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The Mechanics

Mayor Fri Jun 29 2012

Life in the Neoliberal City: Post-Partisanship Wins!

America's big cities (and major metropolitan areas) are the laboratories of policy, if states are the laboratories of democracy. In metro areas and cities, universities, professional organizations, and trade associations and economic alliances are capable of exerting outsize influence and try to implement to approaches to social and economic problems that, again, are more easily identified and addressed because of high population concentrations in relatively small geographic areas.

Tell the nation! Draw near all ye with David Brooks columns bookmarked for other than hate reading purposes: Chicago and America's big cities have achieved post-partisanship! The very post-partisanship our President talked about on the campaign trail. As the post-partisanship machine takes firmer hold of our cities, it will move upward, capillary-attraction speed, to the states, until finally--finally!--we achieve the post-partisanship paradise pundits prattle on and on about.

What does that post-partisanship look like? Let Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky tell you:

Welcome to part two in our ongoing series on the mayor's millionaire's club, in which we pore over the mayor's daily appointment schedule with the aim of shedding light on how the mayor prioritizes his time--and his far-reaching connections...

[O]nce again, we found that his days were loaded with rich guys, campaign donors, powerful contractors, union busters, charter-school supporters, City Hall insiders, aldermanic brownnosers, and other favor seekers.

But during these three months Emanuel found time for another type of visitor: major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama. As such, the mayor's calendar offers a glimpse of what passes for bipartisanship in Chicago--and shows the ways in which wealth and access, at least as much as party identity or ideology, have come to command the attention of politicians, leaving everyday people out of the conversation.

Meanwhile...

As a whole, appointments with neighborhood groups or community leaders were largely missing from the mayor's schedule. [Amisha] Patel [Director of the Grassroots Collaborative] says her group's requests for a meeting with the mayor have been ignored. She notes that Emanuel continues to find job subsidies for profitable corporations and developers at the same time he's cutting library hours, neighborhood services, and public-sector positions. "Let's talk about job creation but let's do it in a full way."

In fact, like many up-and-coming Republican stars, the mayor has shown a willingness--some would say an eagerness--to take on organized labor, especially the teachers union. He's also an avowed supporter of charter schools, paying them about as many visits, and arguably more attention, as he does regular public schools.

Post-partisanship means staying away from the organized (and thus cantankerous) disaffected and powerless, and hew to the already powerful and wealthy who must know what's best.

If this were just a Chicago phenomenon, it may be dismissed as yet another quirk of Chicago's sui generis politics.

It's not though! Phew, right? Post-partisanship lives to fight another day! In the form of...

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Privatization Tue Apr 24 2012

Capital Strikes, Capital Flight, and the Wholly Privatized City

In approving with no modifications Mayor Emanuel's infrastructure trust plan today, the City Council took another step towards ensuring their own irrelevance and wholly privatizing the operations of Chicago. It also took another step towards building up the Mayor's 30-second campaign commercial for whatever higher office he's envisioning (so far, he's got "won the longest school day in the country" and "made the tough decisions to balance the budget"; of course, "took on the special interests (workers)" is a given). They can't be wholly blamed, though. There's little room for them, or any local (and even state) legislatures to maneuver. The corporate tactics of capital strikes and threats of flight have proven their worth. Cities and states have been starved for well over a decade, and now we're reduced to auctioning off what we own to meet our obligations.

In a piece on the Infrastructure Trust last week, I said that it wasn't an inherently terrible idea, in part because there's really no other feasible way to raise the money. Issuing general obligation bonds wouldn't be terrible different, the federal government doesn't spend money on infrastructure any more (at least not in a direct way not routed through private pockets) and the city's wealthiest institutions and individuals are unwilling to pay higher taxes--in fact, are unwilling to pay any taxes that aren't offset by massive welfare entitlements, as the ongoing tax increment financing boondoggle demonstrates.

Taking a step back and considering the broad view, this is an astounding progression of events. Over the last 25 years, Chicago's corporate and political leadership has drained the city of revenue through creation of TIFs as a condition to invest capital in neighborhoods--the whole point of a TIF is that available capital is being withheld until the public provides better incentives for its investment. The billions of dollars diverted into these funds contribute to not only to budget shortfalls but, amazingly, increase taxes on middle class taxpayers, as the school district and other bodies have to raise their tax levy to meet their obligations.

At the same time, the city's corporate powerhouses not only withhold investing capital without generous givebacks, but also threaten to leave if their taxes (euphemistically called the "business climate") are not satisfactory.

The result is a public sector starved of revenue which must then turn to selling off (or "long-term leasing-off") its assets. This in turn, by the way, reduces a city's credit-worthiness even more, making it more difficult to issue bonds in the future and narrowing the city's tax base.

This isn't just random dot connecting; it's actually how investors view Infrastructure Trust vehicles. Consider this bit of finance news from last year:

Earlier this month AMP Capital Investors was appointed by Irish Life Investment Managers to advise on its $1.5bn Irish Infrastructure Trust. The fund is expected to acquire key assets such as airports when the Irish government begins selling down assets to meet its obligations.

