Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Putting Precinct First: Analyzing the Dry Vote

posted by chicago pop

Stony Island Dry Voters

What a study in contrasts: the guy in the big house down the block gets elected president on a stirring platform of "Yes, we can", while the folks on Stony Island win a referendum on a platform of "No, you can't."

While the national electorate delivered a sweeping referendum in favor of change, a few hundred people in one corner of Hyde Park want to keep things as they are, throwing a monkey wrench in plans that might require adaptation and adjustment.

While the president-elect symbolizes the possibilities of racial reconciliation and equality, Hyde Park's own representatives of Liberal activism, almost entirely white, do their best to chase away employment in a predominantly black and low-income ward, one with unemployment rates significantly higher than the national or even metropolitan average.

The concrete results of these grass-roots escapades are that things don't really change much in Mr. Obama's neighborhood, that nothing gets fixed, and that we get to watch buildings fall apart even faster than NIMBY cadres get older. Or rather, like the astronomical costs of CTA maintenance, things simply get deferred, and the folks on Stony Island and Harper Avenue get to live the way they have grown accustomed to living for the last 40 years.

Shabby gentility, Hyde Park style: you can fix it after I'm dead. Après moi, le déluge.

We've said from the beginning that NIMBY-ism is simply the language of self-interest clothed in the rhetoric of "community" consensus. The movement for a dry-vote challenges even this definition, for the following reason: even its strongest proponents made no attempt to speak on behalf of the "community" interest, or the greater good of the neighborhood. Cited as an example of "direct democracy," some dry-vote supporters insisted that those living outside the 39th Precinct simply butt out.

Very well. Residents of the 39th, and their mujahideen, now have 4 some years -- at the very least -- to savor the solitude of their reinforced survivalist bastion.

Meanwhile, things are already changing in the rest of the neighborhood. A few general thoughts on the entire episode and its meaning for the future.

The locus of NIMBY activism is clearly within the 39th Precinct, with a few conspicuous exceptions. The bulk of the action going forward, however -- should capitalism manage to revive at some point -- is going to be north of 55th Street. The major and very minor NIMBY figures have had much less success influencing anything in this area, and they now have much less legitimacy for doing so.

Part of the reason for this is that much of Hyde Park's development drama to-date (including the death of the Co-Op) has been about a dance-of-death, in which the University of Chicago wrestles in a pit of burning sand with the aging folk-heroes and horseless Lawrence of Arabias who are our local activists. The latter thrive on settling scores with the University, and undoubtedly feel that they have scored one here.

But the University is no longer the only player in the neighborhood, and to the extent that our local Robin Hoods continue to taunt the bumbling giant, they will exhaust themselves fruitlessly while truly desirable changes -- both small and large -- occur without their involvement. Indeed, they already are and already have.

These changes offer a striking contrast to the singular record of NIMBY non-accomplishments racked up at The Point, Doctors Hospital, and various smaller sites. William F. Buckley would have been proud of our obstructionists, for in all of these instances, they have managed to "stand athwart history and yell "Stop!"

We can't necessarily blame the 39ers for "putting Precinct first." We just have to remind them that by doing so, it's going to be a bit harder to convince anyone that they can also speak for the "community", or for the greater good of Hyde Park, Kenwood, and the South Side. The laws on our books allow property owners to put self-interest ahead of things like local unemployment, racial equality, public safety, and commercial prosperity. These laws have been taken full advantage of.


David Farley said...

In other news, a friend pointed me to the fifth column (literally, not figuratively) in this page of the Herald.

St. Stephens is in default.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I get your subtler point here, C-Pop: how can people who behave with such intense self-interest also claim to speak for the good of the whole community in other situations?

The 39ers got their alcohol ban and an abandoned monument to their intransigence...Now we get to fix the Point.

mchinand said...

Re: St. Stephens is in default

"Premises will NOT be open for inspection"

Hmm, I wonder why not? Where's that link to the pics of the inside of St. Stephens?

chicago pop said...

See inside St. Stephens!

See inside Doctors Hospital!

Amerikame said...

Well, Leslie Hairston's letter to the editor was indeed printed...the day after the election.

