Letters to the Editor

Jay needs to do the real work for change

To the Editor:

I was happy to read in last week’s paper that Jay Travis strongly supports my bill to amend the constitution and institute a progressive income tax for the State of Illinois.

In that letter she called for real leadership on the issue. I find that perplexing, though, given that neither I nor my colleagues in the Capitol building have heard anything from Jay on this issue other than during election seasons.

I didn’t see her at the Fair Economy Illinois rally that I spoke at two weeks ago that showcased nearly 1,000 people calling for progressive revenue solutions. I haven’t seen her in Springfield meeting with other legislators. She wasn’t standing with me and the hundreds upon hundreds of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students who marched at the Thompson Center last week calling for more funding. In fact, I haven’t seen her at any public events that are aimed at solving the state budget crisis. It begs the question – why is Jay just now talking about this issue? Waiting until it’s election season to simply write a letter to the editor about such an important issue is not “real leadership.” It’s opportunistic.

My team and I have spent months knocking on doors and speaking with constituents about the need for a progressive income tax. We organized mass phone banks and letter writing campaigns pleading the Gov. Bruce Rauner to support progressive revenue measures. We mobilized our neighbors to attend rallies with grassroots organizations from across the city. And I have personally been garnering support from legislators up and down the state for this measure – our last effort achieved dozens of co-sponsors, and included visits with editorial boards across the state.

While I welcome Jay’s support for my bill to create a progressive income tax, her letter to the editor was simply an attempt to prop up her own political campaign. The State of Illinois is facing an unprecedented crisis and now more than ever we should expect leaders to move beyond political posturing and actually roll up their sleeves and do the difficult work it takes to solve the state’s problems.

State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26)

Mesa Construction is breaking a pledge

To the Editor:

At one of the TIF meetings held at Kenwood HS last year to present the plans for the new 53rd St. development opposite Nichols Park, audience members raised concerns about the impact of parking by construction workers on residential streets adjacent to the site. A pledge was then tendered to the community by the developer, Mesa Development Co., that construction personnel would not park on residential streets and that construction workers would be directed to alternative parking sites. The construction company, McHugh Construction, also confirmed the audience that all subcontractors were notified of this restriction. Alderman Burns, 4th Ward, and Jim Hennessey, U. of C., were present at the meeting, as well as representatives from other supporting agencies including the SECC and the HP Chamber of Commerce. The pledge presented to the assembly indicated that Mesa and McHugh would take full responsibility for ensuring that construction personnel did not park on adjacent residential streets.

However, as the construction progresses we find parking on our nearby streets increasingly occupied by cars belonging to construction personnel. Now that what we were told would not happen is happening, we would like to know to whom we should direct our reminders. Who is enforcing this pledge? A name and phone number would be extremely helpful. In addition, perhaps Mesa or McHugh would post our streets with “No Vue 53 Parking” signs. This will of course need to be left in place for the foreseeable future, since we were also assured that the new residents would have parking within the building and would not be parking on the adjacent streets.

I can be reached at 773-955-3622, or via email to Ira Abrams at att.net.

Stephanie Franklin for the McMobil Adjacents Delegation

Illinois needs fair, progressive revenue

To the Editor:

Illinois’ ongoing – and indefensible — ‘budget impasse’ has one principle architect: Governor Bruce Rauner, and his attempt to link anti-union reforms to the passage of a balanced state budget. This manufactured crisis highlights the need for a critical – and fundamental — remedy: the need for Illinois legislators to create stable, progressive revenue streams.

What hangs in the balance are vital services on which our seniors, working families, students and people with disabilities depend.

We must focus on long-term solutions that both improve Illinois’ fiscal health and enable our state to provide the public services that are vital to communities across Illinois. We can simply no longer avoid the decision to move Illinois away from a state in which all residents, regardless of their income, pay a ‘flat tax rate’. Illinois is an outlier in following this kind of taxing scheme; only seven states in the nation rely on a flat tax to fund public services. This fundamentally unfair and unsustainable revenue system taxes working and low-income families at a higher effective tax rate than wealthy individuals. At the same time, it allows corporations to exploit loopholes and corporate welfare schemes to dodge – or altogether avoid – paying their fair share of taxes to fund vital services.

Simply put, this unfair tax system has meant that for decades the state has failed to generate enough income to cover the costs of critical public services, relying instead on costly borrowing and public pension raids that actually exacerbate Illinois’ structural deficit. Our state legislators need to take bold, practical action, by moving to change Illinois’ constitution to implement a fair and progressive tax system in which wealthy individuals who reap the benefits of public infrastructure and taxpayer-funded services pay their fair share – instead of foisting the revenue burden on low-income and working families.

It’s time for real leadership on this critical issue. Our legislators must support a resolution to place a referendum on the ballot that allows residents to vote to amend the constitution by instituting a fair, graduated income tax. Two-thirds of legislators in both the Illinois House and Senate must approve this resolution to allow a vote on this common-sense reform.

