Repo Man Rahm’s Side of Story Prevails at NBC Chicago

Yesterday morning, I saw the news on NBC Chicago’s FB feed that “La Casita,” a community fieldhouse on the property of Whittier Elementary School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, was in the process of being torn down due to poor condition.
The back story is that the Whittier Parents Committee (WPC), the community/parent group running classes, activities & a library in the fieldhouse, had been meeting with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for a few years to work out a solution to both ownership and renovations.   Promises of funding were made by state and local elected and appointed officials, but that never came through. In the mean time, the building continued to deteriorate.

There is some disagreement between the CPS and the community group as to what has transpired in the last few years. You can read more details in the best article I have found, in Chicago Catalyst (whose mission is “independent reporting on urban education”).

But, a couple things are indisputable:  The building was in bad shape AND the CPS arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night and tore the building down less than 12 hours after clearing out the fieldhouse the night before.

Also, in 2010, then-CPS CEO Ron Huberman acquiesced to the community’s demands, pledging the field house would not be demolished. In 2011, Huberman’s successor, Jean-Claude Brizard, reaffirmed that promise in a letter to Whittier parents.

As I re-read NBC Chicago‘s article, this statement, from a CPS press release, caught my attention: “A CPS spokeswoman said the WPC never signed the $1 lease agreement to begin renovations on the building and did not take any steps to bring the building up to code.”

That sounded incredulous, given the Whittier community’s fight up until this point. There was no rebuttal from the WPC.

Suddenly, a vision of Ms. Sherer, my high school journalism teacher who supervised our editing of the newspaper, appeared:  “Where is the response from the WPC representative to CPS’ claims?”  “Where is the balanced approach to reporting a story?”

I immediately found the phone number for the WPC and called.  Their leader, Gema Gaete, answered. She told me that yes, the CPS offered a contract, but it was set up for failure – it required the WPC to pay all the bills, and if they were even a day late, the CPS would have eminent domain.  CPS never responded to their counter-offer. Also, she said, it was CPS’ responsibility to keep the building up to code, not theirs. She invited me to the vigil that was being held later that day.  

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Whittier Elementary schoolchildren watch their community center being demolished by Chicago Public Schools, witnessing a “crime scene.”

Because Pilsen is a largely Hispanic neighborhood on Chicago’s west side that is less affluent and less white than most northside communities, my immediate questions upon learning the news were:  If this fieldhouse had been in Lincoln Park (an affluent neighborhood), would this fieldhouse been allowed to deteroriate in the first place, and would children have other options for extracurricular activities?  Why do more than 160 Chicago Public Schools have no library?  Why has the state never seriously considered funding schools through income tax, rather than property tax, something that’s been advocated by many better government groups for a long time?

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City of Chicago’s demo crew, with the promise of “breaking into the future.”

By the time I arrived in Pilsen, the vigil was over, but the demolition crew was busy working, as it had been since 9:30 a.m. La Casita was completely leveled and there was virtually no evidence it ever existed. Families, other supporters and members of the WPC were still there, some being interviewed by media outlets.

A couple I spoke with, one of them a teacher at another nearby school, told me a few other things I had not seen in local media yet:

  • CPS officials showed up at the door of La Casita, around 5 p.m. Friday, while a class was in progress. They told the participants that they needed to vacate, and CPS collected the community center’s property, including their library & said they would store it for them, but did not tell them where.
  • Alderman Danny Solis told his consituents he would meet with them and the CPS representatives the next day, but he was a no-show.  When CPS showed up at Whittier around 9 a.m., they immediately started directing the demolition.  (Solis is among the 21 “rubber stamp” alder-creatures – as Mike Royko referred to them – who has NEVER voted against Mayor Rahm.)
  • The basketball court & playground the CPS promises to build in its place is actually for the nearby private, Jesuit Cristo Rey High School. CPS says the Whittier students may use it occasionally.

    I also got a chance to speak with the NBC reporter on the scene.  I told her I was motivated to attend by her network’s lack of journalistic integrity.  She surmised that the writers of the online version worked from a CPS press release.  I appreciated her candid response and told her that this is a perfect example of why people like me, who have critical thinking skills and an understanding of the role of journalists in society do not follow mainstream media outlets like hers.

040 - croppedAs I was leaving & the police re-opened the street, an ice cream truck entered the street and stopped for some eager customers – its familiar music & beckon to “smile all day” temporarily distracting from the screeching and clunking sounds of the bulldozers – the poignancy most likely lost on the city’s demo crew.  

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March 19, 2003 and 2013: The Days Democracy Died

Politicians – especially conservative ones  – love to pontificate about our [the poorer classes – you know – the 99%] lack of sanctity for life…how there would be so many fewer deaths if only those from single-mother households could learn how to value their community members and at the very least, obey laws.