And this:

[The Irish trust] will provide crucial liquidity to a sector which has, and will continue to be, squeezed of capital. At the same time valuations for infrastructure assets should be low, given the weak macroeconomic outlook, with BMI anticipating a double dip recession to hit in 2012.

Investors in infrastructure trusts are not interested in helping communities (we, a community, are leasing the assets) getting to a place of healthy revenue capable of meeting obligations and investing in long-term projects. To the contrary; the more a community is starved of revenue, the more it'll have to auction off assets. The more it has to auction off assets, the fewer options it has to raise revenue. And on and on.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Health Care Thu Apr 12 2012

Politics in Woodlawn: Occupation of the Mental Health Clinic

clinicdemands.jpg

Politics. A candidate for office envisions his 30-second campaign commercial. He wants five solid accomplishments he can read as bullet points. At least one, he knows, needs to be about saving the taxpayers money. To look into the camera and say, "Faced with a budget deficit, I made the tough decisions and cut X million dollars from the budget."

The thirty second commercial is meant to drive a narrative. So the value of X is less important than the fact of savings. And the consequence of that X is even less so.

Despite what we've come to accept, that campaign commercial is not politics--it's the ephemera of politics.

Politics is what is happening at 63rd and Woodlawn, on the border between a rich neighborhood and a poor one. There, twenty Chicagoans, most of them consumers of mental health services critical to their ability to survive and function in society, have barricaded themselves in a city-run mental health clinic as a last-ditch attempt to save the facility from closure, to ensure they can keep getting the services that mean little to millions of Chicagoans but mean the world to them. Mean everything to them. Make the difference between quality of life and unbearable hardship.

In order to cut the budget, Mayor Emanuel moved to consolidate twelve mental health clinics into six, and privatize the city's six public health clinics. The closure of the Woodlawn facility means consumers of these services will be forced to travel longer distances, into unfamiliar neighborhoods, and seek services from unfamiliar caregivers faced now with more burdensome loads.The uninsured may face serious gaps in care.

Impassioned pleas to the Mayor to negotiate to mitigate anticipated consequences of this "cut" have gone unheeded for months. So health care consumers--not some "special interest," not a political interest group, but people with serious mental health conditions--have done the only thing left to them, as they face the closure of their clinic at the end of the month: occupy it to force the Mayor to negotiate.

Despite assurances that there will be no change in quality care, the consumers of services have not been assuaged. One must assume that is not for no reason; that the closure of their clinic, the severing of their relationships with their care givers, will have some effect not accounted for. So they've thrust themselves physically into the bureaucratic machine to stop it and force those making decisions to deal on something of an even level with those who feel the consequences of decisions.

To do this, they entered the facility late Thursday afternoon, and beginning at 4 p.m., used cement, impromptu fencing, chairs, vending machines, and chains to barricade themselves inside the clinic, where they are prepared to stay.

Meanwhile, outside, nurses, clergy, local residents, and other allies--as many as forty as of 10 p.m.--sat in front of the doors to protect their friends within. No less than fourteen Chicago Police Department vehicles, along with several County Sheriff's department cruisers, had blockaded the section of Woodlawn between 63rd and 64th Streets. After the news media left around 10:15, plainclothes cops in hoodies and jeans arrived. The atmosphere began to feel a bit more tense, as those assembled outside began speculating as to when the police would move in and try to remove the occupiers by force.

A press event is planned for ten in the morning at the clinic. In the meantime, the Mayor has a decision to make about the politics of campaign commercials versus the politics of human need.

IMAG0376.jpg

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Fri Mar 02 2012

Democracy Disappearing: Is It Time for Local School Councils to Elect Their Own School Board?

The Chicago Board of Education, having proven itself unconcerned with parent concerns that do not match their own person concerns, and unresponsive to popular political pressure, fail the test of participatory democracy that institutions like school systems need to stay vital and innovative. The last vestige of democracy in the school system, local school councils, may need to do something drastic to make the Board of Education as irrelevant as they seem to think parents are.

In 1988, Chicagoans made an impressive step forward in democratic school governance, amending the state's relevant education statute to provide for, among many other things, elected local school councils with authority over hiring, structuring, and budgeting at local schools. These councils, or LSCs, were novel then and continue to be rare. LSCs are composed of members of the public, parents, teachers, the school's principal and student representative with non-voting authority. The LSCs are not merely advisory bodies, but were designed to make schools responsive to the community and give parents a vested interest in the operation of the local schools. When the reforms were first proposed by state Sen. Art Berman (D-Edgewater) in 1988, they were considered radical but necessary--and for a very interesting reason that resonates today:

The new legislation would make some of the most radical changes ever to be undertaken in this country as a way of scrapping the power structure of a failing public school system. It would break up the monolithic control wielded by the central Board of Education and, instead, set up 11-member mini-school boards, comprised chiefly of parents, that would be elected and have the responsibility of governing each of the city`s 595 public schools.

The idea is that control at the school-based level cannot help but be an improvement over decades of unresponsive management by a bureaucratic, heavily politicized, and rigidly centralized Board of Education.

