CN June 21 2018


President Trump wants to combine the Departments of Labor and Education. Governor Rauner wants to end “fair share” payments by workers in union shops who share in the benefits from organized labor but don’t join the union. These workers are required by law to make a “fair share” payment (negotiated between the union and management) to compensate the union for its service.

The fair-share attack, in the form of a suit, Janus v AFSCME, currently before the Supreme Court, could deal a near death-blow to public-sector unions. The federal merger’s impact is less clear.

But it isn’t a positive move, according the the University of Illinois’ Bob Bruno.

“My perspective is it’s an absurd idea,” he begins. “These are two distinct departments with two very focused and different agendas, and any attempt really to merge them I think it just hides the intent to shrink the size of government. The two units aren’t going to be stronger as one. It’s going to weaken really their capacity to invest in children’s education and also protect workers’ changing labor market, changing work places, so this is a terrible idea and the intent I’m sure is simply to further shrink government services.”

“One has to look at what is the agenda behind the scenes here,”  adds AFSCME’s Anders Lindall. “Where did this come from? What’s been publicly reported is that this file is a blueprint laid out by the right-wing corporate-funded Heritage Foundation, and…it’s the same powerful wealthy corporate interests who are behind the Janus case are also behind trying to gut our health and education and workforce protections.

The Supreme Court, which is expected to rule at any time on Janus, is widely thought to be hostile to AFSCME in this case and favorable – at least in its majority – toward Janus. “Fair share” has been in place since a SCOTUS ruling 40 years ago and there haven’t been any widespread arguments against the concept until now. We ask if there may be a surprise in the making. That perhaps Justice Roberts, with his widely-know appreciation for precedent – might not wish to upset this apple-cart.

Bruno, who wrote recently about this in the Tribune, says he asked the same thing.  “Aren’t these originalists? Aren’t these folks who have made a career out of saying judicial activism is a bad thing, right? Here you have 40 years of a case. There is not a legal record of how this is a problem. It doesn’t exist, right? We are talking minimally 5-million, 6-million workers, thousands of contracts, at least 23 states, and the court is simply going to jump in here, overrule the precedent and is going to wipe out 23 state collective bargaining laws impacting millions of workers, thousands of contracts without a legal record of harm. That seems to me like judicial activism. So how can you be acting principally if he has to overturn? How can Neil Gorsuch be acting? How can Clarence Thomas be acting principally? It’s because they’re not making a legal argument. This is a political assault on organized labor,” he asserts.

“It is Bruce Rauner who brought this case,” adds Lindall. “It is Bruce Rauner who became Governor for no greater purpose than to wipe out the labor movement in Illinois, starting with the public service unions, AFSCME, the service employees and the teachers. And you know if there has been an advantage to that it is that all of our members have been deeply engaged in the last 3, 4, or 5 years in these existential fights to protect their jobs from being outsourced for private profit, to protect their affordable healthcare from Rauner trying to double their premiums overnight, taking $10,000 out of their pocket.

Rauner, says Lindall, attacked Fair Share from his earliest days. “He said, “I am not going to honor fair share agreements,” and that was all about trying to drain the resources from the union. That backfired on him. 2,000 state employees came to the union and said, “This guy doesn’t speak for us,” and they signed a union contract.”

We’re all aware of the fact that, while we’re at “full employment” in the US, a condition in which there are theoretically more open jobs than people seeking them, salaries have not been rising. Bruno says that’s due in part to the fact that workers have been less and less able to act collectively. “You’re not going to be able to be an at-will employee and negotiate better working conditions,” he explains. “You are going to need the group, so it’s in your self-interest to understand that your power is collectively – it’s collectively organized. In fact, if you want any real evidence of that, the oral arguments, the Janus case, it was very clear that the conservative justices were fine. If Anders wants to walk into Ken, and you are in the employer and he wants to negotiate his pay, that’s fine, you can do that, and that’s not a First Amendment infringement. But if Anders takes me in there and I take another ten people, wait a minute now. All of a sudden now it’s a First Amendment infringement. Well the whole point of that is collectively workers have voice. Singly they have none. Isn’t that a Joe Hill song or something?”

