A group of about a dozen Rogers Park residents on Tuesday gave their stamp of approval to plans to renovate the playground at Touhy Park.
Michael Lange, a project manager for the Chicago Park District's planning and construction department, showed a group of residents gathered at the Touhy Park fieldhouse Tuesday night a possible site plan for the renovated playground. Lange said that two new sets of playground equipment - one designed for kids aged 2-5 and another for kids 5-12 - will be installed on the northeast side of the park.
Additionally, Lange said, existing equipment for kids aged 2-5 on the northwest side of the park will be refurbished and new picnic tables, a seesaw and a structure that looks like a car will be installed.
All told, Lange said, the renovation will cost about $450,000.
Money for the renovation will come from 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore's menu money, which is $1.3 million allotted annually to each of Chicago's 50 aldermen to spend at their discretion.
The project was actually voted on by ward residents during the 2011-2012 participatory budgeting process, said Moore, who hosted Tuesday's meeting. Participatory budgeting is a process by which aldermen allow residents of their wards to vote on how menu money is spent. In Chicago, only the 49th, 46th, 45th and 5th wards take part in the process,
Though the residents ultimately gave their approval to the plans presented by Lange, the proposed new play structure for 5-12 year old kids caused some residents in attendance to raise their eyebrows a bit. The proposed structure, according to the proposed site plan, is a spiderweb-looking combination of arches, as well as rope nets and plastic discs for climbing.
Some residents expressed concern that kids might prefer a more traditional platform-based structure. Lange disagreed, saying that he believed kids would enjoy the unique structure.
"Kids can sort of attack it any way they want," he said.
Lange said after the meeting that the renovations will likely begin in late June or early July and hopefully finished by September or early October.
The new ward map agreed upon by Chicago aldermen last year won't affect elections until 2015, but some of Chicago's aldermen are already serving their new wards, which has created some confusion among residents.
Little more than one year ago, City Council approved a controversial new ward map, based on the 2010 census, which was approved by all but eight aldermen.
"Every alderman in the Council is serving their new constituency," said Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward).
Dowell's new ward covers some new territory in the South Loop, and she is already meeting with residents and businesses in the area. But for some aldermen, like Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward), the change is much more drastic.
Zack and Mia Schultz are thinking about leaving Chicago.
The Ukranian Village couple cites crime and a lack of decent schools to send their five-year-old daughter and (eventually) their other, two-year-old daughter to as the reasons. They've not yet decided to leave, they said Wednesday evening, but they're leaning towards it.
And not even reassuring words about the state of Chicago schools from Mayor Rahm Emanuel could convince them they should stay.
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.
It's not often you hear about a Chicago alderman willingly relinquishing power.
But Ald. James Cappleman is doing just that.
Cappleman's 46th Ward is one of four wards in the city (the others being the 5th, 45th and 49th) taking part in what's known as participatory budgeting. Through participatory budgeting, ward residents -- rather than aldermen -- get the chance to decide what to do with $1 million of aldermanic discretionary funds, which are known as "menu money." The only caveat? Menu money must only be used for capital improvement projects, rather than programs or services.
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."
Joe Moore doesn't get many visitors to his office on Wednesday evenings. He used to get more, but over the years, the numbers have dwindled.
Wednesday evenings are ward nights in Chicago's 49th ward. Each week, from 5-7 p.m., Moore, who became alderman of the far North Side ward 21 years ago, opens the doors of his office at 7356 N. Greenview for constituents to walk in and talk with him about, well, whatever.
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.
"Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose."
"Do you want a beer?" Rebecca Reynolds, campaign manger for Will Guzzardi, shouted at me from across the back room of Cole's bar on Milwaukee Avenue. "I usually buy so many beers for people during a campaign, but I haven't this time. I need to catch up!" Last week, 20 days before Election Day, the Guzzardi campaign, an agile, grass roots operation that is fighting for its life against the Berrios family and the Chicago machine, held one of its final fundraisers. Between the craft brews and the Guzzardi supporter wearing magenta velvet, a campaign button and stilts, the mood could best be described as jubilant.
