Category Archives: Civic Life

Open Letter To Chicago Candidates For Mayor

City_of_Chicago_sealHere are some ideas for a campaign for a better Chicago.

Rallying cry: Justice. Prosperity. For all. Make Chicago a city that works for everyone – not just the insiders and the mayor’s friends. More service, innovation and economic development – from the bottom up.

Calls to action: Stop privatization. Take back the meters. Re-open the closed schools – cut class size to no more than 20 students/class. World class students = world class workers = world class economy. There is no sustainable or just way to get there other than that. Can’t build another Ferris wheel on Navy Pier to get that job done.

How to get there (source of resources and funds):

General principle: Reuse. Re-cycle and re-create. If we use everything we have – we’ll have everything we need. (borrowed from Edgar Cahn, author of “No More Throw-Away People” – creator of time dollars and time banking).

Specifically:

(1) End TIFs, empty the TIF funds = $1.7 billion

(2) Financial transaction tax = $10 billion (split between state, county, city government)

(3) Bank of Chicago patterned after Bank of North Dakota (http://banknd.nd.gov ) = Huge local impact – would stop paying huge fees to corrupt and criminal Big Banks and would finance student loans, first time homeowners, small biz start-up & expansion and even back up local government finance for infrastructure – no more parking meter deals needed!

(4) Capture vacant land for local farming and production – at roughly $20,000 per lot could turn it productive to support two full-time workers making livable wage (estimate from Kenn Dunn – http://www.cityfarmchicago.org/our-roots is a few years old and would need to be detailed)
[Could combine #3 & #4 to transfer land, foreclosed homes to homeless and working poor]

(5) Millionaire’s Real Estate Surcharge – for every property in city valued at over $5,000,000 add surcharge to property tax – $10 for every $1,000 – would need data on # properties to play with this formula to see range of options. Benefit is that ownership is not an issue – that is, if you tried to pass a personal income tax the wealthy would just register address elsewhere. This way, regardless of legal ownership of properties, the new value is extracted. Place provision in ordinance that if a currently for-profit property is suddenly “gifted” to a nonprofit the property will still be assessed based on the new formula.

(6) Look at major capital equipment expenses – such as purchasing rail cars and computers and BUILD THEM IN CHICAGO in city-owned plants. Use technical high schools and city colleges as feeder/training platforms to prepare workforce and admin staff for these ventures. DON’T EXPORT OUR DOLLARS. KEEP THEM CIRCULATING IN CHICAGO.

In addition:

(1) Conduct forensic audit on the entire city’s finance and personnel – review every hire and every contract – conducted by independent audit committee led by financial and human capital experts. Are there job descriptions, are people qualified, are they physically present at job site? Review every contract and especially every contract led without bid and under the minority allocation program which has been notoriously corrupt. Announce amnesty for ghost, patronage workers – resign now without pension and avoid prosecution. If workers are caught in our review and found to be improperly hired and not performing, they and their hiring manager will be prosecuted for theft.

(2) Review all contracts let by Public Building Commission

(3) Review all members and transactions of pension boards

(4) Review all upcoming labor contracts and strip out provisions that allow for stupid work and law suit rulings

(5) “One person one job policy” – all aldermen, city workers draw one payroll and are not permitted any other paying work

(6) Review the entire judiciary process – move to merit selection – start recruiting young people now to go to law school to be placed on bench within 6 years – if we can’t eliminate corrupt slating/election system, then start prepping our own team of young advocates to run in 2016 and beyond.

CHICAGO WORKS FOR EVERYONE.

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“TIF Atlas” Now On Sale!

Now you can own the data that has been driving the TIF Illumination Project all over the city for the past 18 months! Download your very own “TIF Atlas of Chicago Wards” at the TIF Data Store.

We’re using the new ward maps and you’ll see the shapes and names of all the TIF districts as well as the projects funded by TIFs IN EACH WARD. The projects are numbered and all you have to do is look to the appendix in the back of the Atlas to see the name, address, developer and amount of TIF dollars that went to that project. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! We also plot on each ward map all the schools that were CLOSED or cut in 2013. In the back we list the closed schools and list all the cuts that we know of for each public school. More info: tom@civiclab.us.

TIFs of the 1st Ward
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Tom’s Remarks @ UIC Urban Forum – “Three Chicagos”

UIC-Urban-Forum-2014 From the 1pm session, “Who can balance a neighborhood’s soul against the will of urban capitalism?”

