Letters to the Editor

Folk Festival needs community support to survive

To the Editor:

I am writing to ask the Herald and the Hyde Parkers who read the Herald for help in keeping a Hyde Park tradition alive.

The University of Chicago Folk Festival has been around for 56 years. The Folklore Society is run by a student organization and helped by a few very dedicated local residents. For the last two years the Festival has lost money and this year it is only two days, not the traditional three-day event. No one has said anything, but it is my feeling that if it fails this year we can kiss a 56-year tradition goodbye.

It is my hope that you will join us for the concerts, Friday Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. and Saturday Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St., and spend Saturday at the free workshops. Please join your neighbors in helping keep our folk festival going for another 56 years.

To find out more about the festival and order tickets please go to uofcfolk.org. If you are ordering for an organization, please note the great group offer.

Thank you,

Allison Cate Hartman

Let’s be careful and actively involved in our next choice for alderman

To the Editor:

As a reporter and editor, primarily at the Hyde Park Herald, I spent 15 years as an active student of Hyde Park’s genius, learning about how and why the neighborhood is the way it is. One of the consistent themes I noticed over those years was the importance of people doing for themselves in the public sphere for the life of the community. From the establishment of the Hyde Park Cooperative Society to the construction of the original Harper Court to the struggle to preserve Promontory Point, Hyde Park is its best self when it insists on deciding for itself.

This also extends to the election of myriad progressive political candidates. In recent years, however, this has not taken place for important political positions. From state representative to state senator to alderman, Hyde Park is represented by people who were hand-picked and appointed by Cook County Board President and Fourth Ward Committeeman Toni Preckwinkle. This is in no way a criticism of the men who fill these positions. It is not even a criticism of Toni, who I’m sure is trying to do what’s best for the community. But it is a condemnation of unilateral political maneuvering which leaves the people without their own voice.
Once a candidate gets in, it is hard to get him or her out. That’s why we have to be very careful about who we pick and who gets put into office.

In the Fourth Ward, people who have less power and influence have been largely ignored in recent years, and it shows. If your ideas do not align with the moneyed interests, you will probably not hear your concerns voiced by the local representatives. If you are against local schools closing, you have probably not heard your alderman speak out on your behalf. If you think there should be limits to development, you probably feel left out.
Now we are told that Will Burns is resigning his position to work in the private sector (see story on page 1). Some of our older neighbors and political junkies will inevitably pine for “an alderman like Leon,” a refrain I heard quite often when I was the editor of the Herald. Well, Leon Despres was one-of-a-kind to be sure, but his values were not. In fact, the greatness of Leon Despres was in his ability to both elevate Chicago politics through his idealism and to speak the concerns and priorities of the people.

How did it happen that such a man became alderman? Through the Hyde Park tradition of doing for ourselves. Leon was picked for the position and reluctantly accepted it. This is the way you get a remarkable person involved in Chicago politics – you find someone who is not chomping at the bit to be called alderman or senator or representative. That is what Hyde Park must do in order to reinvigorate public life in the community: Get together and talk about what we want in an alderman. Put together a platform. And then find someone willing to take our priorities to City Hall and to fight for them. And for us.

This does not mean someone who merely agrees with our positions. In fact, that’s impossible, because we are not in agreement. It is a set of principles and a method by which decisions should be made that matters. We need someone who believes in protecting the little guy and who wants to hear a robust discussion about every public issue. We need a ward office that is open 24/7 and is constantly listening. We need as much participation as possible for everyone.

You don’t get these things by hoping and waiting for them. You fight for them; you demand them. I started this letter by saying I had been a student of this community. I will really never stop being a student, and I hope the neighborhood will never stop surprising me. This struggle would be a delightful surprise – but also in and of its best traditions.
So what do you say, Hyde Park? Are you ready to fight for your future? Or will you lay down and let it be handed to you?

