CN November 2 2017

Jessica Droeger and Jeff Radue join us this week. They’re both organizers with Indivisible Chicago, a group that was formed as part of the national mobilization against the Trump presidency.

We discuss a wide range of issues, but our main focus is CrossCheck, the national effort promoted by the White House to identify specifics of voter fraud across the country. Donald Trump claimed after his election that he had, in fact, won the popular vote despite official tallies showing him millions of votes behind Hilary Clinton. But his unsubstantiated claim that he was victimized by millions of fraudulent votes led to his major effort to identify a variety of illegal voting practices, a campaign his critics claim is a thinly-veiled attempt to suppress opposition voting.

“We started our activism with regards to CrossCheck following the letter from Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, who was also the vice chair of the Commission of Election Integrity, Radue tells us. “He issued a letter to all 50 states asking that they all submit their voter registration information in their entirety to the Commission for statistical analysis and review and public dissemination. And this was something that troubled our team almost immediately.”

“I mean he has been in the voter suppression business for a long time,” Droeger adds. “He also helped write the Show Me Your Papers law in Arizona where anybody who looked like they might be illegal could be asked for their papers, which smacks of authoritarian regimes, and that was before Trump was even President…So as soon as Trump won Kobach ran immediately to Trump Tower and met with him and told him all this stuff about how there were illegals voting, and right after that is when Trump tweeted about his actual win of the popular vote. And Kobach, we found out recently he tried to hide these documents, but he has been trying to amend the National Voter Registration Act to allow states to require passports or other proofs of citizenship in order for people to register to vote. And that’s something he’s denied, but some courts released the documents, so he’s been in this for a long time and CrossCheck has just been part of it that he’s trying to hold up as an example of what we could do nationally, which is problematic, because as we can tell you it’s a really bad program.”

CrossCheck is plagued with digital security issues, they tell us, that have compromised voters’ personal data, such as name, address, birth date, and partial Social Security numbers. And Illinois has been in the program since 2010.

“I think that we’ve seen following the 2016 election hacking email servers, hacking voter registration servers isn’t out of the realm of possibility for folks that have the tools and the skillset to be able to do something like that, Radue explains. “And the Illinois election officials and CrossCheck election officials have not been using best business practices to protect our voter registration information.”

At this point, Indivisible Chicago is trying to  organize to stop Illinois from sending another batch of data on January 15. “Where we are now is pushing more of the legislative pressure angle. We’ve got over 40 members of the state legislature that have either signed on to a letter or issued a letter of their own to the State Board of Elections demanding that they discontinue their partnership in CrossCheck. On Thursday of last week Senator Durbin and Senator Duckworth joined us by issuing a letter to the State Board of Elections laying out their argument quite succinctly and urging the Board to discontinue its partnership. We’ve had Congressman Gutierrez, Congresswoman Schakowsky join us, and Congressman Quigley has issued a statement on this as well. So we’re working to put pressure on them through our legislators.”

There are now several thousand active Indivisible organizations around the United States similar to the Chicago chapter. Both Droeger and Radue tell us they’d never been politically involved before, and they are really pleased with their new-found activism. But they acknowledge the irony of the role Donald Trump played in triggering it.

“So there’s an argument that can be made,” Radue says, “that the Trump election is the greatest thing that could have happened to the Democratic Party and to social activism in our country. There was this revitalization that happened. Certainly if Hillary Clinton had been elected I don’t think that you would have seen a group like Indivisible actually in existence. They wouldn’t be in existence without this dynamic shift in our culture and our politics in this country. So while I’m certainly struggling with the Trump administration and the GOP agenda, I am heartened by the work that we’ve been able to do within our group to take an active role in our country.”

You can listen to the conversation on SoundCloud here.

And you can read a full transcript HERE: CN transcript November 2 2017

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CN October 26 2017


Today on Chicago Newsroom Guest Host Kitty Kurth is joined by two guests who know an awful lot about gun violence and present some interesting and innovative ways to address the scourge that it has become. Kathleen Sances from GPAC Gun Violence Prevention PAC talks about legislation in the Illinois legislature which if enacted would save lives in Chicago, and throughout the State of Illinois. Also joining Kitty is Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe winning songwriter and “artivist” Che Rhymefest Smith, a well-known figure on the Chicago scene, who’s the Creative Director of Donda’s House and who has been working for years trying to prevent all types of violence.

You can listen to this discussion on SoundCloud here.

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CN October 19 2017


Kitty Kurth hosts Chicago Newsroom this week. Kitty talks current affairs with two of her all-time favorite pundits. Guests Sylvia Ewing and Joanna Klonsky cover a wide range of topics from what they provocatively describe as a “non-old white guy perspective”. They tackle the news of the day and also discuss how the media tackles the news. Both guests have long resumes which include political, social, and community activism and organizing in Chicago and beyond.

You can listen to the discussion here on SoundCloud.

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CN October 12 2017


5150 N. Northwest Highway was dealt significant blow this week as Mayor Emanuel refused to grant City tax credits that would have helped the affordable housing development get of the ground.

