by a hairy dude ass.

Ultimately, Kass decides that Blagojevich achieved her objective of tainting the jury pool while the Eminem stunt succeeded only in making him, Kass, nauseous (funny that an ass in the face for ten seconds would make him nauseous, but seeing a woman eat a tarantula for money wouldn't).


"All I can say, it's a good thing Borat didn't try it with 50 Cent," said my friend Big Paul. "If Borat came flying out of the sky with little white wings and touched his [you know] on 50 Cent's forehead, you know what would happen?"

So I think I figured it out. This column is one of Kass' lifestyle pieces where he gets to talk to his imaginary friends.

"Imagine if he tried it with Joe Walsh?" a guy named Tony asked. "What if he tried it with Ted Nugent?" another guy said.

We imagined Borat stumbling, pincushioned by Ted's flaming arrows. Or Ted stringing Borat's dried tendons on his guitar, as a haunch of salted Borat turns nicely on a spit over hot coals, Ted whetting his bowie knife, humming "Cat Scratch Fever."

Nice creepy revenge fantasy by proxy you had there fellas. But really--it was just a dude's ass. When I'm sitting on the bench at the gym tying my shoes, I get about five dude-ass walk-bys. It doesn't make me want to flay them and make jerky out of them. It makes me want to move my face.

Maybe Kass wanted to accomplish two things: taunt Patti for appearing on YakGmooh, and remind everybody that he has friends (and as an added bonus that he, Big Paul, and A Guy Named Tony think dudes' asses are gross). All in all, a successful outing.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Daley Tue Jun 02 2009

Joravsky Gives Volpe Two Thumbs Up, In Quotes

Man, I love Ben Joravsky.

Volpe* was supposed to appear at 2:45. But he didn't show up until 3:18. Hey, what's the fun of being the mayor's right-hand man if you can't make reporters sit around?

But let me tell you, it was worth the wait. What a performance! Volpe deserved a standing ovation when it was over, and it was all I could do not to stand up and cheer. He kind of reminded me of Jimmy Cagney, with his spunky, pugnacious defense of his man (the mayor) and their parking-meter deal. Lips quivering, voice occasionally cracking, he expressed outrage bordering on disgust that Hoffman--or anyone for that matter--could even remotely suggest that things didn't work as well as they should in Chicago.

As for defending the deal, it's pretty clear that the mayor's central argument is that $1 billion in the bank today is worth more than anything 75 years down the road. He and his aides may need a new one--fewer and fewer people seem to be buying that line.

*Former CFO, Daley Chief-of-Staff Paul Volpe

As I stated earlier, we shouldn't let this become an issue of whether the amount of money was exactly right. The lack of a reasonable process--and the bidders' rational expectation that there would be no meaningful public scrutiny, given our Mayor's reputation as the CEO Mayor--means that there was no way we got the best possible price. There's no one magic number that is exactly what we could have sold ("leased") our publicly-built-and-maintained-for-generations parking meters for. That negotiations happened behind closed doors and a final product produced for an up-and-down vote means that the bidder was dealing with a handful of negotiators rather than contending with an inquisitive if not hostile City Council and the large constituency organizations and stakeholders who would have participated in a review process.

Here's what I wrote in December '07:

The mixed reaction to the auctioning of the Skyway has emboldened the mayor, who seems to think that selling things you and I own is the best way to guarantee a city that works for you and me. Who knows how much the mayor is willing to prostitute the public trust? Who knows when our legislators will realize that the myth of privatization efficiency is just that, and stand up for us when the mayor tries to auction off our property?

It's not that we left $1bn on the table; it's that we never had a shot.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Daley Tue Jun 02 2009

...B-but, I thought he made the trains run on time?

UPDATE: Whet Moser at the Reader is following the debate on the numbers--what a luxury now. Whatever valuations the former city CFO, Paul Volpe, can throw out now are residing comfortably next to meaningless. This is a debate to be had before the decision is final. In most Public Private Partnership frameworks--believe it or not, most parts of the country have statutes that lay out exactly how PPPs can be entered into--there is a stage for negotiation after the best offer is accepted. Having this public debate about valuation THEN almost certainly would have gotten the city a better deal. Instead the bidder knew there was going to be a railroaded process because Chicago has the "CEO Mayor" who "gets things done". It misses the point to debate what the valuation "honestly" is because that number doesn't exist. The value is whatever we the public could have gotten out of the bidder for the deal, and without a period of debate and discussion, we'll never know. A request goes out; bids come in; agencies, committees, and panels review the proposals and make recommendations to legislative bodies; legislative bodies hold hearings and solicit public comment; then bids are accepted but opened for negotiation based on the aforementioned process. That's what a reasonable PPP process looks like.

So the Inspector-General's office has released their report on the parking meter deal, and guess what? Mayor Daley's incompetence may have cost us $1bn.

That's one billion dollars. If you want to wrap your mind around what that means, it could pay the salary of 1,000 cops for a decade; or 3,000 teachers for ten years. If the city had gotten a one-time shot of $2bn, we could have added an additional 500 hybrid buses to the city's fleet for 10 years and paid their drivers. Oh, the things we could do. Because of the Mayor's action, we don't have that money.

Maybe it isn't fair to call it incompetence; but the other option would be stupidity, so it would be better to go with that.

And of course it wasn't just Mayor Daley's incompetence, it was the City Council's cowardice, too, their maddeningly comical terror of the Fifth Floor.

And this has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans--in this instance we have Democrats rubberstamping an essentially conservative policy. It has to do with a lack of democracy. People who argue for more transparency, more democracy, deliberation, public participation, are shrugged off by the professional political class as being unrealistic, idealistic, wild-eyed haters who are just sore because they aren't in the cool kids club.

But the policies democracy creates are almost always better--particularly over the long term--than the policies dictated by elites. Why? Because the policies dictated by elites will, over time, trend towards favoring those elites over everybody else.

So what a surprise, that the parking meter deal has proven to benefit Morgan Stanley and the Mayor over the people of Chicago.

The Inspector-General's report (via takes no position on Public Private Partnerships per se, but includes this:

Because the deal was presented to the City Council with very limited information and because the Council scheduled its vote a very short time later, there was no meaningful public review of the decision to lease the parking-meter system. What is standard in the PPP "best practices" model - informed deliberation, transparency, and full analysis of the public interest considerations - was not present here.

Of course not! Our aldermen are so scawed of da big scawy mayor. They tremble in fear that he'll send his scattered and demoralized "army" of geriatric precinct workers after them. Who knows; if they stand on principle, maybe they'll lose reelection and have to get a job. I can't believe its come to taunting our elected officials for being scaredy cats, but what else is left? What else do we have to do? They obviously don't respond to reason. So maybe taunts will work better.

I understand it's scary to have your job be threatened, but its not like the Mayor is going to kill you if you vote against his public private partnership proposal. He'll just get comically red-faced and blustery and call you a coward in a way that makes everybody in the city laugh at him.

(comme ca:


Mayor Daley the efficient city manager is an apparition; his years of consolidating control gave the appearance of an efficient bureaucrat making things run smoothly; but all things now controlled, we find that the "efficiency" of amalgamation is just a shift of decision making from a slow public process to a quick private one. Democracy maybe chaotic, scary, and sometimes even ugly, but besides being theoretically right, it is often practically right, too.

Richard Daley has a mixed record in office. He has a right to defend that record, and we shouldn't give in to the temptation to turn him into an always-bad caricature. But this is a fantastic blunder, and one that is a direct result of the lack of leadership in Chicago.