Guzzardi, looking eminently more comfortable but infinitely more tired up on stage Thursday night, drew a narrative of how far he and his staff had come since he called the incumbent Representative Toni Berrios and told her he'd be challenging her in March.
"I sat down with a lot of people when I was getting started," Guzzardi said, "And I remember one of those conversations like I was yesterday. Someone said to me, 'You'll get 20-30 percent, and you'll be out of Chicago in three months.'"
Everyone booed. One of the most noticeable differences between this crowd and the one that gathered back in September are the call-and-response style shout-outs. The noticeably older, new supporters come from political organizing backgrounds, from groups like the Illinois chapter of Democracy for America and the local Democratic organization, 1st Ward First. That group, a project of Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, assembled at Cole's as a tacit endorsement of Guzzardi. With the alderman's blessing, they will continue to work with the campaign through Election Day, shoring up Guzzardi's efforts to Get Out the Vote.
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.
Is Water Tower Place in Lincoln Park? Is Old Town in the same ward as the United Center?
Yes, according to the Map for a Better Chicago, a proposed re-drawing of ward boundaries that received almost unanimous disapproval from the 500 Chicagoans who attended a hearing held on Depaul's campus on Wednesday.
"We're a little angry tonight," said Alderman Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, whose Lincoln Park constituency would be split into five wards on this map.
Since we're past the deadline for the City Council to agree on a new ward map, this is as good a time as any to start talking about it here.
For the record, I live in one area that will be affected by the remap process. I've been to meetings regarding the ward remap. This includes neighborhood meetings as well as public hearings about the remap.
If you've followed the stories about this we already know what the deal is. Basically the blacks of Chicago who have lost 180,000+ and the Latinos have gained 25,000+ people. Of course the Asians don't have enough numbers to justify giving that ethnic group their own ward. Also I read that even the city's Polish community want their own ward.
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.
There are a few assumption I make here and a few things to keep in mind. The first assumption is that voting precincts have some relationship to the community around them; in other words, they reflect pocket neighborhoods whose residents share some common issues and concerns. This obviously doesn't always hold. Another assumption is that the precincts, if perfectly registered and with full participation, would end up near even in numbers. Also not always the case. Something to keep in mind is that individual wards obviously are not like states in the electoral college, so winning precincts is meaningless except as a way to measure popularity/hatred by mini- or pocket neighborhood.
Perhaps he was surprised because he didn't expect to do so poorly outside of his base. He actually lost more precincts than he won. Solis' people were certainly reassuring him that his base would keep him far ahead of the upstart Morfin, so unless he completely collapsed elsewhere, victory was assured.
The 15th Ward is the name of a website that I found in the Google Ads here at Mechanics. I had hoped to post about this before the February 22nd municipal elections. I wanted to share this with you now because of the runoff there between Ald. Toni Foulkes and Raymond Lopez.
Here is the introduction on the homepage:
It seems that every four years we come to a decision that we strongly believe may end our misery. We vote. We listen to candidates that pride themselves on Union backing yet neglect creating jobs, pride themselves on involving themselves with youth yet help only a small handful, favor opening businesses solely on racial make-up. We certainly buy into it. Where has that pattern taken us? Absolutely no where. We seem to be going backwards in the 15th ward while the rest of the city of Chicago seems to be moving forward. What's happened and when is it going to finally change?
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.
In most communities, residents who see the need for an infrastructure project must send letters, make phone calls and attend meetings. In the 49th Ward, they simply need to vote.
The North Side neighborhood uses a process known as participatory budgeting, which puts the fund allocation decisions in the hands of the community itself.
In 2007, Ald. Joe Moore first learned about the concept from a presentation by Josh Lerner, director of the Participatory Budgeting Project. Over the next few years Moore further researched the potential to use the process for city funds known as menu money. In fiscal 2010, his ward became the first jurisdiction in the United States to implement participatory budgeting.