The 100-unit building that would house seniors, veterans and CHA voucher-holders has been a flash-point of controversy on the Northwest side since its announcement earlier this year. And whether or not the building ever replaces a vacant warehouse structure at the junction of Northwest highway and Milwaukee Avenue, it ignited a dramatic debate in Jefferson Park.


“It’s a chance to activate the gateway to Jefferson Park.,” explains Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran, a representative of Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park, an activist group formed to advocate for the building. “It’s a chance to take space that is otherwise a passthrough and fill it with families and people walking to the transit station at all hours of the day and night, people walking their kids to school, people walking to the school, people driving. You know, it is a way to bring that area otherwise isolated by its history of use and location into the rest of the neighborhood. It’s a great site.”

Many people in the 45th Ward disagree, some strongly. Thousands have signed a petition opposing the structure. There was a loud, contentious meeting in February at a local church that raised objections that were thought by many observers to be racial in nature, along with objections about density.

“I came as somebody who was interested in supporting a project like this,” says organizer Nick Kryczka, “But I and a few other people who were there were vastly outnumbered by those who had come up to show their opposition. And it was that night that that opposition was revealing itself to be really unfriendly in a particular way, like not just to people who were disagreeing with them like I was, but declaring that exclusion should be the policy of the neighborhood. I think the longer arc of the story is that in fact the reality is the reverse, that the vast majority of people who live in Jefferson Park don’t have a problem with the idea of affordable housing in our community.”

The Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jeff Park group was formed primarily as a reaction to that meeting, they tell us, and they’ve begun passing a petition of their own that’s already garnered about a thousand signatures.

“I would say a large percentage of the people whose doors we knock on haven’t heard about this, Gronkiewicz-Doran continues.  “They haven’t heard about this particular building. They haven’t heard about, they are not aware of , the larger affordable housing crisis, but what they are aware of is – my kid got a divorce and had to move back in with me because he can’t afford an apartment in the neighborhood. My elderly parent can’t get up the stairs to her bungalow anymore and she’s going to have to move out to the suburbs. You know this is an issue that touches a lot of people, and when they are able to make the connection between their own circumstances and the greater need for relief people are much more reasonable about it.”

On this week’s show we talk about the fight for affordable housing in Jefferson Park in context with yesterday’s passage in the City Council of  an affordable housing ordinance. It would mandate the construction of “affordable” units within new larger developments in two white-hot real estate markets on the near northwest and near-west sides.  In these areas, gentrification is a major issue for affordable-housing advocates, because they argue that large numbers of poorer tenants and property-owners are being forced out as development changes the faces of these neighborhoods.

And as developers – and city policy – favor the construction of large buildings with one-bedroom or studio apartments, there’s less and less space for families, and that bothers Gronkiewicz-Doran. “We’re going to get a bunch of affordable one bedrooms and studios, which is great, but there’s no incentive for family development and there’s no carrot or stick to encourage family development,” she explains.

So, although the affordable-housing battles in Jefferson Park and, say, the West Loop are very different, Kryczka says it’s time for the Northwest to get in the game.

“Our view is the fight for affordable housing can’t only happen in areas that are already under rapid gentrification, he asserts. “Because you’re really fighting uphill. So in this way when you were describing that general field of the northwest side’s conservative attitudes, like there is a certain part of that conservatism that actually we identify with, which is what we want to conserve is the mixed income stable and affordable character of the neighborhood. So if you go to a typical block in Jefferson Park or Portage Park nowadays you’re going to find a variety of people, a variety of income levels. You’re going to find one-bedroom, two-bedroom apartments and two-flats and courtyard buildings and then bungalows as well. And that character, there’s a stability to that, if you look back over certainly the recent past that has kept rents stable. But we are right now in the midst of this fight against kind of a 20th Century problem which is angry homeowners who don’t want public housing tenants or what have you moving into their neighborhood. It has a very 1966 kind of a tone to it. But, there’s also the 21st Century problem which is the problem of displacement and the problem of rapid gentrification.”

The future of 5150 is unclear, although its prospects are dimmer now than in the past. But  the Neighbors group says it will continue to fight for the building, and for affordable housing in the area. “Our organization is going to hold our alderman and the aldermen of the City who make noises about supporting affordable housing responsible,” declares Gronkiewicz-Doran. “And it’s not just the two of us. Our organization is growing every day. We had over 1,000 signatures on a petition in support of this building. We’ve door-knocked and talked to hundreds of our neighbors who think that our neighborhood needs more affordable housing.”

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

You can read a full transcript of this show here: CN transcript Oct 12 2017

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CN Oct 5 2017 Anders Lindall

An important case you may not have heard of is almost at the front door of the Supreme Court. It’s called Janus v AFSCME, and it could deal a deadly blow to public-service unions across America when it’s heard early next year.

Anders Lindall, the Public Affairs Director at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, tells us when a workplace is organized by a union, the union hopes that every worker will join up and carry a union card. But, because of a Supreme Court ruling 40 years ago, individuals can opt out – although they must share some of the cost.