UIC Forum panel

Moderator Laura Washington, Alderman Jason Ervin (28), Prof. Alice O’Connor, Tom Tresser, Prof. Rachel Weber is just to Tom’s left, out of this picture.

Remarks of Tom Tresser at the UIC Urban Forum – 9-18-14

[Listen to remarks @ SoundCLoud, about 4 1/2 minutes]

“Who Can Balance A Neighborhood’s Soul Against the Will of Urban Capitalism?” is the sorrowful title of our session this afternoon. Short answer – we can and we must.

Another way to frame this question is to ask “What is a city for?” or “What is Chicago for and WHO is it for?” To me, after 30 years of grassroots education, organizing and community building, I would answer that Chicago – as many cities across the planet – has devolved into a mechanism to strip mine the assets of the many and transfer them into the pockets of the few.

I will now resist the temptation to recite a list of woes that include foreclosures, violence, parking meters, school closings and wage theft – and rather underline a few stories that bring to life the tension that this session surfaces and the unfulfilled promise of this conference.

In 2008 I helped found Protect Our Parks to fight the privatization of Lincoln Park. We sued the Latin School, the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago over a deal to give a chunck of Lincoln Park to the Latin School. That work led me to co-lead No Games Chicago, an all-volunteer effort to derail Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid. I then took on the task of exposing and opposing efforts to privatize Chicago, including the Chicago Infrastructure Trust. It seemed that during those years I and my allies were in direct opposition to many of the keynote presenters and stars of this conference. The voice of the neighborhood and a sense of the public trust was nowhere to be found. Who was pushing what agenda for Chicago?

Right now at the CivicLab we see two sets of stories that really surface the theme of this session. Mike and Carmilla are two homeless activist researchers investigating the machinations of the hedge fund Blackstone Group in the Chicago housing market. They were occupying a home that was bought by a subsidiary of Blackstone and are now litigating and trying to understand what happened to them and who has profited from their misery and the misery of other modest and low-income people across the USA. Lauren is a former Chicago public school teacher who was steered to a corrupt developer via the “Homes For Chicago Teachers” program in 2005. Her experience with shoddy and dangerous building practices led her to sell quickly at a loss and now that unit is so far under water as to make the subsequent owner impoverished and another candidate for homelessness. These two stories are not isolated and, I believe, illuminate a very nasty side of Chicago’s urban policy and power structure.

Finally, another story that places a boundary around these other stories. Patrick Thompson, the grandson of Mayor Richard J. Daley, and a commissioner of the Water Reclamation District and a partner at the law firm of Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, is seeking to be the next alderman from his family’s traditional political stronghold, the 11th ward. The current alderman, James Balcer, has agreed to retire to make way for the next generation of Daleys to govern Chicago.

Chicago is, in my view, three Chicagos. One for the powerful. One for the wealthy. And one for everyone else.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to challenge all in attendance at the UIC Urban Forum to think differently about “Who is Chicago for?” and to resurrect the spirt of Jane Addams and Florence Scala, two powerful women who lived and worked not too far from where we are meeting. Ms. Adams was a civic innovator and Ms. Scala was a civic protester – both were bold and creative and challenged the powers that were and dared to speak out and act out against corruption and incompetence, injustice and poverty of spirit.

It’s time to think boldly and act boldly and to bring to forums such as this the Addams’ and Scalas of our time. We need to hear them and to we need to heed them. Where are they? I know who they are and I feel that their voices and their examples are what we need to be about at a conference at a major public university event that has the word “neighborhood” so boldly emblazoned on its masthead.

So I’d like to invite you all to the CivicLab on November 11 at 7pm for a session on “Civic Innovation” where we can learn about and learn from such practitioners. Let’s build on their work and offer a refreshing response to the question “Who is Chicago for?”

Thank you.

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Interview Reveals (mostly) All

Jim Jacoby of the American Design and Master-Craft Initiative and Jim Cohen of BeSparked interviewed me in July for this series of master designer podcasts. What, you may ask, do I have to do with design? Ah ha! You’ll just have to listen to this wide-ranging 47 minute interview where I talk about my background in the arts and the connections between design, space and civic engagement. If you do listen – please comment at the bottom of the podcast web page.

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