Each ward receives the same amount of menu money, last year that amount was about $1.3 million, and it can be used for any infrastructure projects the Alderman's office chooses. Ald. Moore created a four-step election process whereby any resident who is 16-years-old or older can propose and ultimately vote for expenditures, regardless of citizenship or voting eligibility.
The Chicago Tribune follows the endeavors of three young men running for office for Alderman in the municipal elections:
In Chicago, a town that loves its politics almost as much as its sports, these three young aldermanic candidates are going against the contrary belief that young people are uninvolved and don't care. Khaliq Muhammad, Devon Reid and John Kozlar hit the campaign trail in hopes of spreading the word and changing their community.
The 25th Ward is a horseshoe-shaped district on the Near West Side of the city. Its hodge-podge of varied ethnic and commercial centers are representative of Chicago at large. From its southeastern edge in Chinatown to gentrified University Village, pockets of Little Italy and Tri-Taylor, and nearly all of the heavily Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood, the ward encompasses an assorted mix of communities with distinct needs that serve as indicators of similar issues facing the entire city. The three main candidates for the aldermanic post -- current Ald. Danny Solis, CDOT employee Ambrosio "Ambi" Medrano Jr., and community organizer Cuahutémoc Morfín -- showcase various pieces of the the city's political puzzle, and perhaps, a movement towards ending the old standards of Chicago realpolitik.
Since 1996, the 25th Ward has been represented by Danny Solis, the current Chairman of the Committee on Zoning, and Mayor Daley's former President Pro Tempore on the City Council Floor. Solis, a Tri-Taylor resident, comes from heavy political stock. His sister, Patti Solis Doyle, is a long-time political operative who once served as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager and later, as a senior aide to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Ald. Solis has been a consistent supporter of Mayor Daley throughout his tenure, and was heavily involved in the now defunct, criminal-ridden Hispanic Democratic Organization.
With Daley's pending departure, and as one of his closer aldermanic allies, Solis finds himself running without the same degree of institutional backing in this year's race. Solis is hoping that his longevity, name recognition, and accomplishments over the past fourteen years make voters pay credence at the ballot box on February 22nd. His two opponents, Ambrosio "Ambi" Medrano Jr., the son of former 25th Ward Alderman and convicted felon Ambrosio Medrano Sr., and last election's loser, the progressive minded Cuahutemoc Morfin, hope otherwise.
On Monday, Dec. 13, a small group of journalists, reform advocates, and political junkies gathered in a conference room at the Michael A. Bilandic Building to hear a three-person panel review some of the important changes to Illinois election law enacted last year in what was finally passed as Public Act 96-0832 (click preceding link to view text of Act as it amended existing law; click here to download as a PDF). Cindy Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Andy Nauman from the State Board of Elections' division that regulates campaign finance reporting, and Cara Smith (no relation), the Public Access [FOIA] Counselor for the Illinois Attorney General, did their best in a quick review to navigate attendees through a pastiche of legislation that, as Canary put it, is "like going into the inner chamber of hell." The changes have some immediate impact on the municipal elections barreling down upon us all, with larger ramifications for other future races. However, reviewing what the law does and doesn't do also highlighted new ambiguities created, and how in significant areas much remains to be done.
Two sons of Irish immigrants, mutual childhood friends from the old neighborhood, are in a close, nasty fight for a state Senate seat on Chicago's Far Northwest Side.
John Mulroe (next to the young woman) at a party in the North Austin neighborhood in 1979. Photo courtesy of Brendan Egan
Like me, both Brian Doherty - for the past 19 years the city's sole Republican alderman--and his foe in the November 2 election, John Mulroe--appointed to the seat in August after a long-serving fellow Democrat resigned from it--graduated from St. Angela School, in the North Austin neighborhood on the West Side. I am SAS '74, Mulroe is '73 and Doherty, '71.
