This petition drive required months of work. In this post, I will describe what I have learned about this little spot of blackmail. Some of what I have learned comes from public records, some of it is simply inference, and some speculation.
Sometime last winter, I imagine one of our NIMBY Princes got the idea of voting the precinct dry. This would stop a hotel of any kind at the DH site. Not only that, but it will discourage developers not just in the 39th precinct but all over Hyde Park.
A search of the precinct maps on the City of Chicago web site showed that the 39th precinct is a tiny area consisting of Harper Ave, the west side of Stony Island Ave, and the east side of Blackstone Ave between 57 and 59th. This could be doable, thought our NIMBY field generals.
But there are a couple of obstacles to overcome: 1. They needed legal help to insure they produced the most credible blackmail threat (i.e., the measure makes it to the ballot), 2 They needed help obtaining signatures -- this includes both manpower and an entree to the voters of this precinct.
The problem with the first obstacle is that legal help can be expensive. Our friends would require the consulting services of a lawyer well-versed in election law. We now know that this group hired a very well-known election lawyer, Michael J. Kaspar. Mr. Kaspar is a partner at Hinshaw and Culbertson in the loop and well-known around that state. Mr. Kaspar was clearly involved at a very early stage as procedures for collecting signatures and filing were scrupulously adhered to. Mr. Kaspar might also have advised our local folks that it would be wise to collect signatures at the last moment so that opposition to the drive does not have a chance to get organized. Indeed, the signatures were collected between 7/29/08 and 8/6/08.
Stellar legal representation is very expensive. So where did our, not terribly well-heeled, friends get the kale? White Lodging has clearly been targeted for union organizing by Unite-HERE. WL is not a union shop and this really drives the shrinking union base crazy. Unite-HERE was formed by a merger of textile workers and hotel employees unions. Local 1, Unite-HERE, is very large and has a budget of over $3,000,000 per year. Each year, unions are required to file LM2 forms with the U. S. Department of Labor, detailing their disbursements. The rank and file dues from local 1 have funded almost $1,000,000 in legal expenditures in 2007. Unfortunately, the LM2 form for 2008 does not have to be filed until 2009, so I can't prove that Unite-HERE paid Mr. Kaspar's bills but it does seem very likely.
That takes care of legal representation. No doubt, Mr. Kaspar informed our NIMBY hawks that the law requires signatures of at least 25 per cent of the registered voters in the precinct. Precinct voting records obtained from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners showed our friends that there were 600 odd voters in the 39th. Ok, now we need manpower.
Not to worry, local 1 Unite-HERE can help us on this as well. After all, there are plenty of union organizers on staff. Local 1, Unite-HERE has summer interns who are mostly students. The timing was perfect for this. Local 1 assigned staff member, Alexandra Canalos, and summer intern Francisco Herrera to the project. Ms. Canalos appears as a petition circulator on a number of the filed petition sheets. Mr. Herrera is a summer intern from a program at the Institute for "Interfaith Worker Justice" and appears on several forms.
It wouldn't do to have a large number of petitions circulated by outside labor organizers, so Ms. Canalos and Mr. Herrera enlisted the aid of various students. Omar Ramirez is a second year in the College. Alberto Roldan is a Northwestern U film major who didn't circulate any petitions but added his name to Mr. Ramirez's in a recent letter to the Herald. I haven't found any information about their other acquaintance, Luke Carmon who circulated petitions and added his name to the "labor oriented" Herald letter.
Petitions circulated by Canalos, Herrera, Ramirez and Carmon all used the same Notary Public, Marcia Nikoden. Ms. Nikodem lists an address very far from Hyde Park. All of the NIMBY circulators from Hyde Park used different notaries, most located in Hyde Park. So I think it is fair to conclude that the Canalos et al group worked together.
As we have pointed out in HPP, the idea of labor organizers working to deny jobs to hotel workers by plowing salt into the DH site is very strange. But, I am sure, our NIMBY strategists told them, "don't worry this is just a blackmail tactic. We will force WL to its knees." What the local NIMBYs didn't tell them is that once the petition is on the ballot, it is likely to pass. However, destruction of potential jobs is a subtle concept for labor union leaders who don't always represent their rank and file well.
College students can be a bit naive and they don't really have any long term affiliation with the neighborhood. "I had fun in the summer, beating up on evil White Lodging." It may not be clear to these folks that there really is no evidence that White Lodging has "questionable labor practices" and that their efforts could hurt future hotel workers.
But the bankroll of local 1 and the union manpower is not the whole story here. At least 100 regsitered voters in the 39th live in Vista Homes on Stony Island. To really be effective, our NIMBYs needed someone on the ground there. Allan Rechtschaffen was tailor-made for this purpose. A retired U of C prof, Mr. Rechtschaffen lives in Vista Homes and has some time on his hands. From his letter in the Herald, it seems clear to me that Mr. Rechtschaffen relishes his role as a thorn in the side of WL. He also seems to be genuinely peeved by what he feels is the lack of respect by WL and the reprsentatives of the U. However, he would have to admit that our NIMBYs hijacked the adgenda at meetings held in Vista Homes and at broader "community meetings." This made it very difficult to hold a dialogue.
In the end, this about upper middle class, mostly white, Hyde Parkers wanting to have more say in the Doctor's Hospital hotel development. It appears the local 1, Unite-HERE joins a long line of folks at the Unversity, local politicians, Chicago Park District employees, officers at the IHPA, and others who have gotten burned by our NIMBY handful.