Welcome to Issue #4 of the Red Star Bulletin!
The aim of this bulletin is to bring Chicago Democratic Socialists of America members a regular round-up of important legislation, committee meetings, and other updates from City Hall, as well as analysis of what this means for our organizing as socialists.
Make no mistake: the City Council is not friendly terrain for us. We must first and foremost continue to build power in the places it derives from–our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and the streets. But we hope to give CDSA members information they need to assess the electoral project we’re embarking on, and to continue building it into a powerful vehicle for working-class politics in our city.
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Chicago City Council Meeting – Wednesday, July 24th, 2019
What was the big controversy coming out of July’s City Council meeting? According to a lot of mainstream press, the most newsworthy item was Mayor Lori Lightfoot getting caught on a hot mic, where she referred to Chicago Fraternal Order of Police vice president Patrick Murray as “that FOP clown” when he went up to speak during the public comment period. No one in the room heard her say it, but it was audible for those following the (much quieter) livestream. The FOP must have been thankful for a story they could spin against the Mayor; after all, it was only the day before that the Tribune ran a story reporting that Chicago police had been compiling profiles and looking into citizens who spoke at the public meetings of the Chicago Police Board, the same commission that Lightfoot chaired before running for mayor.
Quite a lot of substantive business took place at July’s meeting of the City Council, the third of the 2019-2023 term. Mayor Lightfoot introduced ordinances to fulfill some of her key campaign promises, including:
- O2019-5547 – Amendment of Municipal Code Chapters 3-56, 9-64 and 9-100 regarding wheel tax license fees, violation fines and payment plans.
- O2019-5548 – Amendment of Municipal Code Section 2-56-110 regarding conditions for release of confidential investigatory files and reports of the Office of Inspector General to public.
- O2019-5555 – Establishment of Chicago Community Land Trust Affordable Homeownership and Housing Pilot Program to preserve affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods using Affordable Housing Opportunity Funds.
Moreover, Lightfoot scored two major victories at the July council meeting with the passing of her first ethics reform package (SO2019-5305) and the Fair Work Week ordinance (SO2019-3928). The passed ordinance empowers the Inspector General to audit council subcommittees, disallow employment outside the council that could be a conflict of interest (e.g., being a property tax lawyer), expand the definition of who is considered a lobbyist at City Hall, and increase the cost of fines for ethics violations. One of the co-sponsors of the ordinance was newly elected 40th Ward Alderman and DSA member Andre Vasquez. The ordinance passed unanimously, or more accurately, without objection, including, surprisingly, 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke as well other council members who may face federal indictment for corruption.
The Fair Work Week ordinance also passed unanimously in a huge victory for Mayor Lightfoot and Workforce Development Committee Chair Alderman Sue Garza. The ordinance, as originally introduced, had more than enough votes to pass, but the version that was passed was only finalized that Tuesday, just before the full council meeting, after the Workforce Development Committee had to recess their Monday meeting because they lacked the final text. The “business community” dropped their opposition to the legislation after extracting a handful of concessions, including the exclusion of workers who make $26 or more an hour or are salaried for more than $50,000, as well as the removal of a provision that regulated employers’ ability to limit hours given to part-time workers on the verge of achieving full-time status. Despite these compromises, the ordinance is a major victory for Chicago workers. DSA aldermen Daniel La Spata, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, and Carlos Ramirez Rosa all spoke in support of the ordinance on the council floor. La Spata recalled his past precarity working for major chains like Burger King and Barnes & Noble; Sighco-Lopez praised the ordinance and hoped it would be followed by more reform; and Ramirez Rosa tied the fight for the ordinance to the fight for an eight-hour work day nearly a century earlier.
It turned out the only divided roll call vote at the July meeting was for a resolution “calling for condemnation on legislative efforts to diminish women’s reproductive rights granted under Roe v. Wade.” The resolution passed 46-4, with aldermen Ariel Reboyras, Felix Cardona, Sposato, and Anthony Napolitano voting nay. Reboyras, Nicholas Sposato, and Napolitano are all known reactionaries on the Council, but the nay vote by 31st Ward freshman alderman Cardona, a member of the Progressive Reform Caucus, is certainly eyebrow-raising. Cardona ousted incumbent alderman Milly Santiago in a runoff back in April, and was previously criticized by the LGBTQ Victory Fund in February for “a pattern of anti-LGBTQ attacks in Chicago’s 31st Ward” and making “homophobic comments about Colin Bird-Martinez”, another candidate (and DSA member) for the office.
In addition to all the major legislation that was passed, a number of notable ordinances were introduced at July’s council meeting, including a number from the council’s six socialists.
Introduced Legislation of Note, 7/24/2019
Upcoming Council Subcommittee Meetings:
Next Regular City Council Meeting: September 18th
Obama Presidential Center Community Benefits Agreement
We asked Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), a group organizing for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) between the city and the developers of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), to summarize the agreement.