-Gabriel Piemonte

Let’s keep I-House international

To the Editor:

As a 1953-55 alumnus of International House, I am shocked and grieved at the recent peremptory announcement of the University of Chicago administration that it will soon be shutting down its residential facilities for graduate and international students, as well as visitors, which have raced and enhanced the University and our community since I-House was founded in 1932 with a gift from John D. Rockefeller. This action, if carried out, will seriously violate the inert and purpose of the gift, and also do considerable harm to the reputation and programs of the University at home and abroad. Already, the current I-House residents are being told that they will have to get out and go elsewhere.

The university administration has acted irrationally by already closing its various hotel and small residential properties as residential facilities, well before its big, new 55th Street dormitory is completed. The University now has threatened a unique facility, treating it like a convenient piece of real estate to fill with undergrads. We who are long-time donors to both the University and I-House feel that we have been deceived, and wonder why anyone would want to donate to an institution that diverts specific gifts to diversionary purposes.

Actions such as his suggest that our revered alma mater is more and more operated like a big business. The community and programs created at International House are needed to support the international research faculty, students, and explorations the university presumably stands for. Not that many years ago, the university, under a different president, proposed closing I-House for other purposes. Chicago and international alumni rose up to protest and saved this unique resource. What is happening now is a betrayal. We must rid up in protest and actions to prevent the mission of I-House from being changed and undermined.

Charles G. Staples ‘61

More questions about Jackson Park’s “Project 120”

To the Editor:

I wish to add my support to the Jan. 20, 2016 letter from Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, raising serious questions regarding “Project 120,” which I now understand from the JPAC meeting I attended on Jan. 11, 2016, is only in its “concept” stage.

I have been privileged to enjoy the peace and aesthetic beauty of the Osaka gardens, the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary and Bob-o-Link Meadows for the past fifty years, along with fellow dog-walkers and bird watchers. I am hopeful that when the “concept” becomes more manifest, it will reflect the legitimate concerns of the Jackson Park community, protecting and preserving this precious sanctuary for the next fifty years.

I urge other concerned citizens to attend the next JPAC meeting, currently scheduled for March 14, 2016, at 7 p.m. at the field house. Hopefully, an update on “Project 120” will be part of the formal agenda for the meeting, giving the community an opportunity to participate in a responsible and constructive way to the decision making process.

-Ray Kuby

Franklin makes a good point about parks

To the Editor: 

Thanks again, Stephanie Franklin, for your insightful analysis (January 13) of the University of Chicago’s efforts to commandeer precious open park acreage to make way for a presidential library.  It is a sad irony that the very institution boasting the name of free market economist Milton Friedman among its luminaries actively promotes the plundering of a public asset in this way.

As Ms. Franklin has pointed out, there is plenty of privately held land (some owned by the U. of C.) for this library where it could actually be an asset and not rob Chicagoans of badly needed open park land in a city already ranking near the bottom of the list of U.S. major cities in this regard.

To put this in terms that even the University of Chicago could understand:
An Obama Presidential Library on the south side?  A+
Any presidential library in south side parks?  F-

Joan Levin

The responsible alternative to the Rauner/Emanuel agenda

To the Editor: 

Billions of public dollars run through our school systems nationally, and venture capitalists and big finance have made it a priority to get their hands on those dollars. In Illinois, the enablers of this scheme are our governor, our mayor and their allies among both Republicans and corporate Democrats. Rauner’s proposed takeover of Chicago schools and his parallel push for CPS to declare ‘bankruptcy’ is designed to benefit one constituency: big finance. These are Rauner’s people — and he shares dozens of these deep-pocketed supporters with his old friend Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel’s former school board president, investment banker David Vitale, oversaw both Chicago schools’ toxic swap deals and the push to privatize our school system under former Mayor Richard Daley, Emanuel’s political mentor. Emanuel, like Rauner, argues that the contracts that feed the toxic swap trough are sacrosanct — while contracts with workers are apparently hardly worth the paper they’re written on. Remember this hypocrisy when Emanuel cries crocodile tears over Rauner’s proposal — and remember Rauner’s role as a privileged education ‘advisor’ to Emanuel before he ran for governor.