These types of things are destined to happen again and again if we don't soon form a real, on-going effort to identify and encourage new leadership in the city.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Sat May 30 2009

Another WTF Moment on Randolph Street

Save_the_Planet_pot.jpegCan you_pot.jpegChicago doesn't always have the best record with the environment, so when I spotted this lonely city pot ripe for flowers, I found the message someone scrawled with chalk somewhat interesting. One side says "Save the Planet" while the other side asks, "Can u look out the window without your shadow getting in the way?" It's a nice warning on vanity, and it oddly references an old Sarah McLachlan song. These pics were taken on East Randolph Street, in between North Michigan Avenue and North State Street. Looks like those ubiquitous Greenpeace solicitors might be getting their message across afterall.

Sheila Burt / Comments (4)

Social Issues Fri May 29 2009

Leftists To Gather, Dialectics Likely

Much has been made of the Rasmussen Poll indicating that among young people especially, socialism and capitalism enjoy about equal popularity. If this poll is to be trusted, something like 110,000,000 adult Americans would prefer something else--for about 40,000,000 of them, socialism--to capitalism.

This may disappoint some of my socialist friends, but I honestly think that those results reflect the tendency of conservatives to call every public activity not performed for the purpose of further enriching the wealthy "socialism"; to call all social or public activity "socialism" and to decry all secularist tendencies as "socialist"; to call raising the top marginal tax rate on the plutocrats by 3% "socialism"; to refer to efforts to cut defense spending "socialism"; to make Medicare available to all "socialism"; to give workers the right to organize a union without fear "socialism", etc. As a result, I think, people, particularly younger people who have no real world experience with socialism, think "socialism" just means a mixed economy.

If you're one of the 47% of Americans who are seeking an alternative to capitalism, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) will be holding its annual conference here from June 18th to 21st (and in San Francisco from July 2nd to 5th; just like a buncha socialists to ignore the 4th of July!). You can register to attend and be dialectic-ed into believing that social relations structure all human institutions and that the contradictions of capitalism are inherent and will necessarily lead to its destruction. Also, refreshments.

Socialism2009's slogan is "Building a New Left for a New Era". Speakers will include Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Sportswriter Dave Zirin of The Nation, and journalist Jeremy Scahill, among others. Seeing Goodman and Zirin speak is worth the price of admission. Also, Heather Rogers (author of Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage) will be giving a talk on the difficulties of having a truly green economy in a capitalist system that will be interesting for those of you who not only have socialist tendencies, but also may be hippies.

*Drab clothing, pince-nez glasses not required; monocles, top hats discouraged.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

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

Ward Politics Thu May 28 2009

Rename The Kluczynski Dirksen Building "The Fitzmas Tree"

According to Tribune reporter Jeff Coen (author of the wonderful book on the Family Secrets Trial), US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office will be announcing corruption charges against an elected official today at 2 pm. (The Capitol Fax Blog is on it, too, of course).

What kind of Fitzmas present will Fitzgerald be delivering to the public, brilliantly wrapped in indictment paper? We'll find out if it's something we wanted, or just another boring old sweater.

UPDATE: Wrong federal building. Oops. And as I'm sure you've heard by now, it is West Side political boss Ike Carothers (29th-Austin) who was indicted today by the feds, for allegedly accepting cash for a zoning change. Nice, old school Chicago corruption. Here's the indictment. I'll work on pulling out the juicy bits for ya.

UPDATE 2: I'm not an attorney, so I'll stick to the facts; these are the violations cited as the grounds for the indictment: (i) "theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds"; (ii) perpetrating a "fraud or swindle" using an interstate mail service; (iii) perpetrating a "fraud or swindle" using the phone; (v) obstruction of justice by "Influencing or injuring officer or juror generally"; (vi) entering a fraudulent or false statement to the IRS; (vii) and violating congressional campaign contributions in three different ways (including entering a contribution under a different name). These are the things that made the case federal, but the indictment lists a number of state and local laws that were violated, too. The "fraud or swindle" was literally of the citizens of the city; under Section 1346 of the US Code, this definition is provided: "For the purposes of this chapter, the term 'scheme or artifice to defraud' includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." This was used in the Blagojevich indictment as well. The argument is that we were defrauded of our intangible right of honest service by this scheming. At least that's my understanding of it. Lawyers?

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue May 26 2009

Why Does Media Matter?

iFC-8022I recently had the opportunity to go to a town hall meeting hosted by the Independent Film Channel (IFC) and listen to a panel of prominent journalists (pictured left, photo from IFC) discuss why media matters. The town hall meeting is part of IFC's pro-social initiative "Make Media Matter" which raises awareness about the vital role media plays in our lives, society and world.

In the wake of the economic crisis and political unraveling in Chicago, media is more important than ever. As Attorney General Lisa Madigan boldly stated in her introduction to the panel, "media makes democracy work; without it, who would hold the government accountable for their actions?"

Continue reading this entry »

Kaitlin Olson / Comments (1)

Social Issues Tue May 26 2009

Trust Fund Babies Want To Teach You a Race Course

Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, for many reasons, are distasteful to the left as well as the right. Not the least of which was their role in destroying the class-based coalition on the left in the 1960s and introducing the era of rich white kids competing for radical chic points in academia. Now they're trying to waste our time with their views on race, with a book annoyingly titled Race Course: Against White Supremacy. Don't get me wrong; being brown, I also am "against white supremacy." I'd just rather not attend any "race course" taught by a guy whose daddy was the CEO of Commonwealth Edison, and sat on the boards of Northwestern University and the Tribune Company, and who never spent a day in the clink for something anybody not benefitting from "white supremacy" would have done decades for.

As if to confirm my distaste, Bernardine Dohrn is quoted in the Sun-Times as saying this,

"Fifty-seven percent of white voters did not vote for Obama....That was the impetus for writing this book. We've got a big job to do to change those numbers."

I tried to figure out how to take those words out of context--that maybe she wasn't being fairly quoted. The ellipsis is only to exclude exposition from the reporter--that's the quote. Seems pretty clear. My follow-up questions for Bernardine Dohrn would have been along the lines of, what percentage of white people voting for Mr. Obama would have been acceptable to them? Forty-nine percent? Fifty percent plus one? Seventy five percent? What percentage of white people voted against John Kerry? What percentage of white people voted against Bob Dole in 1996? Didn't Mr Obama win the election? Do she and Mr Ayers believe that only white supremacy kept him from winning 400 electoral votes?

Obviously his race was a factor for lots of voters, including a lot of racist voters. But it was obviously not a major factor, given his lopsided victory over possibly the whitest guy in America, the Arizonan Scotch-Irish husband of a liquor magnate heiress. But radical chic has nothing to do with material reality, it has to do with impressing your friends at cocktail and cheese parties in Hyde Park.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue May 19 2009

Strong Message on Randolph and State Streets

frugoli.jpegI walk along West Randolph and North State Streets quite often, so it's interesting to see several of these flyers surrounding the construction for the debacle that is Block 37. I spotted about three of them posted on police barricades. The flyers have some strong words for former CPD detective Joseph Frugoli, who is accused of a drunken-driving crash on the Dan Ryan in April that killed two men. In early May, Frugoli was charged with a DUI, reckless homicide and leaving the scene of an accident, according to CBS. He will be arraigned on May 28. Frugoli reportedly has a long history of being involved in other crashes as well.

Below a picture of Frugoli, the flyers on State and Randolph state: "I killed 2 young men because I don't follow the laws, I just enforce them."


Sheila Burt

Education Tue May 19 2009

Follow the Chicago Teachers Union Meeting

CORE, the movement of rank-and-file teachers to democratize their union, is tweeting (twittering? I'm only 27 years old, and I'm not sure) the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates Meeting. Follow 'em.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Sat May 16 2009

More Signs of the Times?