Governor Rauner’s entrenched view of ‘reform’ relies on anti-worker strategies – by attacking collective bargaining rights, by pushing for ‘Right to Work’ for less policies that limit labor’s ability to fund union efforts, and by ultimately weakening the earning potential of working families. His effort to choke these regressive policies through the legislature relies on hijacking the budgetary process to get his way, intensifying the challenges that Illinois families face. Progressive revenue reform would end this fiscal banditry – and is long overdue.
The temporary tax increase that expired on January 1, 2015 blew a nearly three billion dollar hole in the state’s revenue stream – at precisely the same time that Governor Rauner accelerated his anti-labor austerity agenda. Rauner has used the resulting budget shortfall to his advantage – at the expense of Illinois’ families. As I have said before in the Hyde Park Herald, while implementing a fair tax system is critical to addressing Illinois’ long-term fiscal challenges, our legislators should not have allowed the temporary increase to expire before a fair tax system had been put in place. Big corporations reaped a 25% tax break when Illinois’ temporary tax increase expired — when they should instead be paying a higher and more fair tax rate. Yet in the short term, simply restoring the current tax rate to the 2014 level of 7% would generate nearly $770 million in revenue for critical public services.

The current budget impasse has derailed a sweeping range of crucial needs — including child care, services for senior citizens, financial aid support for students, and services for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. That has got to end. We must instead seek long-term, progressive structural solutions. The time for a fair, progressive income tax is now!

Jay Travis

Lights at La Quinta dash its promise

To the Editor:

I am an owner/neighbor resident of an East Hyde Park/Kenwood condominium area along the lake shore otherwise known as the “Indian Village” (48th-51st Streets….The Powhatan, The Narragansett, The Barclay, 5000 East End and 5000 Cornell, to name a few). These historic and landmarked architectural jewels that we call home have seen their share of Chicago history, the good and bad.

We looked forward to welcoming the new ownership and renovation of our small neighborhood hotel,  (the former Hyde Park Hilton, former Ramada Inn, most recently The Lakeshore Hotel)  There have clearly been many improvements to the property,  and thus , our neighborhood.

Here is where my confusion/sadness/anger begins…..
Last week, at dusk I noticed 4 highly glaring rooftop lamps… not parking lot lights, not sconces attached to the side of the building, not downlighting…..4 huge blinding lamps attached to the rootop, thus sending high beams out and up immediately to our residential buildings!!  These lights are high intensity bulbs, these are not decorative fixtures! These are prison yard lights, high beam headlights, and that is exactly how it looks from our apartments all around the area!  These Lights have totally lit up my apartment, I need not turn on a lamp…! they are intensively intrusive!

After several calls to the manager, which were never returned, I needed to share this situation and hope that we may reclaim our lovely quiet, lakeside community, with beautiful views, which are now completely compromised…How can I see the downtown Skyline with Prison Yard lights glaring into my eyes.

It appears that the La “Squinta” Inn does not care whether they are good neighbors. If they felt that the neighborhood was unsafe and that they needed such extreme and distasteful lighting for security, they are clearly in the wrong area.  If they are hoping for a Helicopter rescue team or to be seen from Space, they have the right lights….but we who have appreciated our area for years and can no longer do just that… shame on La Quinta Inn.

To say the we are shocked and even feel like this is being forced upon us is an understatement.  How about installing some light poles in the parking lot, as all of our neighboring lots have done, it’s called “downlighting”……

La “Squinta” Inn, the new prison at the lakefront, ..and I had such high hopes..

Regina Volpi

Comey’s YouTube effect is a fiction

To the Editor:

At a recent event at the University of Chicago Law School (FBI head visits U. of C. campus, Oct. 28, 2015), UC Alum and FBI Director James Comey spoke to the audience regarding the “Ferguson” effect, in which police officers pull back from confronting some situations because they fear that they will be videoed by persons with cellphones and have it go viral on the Internet, negatively affecting both their careers and lives. I find this a curious label, especially since this is attributed to a situation that never happened. There is no videoed encounter between former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, and Ferguson resident Michael Brown. However, there is plenty of video (journalists would call it “footage”) afterward between protesters and the police, who were armed military-style. Those pictures and videos, along with the justice department’s investigation, in which Mr. Comey’s FBI was also a part of, found systemic abuse of Ferguson’s minority residents by law enforcement, municipal government and the court system. This led to wholesale changes (and a Justice Department takeover) of that city’s, and I might argue many other cities, approach to law enforcement of and police interaction with its minority population.

While he was speaking, I wished he had contrasted that effect with many of the local phenomena that do have evidence to back up assertions of police overreaction and overreach.