(Bonita Brodt, "School Reform's Achilles Heel: The Parents" Chicago Tribune, 20 November 1988).

The major concern, shared by power-friendly elites like the Tribune, was that unsophisticated parents would be too susceptible to pressure from outside groups. As an example, that same Tribune article pointed out one community organization that was pressuring parents using race-baiting tactics in East Side:

At Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th St., a community group called the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) has become so heavily entrenched in what began as a parent fight to oust the school principal that the parents have been split bitterly along racial lines and observers now call it UNO`s crusade, instead.

Yet, LSCs have proven remarkably resilient and insulated from this type of pressure. While complaints about principals bullying untrained LSC members are common, the concerns that LSCs would be unsophisticated cats paws or rubber stamps for powerful interests have not born out. Democracy has proven its value as not just a box to check but for its creative power and capacity to ennoble those who feel they have a meaningful role in it, rather than just being a passive consumer.

School privatizers like Mayor Emanuel, his appointed Board of Ed, and his CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, are hostile to LSCs and parent governance. That is to say, whatever their rhetoric, their actions in aggressively pursuing closure of public schools in favor of charters (which do not have LSCs) indicates either outright hostility or indifference amounting to the same thing. This can't be disputed so long as actions are weighted greater than press releases.

The only nod to democratic control of schools the current administration has given is of the "check-the-box" variety, where the Board, before voting unanimously to pursue a Mayoral policy, holds hearings where there are no procedural options for parents to actively and meaningfully participate in decision making. Instead, the Board holds the hearings to say they held them and continue to pursue the precise policy dictated by the Mayor and his CEO.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Mar 01 2012

President of Chicago Teachers Union and Pilsen Environmental Rights Organization on Democracy Now!

A Chicago-heavy edition of Democracy Now looks at the closing of the Midwest Gen Crawford and Fisk coal plants and the Board of Ed's high-intensity efforts to privatize the school system:

Ramsin Canon

Urban Planning Tue Dec 20 2011

Regime Theory in Chicago: A Case Study

This week, Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, the shell consortium that owns our once-public parking meters, has sent the city two bills: one to compensate it for parking by the disabled, and one to compensate it for street closures. Despite some lap yapping from the Mayor, the city has little choice but to pay these bills, either in full or mostly-in-full.

The parking meters are bemoaned as an anomalous poor choice by Mayor My Predecessor, and Mayor Emanuel has regularly shifted between jokey anger and sighing resignation as to it. The truth is though that Mayor Emanuel will have his own Parking Meters deal--probably several--before his Mayoralty ends, and that his power to govern the city--to actually govern city, not just move numbers around between departments to create superficial savings and issue press releases--is not a function of his ability to "lead" but a function of his ability to creatively supplicate.

How does Chicago's government operate? The way it actually operates is fundamentally different from the way it apparently operates. The "apparent" part: it writes laws and enforces them evenly. The way it actually operates: it makes up for a deficiency to act on its own by seeking out powerful investment institutions to partner with, offering up its coercive authority in exchange for badly needed capital. Those agreements are the regime we actually live under, not the laws on the books.

The fundamental shift towards neoliberalization of the economy and government at federal and state levels has changed how Mayors and Councils "govern" cities if they really govern them, in the classical civics-class sense, at all. Of course Emanuel, as one of the political architects of one of neoliberalization's most important structural supports, NAFTA, is not a victim of neoliberalization but an important figure in its rise. That fact is one of the reasons national elites rushed to fund his campaigns for Congress and the Fifth Floor.

In the Neoliberal City, laws, regulations, and rules are less important than relationships between political leaders and wealth, or capital. Mayor Emanuel explicitly ran for office touting his ability to "leverage" his relationships with wealthy elites. He even comically justified his immense fundraising from out-of-state and global financial elites by pointing out that because the rich like him, he'll be able to beg goodies out of them for the public.

The regime that runs the city is not about legislation and enforcement, it is about bilateral agreements, where government promises to use its power for the benefit of investment, or capital, to the greatest extent possible. Carving exceptions to law is as important, if not more important, than legislating itself.

The most stark example of this is the "Memorandum of Understanding" between the City and the University of Chicago, an agreement that could usher in major changes to the Hyde Park/Kenwood area, that was agreed upon in bilateral negotiations between the Mayor and the President of the University. The Mayor told the press he was moved to go into these high-level negotiations with the University after the President told him that in China, such building projects only took six months, whereas the bureaucracy here would lengthen it to years.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Blagojevich Thu Dec 08 2011

Don't Bad-Apple Blagojevich

A familiar trope in the wake of a high-profile institutional failure, whether private or public, is the suggestion or outright assertion that the disaster was the fault of a lone gunman, a "bad apple" whose actions shouldn't be allowed to spoil how we view the rest of the bunch. Messrs. Cheney and Wolfwitz rolled out this cliché when the horrors of Abu Ghraib surfaced. We were told that Enron was, similarly, an outlier of financial fraud, rather than emblematic of how regulatory schemes (or the lack thereof) are too often purchased in what Greg Palast has called "the best democracy money can buy." In the wake of a major environmental disaster the prompts for the "bad apple" defense are sometimes audible. And, of course, when an official misbehaves, others in the arena are always ready with the singular-fruit metaphor.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Op-Ed Thu Oct 06 2011

Mayor Emanuel Should Learn from His Predecessor's Mistakes

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.

