CN Feb 2 2017


Lori Lightfoot isn’t pleased that the 126 recommendations that her Police Accountability Task Force – the body Mayor Emanuel asked her to front last year – still remain largely words on paper instead of mayoral actions.

And the Department of Justice report, which landed three weeks ago, in many ways draws similar conclusions and calls for similar reforms.

“Sometime soon after the taskforce issued its report the Mayor said – ‘We’ve adopted one-third of the taskforce recommendations,’”  Lightfoot tells us. “There are 126 specific recommendations. They were purposely designed to be kind of a matrix that fits together. They were not designed to be one-off things. Now, there are clearly things that you can do on a one-off basis, but the point was to move forward in a strategic thoughtful way and that has not happened. I won’t get into the was it a third, was it not a third, but I’m going to tell you that the vast majority of the recommendations of the taskforce have not been picked up. They have not been implemented, and so there’s still a significant amount of work that needs to be done.”

“I think the Police Department is in dire need of change,” she continues. “What we found was a significant lack of investment in the Department. And really it’s most important asset, it’s primary asset is its people. We shouldn’t have the second largest police force in the country and have a state of affairs where after you graduate from the Police Academy you have no other annual mandatory training other than firearms qualification, which in and of itself is woefully inadequate, because it’s 30 bullets into a paper target. It doesn’t simulate any real-world circumstances, but that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the officers. It’s not fair to the taxpayers for whom we spend a significant amount of money in the recruitment and retention process for police officers equipping them with resources. It’s not fair to them. They shouldn’t be in a situation where they don’t have the most up-to-date tools, technology, thinking about local policing possible, and we have not made those kinds of investments. And if there’s a frustration we mapped that out in bold relief in April of 2016. We are now almost a year later and very little progress has been made.”

We suggest that, with the cover of two significant reports, a new and apparently eager police chief and a public acceptance that our police force is not operating optimally, this could be a time for bold and historic leadership.

“I think that’s absolutely right,” she asserts. “I think this is a tremendous opportunity for leadership to really turn the page and articulate a vision of our City that is different and is better, and challenges and welcomes all of us to be a part of the solution…There’s so much low-hanging fruit on all these issues. Some of it’s difficult. Much of it will not be solved in a short period of time, but what’s the expression, the journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first steps.”

Expressing frustration that the Mayor appears to have let up the gas, she says it’s time to push forward on reforms. “And I’ll go back to what I said before, 2017 ought to be the year of leadership in Chicago.”

Lightfoot doesn’t just reserve her criticism for Mayor Emanuel, though. The State of Illinois, she says, plays a major role in Chicago’s crime problem.

“It’s no coincidence that the violence in our City started to spike in the spring of 2015 and went gradually up and then kind of off the charts in 2016,” she continues. “What else has been happening in our State? We have a budget impasse where the social service agencies that really provided important fiber and network in a lot of these communities by supporting young people, children, and families, they either don’t exist anymore, or the offerings that they have for people in need are substantially curtailed because they are not getting funding from Springfield.”

And, just in case you’re wondering what the Police Board Chair thinks about President Trump’s “offer” to send in the Feds to solve our crime problem, and possibly to visit here to meet with gang leaders, Lightfoot isn’t impressed.

“So there’s all this talk about sending the feds, do this, do that, but fundamentally the problems that we’re seeing, the challenges that we have in the City, both with police reform, accountability, community police relations, those questions as daunting as they are all have to be addressed and solved by what’s on the ground here in Chicago,” she insists.”I think what’s required now is real leadership. Real leadership to dig in and make the hard choices, face the hard truths and come up with a real plan of action.”


Here are some significant quotes from today’s conversation.


On Eddie Johnson, who was not one of the three finalists her Board selected for the Mayor’s  perusal. Despite all their vetting work, the Mayor went with Johnson

I didn’t know Eddie Johnson until he was selected by the Mayor to be the superintendent. He is a good man. He is someone who I think is really trying to do absolutely the best that he can. He is respectful. He is open. He’s receptive to feedback. I feel like we have a very open candid relationship where we can come to each other with a variety of issues. And one of my goals clearly is to support him because I think supporting him supports the Department and helps improve the quality of life for the City.


On the Superintendent’s Strategic Subjects List, a log of about 1,400 people considered to be most susceptible to committing or being the victim of street violence:

I think there’s still a lot of questions about that list. This is an algorithm that was created by a professor I believe at Illinois Tech. He controls the algorithm. He is fed data from the Chicago Police Department.

Ken:                Still today?

Lori:                Still today. They don’t own the technology.

Ken:                The Police Department doesn’t own it?

Lori:                They do not own the technology.


One of CPD’s gravest problems, Lightfoot has come to believe, is historic disinvestment. Like the impoverished neighborhoods it serves, CPD itself hasn’t shared in the wealth other parts of the City, and other City services, have enjoyed.

