I'm one of those people who always thinks, "Maybe I should trek out to Working Bikes and buy a bike because I'd love to commute along Lake Michigan," but never actually goes and buys a bike. It's partially due to the worry of someone stealing my bicycle even if I used four different u-locks, as well as deciding to buy more books with the money I could use to buy a bike.
I love bicyclists in Chicago.
These are people who have found another way to commute, one that is possibly better than how we often think of commuting in Chicago. The CTA--which I will say more about later--is not always the most reliable to commute and no one wants to be stuck in a car in traffic. Bicyclists are the people who can easily speed past the throngs of people crushed together on the bus, who never have to hear an announcement regarding a delay for the CTA.
Former State Rep. Deb Mell became Ald. Deb Mell on July 24, filling the city council seat made vacant by the retirement of her father, Ald. Dick Mell. Chicago has a history of nepotism, but since the big piece of news around the world is the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, people seem to be jumping on the idea that Chicago is in fact a monarchy.
Ever wonder what, exactly, your alderman has been up to? Debuted this Saturday, Chicago Councilmatic makes it easy to search, browse and subscribe to anything the council has done in the last two years.
This information is technically already available through the City Clerk's website, but Councilmatic makes it much more accessible. You can "subscribe" to a particular alderman or piece of legislation and receive email updates on their activities.
Also, legislation is sorted by routine and non-routine measures on the site, making it easier to identify when something meaningful happens. It's easy to get lost among hundreds of "routine" actions that include everything from approving sidewalk cafes and awnings to "honorific" measures, like "Congratulations extended to Frances Misretta on 90th birthday" (Way to go, Frances!).
Chicago's City Council, compared to other large U.S. cities, is one of the largest. One alderman representing 53,912 Chicagoans, based on 2010 census data.
According to the 2013 budget released by the city, City Councils budget for this year is $26.4 million. Chicago aldermen's salaries range between $104,101 to $114,913, depending on whether they decided to take raises.
Alderman Ed Burke's proposed energy drink ban was discussed at a committee meeting Tuesday by medical professionals in favor, and beverage industry representatives opposed. The Committee on Health and Environmental Protection adjourned the meeting before voting on the ordinance.
Alderman George Cardenas (12 Ward), chairman of the committee, would rather enact tougher labeling rules than ban highly caffeinated drinks altogether. Some energy drink labels state that the product is potentially harmful, but this isn't required by federal regulations.
"[Warning labels] should be across the board on all cans," said Cardenas.
Once again the Chicago City Council proved it's not ready for reform. Recently, the council voted unanimously to pass the second set of reforms proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Ethics Task Force, except as the reforms would apply to them.
Under the new ordinance, Mayor Emanuel's newly appointed Ethics Board is granted more power to approve investigations and punishments for ethics violations. But instead of being accountable like all other city employees, aldermen created their own legislative inspector general. They did this instead of allowing the effective city inspector general, Joe Ferguson, to investigate them or their staffs.
The council's special legislative inspector general can only investigate on sworn complaints approved by the Ethics Board, not on his own initiative or from anonymous complaints. It does not matter what evidence is provided in support of the complaints. And making false claims against aldermen will bring a $2,000 fine to anyone who dares to challenge them without sufficient evidence.
Their legislative inspector general is given no staff or enforcement powers. With such a limited budget and authority, in his first year in office he has brought no cases to the Ethics Board or to state and federal prosecutors.
The City of Chicago posted the application to become the new alderman of the 7th Ward, replacing Sandi Jackson, who resigned Jan. 15. Applications are due by 5pm next Friday, Jan. 25.
Among the requirements to apply, you have to have lived in the 7th Ward for at least a year and be registered to vote there, mustn't be in arrears on your City taxes, and "must not have been convicted in any court located in the United States of any infamous crime, bribery, perjury, or other felony." The application asks for such details as your past governmental experience, community involvement and the extent of your social media presence.
If you want to throw your hat in the ring, fill out the form and drop it off to the 7th Ward Aldermanic Screening Committee in room 406 at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. -- or apply online.