Spotted these young gentlemen early this evening along Michigan Avenue.

Sheila Burt / Comments (2)

Chicago Wed May 13 2009

UIC Responds to Concerns Over Clinic Closure

Yalda Afshar sent us an upddate on the UIC Healthcare Students Against Disparities fight against the university's decision to close The Center for Women and Families at Pilsen. Afshar, a fourth year medical student and MD/PhD candidate in the Medical Scientist Training Program, wrote in an e-mail to Mechanics that:

In response to the outcry, John DeNardo, CEO of the UIC Healthcare System, has promised future ties with an existing Pilsen community clinic, the Alivio Medical Center. As of our May 1st meeting, DeNardo is discussing the provision of specialty services to the Pilsen community through Alivio, as an alternative to the primary care that the UIC clinic provided.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

Chicago Sat May 09 2009

Wind Power Ain't Blowin' Smoke

windpower1.JPGI was fortunate to be able to spend a little time at Windpower 2009, the just-concluded 4-day expo at McCormick Place. There was surprisingly scant local coverage of the world's largest windpower conference being held here in the Windy City, of all places, so I'm posting these notes, because it was an amazing event. From a gathering that, longtime attendees told me, had about 200 people here 10 years ago, and only 1,000 attendees as late as 2001, this has grown into a massive conference, sprawling across the entire South Hall of the expo center. According to The American Wind Energy Association, the conference had 23,200 attendees, close to double the size of last year's gathering, and over 1,200 exhibiting companies.

In keeping with the green theme of the conference, I took a multimodal route to get there: I biked to the Metra, took the train downtown, walked to a bus stop, then took the CTA to McCormick Place. I was glad I made the effort. Any policymaker, activist, reporter, or general member of the public who stopped by this show would have come away convinced that wind is no longer, in any fashion, an "alternative" energy source or science fiction. Rather this is a burgeoning industry with tremendous growth ahead.

In addition to the five governors who came by the conference, speakers included Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, financier T. Boone Pickens, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu (via video). Illinois Governor Pat Quinn used the conference to announce an agreement by which the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) will purchase all of its energy for facilities in the capitol from wind-generated sources, through the city of Springfield.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Column Fri May 08 2009

Flooding the Lines for a Flooded Library

Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Chris Gray, an independent journalist in Chicago.

They're calling it a telephone blitz. The Altgeld Gardens Housing Project has been without its public library for almost two months and lifelong resident and activist Cheryl Johnson has had enough.

Her environmental justice group, People for Community Recovery, is trying to set up a day when the whole neighborhood calls up the city of Chicago's complaint hotline, 311, as well as Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), demanding that someone reopen the library at 132nd Place and Ellis Avenue in the Far South Side housing project.

"We're going to flood his office, interrupt his day, because we need to have our library reopened," Johnson said.

Continue reading this entry »

Andrew Huff

Chicago Wed Apr 29 2009

UIC Students Continue Fight Against Clinic Closure

Last week, we posted on a rally that members of the University of Illinois at Chicago Healthcare Students Against Discrimination were holding to protest the university's decision to close The Center for Women and Families at Pilsen.

We checked in with Yalda Afshar, a fourth year medical student who helped organize the protest, to talk to her about the group's hopes and plans for the future.

"The events were incredible," said Afshar, a MD/PhD candidate in the Medical Scientist Training Program. "Both events were really well attended...[and] it was a very, very mixed group in terms of professional background, which brought a lot of power to it."

Afshar estimates that between 75 to 100 UIC students attended the rally, which was held in front of the Outpatient Care Clinic, along with 20 to 30 physicians and staff. About 150 adults and 50 children attended the vigil, which was held in front of the Center later in the evening on Thursday.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

Event Tue Apr 28 2009

World, Biden Discuss Urban Economic Crisis

Meetings, summits, conferences. These are where catastrophic problems are discussed and noble solutions are alluded to. That tradition was upheld on Monday at the UIC-hosted and city-sponsored Fifth Annual Richard J. Daley Urban Forum cautiously entitled "Global Economic Recovery: Cities Lead the Way."

The three-hour event boasted 30 mayors from cities around the world contributing their hard-knocks experiences amidst the global recession. Much of the dialogue revolved around such big ideas as bureaucratic reform, infrastructure investment, and educational improvement -- all with very little specificity attached.

While Mayor Richard M. Daley, who Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution affectionately referred to as the "dean of American mayors," may have presided over markedly higher budgets each year, he confidently assured the forum that urban success will be rooted in "cutting government spending," and "looking at outsourcing." Yet it was Mayor Hanna Birna Kristjansdottir of Reykjavik, Iceland, who described how she and the city council agreed to a pay cut as a measure of demonstrating what needed to be done across the board. From the back of the room, it was hard to see if the 50 aldermen in the front row were stroking their chins in a eureka moment.

Vice President Joe Biden topped off the chorus of international voices in support of significant federal reinvestment in the urban landscape by using stimulus spending items as bullet points. After rattling off a stump speech of spending measures (all of which could be reviewed at, he expressed his belief that American cities will soon gain a technological edge in the global economy by trading in "smokestacks for stethoscopes."

From the bowels of the predictable rhetoric and the guaranteed applause lines about wanting Chicago to host the Olympics in 2016, a few general themes did emerge. Tourism dollars wind up finding their ways to places that spend money on beautification projects and big box infrastructure improvements, making it clear that such expenditures go beyond short-term patronage.

Secondly, business partnerships must guide the educational development in this country through secondary school grants and product development in the universities. Norbert Riedel, a spokesperson for the Baxter International, discussed how partnering with several Chicago universities allowed it to make headway in adult stem cell research, anti-counterfeiting, and product safety. These relationships went onto to produce high-paying jobs in which companies groomed the work force to suit its needs. Gone are the days about worrying how corporate influence in the educational marketplace could corrupt the schooling process. As the Beatles once said, "All the money's gone, nowhere to go."

Prescott Tolk

Social Issues Fri Apr 24 2009

Federal Troops to Quell Urban Violence?

I can't believe I missed this column. I normally like Mary Mitchell, but I don't always think to check out her columns anymore. Not sure why, but this column from last month was pretty good.

BTW, I'm not sure if I'm reading this correctly, but I see on her blog that she's suffering from cancer and was successfully treated for that. That's great news and I expect nothing less than to be able to read her columns for the foreseeable future.

Anyway back to her column:

Obviously, President Obama can't read the tons of mail he receives. But there's one letter floating around the White House that I hope he reads.

That letter is from Edward G. Gardner, a prominent Chicago businessman and the founder of Black on Black Love, the city's pioneering anti-violence campaign.

Gardner is asking Obama to send federal troops to urban areas that are now under siege by domestic terrorists fighting gang wars.

Our children are dying in the streets.

Yet so far more attention has been paid to the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Continue reading this entry »


Column Thu Apr 23 2009

The Pain That Is Michael Reese Hospital

This is a repost from Mike's personal blog.

Ellis Ave.On June 19, 1973 I was brought into the world in a delivery room at Michael Reese Hospital. Eight years later my little sister did the same. In between those years my mother, Barbara, conducted research on infant development at the hospital's Child Development Center.

From my childhood I remember an enormous campus, dozens of buildings, underground tunnels, bustling with activity and life. My mother and her colleagues lectured me on how Reese had the first neonatal ICU, developed the first preemie delivery methods, had the first real cancer treatment centers and was a light of hope and medical greatness for the world -- not just Chicago's South Side.

Continue reading this entry »

Mike Fourcher / Comments (6)

Chicago Wed Apr 22 2009

Rally for Jailed Journalist Scheduled for Thursday

Northwestern University students are planning a rally on Thursday in support of Roxana Saberi, a U.S.-Iranian journalist who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison and convicted of espionage. Saberi has been held in Tehran's Evin prison since January.

