To the Editor:
“One word, ‘Entitlement’” is Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston’s explanation for the lawsuit filed against the city to prevent the building the private Obama Center complex in Chicago’s public Jackson Park. Ms. Hairston, who “came out swinging against the lawsuit in an interview with the Herald,” “attacked” the plaintiffs for having “never weighed in on an issue on the South Side and Jackson Park in history,” saying, “It’s been very interesting that the North Shore wants to weigh in now.” Furthermore, Ms. Hairston said she suspected that former Alderman Bob Fioretti, whose law partner is Mark Roth, the plaintiffs’ attorney, is behind the lawsuit. “This is a case that [Fioretti] took on,” she said. “I’m sure [the plaintiffs] didn’t come to him.” When reached by the Herald, Mr. Roth correctly called the allegation “preposterous and absurd.” (May 23, 2018, War of words erupts between lawsuit filers, OPC supporters)
I’ve never met Ms. Hairston, but biographies describe her as a Chicago native, born on July 17, 1961, who grew up in the 5th Ward’s Hyde Park and South Shore communities, attended private schools (University of Chicago Lab Schools), the University of Wisconsin, Loyola University School of Law, is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois (Appellate Division), and was in private law practice before elected 5th Ward alderman. Ms. Hairston’s mother was an educator with the Chicago Public Schools for 43 years who spent 21 years as an elementary School principal. Her late father owned the once popular Avenue Lounge and was the city’s first African-American owner/operator of a McDonald’s restaurant.
Who are the plaintiffs? We include Herbert L. Caplan (U. of C. A.B. 1952, J.D. 1957), President of Protect our Parks (POP). Herb, who lives in Chicago, describes himself as a first born American of immigrants ahead of the Holocaust whose family was reduced to total poverty during the Great Depression. He grew up in public housing, received a full scholarship to attend UChicago, graduated with Honors, and had to work at a number of small jobs to support himself, including dormitory dining hall waiter and a stint picking up bodies on night calls in a funeral home in the neighborhood of 71st & Jeffrey. He was mugged and stabbed in the back in Hyde Park and spent a week in the hospital. While living in Hyde Park he became connected with the Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI), a political reform group that was “dedicated to good government, activism and an idealistic vision of open, honest government in Illinois through pragmatic means that confront cynicism and corruption with equal force.” He served in the Army in Korea and attended Law School on the G. I. Bill. While a lawyer, Herb spent many years as a volunteer discussing the Constitution with fourth grade elementary school students in the Haugan Public School where the majority of students were immigrant Hispanics (including undocumented). When Harold Washington was first elected, Herb was recruited to work in reforming the City of Chicago Law Department. Herb was recruited to serve as First Assistant Illinois Attorney General in the 1970s when the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and the new Illinois state constitution were being enacted, and he and his colleagues were charged with adapting state practices to the new laws and defining policies of the Attorney General’s Office. “We felt that we were doing the people’s work.” After spending the bulk of his career as First Assistant Illinois Attorney General and in the City of Chicago’s Law Department, Herb retired in 1998 and remains involved in Chicago neighborhood issues. As president of POP (www.protectourparks.org), Herb has devoted a lot of time working to keep Chicago’s parks open, clear and free. “And in the class and identity war being waged in America today, I have never felt or experienced ‘entitlement’ or identified myself in any way with the insider ruling class,” he writes.
Charlotte Adelman is the writer of this letter. I was born in Chicago and now live in Wilmette, the fact inspiring Ms. Hairston’s comment “theNorth Shore wants to weigh in now.” A first generation American, my father was born in Ukraine, from which his mother fled, taking him and his sister, after they survived a deadly pogrom. Upon reaching Chicago, the three located my paternal grandfather (a peddler with a horse and wagon). My father, by then age 15, learned English and eventually became a physics teacher at Tuley and Lane Tech High Schools. My mother was born in Lithuania, immigrated to America where her father (a Hebrew scholar working as a house painter) advised her to become a lawyer. The family lost everything during the Great Depression so when attending De Paul Law School, she could afford only one outfit, and became known as the girl in “the brown suit.” Because of her gender, no one would hire my mother, so she opened her own law office. Following my parents’ marriage, my mother became a Chicago public grammar school teacher and was active in the teachers’ union. My husband, Bernie Schwartz, attended public school, including Lane Tech High School, attended “Harvard on the Rocks” better known as the University of Illinois at Chicago, went downstate and studied engineering. Following his service in the United States Army, Bernie worked days as a structural engineer, attended night law school on the G.I. Bill and spent 20 years as an Assistant Cook County Public Defender, mostly at 26th and California, defending clients charged with felonies, including many living on “the South Side.”