Participatory budgeting, at least at the moment, is not what you would call a widespread phenomenon.
Only four of the city's 50 wards -- the 5th, 45th, 46th and 49th -- are taking part in the process, wherein ward residents -- rather than aldermen -- get the chance to decide what to do with $1 million of aldermanic discretionary funds, which are known as "menu money."
But Ald. John Arena, whose 45th Ward encompasses a large chunk of the Northwest side from Nagle to Elston and from Devon to Waveland, thinks that more aldermen could soon jump on board.
"I think it will spread some more," Arena said Tuesday. "I think it'll expand over time."
The 49th Ward has gone through the participatory budgeting process every year since 2009, but the other three are new to it this year. Arena, who was elected last year, said that from almost the beginning of his term, he was thinking about bringing participatory budgeting into the ward.
"I was intrigued by it because it's a very transparent process," he said.
Participatory budgeting is a four-step process. Last month, each participating ward held several community meetings where residents could spitball ideas for how to spend the money. Step two will take place between now and March, when residents who asked to be community leaders will meet to decide which projects will wind up on the final list for residents to vote on. Step three will be the vote in May and the final step is implementation of the projects residents voted for.
Arena believes the process could work in other wards, though he was unsure about whether it could work at a citywide level. While he doesn't know if any aldermen are thinking about jumping on the participatory budgeting bandwagon any time soon, he knows at least one alderman -- Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward -- did consider it.
Arena does believe, however, that residents would like to see participatory budgeting expand into other parts of the city.
"I think the city of Chicago is engaged in their government," he said.
Rather than let Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2012 budget go to a vote without any public input, the City Council "Progressive Caucus" -- aldermen Robert Fioretti (2nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th) -- is holding a series of public hearings, beginning tonight.
"A constituent's idea may not be the best idea, that's OK," Ald. Sawyer told CBS 2 Chicago. "There's nothing wrong with that. There's no bad idea. The worst thing about it is having no input."
The first hearings are tonight at 6pm at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., moderated by the Reader's Mick Dumke. Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) will also hold a public budget hearing tonight at the Woodson Regional Library, 9525 S. Halsted St., also at 6pm.
Additional hearings are scheduled for Oct. 24 at Wells High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave., and Oct. 30 at South Shore International High School, 1955 E. 75th St. Both meetings will begin at 6pm.
If you had an extra $1 million that had to be used to improve your neighborhood, what would you do with the money?
A group of about 30 residents of Chicago's 49th Ward got to answer that very question Monday evening. The group packed into a room in the fieldhouse at Loyola Park for the first of seven "neighborhood assemblies" to discuss the first step of the 2012-2013 participatory budgeting process.
Participatory budgeting, said 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore, is a process by which residents decide how he should spend $1 million in discretionary funds awarded to each alderman (known as "menu money") for infrastructure improvements in their ward. The 49th Ward, Moore said, was the first place in the United States to implement such a process when it started in 2009.
"The 49th Ward has been on the cutting edge," Moore told the crowd. "Every person has an equal voice. It's not just me making the decisions about how that money's spent."
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.
In the last election, the first two viable Latino candidates in Chicago's history, Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle, made a strong race for mayor. Recently, new Latino aldermen and county commissioners like Jesus Garcia have been elected and moved important legislation forward.
In the ward remap battle, Latinos successfully remapped the wards to gain seats in the City Council. But not all Latino empowerment is positive.
For instance, Joe Berrios is the first Latino boss of the Cook County Democratic Party. He is also County Assessor and a throwback to the bad old days of assessor Parky Cullerton — nepotism, patronage, corruption and machine politics.
For progressives, two important races are shaping up. One is the second run of the very attractive young progressive Latino candidate, Rudy Lozano. Lozano came within a few votes of defeating veteran State Rep. Dan Burke in the 2010 election. He is running this time in the newly remapped 21st legislative district against Latina former journalist Silvana Tabares. She is supported by machine aldermen Ed Burke, George Cardenas, Michael Zalewski and Speaker Mike Madigan.