Neither candidate for 10th District senator--Doherty, 53, a standout amateur boxer as a young man, who started in politics as a volunteer to a Northwest Side state representative 30 years ago; Mulroe, 51, a mild-mannered but tough and tenacious accountant-turned-lawyer, who is a relative political neophyte--is pulling many punches in the bout, which has been heavily financed by both party organizations.
Both candidates, like me, are from big Irish Catholic families.
Mulroe was the third of five children, all boys. The family, like mine, lived for several years in a two-bedroom apartment in a two-flat with relatives occupying the other flat, near tiny Galewood Park, a North Austin neighborhood hangout for countless youths, including me and several of my nine siblings.
Mulroe's father, a longtime laborer with Peoples Gas, often carted a gang of us kids in his station wagon to various sporting events.
On the campaign trail, Mulroe often recounts how he began his work career at age 13 as a janitor's assistant at St. Patrick High School, an all-boys Belmont Avenue institution, where I was a year behind him, just as I had been at SAS, where he later was a director of the St. Angela Education Foundation.
In the 1980s, while Mulroe was working days at Arthur Anderson as an accountant, he attended Loyola University law school at night. Then he served as a Cook County prosecutor for six years before, in 1995, opening a small, general legal practice in an office that is a block from Doherty's aldermanic office, down Northwest Highway in the Edison Park neighborhood, where the senator and his wife, Margaret, live with their two sons and two daughters.
Similarly, Doherty, the third of nine children, was a presence in my youth. My father, the late Jack Jordan (SAS '38), St. Angela's longtime volunteer athletic director, became close to the future alderman while working as a manager for the Chicago Park District boxing program.
At the time, the future alderman was in the midst of his amateur boxing career, in which I remember seeing the slim Doherty out-pound heavier boxers on his way to a 19-2 record and Park District and Golden Gloves championships.
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.
CBS 2: Daley Mentored Others as He Shaped Chicago: But he's still "absolutely the best mayor in the country," Berry said. "Nationally there's no question he's been probably one of the most successful and important big-city mayors in the last couple decades."
Progress Illinois: Shift Expected at CAPS: The ground continues to shift at the Chicago Police Department. On Thursday, outgoing Mayor Richard Daley said he wanted civilians rather than uniformed police officers to run the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program. Ron Holt, the CAPS director, told the Tribune that too many of the 200 to 300 officers assigned to CAPS were doing administrative and civilian tasks. Many are expected to be reassigned to patrol work.
In These Times Working Blog: Hotel Quickie Strikes Build Union, Workers' Determination for Contract Battles: Workers in Chicago, like most of these cities, are responding with overwhelming strike authorization votes, protest rallies, sit-ins and civil disobedience, campaigns to persuade organizations and individuals to boycott certain hotels, and-last week-a planned one-day strike against hotel union UNITE HERE's national target, Hyatt, in four cities.
People of Color Organize!: Solidarity With Whittier School Occupation: The Whittier Parents' Committee has been organizing for seven years to push Pilsen alderman Daniel Solis to allocate some of the estimated $1 billion in Mayor Daley's TIF coffers to their school for a school expansion - he finally agreed to give $1.4million of TIF funds for school renovation. Cynically, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has earmarked a part of this money for the destruction of the school's field house, which has been used for years as a center for community organizing and services. This would directly undermine the ability of the Whittier community to organize and struggle for educational rights. Parents are demanding to be part of the decision-making process.
Austin Talks: March against violence challenges community to fight back: Graham urged residents to take a stand against gun, gang and domestic violence. Rev. Jennie Jones of Pleasant Ridge Missionary Baptist Church led the group in prayer and pleaded for strength in the fight against violence plaguing Austin.
Chicago Union News: Adjunct faculty at Chicago college cries foul while trying to organize: With only a few weeks until fall classes begin, some part-time instructors at East-West University in Chicago's South Loop are still waiting to see if they will be hired back to teach after what has been a "messy" summer-long conflict involving efforts to unionize.
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.