Rauner’s plan preserves the toxic swaps that have put CPS on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars — and puts big finance first in line to get paid. That’s a mirror image of Emanuel’s strategy, which leads with paying toxic swap dollars to his big finance allies, rather than challenging these shady deals in court.

And Rauner’s proposed takeover opens the door to a wholesale assault on classroom standards, living wages and worker rights that teachers have fought to safeguard for decades. Again, that scenario mirrors Emanuel’s, which is built on the prospect of massive layoffs that gut public education, in tandem with expanded privatization — and zero public oversight. These same politicians have jointly boosted the agendas of politically connected school privatizers like UNO and Concept Charters, who’ve received more than $100 million alone in taxpayer funds to construct and run schools with dubious track records and a history of corruption.
Daley helped grease the skids for today’s funding crisis more than a decade ago, when his legislative allies in Springfield passed the 1995 Amendatory Act that gave Chicago’s Mayor the power to appoint the school board — and remove the tax levy that paid teachers pensions. Daley promptly used his authority to take a ten year pension holiday which has hugely exacerbated the city’s financial challenges. What better way to undermine public services and worker rights than to manufacture a crisis and then use that ‘crisis’ as an excuse to enrich big finance lenders at the expense of the rest of us?

Daley’s successor has exacerbated the crisis — by continuing the attack on neighborhood public schools, shifting those precious public dollars to politically connected school privatizers, miring the system further in debt and allowing a culture of crony capitalism to fester on a board whose members have openly profited from school business. The systemic corruption and incompetence in the system under Emanuel has seen his hand-picked top bureaucrat convicted of seeking millions of dollars in bribes for orchestrating yet another no-bid contract while neighborhood schools struggle with endless budget cuts that hurt students in some the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Special interest groups like Stand For Children are at the heart of this privatization scheme. They’re bankrolled by rich donors like Governor Rauner — and eagerly fork out campaign cash to corporate Democrats who support their agenda, from Mayor Emanuel to 26th District State Representative Christian Mitchell, who’s received more than $150,000 alone from Stand For Children.

Parents, educators and organizers have been raising the alarm about these dynamics for years. They understand that a child’s ability to fully participate in society and help build a more just world is grounded in access to an equitably funded public education. They also understand that the parallel schemes in play today from City Hall and Springfield hurt people of color hardest — students, workers and whole communities.

The people of Chicago have not asked for appointed emergency managers and then an elected school board. The voters have asked for a millionaire’s tax, a progressive income tax and a democratically elected school board.
Real change at CPS requires three critical actions: an end to toxic swap deals, democratic governance of Chicago’s public schools through an elected representative school board, and a school funding strategy with consistent, progressive sustainable revenue streams. It’s what the people have demanded — and what the people deserve.

Jay Travis

HPHS seeks preservation for historic Woodlawn church

Dear Mr. Marzalik:

I am writing on behalf of the Hyde Park Historical Society regarding the proposed demolition of The Shrine of Christ the King, formerly St. Gelasius Church. The Hyde Park Historical Society strongly supports the request of the Shrine’s constituents to be allowed more time to gather the resources to save this historic structure.

In support of this, the Hyde Park Historical Society cites the activities of Theaster Gates and the Rebuild Foundation for finding creative, community-driven ways to preserve, restore and repurpose numerous threatened buildings in the Woodlawn community through ethical redevelopment.

Again, at this point all that is being asked of the Archdiocese is more time for the community, the Archdiocese and the City to work together for a non-demolition solution. The Woodlawn community continues to show great commitment, unity and sacrifice to insure the future of this historic shrine. The Archdiocese needs to demonstrate that this dedication on the part of its Woodlawn constituents has not been misplaced.
Thank you for your consideration.

Michal Safar, President
Hyde Park Historical Society
Cc: Alderman Willie B. Cochran
The Hyde Park Herald
The Coalition to Save the Institute of Christ the King Church

Community invited to celebrate noteworthy preservation efforts

Dear Friend of Historic Preservation:

The 2016 Despres Preservation Award, given for outstanding achievement in preserving Hyde Park Township’s architectural heritage, will be given to Theaster Gates and the Rebuild Foundation for the pioneering restoration of various buildings in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood.

