Street Smart Chicago

Concerned Citizen: George Blakemore puts the public in public meetings

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George Blakemore/Photo: Colleen Durkin

By Benjamin Rossi

A Google search can say a lot about a person. Most peoples’ names yield, if anything, a professional webpage or a Facebook profile. Type in “George Blakemore+Chicago,” and the search engine dredges up dozens of PDF files, the minutes from public meetings of the Park District, Forest Preserve, Cook County Board Committee meetings and many more going back for years. The minutes often note a few public speakers, along with their occupation—vice president of a union chapter, patient, social worker, professor. Appearing next to George Blakemore’s name: simply “Concerned Citizen.”

Blakemore has turned that generic title into a personal calling card of sorts. He is perhaps Chicago’s most prominent concerned citizen. Anyone who has ever been to a public meeting has seen him and heard him speak. He makes appearances at almost every public meeting held by government agencies on the city, county and state levels within city limits. Not everyone agrees with what he has to say, and some view him as a troublemaker or an annoyance. Others think that he is, in some ways, a model citizen. But few know how he got to be Chicago’s gadfly, or exactly how involved in government he is. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Congratulations Rahm, We’re Watching You

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Don Washington with onetime mayoral candidate Patricia Watkins

While Mayor Emanuel is still settling into his new office, political website Mayoral Tutorial ( will be celebrating its new angle: keeping an eye on him. The site, which provides research and commentary on public policy in Chicago, was set up as a way to keep track of the issues during the 2010 mayoral campaign, but has been static since the election.

Creator Don Washington, a political director and policy researcher, says it’s high time to update as Mayor Emanuel goes from just a Twitter handle to the real deal. “During the campaign people went to it in droves,” he says. “Folks said you should really keep it up, as a way to keep track of the Emanuel administration and the city council.”

The relaunch party at the Heartland Cafe on May 17 will include skits, songs, stand-up and speeches from artists, activists and musicians. While it might be a celebration, there will definitely be an educational component to the night.

Washington regularly sets up “agitational” town halls around the city as a way to shake up citizens and get them engaged in the political arena. He brings in speakers from unions, universities and the business world to discuss policy issues with ordinary people, often dispelling political rumors and misinformation. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Menu: Alderman Joe Moore lets Rogers Parkers pick their poison

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Forty-ninth Ward alderman Joe Moore is famous for his crusades against big-box stores and foie gras, but lately he’s been having more success with a new initiative called participatory budgeting. In this process, regular folks recommend projects for public funding and vote on how the cash is spent. First pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participatory budgeting is gaining popularity as a way to engage citizens and make government spending decisions more democratic.

Moore is the first politician to bring participatory budgeting to the U.S. Each of Chicago’s fifty alderman has an annual budget called “Menu Money” to pay for physical improvements to their wards, like replacing streetlights and fixing streets and sidewalks. Normally, aldermen dictate how the money is spent but Moore, whose ward is comprised mostly of left-leaning Rogers Park, decided to let his constituents have their say.

Instead of just the usual meat-and-potatoes projects last year, when the process started, residents bankrolled a community garden, a dog-friendly park, solar-powered garbage cans, historical marker signs, and murals under CTA and Metra viaducts. Transportation improvements include a pedestrian signal, shelters at El platforms, new bicycle lanes and bike racks that will double as public art. Read the rest of this entry »

The Top 5 of Everything 2010

Bicycling, City Life, News etc., Politics, Transit No Comments »

Once again, Newcity ends its year with lists that compile the best, mostly, of the year that was, in the arts, the city, pop culture and the slightly offbeat, more than seventy in all. See you in 2011!

The Top 5 of Everything 2010: City Life and Pop Culture

Top 5 People Who Passed Away That You Thought Were Already Dead
Art Linkletter, 97, TV-show host and ad-lib interviewer (“Kids Say the Darndest Things”)
Mitch Miller, 99, recording artist and 1960s TV-show host (“Sing Along with Mitch; follow the bouncing ball”)
Patricia Neal, 84, Oscar-winning actress (“Hud,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still”)
Teddy Pendergrass, 59, R&B soul singer (severely paralyzed in 1982)
Art Clokey, 88, animator (creator of “Gumby”)
—Sarah Louise Klose

Top 5 Sports Moments That Make You Say “Huh?”
Blackhawks nab Stanley Cup, dismantle championship team
Cubs attendance dips in 2010, ticket prices rise in 2011
Wrigley Field hosts Northwestern vs. Illinois football, only one end zone used for both teams
Evan Lysacek wins Olympic gold medal, loses “Dancing with the Stars”
LeBron James teases Cavs, runs with Bulls and takes the Heat
—Sarah Louise Klose

Read the rest of this entry »

Gang Green: Election night with the soon-to-be formerly “established” third party of Illinois

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Jeremy Karpen

Fifty to sixty Green Party supporters and a few of the candidates themselves, gathered at Cole’s Bar in Logan Square election night to watch the results come in, and the news was not good. They had gotten trounced in their races for Illinois Comptroller, Cook County Board President and Illinois 4th Congressional District, to say nothing of Senate candidate LeAlan Jones. Their best hope had been Jeremy Karpen, a 29-year-old professional counselor and social activist running against Democratic incumbent Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios for Illinois State Representative for District 39. He had already run against her in 2008, gaining 21 percent of the vote despite being massively outspent. Endorsed by The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Teachers Union, he’d been showing strength in the polls—enough so that national blogs like The Huffington Post had taken notice and were commenting on the possibility of an electoral upset. But as Jeremy takes the stage to address his supporters around 9pm, it has become clear that the race has been decided—once again, for the incumbent.