But this week's Herald contains even more NIMBY antics:

Ten residents in the "Kenwood Landmark District" are decrying the fact that the owner of recently purchased lots at 1301 and 1305 E. 50th has sought to change their zoning from single-family low density (RS-1) to--gasp--"a much higher density (RS-3), two flat permitted." They claim that such a move would _allow_ (not necessitate!) building that would cover over _almost_ all green space on the lots, thus damaging the "unique 'suburb' within a city" feel. Heaven forbid folks who can't afford to buy a house in the historic suburb-within-a-city Kenwood get the chance to rent a "flat" there.

eyeshare said...

a hotel without liquor - I know what people really want, an RV Park!

chicago pop said...

The day after the November 4 election, an article in the Herald informs us that two teenagers were recently arrested for breaking into Doctors Hospital and stealing "old medications."

One of the teens had broken into Doctors Hospital before.

Fortunately for them, preservation of the empty hospital will not disrupt this kind of activity in the future.

edj said...

Why did Hairston send the letter to the editor so late. It was dated on a Friday and that go into the next edition have to be in by friday. Did she not get it over there on the Friday by mailing it? Why didn't she have someone put copies of the letter in people's mailboxes if it was so important?

Elizabeth Fama said...

Neither Leslie nor the University knows how to handle these few people who masterminded the vote, and it's a skill they need to acquire.

The success of the pro-prohibition group was their personal touch, which in turn worked because of the small area of the precinct. The very first step -- going door-to-door and getting people to sign the petition -- almost guaranteed success from the outset. By nature, people like to justify their choices in life. Once they had signed the petition, it would have required reflection, research, and admitting they were wrong, for those 200 people to change their minds and vote differently on the ballot. Then we saw the personal touch at the polls, with Jack Spicer, Greg Lane, and Hans Morsbach chatting with people as they went in -- shoring up the resolve of the folks who had signed the petition, and taking the opportunity to "educate" people who may not have been aware of the vote beforehand.

In short, the energy, passion, and time on their hands these activists have in their arsenal together form a potent force that the University (a.k.a. the bumbling giant) and Leslie still haven't figured out how to combat -- despite the fact that (I believe) the rest of the neighborhood was against the prohibition.

chicago pop said...


You ask some very good questions - it's difficult not to think she wanted to have it both ways: Hey, I'll write a letter than will please the dry vote opponents, but will do so in a way that makes it difficult to disseminate. So no one will be able to blame me for not trying, and no one can claim that I blocked the referendum.


Either that or, as someone said, she just botched it. I think this is more likely.

I think it's time for a challenger in the 5th Ward. Hairston is hostage to a few well-known loudmouths, and now has two debacles to her credit. (The Point and DH).

I don't see a Starbucks on Stony Island as compensation for these two disasters. Someone could use this to unseat her.

chicago pop said...

Assuming Ungar's Solstice project can even get off the ground in this economic climate, it will help neutralize the NIMBY rump state in Vista Homes and nearby: you'll have a few hundred more people in the 5th who don't give a damn about anything the local hacks have to say -- even when primed with free cinnamon rolls.

chicago pop said...

Defeating NIMBY-ism requires a lot of things, and personal touch is nice, but another huge part of it is educating people to understand the dynamics of urban economies and housing so that they don't get freaked out when the next project rolls around.

The upcoming Model Block Workshop on Saturday November 15, the third in a series of 3 workshops that have been jointly sponsored by CMAP, Alderman Preckwinkle's office, the Metropolitan Planning Council, and the Chicago Department of Planning, is intended to help people understand how density works economically, how it looks physically, and how it is not the dark threat that so many people often imagine.

Based on the positive results of the first two workshops, this one should be good, and will go a few steps further in helping to neutralize knee-jerk anti-development reactions to change and urbanity.

Raymond said...

This has probably been covered somewhere but I couldn't find it. Is the Museum of Science and Industry in this precinct? Do they ever serve alcohol (weddings, banquets, etc.)?

chicago pop said...


MSI can still host corporate holiday blowouts and all the ROWDY BAR MITZVAHS that their neighbors seem to have an objection to.

The 5th Ward precinct map is here. You can see Stony Island is the dividing line between the 39th and the the 43rd; the latter makes up the entirety of the MSI's grounds.

LPB said...

Yeah, the cynical side of me thinks Hairston just executed a cover-her-ass move behind the smokescreen of incompetence at the Hyde Park Herald.

It's pretty brilliant because everyone already knows the Herald is incompetent.

Anonymous said...

I don't see a Starbucks on Stony Island as compensation for these two disasters. Someone could use this to unseat her.

How do you go about running for Alderman in Chicago? I looked around a little but couldn't really find anything.

Richard Gill said...