City Council may have voted in favor of a new ward map, but the highly political battle over ward boundaries may not be over.
Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward), one of eight alderman to vote no on the map, stated in his email newsletter on Thursday that he has no intentions of dropping the issue.
"I believe that new map breaks up communities of interest and includes deviations in population from ward to ward, which may subject it to future legal challenge. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether it will ever go into effect."
The new ward map won't go into effect until the 2015 city elections. Fioretti wrote in the newsletter that he has begun a "listening tour" on the issue.
Other alderman who voted no on the map are Roderick Sawyer, Michael Zalewski, Michael Chandler, Scott Waguespack, Nick Sposato, Rey Colon and John Arena.
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.
The City Council voted today to pass Mayor Emanuel's budget unanimously, 50-0. Chicago News Coop reporters Hunter Clauss and Dan Mihalopoulosdescribed 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:
Mayor Emanuel's press shop is tireless. They must have three shifts going at full speed. They are particularly busy on days when the City Council is in session, as they send out press releases regarding the Mayor's initiatives and how they fared. Here's what the Mayor applauded, eased, introduced, commended, and proposed:
MAYOR EMANUEL APPLAUDS CITY COUNCIL FOR ENDING HEAD TAX FOR CHICAGO BUSINESSES
Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel applauded the City Council for passing a City ordinance that ends the City's "Head Tax" - fulfilling a pledge made by the Mayor and the Administration to phase out the tax which is a deterrent for businesses to start and grow in the City. Under the Mayor's plan the "Head Tax" will be reduced by 50 percent in 2012 with its complete elimination occurring in 2014.
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.
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.
This Op-Ed was submitted by Celeste Meiffren, Field Director of Illinois PIRG
No one will argue with the fact that Chicago's budget situation is dire--and has been for some time now. But Mayor Daley masked the drastic fiscal situation in Chicago with year after year of short-term budget gimmicks. The hope now is that, as he puts forth his first budget proposal next week, Mayor Emanuel will learn from his predecessor's mistakes, and avoid a lot of the budget shenanigans that Mayor Daley was known for.
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.
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.
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.
On Monday, the Tribune reported on Mayor Emanuel's first weekend in office, spent working with the University of Chicago on a package of zoning and permitting issues. The University is in a constant state of reshaping Hyde Park according to its growth and development plans, and the City wants to ensure that those plans jive with the the City's and resident's hopes and plans for the area.
The Tribune's story focuses on Emanuel's roll-up-your-sleeves approach to making government "smarter," a theme that was integral to the Mayor's marketing package during the election season. Specifically:
The first actions of any new executive are heavy with symbolism...So what did Mayor Rahm Emanuel do during his first weekend in office? He went to City Hall on Saturday morning in jeans and a dress shirt and met with top officials from the University of Chicago to hammer out an agreement on, of all things, zoning and construction permits.
It was a nice little story about a new Mayor dedicated to overhauling government. What jumped out at me though was that in a story about major development plans in Hyde Park, Hyde Park's alderman, Will Burns, was not mentioned.
Apparently, Burns noticed this too, because within a few hours, he posted this on Twitter (read from the bottom up):
An impressive crowd of about 75 turned out a few nights ago at Gill Park
to hear the two runoff candidates for alderman in Chicago's 46th Ward, Molly Phelan and James Cappleman, weigh in on transportation issues at a forum hosted by Walk Bike Transit (WBT)
, a newcomer to the political scene who may end up having an important impact. The non-partisan WBT says its mission is "to mobilize voters throughout Chicagoland [on] biking, pedestrian, and transit issues." The event was the first in a week of near-nightly matchups between the two would-be successors to Helen Shiller, and, while billed as a forum rather than a debate, it nonetheless offered insight into the contrasts between the candidates as well as showcasing the interest in issues affecting those who use their own footpower, or public transportation, to get around.
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.
One Monday hip hop artist Che "Rhymefest" Smith teased a "big announcement" at 10:30am this Thursday, Oct. 21, at Exclusively Yours Auto Spa, 5820 S. State St.