Lindall adds that State workers already have evidence of the effectiveness of collective bargaining, because they’ve experienced its power recently. “I think it’s clear that AFSCME members, they recognize that if it hadn’t been for the Union to litigate it all the way to the State Supreme Court, their pension would have been cut,” he claims.

We turn to speculation about what happens after Janus (which happens to be the title of Bruno’s recent report.) “This is certainly not a scenario that labor wanted to be in. But, there is this opportunity to go back deep inside your own membership to remind one another what it means when we act collectively, why we need each other, more so now than ever before. So unions like AFSCME and the teacher unions – they have begun a deep dive into their membership, one on one conversations, contacting people. And yes, our study suggests one would expect that there will be some defection. There will be some reduction.

But maybe what ends up happening is for a short period of time, and these things are always cyclical right, and we’re not sure how this is all going to play out years down the road, but maybe you end up with a drop in membership. But what if the members you have now are all activists?”

Watch the show by clicking the image above.

Listen to the show here on SoundCloud.

Read a full transcript of the show here: CN transcript June 21 2018

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CN June 14 2018


Two separate discussions today with authors of two huge investigative series.

Part 1

We begin with Juan Perez, Jr and Jennifer Smith Richards. Juan’s the education reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Jennifer’s a Tribune investigative data reporter. Together with about 20 of their colleagues, they reported the new series “Betrayed” over the last couple of weeks.

Their work outlines, in great detail, ten years of sexual abuse inflicted on students at CPS, much of it at the hands of teachers, coaches and other school staffers.

In this conversation, Perez, Jr and Smith Richards discuss the fact that CPS has internally investigated hundreds of cases of sexual abuse of juveniles committed by adult employees in school buildings since 2011. And the Board’s own law department often stands against the victims since  CPS attorneys will interview victims, and then later, if the student files suit, use some of those same statements against the student when defending CPS. They tell us that it is not illegal in Illinois for a teacher to have sexual contact with a student when the student is 18 or older, and that CPS doesn’t always notify subsequent employers that an individual was involved in sexual misconduct while employed at CPS.

They also recount their stories of some of the worst offenders, including a track coach and a choir director who were later convicted of raping students at their homes and, in some cases, in classrooms at their schools.

Read the Tribune coverage here.


Part 2 (beginning at 29:00)

In the second part of today’s show, we talk with he BGA’s  Alejandra Cancino, who, along with WBEZ’s Odette Yousef, reported on the shocking neglect of elevators in all of the CHA’s high-rise buildings. Most of those buildings serve elderly residents, many of whom are in ill health.

Their findings revealed that the CHA could produce no evidence that any of its 150 elevators were inspected at all during 2016, that elevator mechanical systems in buildings constructed in the 1950s had never been overhauled or modernized, and that the Chicago Fire Department was dispatched nearly 700 times to CHA buildings in the past four years to rescue residents from stuck elevators.  In one building, the management was so frustrated by the situation that they shut off one especially unreliable elevator on weekends to avoid trapping tenants.

Read the BGA/WBEZ reports here.

Watch Chicago Newsroom by clicking the image above.

or listen to it here on SoundCloud.



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CN June 7 2018


Dr. Willie Wilson wants an elected school board for Chicago.  But his vision for management of the police department is so unconventional that it doesn’t adhere to any of the four current proposals before the City Council. If elected Mayor, Wilson would split the police department into four entities, each with its own superintendent, all of whom would report to him.

Wilson is highly critical of Mayor Emanuel, who he accuses of handing out contracts and opportunities to his friends and associates while ignoring minority communities. Wilson says he’d re-open the 50 schools Emanuel closed in 2013, converting them into training centers for the trades. He tells us that he sees no need for new taxes, including the graduated income tax, because the budgets can be balanced with existing revenue. He says he approves of ex-governor Pat Quinn’s petition drive to term-limit the Mayor’s office, and says he’d be happy to circulate petitions for Quinn. He pledged that he’d limit himself to two terms if elected.

He stops short of a full endorsement of Bruce Rauner, for whom he now works as a member of a panel reviewing minority contracting. But he says “I’m supporting who is doing things for the people in the community.” And, he adds, “We’ve got a good relationship with him. The other candidate, J. B., I reached out to talk to him last year. He never did call me and never did talk. We give the same options to him.”

Willie Wilson is our guest this week, as we attempt to hold conversations with all of the formally announced candidates in the February 26 mayoral election.