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On March 19, 2003, Bush blasted right through our Constitution, preemptively starting a war based on lies, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.
On March 19, 2013, Senator Harry Reid – aided by what I now believe is a president who does not understand the power his office holds – squashed Democracy once again.  Reid removed the assault weapons ban from gun regulation legislation that his Democratic Party put forth.  Legislation that American people called for and the majority of citizens stand behind.  Because, he said, he “didn’t have the votes.”

I’ve learned – if I want to stay off the “no fly” list, to not send letters to public officials when as angry as I was yesterday.  I waited until today to send Senator Reid my most sincere criticism.  I urge everyone who feels as I do to write to him, and make it crystal clear that we are in the majority on sensible gun regulation:

“Senator Reid – I left you a message a few weeks ago when you said that you didn’t have the votes for an assault weapons ban – telling you how much you are undermining the efforts of citizens like me who are trying to use the last shreds of Democracy in our country to make our voices heard to get some common sense gun regulations passed.
Even if your voice shakes...

Yesterday, when you put politics before people, and denied citizens the ability to see lawmakers  stand up and be counted on this issue, when you let lawmakers instead retreat to their offices, where they could accept the calls from the NRA, promising these public officials more money for your victory, you just squashed Democracy.

You let a very small minority of loud people – who are being used by the NRA every bit as much as you are – to decide the fate of legislation that would have saved lives.

You sir, are responsible – not only for more gun deaths, but for the death of what those of us who have been voting and participating in civic life our entire lives – understand Democracy to be.

While you may have sought to kill Democracy yesterday, understand that it is ours – not yours.

You will find this out when you lose your next election. You should retire now and spare all of us more of this sham of a government. I’m sure the NRA has a well-paying position waiting for you.”

Letter to VP Biden upon release of gun/public safety recommendations

January 15, 2013
Dear Vice President Biden – I am overjoyed that you were charged with heading up the task force on gun control reform recommendations.

There are millions of us who are now “soldiers” for this cause, since the Sandy Hook devastation. We are grassroots lobbyists -more powerful than the NRA, if we continue to mobilize and put the full force of our power upon Capitol Hill.

This is why I’m so distressed at the news of Senator Harry Reid and Congresssman Mike Thompson publicly talking politics and pre-emptively striking down the possibility of an assaults weapon ban passing.  Correction – I’m am disgusted!!!

I have already left messages at both their offices to tell them that not only do they diminish the work of people like me, but they continue to hurt the Democratic Party when their messages appear to put politics above people.

They need to get out of their D.C. bubble if they think we give a rat’s ass about whether the ban will pass the first time vs. the importance of putting it forth. They have been playing this kind of wimpy politics for years and it needs to end.

We need serious and sweeping reforms on many critical issues that the majority of Americans support:  climate change, election and campaign finance laws, to name just a couple.  But, time and time again, the Dems bow to pressure of funders and lobbyists, leaving us voters who keep putting them in office in the dust.

Let those who would oppose an assaults weapons ban so soon after Sandy Hook stand up and be counted!!!  Why does the Democratic leadership continue to cover for these cowards?  Put their names on the front of every news publication across the country on the sad day they would dare to vote against banning the weapons that killed everyone at Sandy Hook and kill thousands more every year in our country.

I would revel in that day and I hope it’s soon.  You see, VP Biden – the rest of us in this country are not as wimpy as the Democratic senators and congresspeople.  But, I think you knew that already.

So, I urge you to do what you can to give Reid & Pelosi some marching orders for how they need to keep themselves and their people in line.

We are in the majority on this issue and we’re not going to stand for anything less than serious gun reforms.

I leave you with Elizabeth Edwards’ words:  “Those who need a champion cannot afford compromise, in the face of forces that are powerful, persistent and greedy.”

The Manufactured Debt Ceiling “Crisis:” Listen to Your Mom, John Boehner

My letter to John Boehner, 7/26/2011:

Not actually Boehner’s mom.

Listen to your mother, John. She told you to:

  • Always tell the truth
  • Respect your superiors
  • Stand up to bullies

So, stop…

  • Letting a minority of freshman congressmen – representing very few people in our country – tell you what to do. What are you, the homely girl who needs the acceptance of the popular ones who are bullies? You’re the Speaker of the House. Act like it. You were ready to compromise, then you buckled to a bunch of bullies. Now you owe them your lunch money for the rest of your life.
  • Dissing Obama every chance you get. He’s far from perfect, but he wants to help Americans. You have more experience in Congress. You should be supporting him. You are supposed to set the example of civility and diplomacy toward the leader of the free world.
  • Lying about how the debt ceiling is related to the budget. Stop holding our country’s bond rating and interest rates hostage to your party’s demands about the budget. It’s reckless and you know it. Also, really, stop lying about how significantly cutting the deficit during this economic crisis will help Americans. There’s nothing in American history to support your claim. Just the opposite is true. Helping create jobs, therefore more consumers and tax dollars by infusing money into the economy, works. Deficit reduction, at least at a time like this, does not.

Thank you for your time, and I pray that you do the right thing and listen to the majority of the American people and, your mother.