Letters to the Editor

Imagine there’s no input

To the Editor:

We write concerning your Oct. 19 coverage of the dedication of Yoko Ono’s Sky Landing sculpture on Wooded Island. It was a lavish event indeed, but your coverage neglected to note that it was by invitation only, that interested community members were turned away, and that numerous questions concerning how the installation was authorized, who paid for it and the like had not yet been answered.

As it happens, Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly answered some of those questions at the Oct. 18 monthly meeting of the Park District Board, saying that the sculpture had been donated by Yoko Ono and Project 120, and that the Park District owned it but would not pay for maintenance.

Another crucial question still left unanswered is what this portends for how the Park District will handle Project 120’s still outstanding and highly controversial proposal to build a pavilion/music venue close to the Wooded Island in Jackson Park. If the precedent has been established that you can arrange to have whatever project you wish put in place if you bring enough money to the table, will we wake up one morning to find that bulldozers are preparing the site for the pavilion, again without public input or participation?

Brenda Nelms
Margaret Schmid
Coordinators, Jackson Park Watch
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Positive news at Stout Park

To the Editor:

We’ve followed recent Herald articles and letters about the sometimes-challenging relations between Hyde Parkers and their parks. The Stout Park Park Advisory Council [PAC] has a more positive tale to relate. One important lesson: “what a difference a PAC can make.”  We’re happy, certainly, with what our PAC has accomplished.  But our biggest impact is just being in place!  We can talk to the rather dauntingly-sized institution that is responsible for our park—the Chicago Park District [CPD], and they listen.  And we give the CPD someone to talk to in return.  Both sides benefit.

Stout Park interrupts 54th Place between Greenwood and Ellis. Small, it’s main “feature” is a splendid sledding hill.  It’s a popular dog-friendly park with well-used playing field and play lots. But for years it has functioned more “off the radar” than “on.”  Things changed—for us and for other small parks—because the Hyde Park/Kenwood Community Conference [HPKCC] decided that even the city’s smallest parks needed their own advocates.  They sent out PAC “missionaries”—namely Louise McCurry and Gary Ossewaarde to organize and incubate small-park PACs across the neighborhood.

Stout Park’s Park Advisory Council [PAC] was organized just over a year ago as part of the first wave of HPKCC’s evangelical efforts.  We’ve had a busy and productive first year, indeed. We first compiled a log of more than 50 tasks that needed to be done in the park, from minor repairs to capital tasks. One major issue was that Stout Park trees were in a state of crisis, many of them hit with ash-bore disease. The PAC identified 15 trees that needed to be removed.  We lobbied the Park District to further assess the problem. Michael Brown and his staff at CPD increased the removal list to 30 trees—more than a third of our inventory.  Barbara Woods quickly committed CPD resources to remove our dead and dying trees, work with the PAC on a replanting plan, and get new trees in the ground by spring of 2016. Stout Park has more than 20 new trees and Barb has promised to augment the new shade trees with several ornamentals next season.

Stout Park’s tired play lots certainly needed attention, too. Soon after the PAC was organized, Maria Stone at the CPD informed us that Stout was “on the list” to get new playgrounds.  We worked with Maria and the alderman’s office to chose a design for the new play lots.  Then we waited.  Boy, was it worth the wait!  We understood we would get new equipment.  But we got so much more.  The retaining walls of the play lots were repaired.  Benches were repaired and replaced.  Very distressed asphalt walkways were replaced with beautiful new cement walks. The two corners of the east side of the park have been transformed.