The Police Department in my view is one of the most important institutions in the City. Not just an institution of government, but one of the most important institutions in the City. People don’t feel safe. They don’t feel like officers are legitimate. That presents a potential for real chaos. Someone argued that we might have that level of chaos in certain crime-plagued neighborhoods, but I think the thing that we need to focus on is we’re trying to get back to a place where every citizen who has the need for policing services can get those services in a respectful and constitutional way that provides them with confidence that they are going to be protected when there’s a need. We’re not in that place yet and we need to get there.


Both reform reports identified training as one of the most urgent issues facing CPD. Lightfoot tells us about visiting the Training Academy during Taser training, being held in the hallway.

I watched this happen and thought to myself this is crazy. How can this be the most conducive environment for these men and women to learn about using non-lethal force to take it seriously, and to feel like their department is taking it seriously and investing in them. It was like running people through a conveyor belt, and it’s noted in the DOJ report that I talked to many officers who went through that training during that time and felt like they didn’t really know what they were supposed to do. They hadn’t retained any of the lessons that they were instructed on and using the taser. That’s crazy.


On engaging officers fully in the planning for that much-needed training

You train so that officers have the resources and tools that they need to be able to do their job effectively, but how do you know what that is? You talk to the officers. You survey them and get a sense for the kind of training that they need. You also think about what values do we want to instill in every single officer, whether it’s somebody wet behind the ears coming into the Academy for the first time, or a more veteran officer. That training is going to be different depending on what their responsibilities are. It’s going to be different depending on what neighborhoods and the different challenges there. But you would have to think strategically about that and not just reflexively because there’s a crisis that’s happened. There’s a flash point that’s now come in the news and so let’s throw some training at it and make it look like we’re doing something.


On providing differential training for officers being assigned to various neighborhoods. Chicago’s vastly different neighborhoods do require different kinds of training, she says.

If you approach it as I’m fearful and I’m going into this neighborhood and everybody there is out to get me, everybody there is a criminal, everybody there is a gun-toting gang member, on and on and on the narrative goes, you’re going to be woefully unsuccessful in doing your job. How do we combat that? We bring people in from those communities into the training for those officers. No officer should be going into a new neighborhood to police, into a new district without getting a full neighborhood orientation that includes bringing in people from those neighborhoods so they can demonstrate in real life that there are three-dimensional folks that live in these neighborhoods who want the same things for their kids and their families as those officers do, and that there’s a way to partner up in a respectful way with people in those communities to get the job done.


Chicago’s murder clearance rate is an embarrassment . Only about 20% of murders are ever solved by CPD, and that’s due in part to the fact that CPD doesn’t have enough detectives. The DOJ found that there hadn’t even been an exam for the position in years. And there was no shortage of police who wanted to test for those positions.

They did the first one , ironically they did it in May on a Saturday for 12 hours and I think like 4,000 people signed up for the test. About 1,200 people actually showed up, but there again you had 1,200 people off the streets for 12 hours on a summer weekend…

The clearance rates are so low that statistically, if you kill someone in Chicago, you probably won’t get caught.

You can get away with murder. You can literally get away with murder. If you shoot somebody and they actually happen to live, the clearance rate is 3%. That is a problem. But we have to call the question and ask is there a focus on that within the detective division? Is there accountability for the fact that those numbers are so low? And yes, obviously there need to be more folks, but you need to also have leadership saying this is not an acceptable number. We are going to work together and come up with a strategy so that our numbers get better. And of course, the easy reflexive thing to say is, ‘Well, we can’t solve these crimes because people won’t talk to us.’ Well, your job is to solve the crimes, so if that is an impediment for you to be able to be successful in your job, then let’s come up with some strategies to bridge that gap.


A policing tactic that’s since been stopped involved acquiring “contact cards.” Getting information  for the cards required stunning numbers of street stops. And the public howled about it at the Task Force meetings.

So as a consequence, and the numbers are there in the DOJ report and our report, you saw this out-sized increase in the number of investigatory stops, very minimal amount of contraband that accompanied that, and luckily very few arrests in comparison to the investigatory stops. But what you got was a lot of really pissed off people.

When we had our taskforce public hearings, and one in particular still sticks with me, we were down at the South Shore Country Club and the audience was predominantly black, but it was, outside of the race, very diverse. We had a lot of middle and upper middle-class professionals, men and women, old and young were there in that meeting, and when I heard women who were 60s and 70s, professional people, respectful people who had been in these neighborhoods for decades…Someone I totally could identify with, telling us in vivid detail the way in which they had been disrespected by police officers. The lightbulb went on in a very major way, because what I was hearing was the consequences of – go get contact cards – without thinking about the consequences for that. And that burned very significant bridges with people of color, particularly black folks in the City feel like they had no claim to the geography under their feet. That if they are walking outside their house, going down their street, going to the store, going to the library, going to church, they were going to be stopped and they were going to be stopped in a way that was not constitutional or respectful. And if those people don’t have a countervailing good experience with the police, that’s all they are going to know and remember. And that is going to come to define for them what policing means in Chicago.


We like to think that our TV show is also pretty interesting radio. Throw in your earbuds and Listen to this show on Soundcloud HERE.