The video all but says he's running against Willie Cochran for alderman in the 20th Ward, and Smith has been coy about what he's announcing. But he proclaimed his candidacy Oct. 9 at a hip hop festival in Atlanta (see below). "I'm from a community named Englewood," Smith told the audience. "This is the same neighborhood where Jennifer Hudson's parents and people got killed. I'm from the fifth most violent ward in the city. And in that ward, in that district, I'm currently running for City Council."
"I want to let you know, y'all see me drinking, hanging and all like that, but I'm in my right mind. I see what shorties need. We need jobs, we need re-education, because the education we got ain't hot, and we need our police, we need mentors. When I was growing up, grown men used to go out and play football with the kids on the block. They're not doin' that no more. People go to work, they come home, they're like, 'I ain't got time to deal with nothin' but me and mine.' But you gotta realize your village is you and yours. And that's, hopefully, why the next element of hip hop is political power."
Smith is already listed as a candidate for his upcoming appearance on Mark Bazer's Interview Show. Consider this ward battle joined.
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.
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."
With 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back in 2008, The Nation magazine's John Nichols named Alderman Joe Moore of the 49th Ward the country's most valuable progressive local official. The bestowing of this distinction upon Moore sent some Rogers Park residents into a tizzy. (Although the extent to which residents were actually upset is difficult to gauge--in the 21st century one yahoo's pissed-off blog post can become fodder for reports of residents foaming at the mouth, ready to march up Sheridan Avenue with pitchforks to Moore's office.)
Moore has always been a somewhat polarizing figure--folks tend to really, really like him, or really, really hate him. (Granted, this could be more of a reflection of Ward 49 residents than Moore himself.) Whatever your opinion on the man, though, it seems illogical to accuse him of not being a progressive.
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.
Less 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.
Well it seems that the proposed Chatham Wal-Mart was talked up in this article from the Chicago Defender:
fight to get another Walmart built in the city has been intensified by
a coalition of pastors and community activists who said Ald. Ed Burke
(14th) has a "noose" around the neck of the South Side Chicago by
holding back the proposed development of store on West 83rd Street.
Larry Roberts and about 200 pastors, who collectively represent about
100,000 congregants, have taken their message to Burke several times to
no avail and now urge Mayor Richard M. Daley to flex his muscle to
"make it happen."
Roberts said it's time for Burke to
move the Walmart issue out of the City Council finance committee -
which he chairs - so the Arkansas-based retail giant can proceed with
building the store in Ald. Howard Brookins' 21st Ward, and eventually
in other areas on the South Side, particularly in the Englewood and
"Burke and Daley see what's in
front of them, but their non-reaction is the downfall of the economical
advancement of the South Side. Our areas are dormant and Burke has a
noose around the necks of the South Side residents," Roberts, pastor of
Trinity All Nations Ministries, told the Defender.
whether or not any future Wal-Marts must be considered in front of the
full City Council, we're going to hear a lot about the fact that
Wal-Mart doesn't pay their employees a "fair living wage" (however
that's determined). So in this story, this is of note:
The 46th Ward on the city's North Side is a hotbed of political activity. Highly organized and home to many of the city's good government activists, the Uptown centered ward can be relied upon to seethe with invective come election time. The entry of Don Nowotny, the Ward's Streets and Sanitation Commissioner, into the race to replace long-time alderman Helen Shiller, ensures we won't be disappointed. Nowotny's entry also means the race will have at least three openly gay candidates--creating the potential for Chicago's City Council to have two openly gay aldermen.
Updated to improve my geography reputation; original post included Edgewater.
An analysis by The Chicago Reporter shows that once appointed by the Mayor, aldermen are nearly unbeatable:
Daley appointees to the Chicago City Council seeking their first full term have won 90 percent of time. Click here to see a chart of the mayor's 35 city council appointments. Only former 49th Ward Alderman Robert Clarke, former 27th Ward Alderman Dexter Watson and former 7th Ward Alderman Darcel Beavers lost their first elections after being appointed.
