12th 06 - 2008 | 16 comments »

Our Backstreets #20: Corruption on Steroids

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

It was my sincere desire to write a review of a wonderful film I saw the other day and post it today. Unfortunately, local events that perhaps have global implications have my mind spinning in a murderously angry haze. I will lay the facts of the case down for you and ask you to consider what your role as an active citizen of the United States and the world will be at this crucial time in history. Sorry for getting political on you. Please ignore if you turn to this site just for fun.

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As most of you know, I live in the Chicago area. I was born here, in the now burned-out ghetto of Lawndale, on the city’s Near West Side. I was raised in a near north suburb, but moved back to the city to attend college. I lived in the city as an adult for 22 years. Currently, I work in an area called Streeterville, walking distance from the #1 tourist attraction in the city, Navy Pier. Upon this pier rests the Chicago Children’s Museum, by all accounts, a very needed and successful institution for visitors and residents alike.

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Over the past few months, Mayor Richard M. Daley has expressed his deep desire to move the museum to Grant Park, often called Chicago’s front yard because of its wide-open expanse of public parkland. It would be somewhat analogous to Central Park in New York, but it is not as large and, therefore, all the more precious as a haven from the concrete and steel just to the west.

It’s not only a nice thing to have in our very big city, it’s protected by law. I’ll quote part of an article from the Chicago Reader dated September 14, 2007, and written by Lynn Becker:

Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Advisory Council, jokes that his usual response to citizens concerned about new construction in the park is this: “Well, they’re actually out there building it right now, but thanks for the public input.”

It’s funny, as Homer Simpson would say, because it’s true. Or nearly. O’Neill is lobbying overtime to build a new Chicago Children’s Museum in Grant Park—the same Grant Park that, a century ago, A. Montgomery Ward fought a long, bruising, ultimately successful battle over. Ward was defending the 1836 mandate to keep Chicago’s lakefront public ground, “a common to remain forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstruction whatever.”

The Children’s Museum is but the latest in a long procession of hustles seeking to circumvent that mandate. It’s looking to replace free access to open land with new construction and stiff admission charges, and Bob O’Neill is doing his part to keep those who don’t think it’s a very good idea safely on the sidelines.

I would add that he is doing that on orders from the mayor.

I won’t go into all of the criminal, unethical, and outrageous things the mayor and his lap dogs in the City Council have said and done to ensure that the city is profitable for the few by being paid for by the many. His favorite way of doing this is through misuse of a law setting up tax-increment financing (TIF) districts to help blighted areas make improvements. If you read any of the long-running series of articles on these legal slush funds reported on brilliantly by Ben Joravsky in the Reader, you’ll see how it works—ridiculously, a TIF has been set up in the city’s financial district, hardly blighted with anything but the greedy and ethically vacant. The mayor’s latest big dream is to bring the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago, lying about not using public funds to help pay for it, even while he allows our formerly wonderful public transit system to fall into ruin and our schools to go further into a pit of despair we didn’t think could get any deeper.

It appears that the Children’s Museum move is simply a ploy to break the back of the law to open the lakefront to development, with its first objective being to allow for restaurants and concessions for the Olympics. From the Division Street/NBC5 Chicago blog:

“Opponents are also criticizing a provision of the museum’s secret agreement with the park district that allows them to transfer their 99-year lease to another private corporation without any oversight from the City Council. That agreement between the museum and Park District Superintendent Tim Mitchell allows the museum to transfer the building with only the Chicago Park District’s approval:

“CCM may not, without the prior written consent of CPD, which may be withheld or conditioned in the sole discretion of CPD, assign all or any rights under the Use Agreement, provided that CPD’s approval shall not be unreasonably withheld, conditioned or delayed if the proposed assignee intends to continue to operate the project as a children’s museum.”

Navy Pier is the museum’s third home in as many decades, and the museum still hasn’t paid off loans for construction at Navy Pier issued in 1994. Opponents also argue that the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, with one million visitors per year, is four times larger than the proposed Chicago museum, yet CCM officials hope to reach one million visitors in the near future. That makes it likely that CCM will have to abandon its Grant Park location long before their 99-year lease runs out.

“The Chicago Children’s Museum is already in its third home in as many decades, and it’s clear they’re already making plans to move out of this building before it’s even built,” said Figiel. “The inclusion of a liquor license in their zoning application means that this could be a 100,000 square foot restaurant and mini-mall just in time for the 2016 Olympics.”

Why should you care

I’d like to think you should care because you like me and trust my judgment. No, seriously, you should care because this situation is all about good government and bleeds over into our presidential election.

As we all know, Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, campaigning on a platform of change. I know some people fervently believe he will be a breath of fresh air, a break from business as usual in that dirty game of politics. I want you to think about it. Change. What does it look like?

Does it look like a politican endorsing the people who are behind the Children’s Museum land grab, who are trying to break the law? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Barack Obama did. From the Reader:

I’m not surprised that Senator Barack Obama endorsed Mayor Daley’s reelection. We’re used to the sight of erstwhile reformers scrambling to board the mayor’s gravy train before it leaves the station.

“Even [Daley’s] detractors acknowledge that the city has been well-managed and has performed in all respects in ways that are the envy of a lot of other cities across the country,” Obama said at his press conference with the mayor yesterday.

Well managed? Daley’s public transportation system is literally falling apart even as it squanders millions on projects it doesn’t need and, in the case of the express lines to O’Hare and Midway, may never even use. Property taxes are skyrocketing as the city plays games of deception with its off-the-books TIF program. Just about every significant public works project—from the O’Hare expansion to the construction of Millennium Park to the Brown Line renovation—has come in late and overbudget.

Mr. Obama also endorsed the entire Regular Democratic Party ticket, which included some people with ethics problems and the incompetent legacy candidate Todd Stroger, who took his father’s place on the ballot after the elder Stroger had a stroke whose severity the Party kept hidden to keep him on the ticket until deals could be made. Toddler has padded his office with PR flaks and high-priced jobs delivered to people he knows in what has been mockingly referred to as the Friends and Family Plan.

barack-is-hope.jpgNow people will say that Obama had little option, that this is what Illinois politicians must do to have a career. But if Obama really is a reformer, is really about change, why wouldn’t he help out the long-suffering residents of Chicago and Cook County. Don’t be fooled by reports that Mayor Daley got 75% of the vote in his latest election—only 20% of eligible voters cast ballots. Everyone else has become too jaded. We don’t believe in the hope that is plastered on Mr. Obama’s attractive, heroic postcards. I’m not asking you all to vote for Mr. McCain. I’m not endorsing anyone for president. What I am asking you all to do is to GET INVOLVED after the election. Hold Mr. Obama—should he be elected—to his promises for change. Do the same of all your elected officials in Congress who are needed to make change. l

If you want to help Chicagoans preserve their public lands, go to Save Grant Park and contribute to the legal defense fund for the lawsuit the organization has filed against the city.


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