And read a full transcript of this conversation


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CN Jan 26 2017


President Trump threatens, or he may say “offers,” to “Send in the Feds” to solve our hideous violence problem. And Chicagoans ask what that means. If he wanted to send help, he might consider sending along some money to help fund proven violence-suppression programs such as CeaseFire. But there’s probably no money for such programs. We have to step up our military spending, and that Mexican wall, we now know, is gonna cost us $15 billion.

But CeaseFire hangs on, drastically reduced in scope and now funded by some foundation money.

On today’s show, we hear from two violence Interrupters who, despite the danger, race to hospital trauma centers after someone’s been shot to begin the delicate task of lowering the temperature. During the “golden hour” right after the shooting, John  Hardy and Chico Tillmon try to convince family members and friends not to retaliate, because they see escalating violence as a public-health issue. Not unlike cholera or ebola, the victims transmit the disease with their contact and the transmission sequence must be “interrupted.”

Their data, collected over more than a decade, seems to indicate that where they have been deployed, they’ve succeeded in preventing violence escalation.

CeaseFire fell victim to the State budget fiasco, along with hundreds of other programs. Scores of  Interrupters were laid off. Now there are calls for Mayor Emanuel to find some money to reactivate the program, but despite some Aldermanic support, it seems unlikely.

CeaseFire has a long, sometimes rocky relationship with the Chicago Police, and at this time the two have no formal contractual arrangement. But Tillmon says it isn’t antagonistic. It’s just that they have different goals.

“We are not an anti-police program,” he explains. “We just have a different approach than police. We take a public health approach, where they take a criminal justice approach. We look at people as being ill or having a disease, where they are trying to solve a crime. We’re the same as practitioners. If a person gets shot and goes to the doctor, he’s not into the intricacies of  – who shot you, where you were at. He’s into – what can I do to try to heal you. And that’s our approach. We’re trying to heal individuals. We’re trying to heal communities…that’s where sometimes it can be complex, because we have two different objectives.”

We like to think that our TV show is also pretty good radio. plug in the earbuds and give us a listen on Soundcloud.  

And you can read awful transcript of the show HERE: cn-transcript-jan-26-2017

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CN January 19 2017


Our guest this week runs a mental health institution so vast that it’s been called the largest in the country.

He also runs a pretty significant job training operation, a substance abuse clinic, an anti-violence effort, and he’s a major health-care consultant, channeling tens of thousands of Chicagoans into the Affordable Care Act.

He’s the last resort when people must be removed from their apartments, and he keeps watch over 9,000 incarcerated people.

Tom Dart is the Cook County Sheriff, and he joins  us this week to talk about the Cook County Jail and the massive challenges facing his institution.

He’s especially proud of his electronic monitoring program, which, he says, is responsible for bringing down the jail’s census so dramatically that they were able to demolish some dormitories. “I went from having on average 500 people on the electronic monitoring to about 2,500, so do the math,” he explains. “That’s a 2,000-person difference, and when my population has been 8,200 most of the time, 8,200 plus 2,000 gets you to what, 10,200.”

A major reason why so many people are in Cook County Jail, Dart explains, is that the court system runs so slowly. “Why in God’s name is any stolen car case taking more than three months?” he asks. “He was in the car or wasn’t in the car? A drug case, it was possession. Either he had the drugs or didn’t have the drugs. People say well the lab takes a while, this and that and the other thing. The reality of it is there are certain cases, stolen car cases, burglaries, that should never be in the system for more than months, I mean literally three to four months.”

“And so the system just is not terribly thoughtful,” he continues, “And underlying it is loads of good people in the system, but it’s horribly inefficient and there’s very little pressure on anybody to move cases. And people will often say well the defendant has a speedy trial, right. That is virtually never used.”

Another complication adding to his high census is the fact that some inmates actually prefer to stay there.  I an individual is tried and sentenced to five years, for example, his attorneys may attempt to slow the inmate’s assignment to a downstate prison far from the individual’s Chicago-area family and friends. “We have 1,000 people a year who serve all their time with me. They get a sentence and they literally are driven down to Stateville. They fill out some paperwork and then they give them money for a bus to come back,” he explains.

Then there are the inmates whose trials are delayed so much that their eventual sentence is shorter than their time already served at CCJ. “People have gone beyond what the sentence would have been,” he tells us, “and you don’t get credit for that. It’s not like they give you a voucher for your next time you get involved with the criminal justice system. And those numbers are stunning too. I mean those are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of days beyond what they end up getting.

A major thrust for his administration has been what he calls “the criminalization of the mentally ill.” And there are a lot of them in Cook County Jail. “I can give you a pretty decent number. It’s right around between 23% and 30%, in that range. Where the fluctuation only occurs is whether or not they stay in my custody or whether they are released to the street.”

He said he initially tried to persuade judges that he needed help with this troubled population. “I felt that if I just enlightened people, that if the judges at bond court just knew that these people that they are seeing were mentally ill, and that was what the underlying reason that they are here is, not because of a criminal nature, I could change some of the outcomes. And mind you, that experiment was a miserable failure. The judiciary didn’t buy into any of the stuff I was doing.”