So we’ve whittled 30 tasks from our “to do list.”   We’re got many to thank for these very impressive accomplishments:

  • Many Park District Staff:  Nikki Peters and her colleagues at the Nichols Park Field House have supported the PAC since the beginning.  Michael Brown, Barb Woods, and Maria Stone were the most involved with Stout’s major initiatives this year.  But many other Park District staff have monitored and supported our work as well. Thanks to you all.
  • HPKCC: George Rumsey “deputized” Louise McCurry and Gary Ossewaarde to organize and incubate PACs like Stout Park’s.  Louise and Gary have been to almost all of our monthly meetings for more than a year.  They’ve provided encouragement and support and insider knowledge about how to make things happen.  They’re moving on to incubate NEW PACs now. George, thank you for your tactical advice as well.  And for HPKCC’s commitment to growing neighborhood PACs.
  • Stout Park PAC Board Members and Volunteers: The board of the Stout Park PAC has shared its work with a cluster of neighborhood residents who’ve regularly joined our meetings—Richard Barnard, Timothy Patrick-Miller, Pat Swanson, and Timothy Thurlow. Others volunteered for clean up days and helped review play lot designs and provided valuable support and feed back to the work of the PAC .  Thank you all.

The Chicago Park District is a big operation.  They will never deliver the “retail”-level responsiveness some would like.  But when they have someone to communicate with, they do!

We’ve all been impressed by how responsive the Park District has been to the needs of such a small park with such an annoyingly persistent PAC.

Stout Park PAC
Kenneth A. East, President
France Vandervoort, Vice President
Leslie Judge, Secretary

WhistleSTOP is worth reviving

To the Editor: 

Great that you support the revival of Whistle Stop. (I think I still have mine somewhere; I always have a whistle like it on my key chain!) I remember incidents where it really made a difference! The great thing about it is that people didn’t have to put themselves at risk to make that difference, If you heard a whistle you blew yours – and you could be in a safe place. And if you were near a phone (in those days before everyone had a phone in their pocket) you called 911 with your location.

It would be great if the U of C would distribute a good loud whistle to every incoming student and include instructions on this in Orientation Week info. Or failing that if we could raise some money to make sure all students have one! They’re most likely to be out on the streets at night and too many have been hurt or even killed by street crime.

This is worth reviving!

Joan Levin

HPKCC is reignighting its WhistleStop campaign

To the Editor:

Congratulations on your important and timely September 28 editorial about the WhistleStop Program! Important, because the WhistleStop program, unlike any other we know of, exemplifies the vital impact of neighbors acting together to help protect each other from danger, thereby enhancing the safety of all of us in the community we share.

Timely, because the Safety Committee of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference is currently developing a campaign to introduce the WhistleStop program to newer members of our community we may not know about it, and to reassure those who do know how it works that our WhistleStop program is still alive and well.

Since, as your editorial pointed out, the success of the WhistleStop depends upon everyone’s participation, volunteers to help us spread awareness of the program throughout our neighborhood are warmly welcome. Please leave a message with the HPKCC at 773-288-8343 or email to


Stephanie Franklin
For the HPKCC Safety Committee

Urge inspection of potential safety hazards at Metra in Hyde Park

To the Editor:

Urge inspection of potential health and safety hazards in Metra properties in Hyde Park.

The Metra retail properties under the tracks are using unsafe and illegal methods to address water damage in ceiling supports. Gutters are not legal to be installed inside, yet Metra has installed gutters in their retail stores. This is potentially dangerous to health and safety. The gutters invite mold and weaken the wooden beams that date back to the 19th century. Metra wanted me to put gutters in my store, but I refused.

Past incidents have occurred…in the property that was the florist shop, 1551 E. Hyde Park, where the ceiling collapsed (property was quickly boarded and bricked over and concealed following that incident); The Popcorn Lady, also sharing the same address, 1551 E. Hyde Park, where mold damage and improper installation of gutters was uncovered by an independent inspector (Raths, Raths, and Johnson, Inc. as seen on part 1 of the YouTube video); and the bike shop on 53rd was forced to close its door in the spring of 2015.

I am told that city inspectors will only investigate upon specific complaints about gutters or if the ceiling collapses. I want to prevent any further incidents by having the city inspectors investigate these potentially hazardous situations before “the ceiling caves in”.