The Despres Award will be presented at the Hyde Park Historical Society’s annual dinner on February 27, 2016 at the Quadrangle Club, 1155 E. 57th St.

The Rebuild Foundation projects are aimed at revitalizing the community by “re-imagining” vacant buildings and neglected artifacts. The goal is to provide unique cultural spaces and programming that are community-driven. This broad approaches extends the definition of standard preservation projects, embracing what Gates terms “ethical re-development.”
The most recent project is the widely acclaimed adaptive reuse of a 1923 bank at 6760 Stony Island Ave. The neoclassical structure, now called the Stony Island Arts Bank, was bought from the city in 2013 for $1. The restoration makes extensive use of original materials.  The building now holds such rescued artifacts as the archives of Johnson Publishing (Ebony and Jet magazines) and an architectural lantern slide collection from the University of Chicago. It was a focal point of the recent Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Other projects cited are the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative at 1456 E. 70th Street, built in 2010 in partnership with Brinshore Development; the Archive House and Listening House, both at 6918 S. Dorchester; and the Black Cinema House at 7200 S. Kimbark. Gates is also involved with several other restoration projects in the Washington Park neighborhood (the Arts Incubator; Currency Exchange café; and Bing, a fine arts bookstore).  Theaster Gates is a visual arts professor and director of arts and public life at the University of Chicago.

The Despres Awards honor long-time Fifth Ward alderman Leon Despres and his wife, Marian Despres, both noted preservationists.

To reserve a seat for the Hyde Park Historical Society 2016 annual dinner on February 27, mail a check for $80 ($90 for payments received after February 22) payable to the Hyde Park Historical Society, to Janice A. Knox, Hyde Park Historical Society, 5529 S. Lake Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60637. Credit card payments may be made online at hydeparkhistory.org. For more information, send an e-mail to Janice A. Knox at janice.a.knox@gmail.com, or call 773-317-1520.

Jack Spicer   

To the Editor

To the Editor:

Though the Hyde Park Herald covers interests and concerns of the Hyde Park community, Hyde Park residents are also Illinois residents. I’ve recently discovered that auto registration renewals will no longer be mailed to Illinois residents due to budget constraints. It is up to all Illinois residents to know when to renew their auto registration. All residents must now go in person to renew their registration, as there is no budget to mail registration renewals and tags to residents. Sec. Jesse White communicated this by sending out a press release in September 2015. This is a terrible transition to a new policy. Although it will save the State $450,000 a month in postage, this decision will also increase registration penalties and ticket fines providing even more dollars to the State. Since most residents do not read press releases from Jesse White’s office they will remain unaware of the new registration policy. I’d like the Hyde Park Herald to provide communication and alert residents of this change. It’s essential and after I’ve researched even more about this, I’m finding there has been little or no communication to Illinois residents. Please consider printing an article about this transition for your Hyde Park residents.

Thank you,
Norma Adams

To the Editor

To the Editor:

There was an odd sentence in the Jan. 6 Herald report on the “Memorandum of Understanding” signed by the U. of C. and the city on Dec. 16, which caught my attention and so I obtained a copy of the press release distributed by the U. of C.

Among other things, the press release states that in the agreement “the city will provide the university with … development of a framework plan for Nichols park…” That is apparently the source for the odd sentence in the Herald article but doesn’t clarify much.

First, how does the city propose to ‘provide the development of’ a framework plan? Second, a framework plan for Nichols Park already exists. Is the city proposing to ‘provide the development of’ a new one? Third, why would the city agree to ‘provide the U. of C. with development of a plan instead of provide the community or the park? Maybe, if we’re really lucky, what’s actually meant by ‘provide the development of’ means provide the money for the implementation of the existing plan.

For the sake of clarity, I suggest that it would be appropriate for any entity wishing to ‘provide for the development of’ something regarding Nichols Park to bring its suggestion to the Nichols Park Advisory Council, before signing an agreement to do it.

Stephanie Franklin
Nichols Park Advisory Council

To the Editor

To the Editor:

This letter is prompted by the Dec. 16 article “Project 120 Update” as well as by your comments about Jackson Park in your end-of-year coverage.