The mentally ill inmates with whom Dart has contact are not inherently criminals, he explains. They’re ill. Their anti-social behavior gets them into trouble, and begins their slide into the justice system. “They’re living at home,” he says. “Their family is trying, trying, trying. The families can’t do it anymore. There’s a domestic case at the house, they’re asked to leave. They have nowhere to go. They’re wandering the streets. They find a place to stay, they’re not supposed to be there, they get arrested. They are trying to find something to eat, they get arrested. It’s the most inhumane thoughtless system that you could devise, and in addition to put the cherry on top of it it’s the most expensive one.”

Dart tells us that the time a politician or government leader gets, to make a difference in people’s lives, is very short. Too short, he says, for passing time and for niceties. “Down in Springfield people get very collegial. It’s great to be collegial and have a decent relationship with people, but sometimes what happens is everybody is afraid to upset somebody, and so no one pushes an issue because this person isn’t comfortable and this one is not comfortable and so on. Well guess what, we don’t have the luxury of sitting there and taking our time. I always tell people we have about 200 people a day leave our jail, and if I’m not putting a plan together for them virtually no one else is. And I don’t have the luxury to sit back and say we’re going to get around to that, and you know all the mentally ill people that are being jumped in the jail and stuff we’re studying that. We’re having meetings, good meetings. I mean the doughnuts are great, the sandwiches are awesome, good meetings. It’s like you know what, I’m done with that stuff, and I tell people, I go, listen, we have these unique little windows where we can affect change to help real people, and it is the height of outrage to sit there and burn that time, because I just don’t want to upset anybody. I just want to be friends. I don’t want anybody not to like me and I want to run for this or that or this or that. I was like no, be happy with the job you have now and knock it out of the park, and don’t leave anything left on the table when you’re done to sit there and say I wish I took that issue on. I wish I took that issue. I wish I was more aggressive.”


Our TV show is also pretty good radio. Listen to it in your earbuds on Soundcloud.

You can also read a full transcript HERE:cn-transcript-jan-19-2017


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CN January 12 2017

When you want to talk about Chicago’s finances, or about its police/community relations, Mike Fourcher’s the go-to guy.  He publishes the Daily Line, Chicago’s on-line subscriber news service. He joins us this week to talk about the impeding Dep’t of Justice report on the Chicago Police, Tiger Woods and, yes, the bond markets – and their demand for more taxes from Chicagoans.

Chicago’s going out for a big bond buy this week, and Fourcher says its fate is more or less being determined by the ratings houses – and at least one of them considers Chicago Junk. But others don’t agree, and there’s some talk, for the fist time, that Chicago may be clawing its way back.

“Now the consequences for a city when they have a junk versus investment grade rating, for a lot of investment agency investment groups that triggers how they have to treat that money,” Fourcher explains. “And they have to require much much higher interest rates to be paid to them for the borrowing. It could be the difference between paying 4% and 8% for the City, the City paying an extra 4% on that money in order to be able to borrow, and that’s tens of millions of dollars just for this borrowing. And there’s going to be other borrowing that the City is going to do. So there is this intense pressure that’s coming from investors in the open market for Chicago to raise its base taxes much higher”

“Raise its base taxes even higher” isn’t something any mayor wants to hear. But that’s what the lenders are saying, according to Fourcher. “So, I think that there has been a real movement among investors that Chicago is not really paying enough and that they want to see Chicago paying more, and that’s what this fight is about with the bond issue that the City wants to do.”

The Department of Justice was about to release its highly-anticipated report on the Chicago Police just as we started this conversation, but despite not having seen it, certain things were easy to predict.

“Well,” Fourcher asserts, “we’re definitely going to see changes. I think there’s no question about it, and I think that from what I can see Superintendent Johnson is committed to making changes and improving things. He’s really done a lot of things that are unpleasant for a police superintendent, like putting pressure on police officers, like changing some of the culture about what happens to a police officer after a questionable shoot. You know those things are important. And I think that Mayor Emanuel has gotten the message that there needs to be reform. But, one of the things that you keep hearing, and we did in December an interview of about 50 or 60 neighborhood leaders throughout the City. One of the things that we kept hearing was that the Mayor is clearly working very hard. There’s no question about it. We’ve never met anybody that works as hard as he does, and he wants to do well. That’s very clear, but he is missing empathy and he is missing some understanding and warmth.”

As we say, Chicago Newsroom is also a pretty good radio show, and you can listen in your earbuds at our SoundCloud page, right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this week’s show right HEREcn-transcript-january-5-2017

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CN Jan 5 2017

2017 is gonna be a big, controversial, historic year.

Do we have the news media we need to help navigate these weird times?

That’s this week’s topic. The News Media.  So we called together  a news editor, a co-founder of a community news startup and a night-time AM talk-host to help figure it out.

Our guests: Robin Amer, News Editor at the Chicago Reader, Darryl Holliday, Co-founder of the Chicago Bureau and Justin Kaufmann of WGN-AM’s the Download.