The Community Benefits Agreement campaign began in 2016 when the Obama Presidential Center was rumored to be seeking locations on the South Side. Woodlawn has experienced displacement pressures since the announcement of the OPC; property values increased by 23% in 2017 (opposed to 4% in all of Chicago). 70% of residents in Woodlawn were housing cost-burdened in 2016, whereas the U.S. average is 30%; and in 2017, the rate in Woodlawn reached 80% (according to the 1Woodlawn housing report).
In 2017, when the Center was announced, the CBA Coalition (consisting of a variety of community organizations who had previously worked together to bring a full-service adult trauma center to the University of Chicago) was formed. The Coalition hosted a #GetItInWriting series consisting of community meetings in the areas surrounding the OPC in order to get the people’s feedback. Thousands of doors were knocked, thousands of folks were called, and hundreds of pages of research were consulted before the CBA was born. A CBA is a private document between a developer and community groups detailing what kind of amenities and/or mitigations will be guaranteed to the community. CBAs have been executed successfully all over the country.
The OPC CBA would have roped in both the Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago. When both the Foundation and the University expressed that they had no intention to sign a private CBA, the Coalition decided to team up with their aldermen to get a Community Benefits Ordinance passed. The election of Alderwoman Jeannette Taylor in the 20th Ward was a tremendous achievement for the Coalition, as Ald. Taylor had been a member of the both CBA Coalition and K.O.C.O. (the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization) for many years. Alderwoman Leslie A. Hairston in the 5th Ward also finally agreed to sponsor the ordinance after she won her race by a very close margin. The Housing Ordinance was introduced on July 27th, 2019, in the City Council. Now it will be assigned to a committee of aldermen for review (we expect it to be assigned to the Housing Committee), and must be voted out of the committee. The housing ordinance is the Coalition’s main focus right now, but we are planning on rolling out other ordinances tackling different aspects of the original CBA, such as a jobs guarantee. We chose housing to be our main fight because we believe displacement is the number one concern in the area.
For a quick breakdown of the need for a CBA and the provisions of the agreement, see the one-pager here.
#DemocratizeComEd Municipalization Feasibility Study
The last issue of Red Star Bulletin included a report on Chicago DSA’s #DemocratizeComEd campaign. Thanks to support from our socialist alderpeople, the issue is gaining traction in the City Council.
At the July 24 meeting, Alderman Daniel La Spata (1st Ward) introduced an order (Or2019-272) calling for a “municipalization feasibility study” to explore alternatives to Chicago’s franchise agreement with ComEd. In total, 22 co-sponsors signed on to the order, including all six socialist alderpeople.
The order tasks the Department of Fleet & Facilities Management (2FM) with commissioning a third-party firm to conduct the study and deliver the results to the City Council no later than December 1, 2019. The study is explicitly required to investigate full municipalization of ComEd’s energy infrastructure and review the “socioeconomic, financial, and environmental impacts” of alternatives under consideration.
A key goal for the feasibility study is to come up with a reliable estimate of the cost to acquire ComEd’s assets. Opponents of municipalization often dismiss idea outright, arguing that the process would be cost-prohibitive. Under the terms of the franchise agreement, the City can buy out ComEd’s Chicago-based assets at a cost equal to what it would cost to build them, minus depreciation. In an interview with WTTW, Melissa Washington, ComEd’s vice-president of governmental and external affairs, quoted a “conservative estimate” of $5 billion for the acquisition. In fact, that figure is best understood in the context of the total revenues generated by the utility’s Chicago operations. #DemocratizeComEd estimates that these revenues totaled $2.2 billion in 2018 alone. The feasibility study order also reiterates the City’s right to review ComEd’s financials to gather information relevant to the analysis.
Chicagoans are not alone in seeking more information through a municipalization feasibility study. Other municipalities currently undertaking formal feasibility studies include Pueblo, Colorado; San Francisco, California; and Maine. A preliminary study out of San Francisco—where East Bay DSA’s Let’s Own PG&E campaign is active—found that public ownership has the potential for “significant long-term benefits” to residents.
The feasibility study order was co-sponsored by 11 of the 15 members of the Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy, with the notable exception of Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th Ward). This initial support is a good sign that the order is likely to be passed out of committee during their September meeting and referred back to the City Council for a final vote. Ultimately, 26 “yes” votes are required for the order to pass. Mayor Lightfoot’s office has remained neutral on the issue so far.
A feasibility study is just the first step toward democratizing our energy. Some City Council members who see a feasibility study as a bargaining chip to strengthen the city’s hand in franchise agreement negotiations may not support municipalization outright. The design of the study will also have a profound impact on its conclusions. Key considerations in evaluating such a document: Are costs understood in the context of revenues that municipalization would make available to the city? Is the scope of the study sufficiently focused on the long-term impacts of each alternative? How is the urgency of the climate crisis factored into the model?