The Reporter's research did show that the coronation effect lessened over time.
Ninth Ward Alderman Anthony Beale has been named to head the important Police and Fire, a post left vacant when 29th Ward Alderman Ike Carothers resigned after pleading guilty to accepting bribes for zoning changes.
Beale is an ally of the Jackson family political organization and a generally loyal Daley vote. Beale is hotly pursuing a certain big box store in his ward.
Beale voted himself and his fellow 49 Alderman a 6% pay raise, yet denies the police a pay raise. Beale in a media interview requested that some benefits be stripped from police.
added by a an anonymous user on 07 August of last year. This doesn't seem to appear in the "Aldermanic careers" of any other Chicago aldermen.
The Chair of the Police and Fire Committee has responsibility for civilian oversight of the Police Department, and can exert extraordinary pressure on the Department through specification of spending priorities and periodic hearings of Department leadership. Of course, traditionally the Chair of that Committee defers to the Mayor on big picture Department issues.
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.
In a statement, Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Coalition, writes:
With neighborhoods throughout the city staggered by an onslaught of foreclosures, several Chicago Aldermen will introduce legislation to fund more affordable housing from the ample revenues accumulated in Tax Increment Financing accounts. Details on the proposal will be discussed at a news conference Monday at City Hall.
Despite a cumulative TIF surplus of $1.3 billion as of 2009, only four percent of the money in those accounts has been allocated to affordable housing since the TIF program's inception. Meanwhile, foreclosures stemming from the collapse of the real estate market are destroying communities throughout the city. TIF is a resource that could turn those vacant properties into affordable housing.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
On paper, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th) was likely to be the only candidate with the record, temperament, and political wit to survive a crowded field looking to replace the doomed Todd Stroger as President of the nation's second largest County organization. Her zest for picayune policy matters and her regular conscientious objections to Mayoral initiatives squared with a carefully cultivated reputation for good government progressivism, and her South Side lakefront political base offered both an early fundraising engine and added diversity to her electoral appeal. But Cook is a big and tough county with maddeningly feudal politics--it would take uninterrupted hard work to define and pursue the path to victory.
Preckwinkle's run for the Presidency was born out of frustration over a comparatively obscure policy issue: the overhaul of the County's temporary juvenile detention facilities. Todd Stroger tapped Preckwinkle, a well-regarded "progressive" South Side alderman, to serve with high-powered attorney Demetrius Carney to serve on a transition team to advise him on how to fix the system. Preckwinkle says she and Carney worked intensely to produce a report for Stroger. The result?
"He ignored it. He appointed the judge to oversee the system. I asked Demetrius why we went through all that work, and he told me that was the first he was hearing about it himself." Stroger was unresponsive and uninterested in the type of reform that Preckwinkle claims as her primary motivation: making government transparent, efficient, and a force for good.
These principles are encapsulated in one of Preckwinkle's primary campaign messages, that she is the only independent and progressive candidate running for the position.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
City Council members, always content to roll over for the mayor's plans, have done it again. Suddenly, even those who had tried to placate residents' anger about cost accountability should Chicago be awarded the Olympics in 2016, are now saying they are happy with the mayor's plan. Even though nothing has changed. At all.
The article mentions Manny Flores' (1st) ordinance that would have limited taxpayer liability to $500 million, but that he had subsequently dropped it because it was not perceived as widely-supported in the council. Kind of like how the national Dems started off their bargaining on health care by cutting the throat of universal coverage before even bringing it to the table. Gotta love the spine.
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.)
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...
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.
Outgoing Alderman Billy Ocasio, who left to work for Governor Quinn, originally wanted accused homophobe Wilfredo de Jesus to replace him; he reneged on that and then the word was he wanted his wife to replace him. Mayor Daley decided to appoint popular Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado to replace him, meaning now there will be a vacancy on the Cook County Board. Yay!
Here's an endearing little video of Roberto Maldonado, so that we can like him a little bit before he votes for the Mayor's plan to privatize Lake Michigan or smiles or whatever:
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 hasbeencovering 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a short entry. The arguments about privatization, such as the Parking Meter Fail, often focus on the crumminess of a certain deal's price structure, as if it were some aberration from a basically sound concept.