“Now you don’t have to join the union,” Lindall explains, “but because everybody benefits from the contract then everybody shares in the cost of negotiating and enforcing that contract. Obviously, there’s a cost to have the staff, to have the negotiators, to have the attorneys to litigate. All of that has a cost, and so what fair share is, for anybody that objects to the union, to the union’s political activity on behalf of candidates that support working people, you don’t have to pay that portion of dues. You just pay this pro-rated amount that’s called “fair share”. And what these corporate, wealthy rightwing special interests want to do is wipe out fair share so that individuals could choose not to join the union, get all the benefits but pay nothing for it. It’s really a scheme to drain the union’s resources.

Unions represent almost a third of public-sector workers in America today, but only about six percent of private sector workers. And the two are being increasingly pitted against one another. Since public-sector salaries are funded mostly with tax dollars, politicians are attacking unions for what they see as contracts that command high salaries and offer pensions that often don’t match their private-sector counterparts. But Lindall says he thinks public workers have a high degree of support.

“We are talking about firefighters, caregivers, nurses, teachers,” he asserts. “In our case child protection workers, folks who keep our air and water clean, work in our libraries and so much more. People value those services, and people still believe in that basic bargain of America that not only when you work hard you should be able to sustain a family and get ahead, but that we all do better when we all do better. And I think the folks at the very top are trying to turn us against one another”

In a case similar to Janus two years ago, already being heard at the Supreme Court when Justice Scalia died,  so-called “swing” justice Anthony Kennedy voted with the conservatives. So with Scalia’s death the Court was deadlocked 4-4. In Janus, Neil Gorsuch has joined the Court and will almost certainly vote against the union. So that has led our Governor, Bruce Rauner, who was instrumental in bringing this case, to claim that there’s a 90% chance this case will go his way.

If Janus v AFSCME is successful, it won’t, in and of itself, kill public sector unions. But it will make it possible for anyone to quit the union and receive all the benefits provided by the dues-payers. The interests who brought the suit are confident that over time the dwindling dues will kill the unions and allow legislatures to cut salaries, pensions and benefits. But Lindall says his union and others are ready for the fight, and he believes large numbers of workers will remain in the union as dues-payers anyway.

“Gallup does an annual survey of American attitudes about the labor movement, and those numbers have been on an upward trajectory ever since the great recession,” he claims. “I think it really shook people up and made them realize how deeply insecure too many working people are in this economy. Folks are slipping down the ladder to the middle class, you know, trying to hang on to what they’ve got, unable to get ahead. In this country that’s just not what we were ever raised to believe. You know you should be able to do better than your folks did and your kids should be able to do better than they did, and that’s why two-thirds of Americans today in this most recent Gallup poll just out a couple of months ago say they think that unions are a good thing. Large percentages say that they would join a union if they could. And really interestingly, the younger someone is the higher their approval of the labor movement is.”

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

You can read a full transcript of the show here: CN transcript Oct 5 2017 Anders Lindall


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CN Oct. 5 2017 Dan Mihalopoulos


An hour after we recorded this discussion, everything changed. Then on Friday it changed again, in a big way. After Cook County Commissioner John Daley announced that he was switching sides on the pop tax, other commissioners jumped with him, assuring the “repeal” side that they had the votes to override a veto. So, although the vote is a few days away, it seems certain that the “pop tax” will disappear in December.

Nevertheless, if the debate over this controversial tax weren’t already divisive enough, Sun Times columnist/reporter Dan Mihalopoulos stirred things up on Sunday with the revelation that Commissioner Richard Boykin, who led the anti-tax movement, had been a lobbyist for an industry advocacy group called the Nutrition Association, funded in part by PepsiCo, and that the law firm in which he’s a partner, through its client PepsiCo, had lobbied against the Cook County tax.

On this week’s show, Mihalopoulos lays out the details. “Boykin works for a firm called Barnes & Thornburg,” he explains . “He doesn’t just work for them, he’s a partner. He shares in revenue as a partner, and they have a client called PepsiCo, which I think quite obviously has an interest in this issue. They’ve donated money to Boykin and every other commissioner who is opposed to this tax.” But, he continues, “Also to 16, no less than 16 of the cosponsors of legislation in Springfield that would repeal this tax, and also to a PAC that’s recently been created to oppose this tax, or to support people who oppose this tax and punish people that support the tax.”

And Barnes and Thornberg even played a role in opposing the tax a couple of years ago when the City of Chicago briefly considered a soda tax. “They’ve represented Coca-Cola as well in the last couple of years,” he tells us. “Pepsi also had hired Barnes & Thornburg to lobby for them according to Pepsi, at City Hall when the government of the City of Chicago considered a pop tax, never came to fruition, was rejected ultimately, and we can assume that that’s partly through the lobbying efforts of Barnes & Thornburg and the decisions that the aldermen and the Mayor made ultimately. So, I think it’s fairly simple that he has profited from all of the clients of that firm as a partner, and one of them is Pepsi, and I think it was fair to point that out.”