Saberi received a master's degree in Journalism from Medill in 1999 and has been working in Iran for six years, covering stories for the BBC, NPR and ABC News, among other outlets.

According to an e-mail and press release sent today, students will gather in front of Fisk Hall, 1845 Sheridan Rd., at 5:15 p.m. and will begin marching at 5:30 p.m. Students will march through campus and end at The Rock, a center meeting point on NU's campus, where supporters will express their concern for Saberi's release. On the same day colleagues will be gathering to support her, Saberi will begin a hunger strike, according to ABC News. Follow her story at the Free Roxana Saberi blog.

Sheila Burt

Chicago Tue Apr 21 2009

UIC Group to Protest Pilsen Clinic Closing

Members of the University of Illinois at Chicago Healthcare Students Against Discrimination are planning a rally on Thursday to protest the university's decision to shut down The Center for Women and Families at Pilsen, a UIC community clinic that serves several low-income Latina women and children, within two months.

The group, along with physicians and community members, will gather in front of the Outpatient Care Clinic (OCC), 1801 W. Taylor St, at noon, and will hand over a petition with more than 1,000 signatures from UIC students, staff and community members who are against the closure.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

Chicago Tue Apr 21 2009

Cisneros Revisits Chicago, Listens to el Corazón

sandra_cisneros.jpgAnyone who's unsure of how politics and literature/art relate to one another effectively should consider reading Sandra Cisneros's The House on Mango Street, which is this spring's One Book, One Chicago choice.

The book follows the life of Esperanza, a young Mexican-American girl growing up in Humboldt Park, through tiny vignettes about the little things in her life that add up to a whole lot more -- hair, her age, her name, school lunches, hips.

As she matures, Esperanza witnesses the lingering effects of gangs, binding domesticity and poverty in her community and among her friends. She vows to get ahead with education and to leave Mango Street, but "to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out." Though Cisneros, a Chicago native, has a deceptively simple writing style, she gives a complex human face to the struggles of working-class families everywhere in Chicago, especially Latino families. Many of the stories, Cisneros has said, were influenced from her days teaching at Latino Youth High School.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

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

Chicago Wed Apr 15 2009

Do You Have an Evacuation Plan?

The following op-ed is by Tammy Terwelp, traffic director at Chicago Public Radio and a graduate student studying geography at Northeastern Illinois University. Lately she's been wondering how Chicago would handle an emergency evacuation. Take her survey and let her know what you think.

If 9/11 or worse happened in the City of Chicago, what do our leaders have planned to help citizens evacuate and where can I get that information? If you are like most Chicagoans, you don't have a clue. Being a grad student at NEIU gives a person a great excuse to try and unearth some answers. My spring semester research paper is on our city's plan and why it doesn't seem to be accessible. The policy appears to be "You'll know when you need to know." I don't know about you, but given our city and state's reputation, I am not so confident in trusting officials with my life. There is a public document [PDF] outlining some response tactics for the Central Business District (CBD), which is a good start. I understand it better than I did when I first read it a few months ago because I have been neck deep in acronyms of city and county departments, learning what they do. They seem to have a workable plan for disseminating instructions in an emergency -- but what are those instructions so they can be in my head before the freak out happens? And what about us schlepps outside of the CBD but still in the city?

Philadelphia has a lot of information available online. Maps, instructions and routes are all viewable. Yes, they do have a "private" plan for officials only, but the public plan at least allows people to have an idea of what to do and where to go and a chance to convey that to their families. Even Cleveland has a brochure [PDF] that outlines the obvious questions with more relevance than Chicago's version.

There may be more detailed Chicago information out there that I can't seem to find, but if I can't find it in two months of researching, how are you going to find it to potentially save your life? I certainly don't know how to get everyone out of here, but do you believe anyone has an idea? Take my survey -- maybe I am wrong in assuming Chicagoans are in the dark. I certainly hope I am.

Tammy Terwelp

Andrew Huff / Comments (3)

Chicago Sun Apr 12 2009

What Does Urban Success Look Like?

Aaron Renn from The Urbanophile writes at New Geography on Chicago's population loss. For instance on Chicago losing population to Indianapolis:

One key to this lies in affordability. For years Indianapolis has been ranked as the least expensive major housing market in America. Blessed with few natural barriers and pro-private sector governments, housing supply in these cities has grown along with population. Yet at the same time the negative impacts of sprawl have been mitigated by their modest - compared say to Dallas, Phoenix or Houston - growth rates and relatively small size. This leaves them attractive, affordable, and offering a very high quality of life to people without elite professional incomes.

On why Chicago is losing population:

Indeed what we can see is that there are different forms of urban success. In an ever more diverse America, people define the good life differently. Too much urban policy is focused on one size fits all solutions that assume cities should look and function something like Chicago. But America's cities are very diverse and require tailored policies to suit the local landscape, and the unique local geography, demography, history, culture, and values that our cities bring to the table. Great cities, like great wines, have to express their terroir.

So who are those condos being built for?

If you told someone 15 years ago you lived in the South Loop, they would have said, "Huh?" If you had told them you lived by the old Chicago Stadium, they would have thought you had lost your mind. These and other neighborhoods that were once derelict or dangerous, as well as some that were low key ethnic enclaves, have been transformed into bustling yuppie playgrounds for the new "creative class".

But there has been a downside to this for Chicago as well. The influx of the educated elite into the city has significantly raised housing prices in large parts of the city, rendering it unaffordable to others. Supporting the amenities demanded by the city's new residents costs money, so taxes have gone up, doubling the squeeze on the city's traditional residents, forcing many of them out.
Chicago is an incredible urban success story, but only for some. International immigrants and the creative class are flocking, but everyone else is leaving.

Go read the whole thing.

Article via YoChicago & Newsalert!


Chicago Thu Apr 09 2009

One Advantage Chicago Has For the Olympics

One thought crossed my mind in reading this story in The New York Times about Chicago's bid at the 2016 Olympics: Chicago has one thing that sets us apart from other cities security wise. We've guarded the first black president of the United States. Considering the amount of nutjobs and racists there are out there, even in a cultured and metropolis like Chicago, this is no small feat and although it's one man versus the various dangers that come with protecting large crowds, this should mean something to the IOC.

Daniel Strauss

City Council Thu Apr 09 2009

Government for What?

Ben Jovarsky and Mick Dumke's dogged reporting has produced a fascinating, if predictable tale of Mayor Daley ramrodding questionable billion dollar privitization schemes through the City Council. It's no surprise that the Mayor and the pliant council are loath to engage in any sort of real public debate, but other news stories this week make the details Jovarsky and Dumke unearth much more troubling. Over and over again, the Mayor and his staff justify the quick and unexamined sell off of the city's assets for more funds for things like social services or neighborhood parks. But other stories this week seem to indicate that the Mayor has no intention of creating robust, quality city services. In other words, the Mayor and his staff are selling off revenue-generating city assets for no clear purpose.

The ChiTown Daily News first reported on the closing of four city mental health clinics, all on the South Side of Chicago. Budget director Paul Volpe, health commissioner Terry Mason, and Mayor Daley all cited state budget cuts as the reasons for the closing of the centers.

Continue reading this entry »

Jacob Lesniewski

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)

Chicago Thu Apr 02 2009

Your Stimulus In Action

400 jobs will be created through repairing the Dearborn CTA slow zones. According to CTA Tattler:

About 400 people will find jobs fixing slow zones in the Dearborn subway this month. Those jobs are being paid for by $56.6 million in federal stimulus funds under a contract approved at the March CTA board meeting.