Check out more of my story on YouTube. Go to “The Popcorn Lady”, Part 2.

Next call City Hall at 312-744-5000 or 311 and report this to the building inspectors and the Health Department.

It is suggested that you call later in the day to avoid frustration of calling during their “peak hours”.

Thank you for your assistance. You CAN make a difference.

The Popcorn Lady
Glorious Confectionery Lenoir, Inc.

Supreme Court denies citizens a chance to vote for non-partisan redistricting

To the Editor:

“You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Depart, I say, and let us be done with you.”

Oliver Cromwell speaking to the Rump Parliament May 14, 1653.

For the second time in a strictly partisan vote the state Supreme Court has denied the citizens a chance to vote for non-partisan redistricting. As before, Speaker Michael Madigan’s lawyer led opposition to this initiative. Over a number of years, the legislature has passed supposedly balanced budgets, but only with accounting gimmicks to cover deficits. We all remember the state income tax increase, with the promise from state leaders, including Rep. Currie, to pay down the backlog of bills and pension obligations. Growing budget shortfalls have now even depleted the state’s ‘rainy day’ fund. The legislature and the governor seem incapable of finding an approach to solve the state’s growing fiscal problems.

Public officials readily turn to ‘revenue enhancements’, by which they mean taxes as a solution. There are few attempts to decrease the cost of government, say by decreasing the excessive number of governmental units in Illinois. Could legislators cut back on expenses in Springfield and in District Offices? Will unions contribute to deficit reduction?

To be fair, the present budget mess in the state is not solely the fault of the legislature. Governors, both Democratic and Republican, have signed the legislature’s proposals without much pushback. I have always thought that a professional political class is essential with the complexities of modern society. However, if our current political leaders do not begin to bring the state out of the present fiscal morass, maybe Oliver Cromwell’s remonstrance with the Rump Parliament will prove that history does not repeat itself but often rhymes.

Alfred L. Baker

Thank you for your concern for our kids

To the Editor:

A warm thank you to members of the Hyde Park/Kenwood/Bronzeville community from Mothers and Men Against Senseless Killings (MASK) for your generous donations to our school supply drive for children in Englewood. We were out collecting four times in the neighborhood, and were overwhelmed by how many of you, from all walks of life, gave so much.

We distributed those supplies on Sunday, September 4, at our block party at 75th and Stewart – a fun-filled event with more than 300 people, basketball and a bouncy house, face-painting, a DJ, and lots of good food (all donated). We gave out 100 backpacks and 30 uniforms to kids from kindergarten to high school, and had school supplies left over to give to area schools.

The moms and men of MASK have sat outside every day for two summers on one of the most crime-targeted blocks in Englewood. Our model is simple: we provide a safe place to be, some good food, conversation and games, and consistency and love. Every week, more and more people come out to the block and help each other, and get to know each other as a community. Our founder, Tamar Manasseh, who grew up in Englewood, went to school in Hyde Park, and now lives in Bronzeville- started this movement in response to what we all feel: “How can we help stop the violence that is taking so many of our children?” She has pulled together many of us (come join!) who have wanted to do something. We are now a 501(c)3 organization with members from Hyde Park, Kenwood, Englewood, Bronzeville, Woodlawn, and even Logan Square. Most important, there hasn’t been a single murder on the block or nearby since June 2015 when we started.

What can helping to stabilize one area of a community do? It’s a good start. It’s doing something, not just talking about it. We are growing groups (even on Staten Island and in Evansville, Ind.) and we aren’t stopping! So…thank you for knowing that all children are OUR children, and that all communities are interwoven. If you want to know more about MASK, please go to our website at www.getbehindthemask.org and “like” us on Facebook.