“Obviously this is not the speech I wanted to make,” begins Karpen. “But what we did today is an incredible example of grass-roots democracy. This was about what it means to run a democracy, to build a real political alternative.”

Read the rest of this entry »

If I Were Mayor: A manifesto for Chicago

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By Brian Hieggelke

Earlier this summer, a press event held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the North Loop Theater District turned into something of a love-fest for Mayor Daley, when theater insiders lavishly praised him for having the vision and fortitude to push to make the district a reality. Then the mayor himself spoke passionately about the role of arts in the life of the city, and in education in particular. I left the event stunned, and maybe a little embarrassed. I live in Chicago and edit an arts and culture weekly, but somehow never keyed into the mayor’s deep passion for the arts or his view that they were so central to his dreams for the town he loves. In retrospect the evidence is everywhere.

Why is it that I, a long-term Chicago resident, don’t really know the big picture of our mayor’s priorities in managing this city? What the mayor needed, and the public needs to read, I thought, is a mission statement, an articulation of his vision for the present and future of Chicago. Not long after this event, Richard M. Daley made the surprise announcement that he would not seek another term and I started thinking about the question, If I were mayor of Chicago, what would my vision for the city be? I’m not running, but I sure would like a candidate who thinks like me.

We will elect a new mayor for the first time in decades next February 22. Expect the press coverage of the race to resemble the sports pages. Most will focus on who is favored, who might pull an upset. Politics as sports, politics as cult of personality. Is Rahm really that cranky and foul-mouthed? Can James Meeks be elected with the first name Reverend? Expect, too, much discussion about race. Racial coalitions, and sub-coalitions—African-American, Latino, white—will be bandied about and I suspect there will be little pretense that we, as a city, can transcend race as an issue. The media won’t let us.

But think about it. You might have a take on the personality of Rahm Emanuel, but can you name one thing he would like to do as mayor? Not likely. What we need is a little, no make that a lot, of vision. Here’s a start. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Mayoral Musing

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For only the second time in sixty-five years, Chicago will find itself running Daley-less. Though the city’s 2011 mayoral election has received ample national attention since Mayor Daley announced he will not run for a seventh term,  Chicago A.D. (After Daley) hopes to create a local conversation. Founded the day after the mayor’s announcement, Chicago A.D. is an open Facebook forum to share thoughts, ideas and opinions on the candidates.

Chicago A.D. began at a reading by Billy Wimsatt in support of his new book “Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs,” says Harish Patel, the group’s founding member. About fifty people joined the conversation that night at Quimby’s bookstore and carried it into cyberspace.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to create a new city and want to make sure that various different voices are heard in the creation of a just, peaceful, vibrant, educated and healthy Chicago that works for everyone,” explains Patel. Read the rest of this entry »

Trains of Thought: Riders sound off on the CTA’s budget

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Tuesday evening at the Chicago Transit Authority’s headquarters, 567 West Lake, and a few dozen citizens file through the lobby with its life-sized cow sculpture, plastered with photos of CTA stations, then up the stairs and past a 3D neon rendition of an “L” train zooming by skyscrapers. They’re here to offer their two cents on the agency’s proposed $1.337 billion budget for 2011 at one of four public hearings being held across the city.

Last winter, the transit authority tightened its belt by cutting nine express buses, reducing service hours on forty-one bus routes, and providing less-frequent service on 119 buses and seven of the eight rail lines. The goal for 2011 is to hold the line on fare increases and service reductions, despite the bleak economic picture.

This new budget is actually 5.2 percent larger than last year, partly due to pay raises, healthcare and pension costs required by the agency’s contract with its union workers, according to management. “Balancing the budget was very challenging this year,” says CTA president Richard L. Rodriguez in a press release. “Nevertheless, the CTA expects to accomplish a great deal in 2011 and it will do so by being resourceful and innovative.” On the plus side, next year the agency will be adding new, smoother-running rail cars to the system and debuting a “Train Tracker” service. Read the rest of this entry »

A Question of Sanity: A local take on a national rally

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Poor Aaron Weaver. He’s only trying to spark some lighthearted local comedy into Grant Park, but he just can’t stand up to the jumbotron.

The Chicago crowd, chock full of avid “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” fans, chuckles along with the couple-hundred-thousand people convened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. After Yusuf Islam (better known as Cat Stevens) twangs the first chorus of his 1971 classic anti-war tune “Peace Train,” the sound snaps off.

Boooooos erupt as Aaron Freeman pops on the mic to present comedian Aaron Weaver.

Chicago’s satellite Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, planned by Angie McMahon of storefront theater company Chemically Imbalanced and supported predominantly by donations, included acts by local musicians, comedians, columnists and politicians.

But seriously, who can compare to powerhouse satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

Uh, no one can. Read the rest of this entry »

Naked Politics: Democracy Burlesque puts skin in the game

Andersonville, Love & Sex, Politics No Comments »

Nelly’s club anthem bumps along the purple walls and gold-plastered ceilings in Mary’s Attic. “It’s gettin’ hot in herre, so take off all your clothes” seems fitting for a group that calls itself Democracy Burlesque. But while the name fools, the players don’t tease. The audience gets a little skin, but nothing unpalatable and nothing overtly naked (except the politics—that’s their tagline).

Democracy Burlesque is more sketch comedy than dance, more sharp wit than easy laughs. Many of the actors double as writers and directors, and that multifaceted involvement exudes a bud-to-blossom continuity throughout each sketch and the production as a whole, as if the company members all slept with each other and raised their babies at Hamburger Mary’s, divulging in free-range mini-burgers and spouting political quips left and right. Read the rest of this entry »