Growing up in a Rogers Park apartment, I shared its one bedroom with my sister while our parents slept in the living room. My sister and I attended public schools. To make ends meet, my father worked many summers as an elevator operator or camp counselor. To help pay for college, I worked high school summers as a secretary. For my first year of college, I attended Northwestern University, and worked part time as a secretary for the Geology Department. When my sister began studying at the University of Chicago, I transferred there to be near her, and lived in Hyde Park for six years. While an undergraduate, I worked as a secretary for the University of Chicago Press. While at the University of Chicago Law School, I worked as a Chicago public school substitute teacher. By the time I graduated in 1962, one professor had told me to quit law school and become a housewife, and a classmate had publicly accused of being in law school only to find a husband and predicted I would never practice law. My experience seeking employment as a lawyer mirrored that of my mother. I was turned down on the basis of my gender by the U. S. Attorney and the First Assistant Illinois Attorney General (both in person), as well as by the State’s Attorney, Public Defender, insurance company law offices, and private law firms, large and small. For a limited time I worked for Chicago attorney Jewel Lafontant whose list of “firsts” began in 1946 as the first black woman to graduate from University of Chicago Law School. After that, I obtained “space for services.” Finally I opened my own law office and practiced law solo for 30 years. Locating clients was not easy. For the first couple of years, I supplemented my meager income by working as a substitute teacher.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed several categories of discrimination in employment, including sex. Its passage inspired me to volunteer vast amounts of my time as a lawyer in the service of human rights and equality for all. As a member of the Chicago Bar Association Indigent Prisoners’ Committee, and later as a court appointed attorney, I handled felonies, including jury trials, for defendants – including residents of “the South Side” – charged with aggravated battery, armed robbery, attempted rape, and murder – as well as post conviction hearings and appeals to the Illinois Supreme Court, the Appellate Court of Illinois and the US Court of Appeals. I obtained a Pardon for one client on the grounds of Innocence. I filed a lawsuit in federal court as ACLU/NOW pro bono (free of charge) lawyer with Sheri Rothenberg, another woman lawyer challenging the Chicago newspapers’ practice of running sex segregated help-wanted ads. The court ruled against us, we appealed and the Chicago newspapers immediately integrated their help wanted ads. In the 1970s, as Legislative Chairperson and also pro bono legal counsel for the Chicago Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), I became the first woman to testify before the Chicago City Council on the subject of equality in employment on the basis of sex. I also testified on equality on the basis of sex in public accommodations. I testified before the Bill of Rights Committee at the Constitutional Convention in favor of including an Equal Rights provision in the Illinois Constitution. I testified before the Illinois Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) about guidelines for sex discrimination and was invited to attend the Governor’s signing of the new sex discrimination law. I worked with the Women’s Bar Association (WBAI), Chicago Bar Association (CBA) and members of the Illinois Bar Association (ISBA) opposing enactment of the (anti-female) Uniform Marital Property Act. I served on the Special Commission for the Administration of Justice in Cook County (Solovy Commission). The ISBA accepted my suggestion, as Chair of the WBAI Rights of Women Committee, to revise its pamphlets to depict lawyers as female as well as male, and use the word “her” as well as “him.” I handled indigents’ divorce cases free of charge as a CBA Matrimonial Law Committee project. As 1984 to WBAI president, I located its scattered documents, created the WBAI Collections at the Chicago History Museum and Newberry Library, and served as WBAI archivist and historian since 1986. On behalf of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, I organized a program for lawyers to host inner city students to acquaint them with the legal system. After filing and winning the first sex discrimination in employment case before the FEPC, obtaining the Animal Control Warden job (dogcatcher) for my client, and filing and winning the first FEPC case on sex discrimination against a mother of small children (and successfully opposing the school board’s many appeals), I continued handling sex discrimination in employment cases, some pro bono. I volunteered for 13 years at the Loop Center YWCA providing indigents with a free on-the-spot free legal consultation, observed that the main issue facing the women was their inability to collect court ordered child support, organized an all day hearing in 1975 at which 98 women, many from “the South Side,” testified, and then worked with WBAI and CBA committees to draft child support collection legislation requiring that payments go to the Clerk of the Court, lobbied for it, testified on its behalf before the Illinois Commission on the Status of Women, secured sponsors, saw it pass the Illinois legislature and finally be signed into law in 1980. This many-years long effort led to awards from several organizations including the Loop Center YWCA for volunteers whose service had been “above and beyond,” Oakton Community College’s Gladys Shute Award, Pioneer Women’s (Na’amat) “Woman of the Year” award, a Citation for Public Service from the University of Chicago’s Alumni Association, and a Leadership Award from WBAI. In 1984, Today’s Chicago Women profiled me as “Doing Justice to Women.” In 1986, I was consulting editor and author of the lead article in the ISBA Journal’s Special Issue: Illinois Women and the Law. In 1992, my compilation of WBAI history, WBAI 75, was published. I had just retired from practicing law when newspapers reported my divorce client had collected the half of her husband’s Nobel Prize monetary award I had negotiated for her.
