Saturday, December 8, 2007

Herald's Chicken: Are we all on the take?

posted by Peter Rossi

The news is grim. There is little hope for the Co-Op to go on turning over Hyde Park stomachs. To file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, debt consolidation financing is required. Even the starry-eyed James Withrow admits that there is no hope for chapter 11. The rapacious University of Chicago sits like a vulture waiting to feast on the remains.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a can of soup. It's a pigeon. No. It's the Hyde Park Herald (December 5th edition) to the rescue. The Herald pulled a fast one with an unverified (of course) lead story that there is the possibility of a 2.5 million commercial loan to "bailout" the Co-Op. Those news hounds at the Herald beat a confession out of the Co-Op Board President that there had always been a commercial loan on the table.

I am sorry to let reality intrude on this pipe dream, but there are at least three catches:
1. there are conditions on the loan. The U of C must forgive the 1.2 million in back rent and Certified must allow themselves to be bought out of their 47st street lease on the cheap (for only one year's rent)
2. 2.5 million only goes half way to erase the mountain of Co-Op debt (more than 5 million)
3. The Co-Op must be a going concern. The myth started by Sir James is that the 55th street store makes a profit of 1 million per year. Our own Deep Throat exposed that bit of fancy. Not paying your rent can make even the anemic Co-Op look rosy.

By now, even the Herald editors must realize that no one really believes anything that the paper tosses out to stir up the pot. So the story goes on to spin the favorite conspiracy web. Here the villain is that sinister organization, the University of Chicago. An "aggressive and well-coordinated effort to convince Hyde Parkers to shut the Co-Op down" is afoot.

How do we know that the University is behind these fliers circulating around the neighborhood? The source, Hyde Park Co-Op manager Bruce Brandfon, says it is "likely that the University bankrolled this effort." The Herald fails to cite any actual evidence that the University is behind any of the recent efforts to persuade Co-Op members to vote for option A. It's bad enough to splash rumors on the front page but when the source of the rumor has a direct interest keep the Co-Op around so he can get paid for a few more months, you do want to scream.

The first to start pointing fingers at our fair University was James Withrow (who is employed by the University). Mr. Withrow accused the University of stuffing the "fact sheet" that was sent with the ballots down the throats of the Co-Op board. Mr. Withrow has since apologized for his error in his own private blog. So like many NIMBY conspiracy theories it has acquired a life of its own divorced from reality. In a recent email, prominent NIMBY Jay Mulberry aped the University theory stating without a shred of proof, "Option A is represented by a PR machine, financed by the University and supported by workers from Alderman Preckwinkle's office."

But what of it? If it is true that the University is lobbying Hyde Parkers to shutter the Co-Op, why aren't we all shouting-- Go Maroons!

It is hard to understand why the University comes out such a villain on the Co-Op. They have been most patient (some say financially irresponsible) in allowing the Co-Op to have a free line of credit for 1.2 million. They have offered to pay more than 5 million to bring a real grocery store into our neighborhood. The university competes on an national level for students and faculty. On this issue, the neighborhood and University interests are perfectly aligned. If the University wants to pay a subsidy to obtain a better quality grocery store than we would get otherwise, let them spend their money.

Our friends in the Herald editorial suite are mystified by the University. In their editorial, they wonder out loud why the University is so determined to bring a quality store to our neighborhood. Are the Herald editors too tightly wrapped in the NIMBY flag to see the obvious or are they too beholden to the Co-Op ad revenue and worried that Dominicks will not advertise in a tiny paper with an aging and shrinking readership?


Famac said...

I like the way Withrow throws out lies, then corrects them in his blog. Very convenient. I went to his blog, and no one even writes comments. At least this blog has a dozen or so contributers. (A google search for Withrow revealed he works outside Hyde Park as an IT support guy, unless I am mistaken.)

I too found Option C (commercial loan) to have terms too onerous to even be considered a viable alternative. They ommitted a very important condition in the loan though: Jesus has to cut the re-opening ribbon.

The Herald has really lost it. Like so many media outlets these days, they are so far left of the genral population -- even here in Hyde Park. All you have to do is look at the capital drive the Co-Op is running to see Hyde Parkers want the Co-Op gone.