Tamar Manasseh
Michelle Burbea
Colleen O’Leary and
the moms and men of MASK

Wooded Island news: good and not-so-good

To the Editor:

There is good news and not-such-good news about the Osaka Japanese Garden and the Wooded Island.  The good news is that it is very likely that the fence surrounding the Island and lagoon will come down sometime next month.  The not-such-good-news, depending on one’s perspective, is that the occasion for this will be the undoubtedly media-heavy event surrounding the “unveiling” of the Yoko Ono Sky Landing sculpture on the Island.

The work of creating the concrete foundation for the Yoko Ono piece is now underway.  The base will be clad in marble.  Eventually, if not in time for the “unveiling,” the fence and walkway now on the west side of the Japanese Garden will be removed, and a new fence enclosing the Garden and the sculpture will be erected, dramatically changing the experience of being in the Garden.  Lovers of the traditional Osaka Garden may be unhappy; those who fancy the new may be pleased.  In any event, the north end of the Wooded Island will have been permanently changed.

Policy questions remain: Who is paying for the major infrastructure work that the installation requires?  Who is paying for the sculpture?  Who will own it and maintain it?  What about security? With the Darrow Bridge closed, where will visitors park?  What about public restrooms?  Jackson Park Watch has asked these questions of the Park District Board of Commissioners numerous times, with no response.

Other questions concern the consequences, not only for the Garden, which may well become not only a tourist attraction but a revenue-generating event location, but also importantly for the tranquility of the Wooded Island and for the birds and other wildlife that find shelter in the nature sanctuary it hosts .

And finally, all of this has occurred with no community input, but instead, apparently under the sweeping authority granted Project 120 by the secretive MOU executed between the Park District and Project 120 in 2014.

We already have commitments concerning community input on Project 120’s proposed pavilion/music venue, and we need to make those stick.  Now we need to ensure that the top-down process used to bring Yoko Ono’s sculpture to the Wooded Island does not set the model for decision-making concerning the Obama Library and its impact on the Park.  Please join us to that end.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
coordinators, Jackson Park Watch


Celebrating the return of the nurse midwife unit at U. of C.

To the Editor:

I celebrate The University of Chicago Hospitals for re-opening its nurse midwife unit this month. I was one of the pregnant and new mothers who led the protest to stop the closure of the practice 13 years ago.  I feel vindicated and elated that the University of Chicago (U. of C.) now sees nurse midwifery as essential in obstetric care and childbirth. Nurse midwifery is seen as a less medically interventionist approach. Closing that practice caused many in the neighborhood to seek that kind of care elsewhere.

In 2003 when the new head of obstetrics at the University of Chicago Hospitals decided to close their nurse midwife practice they said it was because of the costs.  It angered past and present patients because we valued their down-to-earth and accessible approach. We were mostly low risk women who held in high regard their personal services in a high tech hospital setting in our neighborhood.

Recently when I spoke with Erin Irwin MSN, CNM, Director, Midwifery Services at University of Chicago Medical Center, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology she told me our protests made a difference to her personally.

She watched the Hyde Park pro-midwife activism with envy as a clinic in a low-income neighborhood of Chicago where she worked at the same time was closing and no one made a peep. She also said the U. of C. Midwife practice has its work cut out for them in terms of gaining the trust and business from the neighborhood.

After having spoken to Irwin I feel bolstered by her motivation as a caregiver. She recalled a pivitol experience at the start of her career, being touched by a low-income mother whose baby Irwin helped deliver.

“Thank you for taking such good care of me even though I have a public aid card,” the woman told Irwin who was stunned by the woman’s expectation of lesser care.

Thirteen years ago, the closing felt demoralizing. But now as the practice reopens, hearing the administration’s support and Irwin belief that a nurse midwife’s care during childbirth is a human right, I feel more correct than ever that I was a part of a righteous battle.  Now I know that our efforts paid off.

Dina Weinstein

Thank you Hyde Park for supporting Woodlawn Voices and Visions

To the Editor:

Thank you for the coverage last week of our program and our Aug. 20th showcase. We filled the 130-seat screening room of the Logan Center, and our diverse audience engaged in robust debate regarding the subject matter of the documentary shorts produced by our students and debuted that day.