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Mechanics

TIFs Tue Sep 06 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics

Open Government Wed Aug 24 2011

Transparency Ex Post and Ex Ante

democracybyspreadsheet.jpg
Since taking office just about a hundred days ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pleased open government and transparency activists by creating a myriad of tools and data portals to open government information. All city employee salaries have been made easily accessible by the public, as well as 311 service requests, building permits, lobbyist data, and more.

At the risk of acquiring a John Kass-style cheap hater reputation, I had a good amount of fun making light of these actually impressive initiatives on Twitter, where I may or may not have referred to them as "democracy by spreadsheet." Recently, WBEZ ran a report looking at whether the Mayor's transparency initiatives were more appearance than reality.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Aldermen Fri Aug 12 2011

Decoupling Waste from Ward Map: Garbage as Politics

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

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Aug 03 2011

The Mayor's "War" With Labor?

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 President Christine Boardman had harsh words to say about Mayor Emanuel, calling him a liar and his claims that he is working with labor leaders to find solutions to the city's stubborn budget deficit. According to a report by Dan Mihalopoulos in the Chicago News Cooperative, Boardman accused the Mayor of "spinning the press like crazy," and "not telling the truth," about his cooperative attitude towards labor, characterizing his rhetoric as "B.S." B.S. is American slang for "bullshit" by the way.

Quite an accusation; it certainly tracks with previous reports about Emanuel's general approach to labor relations, which amounts to "there's a new sheriff in town," along with "the art of media control." Taking the long view, it also jives with Emanuel's having reportedly encouraged the administration to "Fuck the U.A.W.," during the auto bailout and engineering the passage of the labor-hollowing NAFTA bill in 1993.

The local media has been characterizing Emanuel's approach as "getting tough" on labor. But of course, this is a non sequitor. Mayor Daley was hardly friendly to labor, particularly over the last ten years, with the exception of some of the building trades. The city labor force has declined by about 6,000 since 2002. The Mayor race-baited labor unions during the Wal-Mart fight and poured enormous effort into undermining the teachers' union. Unions are on their heels across the country and had little clout under Daley and even less under Emanuel.

Boardman's accusations may just be a function of her frustration rather than an accurate accounting of Mayor Emanuel's approach to public employees. The totality of his record on labor relations--an economic and social issue, not solely a political issue--should not just be ignored, as though it has no bearing or provides no context. Emanuel has a record of targeting labor as a political foe to be dictated to, not a potential partner or constituency with legitimate policy concerns.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Thu Jul 28 2011

No Amount of Austerity: Fixing Chicago's Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Jul 19 2011

The Incredible Editorial of James Warren

Chicago News Cooperative's James Warren's editorial, "Warren: Rahm Exercising Art of Media Control" is not what you'd expect it to be. Or rather, was not what I expected it to be. When I see a headline like that in my reader, attributed to a well respected journalist, I expect it to be a critique. It's not; it's praise. Why would a member of the media praise a politician for controlling (really he means manipulating) the media? I'm not certain. From what I can glean, it is because Mayor Emanuel's use of this "art" will help him slay the "monsters," i.e., city workers' retirement money, et al.

Mr. Warren in his own words:

Chicago's Jardine Water Purification Plant, the world's largest filtration facility, helped make something crystal clear last week about the heat-seeking missile known as Mayor Rahm Emanuel: The Missile is playing a confidence game, all puns intended.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Urban Planning Thu Jul 07 2011

Chicago and Portland: Urban Dynamism

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Aaron Renn, the estimable Urbanophile from the blog of the same name, published a piece considering what Portland, as a beacon of "livability," means for cities across the country. Renn compares Portland in the 1990s to Chicago in the 1890s: visionary and opportunistic, the "orderer" of its day:

Portland didn't invent bicycles, density or light rail -- but it understood the future implications of them for America's smaller cities first, and put that knowledge to use before anyone else. The longest journey begins with a step, but you have to take it. Nobody else did. In an era where most American cities went one direction, Portland went another, either capturing or even creating the zeitgeist of a new age.

In the agro-industrial era, Chicago first understood the true significance of railroads, the skyscraper and even urban planning. It saw what others couldn't -- and acted on that understanding. That made Chicago the greatest city, indeed the orderer, of its age.

In the late 20th century and continuing to the present day, for cities below the first rank, Portland plays that role. Like Chicago, it is remaking much of America after its own fashion. Light rail, bike lanes, reclaimed waterfronts, urban condos and microbreweries are now nearly ubiquitous, if not deployed at scale, across the nation.