This is the best part of the stimulus and it's good to see it's being used semi wisely --to repair existing infrastructure that can be done efficiently and quickly create jobs.

That said, this is also an opportunity to expand public transportation in the city with the stimulus money by expanding the CTA's trains and buses. By expansion I mean creating more routes, increasing frequency, and lowering wait times, all of which would create jobs and improve the city's transportation system. It may not be a Bean or the Olympics but a good transportation system does have a strong appeal to people who are trying to decide where to live.

Daniel Strauss

Chicago Tue Mar 17 2009

South Side Traffic

directing traffic.jpgHappy St. Patrick's Day to all you Mechanics readers! In honor of St. Paddy's Day, we're posting this pic from Sunday's South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade. This photo was taken at West 107th Street and South Bell Avenue in Beverly, and we think directing traffic just before the parade has got to be one of the more interesting city jobs in this town. According to the SouthtownStar, police arrested 54 people during the parade, mainly for disorderly conduct.

Sheila Burt

Chicago Thu Mar 12 2009

Political Musical Writer Writes 'Please Step Back'

My former boss, Ben Greenman, is set to release his first novel in May called "Please Step Back." How does this relate to Chicago and politics? I'm glad you asked! Greenman is a Chicago native who attended Northwestern for journalism graduate school and very recently wrote for this year's fiction issue of the Reader. Concerning politics, he's also the masterful mind behind these hilarious musicals about recent political scandals. Read them here under the humor circle. The press release for Greenman's book is below:

Coming Soon: Ben Greenman's new funk-rock novel, "Please Step Back," due in May from Melville House.

--What is it?
Ben Greenman's novel "Please Step Back" is a swirling Sixties saga of a true
American icon, the funk star Rock Foxx. In Greenman's imagined (but very
real) world, Foxx is one of the genre-busting stars of the era who created a
new kind of music amid a new kind of culture, like Sly Stone or James Brown
or Curtis Mayfield.

--Will people like it?
Greenman's novel, which tracks Foxx's rise and fall, is already being hailed
as "light-stepping and hard-hitting...Greenman gets it right" (by Walter
Mosley) and "a literary funk-rock novel with weight and power" (by George

--Is it true that there is a theme song for the book?
The last movement of the book turns on the title song, which Greenman's main
character wrote but was never able to record. Greenman has enlisted the help
of the funk legend Swamp Dogg, one of the many real-life inspirations for
the character, who wrote music for the lyrics and, in an unprecedented
collaboration, recorded a theme song for the novel.

--How can I find out more?
To interview the author or write about this book, please contact Clara
Heyworth at Melville House (718.722.9204;



Ben Greenman is an editor at The New Yorker and the author of a number of
acclaimed books of fiction, including Superbad, A Circle is A Balloon and
Compass Both, and Correspondences. His short fiction and journalism has
appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post,
McSweeney's, Zoetrope: All Story, OneStory, and the Paris Review. He lives
in Brooklyn.

Daniel Strauss

Chicago Wed Mar 11 2009

Sign of the times

Oh, the difficult politics of running an arts building in Chicago. I don't walk along Belmont Avenue too often, so I don't know how long this sign has been up. But when I spotted this Monday afternoon, I thought it was one of the saddest signs I've ever seen. This from Bailiwick Repertory Theatre's Web site:

Beginning in 2009, Bailiwick again is on the road. Realizing the demands of our former building for repair and upkeep had become too taxing, we have chosen to take projects to rental houses, focusing our energies and funds on artistic projects.

While our schedule is yet to be announced, we will be producing our Pride Series at the brand new 160 seat theater Hoover-Leppen Theater in the Center on Halsted. Discussions are underway for a musical festival in winter.

Please keep checking this website to get updates on all that is happening at Bailiwick in 2009 and beyond.

Sheila Burt

Social Issues Wed Mar 04 2009

U.S. journalist with Chicago connection held in Iran

A U.S. journalist with ties to the Chicago-area is being held in Tehran's Evin prison under unspecified charges.

Roxana Saberi, 31, a freelance journalist, has reported from Iran for BBC, NPR and ABC News, among other news outlets, for six years. According to reports, she called her father on February 10 and told him she had been arrested for buying alcohol, but her family has not heard from her since then. A spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Saberi filed stories illegally from Iran after her press credentials were withdrawn.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (1)

Olympics Fri Feb 20 2009

Sports & Politics: Rick Telander on the Olympics

The Sun-Times' sports columnist asks, "Is the five ring Olympic circus worth it?" (Hint: No.)

Oh, and folks, you never have seen the intrusion of security and all its muscle until you have been to an Olympics. Hidden cameras, patrol boats, armed guards and blockades will be your summer pals.

Remember, you can watch the Olympics on TV like billions of other global viewers, wherever the competition is held. But when the stuff occurs in your backyard, you are but pawns in the drama.

London, which has the Games in 2012, already has hinted it wished it didn't.

And Vancouver, which hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics, has been forced to borrow $350 million -- taxpayer-backed -- to guarantee shaky event financing.

Last March there was a Chicago Olympics fund-raising dinner at which tables sold for as much as $100,000. Were you there? Were you paying up?

Somebody was.

Which leads me to the key question: Who owns the Chicago 2016 Olympics, if they happen?

Can you hear the snorting and grunting of the porcine-snouted wheeler-dealers as they jockey for position for when the five-ringed money -- let's face it, your money -- comes roaring down the chute?

I can.

Ramsin Canon

Education Thu Feb 19 2009

Soto School Closure Moratorium Bill Passes Committee

We all know that means little if Speaker Madigan (or Senate President Cullerton) wants to squash it, but good on Rep. Cynthia Soto for bucking the Mayor and his corporate lackeys on the Board of Ed and moving this moratorium on school closures through the General Assembly. The vote was 20-0.

Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, candidate for Rahm Emanuel's House seat, is a Chief Co-Sponsor. The bill has a Republican co-sponsor, Roger Eddy of Hutsonville.

The Board of Education has no standards for its school closures. It views our city as a "market" and is merely trying to increase the "market share" of the privatized schools so favored by the Mayor and the myopic mopes who purr in his lap on the Fifth Floor.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Chicago Mon Feb 16 2009

The Insecure Sun-Times

The Sun-Times has some great local reporters, but I have to say, it has a severe "second paper" complex. That's the only explanation for today's cover, which provides photographic evidence--complete with an arrow--that they broke an earlier story related to a current story they did not break. I still prefer the Sun-Times as the scrappy underdog (also, they did break the Hired Truck Scandal, which in future years will be described as a watershed event for Mayor Daley's mayoralty), but somebody needs to sit them down and playfully jab them on the chin and call them slugger and tell them that everybody likes 'em just the way they are.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Feb 10 2009

Forbes Lists Chicago Among Nation's Miserable Cities


Chicago is America's third most miserable city, beating out bleak towns like Flint, Mich. and Buffalo, NY, according to a recently released Forbes magazine list.

Chicago's dubious ranking comes just six months after the magazine dubbed Chicago the most stressed-out city in America.

The magazine said Chicago's weather, long commute times, rising unemployment and the country's highest sales tax earned it the number three spot on the list, below Stockton, Calif. and Memphis.

For the first time this year, Forbes used "corruption" as a factor when ranking America's 150 largest metropolitan areas in order of misery, according to

They even talk about the long baseball World Series drought of the Chicago Cubs. That makes Chicago miserable! Yeah, corruption isn't bad enough -- or weather or commutes or even business or economic reasons -- but the Cubs' long championship drought is!

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Tue Feb 10 2009

"Waah, I won't become fantastically richer by opening another restaurant."