But this will all become clear once the votes are counted, provided they are counted correctly. And if they are counted correctly -- you can bet there will be a Gore-style recount drive. (Liberals still claim Gore won Florida -- even though the NY Times completed the ballot count and conceded a clear Bush victory.)

chicago pop said...

Note to Jay Mulberry and James Triple-T ("think this thru") Withrow on their University financed PR conspiracy theory:

Tthis blog has been calling for the Co-Op to shut down since before there was an Option A, and no one at the U of C has called offering to cut HPP a check.

As co-conpirators before the fact, I'm offended we're not getting our share of the take for doing the dirty work.

I want my money, dammit!

chicago pop said...

It's bad enough to splash rumors on the front page but when the source of the rumor has a direct interest keep the Co-Op around so he can get paid for a few more months, you do want to scream.

Indeed. Perhaps if they bothered to note their own conflicts of interest, the Herald would do a better job detecting other's.

SR said...

Withrow works on campus, I know one of his co-workers (who says he is a terrific, fun guy, who is just really, really passionate about the Coop for some reason).

deep throat said...

I'm acquainted with a former Co-Op board member who characterizes Withrow as a nice person, but "frighteningly misguided."

Peter Rossi said...

In fairness to Sir James, even the most obvious crackpot needs a soapbox. The unfortunate truth is that the Herald provides the soapbox.

Our local politicians and university administrators run scared of bad press in the Herald even though this is only one voice in the wilderness.

this is why HPP is so important.

Ptah said...

It is generally bad form to post personal information about an individual in a publicly accessible forum like this one. However I will note that the Argonne link does NOT point to the much maligned Mr. Withrow of the Co-Op board.

Incidentally, as a friend and co-worker, I have to say that as much as I disagree with his opinion (perhaps even his thinking), I do not believe I've ever observed anything but honesty from him.

Finally, as one of the few that has commented on his blog, I suspect he would respond respectively to any measured criticism posted on his blog.

chicago pop said...

In response to Ptah's comment, I have removed links to personal information concerning individuals discussed on the blog.

I was a little unsure of letting those go up at first; it was my mistake. There's plenty for us to work with without having to go there.

Famac said...

I would have to disagree completely with ptah's interpretation of blog protocol.

The general rule is you don't "out" someone participating on the blog with an alias.

James Withrow's identity is very public: he's written lengthy editorials in the Herald, he's a vocal member of the Board.

Posting PUBLIC information about a public personality on a blog is what makes blogs and the internet the way most modern people sift out the truth from fiction. In this case, it was fiction.

chicago pop said...

re: the posting of "personal information" taken from a public source, some of the previous comments for and against, and where I stand on the subject as blog administrator.

I agree, generally speaking, with famac that if it's on the web, or in print, or publicly accessible, it's fair game. That's what "NIMBY's Corner" is all about, and most everything else on this blog.

That said, I also feel there is still a need for discretion, and not all information should necessarily be used in any given case.

Ultimately, it's a judgement call on what is appropriate. My rule of thumb is that information should be directly related to the issue at hand, and not tangential or tendentious.

I've avoided posting pictures of personalities discussed on the blog, for example, and would hesitate before introducing anything to do with employment history, past marital relations, etc, (assuming it was public knowledge) unless it was of overwhelming relevance to a very pressing issue.

Upshot: if it's available and relevant, it will get through; if it's available and tangential or not relevant, it won't.

Famac said...

Well, in cases where a guy with no applicable credentials is trying to force a disasterous vote, I think its relevent.

It may seem a little o.t.t., but anonimity provides cover for charlatans, and we already have a boat load.

Peter Rossi said...

I think we try very hard to debate the issues and expose some of the logical inconsistency of the NIMBY point of view.

As such, Withrow is fair game. However, I agree with Chicago Pop that posting of irrelevant personal information serves no good purpose.

famac is right that Withrow has put himself in the limelight but this does not make it proper to post personal details unless these are related to his positions.

The NIMBYs have used misrepresentation, selective omission and personal attack. We have avoided this as, ultimately, it is thinking and reasonable people we hope to involve.