Renn is an agile and interesting thinker on urban issues, one of my favorites to read on big city policy, even when we disagree. While I think the piece lapses into generalization occasionally, he sets up some very interesting contrasts and asks some great questions.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Whittier Elementary Thu Jun 30 2011

Whittier Update: Two Stories

A story on the on-going fight over the Whittier fieldhouse (La Casita) at the Tribune relays the Chicago Public Schools line that they are being frustrated by left wing ideologues who keep changing their demands, while a piece at the RedEye (by GB contributor Yana Kunichoff) looks at the money involved as they relate to the parents' demands:

$1.4 million: allocated to Whittier by Ald. Danny Solis (25th) from the Tax Increment Financing funding.

$364,000: The money from the $1.4 million TIF fund allocated first to demolish, then renovate the field house.

$564,000: The total amount of money raised to build a new, green field house

$750: Prize money awarded to the Whittier Parents Committee by the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) for the environmentally friendly design of the proposed La Casita.

Priceless?: More than 50 people came out last Friday at 5 a.m. to block the planned construction of the library in the school building instead of the field house and halted the construction for the day.

Reminiscent of the first Mayor Daley blaming all civil disorder on "outside agitators," the Tribune article casts the Board of Education as helpless in the face of irrational leftists:

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Good Government/Reform Tue May 24 2011

Redistricting Circus is Back in Town

By Dick Simpson

Now that we have the mayor inaugurated and our federal and state income taxes paid, we can turn our attention to the political circus of figuring out which elected officials represent us. Legislative redistricting occurs in three rings and it is hard to keep your eye on all three at once.

The three redistricting arenas are congressional districts, state legislative districts and Chicago's aldermanic wards. Theoretically, four legal principles apply:

  • Districts must be equal in size.
  • Protected minorities cannot be gerrymandered to prevent them from electing members of their own race.
  • Districts should be contiguous.
  • Districts should be compact.

But redistricting is governed even more strongly by two political principles: incumbent protection and partisan advantage.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics

Op-Ed Wed Apr 13 2011

Youth In Play: Ameya Pawar and the People

This editorial was submitted by Cali Slaughter and Harishi Patel.

If anyone reminded young, progressive Chicagoans of the potential of the underdog in our most recent election cycle; it was Ameya Pawar. Pawar, an Indian-American, just 29, is not only going to be the youngest member of the Council when inaugurated on May 15; he is the first Asian-American elected to the City Council.

His rival, Tom O'Donnell, was personally selected by incumbent Eugene Schulter, who boasted a solid (albeit rusting) thirty-six year rule over Chicago's 47th.

O'Donnell was buttressed by loads more money and he possessed that inevitable confidence accompanied by the endorsement of a handful of Chicago's old guard. It seemed that minimal effort would be necessary for a landslide victory.

Oops.

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Mechanics

Machine Lite Mon Mar 07 2011

The Collapse

Ed Burke has been encircled. Like the last noble loyal to Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, he must look at a map of the realm and despair. Where once he was among the most important men in a vast empire, the mere mention of its legions enough to induce action or, even better, forbearance, now all his compatriots have seceded, have declared their various independence, shifted their loyalties. The Empire, like the Machine and its successor, had always been a precarious balance of power centers, provincial warlords, regional alliances, and assimilated kingdoms. One look at the election returns, and its obvious: the ramshackle political establishment has been subsumed.

The precinct-level electoral map is a grim sight for a man like Ed Burke. Not because he once had some iron-fisted authority over the whole city; more like watching the team break up. Maybe another analogy is in order; I'll indulge myself, that's kind of my thing. He's been playing on the Harlem Globetrotters, gleefully beating the Washington Generals (no pun intended; take a minute with that) but now he's got NBA teams on his schedule. Suddenly, buckets of confetti and shorts-yanking won't cut it.

Chicago Is a Global City

Chicago in going into a new era. As with most things, though, there was no clean break; it didn't happen episodically. Since the mid-90s, Chicago has been churning towards membership in a network of "global cities." I mean this in a very narrow sense. Chicago has been a no-quotes global city since the turn of the last century, when immigrants began pouring in in immense numbers and Chicago provided commodities to the entire planet and transportation to the nation. The "global network" I mean is the various outposts of transnational business. If that sounds nefarious, I don't mean it to; the somewhat welcome breakdown in trade barriers and international monetary regimes allow financial firms to move fluidly over borders--which makes the borders less meaningful. Lopsided income distribution is putting more and more into the pockets of an ever-tightening group; whether that's good or bad, it leaves it as a fact that there's a smaller pool of people who can spend ever more money. For example on politics.

A search of news databases showed the the phrase "global city" did not appear in the same article as the words "Mayor Daley" until 2004. After 2004, it appeared over a dozen times, the first time the man himself using the phrase in 2007. By contrast, between 1989 (Daley's election) and 2004 the "global city" and "Chicago" popped up together 83 times--nearly four times as often after 2004. What's the point of all this? Only that the Mayor began focusing on transforming Chicago into whatever he imagined a "global city" to be fairly recently in his mayoralty.