State Representative John Fritchey, who will be giving up his seat in the state house representing the 11th District to replace Forrest Claypool on the Cook County Board of Commissioners (assuming he wins in November), is teaming up with the Chicago Teachers Union and the Raise Your Hand Coalition to push comprehensive reform of the tax increment financing, or TIF, program. The reforms could end the exploitation of TIFs by the Mayor's office as a cudgel, and restore significant funds to taxing bodies--particularly the schools--that have seen billions of dollars disappear over the last couple decades.
Tax increment financing was created by state statute in the 1970s as a way to provide incentives to develop blighted areas. TIF areas are designated by municipalities; within those areas, property tax assessments are frozen at the level they were at when the zone was designated. The land is still assessed and the taxes on the increase are still collected, but they are diverted into a site-specific fund rather than being paid to the various taxing bodies that typically collect them. Those bodies are, primarily, school districts, counties, the municipality itself, and sanitation and fire districts, among others. The idea is that without the incentive, that tax money would never have been raised in the first place, and so those taxing bodies are not actually losing anything.
[This piece was submitted by freelance journalist Shane Shifflett, photos by Andrew Huff]
Millions of federal dollars have been invested in miles of fiber optics in Chicago and more than 1,000 surveillance cameras to create one of America's most sophisticated crime-fighting networks. There is, however, a problem: No one knows how well it actually works.
Nancy La Vigne, the director of the Criminal Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, and her team of researchers want to rectify this.
Their conclusion, which has yet to be publicly released, seems unique among the small number of similar studies conducted in other U.S. cities.
"The use of cameras is cost beneficial," La Vigne said.
To reach their conclusion, researchers compared the number and types of crimes in Humboldt Park and West Garfield Park to other neighborhoods that were statistically similar but without cameras. They discovered that for every $1 spent on cameras, the city saves $2 by preventing crimes, she said. By reducing the burden on the legal system society saves money, La Vigne said.
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.
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.
Here's a useful follow-up to my previous post, which touched on the influence of segregation on crime and the subsequent lack of political will to attack the problem. The country's most diverse zip code--which is in Seattle--gives planners, activists, and entrepreneurs an idea of what makes a healthy neighborhood, "positive mobility" [via Citiwire]:
It's a big (though frequent) mistake, says Weissbourd, to think of neighborhoods as static places, with a set character to defend at all costs. Even some well-intentioned community development groups make that error, he suggests, constantly working to expand local affordable housing and social services when the growing poverty in America isn't in cities at all -- it's now in suburbs.
The secret to strong neighborhoods, Weissbourd argues, is positive mobility -- understanding that neighborhoods are in constant motion, turning over with people and businesses coming and going. "Neighborhoods need to attract the residents, the businesses, the investments they want -- or they're dying," he insists.
Does the city's planning regime--the zoning ordinance, public transportation plan, etc.--encourage this mobility? Or does it encourage stasis?
This also sounds a bit like a justification for gentrification; but the conclusions are drawn by studying the most diverse--ethnically and otherwise--neighborhoods, not just those with the highest "quality of life". Are we too in love with our neighborhoods, and too willing (or too able) to use the law to keep them from changing?
The City Council approved an ordinance on April 14, 2010 to increase the redevelopment budget for the Midwest TIF district from $100,500,000 to $132,865,000. This represents a 32% increase from the district's original budget. The City of Chicago's Projected TIF Balances Report 2009-2011 indicates that the Midwest TIF is projected to have a cash deficit of -$6,842,003 at the end of 2010 if every project on the schedule is implememented, and projected 2010 incremental tax revenues of $13,000,000 materialize. The projected deficit is expected to grow to -$7,213,492 by the end of 2011.
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.
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.