Let’s begin with the “Driving While Black” effect, which is a subset of the “Racial Profiling” effect. Had he bothered to reference the data (no video required), he would have seen that the University of Chicago Police Department’s officers stopped far more minority drivers in the recent past, and only when called out on it, they began practicing the “Pull Up Stakes and Go Home” effect, insinuating and promoting the “Whose Gonna Protect You Now” effect amongst the non-campus community.

This is backed up by a recent story concerning a theft in a retail outlet on property previously owned by the university. A call was made to UCPD to report the crime, in which the person was told that UC no longer owned the property, and UCPD officers would not take a police report for incidents on non-university property. This flies in the face of two theories advanced at a September community meeting by 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns and the Chicago Police Department, which I’ll call the “You Can Call Both CPD and UCPD” and the “Hyde Park/Kenwood Are Protected By Two Police Department” theorems. These theorems give way to the “UCPD Selective Policing” effect, one that the Campaign for Equitable Policing (CEP) has been protesting against for years.

In all fairness, First Resident, President Barack Obama, in a speech to the International Chiefs of Police, tried to soothe fears amongst the policing community by saying that a few viral videos of bad police conduct should not tarnish the policing community as a whole. But you can’t really argue that point without bringing up the “Racial Profiling” effect, which to his credit he did. But instead of producing the “Now You Know How It Feels” effect, it all too often produces the “We Can’t Properly Police Without Violating Someone’s Rights” effect, which goes to how we train our police. Until serious, structural changes are made, the “Us vs. Them” effect will continue to dominate policing and delay indefinitely the “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along” effect.

We must continue the push for police accountability, Freedom of Information access laws for private forces such as the UCPD, and proper policing staffing and training from the City of Chicago and CPD, amongst other things, so that we can produce more than labels, explanations and excuses, but positive and long-lasting “effects”.

As for Mr. Comey, maybe his next stop should be to South Carolina, which his FBI has been called to investigate yet another phone-recorded incident, a sheriff’s deputy dragging a high school student across the room from a chair. The Associated Press quotes Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, regarding the deputy he fired who was involved in this incident: “I can’t fix problems if I don’t know about it,” … “I would say that every citizen with a camera, if they see something that’s going on that disturbs them, they should film it. Our citizens should police us.”

This perfectly demonstrates the “This Is How It Should Work” effect.

Roderick Sawyer

University of Chicago threatens natural space

To the Editor:

Just as the U of C is riding roughshod over our city parks by insisting that the proposed Obama Library be built in a public park instead of by acquiring and improving private land for this worthy project, it now proposes to destroy its own beautiful natural space.

As a young child at the Lab School in the early ‘40s, Scammon Garden was a treasured part of my early education. The little gardens we tended there each day in the spring sprouted tasty carrots, radishes and lettuce, and offered precious opportunities to experience how, with our efforts, our food comes from the earth. While we studied how plants grow with legendary science teacher Bertha Morris Parker, what we did in Scammon Garden gave us the direct experiential learning that was at the core of educator John Dewey’s philosophies.

Now more than ever, as schools all over the country — to a great extent because of the leadership of Michelle Obama — are creating school gardens as a move back to healthful eating in response to the crisis of childhood obesity, and as we come more and more to realize the importance of natural spaces in our cities, it is simply tragic that the U of C would dismiss this treasure.

Scammon Garden serves two important purposes: to commemorate the name of community leader and also to provide a unique protected oasis of green space in the Grey City.

Joan Levin

Burns not supposed to decide for us all

To the Editor:

Ald. Will Burns stated in your Oct. 14 article “Burns Argues Against Charter School Moratorium” that he refused to put the resolution on the agenda because it “was not the best way of addressing the city’s current fiscal challenges.” Once again, the alderman misses the point: as chairman of the City Council Education Committee, it is not up to him to decide “the best way.” The resolution was signed by 42 aldermen and deserves a hearing. Residents all over the city should be outraged that as the mayor’s mouthpiece, Burns can declare what should and should not be heard. This is particularly shameful as the mayor’s handpicked CEO heads to prison underscoring their blatant lack of concern for public education. Once again, Ald. Burns has turned a deaf ear to his constituents and school children all around the city demonstrating that he does not believe in the democratic process. Shame on him.

Hannah Hayes

U. of C. has a duty to Scammon Gardens

To the Editor:

On October 21, in this publication, the University made its first public statement regarding the Scammon Garden issue. The community should not allow itself to be lulled by what they read. Until I saw Ms. Calmetta Coleman’s convenient language, I believed the University to be guilty only of 112 years of neglect. Today, I believe this administration has crossed the line into a deliberate and active attempt to attack history.