We and many others in the community have many concerns about Project 120, as was made very clear by the large number of participants raising questions at the Nov. 9 public workshop on the current proposals for Jackson and Washington Parks and the Midway Plaisance.  These concerns include:

  • What exactly is Project 120 proposing?  The plans appear to change on an on-going basis.
  • What are the specifics concerning the concert pavilion proposed to replace the existing parking lot east of Darrow Bridge close to the Museum of Science and Industry?  Who would control, operate, staff, and maintain it?  Would this be another privatization of public park space?  What about noise and parking?  If part of the goal is to provide a visitors’ center with displays and restrooms why not improve the existing Park District restroom facilities in the area and work with MSI to develop a display about the history of the Wooded Island and its environment there?
  • When and how will the public have the opportunity for decisive input beyond these sporadic workshops?

We hope that we are not wrong in trusting that significant public debate will be required to make any of the major changes to our beloved local parks that Project 120 appears to have in mind.

Brenda Nelms
Margaret Schmid
We can be contacted at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The article on the presidential library in the Dec. 30 Herald is an unfortunate example of the power of misleading advertising. No, it is not “inevitable” that the proposed library will be located in either one of our landmark parks. Yes, the U. of C. “had its work cut out for it” to convince reasonable people that either of the historic parks would be appropriate locations. They did not succeed. The massive campaign, cleverly blurring the distinction between Washington Park (the neighborhood) and Washington Park (the park) has succeeded only in distracting the gullible from the fact that these two sites still are, at this point, merely proposed locations.

The same slick advertising tactic, substituting an “it’s a done deal” assumption for a “proposed” idea, is currently being used to push the suggestion for a hotel at 53rd and Dorchester into the “done deal” column. However, as Ald. Hairston (5th) was quick to remind us at the community meeting on Dec. 15, any such idea is merely a suggestion until it has both unified community support and city council approval.

For both suggestions, there must be less destructive alternatives. Regarding the library, the land along 63rd Street between Cottage Grove and Woodlawn avenues is almost entirely empty. The library complex, if built there, would not displace anybody or destroy any heritage. The same is true for most of the land on both sides of Garfield Blvd. between King Drive and the Expressway (much of which the U. of C. already owns). Regarding the hotel idea, consider the possibility of a four-story, Harper Theater-style building with two floors of retail space and two floors of parking. Great creative ingenuity could transform this corner, reduce congestion, increase parking, provide substantial mixed-use retail opportunity, and not despoil the landscape.

More imaginative thinking is needed on these projects. Didn’t the U. of C. recently inaugurate an “innovation exchange?” Well? We need not settle for any proposal that destroys historical features or priceless and irreplaceable public assets, and blocks our view, just because no one has yet envisioned a creative alternative. The community still has a voice – it should be loud. We can do better.

Stephanie Franklin

To the Editor

To the Editor:

The tribute to Jane Averill in the Dec. 16 Herald was certainly well deserved, but there is much more to her story. Jane was indeed a passionately and dedicated teacher; and she was also a passionate and dedicated community volunteer.

During our long fight to secure the expansion of Nichols Park, Jane was a stalwart supporter of the Friends of the Lot. As one of the original and active members, she was always available to attend even last-minute meetings, make phone calls, distribute leaflets, and advocate for the park expansion. Following our success the meadow, and – vital to the 4th on 53rd – allowed the use of her apartment’s electricity to power the “Bouncy House.” She took on an even larger role this summer by managing the Children’s Stage.

As a continual friends of the park, a stalwart volunteer, and a special friend of ours, she will be deeply missed.

Stephanie Franklin

To the Editor

To the Editor: 

I was born and raised in Hyde Park.  I went to Lab school.  I get angry when Cutler throws interceptions.

But with the passage of HR 158, because of my Iranian heritage, I stand to lose the right to travel as freely as other Americans… all of a sudden I’m “less American” than other people.

Because Iranian citizenship is passed down via the father, most of us in the Iranian diaspora are technically dual nationals—even if we have never even travelled to Iran.