Over at the IVI-IPO's website, Aviva Patt has posted, in the June 2009 newsletter (click this link to download a PDF; article is at p. 6), a more meta-argument, that privatization not making sense is the rule, not the exception. Patt argues,
Whatever amount of money a private company can earn by operating an airport, toll way, garage or parking meter concession, the government could earn as well. There is no magic creation of additional revenue through privatization.
Patt also suggests why such deals are made if they don't make economic sense for government and raise rates for citizens, saying, "Privatization is not being proposed to cut operational costs of service delivery, but to provide political cover for raising rates, which the Mayor and City Council don't have the courage and honesty to do on their own."
As the revenue crises governments face create more pressure for quick fixes, it's important to discuss the big-picture issues about privatization. As a general rule, I think public services should remain under public control, and that the community is the best guardian of the commons.
It's nice to see the newsletter online, although it would be better if it was in HTML format, and allowed comments. Still, after apparently a three-year gap, IVI-IPO under the chairmanship of Bob Bartell, and with some re-invigoration of boards and committees, continues to make strides toward rebounding as an important civic voice for reform.
Disclosure: I am a former board member and longtime/sometime member of the organization.
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.
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.
The news that the city signed a Memorandum of Understanding that set up a community benefits agreement for the 2016 Olympic Games was met with understandable skepticism in the media and among community residents on the South Side. Sam Cholke's piece in the Hyde Park Herald is the latest critical examination of the community benefits agreement (CBA), pointing out that there's little in it that is legally binding.
I've refrained from writting about the Olympics CBA, largely out of respect for friends and colleagues who worked hard to get a CBA passed and because of my own awkward activism history around the Olympics. I do worry, though, that the what seems to be the inevitable disappointment with this CBA will taint CBAs as a policy tool in general for Chicago activists and politicians. Given that CBAs have beenused in other cities quite effectively to promote equitable community development.
CBA's are a tool that movements for equitable community development can use to achieve the goal of ensuring that developments and other muncipal projects that recieve muncipal subsidies broadly benefit neighborhood residents. The most successful CBAs were the end result of massive mobilizations of community groups, labor unions, and other political actors. The biggest weakness of CBAs is their legal enforceablity: as the Herald and others have noted, CBAs are not airtight legal documents.
What makes CBAs work is the power of the mobilization behind them. They require a broad moblization of neighborhood residents and city-wide groups to pressure developers and city governments into accepting the terms of the agreement as a condition for the development's construction. In other words, the best CBAs are forced upon city governments who fear the ruin of their plans if they don't acede to community demands.
This mobilization works on the implementation end as well. CBAs require enforcement language and a moblized community to enforce their standards. Specific enforcement language means more than just Bush-esque benchmarks. Rather penalties for non-compliance and plans for moblization around implementation issues are necessary.
Which is why it doesn't matter that the Olympics CBA isn't 100% legally enforceable. What matters is the strength of the movement behind it and the pressure the mayor and the City Council feel from that movement. Unfortunately, given that (according to the Tribune) the most powerful labor unions in the city are busy tilting at EFCA windwills and running million dollar national health care ad campaigns, the City Council is as dangerous to Daley's plans as the Politburo to Stalin, and local media is wrapped up in Drew Peterson's narcissism and the mayor has millions of FU TIF money there's little to make one confident this CBA will be enforceable and meaningful for residents of the South and West Sides affected by the 2016 Olympics. It's a shame that the threat of the greatest Chicago boondoggle since Rex Grossman has done little to spark a movement to fundamentally change how development is done in this city.
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?
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.
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.
This past Saturday marked the rebirth of the same-sex marriage movement as thousands of people marched through the streets of Chicago. Part of a nationwide day of protest, the march was in opposition to the passing of California's reactionary Proposition 8.
Proposition 8 is the recent California State Ballot proposition that, if enacted, would write a ban on same-sex marriage into the California constitution with language that reads, "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." In addition, it would overrule a recent California Supreme Court decision that recognized same-sex marriage as a fundamental right.