The University is now poised to do the same with Scammon Garden that they did with Scammon Court — let it fall into oblivion by their own neglect, on a claim of having fulfilled their strict legal obligations. This not only is untrue, it does nothing to address their moral obligations. I am asking all neighbors, faculty, alumni, and benefactors to urge others to sign the petition at j.mp/savescammon. The more I learn about the Scammon history, the more persuaded I am that this is a proper course of action.

The legal obligation remains that all of land to the south must “be known as Scammon Court.” Two small plaques have been insufficient to do this job on their own over 112 years. It appears from the deed that Mrs. Scammon may have been hoping that the University might name a building for her husband atop that land, but she died two days after donating the land to the University and the naming went to Anita McCormick Blaine, who paid for school construction in memory of her son.

The Blaine building sitting on the covenanted Scammon land encloses a small quadrangle; this fact, added to the University’s weak efforts to actively preserve the Scammon memory, made it inevitable that even this remaining enclosure would soon become known as “Blaine Courtyard.”

So much for legal obligations. Morally speaking, the University and Chicago actually owe the Scammon family far more than what is compelled under the loosely observed covenant. Not only have they refused action, they are now saying that they reserve the right to take what remains in a few years, sometime when our backs are turned.

I believe it is precisely due to the southern covenant’s practical shortcomings on the one hand, and the public veneration for the family on the other hand, that the Lab community has unconsciously, accidentally, and informally maintained the memory of the Scammon family in the northern garden — which happens to be where the family actually resided. Generations of right-minded staff and alumni thus unwittingly rescued the Scammon name from oblivion caused by the University’s distractions.

However, the University has never committed to formally recognizing Scammon Garden, and the recent statement makes it clear that they have no intention of doing so. Through Ms. Coleman’s comment, Mr. Zimmer is officially stating outright that some future board of trustees may well rename the land at some future date.

Confusing the past, and a blank check for the future. This should not be the University of Chicago way.

And so, we must compel the University to do the right thing. We are asking that the Board of Trustees resolve never to rename Scammon Garden; to publicly mark the site and list it as such on campus maps; to voluntarily memorialize the family on this 125th anniversary of Mr. Scammon’s death and the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which his early energies helped to secure; and for other suitable remedies. This is not a handout — the Scammon family has more than earned this from the University.

Peter Zelchenko
Lab School parent

Bennett fall from grace no surprise

To the Editor:

As a CPS parent and long-time community organizer, I am appalled by the actions of Barbara Byrd Bennett in stealing from Chicago’s children to feather her already robust nest. What is more appalling however, is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s effort to isolate her actions as the corruption of an individual; and our acceptance of such nonsense. Corruption and discriminatory actions that disregard the voices of Black and Brown parents is central to the culture of the school privatization movement. While millions of dollars are pumped into selling the public on “school choice”, nationwide corporate education interventions have failed to improve the academic outcomes in Black and Brown communities, while a laundry list of “reformers” have been caught violating the public trust.

Barbara Byrd Bennett-A Spoke in a Wheel

Barbara Byrd Bennett was lauded as an accomplished educator, who had the ability to relate to the everyday parent and the skill to lead the nation’s 3rd largest school district. The spin from the Emanuel administration highlights improved graduation rates as proof of her competency. What is not mentioned are the schemes used to give the illusion of growth; the rapid increase of alternative schools, programs such as credit recovery and CPS outright falsifying the data on the graduation rate. This is smoke and mirrors, not improved education. This is the true legacy of Barbara Byrd Bennett in Chicago. What is also conveniently left out of the conversation is that in Detroit, she was an active participant in stripping the publicly elected school board of its authority, while dismantling an African-centered curriculum and focus that was dramatically improving student performance. In Cleveland, her expense account (provided by privatizers) was nearly as large as her annual salary, while the math performance of Black males plummeted on her watch. It is important to understand that Barbara Byrd Bennett is not the issue. Privatization produces the Barbara Byrd Bennett’s of the world, setting the tone for this type of behavior. She is a symptom, not the disease. Unfortunately, she has a lot of company. In Chicago, the former president of the Chicago Board of Education David Vitale approved 27 turnaround schools for the Academy of Urban School Leadership, where he used to be the board president. These were no-bid contracts. How are those schools doing? In Washington, DC Michelle Rhee was hailed as a “education warrior” who would lead the charge on bad teachers and failing schools; until it was revealed that she inflated her students’ scores and taped their mouths shut as a discipline measure. Geoffrey Canada from the Harlem Children’s Zone was celebrated as a visionary for connecting social services to his charter schools, creating a cradle to career system in Harlem, promoted as a national model; until we learned that he pushed out students from his first 3 classes to make the school look better than it really was. Similar to New Orleans, where they “cooked the books” to make the charter system look like a success, where, according to 2014 data, over 56% of the Recovery School District schools received D or F grade from the state board of education. Similar stories are told in Newark with the now deposed Cami Anderson, Detroit under the emergency manager system, Philadelphia where there were efforts to build 2 new prisons while closing 24 schools and Ohio, where there are efforts to advance privatization despite the fact that one of America’s greatest public education success stories is right around the corner in Cincinnati. Cincinnati, where since 2003 their model of Community Learning Centers has raised the graduation rate from 50% to over 80% and the opportunity gap between Black and White students has shrunk to 4% is being ignored, while failed corporate education interventions are promoted as “the new civil rights movement.”