Overlapping with this focus is the acceleration of privatization. The city has privatized 34 city services since 1990, with the vast majority, in terms of value and quantity, coming since 1995--also the year the schools came under Mayoral control. The Office of Management and Budget released a report finding that the City has saved up to $270mn+ between 1990 and 2002. Of those since 1995, by a significant margin the biggest instances came since 2004, including the Monroe Street garages, the Skyway, and of course the parking meters. The Skyway lease happened in 2004; the rights to it for 99 years were sold for just under $2bn to--wait, do you want to guess? A foreign firm. A Spanish consortium fund. Global city.

Juiced In

Mayor-Elect Emanuel represents the completion of that process. This is neither necessarily good, nor necessarily bad. But here's what his election showed: that there was a new source of power in local politics, and it came from that global class. It's an undeniable fact that Emanuel's ability to bring seemingly infinite resources to bear first discouraged competition, then neutralized what opposition resources (when I use that word, I mean money, by the way) there were, then, as victory appeared inevitable, drew institutional, organizational, and financial support to itself. Cash loves a winner, and so does power.

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Election 2011 Sat Jan 22 2011

Giving to Chico and Emanuel, by Institution.

Some "people" who give to candidates are not people at all, but institutions. It's a storied tradition in Chicago politics for "people" with names like "29 N. Michigan Ave, LLC" to give tens of thousands of dollars to their favored candidate. Here are some of the institutions that gave big money to Gery Chico and Rahm Emanuel in the race for mayor:

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Election 2011 Sat Jan 22 2011

Giving to Chico and Emanuel, by Employer.

Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico have raised the most money in the mayoral race by far. Below are lists of givers groups by their employer, with the total given by employees. This can give some insight into institutional support and support by sector, as well as give us a sense of who is bundling for whom. Obviously given Emanuel's comically enormous fundraising lead, there is more eye candy there, but these things are all relative. Take a look through the below lists and see if any givers grab your attention.

There is a pattern that shows what was suspected, namely, that Rahm Emanuel has very high-level financial and real-estate sector support, with Chico raising (non-comparatively) lots of money from law firms and construction concerns.

The vast majority of givers fall under three groups: "Homemaker," "Self-Employed" and "Retired." Not all givers were required to detail their employer, which is important to keep in mind.

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Ramsin Canon

Election 2011 Wed Jan 19 2011

The Next Mayor's Power Instinct

Miguel Del Valle is being considered the progressive candidate for a variety of reasons. His record of independence from so-called "Machine politics" is considerably free of the spots found in those of Emanuel and Chico in particular; no organizational or professional ties to Mayor Daley. His policy positions on schools and teachers, the environment, and housing position him to the left of the field. While these positions are more liberal, they are also not controversial; meaning that, generally speaking, they are probably not significantly to the left of the average Chicagoan.

But there's something deeper in Del Valle's politics that may warm the cockles of a progressive's heart while simultaneously causing the city's power players, including its media organizations, to tremble with febrile dreams.

Based on his public statements about the relationship of the Mayor to the City Council, Del Valle appears to believe that conflict compels collaboration which leads to stronger results. In other words, by formally decentralizing power so that no one party or institution can simply act-and-make-so, they will be forced to negotiate one with the other on terms equitable to each, and thereby the best feasible solution will emerge.

Del Valle told the Sun-Times this:

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Mayor Mon Jan 17 2011

Who Sends the Somebodies? Building a Mayoral Campaign

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

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

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

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

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Election 2011 Mon Jan 03 2011

"Old, Racial Games."

Congressman Danny Davis dropped out of the race for the Mayoralty on Friday, endorsing Carol Mosley-Braun, achieving through attrition what Black civic leaders were unable to achieve through acclamation, a "unity" candidate for Black voters.

Greg Hinz, on his blog at Crain's, laments the playing of the "race card" by Black candidates, saying, "Imagine the reaction if a bunch of white ward bosses had met with the stated goal of selecting one white candidate."

This canard stinks enough now for disposing. There are a number of things one needs to imagine before this thought experiment is properly controlled. Imagine first, for example, that white ward bosses represented city residents who made up about 75% of murder victims; imagine next that those white ward bosses represented city residents still living in neighborhoods that were typically 90-98% racially homogeneous as a legacy of segregation; imagine also that those white ward bosses represented wards where the unemployment rate was double that of the other wards. Suppose those white ward bosses were also hearing from their constituents about how the infant mortality rate was approaching Third World levels in their wards. Perhaps those white ward bosses would then have more incentive to work together under a consensus that wasn't merely, "Keep the other race out of power."

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Economic Development Sun Nov 21 2010

The Return of Andrew Mooney

Mayor Daley announced this week that Andrew Mooney would be taking over the newly created Department of Housing and Economic Development in an interim capacity.

