In times like these, no wonder why so many Americans are working against one another
October 6, 2017

There used to be a pattern of covering the news locally and nationally for the majority of these past 35 years, which allowed the editors of Gazette Chicago enough time to assess, discern, and determine what was best for this community and for our country. Of course, that was before all manner of sense and sensibility was drained from our consciousness in the era of Trump. Now, with the incessant tweets, menacing threats, personal attacks, and erratic behavior coming from this President 24/7, no wonder everyone seems so frazzled and far less understanding of one another.

We strongly believe that all of this is done with a purpose. The “architect of anarchy” formally carrying the title as advisor to the President, Steve Bannon, might have been booted from the West Wing, but the method to his madness to divide and conquer America is still a big part of the Trump playbook and he’s drawing up the plays.

A lot has happened since we last conversed with you on this editorial page. Then again, that’s part of the overall plan—at least at the national level. Throw so much at you so often that you can’t take a breath and figure out what and where you should focus and resist. Pick your area of concern:  the ongoing attack against the Affordable Care Act; the threat to oust the Dreamers; using disparaging remarks at the United Nations and calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man,” only further escalating the war of words, not to mention the military jousting between two less-than-proven world leaders; the continued charge that Russian influence on the election is a hoax; the unfathomable castigating all that America has stood for in the world and dismantling our position of leadership in a mere nine months; and on and on.

How could anyone not feel completely stressed out? That is unless you agree with the President’s madness. Unless you steadfastly refuse to leave the Trump bubble because in your eyes, this rudderless leader is doing exactly what is needed to “make America great again.” If you happen to be a white nationalist, isolationist, or unabashed misogynist, we are sure that you love what is going on around you. Frankly, we doubt any of you are reading this newspaper, anyway.

We’ll get back to the mess in Washington in a moment, but let’s take a look at some of the issues taxing our local community.

Roosevelt Square development plans. It’s been a while since the Taylor Street community witnessed as tense a meeting as the one held at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame on September 18. A fledging new community group, LICNA (the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association) called for the meeting with Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward), representatives of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and the long-time developer of Roosevelt Square, Related Midwest. Aldermen Daniel Solis (25th Ward) and Patrick Thompson (11th Ward) also were invited but didn’t attend.

Residents of Little Italy are frustrated to say the least about the CHA’s and Related Midwest’s plans to kick-start the Roosevelt Square development with a combination new library and mixed-use apartment building on Taylor Street. Residents and businesses are dismayed by the formula being bandied about by the CHA, Related Midwest, and Ald. Ervin that calls for 37% of the rental units to be for CHA residents, 28% deemed affordable units based on income, and only 7% market rate. They also feel there is not enough parking units for the development—only 26 spaces for the 73 units and just nine for the library. We agree with both arguments.

Let’s first address the formula for residency. In 1999, the CHA and the community agreed to the framework for the Plan for Transformation that would create Roosevelt Square. The holistic approach to replace the former ABLA community, which consisted of 3,596 units—the largest of any such CHA development anywhere in the city—called for the “one third” formula. Meaning that Roosevelt Square would consist of 33% CHA, 33% affordable, and 33% market rate units.

In 2015, the CHA ushered in its Master Plan that modified the formula to 32% CHA, 25% affordable, and 42% market rate. Many of the 200-plus residents in attendance at the September 18 meeting seemed upset with the formula. We have to ask this question? Where have you been? If you are relatively new to the community, okay, it might take you some time to ramp up. But for the many “old-timers” in the room—we will stand by what we stood by in the late 1990s—that former residents of Jane Addams have the right to come back home to their community.

Back in the days of creating the Transformation Plan, we told the story of Nora Jackson, who lived in Jane Addams and who, to this day, is a beacon of light and inspiration in this community. Nora and her late husband, a veteran of the Vietnam War, raised their two daughters in the shadow of the spire of Holy Family Church. Nora remains an active parishioner there. It was for Nora, her children, her grandchildren and good people like her that we took a stand that wasn’t wholeheartedly embraced by some in the community. Today, Gazette Chicago stands by that conviction.

By the way, the whole purpose of having a formula of a certain percentage of CHA, market rate, and affordable housing was so that people of these various economic backgrounds would live in close proximity and learn from each other. Having a disproportionate number of CHA residents living in the library apartments and a much greater percentage of market rate townhomes (50 to be built) some blocks away on Grenshaw Street is a real head scratcher as to how that ever comes close to the “one-third” formula.

As for the lack of parking, the community had Jacques Sandberg of Related Midwest on the ropes until Mary Baggett, president of the ABLA Local Advisory Council, shouted down everyone in the room by objecting to the fact that residents of Roosevelt Square and the Brooks Homes, those who represent the CHA “one-third” formula, were not invited to the September 18 meeting and felt that some were more focused on parking instead of fair treatment for all.  We don’t agree with her method, but Ms. Baggett had a point—she and her fellow CHA residents should have been given the courtesy of an invitation. But then, it was pointed out by representatives of LINCA, that they should have been invited to the several meetings regarding Roosevelt Square that were held at Fosco Park. The tit-for-tat went on for a tense several minutes until Regina Scannicchio took Ms. Baggett by the hand and invited her to join the LINCA board. Nice gesture and a great way to bring the entire community closer together for the common good of all.