I'm not entirely sure how I should feel after Tuesday's elections. Over a year of work on behalf of Rudy Lozano's state legislative campaign culminated in the single most bizarre Election Day I've ever experienced. Being there, at the Strohacker Park Field House at 4am on that snowy Tuesday morning was just the latest in a long list of "being there" days. Being there meant endless meetings plotting strategy, developing platforms, and setting up committees and what not to get the petition drive going. Being there meant the thrill of hearing words I wrote delivered in front of over 300 volunteers and supporters at Little Village High School on a warm August evening. Being there that day also meant having to go to the bathroom for 2 hours while collecting signatures and singing every Billy Idol song I knew waiting for the light at 25th and Pulaski to turn green before I wet myself. Being there meant days when we had big groups of volunteers knocking on doors for signatures and nights when it was just me, my 6 month old in a Baby Bjorn and Manny walking around Archer Heights. It was about late nights updating databases, running over to the Chicago Board elections for data CDs and ultimately, serving as a precinct captain on Election Day.
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):
You might have seen Syron Smith in a post on The Capitol Fax blog earlier this month as the subject of a "Question of the Day". At this moment we look at Syron Smith as he runs for state representative for the 32nd District. He is to run against Andre Thapedi who currently holds that seat. Thapedi is a "rookie" having assume the seat of Milt Patterson who stood down at the end of his term having not run for re-election.
He ran against Thapedi last year in the primary and was forced to run as a write-in candidate after his petitions were successfully challenged by Thapedi. If your petitions to run for election are rejected then that only means that you won't be on the ballot, but most of us already know that right. All the same this time Mr. Smith is coming to this election ready!
This video is by CAN-TV personality Marc Sims. Also watch part 2 & part 3.
Sun-Times reporter Abdon Pallasch has a beautifully written and deeply researched piece on the slating of Cook County Judges. The slating process--or "ballot management"--is a practice sacred to the County political bosses. The authority of slating is where they generate much of their political capital. Not only from the people they choose, but from the legions of people who serve the Party loyally in hopes of one day being slated--or of having a big enough name to get somebody else slated. Pallasch mentions a judge named William Haddad--Haddad's experiences gave me the idea to write the piece on ballot management I posted in 2004. It was an off the record conversation with Haddad about his endorsement by the Party that gave me some of the background ideas. That piece of course was based on casual hearsay conversations with various political hacks and precinct workers I would never call "journalism". Pallasch's piece refers to that 2004 Haddad campaign and really gets into how slating looks and works.
There is something to be said for this process--for all the horse-trading and political hackery involved, a society where the courts harden into a clubbish aristocracy is not what we want, either. There is a middle road in there somewhere.
My favorite bit, but, really, read the whole thing:
Here's who wins judicial elections in Cook County: Women with Irish names. For whatever reason in this county where roughly half the residents are women and 17 percent claim Irish ancestry, women lawyers with Irish names win more than 50 percent of all countywide judicial elections.
That's why lawyers of Jewish or other ancestry often legally adopt Irish names to run for judge here. That's why when party leaders slate men without Irish names, such as William Haddad, who would have been the first Arab-American full-circuit judge in Cook County, the party must recruit Irish women lawyers to run as "ringers" or "stalking horses" to flood the ballot and fracture the Irish-woman vote.
It's been over a decade since parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi church broke into the historic cathedral to halt its demolition in 1996. It was neither the first nor the last time that Gerardo Reyes felt that his church was threatened by its neighbor - the University of Illinois at Chicago.
As UIC has developed and expanded its south campus, Reyes and others feel there has been a pattern of deception and unfriendliness that is designed to chase out the St. Francis community. These machinations are surfacing once again, say members of The St. Francis of Assisi Preservation Committee, this time in the form of parking fees.
"UIC says they are a good neighbor," said Reyes, head of the preservation committee, "but if they are a good neighbor, why did they close and narrow the roads? And why are they taking away the parking that they promised us?"
The parking in question was allotted by UIC for the St. Francis Community before south campus construction began. Parking was free in designated university parking lots on Sundays for parishioners attending mass.
The promise that Reyes cites is documented in the Jan. 24 edition of The Chicago Journal, in which UIC spokesman Bill Burton is indirectly quoted as having said that "university officials plan to make room there for parishioners indefinitely."