You can watch the show by clicking the image above.

You can listen to the audio-only version here: 

You can read a full transcript of the discussion here: CN transcript June 7 2018




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CN May 31 2018


We’re joined this week by Lauren FitzPatrick, education reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, and Sarah Karp, education reporter at WBEZ. They discuss yesterday’s announcement by Mayor Emanuel that he intends to bring four-year pre-K classes to every CPS elementary school in the next several years, and the free pre-K that already exists at Oscar Mayer school, which serves some of Chicago’s wealthiest residents. They also discuss the recent report by the University of Chicago on the aftermath of CPS’ closure of almost 50 elementary schools in 2013. The report concludes that the process “caused large disruptions without clear benefits for students.” Lauren FitzPatrick brings us up-to-date on her report about filthy conditions in the schools since the hiring of two private contractors, and Sarah Karp explains her ongoing reporting about cuts in Special Education, a story that resulted in the state taking control over the management of the program.

You can watch the program by clicking on the image above.

You can listen to the audio of this show here on SoundCloud

and you can read a full transcript of the show here. CN transcript May 31 2018


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CN May 24 2018

A City Council meeting attracts about a hundred off-duty police officers and  more than a hundred anti-police protesters for one of the most raucous meetings in recent memory. They manage to approve the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, but the news accounts all note that there was a “no” vote. It came from first-term Alderman David Moore. The Mayor, according to the Daily Line’s Managing Editor Heather Cherone, wasn’t amused.

When Emanuel called president Obama, “The Mayor said it was 47 to 1,” Cherone tells us. “And apparently the former President responded, ‘Well who was that one?’…That one vote is going to stick in the Mayor’s craw for a little while, and again, David Moore was consistent. The Obama Center will need somewhere in the neighborhood of $175-million in taxpayer money to move several roads to make the plan possible. And Alderman Moore’s point was, “Where is that money coming from? Am I going to have to give up road resurfacing or infrastructure projects in my Ward so that we can pay for this? And if that’s what the trade-off is I vote no’”.

“And we should note that the City Council’s approval is sort of the first hurdle that the Center had to get over,” she adds. “It still has to undergo a federal review because the park is on the National Historic Landmarks list, and also there is already a lawsuit that is seeking to stop it. So it’s sort of the end of the beginning, I think, as one of the aldermen said yesterday.”

Governor Rauner did something very confusing earlier this week. The Legislature passed a bill calling for a 72-hour “cooling off” period before the purchase of “assault” weapons.  But Governor Rauner, using his amendatory veto, essentially re-wrote the bill, extending the waiting period to all firearms purchases, but also adding a reinstatement of the death penalty. It seemed not to please anybody. “I think the Governor is trying to heal a rift with the conservative Republicans in his party that don’t like his votes to broaden abortion rights, and at the same time put the Democrats in some sort of trick box, but I don’t think he expects that legislation to pass,” explains Hal Dardick, (recently appointed) investigative reporter with the Chicago Tribune. “His calculation I think is that to reinstate the death penalty for a police officer, people that shoot and kill police officers or that commit mass murders is that that will appeal to the base, and that he doesn’t have to worry about the 72-hour thing passing because the whole package is sort of dead on arrival for any number of reasons. So he’s made his political statement and let’s move on.”

“For most of this year the debate about guns in Springfield has been about licensing gun stores,” adds WBEZ’s state politics reporter Tony Arnold, “which hasn’t really been much of a discussion outside of anywhere but Illinois, and it’s been really pushed hard by the Mayor and the police superintendent, and it’s been adjusted a few times in Springfield. They have a few more Republicans than they had before, but it’s not clear if it has the Governor’s support still. And so this could be a way for Rauner to be, rather than waiting to see what the legislature sends him in terms of legislation of public safety, this is his way of trying to take control, or at least address some other policy besides just what is handed to him.”

We also note that a recent meeting in Springfield, the Governor’s  policy chief admitted that the Governor might be willing to sign a bill that didn’t include the death penalty measure, but a press person almost immediately  disputed that claim.

When the Council turned to voting for partial funding of the Mayor’s proposed police training facility in West Garfield Park, two aldermen jumped ship, calling for a deferral of the matter to the next meeting. The Latino caucus denied that it had anything to do with that vote, but the group expelled one of the Aldermen, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, the same day.