Hyde Park has been and continues to be a great friend to our program, Woodlawn Voices and Visions. While our mission focuses on young people in Woodlawn, we have relied heavily on Hyde Park to realize our vision. The Logan Center has been an invaluable partner, as has been the Quaker House. Our individual supporters, who are critical to our success, include many Hyde Parkers. After School Matters and CAN TV round out the list of essential partners.

Our original mission was based on a vision to develop a community center in Woodlawn anchored in nonviolent social change programming. We continue to search for a viable space to fulfill that vision and see Voices and Visions as a demonstration of what’s possible with such a resource in our community. Our city, constantly in flux and especially hard for the young, the elderly, and the poor to navigate, requires of our communities special support for our most vulnerable neighbors, such as a community center would provide Woodlawn.

Thank you to all who attended. Our videos will be posted online at voicesandvisions.org. If you sign up there, we can also let you know about future screenings and conversations.

Gabriel Piemonte
Woodlawn Voices and

Less is more for Jackson Park

To the Editor:

With the siting of the Obama Library in Jackson Park, and expansive talk of a “Museum Campus South”, it is even more important that plans for the rest of Jackson Park get more scrutiny.  As the surrounding neighborhood develops and land is sought to relocate the displaced track and athletic fields, there will be increasing pressure to build inside the rest of the park.  Some may see the music pavilion on Northerly Island as a model for the development of other parts of Jackson Park.

But the use of one corner of the park for an important new library and museum does not justify sacrificing the remainder of the park. Any additional development in Jackson Park should not be judged simply by how many tourists can be drawn to the South Side. If that were the measure of success, why not also build a casino and a roller coaster?

In addition to the upcoming Obama Library construction, Jackson Park has recently had the Army spend millions to restore its fish and wildlife habitat, Yoko Ono is supposed to install a sculpture next to the Japanese Garden, the Darrow Bridge will remain closed for several years, and Project 120 is proposing a music pavilion to the east of the bridge that would require removing at least a football field’s worth of trees.

Wooded Island and its surroundings are a rare piece of urban wilderness. The Army’s project was undertaken recognizing the “important migratory bird, fish and wildlife habitat within the natural portions of Jackson Park” with “the potential to provide pond, fringe marsh, sedge meadow, savanna and woodland habitat.” Residents from the surrounding neighborhoods treasure the park as a nearby, quiet place to walk, fish, bird watch and picnic.  Plans for any additional structures in the park should be vetted through extensive community engagement. Common sense would suggest that such plans take into account the Obama Library design, and that reopening the Darrow Bridge should be a high priority.

Jackson Park is not a blank slate in need of new development. It is hard to imagine there is another natural area in Chicago facing so much change in such a short amount of time. In this case, less is more.

Eric Ginsburg

Illinois legislature needs new ideas to temper the state’s political turmoil

To the Editor: 

The Illinois state legislature desperately needs new ideas to temper the state’s political turmoil, but the way we elect representatives prevents many groups with novel ideas from being represented in Springfield. While the Independent Map Amendment takes a much needed first step to reduce gerrymandering, single winner districts – where voters in each district elect only one representative – and the plurality election method – where candidates can win without a majority of votes – will continue to stifle competition. This method gives a plurality of the voters all of the representation in each legislative district and leaves voters outside that plurality without a voice in government.

Fixing this issue requires Illinois to look both to its past and to the future. Bringing back multi-winner districts – where voters in each district elect more than one representative – would return political power to the groups in each district that currently go without representation. Having more that one representative from each district enables each group in a given district to elect representatives in proportion to their strength in the electorate. Receiving a plurality of votes in a district would no longer translate into receiving all of that district’s representation.

