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Endorser’s Remorse

Don Rose 1 December 2014 One Comment

Like everyone who has been in politics a while I’ve had my share of disappointments endorsing or
working for professed reformers and “independent” candidates who sold out and otherwise betrayed
their base–but none so quickly and definitively as Michele Smith, who was elected alderman of my
home 43rd Ward in 2011 after a narrow loss four years earlier.

endora-bewitched

 

This ward used to be the heart of anti-machine politics and still votes independently. Smith promised
to be in the tradition of independent aldermen who guard against bad zoning and predatory
development–even developments supported by City Hall– by consulting closely with the involved
neighbors and championing their views. Four year ago she campaigned vigorously to keep the
redevelopment of one defunct hospital site from encroaching on its neighbors and generating wretched
traffic patterns. She won by a narrow margin attributable directly to those neighbors and did a
somewhat acceptable job of getting the city and the developer to modify the plan.

 

Then something happened. An outfit call “Flirty Girl,” which calls itself a “women’s health club” and
party place where they teach pole dancing and drink into the night, wanted to open in a largely
residential area. It needed a liquor license among other municipal approvals, but, unsurprisingly, it was
unanimously opposed by the neighbors. What did Smith do? Welcomed the outfit with open arms. So
much for championing the community.

 

Why? The best we can figure is Flirty Girl’s building apparently is owned by Glascott, a high-powered,
politically connected real estate firm, which also operates a bar and restaurant in the area. They
previously opposed her. One can assume she wanted to make powerful new friends, even at the expense of the neighbors.

 

But the crusher was yet to come: redevelopment of the site of the former Childrens Memorial hospital, a much larger space in the heart of the ward.
The adjacent communities wanted a smart development, agreeing unanimously to one mid-rise no taller than the 11-story Children’s building. Instead they got a plan nearly twice as dense with a couple of high-rises totally unsuited to the area. Granted it was a handsome, mixed-use development by a decent, well-connected developer, but totally out of place and likely to cause severe traffic congestion at an already existing bottleneck. (They claim a traffic study showed no problems–which I trust as much as the “study” done for Chris Christie on the bridge.)

 

The developer hired a political-consulting firm to produce petitions supporting of the outsized plan, but hardly anyone who signed lived nearby and would not be affected. It was the adjacent residents and two neighborhood organizations that objected vigorously. One organization raised hell at a public meeting, denouncing Smith and the plan, chanting “Is it a done deal?” Her response was to dodge,
dissemble and filibuster without answering. One of the worst performances I ever witnessed by a public official.

 

It clearly was a done deal, desired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Interestingly, three years ago when the city’s wards were remapped, Smith’s was modified in a way she didn’t like. She organized a protest. Miraculously, Emanuel largely restored the boundaries. My hunch is he exacted a pledge of everlasting loyalty–and she has been everlastingly loyal. Thus she championed the undesirable, oversized plan. I presume her campaign coffers also will be filled by the gigantic project’s dozens of subcontractors.

Smith lost numerous supporters but gained contributions and mayoral backing.
I could continue with more broken promises–and anecdotes about her yelling like Chris Christie at constituents who disagree with her actions, such as disastrously re-designating a narrow one-way street into a two-way thoroughfare–later rescinded. But my space is limited.
Smith’s major opposition in February’s election includes Jen Kramer, a city patronage worker close to the old machine. Best, however, is a smart, deeply involved community leader named Caroline Vickrey. An attorney, Vickrey has long volunteered service in the schools and elsewhere. I trust her more than I trusted Smith from the very beginning. (There also are a few nuisance candidates.)

I’m unlikely to have to write another column like this if Vickrey wins–which I hope she does–but one never knows, do one?

**

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

image Agnes Moorehead as Endora in Bewitched

One Comment »

  • mspaul said:

    Sounds like she used the same traffic consultant as the one for a development planned for the Market Place site on Diversey – the one who said replacing a mostly foot traffic grocery store with a luxury 17 story high rise would have no impact on traffic in the neighborhood.

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