This “new civil rights movement” is colonialism, plain and simple. The author Alice Walker once said, “No one is your friend who demands your silence and denies your right to grow.” In Chicago, New Orleans, Camden, Philadelphia, Newark, DC, Detroit and scores of other cities where the schools serve primarily children of color, a common denominator is that we don’t have voting rights. Our silence is demanded, while school boards in over 94% of America’s cities are elected. We have no direct way to hold officials accountable for the policies they set. Here is what we know; nationally, only 1 out of 5 charters outperform traditional public schools, but we see across this country the starving of neighborhood schools while charters and contract schools are expanded.

We have given the Chicago Board of Education viable solutions. The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School engaged in a deliberate, respectful process of engaging parents, educators, students and neighborhood residents in Bronzeville and developed a world class plan for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School as the hub for a sustainable community school village. Education experts from across the country and CPS itself, acknowledged that it was the best plan for Bronzeville’s children. The mayor of this city and his education chair Alderman Will Burns blocked this plan because of politics. I was one of 12 people who reluctantly launched a 34 day hunger strike on August 17, 2015 not to run a charter school; or land contracts, but for CPS to finally value Black children in Bronzeville like they do children in Lincoln Park. What was burned on our memory was that on the 25th day of our hunger strike, Rahm Emanuel and Forest Claypool awarded Lincoln Elementary, a well-resourced school in Lincoln Park a $21 million dollar annex. They held a ribbon cutting ceremony while we starved in Washington Park. This lack of respect for our legitimate voices is the problem and Barbara Byrd Bennett is merely the fruit from a rotten tree.

This is why we are even more committed to winning an elected, representative school board and transforming Chicago to a Sustainable Community School district. To paraphrase the late, great organizer Ella Baker, “until the education of Black and Brown boys and girls, Black and Brown mother’s sons, is as important as the education of White boys and girls, White mother’s sons; we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.

Jitu Brown, National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance and one of the Dyett Hunger Strikers

State should make budget top priority

Editor’s note: The following letter was addressed to state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25).

Dear Representative Currie:

I am writing to express my disgust at the current state of the state, primarily the lack of a budget. While I lay the blame for this squarely on Governor Rauner’s shoulders, the remainder of the legislature should also shoulder some blame for this inaction.

Due to the lack of a state budget, a friend of mine who works for a state supported planning agency has just received notice that he will be furloughed, as the federal transportation monies that pay his salary cannot be released to a state with no budget. I find it unconscionable that inaction in the legislature is creating more unemployment in the state and may drive talented people to seek opportunities elsewhere, harming those who remain, both through loss of talent and likely loss of equity in the homes we own.

I implore you to make the budget a focus rather than frivolous issues which can wait, such as private police force transparency, which will mean nothing once taxpayers and businesses have fled the state.

David Nitecki

Ald. Burns does not like democracy

To the Editor:

Speaking plainly, we should not be surprised that Alderman Burns blocked the discussion of a resolution sponsored by Alderman Rod Sawyer and signed by 42 of his colleagues, calling for a moratorium on charter expansion. He defends this lunacy by saying that he has always been for school choice. Regardless of his position, to deny discussion on issue that matters to people in at least 42 wards in this city is reprehensible, and antithetical to the basic principals democratic governance.

On Saturday, September 19th, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett ended our 34 day hunger strike out of a realization that the mayor of this city and Alderman Burns, his education chair would watch us waste away instead of respecting the voices of over 4800 Bronzeville residents. The Alderman hates the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization to the point that he would deny Bronzeville’s children a world class plan for a K-12 system of education in our neighborhood. The president of the American Education Research Association and the president of the American Federation of Teachers declared that the plan for Walter Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School was “the best plan they had seen in their education career.” Alderman Burns has stooped so low as to use slander in order to justify his actions. Let’s be clear; KOCO has never received a dime from Dyett, as I sat on the local school council (LSC) for over a decade.

Now we will have to make this school work and we will; but because of Will Burns, children will not have a school that prepares them for the fastest growing industry in the United States. If our proposal was the best out of the three submitted, (and by all accounts it was) then the question is, what happened? Why not green technology? The answer is simple. Alderman Will Burns.

The summer of 2015 should be remembered as the time Alderman Will Burns showed Chicago who he really is. Alderman Burns has an ideology that trumps the needs of his constituents. The problem is, one of the fundamental duties of an alderman is constituent services; listening and responding with reasonable consistency to the needs of the people who live in your ward. In this area, he is demonstrating woeful incompetence and for the dream of democracy, he is kryptonite.