Boykin appeared on Wednesday night at a live debate at The Hideout,  to make the case for repeal with co-hosts Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky. And he told the First Tuesdays audience how unhappy he was with Mihalopoulos’ column.

“I’ll deal with the Dan Mihalopoulos article,” he told the crowd. “I thought it was a hit job on me, personally. And quite frankly I’ve sent a letter to the firm cuz I don’t want even the hint or appearance of impropriety relative to the firm doing business with PepsiCo, and somehow I’m benefitting financially from it. That was the subject of the article. And somehow Dan stretched it and said, hey, the firm is doing millions of dollars worth of business with, you know, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. The reality of it is – I work at a law firm that has 800 lawyers, 13 offices nationwide. And we’ve done less than $10-thousand worth of business – legal business —  this year, with PepsiCo. And so what I did… I sent a letter to the management committee at the firm and said to them, I don’t want any proceeds as part of my share as a partner from the firm, from PepsiCo or Coca-Cola litigation-related matters’ legal representation.”

On Chicago Newsroom, Mihalopoulos fired back.

“That’s news to me that he would say that he has now asked his company not to share the profits from their work for Pepsi with him. Is he giving back the money that he has made off them? I don’t hear that in those comments that were made.”

And he recoiled from the characterization of his column as a “hit job”.

“If you mean hit job in the sense of what I think hit job means to everyone, he’s saying that somebody paid me to write about him? I get paid my salary. I don’t get more or less, depending on what I write about Boykin or anybody else. So I think that’s a very serious allegation that he’s making that’s completely false and slanderous frankly…Now, he also makes another statement that we said that there were millions of dollars that were paid by these companies to his firm. Did not say that in the piece. Anybody is welcome to read the piece again. Did not say that. In fact, we don’t know how much money his firm made. He didn’t share that information. He says that this year they got paid less than $10,000 by Pepsi. But they’ve represented them for years and years in a variety of cases, and if the amount of money that Pepsi has paid to Barnes & Thornburg to represent them in a number of cases and to lobby for them at City Hall is that minuscule, that would represent one of the deals of the century for Pepsi. But he’s welcome to disclose how much money he has made off of them, but I’m not aware that he is no longer to get funding from them or share in those proceeds, because when I talked to him it was very clear that he’s a partner and he shares in the profits of the firm, and PepsiCo is a client of the firm, and it’s quite simple.”

Whether it was the PepsiCo money, or the outrage of taxpayers, or the persuasive power of Richard Boykin and his colleagues, their side appears to have won this battle, and now President Preckwinkle and the board of Commissioners has to decide how to replace the $200 million they claimed it would raise.

You can listen to this show on SoundCloud here:

And you can read a full transcript here: CN transcript Oct 5 2017 Mihalopoulos




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CN Sep 28 2017

There’s a traditionally-accepted standard that nobody should pay more than 30% of their salary for housing. But more than half of people who rent their housing in Chicago pay more than that.

The number of such “cost-burdened” Chicagoans has risen by seventy-eight percent since 2000.

The number of Chicagoans earning $75,000 plus has risen by more than 100,000 in the same time period.

The population of the “Super-Loop,” the downtown-plus West Loop, River North, South Loop,etc, has grown to 229,000. A few years back, planners estimated – optimistically – that the Super-Loop would expand to about 200,000 — by 2020. The number is escalating wildly.

At the same time, Chicago lost 200,000 people. According to Kevin Jackson, our guest this week, “90% of that was African American. A huge part of that was those families who made $75,000 or more.”

So Chicago, like so many other places, is experiencing a hollowing-out of the middle.

These are just a few of the stark realities identified by Jackson’s Chicago Rehab Network in their latest, just-released report.
That report is timed in synchronicity with the City Council’s most recent attempt to craft an  ordinance that will provide, or encourage, more “affordable” units in Chicago.

But what’s “affordable?”  How do you define it? And can a city like Chicago, which is experiencing dramatic waves of gentrification in certain sectors, balance affordable housing with gentrification? Does the city have an obligation to discourage, or even halt, gentrification?

These issues have deeply divided some aldermen who have to deal with the effects of these forces every day.

Jackson tells us that there’s a sense of urgency among the aldermen whose wards intersect with the hottest zones right now. But there’s significant disagreement about how to proceed. A few weeks ago, there was a push to demand extremely high fees from developers who proposed tearing down single-family homes or small apartment buildings along the 606. But when an ordinance finally passed the Housing Committee on Monday, those provisions hadn’t even been considered. This led to some emotional confrontations between the aldermen who sponsored a more moderate approach  and the aldermen who demanded a stronger response to gentrification but weren’t even consulted as the replacement ordinance was drafted. The City has proposed two pilot programs covering the most rapidly-gentrifying regions that would force developers to build more affordable units – if not in their own buildings then within two miles of them.

“The leadership of the City, of advocates and community organizations recognized that this development pattern is at a pace, hyper inflated was the term, that we are going to see incredible displacement if we don’t do more,” Jackson says. “And so the pilots were an effort to say how can we get more done for affordable housing and capture that growth? That’s the whole concept of this Affordable Requirements Ordinance about how do you include and get a development agenda that has some equity to it, a development agenda for the City that has inclusive strategies recognizing the disparity of incomes and places in the City. How do you do a development plan that works?”