Along with multi-winner districts, Illinois should also replace plurality voting with ranked choice voting, as suggested by the national electoral reform group FairVote. Ranked choice voting is simple. Voters rank the candidates in an election in order of preference: first, second, third, and so on. Then, the way votes are tallied prevents them from being wasted on candidates that cannot win or on candidates that will win with big margins. Ranked choice rewards voters for expressing their true preferences at the ballot box and takes away the need for them to vote strategically. As a result, the winners of elections mirror voters’ true preferences, creating a legislature as ideologically diverse as its constituents and opening up the legislature to more independents and third parties.

To improve Illinois, we need an inclusive political system that more accurately reflects Illinoisans’ voices. Illinois has a history of using innovative voting systems, and it is time to restore this legacy for the betterment of our state. Changing the way we elect representatives by returning to multi-winner districts and implementing ranked choice voting would make sure every voice has a seat at the table in Springfield.

Ben Fogarty

Certain ads at old Istria Cafe site are dangerous for kids

To the Editor:

I am writing this letter regarding the former location of Istria cafe near the 55th/ 56th/ 57th Metra Train Station in Hyde Park. This cafe had a delicious gelato shop. It was then transformed into another shop, which closed down quickly.

Now, the shop window has become an advertising point for many goods. While some goods advertised may be benign, such as takeout menus, there are also excessive advertisements for cigarettes; one of the cigarette ads has a number where people can call to order cigarettes. Given the amount of teens that use the station, advertising for illicit dealing of cigarettes, which could very well be targeted at minors who could not buy them normally, could be harmful to Chicago teens. As a 14 year old, I know that teenagers may not always make good decisions.

The vacant space should either be transformed into a train waiting area, cafe or shop, or it should remain vacant but with the windows being regularly cleaned of advertisements that advertise goods that may be harmful to some.


Aviva Corre
Hyde Parker since birth

Letter to the Editor response: Campoli’s “Egg” sculpture in Nichols Park should have a plaque

To the Editor:

Recently I made a close-up inspection of Cosmo Campoli’s “Egg” sculpture, now situated next to and on the north side of the Murray Language Academyon 53d Street in Hyde Park.

To my dismay, I could not find a plaque or any other kind of identification in the vicinity of the piece, stating either its title or the artist’s name. This is a shame. Campoli was a famous Chicago artist in the ‘50s. He was one of only three Chicago artists who were included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition titled New Images of Man. For many years he was also an important and much-loved instructor at IIT’s Institute of Design.

ADVICE PLEASE: Who, or what agency, institution, etc., should be informed of, or appealed to, to rectify this unfortunate situation?

Thank you for your consideration.
Richard G. Sessions


Mr. Sessions:

The sculpture that Mr. Sessions refers to in the letter, Bird of Peace, is a bronze statue whose body is shaped like an egg, and whose claws stand atop two more eggs. Its artist, Cosmo Campoli, created it in 1970 and it was dedicated to Nichols Park on June 3 of that year. It is affectionately known as the Nichols Park mascot and underwent a $10,000 restoration in 2004.

Cosmo Campoli’s Bird of Peace sculpture in Nichols Park, 1355 E. 53rd St. - Spencer Bibbs

Cosmo Campoli’s Bird of Peace sculpture in Nichols Park, 1355 E. 53rd St.

-Spencer Bibbs


Campoli, who specialized in egg-related art, built the sculpture that stands at the 53rd Street entrance to Nichols Park near Murray Elementary School. The Nichols Park egg sculpture is one of many around the country. The most famous is “The Bird of Death” from the New York Museum of Modern Art’s 1959 exhibit, the “Images of Man.”

A Hyde Park native, Campoli taught at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His work was exhibited at the Hyde Park art center. He was particularly interested in conveying bird’s spirits in his works, most of which now belong to private collections.

Campoli is beloved in Hyde Park. A local Thai restaurant once named one of their dishes “Pasta Campoli” in his honor. In 2005, a group of Hyde Parkers assembled outside the sculpture to sing happy birthday to him.