There are numerous examples of Alderman Burns unwillingness to hear the voices of his constituents. In 2010, there was significant pressure on Alderman Burns to stop the closure of the 21st district police station. This sentiment was expressed by his constituents in several community forums. Unfortunately, Alderman Burns voted to support the station’s closure and at one point, the homicides in the Kenwood Oakland skyrocketed by 300 percent. The 2nd police district is ill equipped to provide quality policing to such a large area and many of the relationships the community developed with the police; including a “Youth Caps” initiative and an effective working relationship with the former commander, were lost.
He ignored seniors who wanted relief from a politically connected slumlord. They just wanted their homes heated and his help getting rid of rodents and bed bugs. He ignored them.

He ignored Bronzeville residents who want permit parking in their community on 31st street. He has an ideological opposition to permit parking, but he is deaf to the people’s lived condition.

He can’t hear the voices of the public. He can’t hear the voices of his colleagues. Unfortunately, he hears the voices of Rahm Emanuel and Democrats for Education Reform, and the special interests groups that fund his political campaigns loud and clear. He is killing democracy in the 4th ward and therefore may be one of the worst aldermen ever in the city of Chicago. We deserve better.

Jitu Brown

Little parking left on 53rd, 55th streets

To the Editor:

Why are there so few 15 minute parking locations on 53rd and 55th streets?
They are only in certain locations.

The parking in Hyde Park for residents are not protected like in other areas of Chicago.

Permit parking in other areas of the city balance resident interest with commercial interest.

The few 15-minute parking locations are constantly being occupied with construction equipment (see attached photo) while local residents receive parking tickets.

Vernon Bradley 

Hyde Park rapidly gentrifying

To the Editor: 

I did not know that I lived in one of the hottest, hippest, most quickly gentrifying neighborhoods of the city.  I thought that I lived in a solid, pleasant (if a bit stodgy) middle-class part of town.But Joseph Berrios, the Assessor,  corrected my misperceptions by upping  the market value of my house by over 36% — without me doing anything but cutting the grass.  He says that I can get a million dollars for my house in the blink of an eye, no questions asked.  No speculation. Nice.

Mr. Berrios is a fair-kind-of guy.  He seems to have done the same to all my immediate neighbors – as well as Hyde Park and Kenwood generally.   According to his website , the medium change for all of Hyde Park and Kenwood is 25.22%*  The Chicago Tribune this last week reported that residential values in Chicago are essentially stalled – a 0.2% increase this last year with condominium values actually falling.  I am so glad that we on the South Side are so out-performing all the rest of Chicago and that I am dramatically out-pacing most of most you.

But I have my doubts.   I just put in an appeal to the Cook County Board of Appeals – based on the discrepancy between media reports and the Assessor’s finding of property value.   I would encourage others to do the same.  It is simple to do on line.  No lawyer needed.  But make sure that you mark that you want to be at the hearing.  Then we can all find out how the Assessor’s Office determined that we are one of the hottest, hippest, most quickly gentrifying neighborhoods of the Chicago.

Chuck Thurow
A Hip (but not Hot) Kenwood Resident      

*The statistics are for the Assessor’s Neighborhood 20, which I found out is bounded by 47th on the North, Lake Michigan to the East, 59th to the South and Cottage Grove on the West.  

Representative Mitchell is no union champion

To the Editor:

Union workers are our neighbors, family members and our community stakeholders that contribute to the economic viability of our neighborhoods, which is why I was deeply honored that a strong coalition of union members and community organizations supported my initial run for public office. After taking two unconstitutional votes to slash the pension benefits of union workers and elderly union retirees, and accepting nearly $200,000 from conservative republican donors, special interest groups and PACs (that were in some cases funded directly by Governor Bruce Rauner), Representative Christian Mitchell asserts he is a leader prepared to protect union workers.

In Representative Mitchell’s recent announcement regarding his bid for re-election, he talks about the need for ‘decisive action’ against Illinois’ ‘union busting’ governor. What is interesting, is that Rep. Mitchell shares at least 25 donors with Governor Bruce Rauner, and continues to accept boat-loads of money from the very interests he claims to be fighting against.

When you support slashing the pensions of elderly retirees and union workers, support the privatization of public schools; and then sit silent as thousands of teachers and school staff are displaced due to mass school closings, you have failed workers, their families and communities. These are the times when union workers need ‘decisive action.’ It is where you stand in those critical moments that determine your mettle, not where you stand when you have the cover of the political establishment. (Note-the Illinois General Assembly was the only legislative body that had the ability to enact a moratorium on school closings.)