There was never any written agreement, however. The lack of such documentation made Reyes and other preservation committee members nervous from the get-go. Now their worries have come to fruition.
Mark Rosati, a spokesperson for the university, says that parking was provided to the parish to minimize disruption to the community during the construction phase.
"But now that the construction is over, we cannot continue to allow free use of public property to an outside party, under state law," Rosati said.
Rosati describes the fee, two dollars for two hours, as being "very reasonable."
But a press release issued by the St. Francis Preservation Committee states that it will be two dollars for parking permit-holders, and eight dollars for those without permits. This worries Reyes, who says that, as The Mother Church of Mexican Immigrants, St. Francis attracts people passing through town; people without permits who may now attend mass elsewhere.
"I don't know anything about that," Rosati said of eight dollar parking ticket.
Admittedly, it can be hard to see what the big deal about a parking fee could possibly be.
"[The parking fees] eventually will drastically reduce church attendance and lead to its shut down," said Steve Balkin, a professor of economics at Roosevelt University, in a recent letter.
Balkin's argument goes like this. The St. Francis community is largely blue collar, with little money to spare. Put that money toward parking, it comes out of the collections plates. Less money in the collection plates means less money for the church, which may mean that the Catholic Archdiocese might try to close the church again, like they did in 1995 and 1996.
"A supposed need for parking space is the pretext for getting rid of poor and working class immigrants whose presence does not fit into UIC's vision for a homogeneous campus and gentrifying condo development," wrote Balkin.
The parking fees were first implemented during mass last weekend, and it has yet to be determined what effect they will have on the parish in the end. Reyes remains hopeful.
"This is our home. We've defended it before, and we can do it again," Reyes said.
Caleb Melby is a journalism student at the Medill School.
UPDATE: Mechanics received the following reply from Mark Rosati, associate Chancellor for Public Affairs at UIC.
Regarding the recent Gaper's Block item about parking at UIC, the Chicago Journal article which reported that the campus would provide free parking to St. Francis Church parishioners "indefinitely" was from January of 2002, not 2009.
As for the quote in your story from an individual alleging that UIC has a vision of a "homogeneous campus," it is unfortunate that your reporter didn't ask me for a response. If he had, he would have learned that UIC has for many years been among the most diverse university campuses in the country (check the annual US News & World Report rankings) and that many of our 26,000 students come from families of limited financial means, recent immigrants or their children, and are the first generation in their families to attend college. To give just two examples of the diversity of our campus, UIC educates more Latinos at the undergraduate and graduate level combined than any university in Illinois, and we are No. 1 in the Midwest in baccalaureate degrees earned by Latino students.
In education, healthcare, economic development and community engagement UIC is a good neighbor - and that will continue to be the case.
WBEZ has a great report from inside the Cook County Democratic Party Slating Committee meeting this week. The full meeting happens today.
Here are some interesting facts* that WBEZ didn't report on:
Alderman Dick Mell asked candidate for County Board Terry O'Brien, "I'm interested to know, in terms of the veto override provisions that are ultimately determined by the state legislature, Irishdingussayswhat?" To which O'Brien responded, "What?"
County Recorder of Deeds Eugene "Gene" Moore actually introduces himself by saying, "Hello, I'm Eugene 'Gene' Moore" while making air quotes.
Karen Yarborough, Commiteeman for Proviso Township, travels around with an aide who announces, "Proviso Township, Entering!" when she enters a room, and "Proviso Township, Retiring!" when she leaves.
Ald. Toni Preckwinkle yawned loudly during one of Committeeman Ira Silverstein's questions, and then interrupted him and said, "Man, Silverstein, you're so boring you make P.J. Cullerton (38th) sound like Randy Barnette (39th)!" She actually said the parentheticals.
Committeeman John Fritchey head-butted Steve Landek, but it was a "friend head butt".
When hotel staff wheeled in refreshments, Secretary of State Jesse White asked for a "tumbler" of Diet Pepsi. Nobody laughed.