Sorry, that's a little harsh, and not very reasonable, but I'll admit it was my first reaction when reading this Crain's Chicago piece about the likely "targets" of new union organizing drives if the Employee Free Choice Act (or EFCA) is passed and made law.

I understand that by opening a new restaurant, Glen Keefer would be creating jobs. But the way the free marketeers and their conservative enablers talk about "job creation" they make it seem like a charitable act. "I guess I'll create some jobs for the little people, rather than make gold coin angels on the marble floor of my portico."

But, of course, the reason people "create jobs" is because they generate profits for themselves with every job they create. They don't create jobs as some kind of favor; they ask people to come work for them in order to profit off those people's work. There's no getting around that; there's no way to "spin it" or "narrative it." That's a stone-cold, irrefutable fact. In the private sector, you create jobs to make a profit off the person's labor, not because you are a Dickensian aristocrat with a heart of gold.

Keefer goes on to quote directly from Cliched Management Union-Busting Arguments:

"We don't need a third party in between us and our employees who is extracting money from our employees for services that, frankly, they don't need," says Mr. Keefer, who says his workers get health care benefits and paid vacation time. "A third party could disrupt our working relationship and would raise costs for our employees and for us."

First of all, who cares what you need? This isn't about you. This is about the employees who are motivated enough by your mistreatment of them to undertake an organizing drive, an invariably painful and difficult (but highly rewarding) process.

Second, the union is not a "third party." The union is the employees themselves, who now, protected by a contract, can't be cuffed around, be forced to work off the clock, or cloy for the boss' favor to avoid being mistreated. Of course, this argument would be easier to make if some of the biggest unions in the country had more democratic control by rank-and-file membership. But there is more democracy in almost every union in this country than there is any workplace.

Finally, union contracts generally don't raise costs over the long term, and for many industries they actually stabilize or lower costs, due to lower burnout, lower turnover, and higher productivity (yes, union workers are more productive, whatever the zombie corpse of Reaganomics wants to tell you). It's never been about higher costs or third parties or whatever -- its about employers wanting always to be able to treat their employees arbitrarily. Without the constant threat of a loss of job, with the evaporation of systems of favoritism, employers lose their control over employees.

The Crain's story also mention Shirley Brown, a support staffer at suburban Westlake Hospital who has been working to organize a union at her hospital and across Resurrection Health Care for 6 years.

"Give us a choice and a voice....You should not be subjected to fear, harassment and intimidation because we want a voice," says Ms. Brown, 50, who's worked at Westlake for 13 years.

Tell it.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (10)

Chicago Sun Feb 08 2009

STOP: Stop Closing Mental Health Clinics

Why is the city closing down mental health clinics on the South Side?

Displacement? Gentrification? Making parts of the city superficially pretty for the International Olympic Committee?

My tendency is to think "all of the above" or, maybe, "six of one, half dozen of the other."

Southside Together Organizing for Power, a community group that does just what its name implies, came to that same conclusion when they began fighting the closures last year. Closing mental health clinics is a common way to attack a community's social safety net. Having grown up in and around Chicago, I remember the stories of the closures of mental health facilities in Uptown that led to an increase in homelessness for the most at-risk.

But more than that, it's just cruel. Providing this kind of health care benefits communities; it doesn't drain them. STOP intends to take that message directly to the Mayor on Tuesday, at 10am, at his City Hall office.

For more information.

Ramsin Canon

Daley Sun Feb 08 2009

Mayor Daley, the Blushing Flower

With hundreds of millions of dollars to stream into Chicago from federal sources, Mayor Daley is refusing to release "his" (actually, "our") list of "shovel-ready" programs that will be kick-started by federal monies.

I read this at the time and meant to post on it, but I wanted to think of something grandiloquently clever. But then I realized that would just be annoying and distract from the fact that our mayor, a supposed big-city politics tough-guy, is, in fact, just a hothouse flower, ready to wilt at the first hint of scandal.

"Yes, we do, we have our list, we've been talking to people. We did not put that out publicly because once you start putting it out publicly, you know, the newspapers, the media is going to be ripping it apart," Daley said.

In other words, because the city's media is mean to him (which means, I guess, they only agree with him 70% of the time or so, unlike "his" -- our -- legislature, which agrees with him 100% of the time), he is not going to release to the public, the list of public works programs that are going to be funded by public money.

Our money, our programs, our city, but we don't get details because our mayor is taking our ball and going home.

Besides revealing the Mayor to be unbelievably thin-skinned, this is a profoundly anti-democratic act. This isn't your money, or your developer friends' money, or President Obama's money, or Dan Lipinski's money, or Ed Burke's money, or Rahm Emanuel's money, or Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s money, or anybody's money but ours, our money. And our programs, and our city.


Ramsin Canon / Comments (11)

Chicago Tue Feb 03 2009

Welcome to Mechanics, Rep Sheet

Wanna look up your ward, congressional district, state rep or senate district -- with detailed maps (a must in our insanely gerrymandered districts)?

Check out the RepSheet widget there under that lovely ad for whatever.

Ramsin Canon

Special Election IL05 Mon Feb 02 2009

CD5 Candidates Raising Hundreds of Thousands

It's amazing that even in these stiff economic times the amount of money candidates raise is nothing short of huge. According to Greg Hinz:

In the latest news among the Dems, County Commissioner Mike Quigley reported raising $250,000 so far and signed up mega-Clinton fundraiser Bill Brandt as his finance co-chair. Mr. Quigley also led narrowly over state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz in a new poll, but she reported having pulled in more money, about $325,000, though others say the real figure is $500,000.

Of course, Quigley and Fiegenholtz are the projected political heavyweights of this race, but still...

Daniel Strauss

Chicago Thu Jan 29 2009

Geoghegan, Advocate Settle Suit on Billing

The area's largest health care provider, Advocate Health Care, has received a steady stream of bad publicity over the last few years, as revelations about their charity care, staffing rations, and treatment of workers have been brought under public scrutiny.

This week legendary Chicago labor and employment attorney Tom Geoghegan settled a suit with Advocate on behalf of low-income uninsured patients who were being forced to pay higher rates than insured patients (presumably because they weren't being represented by a large firm that could bargain for cheaper rates).

Geoghegan is also a candidate for the Democratic nominaton for Rahm Emanuel's seat in the Fifth Congressional District.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Jan 28 2009

Cops Aren't Laughing, And You Shouldn't Be Either

So the story about the fourteen-year-old kid who impersonated a cop for five hours was real cute -- a bored kid who was able to fool all the grown ups -- except who knows what the purpose of this was?

Now the kid seems like just some troubled kid, but suppose he was doing it on behalf of someone else -- to test the CPD's response, or a particular station's security?

Suppose this is happening in other stations around the city in slighter ways? It should be alarming that this type of thing is possible. Infiltrating law enforcement like this is how Mumbai-style attacks can be planned. In fact, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre relied on a similar type of planning.

Our police department is underfunded and our cops are demoralized, and the buck stops at the Fifth Floor for that, no question.

Second City Cop points out that just "rolling heads" will not address the issue. Amen.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Education Wed Jan 28 2009

Teachers, Parents, Students Out in Force

After making Ron Huberman's first day on the job at CPS quite unpleasant (h/t to Progress Illinois), a large demonstration of hundreds -- inching into thousands -- of teachers, parents, and students will be demonstrating in front of the Chicago Public Schools building at 125 S. Clark Street, beginning at 3:30pm today. If you work downtown, you may want to head over there and check it out -- and send us pictures, while you're at it. We'll post 'em!