One of Mitchell’s contributors, Stand for Children (which has given his campaign $126,000), has been explicit about its desire to undermine the Chicago Teacher’s Union’s right to strike; this intention was explicitly described by Jonah Edelman, (CEO for Stand for Children) in a video-taped discussion regarding Stand for Children’s efforts to undermine the collective bargaining rights of teachers (June 12, 2011). Perhaps this is why Rep. Mitchell neither supported legislation that called for a moratorium on school closings nor legislation that would limit the authority of the Illinois Charter Commission to override the decisions of local school districts when it comes to the proliferation of Charter Schools. This would also explain why he recently refused to vote for legislation that would allow parents to have the ability to ‘opt out’ of excessive high stakes testing, which is the fuel used by the school privatization movement; as the results of these tests are used to close schools and castigate teachers. Lastly, this is also why he has not consistently supported a fully-elected, representative school board – not a hybrid board where the majority of the members are still appointed by the Mayor.

My track record as a champion of working families and union members is clear, consistent, and it did not begin when I decided to run for office. For the last decade, I have worked side-by-side with unions to fight against pension cuts, school closings, the decimation of the African American teaching force, and cuts to social services. I have also worked with unions to win funding to address foreclosures, and on progressive political campaigns. During the last election cycle health care workers, teachers, municipal and state administrative workers, transit workers and other union workers united to support Commissioner Chuy Garcia’s campaign while Rep. Mitchell supported the same Mayor Emanuel who has fired thousands of union workers through closing public institutions and privatization.

At the end of the day, Rep. Mitchell’s campaign is bankrolled by the same billionaire boys club that funded Bruce Rauner’s campaign, which begs the question, “How long can Rep. Mitchell keep up his pro-union charade?’ Is he ‘pro-union’ because he is in a contested race? Will he stand with teachers and school staff the next time they face mass firings?

He took $15,000 from Gov. Rauner’s We Mean Business PAC, and voted to slash the pensions of union workers. He took $170,000 from other special interest groups that support the privatization of public education system, and was mute as thousands of teachers, custodians and other union workers lost their jobs. Rep. Mitchell’s newly acquired zest to fight for unions is because he is facing a challenger that has a consistent track record as someone who fights side-by-side with unions out of a belief that the right to unionize (and the protection of workers that unions provide) are critical to our democracy and the our ability to have economically stable neighborhoods.

Jay Travis

Burns doesn’t get his facts straight

To the Editor:

While Alderman Burns and I don’t agree on much, I do concur with one phrase in his recent letter to the editor; that phrase is “the facts are the facts.” The decision to close a school is both highly politicized and racialized, as school closings have had a disparate impact on African American and Latino students. If anyone has been ‘bullied or held hostage’ in this process, it has been the African American students that have endured disinvestment in their schools, and been displaced as a result of school closings and phase-outs. More importantly, research clearly shows that school closings and privatization have not improved educational outcomes for students that were most-impacted. The decision to re-open Dyett required consistent community pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his appointed school board and Ald. Burns. It occurred because both KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett were willing to challenge the mayor whenever we were aware that he set foot on Bronzeville’s soil. While I don’t want to diminish the input of the Bronzeville Community Action Council, this decision would not have happened without the sacrifice of the students, mothers, grandmothers, community leaders and organizations that participated in the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s process.

The facts that were critical to the decision to reopen Dyett, as well as additional facts regarding KOCO’s work at Dyett are as follow:

1) KOCO fought for improvements at Dyett even prior to developing the proposal that it recently submitted to Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In 2005, KOCO worked with students to win capital improvements, such as repairs to Dyett’s roof and a new air conditioning system. In 2009, KOCO began an in-depth planning process for Dyett and its feeder schools; engaging local school councils, parents and scholars. It is also important to note that KOCO also brought the nationally acclaimed VOYCE leadership development initiative to Dyett for 5 years absolutely free of charge to Dyett or its students (Note: KOCO’s former education organizer, Jitu Brown, joined Dyett’s LSC and served consistently from 2003-2013).

2) The decision to close Dyett was made in 2012 (the intention to close Dyett was announced in 2011). Ald. Burns did not attend the board of education meetings regarding Dyett’s closure (as at least three Aldermen that opposed school closings in their wards have done to express concern for their constituents); nor did he convene a meeting between the mayor and his constituents (as was requested by KOCO members in 2011) to discuss the impact of the potential loss of Dyett with 4th Ward constituents. Perhaps he wrote a letter after Jitu Brown, Karen Lewis and Jeanette Taylor-Ramann visited his office in 2011 to demand that he take action.

KOCO was public, forthright and clear about how the loss of Dyett would impact Bronzeville, and held a 3-day sit-in at the mayor’s office; during which Will Burns attempted to ignore several mothers and grandmothers when he walked pass them in front of the mayor’s office. He was not completely let off the hook during the sit in because a reverend who participated in the protest held his hand as she prayed for him to get the courage needed to stand up against the school closings in his ward.