While practicing law, I worked to improve the Illinois environment by co-chairing the Environmental Commission of the Independent Voters of Illinois’(IVI) (1975-77); being on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Environmental Council (1977-78); serving as Conservation Chair of the Evanston North Shore Bird Club (1977-81) and testifying on its behalf (1982) before a representative’s Constituent Hearings on the Environment; working with the League of Women Voters of Illinois (1978) for passage of a regional bottle bill; and serving for ten years on the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy – TNC (1979-1989). In 1977, as a supporter of the “prairie project” in the Cook County Forest Preserves, I lobbied against rouge efforts to thwart restoration efforts. Successful environmental efforts include bans on summertime gas-powered leaf blower use and pesticide use by the Library and Village of Wilmette, as well as initiating and helping create a 2-acre prairie in a public park. Unsuccessful efforts include failing to obtain passage of an amendment I drafted to an Illinois invasive species law. I am a life member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), National Wildlife Federation, TNC, The Prairie Enthusiasts, Wild Ones, and WBAI. In 2014, I was a recipient of an Audubon Chicago Region Habitat Project Conservation Leadership Award.
In 1993, my husband and I retired to help the environment. Our key motivation is protection of increasingly scarce open space and wildlife habitat. In 1996, Cook County Forest Preserve prairie restoration efforts came under attack by the Sun Times and residents of Edgebrook and Sauganash who viewed public forest preserve land as their personal property. I testified in favor of prairie restoration, but despite lobbying efforts by environmentalists, Cook County instituted a moratorium stopping all land management by staff and volunteers. My husband and I’ve placed conservation liens on prairies in Wisconsin and North Dakota and donated to environmental organizations our underlying ownership interests. We support local and national organizations that save open land, and one in Colorado whose purchases of prairie habitat save pronghorn, prairie dogs and burrowing owls. To encourage people to help the environment, we’ve co-authored books including The Midwestern Native Garden; Prairie Directory of North America and Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees, included by Audubon Great Lakes in its Plants for Birds campaign. Lately, I’ve grappled with Wilmette over its plans to install an underground storm water detention tank in the local park holding the two acre wet/upland prairie that I helped create. Along with my husband, a native plant landscaper friend, and my garden club, I’ve presented innumerable programs explaining how to garden and landscape with native Midwestern herbaceous and woody plants, particularly oaks and other bird-friendly native trees and shrubs.
My history explains my opposition to the degradation and destruction of a portion of an internationally famous park located in a world-famous migratory bird flight path in order to construct a private complex that can and should be built on a non-park location such as the 11 non-park acres next to Washington Park. It is shocking that sophisticated Chicago residents are so unaware of, and indifferent to environmental issues as to applaud clear-cutting a 300-tree, mature, historic urban woodland to construct a 12-story tall “Tower,” a height vastly exceeding the tallest trees, and create a large concrete plaza specially designed to host fast food trucks. Also unbelievable is that intelligent people responsible for making public policy don’t know that woodlands are natural carbon sinks that efficiently absorb and sequester CO2 and thus counter global climate change, and that cutting trees down releases centuries of accumulated sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere, thus increasing global climate change, and that erecting buildings and plazas over open land prevents future CO2 absorption and sequestration.
Something proponents of the Obama Center should consider is that global climate change, considered an existential threat to human life, affects everyone in the world, including the residents of the South Side. Projections by the Union of Concerned Scientists show Chicago is very likely to suffer heat waves in the coming decades comparable to 2003 Europe’s 70,000 heat-related summer deaths. One way to hasten the suffering is to destroy the Jackson Park trees and construct a four building complex, including a “Tower,” and increase area car exhaust fumes by attracting additional automobiles to park in the Center’s underground 450-car garage.
Plaintiffs and lawyers involved with this lawsuit favor having the Obama Center in Chicago. A feeling of “entitlement” is not the motivation for filing this lawsuit. For me, a lifelong resident of the Chicago area, it is the moral imperative of taking the only remaining meaningful action available to oppose the City’s irreversible park-destroying plan, namely, asking a Court to order the City to comply with the law. The hoped for result will serve as a precedent against using public parkland for private purposes, however appealing they seem. The Obama Foundation still can choose to build in one of many available and excellent non-park locations, and, as Mr. Obama once said – in regard to global climate change – “act before it’s too late.”
Plaintiff in POP, Charlotte Ademan, et al, vs City of Chicago and Chicago Park District
co-author of The Midwestern Native Garden; Midwestern Native Shrubs and Trees; Prairie Directory of North America; Prairie Directory of North America Second Edition;
author of WBAI 75.