The strong support in City Hall for a feasibility study is an encouraging development that demonstrates the capacity of our socialist alderpeople to shift discourse to the left.
The task for the #DemocratizeComEd Campaign remains to organize working-class Chicagoans around this issue, connect the dots between this fight and others, and build our power.
In the News
Aldermanic Coverage – The Intercept
Coverage of the Socialism Conference and the socialist surge in Chicago politics.
Aldermanic Coverage – NBC Chicago
Coverage of community defense efforts in the 25th and 33rd wards.
Casino – Chicago Tribune
Alderpeople react to Lori Lightfoot’s proposed locations for a Chicago casino.
Democratize ComEd – Chicago Tribune
The FBI raided the home of longtime ComEd lobbyist and Madigan confidant, Mike McClain.
Democratize ComEd – Chicago Tribune
Federal investigators are looking into $10,000 in payments from ComEd lobbyist to Kevin Quinn, former Madigan aide and brother of 13th Ward Alderman Marty Quinn, who was fired amid a sexual harassment scandal in 2018.
Democratize ComEd – Crain’s Chicago Business
Coverage of the municipalization feasibility study order. Quotes Ald. La Spata and Ald. Ramirez Rosa.
Democratize ComEd – WTTW
Interview with Ald. La Spata and Melissa Washington, VP of Governmental and External Affairs at ComEd, about the municipalization feasibility study order introduced in City Council on July 24.
Democratize ComEd – American Public Power Association
Coverage of municipalization efforts gaining traction in Chicago and New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio raised the possibility of municipalization after back-to-back power outages.
Democratize ComEd – The City Bureau
Coverage of the feasibility study and the contract renegotiation. ComEd confirmed that they sent the City their proposed terms in June, but did not provide additional details.
Housing for All – Chicago Tribune
A description of the circumstances surrounding the pending eviction of tenants in an Albany Park building owned by landlord George Triff. Some of the tenants have formed a tenants’ union, which has the support of CDSA member and ward alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez.
Housing for All – Hyde Park Herald
Reporting on a public meeting held by Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor to discuss the CBA that she will introduce in the City Council. It is intended to protect residents currently living near the future site of the Obama Presidential Center from being displaced by gentrification.
Housing for All – Crain’s Chicago Business
Op-ed by Carlos Ramirez Rosa on the need for the state to lift the ban on rent control.
Police Oversight – CBS Local
A breakdown of the police board ruling against the four police accused of covering up for Jason Van Dyke after he shot Laquan McDonald.
Sanctuary for All – Chicago Sun-Times
Immigrant rights groups call on Mayor Lightfoot to take further action to protect their communities from ICE.
Sanctuary for All – Washington Post
An op-ed by Mayor Lightfoot written as an open letter to President Trump about ICE activities within Chicago.
See our page for regular Ward Nights here.
VonHumboldt Plan presented by Alderman LaSpata and RBH
Monday, August 12, 2019 at 6:30 PM – 8 PM
Von Humboldt Elementary School, 2620 W Hirsch St, Chicago, Illinois 60622
Daniel LaSpata and the developer (RBH Group) of the space that is the VonHumbolt School will be presenting a plan for its redevelopment. Share your input with both the alderman and the developer about what this space should look like.
Facebook link here.
Pilsen Back To School Block Party
Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 2 PM – 5 PM
Open Books (Pilsen), 905 W 19th St., Chicago, Illinois 60608
Facebook event link here.
Know Your Rights Training
Wednesday, August 21, 2019 at 6 PM – 8 PM
HANA Center, 4300 N California Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60618
Facebook event link here.
The 40th ward office of Alderman Andre Vasquez is hosting four town hall forums throughout the month of August. They will take place:
Thursday, August 8th @ 6pm, DANK Haus, 4740 N. Western
Thursday, August 15th @ 2pm, Budlong Woods Library, 5630 N. Lincoln
Tuesday, August 20th @ 6pm, Barrelman Tavern, 6001 N. Paulina
Saturday, August 24th @ 11am, Chicago Waldorf School, 5200 N. Ashland
We encourage 40th ward residents to attend! You can RSVP here.
The Red Star Bulletin is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members and members of Southside Together Organizing for Power. Special contributions were made by Rebecca Burns, Sean Duffy, Federica Ferrari, Tina Groeger, Nick Hussong, Aisha Naseem, Leonard Pierce, and Sveta Stoytcheva. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Red Star Bulletin would like to give a shout out to DSA member Raymond Diaz, who was helping get socialist alderpeople elected before he was old enough to vote and who pinned a rose to his cap for his high school graduation. We wish you the best in DC!