Burns’ lack of definitive action regarding Dyett is in sharp contrast to his response to parents in Hyde Park when they complained of overcrowding at Kenwood High School (my alma mater). According to the Chicago Tribune (July 23, 2013), the alderman expeditiously convened the CEO of CPS and mayor Emanuel, and transferred the building that formerly housed Canter Middle School to Kenwood. Why did the alderman take definitive swift action on behalf of Hyde Parkers, but not low-income and working African American folks in Bronzeville? Did he convene the mayor, CPS and his constituents to discuss the closure of Dyett? All children deserve access to a quality education regardless of their race or income. Just as the young people at Kenwood deserved Ald. Burns, CPS and the mayor’s swift action, so did the students at Dyett. These students are equally deserving of action from their alderman. Just as separate and unequal education is unacceptable, so is separate and unequal political representation (Note: If Ald. Burns convened such a meeting with the mayor and CPS on behalf of Dyett, he chose not to publicize the meeting as he did in the case of Kenwood).

3) In 2012, Ald. Burns was well aware of the abuses suffered by Dyett students, and did nothing to end their suffering. Students were forced to take art and gym online, and were not offered advance placement courses. As a final demonstration of CPS’ lack of respect for Dyett students, they were forced to enter the building each day through the back door. KOCO held a press conference to address these issues, and invited Karen Lewis (CTU President and 4th Ward resident). While Ald. Burns was present at the press conference, he did not ‘publicly’ pressure CPS to end the injustices the students endured. KOCO also shared the framework for its plan with the Bronzeville CAC in 2012. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.

4) In 2013, KOCO supported Dyett students who filed Title VI Civil Rights Complaints with the US Department of Education (DOE) regarding the closure of Dyett and the treatment of its students. The complaint was found viable and an investigation is currently underway with the DOE Office of Civil Rights. The planning process that began in 2009 culminated in the creation of the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School Plan. KOCO played a leadership role in the organization of hearings with Congressman Rush and Congressman Davis regarding the impact of school closings, held six town halls with feeder school parents, students and community residents and collected over 3,000 signatures and post cards in support of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. KOCO continued to fight for Dyett to be reopened as an open enrollment neighborhood high school.

5) In 2014, KOCO members once again sought support both for the reopening of Dyett and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett’s plan. During a meeting with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, Ald. Burns told his constituents that because the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences (CHAS) and the Chicago Vocational High School (CVS) exists, he would not support the plan (It is important to note that CHAS is a selective enrollment school located on the edge of Oak Lawn on 111th near Pulaski and CVS in near 87th and Clyde).

During this same period KOCO and the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett escalated its pressure on both the mayor and Ald. Burns to reopen Dyett, which included a 3-day sit-in at Ald. Burns’ ward office. I am also proud to say that during this period, I delivered the commencement address at Dyett’s 2014 graduation, at the request of Dyett students and one of the remaining teachers. After members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett, KOCO and Northside Action for Justice literally chained themselves to a statue on the 5th floor of City Hall, and confronted the mayor at Bret Harte Elementary School in September 2014, a decision was made in October of 2014 to re-open Dyett.

To Ald. Burns’ point, he attempted to claim credit, but the facts, which are noted in major newspapers, federal documents, and police records, indicate a different story. It is not the mark of a leader to slander an organization and attempt to minimize their involvement or influence on a critical issue.

KOCO dried the tears of Dyett students and encouraged them to fight the discrimination they faced – not Ald. Burns.

KOCO supported the students neglected by CPS, providing after-school tutoring and helping them prepare for, be accepted and enrolled into college.

KOCO spoke out against the Illinois Network of Charter Schools when they attempted to disparage Dyett (as Dyett teachers fought back tears at the CPS board meeting regarding Dyett’s future) – not Ald. Burns.

And in absence of both concern and a vision from CPS, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett led a thoughtful process and created a plan that deserved to be evaluated on its merits (per a process that was both developed and abandoned by CPS and Ald. Burns). The new plan that was announced by Ald. Burns and the CPS CEO for an arts/technology hub school has not been made available to the public.

As for Ald. Burns’ assertion that KOCO wants to make money off of Dyett, the budget that was submitted with the committee’s plan speaks for itself. There is not a single line item for services from KOCO. Ald. Burns took two sentences from a 60-page document that refer to KOCO providing leadership development support and extrapolated a money ‘empire’ scheme. Yes, the facts are the facts. Read the proposal for yourself.

Back in 2011, when we met with Ald. Burns about the future of Dyett, he was dismissive and told those in attendance ‘we should be thinking of viable African American candidates for mayor’ referring to himself. During the meeting Ald. Burns’ concern for the future of Dyett seemed half-hearted at best. ‘My opinion’ hasn’t changed, and neither have the facts.

Jay Travis