Areas such as the 606 in Humboldt Park and along sections of North Milwaukee Avenue are clearly white-hot real-estate markets, and nearby residents – especially renters – are freaking out about housing they’ve lived in affordably for years suddenly vanishing.

“Latino communities’ folks talk about the constant displacement of these neighborhoods, and the issue that we recognize is with that type of real estate activity people get hurt.,” Jackson tells us. “And that’s what we want to do is how do you get a situation where people have an opportunity, particularly people that we hear across the City talk about having lived in these neighborhoods for so long and they lived there when they were tough and they helped keep it stable. And they were in the voices and the ears. They don’t want to be the ones that have to leave, because now there’s an investment interest in it. That’s our challenge.”

And that brings us to another stunning statistic revealed by the CRN’s report. “The rents in Chicago since the 80s have increased 95%,” Jackson laments, “And the incomes at the same time have only increased 15%.”

So, vast numbers of Chicagoans are suffering from the economic stagnation that’s victimized lower-income people all across the country.

“I can say definitively,” Jackson asserts, “that there’s over a million jobs today that are actual people working in Cook County that do not have enough wages to them to afford what’s called the affordable rent. In the Cook County area…the affordable rent, the wage to afford the average cost two-bedroom in Cook County today is $21 an hour and some cents. There’s a million jobs that pay less than that $21, and so if we’re going to have an organization of a city, if we’re going to have an economy that allows for opportunity for people to actually succeed we have to start with that.”

Whether the pilot zones the City proposes will reverse years of declining relative income for Chicago’s working poor remains to be seen. But it’s sure to be a contentious issue when the full council takes up this ordinance on Oct. 11, and we’ll be there to cover it.

You can read a full CN transcript Sep 28 2017

And you can listen to the audio in your earbuds here.


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CN Sep 21 2017


Remember when the Department of Justice came to Chicago with a list of “requirements” for reform of the Chicago Police Department? That was just days before Donald Trump upended the federal government and announced that the feds would no longer seek a consent decree to push those reforms through.

On Chicago Newsroom  a few weeks ago, Police Board Chair Lori Lightfoot told us that only about a third of the recommendations a different task force – the one she chaired and whose members were chosen by the mayor, and which had reached many of the same conclusions a few months earlier – had been implemented.

The not-for profit Chicago Reporter decided to build its own progress tracker for the DOJ report. It concluded that the DOJ had 99 “requirements,” and that, six months after its release, only 6 of the 99 could reasonably be considered completed. Reporter Jonah Newman is leading the tracking project.

“Some of these are going to take a long time to really implement,” he allows. “Some of them require the cooperation of the Police Union. Some of them require City Council. Some of them require other city agencies, so I think it’s important to not be too critical, to understand that some of these are going to take a long time.”

And Newman reports, some of the next category, “partially implemented,” include some very thorny issues that can’t be considered implemented just because someone sent a memo. “Changing the use of force policy to clarify and reinforce the idea that the sanctity of life is of utmost importance for example. Those are really important things, and again, important things to see implemented into CPD policy. At that point we will mark that on here as implemented. The question then becomes – well, does that change what actually happens for police officers in the field, and that’s going to take a lot longer to really see.”

Chicago just missed having the Justice Department run the process by a few weeks, a fact that community organizers lament and some police supporters celebrate. But, Newman says, there’s no doubt that the Trump administration has lengthened the process considerably. “If you talk to police reform advocates and people who have done this in other cities,” he explains, “they will say that federal oversight is crucial. To make sure that there is actually a timeline for how and when these things are supposed to happen, that there’s money put behind them, because without money a lot of these things are going to go by the wayside…So in other cities where the Justice Department has come in and done these investigations, by now we would be well on our way if not already have a signed consent decree between the City and the Justice Department.”

Many critics have noted that the police unions stand united against many of the enumerated reforms, and some specific ‘requirements” cannot be implemented without modifications to the police labor contracts. Key among these issues is the process for engaging with police officers who’ve been involved with a shooting or other controversial action.

“They are not required to talk to investigators from (what’s now) COPA until 24 hours after the shooting,” says Newman, “and they are allowed, and not just in shootings but in all misconduct cases to, if there’s video, to view the video before making a statement. Or if they have made a statement before viewing the video to view the video and revise their statement afterwards.”

But Newman cautions against casting the FOP and other unions as the sole reason for delaying reform. “I do think that some of the more difficult recommendations from the Justice Department are not contingent on the FOP, and are some of the ones that are going to be most difficult to track…And some of that is because the City hasn’t released information or hasn’t been fully transparent about what they may or may not be doing. But part of it is things that we, it’s just going to take a long time and a lot of work and data analysis to really figure out if it’s happened, right. So for example, are they holding supervisors accountable if they fail to report misconduct. That’s something that we don’t know yet.”

