Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Alderman Hairston Loiters, Positively

posted by chicago pop

It's time once again for the "5th Ward Report," that bulletin of momentous achievements taking place on a quarterly basis in the 5th Ward. Here's the money quote from the "Summer 2010" issue in case you didn't get a copy:

I am very heartened by the response of block clubs, organizations and individuals to my call for a schedule of weekly “Safe Summer” positive loitering activities. Our office has sponsored several events under this theme, such as the July 4 fireworks celebration and viewing party at the 63rd Street Beach.
When we read in this issue about the Alderman's efforts to promote "positive loitering," we were delighted that she had found such a felicitous phrase to describe her tenure, and wondered if it might catch on among other members of the City Council.

Yet imagine our disillusionment when we learned that "positive loitering" was not intended to describe Hairston's aldermanic activity, but that of the mysterious cohort invited to the "July 4 fireworks celebration and viewing party at 63rd Street Beach."

When you've bought city property for your own purposes, you get to control the guest list. We also suspect that "positive loitering" is the updated criminology term for "bread and circuses." The cost of such viewing parties must explain why no work has been done to repair most of 56th Street, and a good chunk of University Avenue, which continue to resemble the craters of the Moon.

With regard to the public lot at 55th Street and Lake Shore Drive, we read this:

Leslie Hairston allocated a portion of the ward's aldermanic menu money to provide some relief from [potholes on 56th Street ... NOT] pay and display boxes the Park District installed along and near the lakefront...The Ward Service Office has been issuing parking permits to residents who live near the 55th Street lot.

"Ward Service Office?" Who do you have to know to get a call back from those guys? Now Hairston's office is not only issuing invitations to view fireworks on city lots, but is also deciding just who gets long-term permits, essentially turning a public lot into a private stall for certain ward residents. Just how does one come upon this particular authority?

And finally, among the collection of other pat-self-on-back items, "5th Ward Report" does not fail to highlight the Shoreland and Hairston's (not quite clear) role in keeping it moving, quoting an Antheus representative on the “support and ongoing work of Ald. Leslie Hairston for helping preserve one of the great buildings in the ward.” Left out, of course, is whatever it was that the good folks of 5490 managed to extort from Antheus in terms of parking benefits in the little game of chicken authorized by the 5th Ward Alderman.

Some day we'll find out, but it won't be the "5th Ward Report".


John said...

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Ald. Hairston will kowtow to the curmudgeons in the neighborhood. She's not in it to do the right thing--she's in it to be in it.

Elizabeth Fama said...

As if the lakefront wasn't going to be loaded with "positive loitering" already on the 4th of July! She's pretty nervy, trying to turn her takeover of that parking lot (on the most prime evening of the summer) into a community service.

And regarding the subsidies of the 55th Street Lot and the 63rd Street lot, the total estimated expenditure from her discretionary ward budget (based on articles in the Tribune and the Hyde Park Herald) is a whopping $129,000. Say the number every time you talk about this, Chicago Pop!

Richard Gill said...

This illustrates why the Chicago system of investing so much executive power in aldermen is inherently corrupt and must go. Nothing gets done in any ward unless the local alderman says it's ok (ie it's to the alderman's advantage). Want a speed hump - call the alderman. Want overflowing trash picked up - call the alderman. Want curbs repaired - call the alderman. Want a stop sign - call the alderman. Want personalized free parking - call the alderman. Want a zoning change - call, coax, or threaten the alderman.

This doesn't even include the illegal stuff that can influence a Chicago alderman; just look how many have gone to jail for offenses committed while in office.

So all an alderman has to do is deal out at least one favor to enough individuals and small interest groups. Collectively, all of these little favors might have a negative effect on the ward, but at election time people will remember the one little goodie done for themselves.

Aldermen are supposed to be legislators,not decision makers in routine ward business. Yeah, yeah, I know this city ain't ready for reform. So if aldermen are going to continue to perpetuate themselves by controlling ward life, let's at least make them work at it, by reducing the number of wards to 20. That way, they'll have to spend more time in the office, just to handle the more-than-doubled number of goodies they'll need to hand out.

Fifty wards is a ridiculously high number anyway. And the taxpayers would save millions by not having to support so many aldermen and their staffs. Just be on the alert for ex-aldermen who turn up as commissioner of some custom-tailored new city department.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Richard Gill is right: 50 wards is way too many. I think I heard on Chicago Tonight that the entire City of Los Angeles has 6 alderman.

Why don't more people talk about this issue?

raylodato said...

Oh, my...

First of all, Elizabeth, L.A. has 15 City Council members, not 6.

I don't know what your beef is with Leslie, Richard, but the alternative is to vest all power for city services with downtown. Believe me, you do not want that. Despite the fact that Hyde Park voters have refused to cast a critical eye when it comes to the current Mayor Daley, having the Mayor and his minions process all city service requests would ensure that we got fewer and worse services than the places the Mayor favors.

When I served (twice) in the Fifth Ward Service Office, I seem to remember both Richard and Elizabeth being frequent callers to the office to request city services--and well you both should have been. But to complain about it now after all the work that has gone into taking care of your requests is unseemly and petty. (I remember working with two different city departments for four months on a sewer cave-in near Elizabeth's home. The delay was caused by downtown, not indifference from the alderman's office).

I don't expect you to be grateful for the work Leslie and her staff do--that's their job, after all. But understand that the alternatives you posit are much worse.

M said...

Two questions.

Who has proof of real dollars spent of the free parking?

Would you be interested in helping a challenger get onto the ballot?

Elizabeth Fama said...

Hi M,

A promising 5th ward challenger is indeed a possibility in this election cycle, and when there is news about that we hope to discuss it here on the blog.

The total estimate for Ms. Hairston's parking subsidies at 55th and 63rd Streets is $129,000: the Tribune estimated 52K for 55th Street, and the Hyde Park Herald estimated 77K for the lot at 63rd Street. Both said the money came from her discretionary funds. The subsidy for 63rd Street ran out at the end of September. The subsidy for the lot at 55th Street (100 spaces) will expire on December 31st.

Here's the article from the Tribune.

And here's the article from the Herald.

Ms. Hairston herself has said she subsidized parking in both parking lots.