“I mean it’s unprecedented for a caucus to expel a member,” Cherone explains. “And (Chairman) Villegas told me that it was not related to the police academy issue, but that Alderman Ramirez-Rosa just did not attend the caucus meetings. The other members of the caucus were putting 100% in and he wasn’t, and that was why this move was made. They will meet again next month in a caucus, and Alderman Villegas said that they will give Alderman Ramirez-Rosa a chance to address the caucus.”

The training facility is emerging as one of the most contentious issues facing the mayor right now. Almost every alderman wants it, but there’s stiff community opposition from protesters who insist that the money should be spent on projects that directly benefit impoverished neighborhoods.

“It goes back to the 2016 investigation of the Police Department by the Obama Justice Department that found that police officers were essentially leaving the training academy ill-equipped and unprepared to constitutionally police,” Cherone points out. “And part of the problem was that the current training facility is near Whitney Young High School on the near west side and it is essentially falling apart. So one of the recommendations in that report was for the City to build a new training facility. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “Yep, we’re going to do that.”

Tony Arnold brings us up-to-date on the remarkable serial tragedy at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy. WBEZ reported that a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak occurred in 2015, killing 13 residents. One, they reported earlier this month, was Delores French. “She was living at the Veteran’s home in an independent living building and her husband who needed more care was in a separate building, so she was healthy other than the fact that she was deaf,” Arnold explains. “The coroner had found that there was severe decay in her body when she was discovered. In the hearings and the legislative hearings that came out of those initial stories the Director of Veteran’s Affairs ended up saying there’s documentation showing that that is not true. We asked to see that documentation and were told ‘no’, so the family of Delores French asked to see the documentation. They said, “Okay, but give us $100.” So they took the documentation and gave it to my colleague Dave McKinney who ended up writing that story saying that it turns out that there is documentation that shows that they visited Delores French’s room but she wasn’t there. It’s just that that was written after the body was found. And so the rules say that there needs to be record-keeping in this environment up-to-date, not written after the fact.”

In fact, WBEZ’s reporting has resulted in several laws being written or modified to address the tragedy.

You can watch Tony Arnold elaborate on the entire legislative initiative by clicking the link above.

You can listen to the program on Soundcloud.

And you can read a full transcript of the conversation here: CN transcript May 24 2018




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CN May 17 2018

Paul Vallas visits Chicago Newsroom this week to talk about his candidacy for Mayor.

He begins by arguing the the police force needs to be expanded to about 14,000 officers, of whom 1200 are detectives.

“And when the police don’t have enough resources, Vallas asserts, “when you have gutted your Detectives Division, literally almost cut it in half, when you have allowed through attrition the supervisory infrastructure to significantly deteriorate…when police officers don’t have working radios and working cameras, when we have waited six years to start putting tasers into hands of our police officers, and we had like 700 tasers I think six or seven years ago, where New York City had 15,000. So you know, the police when faced with the possibility of having to use their weapons doesn’t have an alternative to the use of lethal force…That has contributed, I believe that has contributed to the escalating crime rate, the increase in murders over the past few years, particularly the increase in carjackings.”

Vallas has a long list of grievances against Mayor Emanuel. He begins by repeating his criticism that the Mayor waited too long to start making significant structural changes.

“You know,” he explains, “if it’s year three and you’re gearing up to run next year you might have an excuse, but it’s year seven now. We are now entering year eight, and for the first term Emanuel made none of the tough financial decisions. He didn’t go to the legislature to get equity funding for Chicago teachers, which is costing taxpayers about I would say $250-million a year. He got it in 2017.”

But he also concedes that Mayor Daley didn’t do anything about the financial restructuring either.

“I mean Pat Quinn was governor,” he reminds us. “You had an elected Democratic governor. You had almost a veto-proof house and Senate. Daley could have gotten it in 2010. Rahm Emanuel could have gotten it in 2011. He pushed for another pension holiday in 2013…but at the end of the day he could have taken action. Secondly, he made none of the tough decisions on the tax and fee increases, decisions that were deferred until the next term.”

Vallas acknowledges that the City will need to enter into a consent decree to reform the police  department. But he says he’s not on board with civilian control.