“One of the recommendations of the Justice Department had to do with the timing and the process for what happens after an officer-involved shooting,” he continues, “making sure that officers and witness officers are separated so they can’t collude and start to get their stories straight, making sure that IPRA investigators were there on the scene, obviously once the scene is secured. But making sure that they really have an active role so that they are not just relying on the Police Department to do interviews first, and then IPRA comes in to do it after the fact.

So it’s crucial that, after a shooting, the Independent police Review Authority has investigators in the scene immediately.

Newman says that Police Board Chair Lori Lightfoot, and Sharon Fairley, who heads what was once IPRA but has now been re-tooled as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, have made strides toward reform of their agencies, but it’s something that isn’t easy to track.

“I think that both Lori Lightfoot and Sharon Fairley have really taken their positions seriously,” he asserts, “and are both really serious about making sure that the police oversight process in Chicago is fair and transparent and works with the community. They’ve both really made themselves open and available to the public in ways that I think wasn’t necessarily true before.”

Newman has written extensively for the Reporter about police issues, and a recent report tackles police moonlighting. Chicago’s, he tells us, is the only Department among America’s top 50 that does not require officers to report their moonlighting work to their supervisors. And with all the overtime that Chicago officers are being required to work in recent years, that’s becoming an issue. “Obviously the concern is that if you are being overworked, if you are working 15, 16, 17 hours straight, are you really clear-headed enough to be doing that job?”

Beyond the fatigue issue, Newman says the CPS fails its officers in a very significant way. “When this report was written, and I don’t know yet if this has changed, again, it’s one of the things the City says it’s working on and is adding more resources to the department within the Police Department that provides these services. But at the time there were three mental health counselors for a 12,000-unit strong police department.  Three people. That’s clearly not enough, and the tragedy is and I think this was actually in the task force report, that the Chicago Police has a higher suicide rate than other police departments. Not just in the general public, which that’s already the case, but than other police departments across the country. Obviously, we’re not helping these men and women the way that they need to be served, and making sure that there is no stigma about that, and making sure that the department is really serving their needs.”

If there’s any doubt that misconduct occurs in the CPD, consider the cash settlements the city made after lawsuits from the public between 2011 and 2016 The total came to more than $280 million.

“It’s an incredible amount of money,,” Newman insists. “And the most shocking thing to me as I’ve been reporting on these lawsuit settlements is again, unlike other cities, unlike best practices, the City of Chicago does not routinely and strategically analyze these lawsuits to see – are there ways that we could actually minimize the amount that we’re paying out? Are there ways that we could obviously minimize the underlying misconduct that causes all these payouts? That’s not something that the City has been doing, despite the fact that first the Mayor’s task force said they should be doing it, then the City’s Inspector General said they should be doing it, then the Department of Justice said they should be doing it, they’re still not doing it.”

“That’s low-hanging fruit,” he continues. That’s easy, right. It doesn’t take long. We did it. We took the time. They have access to the data about these lawsuits even more so than we do, right, and so it’s not that hard to be taking that data, mining it, and saying what could we be doing? What policies could we implement? What training could we do that might change some of these things?”

The reason the Reporter’s database has five categories of implementation, ranging from “implemented” to “Not done” with a special  “unclear” designation is that, just because an official says it’s done don’t necessarily mean that it’s been done. “One of the things I think we need to be careful about is the difference between having a policy on paper and actually knowing well how is that playing out on the street with police officers in the field. And so I think with all of these you need to take some of that with a grain of salt, because we just don’t know yet and may not know definitively exactly how all of these reforms are working.”

You can listen to this program in your earbuds on SoundCloud

And you can read a CN transcript Sep 21 2017



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CN Sep 14 2017

We spend most of our time on Chicago Newsroom focused on Chicago’s myriad budgetary, educational and social problems. But there’s no denying the dramatic construction boom that’s enveloping so much of our city’s central region and at least a few of its more affluent areas.

That’s the focus of today’s show. And our guide through the thicket of aerial construction cranes is AJ LaTrace, editor of Curbed Chicago.

“So, what we keep track of is current high-rise construction,” he explains. “And we measure that as buildings that are 100 feet or taller. So we just recently updated it within the last couple of weeks and we counted 54 buildings. And you know it’s amazing, because when we first started doing this around three years ago or so, I can’t remember the exact number but it was about 12 or something like that. And we just thought, oh this will be kind of fun, we’re in double digits now, but now we’re approaching dozens.”

Of course, there’s plenty of debate about why this development is concentrated in so few places while some neighborhoods can’t even get a branch bank or food store. But the construction boom that’s completely remaking our central city  is a very real thing.

Leading the way in this construction boom is the conventional, not-very-exciting or cutting edge apartment tower. That’s what dozens of those tower cranes are building. They’re not inspiring or significant, but they are money-makers, LaTrace says. And that’s what most developers craze. Its what the Tribune’s Blair Kamin has called “Form Follows Finance”

And, LaTrace tells us, those apartments, in the tens of thousands, are selling. “They call it the absorption rate, so you know, right now it seems like there are people to fill these buildings,” he explains. “As soon as that slows down obviously that’s when things are going to change, but you know, if Chicago keeps on this pace of new corporate investment and sort of job corporate outposts and things of this nature, I mean there’s a chance this could keep going on for another couple of years.”