Mayor Daley's Board of Education is run by the business community and himself. It's enough already. How much longer are the people of Chicago just going to accept that "The Mayor gets his way?" Do you really think forever?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Jan 28 2009

EFCA In Chicago

NPR's Chip Mitchell looks at the potential impact of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would finally protect American workers' right to organize -- a right defined as protected by the United Nations, but which is practically lacking in this country.

Ask a union organizer named Dave Webster what he thinks of the Employee Free Choice Act, and he'll take you here to Chicago's South Side.

WEBSTER: Right now we're standing in front of the Comcast location in the historic Pullman district. We're at the East Gate, where the majority of the workers pull out in the morning after coming in to get their trucks and tools and stuff.

Webster works for Local 21 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Last year the union targeted the building's 200 technicians, warehouse workers and payment agents.

WEBSTER: We spent many hours here, handing out leaflets, talking to workers...

...and convincing many of them to sign cards saying they wanted the union to negotiate their wages, benefits and work conditions.

Comcast didn't recognize the union. That led the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election to see what the workers wanted. The balloting didn't happen for almost six weeks. Webster says the company took advantage of that lag.

WEBSTER: Comcast would plant supervisors to stand out here and watch which workers were taking the flyers, which workers were talking to organizers and basically scare them with their job so that they wouldn't talk to union organizers.

The union lost the election by 20 votes. Comcast declined to speak with WBEZ about the union's accusations.

The Chicago Federation of Labor and the Illinois AFL-CIO are hosting a rally in support of this basic human right.

Ramsin Canon

Column Mon Jan 26 2009

Interview: Olympics Myths and Realities with Chris Shaw

This Saturday evening, Chris Shaw, author of the book Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, will be taking part in a panel discussion at UIC entitled "Why we should say 'NO' to the Chicago 2016 Olympics Bid." A professor of ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, Chris Shaw is also a founding member/lead spokesperson for the No Games 2010 Coalition and 2010 Watch. He recently discussed his book Five Ring Circus with Mechanics contributor Bob Quellos.

BQ: Your book is subtitled "Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games," but Five Ring Circus is not about Greek mythology, correct?

CS: No, sadly it's not ancient Greek myths that are the problem with the modern Olympics; rather, it's the corruption at all levels and the massive debt that cities incur holding the Games that are the problems.

BQ: How did you become interested in this subject?

CS: My interest began when I heard Vancouver was likely to be short-listed and about to submit their detailed bid. It was the period in 2002, very much where Chicago is now in its bid process. We tried our best to prevent Vancouver from getting the bid. Sadly, we failed and all the negative consequences that we predicted came to pass. Chicagoans have the opportunity to prevent the same mess from occurring in their city, but the time to stop the bid is short.

Continue reading this entry »

Bob Quellos / Comments (6)

Education Wed Jan 21 2009

School Occupation on South Side

Teachers are planning a sit-in picket at Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary at 955 W. Garfield (55th St.) beginning tonight tomorrow night (1/22) at 7:30p.m. 5pm to 7pm, when the school must be evacuated.

Holmes Elementary was slated to be a "turnaround" school, the Board of Education's method for liquidating public schools.

Come out and show your support for the parents, teachers, and students of Wendell Elementary.

A letter from the teachers, faculty, and LSC after the jump.

UPDATE: Sit-in details have been changed to a picket after a community meeting.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Olympics Mon Jan 19 2009

Olympic Bid Committee: No Means No

I'm happy to run an editorial submitted to us by local activist and author Anne Elizabeth Moore.

I have the same problem with marketers as I do rapists: that it is impossible to convince them that some things don't mean "yes." Turns out, the Chicago 2016 Committee (C2016) has much the same tendency.

When speaking last Wednesday at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to the Lincoln Park Advisory Council, for example, Patrick G. Ryan Sandusky described the purpose of C2016: "to bring the Games to Chicago." He provided a quick calendar of events including the bid's due date (February 12), the bid's publication date (February 13), the International Olympic Committee visit (April), a presentation to the IOC in June, and the receipt of the final decision on October 2, 2009.

Sandusky implored those present to ignore the lessons of other Olympic cities, who've drastically gone over budget, created needless buildings requiring upkeep, and mismanaged resources from day one. Chicago, he claims, will benefit from the Olympics largely because C2016 has reduced the need for new structures and focused on rehabbing existing structures.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicagoland Mon Jan 19 2009

Chicago's "Vital Signs" January 2009

The Chicago Community Trust has released some disturbing numbers today, indicating homelessness continues to rise in the city. And across the board, all of the indicators of economic collapse are on the rise over 2007 -- homes dependent on food stamps, the explosion in foreclosures, unemployment, everything.



The work of the Trust in distributing these "vital signs" of our city's economic health are critical to understanding what "hard times" means in real terms. In 2008, nearly 40,000 more households -- somewhere over 100,000 people -- came to be dependent on food assistance to make sure they had enough to eat. The type of social and political instability that kind of economic insecurity causes is hard to comprehend unless you've lived in the middle of it. To have tens or hundreds of thousands of people plunged into economic insecurity creates the atmosphere of desperation that, often, only radical change can address.


Jump the jump for the January reports from the Chicago Community Trust.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Fri Jan 16 2009

Rockford Takes One Giant Leap for Educational Excellence

But this is only the first step.

I attended the Rockford School Board's meeting on Tuesday and witnessed their unanimous approval for the first charter school in the city. The Legacy Academy of Excellence will be a K-5 school for "at-risk" students.

Charter schools are public schools but they're different than the norm, so here's some background from an op-ed I wrote last month in the Rockford Register-Star:

Charter schools are public schools open to any families who wish to apply. Charters design their own curricula, hire their own teachers and need to meet certain student achievement standards set forth in their agreements with state and local officials. If they don't meet these standards, the school must close, and students return to their local traditional public school.

In other words, Legacy will have freedoms that other public schools lack. From flexible work rules that allow charters to hire and retain the best teachers, to their independence to design curricula without mandates from Springfield or Washington, charters are fundamentally different than traditional public schools, and results in Chicago and elsewhere prove their high worth.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (7)

Chicago Thu Jan 15 2009

Welcome to Deadwood

The set-up bagman gets charged. Reporting by Dan Mihalopolous and Jeff Coen.

Federal prosecutors have quietly brought charges against a City Hall permit "expediter" who became a government mole at the center of a wide-ranging bribery probe.

Catherine Romasanta wore a wire and acted as a "bagman," carrying bribes from developers and contractors to corrupt building and zoning officials in Mayor Richard Daley's administration, according to court records and sources.

Romasanta was a key undercover operative in the Operation Crooked Code investigation, providing federal agents with information about bribery involving more than 30 people, records show. The probe is a joint operation by federal authorities and city Inspector General David Hoffman's office.

Ramsin Canon

City Council Wed Jan 14 2009

Chicago's Olympic TIF

IT'S OFFICIAL. If Chicago gets the 2016 Summer Olympics, portions of the project will be paid for with Tax Increment Finance (TIF) money, of an unspecified amount. Dedicated to covering infrastructure improvements, the TIF will come out of the City's revenue -- on top of a $500 million guarantee to the International Olympic Committee for potential cost overruns.

Chicagoans will also be footing the bill for an estimated $45 million in extra police patrols, street cleaning and other municipal services. However, one would have to conclude that this is a cruel underestimation given that the city of London has projected $2 billion for just the security at their 2012 Summer Olympics.

And all of this passed unanimously -- without any debate or discussion. Judging by the silence in the room it seems that this deal was put to bed a long time ago. Certainly, Daley and Chicago 2016 knew all along that a portion of the Olympics would be funded with a TIF. They just chose to be tightlipped about the deal because it would have looked bad to put forward the $87 million Michael Reese deal or the TIF this past fall -- when the city was facing a budget gap of over $600 million.