“Look,” he says. “there’s going to be a consent decree that we’re going to have to implement, and there’s going to be some, whatever the compromise is on civilian oversight, there’s going to be some civilian representation on police oversight. I don’t support civilian control. I support civilian representation, because they’ve got to have some transparency.”

An important finding of the Police Accountability Task Force was the critical need for improvements to the CPD training program. Mayor Emanuel has proposed a $95 million training academy on the west side, something that has been vigorously opposed by community groups. Vallas, though, supports it.

“Yeah,” he affirms. “I support it and I think it should be located on the west side… My question about the Academy is whether or not the footprint is large enough because you need a rifle range. You need a driving range. You need an area where they can do physical education so that you’re not cordoning off the streets as the police officers are doing their PT, their physical training up and down the streets. My question is more about whether or not the site is adequate to provide for a modern police training center that is not going to be obsolete the day it opens and that’s my concern.”

Paul Vallas has long been associated with the introduction of charter schools during his tenure at CPS, but he tells us that they were limited in his time.

“When I left we had 558 schools and 15 charter schools,” he asserts. “Today they have 120 charter schools, so you know, we did charter schools as an alternative, but we didn’t close schools. We didn’t need to close schools in the process because our enrollment grew by 30,000 during that period. It’s the only period in the last 30 years that enrollment actually grew, so we got considerably more state funding because our enrollment was growing. And we didn’t open charter schools right next to thriving traditional public schools, so there was a balance. You know I’ll let the people who succeeded me defend themselves and defend their records.”

We dive into some history and discuss Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010, a program initiated with then-Superintendent Arne Duncan that envisioned the creation of scores of new charters and other initiatives.

“It didn’t work,” he claims. “It didn’t work, because let me tell you, for two reasons, one is they created overcapacity. And incidentally, that was announced like two years after I was gone…What they also did was they shut down schools and they dispatched the kids from those existing schools to other communities. I think that destabilized the schools and that destabilized the communities so that they could open then these new schools as kind of these freestanding charter schools. And I think that was not a good strategy, and I  believe it hurt the school system.”

He also had some choice words for Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close fifty schools during his first term.

“Look, even the strategy of closing 50 schools, you know if you are going to close a school you should never close a school that’s performing,” he insists. “You should find a way to get more kids into that performing school even if you bus them or whatever. And if you’re going to close a school then have a plan to repurpose the building. You know there are huge numbers of individuals aged 17 to 40 – dropouts, chronically unemployed, ex-offenders, etc., some of these numbers outnumber the number of students in those neighborhood high schools. You could easily repurpose those buildings and convert them into adult ed and occupational training centers, so have a strategy.”

You can watch the show by clicking the image above.

You can listen to the audio on SoundCloud here

You can read a full transcript of the conversation here: CN transcript May 17 2018

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CN May 10 2018

Scott Pruitt, upon assuming command of the EPA, apparently didn’t consider asking Cameron Davis to stay on. Davis had served nearly eight years as President Obama’s point person on Great Lakes issues, including coordinating the compact between the eight Great Lakes bordering states and the Lakes provinces of Canada. It was an agreement to preserve, protect and restore the greatest fresh-water resource on Planet Earth. But the new president attempted to de-fund it.

“We hear code words for how things should be like cooperative federalism,” Davis explains. That might sound kind of nice. Well cooperation is good, but what it essentially means is let’s push the obligation back to municipalities like the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, like the City of Chicago, like Cook County and the States. But the environment doesn’t really respect those jurisdictions does it?”

Davis proudly proclaims that the reduction or removal of deadly chemicals from the Great Lakes is well under way.

“I think in some ways the reduction in our toxic burden to the Great Lakes is one of our emerging success stories,” he asserts. “Over time we have reduced some of the toughest toxics out there like PCBs, sometimes by banning them, sometimes by regulating them very stiffly, but either way, for the most part we’ve seen toxic levels go down. Where we have work to do is on emerging contaminants, things like PBDEs, which are flame-retardants. We are seeing this new generation of contaminants show up in the Great Lakes and flame-retardants are built into furniture, they can be built into clothing and things like that, and those escape and get out there.”

But the newest threat, Davis explains, is tiny plastic fibers, sometimes called mirofibers, which seem to be everywhere in our water, including our drinking water.