It’s a wide-ranging conversation about social media, the obligations of news organizations, changing media habits and

Some selected quotes:

Amer on defining Truth:

I think one of the scariest things for me as a journalist to have witnessed over 2016 is the absolute break-down in the kind of consensus over what is truth and what are facts, and are my facts “the same as your facts.” And if we as the public can’t even agree on what truth is or what the facts are, how can we have a robust public policy debate about how we move forward as a country when we don’t even take the same facts for granted?…Okay, if I put it in the paper and it’s vetted and it’s fact-checked and it’s true and you should believe that it’s true, but that’s not the case anymore. Like, you can’t take for granted that readers will even believe you or that they aren’t reading something else that claims to be equally true that completely contradicts what you’ve reported. I think that to me this is  one of the great conundrums of our time.

Kaufmann on a gut-wrenching decision facing most newsrooms:

Do news organizations, newspapers, are they going to join in or be in a situation where they use Facebook and Google to be their platform, or are they going to compete against those platforms? And that’s what the news industry…That’s the news industries’ sort of issue with 2017. Do they put resources into building their platforms to be Chicago Tribune Facebook, Google? Or do they say, you know what, these are the platforms, we’ll make our money in other ways.

Amer on how the Reader is grappling with that very question:

Now we could go straight to Facebook, but at that point you are giving them all of your content and you are putting yourself in a very vulnerable situation, because the second that they change their algorithm, or the second that they change…their ad rates, or the second that they change their time about being a source of news or whatever, they’ve completely pulled out the rug from underneath you and you’ve cultivated an audience that isn’t used to consuming your content anywhere but there. And so we’ve been really reticent to do that.

It’s a wonderful conversation, and we humbly believe it’s worth your while to listen.

As we say, Chicago Newsroom is also a pretty good radio show, and you can listen in your earbuds at our SoundCloud page, right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this week’s show right HERE:cn-transcript-january-5-2017


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CN December 22 2016

Imagine the populations of Rockford, Springfield, Naperville, Aurora, Evanston, Schaumburg and Oak Park all in one place. Let’s make that place Cook County, Illinois. What if we told you that that number of people, roughly 800,000, is how many people go to sleep every night in this County not sure about what their next meal will be, or where it’ll come from.

Fifteen percent of residents in Cook County are “food insecure”, according to the Greater Chicagoland Food Depository. They ought to know, because they distribute over 70 million pounds of food – almost a third of it fresh produce – to the food pantries and soup kitchens that try to address this gaping need.

“And 20% of that 800,000 are children,” adds Nicole Robinson, who’s the VP for Community Impact at the GCFD. “Children who come to school hungry, they can’t concentrate on doing their work in class and can’t be attentive. They struggle to do their homework. Hunger is a distraction, and that’s one of the things I just feel most passionate about.”

And if you can handle just one more statistic about our Cook County neighbors, 30% of the people we’re talking about live in the county’s suburbs.

Families are making tradeoffs,” Robinson explains.”It’s a tradeoff between paying rent and getting healthy, nutritious food. Do I pay my light bill, or my heating bill, or do I have enough money to pay for my prescription as well as pay for the food I need…”

We took our show on the road this week to see just how massive this operation is. And to note that, huge and impressive as it is, it only fills a part of the need.

“There’s a myth out there that may of the  families who face hunger are homeless,” Robinson points out. “But that’s actually not true. Fifty percent of them have worked at some point over the past year, and 90% of them have a place to stay. The question is – is it meaningful employment with benefits and a living wage so they can actually afford the food they need?”

“If you’re in a two-parent household and you have a low-wage job,” she continues, “You may not have enough just to provide for your family. So it’s not that people aren’t working…”

The GCFD is trying a number of innovations, such as food pantries at Veterans’ hospitals, because, shockingly, a high number of Cook County’s hungry are people who served in our armed forces.  They’re also installing pantries in about 30 Chicago Public schools where hunger is most acute. Parents can drop off their kids and pick up some wholseome food to help the family through the week. They’re also operating pantries at Cook County Health and Hospitals System buildings, where doctors ask about food insecurity as a part of their intake screening.

“We’re meeting people where they are, which is a foundational piece of our work to connect communities,”Robinson tells us. And by the way, GCFD relies heavily on volunteers, thousands of whom come to their warehouse to help sort and ship tons of food items. “Often the folks who stand in the pantry lines will come in and volunteer,” she adds.

The holidays are obviously tough times for families who can’t make ends meet, but Robinson says that for kids, the worst days are often in summer when there’s no school. For so many kids, school is where they have access to reliable nutrition, so the Food Depository and its partners setup community food centers and try to get the word out that kids can come in for a meal.

We tell Robinson that while they’re not a political organization, Chicago Newsroom is all about politics. And this situation makes us angry. “We want people to be angry about our neighbors facing hunger,” she responds. “We don’t want to become complacent and we shouldn’t.”

And as we conclude, she adds, “We don’t want to do this forever, We want to put ourselves out of business.”