See? We don’t have to be at odds against one another and we shouldn’t let the “divide and conquer” mentality impact how we behave locally or nationally. Here’s to some great collaboration between LINCA, the ABLA Council, and others who want to create a holistic community.

One last point: Voices from both LINCA and the ABLA Council took up our call in last month’s editorial that Taylor Street/Roosevelt Square should not be divided among three different aldermen. Kudos and keep that drumbeat going—we are right there with you.

The Chinatown Special Service Area (SSA) tax. Gazette Chicago once again calls on Alderman Solis and the City Council to slow the train going down the track for the SSA tax on Chinatown businesses and homeowners. Ernest Wong, influential board member of the Chinese American Service League (CASL), penned an open letter that strongly called for the approval of the SSA tax. Yet, Chinatown resident Daniel Ing-Hsu I. Wu has stood up and resisted on behalf of local business and homeowners. Wong argues that the tax will only cost business owners $860 per year, while Wu contends that some of the higher valued properties are staring at a tax of $3,100 annually. That’s a big discrepancy. 

We have an idea. If the City is so happy with the stability and growth of this particular Chinatown community, compared to others in Chicago and nationwide, then why doesn’t it offer block grants for business and building owners to give the streetscape a facelift? And, while they are at it, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Solis can open up their little treasure chest known as TIF funds and spend, spend, spend and take the burden off of the business and homeowners who have already been taxed to the hilt in recent years. We ask, when will this ever end? It might end when you stop electing politicians that don’t look out for your best interests.

Calls for rent controls and a slow-down of gentrification in Pilsen.  We have to hand it once again to those leading the resistance right here at home—folks like the Pilsen Alliance, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Jawanza Malone of Bronzeville, and the Metropolitan Tenants Association, who are calling for a repeal of a State law that bans rent control. We don’t buy the argument that rent controls will fail to incentivize landlords from maintaining their properties. Doing so will only devalue their properties at the time of sale and there are certain things called building codes to which they must adhere.

Some 10,000 Latinos have left Pilsen in the past decade—half of them astonishingly by eviction. This has been a primary force in the escalation of rent increases in the community. Its time that we support State Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd) and others and strike this 1995 law from the books. Can’t wait to see how the Mayor and Governor Bruce Rauner react to this one.

Back to the madhouse in Washington, D.C. Here are some observations on the insanity and vitriol coming from the White House:

The Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal Obamacare. The GOP just never gives up. What was this, the gazillionth time that they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act? This latest effort was worse than all the others, and the Republicans used heavy-handed measures to try to not let the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office have at it. Why? Because the bill would have decimated Medicaid as we know it and in the irony or all ironies, taken billions of dollars away from Blue states that embraced Obamacare and give it to the Red states that fought it tooth and nail. Illinois would have lost $8 billion in Medicaid funding by 2026—and that affects all of us. Did you really expect anything less? Republicans withdrew the bill after members of their own caucus such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said they would vote against it, but Trump has already asked Congress to try to gut Obamacare yet again.

Pushing back against the Commission on Election Integrity. Hats off to Operation Push founder and president Rev. Jesse Jackson and others for creating the Commission for Voter Justice to fight back against this blatant attempt to suppress the vote across the country.  As we wrote previously, don’t fall for the argument that this commission led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was created because Trump charged that millions of illegal aliens voted in the last election and that is why he lost the popular vote by 2.9 million to Hillary Clinton. The Commission on Election Integrity is all about getting more Americans off the voter rolls by fear and other methods. This commission is nothing remotely close to having integrity, and that should tell you a whole lot about VP Pence. So, stand up with the Commission for Voter Justice and help sign up hundreds of thousands of more Americans before the mid-term elections in 2018. This is our only proven pathway to take back Democracy.

Chuck and Nancy sidling up to Trump. Please, Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, don’t fall for this trap. All Trump wants is a win—any kind of a win, and he will use you and then turn his back on you so fast your heads will spin. He’s been this way all of his adult life—you think he is going to change now? Sorry, we don’t trust this President. Instead of having private dinners with him, fight him tooth and nail against his threats to deport the Dreamers. The majority of Americans are with you in protecting the rights of these 800,000 young adults who are contributing members of society.

Embracing Alabama values and calling NFL players “sons of blank.” This President likes nothing more than being on the campaign trail. It’s easier for him than actually governing. So, he headed down to Alabama recently to stump for Luther “Big Lou” Strange in his unsuccessful primary battle against Roy Moore to fill Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat. What a choice for Alabamans to face. While there, he couldn’t resist, in front of his “loyal supporters,” to call out NFL players (who are predominantly African American) and imploring NFL owners to fire those who disrespect the flag by not standing for the National Anthem. Can you recall an American President ever lashing out at so many fellow Americans as this one has?

With all the concern around us, let’s turn our attention for a moment to those who need our immediate help:  the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, hurricanes that have devastated Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and many Atlantic islands and the tragic earthquakes that have rocked Mexico. Show your compassion by sending what monetary support you can to help those who literally have nothing left. This has been the worst hurricane season in recent memory, and the size and sheer destruction of these category four and five storms prove that climate change is real, it’s happening, and it’s going to cost us hundreds of billions of dollars to put those communities back together.

So continue to resist, but do so with patience, understanding, respect, and compassion. Let’s show America how it’s meant to be by building better communities right here at home.

Editor’s note: As Gazette Chicago went to press, news broke of the tragedy in Las Vegas. Our prayers remain with the victims and their loved ones.