Dormant for the better part of four years, the same-sex marriage movement hit the streets this past weekend in every state of the nation with actions that were largely coordinated via the Internet. Twenty thousand people protested in San Diego, 10,000 in Los Angeles, and 4,000 in Manhattan. Two thousand plus came out in Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormon Church -- which pumped millions of dollars into the reactionary Proposition 8.
This is the second weekend in a row that people have marched across the country in opposition to Proposition 8 in a movement that seems to be growing by the day. As Tom Ammiano of San Francisco told The New York Times, "It's not 'Yes we can.' It's 'Yes we will.'" While upping the ante on the Obama campaign slogan, Ammiano's quote reflects a new level of determination within the same-sex marriage movement -- that within the last week has even taken up protesting outside Mormon churches.
This past weekend isn't the first time that Chicagoans have taken to the streets to fight for gay marriage. Back in May of 2004 more than 200 activists shut down the office of Cook County Clerk David Orr (where marriage licenses are issued) after a same-sex couple was refused the right to file for a marriage license.
Orr refused to take a stand on the issue citing a lack of official government support. "We've got nothing in Cook County -- there's no local support outside myself," Orr told the Windy City Times. "The mayor's said a few nice words but nothing beyond that."
Actually, Mayor Daley said more than a few words. He stated he had "no problem" with same-sex marriage, while offering up one of his infamous rants:
Good morning, Chicagoans! Take a sip of that coffee, ignore the smell from the next cubicle over, and get your head in the local game with your Day by Daley.
Block 37's Problem? Not Enough Subsidy. If you're going to suggest pumping more public money into a city planning travesty like Block 37, what better news day to do that than the day after America elects its first black President? This is why the guy has been more for almost twenty years. Don't front. Mayor Daley is proposing granting a $12m subsidy to developers to get a hotel built at Block 37. Maybe this $12m will finally tip this project from "giant money pit" into "awesome revitalization project that is a testament to His Elective Majesty's wisdom". What do you think? Why are you laughing?
Spend It On Public Housing? GahahahhaTwo referenda in Lakefront communities dealt with the use of tax increment financing (TIF) money. One directed Aldermen to insist that 40% of TIF money go to public housing, the other that developers who receive money should be directed to hire locally and pay a living wage. Maybe these wild-eyed radicals didn't get the memo: asking businesses to do anything they don't want to equals socialism. Giving them public money is just public administration.
More Daley TIF Hijinks Check out Ben "TIFs! TIFs! TIFs!" Joravsky on municipal bondstax levies um, TIFs:
On occasion the mayor and the council will directly dip into TIF reserves to pay for a project, as they did in the case of Millennium Park and are currently doing with Block 37. But by and large they finance deals by borrowing against future TIF dollars, selling bonds that get repaid with revenues they expect to collect in years to come. Last year, for instance, the city sold about $356 million in bonds to be paid back over the next 20 years with money collected in various TIF districts. The money was earmarked for building new schools.
I would certainly call this a very busybody move. Aren't there more important issues to tackle than an ice cream truck. At least they can prove what small plastic baggies can be used for, but this is the floppiest reasons for banning ice cream trucks. From the Chicago Reader blog, The Food Chain:
Lane's explanation? Suspected ne'er-do-wells. She related a story of one dodgy truck. "The truck arrived down the block and its playing the regular ice cream music," she told me. "The kids left the truck and he left the end of the block, and it was like a cul-de-sac where you have to come back around and come back up the same block. And when he got down there he started playing a different tune of music. And I'm sitting down there but I'm writing this. And so then there were guys--people coming out of homes that were going to the truck coming back with something. You see them exchange something at the window of the truck but they didn't have any ice cream. So I assumed that they were dealing drugs. I'm not saying every truck is doing that but I prefer them not to be in the 18th Ward. That way we're sure that they are not."
Because she thought they were dealing drugs? You know shouldn't you prove something before you just plain take action like it's really happening.