Raymond -

I believe the prohibition is against selling alcohol, as opposed to serving it. Assuming that's the case, I think MSI could still serve booze at benefits, member parties etc, as long as it isn't being sold...even if the 39th precinct included the museum. Otherwise, people in the 39th probably couldn't serve booze in their homes. Wouldn't it be real justice if the dry vote came back to bite them like that? It's fun to think about, anyway.

Now that I reflect on it, Vista Homes is a co-op, which means they can have some restrictions that condos can't have. Maybe Vista's declaration does rule out alcohol. Maybe they have a Temperance Committee and mandatory inspections.

Alec Brandon said...

At least the Co-Op's gone...

chicago pop said...

Greg asks a useful question to which I gave a much too smart ass response and have removed out of consideration of his long HPP readership: How DO you go about becoming an Alderperson in Chicago?

It's a good question because we'd like to encorage anyone who is interested in running in the 5th.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Alec, and Orisha Wall is gone, too.

If only I could be patient with slow progress.

David Farley said...

See the comments to this story in today's Tribune for more wailing about how another result of the recent election is going to change Hyde Park for the worse.,0,6503420.story

Anonymous said...

No offense taken, C-Pop! I e-mailed the City Clerk and they told me to get in touch with the Board of Elections. Knowing the process is half the battle.

If I can get a full rundown on the actual process (papers/forms to file, fees to pay, who to meet with, etc.) I'll post it all here. This stuff should be easier to find, IMO.

SR said...

Re: Running for Alderman. I don't know, but the City Clerk's office ( and the library (to look up local election law) would be two good places to start. I'm pretty sure there's some kind of petition to get on the ballot that you would have to file with the Clerk, anyway. The reference staff at the U of C Law Library can help you look stuff up, there should be a reference librarian on duty 9 am-6 pm Mon-Thurs, 9 am-5 pm Fridays, noon-4 pm Sat-Sun.

Can you afford to hire a lawyer? It might be a good idea to consult one about how to get the signatures exactly right, it's my understanding that incumbents in our fair city have a million ways to get petitions to get on the ballot thrown out on technical grounds.

Roothy said...

I opposed the "dry" vote. I felt so strongly about it that I printed up flyers and personally delivered them to every house I could get to in the 39th Precinct.

But as much as I wanted the dry vote to fail, and as much as I dislike the anti-development fervor in Hyde Park, the nastiness of posts like this one by "Chicago Pop" make me sick. Seriously, I rarely read this blog because of it.

chicago pop said...

De gustibus non est disputandum.

Anonymous said...

I actually thought this post was pretty restrained, considering the anger many of us feel about how a few people have decided the economic future of much of Hyde Park and probably even South Shore for the next 4 years (minimum).

Life and politics aren't nice and cuddly. The NIMBYs have shown this on more than one occasion. Hell, have you ever watched a City Council meeting? Loud arguments and Mayor Daley making contemptuous noises at people (like Bob Fioretti) who disagree with him are not unusual. Former Alderman Tillman once pulled a handgun out of her purse during a session (google it). Nice? I think not.

I read this blog because it doesn't attempt to sugarcoat its message. I don't want to read a blog about progress in Hyde Park that censors itself. Sometimes the truth is not nice.

My 2 cents.

Roothy said...

Truth /= snide & contemptuous. If you stoop to the level of your enemies, why should I listen to you? I disagree with much of what is on Hyde Park Urbanist, but its author is straight-up and doesn't make my blood boil. Fortunately, I can find sites to discuss the issues and future of Hyde Park that are not knee-jerk on either side. I wish this were one of them, but it is not.

chicago pop said...

The more the merrier: one of the cool things about the universe in its current state is that there are many different sites to chose from to have discussions about Hyde Park.

That's as it should be. And probably better for your blood pressure.

Richard Gill said...

"Hyde Park straight up..."

As was stated in mid-2007 when Hyde Park Progress began, this blog has a definite point of view. Chicago Pop has repeated this on a number of occasions. Maybe Hyde Park Progress is edgy, sarcastic and caustic at times, but it has been true to its purpose of favoring reasonable development in the neighborhood. It seems to me that's about as straight up as can be.

Robert said...

Elizabeth Fama said...

"If we’re in town, we’ll just sit in the parking lot all day, talking to people. That’s the way we see life: your community is your survival. And if you live in a small community like this, even the people you hate you have as friends." -- Carolyn Chute (pictured at the top of this post with her husband, Michael).