And, he adds, if by some chance Chicago manages to land Amazon, “That would go on for the next decade at least.”

The conventional thinking is that Chicago and other big American Cities are enjoying an urban renaissance. But Urbanist Richard Florida has said recently that the central-city boom may  be over. The Millennials, he says, are (finally) starting to have babies, and like their grandparents, these new parents are starting to hear the siren call of the suburbs.

“I mean, there are so many variables to that,” LaTrace responds. “Obviously schools are one of the biggest ones and transit is really big too. I think a lot of people who are moving to the city are going to stick around indefinitely, or be around.”

“The thing that’s kind of odd is that in a lot of ways the suburbs are cheaper,” he points out. “And now it’s like $250k you can get a one-bedroom condo in the city, so you know, the economics kind of favor the suburbs in terms of obviously having a family, but I don’t know. I really do see the sort of, the terms like new urbanism which some people love and some people love to hate, but I think we’re going to see the cities really, I think people like me are going to stick around.”

And since it was the Millennial generation that so severely rejected the suburbs, and, in particular, the suburban office environment, the actions of this cohort in the next decade or so will be critical.

“But you know,” he adds, “I think it’s just kind of a cultural shift too. I mean you think about in the 70s and 80s and the corporate office park that was where people worked. And now if you take the Kennedy out and you go past Des Plaines and Rosemont and all these sort of late modernist high-rise office buildings that were built in the 70s and 80s they all have a big For Rent or Space Available signs.”

We also talk about The North Branch redevelopment, the new Apple store on Michigan, the Obama Library,  the Old Main post Office and quite a bit more.

You can listen to this program in your earbuds on SoundCloud.

You can read transcript of the entire show here:CN Transcript Sep 14 2017

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CN Sep 7 2017

Michael Hawthorne’s not too worried that Chicago will have to deal with a Houston-like 50-inch rainfall any time in the near future. But Chicago, like Houston, has a lot of impermeable paving, endless parking lots and massive buildings with acres of roofs. In other words, lots of places where rain ends up with no safe place to go.

About 50 years ago the region embarked on the Deep Tunnel project as a way to reduce Chicago’s chronic polluting of its waterways, and to alleviate flooding at the same time.

We ask Hawthorne, who’s an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune (and the paper’s environment writer) whether the project, now more or less complete, has succeeded.

He says in many says it hasn’t. “I mean the weather has changed,” he explains, “but the climate is changing as well, and the way it’s changed in Chicago is that we get either long spells of heat or cold. Think of the polar vortex or think of the 1995 killer heat wave, but we don’t necessarily get as much rain or more rain than we used to, we get it in shorter, more intense bursts. And that’s really challenging our sewer system and the deep tunnel more than ever before.”

Have we spent more than $4 billion over four decades in vain?

“The answer,”  Hawthorne explains,  “from people from the City, from the water reclamation district say no, it’s money well spent. The problem could be a heck of a lot worse if we didn’t have this.”

But there are problems. “Because even with the deep tunnels in place,” he says, “they’ve been in place for more than a decade now, the City a few years ago did a modeling projection of how the local sewers, the sewers that are actually on your street, how they could handle a storm. And they figured out that two-thirds of an inch overwhelms most sewers in the City.”

And still there are sewer outfalls into the Chicago River that expel waste after especially heavy rains. “A story that I did earlier this year found that one storm in July, there was enough raw sewage and runoff that came into the north branch of the river that it could have covered the loop in muck about eight feet deep,” he tells us.

We all know that Chicago is a city of inequalities, and lead is a major example. While market forces such as gentrification and property rehabs have stripped the lead out of older buildings in wealthier areas, that hasn’t been the case in low-income neighborhoods. So for many poorer Chicagoans, lead exposure isn’t much better than it was in 1970 or 1920.

“They tore the public housing high rises down and shifted people into scattered-site housing or what was for many years called Section 8 housing,”Hawthorne explains. “But many of those private homes where people could get a voucher to pay for a good part of their rent, were homes that were built before 1978 when lead paint was banned in the United States…And they are not kept up. I’ve been in dozens of them and they are not necessarily kept up fairly well and so peeling paint is a problem.”

Hawthorne and his colleagues have reported for years on the residual lead deposits that still ravage some communities years after lead was effectively banished elsewhere.  “In part, because of the research that the Tribune did in terms of looking at the shifting of lead poisoning rates from 1995 to 2013 by census block groups, (so – smaller than neighborhood areas), you can see that lead poisoning essentially disappears from the wealthier neighborhoods of the City. And while it still declines in say Englewood or parts of Austin, Lawndale, while it’s a decline from what it was in the mid-90s it’s still significantly higher than the current City-wide average,” he says. “In some cases one of every five kids instead of eight of every ten kids are poisoned. That’s still a pretty sizeable number, and (Harvard researcher Rob) Sampson has gone back and looked at the people that he’s been following since they were young kids in Englewood. And one of the first papers that came out from applying lead poisoning to his earlier research, he summed it up by saying that lead paint or lead poisoning is a way that racial inequality literally gets inside the body.”

