Sunday, September 14, 2008
Doctor's Hospital Petition: Hypocrites or Blackmailers?
posted by Peter Rossi
On November 4th, residents of the 39th precinct will vote on a referendum to make their precinct dry. Opponents of a hotel at the Doctor's Hospital site gathered the 150 signatures required from the 600 odd registered voters in this tiny precinct. A simple majority of those who vote on the referendum is needed to prevail. That means that only a handful of voters will determine the future of commercial development in HP.
An interesting soup of local "preservation" activists, labor organizers, university employees, and students canvassed for signatures.
Several of the petition circulators are local "preservationists" who are on public record as favoring a "re-use" of the existing Doctor's Hospital buildings. I reproduce two petition forms that were circulated by these "preservationists" below.
So much for "we want good development not this development" and "I'm in favor of a hotel; I just want preservation" and "I'm pro-development." Exploiting an absurd 1934 Illinois law, these folks have turned tail on their preservation roots. Voting this precinct dry will make any mixed used development infeasible, including re-use of the existing buildings. In all probability, the passage of this referendum would condemn the Doctor's Hospital Buildings to remain vacant indefinitely.
Would any developer come to Hyde Park after the cross has been burned on the lawn of Doctor's Hospital? Not likely, "those people are crazy; they would hurt themselves to avoid a restaurant or hotel in their neighborhood." So this petition has the potential to do great harm to Hyde Park and surrounding communities.
This looks pretty bad for the track record of some of the same folks who opposed development at McMobil, on Cornell, at St. Stephens, oppose fixing the Point, and want to gum up the works at Harper Court. They are more like undertakers than preservationists.
The sponsors of the petition have now signaled that this was all about a spot of blackmail. Vista Homes resident and winner of the petition sweepstakes, Mr. Rechtschaffen, let the cat of the bag in a letter in the Herald. Well, we want you (the developer and the U) to play ball; we aren't necessarily that interested voting the precinct dry. The head of the HP-KCC Preservation committee approached University officials and intimated that he didn't think the petition "had to go through," wink, wink.
Ah, the Prince would be proud of his HP proteges. They don't give a damn about preservation, they just want to hold feet to the fire. To what end, though? Mr. Rechschaffen is concerned about parking and noise. It's not clear he has any solution other than no hotel. He dances around the idea of a smaller hotel but this doesn't really help with his noise problem.
Mr. Lane of Harper Ave is even more obvious, "this has always been about the community process not the hotel." Translation: we want say in this project. We don't really care about the outcome; we just want power. Our other NIMBY friend is shy, or should I say sly, and doesn't say.
This was all accomplished by some pretty cynical political maneuvering. Our NIMBY handful went to some of their close neighbors at Vista Homes and Harper Ave and said "I know you are nervous about change, don't trust the wicked developer and arrogant U; let's slow this whole thing down." Well, they haven't "slowed it" down. In this kind of high stakes game, there is only go or no go. If the petition passes, this dooms the site and probably our neighborhood to no commercial development for some time.
The doomsday machine has been turned on. Does anyone seriously think that Mr. Rechtschaffen, Mr. Lane or the man behind the curtain are going to turn it off? Are they going to go door to door to tell their neighbors -- "Just kidding on that petition, the developer licked our boots clean, please vote NO?"
In the end, reasonable people will prevail and this measure will be defeated. Folks in the 39th will think it through and point the gun away from their foot.
The real question is will our students of Machiavelli be held accountable for this irresponsible act?
Next week: Anatomy of A Blackmail. A look at how this was set in the motion with the aid of local 1, Unite-HERE.