Mooney was appointed by former Mayor Jane Byrne (1979-83) to take over the Chicago Housing Authority shortly after the notorious Charles Swibel was ousted. Mooney was only 30 at the time. In his book Fire on the Prairie, Chicago Reader reporter Gary Rivlin wrote this about Mooney's appointment:

Worse still was the man Byrne chose to take Swibel's place, a thirty-year-old named Andrew Mooney. Swibel had hired Mooney the previous year to serve as executive director, and the same HUD report that scored Swibel criticized Mooney as ill-prepared to contend with the serious fiscal, administrative, and physical problems confronting hte CHA. Mooney had no managerial experience or any management training, and he acknowledged as much when he confessed to a HUD investigator that he had been appointed primarily because of loyalty to the mayor....The furor that followed was as intense as it was predictable. Hundreds amassed at City Hall on the day the three appointees were scheduled to appear before the City Council. Some arrived as early as 7 A.M., but few were granted a seat inside. The doors were not opened to the public until the council chambers were already packed with city employees slipped in through a side door. Byrne ducked out a back door after the vote, eluding both the public and the press. When demonstrators gathered outside Byrne's apartment, she had them arrested.

Mooney is 58 now, and in Mayor Daley's Chicago, probably significantly less concerned about people turning out to protest a Mayoral appointment to head a major City Department. It will be interesting to watch the docket of proposals coming before the Department of Housing and Economic Development as various parties anticipate the changing of the guard on the Fifth Floor. It will also be interesting to see if Mayoral hopefuls like Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico meet with Mooney in the "interim."

Update: Mooney apparently made his comeback in stages: On 12 November, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced her transition team chairs, and Mooney is listed as the subcommittee chair for economic development.

Ramsin Canon

Elections Sun Oct 31 2010

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

This article was submitted by David Jordan

It's personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Education Tue Oct 19 2010

Where Do We Go From Here on the Education Front?

This editorial was submitted by Valerie F. Leonard

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

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

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

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Election 2011 Thu Oct 07 2010

From Plebiscite to Forum

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

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

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

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

Ramsin Canon

Election 2011 Mon Oct 04 2010

Modeling an Open Chicago: Taking The City Back

This is the first in a series.

They know what's best for you.

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

The cat's away. The mice are frantic.

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

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Election 2011 Mon Sep 13 2010

Chicago's First Latino Mayor--Gutierrez' Case

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

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

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

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Daley Tue Sep 07 2010

Daley Will Not Seek Re-Election

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned as we follow.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Education Mon Aug 30 2010

Catalyst Report On Charters Demonstrates Duncan's Record of Failure

That Arne Duncan is a professional failure has never really been up for much debate. He achieved precisely zero of his objectives as head of the schools in Chicago, and failed upward into the President's administration mainly for his skills at self-marketing and the President's bizarre desire to appear "tough on teachers".

Catalyst Chicago in its latest issue[PDF] is digging into what teachers and parents have known since at least 2005: that the Renaissance 2010 program is a disaster, that privatization and charter schools have done nothing but increase opacity, decrease accountability, and aggravate the bifurcation of the school system; and that whatever improvement CPS has seen since the Mayor took over the school system in 1995 is due not to the free market unicorns sneezing their econowoozle magic on the evil teachers unions, but to gentrification.

As opponents of public school privatization have warned for years, the fascination with "innovation" and "entrepreneurial spirit" is hanging the hopes of a generation on buzzwords and sloganeering. There is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that introducing profit motive and private sector slash-and-burn sensibility would add value to education. Indeed, it hasn't been. What a surprise: firing master teachers and destabilizing the work force has NOT lead to an improvement in retention in poor schools and has not somehow magically improved classroom instruction.

As the Catalyst study points out:

  • On average, charters lost half of their teachers over the past two years, a turnover rate that rivals many low-performing neighborhood schools.
  • Only 16 of 92 new schools have reached the state average on test scores. Of those 16, just eight are charters. The rest are new magnet schools or new satellites of existing magnet and selective schools.

Just as public education advocates have been saying, introducing private operators into the school system with little oversight simply accelerates the problem of bifurcation. Charters are competing with each other for the best students and leaving the public school system to educate kids with poor performing kids, kids with learning disabilities, and kids from the poorest communities. Oh, and kids from multi-lingual households: Latino kids are particularly left behind according to the Catalyst study. The proportion of Latino kids attending high-performing schools has not increased at all since Renaissance 2010 began in 2004.

And, just as predicted, charters inherently prejudice students with highly involved parents, as this story heartbreakingly illustrates:

This spring, Charise Agnew was forced to confront the lack of school options in Roseland as she made an agonizing decision about where to send her older son, Dorian Metzler, to high school. Dorian was one of the top 8th-graders at Lavizzo, one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. In 2010, only about 44 percent of students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT. Agnew had her heart set on Dorian attending Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, a selective enrollment school just to the west of Lavizzo. She had him apply, and then she waited. But Agnew didn't know that Dorian needed to take an entrance exam. Few students at Lavizzo score above the 70th percentile on the ISAT, the cutoff to take the selective enrollment test. So there was no buzz in the hallway. A teacher might have asked about it, but the original 8th-grade teacher was fired and the class had a substitute for two months.

The end result is that no one tapped Dorian or Agnew on the shoulder to tell them about the entrance test. "I just had no idea," Agnew says.