“Yeah, so what we wear, we are wearing – fleece these days and nylon-based clothing. Whenever you do the wash that stuff doesn’t dissolve, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller bits… Just like you may see plastic bottles along the lakefront or in a river or something like that on a very microscopic scale this is the same issue. The plastics that we use in life don’t really break down for a long long time, they just go somewhere else…what goes on out there in the lakes and in our rivers is often a function of what we do on the land and how we live our lives.”

No longer a federal official, Cameron Davis has set his sights on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. He ran for, and won, a nomination to a Board seat in the election last March. Caused by the unforeseen death of a board member, the hurried election had to be conducted a s a write-in. Using skillful social media and some clever commercials, Davis and his friends convinced 54,183 people to write in his name.

“So the vote that just happened was for the primary and I’ve been certified by the County Clerk’s office now as the Democratic nominee for November, so I’m running in November. That’s the mission and I’m heading straight for it,” he exclaims.

There is an interesting wrinkle, however, because after a months-long delay Governor Rauner exercised his right to appoint an ally to the seat at almost the same time. So it isn’t clear if there actually will be a vacancy in November for Davis to fill.

He says that doesn’t faze him, however, because he beleives the MWRD is a critical institution. “MWRD is one of the, as other people have said least known most important agencies we have in this region,” Davis claims. “I actually think it’s one of the most important municipal water agencies anywhere in the world. It’s got a budget of 1.3-billion, which is maybe a fifth of what the entire USEPA budget is on an annual basis just for the Chicago metro region.”

Listen to the show in your earbuds at SoundCloud here.

Read the full transcript of this show here: CN transcript May 10 2018


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CN May 3 2018

There’s a new biking option in town, and unlike Divvy it doesn’t use the familiar docks. After a lengthy process, the City decided on a pilot service area for the bikes (roughly everything south of 79th except the South Chicago community) and has green-lighted several companies to provide the bikes. Service began a few days ago.

Deloris Lucas, a transportation activist with We Keep You Rollin’ Chicago, tells us this is a big deal for Chicago’s south side, although “dockless” biking is still very new and there could be a number of kinks to be worked out in the coming months.

Dockless biking (DoBi) uses a smartphone app to locate  the bike nearest you, and, linking to your credit card, it unlocks the bike for you and tracks your usage. When you’re finished you can lock the bike to an approved  public fixture such as a bike rack, city lamppost or the like – and be on your way.

Transportation writer and advocate for transportation equity John Greenfield tells us that there’s room in Chicago for both docked and dockless bikes, and that at the same time Chicago is also making plans for a car-sharing program in a zone from Foster to Cermak, from the lake to about Central Park.  The car-share program would be similar to dockless bikes in that the vehicles wouldn’t have a “home base.” Customers would find a car through an app, use the app to remotely unlock it and drive away. The car could be dropped off in any legal parking spot in the service area, making the cars incredibly easy to use.

A number of aldermen have voiced opposition to car share though, claiming that they’d rob citizens of valued parking spots. So the roll-out will be more limited than the City had originally hoped.

Also on today’s show we discuss the chronically-delayed construction of the Navy Pier Flyover, an elaborate bridge designed to lift cyclists and pedestrians above the traffic at Lower Michigan and Illinois streets, across the Chicago River and Ogden Slip, and to rejoin the bike path near Wacker Drive. Fuinding issues, construction delays and newly-acknowledged issues with the Lakeshore Drive bridge will cost months more in delays, so the most optimistic completion date is now 2020.

You can watch the show by clicking the image above.

Or you can listen to the audio on SoundCloud here:


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CN April 26 2017

If you live in Chicago, in a building that was built before 1986, it’s almost certain that you’re connected into the city water system with a lead “service pipe”. That’s the individual pipe, made entirely of lead, that snakes underground into your basement where it connects into your building’s plumbing system.

For years, the City has confidently told its residents that there’s no danger of lead migrating into the drinking water. How did they know? because they measured lead in fifty samples drawn once every three years. Does that sound unreasonable? What if you also knew that the samples were taken at the homes of water department employees and former employees? Does that make it should like a somewhat less than rigorous scientific study of an entire city?