Continue reading this entry »

Bob Quellos / Comments (3)

Chicago Mon Jan 12 2009

Get the Pros and Cons of the 2016 Games in LP

Disclosure: I am a founding member of No Games: Chicago -- yes, our site is currently undergoing a redesign.

Below is a press release from the Lincoln Park Advisory Council for a discussion between a representative from the bid committee and an academic from the University of Chicago, a pro-and-con discussion.

The Lincoln Park Advisory Council (LPAC) will sponsor a forum on the Olympic Games and their impact on our park.
The forum will take place on Wednesday, January 14 at 6:45pm at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. *

There will be two speakers, Gyata Kimmons, Director of Community Relations for the Chicago 2016 Committee and Dr. Allen Sanderson, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago.

Jump the jump for more

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Wed Jan 07 2009

Spielman on Streets and Monies

If I didn't know for a fact she existed, I would suspect that the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman was a reporting robot. Seriously how does she file so many stories?

Two great pieces, one on the city reversing its much-detested plowing and salting policy:

On Tuesday, the mayor's snow commanders did an about-face on a controversial cost-cutting policy that saw City Hall use less salt, plow side-streets during normal working hours to reduce overtime and skip side-streets altogether after minor snowstorms.

During the "dead of winter," Chicago side-streets will be plowed and salted after every snowfall whether or not it requires overtime.

No more waiting until normal working hours, only to have the temperatures drop and side streets -- along with major intersections around schools -- turn into sheets of ice.

...and another on Mayor Daley making a pretty good argument about the need for direct municipal access to federal funds. In 1984, Jesse Jackson said that Nixon took the power from the cities and gave it to the suburbs, and that Reagan took it from the suburbs and gave it to the states. Not entirely sure what he meant about Nixon, but Reagan's ending of revenue-sharing was probably what he meant by the states. In any case, I don't know why exactly direct management of federal funds by the city is such a wild-eyed idea (and yes, of course we know that the city administration may not have the best record on spending waste, but we are comparing it to Springfield in this instance):

"Mayors are going directly to the federal government. They have to. We can't wait. You can't allow Springfield to take your money, hold the interest, then eventually give it to you in the middle of winter. You'll never get the job done in the middle of winter," Daley told reporters.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Mon Dec 29 2008

Not JUST Gang-Related

The Sun-Times editorial board argues that explaining away Chicago's exploding violence as "gang-related" makes it too easy to forget that the gang members are themselves Chicagoans, born, raised, and hardened by Chicago's streets. Kudos to the Sun-Times; stuff like this reminds me of why losing local reporters year after year is not only sad but dangerous. We need journalists to keep pursuing these stories, relentlessly..

...But, we say, understand how killers are made.....Main told the story of James Hampton, who admitted to police that he had killed his girlfriend's former boyfriend. The former boyfriend had beat up the girl, had smashed a window of Hampton's car, and -- perhaps his greatest offense -- had dared to stare Hampton down...."I'm not fitting to be running and hide from dude," Hampton said in a taped confession. "Then I seen him, and he look at me, and I look at him. I just shake my head."...Normal people -- that is to say people with a modicum of education, a decent job, a belief in their future and a sense of belonging to the larger society -- don't kill people over stuff like that. They've got too much to lose. They shrug off the disrespect and move on. If necessary, they call the cops....But Chicago's most violent neighborhoods are full of men like James Hampton, their fragile sense of manhood at the mercy of the next show of disrespect. They kill to keep it....Poke beneath the surface of any shooting on that weekend of April 18, our reporters learned, and you will likely uncover a tangle of social woes that only an entire city, as a whole, can do much about. The police can clean up mess after mess, but more messes will come along.

Read the whole thing.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Chicago Mon Dec 15 2008

Taking Chicago's Vitals

The Chicago Community Trust has released the first in a regular set of metrics designed to measure the "human toll" on the city during these economic hard times. As you could probably guess, the results are not particularly heartening. Below are six of Chicago's "vital signs." Follow the jump for the rest.

Vital Signs - Foreclosures.jpg

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

State Politics Fri Dec 12 2008

Crook County - A Quick Conversation about Chicago Politics

From's Michael C. Moynihan talks about the long history of corruption in Chicago politics and the current troubles of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich with Terry Michael, former press spokesman for the Illinois House Democrats and former press secretary for Sen. Paul Simon, and Mike Flynn, Director of Government Affairs at the Reason Foundation.


Column Wed Dec 10 2008

Chicago, Open Up Your Pocket Books: Olympic Village Deal Back On

Perhaps while watching yesterday's breaking news regarding the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich you said to yourself, "Surely Chicago politics couldn't get more absurd." Well, try this one on for size.

As the U.S. housing market leads the global economy into its greatest crisis since the Great Depression, that whip-smart team over at the Mayor's Office has decided to bet our futures on yet another condo development. But this isn't just any condo development — this is an Olympic Village.

That's right. The deal to obtain the land underneath Michael Reese Hospital for Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid is back on. And the City of Chicago is about to take out an $86 million loan to acquire the land that is currently occupied by the functioning hospital.

Once they acquire that land, they plan to demolish the hospital and build housing for athletes who will participate in a two-week sporting event that may occur in Chicago eight years from now. How's that for absurd?

Continue reading this entry »

Bob Quellos / Comments (7)

Chicago Tue Dec 09 2008

Trib Bankruptcy: Visual Study

Courtesy of Herman M.


Ramsin Canon

Chicago Fri Dec 05 2008

Private Meters, Public Benefit

With the rubber stamp, Chicago aldermen approved the sale of the parking meter system to a private entity. The floor discussion was absent any real debate and without drama, although Alderman Richard Mell's claim to ignore the "small print" was somewhat discouraging. Instead of taking the time to legitimately debate the issue, aldermen generally made ancillary arguments that demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the pertinent issues regarding the lease of a public asset.

Though drivers will most assuredly bemoan the increased cost of parking curbside, the one-time installment of 1.2 billion dollars is worth the inconvenience. It is not difficult to see the benefit to the city. Given the dire condition of municipal finances and the need for a source of capital spending, private ownership of public assets is a great money-generating tool for Chicago. It is only the municipality that has the legal framework to build parking meters (or an airport or tollway, for that matter); however, the capitalistic efficiency displayed by private ownership eludes them as it devolves into waste.

Continue reading this entry »

Carl Giometti / Comments (4)

Chicago Tue Dec 02 2008

What is Good Government?

Last month I posted a blog that spring-boarded off an article from this website I like to read, The main thesis of this article is that the government by its nature isn't "liberal" and it doesn't do what it is supposed to do.

Well, needless to say, LewRockwell is a libertarian website that would say that there are some functions that government assumes but these functions are better served by the market. Well, the reason why I write this post isn't at this moment to argue about what offers the best services: private entities or the government.

I wanted to somehow relate that article with the state of government -- well, mostly in the city, since city government is delivering most of the services we rely on. We could expand this topic to talk about county government or state government. But let's focus on city government for now.

It has often been said that the residents of the city of Chicago will tolerate a certain amount of corruption as long as city services are delivered and government is well run. Never mind what the U.S. attorneys or anyone else might discover as far as something illegal in city government.

But perhaps someone should ask the question: What does good government entail to those of you who live in the city? Or indeed I could ask about any aspect of government in Illinois. What is good government?

A better question: What do you expect from your government?


GB store


Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

Special Series

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project
GB store

About Mechanics

Mechanics is the politics section of Gapers Block, reflecting the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs of Chicagoans and Illinoisans. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Mike Ewing,
Mechanics staff inbox:



 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15