A word of thanks to everyone who’s watched our Little Show this year, and to the dedicated CAN TV staff who put it together for us every week of the year. We’re hoping the show is going to grow in some important ways in 2017, and we hope you’ll continue to check out the show when you can.

Happy holidays!

Chicago Newsroom is pretty good radio, too, and you can throw in the earbuds and listen to this show here on Soundcloud.

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CN Dec 15 2016

Ever heard of VSI? It’s the Vendor Services Initiative, and it was deigned to help pay the hundreds of vendors who’ve never been paid by the State over the past few years of layered fiscal crises. Trouble is, the way it’s structured is something akin to a payday loan, and the resulting payments are what Dave Mckinney of Reuters has described as a fiscal “time bomb.” Dave and WBEZ’s Tony Arnold, both reporters with extensive experience in Springfield, are our guests this week.

Of course, we have no budget, and no real prospects for getting one any time soon. That may not be terrible news if you or your organization has the juice to go to court and get a judge to pay you, but two major sectors of State life don’t have such protection.

“There is a lobbying presence for the homeless in Springfield,” McKinney points out, “and they do what they can, but they don’t stack up against Exelon or the powers that be like that. They don’t have an effective presence like that, and so in terms of advocating, groups like that are under the gun, the sexual assault groups, the homeless groups, on and on and on. I think we will see those continue to kind of peel off, especially if we go into another two-year cycle here where we don’t have predictable income coming in.”

Another disaster-in-waiting is higher education. Their stopgap funding for 2016 expires December 31, and nobody knows what happens next. Students on need-based scholarships, MAP recipients – all could be high and dry come January 1.

McKinney says three state institutions are in the most serious condition right now  -Eastern Illinois University, Chicago State University and Northeastern Illinois University.

“Those three places are so dependent on state revenues. And you know you’ve already seen it like in the enrollment numbers for these places, where they are at the lowest level they’ve ever been and no end in sight. And so I think you’re just going to see a continuing drain of students who you know if you’re a parent with a college age kid do you want him going to a state school right now.”

Arnold tells us that the picture is a little different for the social-service agencies that aren’t getting paid. They’ve been to court, too, but just haven’t had success in getting a judge to order them paid.

“Everybody else convinced the judge that legally the state needs to fund foster care, or pay the employees their salaries,” he explains. “Somewhere along the lines there wasn’t a lawsuit over universities getting paid, but there is one over social services. It’s in appellate court. These are organizations that have contracts with the State of Illinois. They performed the contracts and did the work, but there’s this clause in the contract that says well if they don’t pass a budget then you don’t have to get paid. And a judge in Cook County said yeah, the State doesn’t have to pay you. It’s being appealed. It’s going to go to the State Supreme Court eventually. That’s where there might be a way for social services to get money, because again, it’s a court order, not because of a deal between Rauner and Democrats.”

We all lament that the 2018 campaign for Governor is already in full swing, with at least eight potential Democratic candidates in the mix. Bruce Rauner, they say, is anxious to show that he’s made at least a little progress on his “reform agenda”, so he’s holding up the budget until he can get term limits and a property tax freeze.

The Democrats won’t budge on either, so we’re back to square one. And another year begins in Illinois.


It’s a fascinating conversation about how not to run a big, midwestern industrial/agricultural state.

As we like to say, our show’s pretty good radio too, so you can listen to it in your earbuds or thought the Bluetooth in your car right HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this show HERE: cn-transcript-dec-15-2016

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CN Dec 8 2016

Ben Carson is about to become the guy who oversees public housing and doles out community development block grants to every urban center in America.

What does that mean for Chicago?

Y’know all the stories about CHA’s broken promises and its stunning backlogs in construction and voucher assignments?

“All the bad things you described, that’s the good old days,” says architecture critic, writer and activist Lee Bey. “We’ll look on the times when the City couldn’t build enough public housing – or wouldn’t -and we’ll get misty-eyed. I miss those days.”

And Ethan Michaeli, the author of the highly-acclaimed The Defender, Carson may have no idea what he’s in for.

“The biggest scandal with the CHA in the last few years,” he explains, “Hasn’t just been that they  failed to build the mixed income communities that they promised, which were replacement housing for the high rises that they demolished. But also that the CHA has $400-million and maybe more sitting in the bank that they can’t figure out how to spend. At a time that there are homeless on the streets, that there’s a dire need for housing they cannot figure out how to spend the money. This is a complicated situation that Ben Carson is going to come into… I personally don’t think that he’s either politically or experientially, and perhaps not intellectually calibrated for this particular task.”

Michaeli guesses that, at HUD, the bureaucrats will be in charge and Carson will be a figurehead, making speeches and signing documents. “You know,” adds Bey, “I hope that’s what happens. Isn’t it funny, we’re hoping the bureaucrats take over, right?”

“This is my fear,” says Bey, “That he thinks any governmental intervention is Soviet, is communist, and is social engineering and it’s wrong, at precisely the time we need cities to be equitable places for black and brown people, and for poor white people as well. Whites tend to get left out of the equation because they don’t want to claim poverty often, but there has to be equitable places for them as well.”