Michael Hawthorne’s been writing about lead and city water for a long time at the Chicago Tribune, but his most recent revelation is perhaps the most disturbing of all.

He and co-author Cecilia Reyes were curious about an offer the City made a while back to provide free lead testing at any home where the owner requested it. Turns out, 2,797 households took up the offer. When the Tribune researched the results, they found that at least one home in every one of Chicago’s 77 community areas had a water supply that was bringing out-of-compliance lead levels in with the drinking water. Worse still, thirty percent of the homes tested had lead levels higher than is allowed for bottled drinking water.

Michael Hawthorne is our guest this week. We think you’ll find the descriptions of his research unsettling, especially the part about how so much of this elevated lead was apparently brought about by the city itself with questionable practices as it tries to rectify yet another infrastructure issue – the replacement of failing, leaky water mains.

You can watch the show by clicking the image above.

You can listen to the audio of this show on SoundCloud here.

Read the full transcript of this show HERE: CN transcript April 26 2018

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CN April 19 2018


The Chicago Reader’s Maya Dukmasova joins us today. Maya covers housing and criminal justice. She recently produced a fascinating report about a lawsuit being brought by a developer that could, if it proceeds, challenge the age-old tradition in the city council of  “aldermanic prerogative.”  In short, this tradition holds that any alderman can support, or reject, any development in his or her ward, and all the other alderpeople will support the prerogative.

Thant kinda came apart in the 41st Ward when Alderman Anthony Napolitano had supported a large-scale, 300-unit apartment tower near Cumberland and Higgins. Until he didn’t. Why he changed his mind is a fascinating story, and it’s closely tied to a very different high density building proposed for Northwest Highway just south of Foster in John Arena’s 45th Ward. Arena supports it, but Napolitano didn’t like it and he helped lead the opposition to the building, ignoring Arena’s aldermanic prerogative.

“He kind of meddled in a neighboring ward,” Dukmasova explains. “A lot of people thought for political purposes, because Napolitano is Chicago’s only Republican Alderman…whereas John Arena is this self-styled progressive. He wasn’t bound to the pressure of the people were against the building.”

Months later, Napolitano, after it had been revealed that the 41st Ward building would include as many as 30 affordable-rate apartments, appeared before the zoning committee to withdraw his support. His objection was that the building had too much density. The board complied. The developer sued.

The developer is arguing that, since there’s no legal procedure for these kids of arrangements, and since the decision to withhold zoning was made in secret, it violated the Open Meetings Act.

So is it possible that the developer’s suit could end one of the strongest informal traditions in the City Council, forcing Aldermen to reach zoning and planning decisions in the light of day?

Dukmasova doesn’t think so. She tells us that the City will probably find a way to settle with GlenStar, the developer, and agree to give the company all the hearings and process it seeks, ending the dispute (and saving the Prerogative.)

“GlenStar’s argument in their complaint is that, either aldermanic prerogative is a thing, and we honor this custom, and this is how it works, you can’t flip flop. If your saying you’re for it, you’re for it” says Dukmasova, “Or, it has to be declared unlawful, because it’s just this arbitrary thing that doesn’t follow any kind of rules or guidelines.”

Dukmasova also tells us about story she recently wrote about Atrium Village at Wells and Division. Built in 1979 as a private affordable housing development, it is in the process of being redeveloped. The idea has been that several luxury towers would be built in the parcel, with the affordable housing units interspersed throughout the development. Recently, though, the developers announced that all of the affordable units would be concentrated in the old building, and that people living in the old building would have no access to amenities, such as pools, gyms, etc.

Dukmasova quotes one of the affordable-unit tenants as saying “the developer said that having people from the mid-rise use amenities in the luxury buildings would create a situation in which they wouldn’t be able to have enough eyes or enough people supervising these tenants.”

We also discuss the total rehabilitation that’s under way now at Lathrop Homes at Clybourn and Diversey, and how the promise that all of the public housing units lost during the redevelopment would be replaced, is yet to be fulfilled.

Finally, we talk about Mayor Emanuel’s decision to build a massive, $95 million training academy on Chicago’s far west side. Dukmosava has profiled the young activists who’ve been organizing against the project, arguing that placing hundreds of officers in the middle of an impoverished community could induce unnecessary friction, and that the academy could be built for far less money in a smaller footprint on property the city already owns.

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