Mike Madigan peeled an entire apple without breaking the skin, then revealed that it was actually a human heart.
In a spirit of unity, Secretary of State Jesse White pledged that the Party would unite behind any candidate it endorsed. "We'll tumble for you," he added. Some people laughed.
Committeeman Bob Rita took Committeeman Wilbert Crowley's hand and slapped him across the face with it, then asked him why he was hitting himself.
Howard Brookins asked John Daley if he liked Harry Potter more than Twilight. Daley rolled his eyes and said, "Is John A. Pope (10th) Catholic?"
*None of these are actually facts. Although I do think John A. Pope is Catholic.
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.
While understandably wanting to keep neighborhood parks clean and free of crime, it's frustrating to hear residents talk about homeless people as if they should be rats targeted for extermination by city crews. Instead of helping to address the problems underlying homelessness (substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of sustainable employment), many seem to miss the point that with a few false steps and a lack of family support, it could be them sleeping on a park bench.
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.
What kind of Fitzmas present will Fitzgerald be delivering to the public, brilliantly wrapped in indictment paper? We'll find out if it's something we wanted, or just another boring old sweater.
UPDATE: Wrong federal building. Oops. And as I'm sure you've heard by now, it is West Side political boss Ike Carothers (29th-Austin) who was indicted today by the feds, for allegedly accepting cash for a zoning change. Nice, old school Chicago corruption. Here's the indictment. I'll work on pulling out the juicy bits for ya.
UPDATE 2: I'm not an attorney, so I'll stick to the facts; these are the violations cited as the grounds for the indictment: (i) "theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds"; (ii) perpetrating a "fraud or swindle" using an interstate mail service; (iii) perpetrating a "fraud or swindle" using the phone; (v) obstruction of justice by "Influencing or injuring officer or juror generally"; (vi) entering a fraudulent or false statement to the IRS; (vii) and violating congressional campaign contributions in three different ways (including entering a contribution under a different name). These are the things that made the case federal, but the indictment lists a number of state and local laws that were violated, too. The "fraud or swindle" was literally of the citizens of the city; under Section 1346 of the US Code, this definition is provided: "For the purposes of this chapter, the term 'scheme or artifice to defraud' includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." This was used in the Blagojevich indictment as well. The argument is that we were defrauded of our intangible right of honest service by this scheming. At least that's my understanding of it. Lawyers?
"I dislike, and strongly dislike... the abandonment in every instance of the principle of rotation in office and most particularly in the case of the President. Reason and experience tell us that the first magistrate will always be re-elected if he may be re-elected. He is then an officer for life. This once observed, it becomes of so much consequence to certain nations to have a friend or a foe at the head of our affairs that they will interfere with money and with arms."
-- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787
Watching coverage of the increasing authoritarianism of the Chavistas in Venezuela, it occurred to me that despite all of the contrived consternation by talking heads and editorialists, the fact that the vast majority of our government has no term limits never seemed to come up. But it is a fact that American governments, from the municipal to the state to the federal level, operate nearly unfettered by "rotation in office" rules that would go a long way to breaking not only dynastic holds on office, but also the pattern of social and professional networks growing around individuals with lifetime holds on those offices. How can Chicagoans, who have lived 41 years under Daley-family rule in the last 53 years -- 75 percent of the last half-century -- be expected to feel outrage at popular foreign leaders who undermine the clearly democratic principle of term limits?
I've got an idea for stemming the corruption associated with money in politics. How about stopping the politicians from asking for it so much?
Among the many topics never taught in high school civics, and rarely in college political science, is begging. The "beg." The "pitch." The "ask." Otherwise known as the direct solicitation of money, by an officeholder or would-be officeholder.
The uproar over the Blagojevich-Burris follies might lead some to believe that the constant "touch" put on friends, acquaintances, and the not-so-well-acquainted was some freakish aberration on the part of the governor and his henchmen. Hardly so.