I am as Chicagoan and American as it gets, accent and all. I plea that Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk do not vote for this bill and make me a second-class citizen.  I’d like to think that here in Illinois we don’t take pages out of the Donald Trump playbook.

Thank you,
Cyrus Dowlatshahi

The truth versus the incumbent’s spin

Jay Travis response to 12/9/15 letter from Rep. Mitchell letter, Hyde Park Herald.

Good governance is built on the truth. Facts empower people — and the families of the 26th district deserve elected representation that is honest. So I’d like to provide the facts, along with sources, for Herald readers about Rep Mitchell’s record, a record he seems instead determined to spin and shun.

Fact: Rep. Christian Mitchell worked for a lobbying firm that did business with the payday lending industry. Mitchell’s LinkedIn page lists his work for Conlon Strategies, from November 2011 until July 2014 — a year and a half after he became state representative. The company is registered as a lobbyist of Illinois agencies that include the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Departments of Commerce, Corrections, Human Services and Insurance — and General Assembly members!

Conlon’s clients have included the Community Financial Services Association, the national trade association for payday lenders, which paid Conlon at least $150,000 between 2008 and 2009. When Mitchell worked for Conlon in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the company’s clients included the Retail Energy Supply Association, whose members include AEP Energy, which forked out $50,000 to bankroll last year’s annual meeting of the right-wing bill mill ALEC — and whose corporate parent just slashed weatherization assistance for poor people in Ohio by half. Illinois officials are currently investigating another prominent Illinois Conlon client — Integrys (2012, 2013), the parent company of People’s Gas — for hiding huge cost overruns in its pipeline project to grease state approval for its merger with another energy company. Those cost overruns could cost the average Chicago customer $7,700 over the next 20 years, according to the Chicago Tribune, while Integrys executives pocketed more than $30 million from the merger.

Mitchell currently lists himself as a as a “Senior Strategist” with The Strategy Group, whose clients have included Chicago mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel — and IEC, the Illinois Environmental Council. Mitchell touts his support from IEC, which initially backed Illinois’ fracking law — but which has also said “the safest and best solution to this issue is a moratorium on fracking.”

Fact: Rep. Mitchell could have — but didn’t — sign on as a cosponsor of HB 3086, which called for a moratorium on fracking. Instead, he voted for SB 1715, the controversial fossil fuel industry-driven fracking bill that deeply divided Illinois environmental groups. That legislation required the State’s powerful Joint Committee for Administrative Rules to issue regulations for fracking. JCAR predictably buried the devil in the details and issued rules so toothless that by September of 2014 two of the most prominent environmental groups that originally backed SB 1715 (in direct opposition to their sister groups in California) — the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club — abandoned their support and instead joined the demand for a moratorium advocated by the very grassroots groups they’d earlier opposed.

Fact: Rep. Mitchell has accepted over $35,000 from the We Mean Business PAC, whose funders include both Governor Bruce Rauner and billionaire hedge fund boss Ken Griffin, a generous donor to both Rauner (more than $13 million) and Mayor Emanuel ( $425,000 from Griffin and over $100,000 from his wife, as well as $850,000 to the pro-Emanuel PAC Chicago Forward). Crains succinctly laid out the group’s agenda: “to bankroll candidates who are willing to cross labor unions and vote to reduce pension benefits and/or require workers to pay more for them.” Rep. Mitchell has accommodated that mission, voting four times to reduce the earned retirement income of seniors who rely on public pensions: the unconstitutional SB 1; HB 1154, to cap public pensions; 1165, to reduce cost-of-living increases; and 1166, to increase retirement ages.

There is no need to distort Rep. Mitchell’s record. When it comes to undercutting the earned retirement income of seniors, working for firms that profit from payday lenders and price-gouging energy giants, or smoothing the way for pro-industry fracking ‘regulations’, his record speaks for itself. For original source
documentation from the Illinois State Board of Elections, the Illinois General Assembly legislative database, et al, go to www.jayfor26.com/factchecking.

Jay Travis