While the sculpture does not have a plaque, it does have a nameplate that lies directly in front of the base of the sculpture and reads Bird of Peace, Cosmo Campoli, 1922-1997. Because the sculpture is located in the park, the Chicago Park District would be the city department to contact to request a plaque. The Chicago Park District’s Park Enhancement Committee would review the proposal, primarily considering issues of funding and the historical importance of the artwork before determining whether to grant the request.

A plaque in front of the statue that reads “Bird of Peace, Cosmo Campoli, 1922 - 1996.” - Spencer Bibbs

A plaque in front of the statue that reads “Bird of Peace, Cosmo Campoli, 1922 – 1996.”

-Spencer Bibbs


Hyde Park Herald

Op-Ed: Mikva’s Lesson on Democracy Resonates Today

I grew up four blocks away from Abner Mikva’s house in Evanston. In the late 70’s, my contact with then Congressman Mikva was limited to trips to his house on Halloween when he or one of his family members would hand out full size Hershey bars to the neighborhood ghosts and pirates. I appreciated his largesse so much that one year I changed out of my cardboard robot costume and came back to his door as “boy in wrangler jeans with metallic silver face paint” just to get another one of those jumbo chocolate bars.

As a member of a not-very-political Evanston family, I made the understandable mistake of assuming that the exclamation mark at the end of the myriad Mikva! tee-shirts worn by every third person in Evanston was in recognition of his confectionery generosity.

As a college junior at the University of Michigan, I spent the winter of 1990 interning at the Washington DC based Rainbow Lobby, an organization dedicated to election reform — long before election reform was a mainstream topic. The Rainbow Lobby battled to level the playing field for third-party candidates and independent voters. We challenged ballot access rules for third-party candidates, the partisan construct of the Federal Election Commission and the News Election Service, and we picked a fight with the newly formed Commission on Presidential debates in a case, Fulani V. Brady, that wound up on then Judge Mikva’s desk.

The case was groundbreaking. Lenora Fulani, the first African-American and woman to appear on the presidential ballot, was arbitrarily denied a place in the Presidential debates in 1988. Fulani sued to challenge the tax exempt status of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which the DNC and RNC had only recently established to guarantee direct party control over the fall debates.

We lost the case on the grounds that Fulani lacked standing to challenge the CPD’s tax exempt status. But Judge Mikva dissented most eloquently, and his words still echo today. He wrote “whatever its proper role in correcting imbalances and imperfections in the status quo, government certainly must not abandon its posture of nonpartisanship. The government of any democracy, let alone one shaped by the values of our Constitution’s First Amendment, must avoid tilting the electoral playing field, lest the democracy itself become tarnished.”

His words inspired me and many others to devote our lives to the advancement of democracy – which 25 years later continues to require vigilance.

Today, American politics lies somewhere on the spectrum between rigged and dysfunctional. Voters are angry and distrustful of politicians and political institutions, most especially the political parties which have overstepped their bounds in many ways. 43% of Americans now identify as independents — a protest against the complete partisanization of every aspect of politics and government. Our democracy has become tarnished because lawmakers have indeed tilted the playing field in favor of party control and against new voices, new coalitions, and most especially the voters, as Judge Mikva warned 25 years ago.

And so the work continues and I hope he would be proud. As president of Open Primaries, a national political reform organization, we are working to push back against partisanship and enact public primaries so that everyone can vote for who they want, regardless of party. We’re an important voice in the growing voter empowerment movement. In September, I am coming back to Chicago to participate in a political reform summit sponsored by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform at Columbia College. We will be discussing—among other issues like redistricting reform—“Illinois Primaries: How Open Are They?”

Abner Mikva recognized the danger of government itself becoming a platform for partisan politics many years ago. We would be wise to heed his words as we grapple with how to move our politics, and our country, forward.  I remember his words every day, just as I remember those chocolate bars.

John Opdycke
President of Open Primaries