Bey is adamant that HUD must play a role in providing the least-fortunate with the basics of human dignity. “You know,” he explains, “The thing that people never want to realize is that what poor people need are jobs and education. It’s as simple as that. If you have a job and you have a decent education you tend not to live in public housing.”

(That’s similar, coincidentally, to what Ben Carson told the Washington Post: “I don’t want to get rid of any safety net programs. I want to create an environment where they won’t be needed.”)

The issue, Michaeli adds, “is that we’ve never just said consistently…as a nation or as a city that quality housing is a right, just like air and water and voting and all that kind of stuff, and that if we want to be a viable country, if we want to be a viable city we can’t have people living in shacks. We do a little bit and then we fall off again, right, but just say it and put it in brick and mortar and in your heart. And just say, “Look, we’re just not going to have this.” We’re the richest country in the world; we’re not going to have it.”

HUD, our guests say, needs to continue playing a vital role in the redevelopment of critical cities like Chicago. Michaeli offers an example.

“43rd and Indiana should be thriving based on its geographic proximity to the money centers of the Midwest, right, but it’s empty. 43rd and Indiana is vacant on all four corners today, and that makes no sense unless you understand that all housing and all real estate in this country is subsidized. We subsidize it in various ways with housing, with mortgage interest deductions on our taxes, with highways that make places like Schaumberg frankly accessible to the money centers of the country.  So HUD plays an essential role in that.”

We talk at some length about the CHA “Plan for Transformation” which resulted in the demolition of scores of high rise buildings and other housing.

“When the developments were demolished a lot of people thought the problem would go away,” explains Michaeli. “That was the idea, that we will demolish the problem when we demolish these buildings, because the buildings are somehow (damaging) the people.…I mean the demolition of public housing frankly was just a demolition of a resource for low income people. That’s all that it was. It was a kind of a resource, a second rate soviet style crappy resource, but it was a resource, and taking it away just took that away. That means that they have a little bit less. They also have a little bit less geographically.”

And we touch on the one remaining development,  Lathrop Homes at Diversey and the Chicago River, that hasn’t yet been “redeveloped”. It remains mired in controversy despite years of planning because of a profound dispute over how much of the new housing should be “pubic housing” and how much should be “market-rate”. Michaeli says Mayor Emanuel missed a perfect opportunity to show leadership by mandating that the buildings be re-purposed.

“He could have come out there and said, Look, this is housing for veterans. This is housing for families that have been foreclosed on. This is housing you know… that he didn’t do that, in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, tells you that the race component of what Lee was talking about is what we’re dealing with here. Lathrop is maybe a diverse development in reality, but for everybody else you say public housing they think black people. They think African Americans.”

Michaeli notes that we’re now fifty years on from the Gautreaux Decree, which allowed the courts to essentially mandate many aspects of housing desegregation in Chicago. As with most other desegregation efforts, it’s been a bumpy ride. And the one thing that he believes has clearly emerged from this long struggle has been privatization.

“If you look at what actually happened with the Gautreaux Decree, the Gautreaux Decree did not obviously affect the desegregation of housing public or otherwise in Chicago and surrounding areas. What it did accomplish was steer a lot of public resources into the hands of private folks. Public housing is the harbinger of what is going to happen to the rest of this society. They are shaking us by our ankles and taking the change that falls out of our pockets. That’s essentially what’s happening.”

Bey adds that “my fear lately has been that libraries and water will be become that, and that water, some giant infrastructure guy is going to wave $3-billion at this municipality or someone and take water …”

At the end of this frank and often dark conversation, Lee Bey says it’s time to get a little more optimistic, to cast some sunshine on the subject. You’ll want to hear how it goes.

It’s a wonderful conversation with two of the most insightful observers of the Chicago scene, and we hope you’ll watch.

And by the way, Chicago Newsroom is also pretty good radio. Listen to it on your way home with SoundCloud –RIGHT HERE.

And read a full transcript of the show right HERE: cn-transcript-december-8-2016

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CN Dec 1 2016


No matter how you look at it, Wednesday, Nov. 30 was a big day for the CTA.

The City Council unanimously passed the largest single TIF ever, to raise nearly a billion dollars in 35 years that funds about half of a massive re-build of the Red and Purple lines. And it was all done within hours of a deadline to snag the other half, a billion-dollar matching grant from the waning Obama administration.

John Greenfield writes about transportation for both Streetsblog Chicago and the Chicago Reader, and a day after the big maneuver, he explained things to us.

“It’s a relatively new program called the Core Capacity Grant Program, and it’s for making improvements, capacity improvements to legacy systems. So we’re lined up to get a $1.1-billion grant, which will fund almost half of this massive $2.3-billion project,” he tells us. “It looks pretty clear that the federal government is going to give us this grant, and they’re going to award it by January 15th, which is five days before Donald Trump comes to office.”

That’s significant, because there’s no indication that the Trump administration will make any funding available to public transportation. He has instead proposed a “Trillion dollar infrastructure program” that has some Democrats saying this could be an area of mutual interest with Trump. Greenfied’s not buying it.