Brooks is the only higher-scoring high school in the area. Agnew's first reaction was to take Dorian's transcript up to Brooks and try to talk to the principal. But selective enrollment school principals can be inundated with pleas from parents to offer their child a slot. Schools set up shields, and Agnew didn't make it past the foyer.

A woman like Charise Agnew is undoubtedly an involved and interested mother. But in an education system perverted by the neoliberal fascination with competition and markets, even her children end up losing out.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Election 2011 Wed Aug 25 2010

Mechanics on WBEZ

Check out this morning's 848 segment on Chicago Public Radio, on which yours truly appeared and sputtered through an interesting conversation on the upcoming elections.

Ramsin Canon

Elections Tue Aug 17 2010

How Did Joe Berrios Fail to Buy JoeBerrios.Com?

This would be understandable in, say, 2004, when political consultants were still treating the internet like an embarrassing nerdy friend in middle school. In 2010, when it is basically the cornerstone of communication in the United States, it is mind boggling that the Joe Berrios campaign did not buy JoeBerrios.com. Berrios is the Chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization--the organization that was once synonymous with the Chicago political Machine. If there was any doubt that the Machine is gone--and that even Machine Lite may be faltering in the face of a new era of political communication--it is the fact that the Berrios campaign was not together enough to buy their Chairman's eponymous domain.

It may be mostly a moral victory for Forrest Claypool*--how many votes for Cook County Assessor will truly be changed by diligent googling--but it should be a humiliating lesson for Berrios and his team. What's worse, Claypool's side is not treating it as a mere moral victory, using the domain to go after Berrios' character pretty seriously--and devastatingly, by using third parties like the Better Government Association and the Trib.

There's probably a strong instinct for schadenfreude in this case, given Berrios' terrible reputation among the city's political media. But if you're of the more charitable type, take a look at his big ol' smile and imagine him sadly typing his own name into his web browser and seeing a screaming headline calling him pay to play personified.

wbbm0519josephberrios.jpg

Sittin' there all sad, hitting refresh...

*Note his campaign URL.

UPDATE, 2:15PM: According to Scott Cisek at the Cook County Democratic Party, JoeBerrios.com has been owned for over two years. The Berrios team apparently believes an ally of out-going assessor James Houlihan gave the domain to the Claypool people.

Tom Bowen, spokesman for the Claypool campaign, took that wryly. "Berrios has been an elected official since 1988."

Bowen did confirm that the domain was donated to the campaign. "Someone contacted us and thought that Joe Berrios was such a bad choice for public office that he wanted to help...whatever way he could." Bowen was not able to immediately confirm or deny whether it was in fact a Houlihan ally who provided the domain.

Cisek indicated that the Berrios people are preparing an official rebuttal to what he called "libel" and misleading quotes on the microsite.

Of course, the real story is the content of the site, not the origin of the domain purchase--though for internet geeks it provides a good meme to get re-interested in history's longest campaign season. We'll await Berrios' reply for a proper evaluation.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

City Council Wed Aug 04 2010

A Remade City Council and Mayor Daley's Last Term

Is Machine Lite doomed?

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

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

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Ramsin Canon

Daley Mon Jul 19 2010

A Potential Challenge to Mayor Daley From the 32nd Ward

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

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

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Daley Mon Jul 19 2010

How To Challenge the Mayor

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

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

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

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

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

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Mechanics / Comments (3)

Urban Planning Tue Jun 15 2010

The Story at South Works: Malling the Lakeshore?

Op-Ed Contributed by GB Contributing Writer Bob Quellos

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

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

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Mechanics / Comments (7)

Good Government/Reform Fri May 28 2010

Grades for City, Sunshine on the Aldermen

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

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

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

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

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Ramsin Canon

Aldermen Mon May 10 2010

Alderman Balcer Wins the Muzzle

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

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

3) Chicago Alderman James A. Balcer

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

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

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

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Ramsin Canon

Democrats Thu Apr 08 2010

Forrest Claypool's Frontal Assault

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

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

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

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

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Mar 16 2010

KassWatch: Mob Watchin'

Kudos to John Kass for reporting on Outfit machinations that influence and corrupt public institutions. I mean that seriously; despite my intense dislikes of Kass' contrived folksy jus' folks columns, He is more or less the only mainstream reporter who regularly delves into the world of high-level organized crime and its interconnections to mainstream politics. His latest piece, marking the beginning of the "DeLeo era" in the 36th Ward--given the retirement of William Banks, the former Alderman, and the death of his brother Sam--is an eye opening one that reminds Chicagoans that despite the many body blows the Outfit has received, it is still alive and well and corrupting away.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Republicans Thu Mar 11 2010

IL GOP Attempting to Form Patronage Army?

I stumbled across this website, http://gopjobsillinois.webs.com a few days ago, and was pretty stunned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Muchowski

Machine Lite Tue Feb 16 2010

Debbie Downer Returns

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

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

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

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Danny Fenster / Comments (2)

City Council Tue Feb 09 2010

Daley: More Power to the Inspector General!

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

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

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

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Feature

Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...

Civics

Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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