“There’s research out of the University of Cincinnati, Hawthorne continues, “where they’ve been following kids since they were in the womb, and they found that when they were in their school age years they did more poorly on standardized tests. They tended to fail grades more frequently. And when they got older, when they were in their teen years and early 20s they committed not only crime, but violent crimes at a far higher rate than kids who weren’t poisoned. And they are now finding some of these people are now in their 30s, well past the time when the peak crime-committing age happens, and they are still caught in this kind of maelstrom of crime and poverty, and some of the participants have talked with the researchers about – I just don’t understand why I get so mad all the time, or why I’m always fighting with everyone.”

Hawthorne says it all raises an interesting question: why aren’t we tackling this problem?

“Can we kind of go toward the low-hanging fruit? This is something that we know that we can control. We can’t necessarily control jobs in a neighborhood. We can’t necessarily control whether people have easy access to guns. We can do things by trying to prevent them from being lead poisoned. We know what to do…On lead poisoning we made great success. Some public health people, the Illinois Department of Public Health would say that combatting lead poisoning is one of the greatest public health victories of the 20th Century. But we still have thousands of children in the City of Chicago who start out life very early on with a very preventable condition that is going to cause problems that cost society, that cost us, that cost taxpayers a heck of a lot more money in the long-term.”

Funding for lead programs has been severely cut in recent years, Hawthorne says, in part because there’s a perception that it’s last century’s problem. But there are thousands of young Chicagoans who are struggling with neurological problems brought on by lead poisoning of their brains. “And then,” he says, “You have this kick in the gut, as one researcher put it, where their brain is permanently scrambled at a very early age because they’ve played on the ground like any kid does, and they’ve ingested lead paint or lead dust. And their brain has been irreparably damaged in parts of the brain that control your impulses, emotional control that allow you to pay attention.

It’s not a case of the politicians and policymakers not having enough data to proceed with some remedial work, he says.

“One of the best studies in Chicago, there was a researcher who formerly headed the lead program under Mayor Daley, she managed to get the early lead testing data from 52,000 children in Chicago public schools, and then found a different way with folks at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago to compare their rates of lead poisoning or the amount of lead poisoning as a child with how they performed in third grade. And every increase, slight increase in the amount of lead that these children were exposed to or that was in their bodies when they were 1 or 2 years old increased their chances of failing third grade by almost a third. And these are kids that were in third grade in 2003 to 2006, so they are kids that today would be in their mid-20s if my math is correct. And what I found even more staggering about that research is that about three-quarters of the average level of lead poisoning in about three-quarters of Chicago public schools that were open at the time, this is among those third graders, the average was above what the Center for Disease Control Protection says is a threshold where kids should be medically monitored, where inspectors should be visiting their homes. That’s a lot of lead-poisoned kids that are living in this City today and now are in their early to mid-20s.”

“The City of Chicago has, the Health Department has now they’ve got ten lead inspectors. I’ve gone to housing court, the Administrative Hearing building, every week there are people in court or at the administrative hearings because a child was poisoned by lead in their home, so the problem hasn’t gone away,” he asserts.

What can individuals do? “You can go to Home Depot or Lowe’s or the Ace Hardware and get a pack of lead wipes and you swipe it and it turns a certain color if there’s lead there,” he explains. “They don’t do that at the CHA. They don’t do that at the federal HUD, and there were all these promises in the tail end of the Obama administration to take care of that. Ben Carson, the new HUD secretary said during his confirmation hearings that he understood this subject and that it was going to be one of his top priorities, but nothing has happened in this new era, this new administration yet, on this issue.”

We also discuss the ongoing issue of the lead service lines that bring water into our homes. Unless your house or building was constructed later than 1986, your drinking water is probably traveling into your residence through a lead pipe. Running new copper lines into every building in the City is a massive project, and many homeowners might not want the disruption. But other cities have figured out ways to do it, and to make it a public health priority.

“You have to remember lead is on the periodic table of elements,” Hawthorne points out. “It doesn’t go away. And we emitted a heck of a lot of lead from factories and out of our automobile tailpipes and we have lead in our homes and our water pipes and our paint was full of lead. And people knew, people knew in the last century, in the early part of the last century that this was a problem. But in a scenario that was repeated by many other industries, the tobacco industry, chemical industry, the lead industry pioneered a campaign of deception and of confusion essentially to keep their products streaming into our homes and into our environment.”

“There are a lot of questions out there,” he concludes. “The one thing we know a lot about, we know about the toxicity of lead and we now know that there’s no safe level of lead exposure. And the fact that we have it bringing what once was clean tap water into our homes, that should alarm everyone.”


Here’s an archive of Michael Hawthorne’s Tribune stories

Here’s the SoundCloud link to this show

Here’s a transcript of this entire conversation:CN transcript Sep 7 2017


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