“But there’s a few reasons why I don’t support the Democrats going along with this infrastructure plan. For one thing the plan itself is really suspect. The financing is really sketchy. It’s starting to look like this isn’t really a plan about fixing infrastructure. This is a plan about building more infrastructure, specifically toll roads, and we do not need highway expansion in this country. We need to be making our transportation system less car dependent, not more car dependent. We need to be focusing on building inter-city rail, improving urban transportation.”

“The North Red line is basically at capacity during rush hours,” asserts Greenfield. “If you ride it during rush hour it’s sardine-like conditions.”

So why not just add some more trains? Well if it were that easy, the CTA would’ve done it decades ago. It turns out that there’s no way to get them through Clark Junction.

“The big log jam, the big bottleneck is this area just north of the Belmont Red line station where the Brown line tracks cross the Purple and Red line tracks at level. So what that means is when a northbound Brown line train has to go west just north of Belmont, Red and Purple trains have to wait. There’s basically a stoplight for the lines,” Greenfield explains.

The solution, which is part of this massive project, is the Red/Purple Bypass, which is also known as the Belmont Flyover. Think of it a a partial expressway cloverleaf. It lifts one track over and above the others.

It’s making some people in Lakeview livid. “Not only do some people object to the aesthetics,” Greenfield explains, “people have compared it to  a rollercoaster, it’s going to require the demolition of some 16 buildings, so that’s huge, you know.”

People  directly affected by it are understandably against it but the transit experts all seem to agree that it will allow huge increases in rush-hour capacity in the future.

At the south end of the Red Line, a more than $200 million reconstruction of the 95th Street terminal is already underway, and the City has now committed $75 million to engineering for the extension of the line from 95th to 130th, near Altgeld Gardens.

The route is controversial, because it will require the demolition of dozens of houses and businesses and will take ten years to complete. Greenfield says that while there’s no question about the need for the service, there are alternatives.

“There’s also a movement to create rapid transit style service on Metra’s Electric line, which basically serves the same neighborhoods, so it would be so much cheaper to just start running CTA-style service on the electric lines,” he tells us. “Also, the south Red line route goes through fairly unpopulated areas. You know it’s a lot of money to spend to provide transit access for thousands rather than hundreds of thousands of people. So you know, you can make an argument that maybe it would be wiser to just improve the Metra electric.”

If you’ve spent any time on the northwest side around Logan Square, you know  how rapidly the area is growing, and, some may say, gentrifying. In many ways this, too, is a transit story because the growth is clustering around Blue line stops. It has to do with TOD, or transit-oriented development.

“In 2013 the City passed a Transit-Oriented Development ordinance,” Greenfield explains. “And then they beefed it up in 2015, and as it stands now it basically waives the parking requirements for developments within a ten-minute walk of transit. And…it has really sparked a lot of development particularly on the northwest side along Milwaukee Avenue and the Blue line corridor, which is, you know these neighborhoods a lot of young people want to live in, a lot of tech workers, a lot of relatively affluent people who are new to the City.”

It is meeting stiff opposition further up the line, especially in Jefferson Park, where TOD projects have been fought for years. Many residents fear gentrification, which means that rents will rise and people will be priced out of their homes. “The counter-arguments,”explains Greenfield, “Made by organizations like the Metropolitan Planning Council is that increasing the amount of market rate housing in a neighborhood takes pressure off the rental market, because the more affluent people who move in the neighborhood won’t be competing for the same apartments.”

We point out that in Jeff Park, the arguments seem to be against both higher-income gentrification and lower-income housing.

“I mean these people are against both wealthier people moving into these places and they are also against having affordable housing in them, because they don’t want less wealthy people moving into them.”

Chicago has been acclaimed recently as a bike-friendly city. But  five people have been killed in Chicago in accidents with vehicles this year. So bike-friendliness is a mixed bag.

“They’ve been doing a lot of the right things to make Chicago a bike-friendly city,” Greenfield confirms. “But you know, the fact is on the ground here you’ve got to have a fair amount of nerve to ride a bike on the streets of Chicago. It’s definitely not what we call an 8 to 80 city. That means having infrastructure that’s safe for 8 year olds and 80 year olds to use.”

You can read a full transcript of this conversation HERE:cn-transcript-dec-1-2016

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CN Nov. 24 2016

On this Thanksgiving weekend, we take a moment to offer our sincere thanks to CAN TV for hosting Chicago Newsroom over these past six-plus years.

We also take a video peek at some of the brand-new CAN TV studios and facilities and talk with Director Barbara Popovic, who’s led the organization for nearly thirty years, and is retiring at the end of December.

There’s an even greater need for public access media today than when CAN TV was first created at the dawn of the cable-TV era, she says.  Ubiquitous hand-held devices make communication easy and fast, she explains, but the ability to tell story effectively is enhanced with the media training CAN TV offers.

And access television is, as it has always been, a beautiful way for communities to share ideas and talk with one another about the issues of the day.

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