Welcome to Issue #26 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 an 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 the 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.
If you want to receive future issues of the Red Star Bulletin, click here.
Madigan Down, But Not Out
Midwest Socialist covered Mike Madigan’s resignation from his former position of Illinois Speaker of the House back in January. Madigan held the position since 1983, with an exception of the years 1995–96 when Republicans took control of the House, making him the longest-serving speaker of any federal- or state-level House in U.S. history. Madigan resigned when he couldn’t muster the necessary 60 votes to retain his position, and with new revelations promised from the ComEd bribery scandal). Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who represents Illinois’ 7th district (which includes parts of Forest Park, Berkeley, and Hillside), was elected Speaker of the House on January 13.
Madigan’s nomination of Welch was no coincidence—Welch was unsurprisingly one of the 51 votes in support of Madigan to remain as speaker before Welch made his own bid for the position. When a General Assembly special committee was formed to investigate Madigan’s role in a federal bribery scheme involving Exelon ComEd, the chairman for that committee was none other than Welch himself, who was nominated by Madigan ally Greg Harris. One witness from ComEd testified during the proceedings and did so voluntarily—no subpoenas were issued even though the committee had the authority to issue them (federal investigators did subpoena Madigan in their own separate investigation). The final vote of the special committee to not authorize a charge against Madigan was 3–3, and Welch was able to close the proceedings, referring to them as a “sham show trial.” Correspondence obtained in 2020 shows that Madigan advised Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker to hire five people that Welch recommended for Illinois executive branch positions—including Welch’s wife and mother.
So far, Welch has honored his promises as speaker. One of those promises was his guarantee to bring term limits to the House Speaker. House Resolution 72 mandates that members can’t “be elected as Speaker for more than five General Assemblies” (ten years). He is also keeping rules requiring that committee chairs have served at least three terms to be eligible as chairs. House Resolution 72 also requires that bills sent to the Rules Committee must go to a subject matter committee to be debated. This is significant, because in Illinois state government, bills are first sent to the Rules Committee, which assigns them a hearing in a House committee—if they are popular with the speaker and Senate president. If they’re not, the bills “die in Rules,” as the saying goes. It remains to be seen how the requirement for bills to be debated will be implemented, but it is very possible that a very relaxed definition of “debated” is how bills will “die in Rules”—just in a different way. Other promises from Welch like bringing back the “fair tax” will take much more time down the road to be fully realized (or not).
On the subject of taxes, Welch has a lot of repair work ahead of him involving the perception of the relationship between the Illinois House speaker and the Cook County Assessor’s Office. Between 2011 and 2016, Madigan’s law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, attempted to appeal $8.6 billion worth of property taxes for their wealthy, commercial clients. It wasn’t just the sheer amount of money that was newsworthy: the property valuations were flawed and skewed to the advantage of companies that own commercial and industrial property, while leaving individual homeowners to pay more in property taxes. Ex-Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios tended to overvalue lower-priced properties, burdening working class homeowners and benefitting commercial property owners and their lawyers—like Mike Madigan. Berrios just paid $100,000 to settle an ethics case against him for accepting excess amounts of campaign contributions from lawyers who handled assessment cases. Welch tried to craft a good image for himself and the new Cook County Assessor, Fritz Kaegi, in a workshop they did together in July 2020. Despite business press smears against Kaegi for holding moneyed interests more accountable than his predecessor, he may start to chip away at the inequities and disarray of property taxes in Cook County that Madigan and Berrios left behind.
On the other hand, Madigan’s legacy will continue to be felt in Illinois state legislative districts and redistricting for years to come. Several attorneys representing Democratic leaders in the redistricting procedure are former Madigan allies and even former employees. In another indication of Madigan’s permeance, when Republicans hired a firm for oppositional research, they chose to work with McGuireWoods, which gave thousands to Madigan’s past campaigns. His grip is inescapable. And as we’ve written in the bulletin previously, litigation for redistricting follows a standard procedure at the state level: the General Assembly drafts a district map, and the courts decide on the challenges. One is already under way after the recent census. Litigation over redistricting in Illinois, which costs millions in tax dollars here, as in other states, never involves the opinions of the constituents who front the cost.
City Quietly Renews ShotSpotter Contract
In 2018, the City of Chicago signed a contract with California-based company ShotSpotter to provide a $33 million gunfire detection system for the Chicago Police Department. The system, deployed almost exclusively in neighborhoods of color on the South and West Sides, is a network of microphones designed to detect the sound of gunshots and automatically alert police.
The technology used by ShotSpotter to triangulate the sounds of gunfire is similar to other systems that were deployed in Afghanistan to detect incoming sniper fire against U.S. forces. Many cities around the country have bought gunshot detection networks, adding to a growing collection of gadgets designed to take policing into the “next generation.”
ShotSpotter’s website makes impressive claims about the effectiveness of its system, including that “88% of gunfire incidents [in American cities are] not called into 911.” If this were true, there would be a serious incentive for police departments to purchase and use gunfire detection systems to cut down on massive numbers of unreported gun crimes. Unfortunately for ShotSpotter, the statistics cited to support this claim come from a Brookings Institution report that clearly states: “At this point, there is no reliable evidence about the rate of false positives in actual ShotSpotter data, and this is an area where future research would be helpful.”
In the five years since the Brookings study was published, there has been additional research, especially because ShotSpotter has now been deployed in many cities around the country. Overwhelmingly, that research has shown that the false positive rate for the system is very high (over 85 percent in Chicago). There is little evidence that ShotSpotter adequately tested its system to prevent such a large number of false positives. With present technology, it may be impossible to build an automatic system that can reliably distinguish between a gunshot and a firecracker or other loud noise. Deploying police to investigate false reports of shots fired is both wasteful of police time and dangerous for communities already subjected to disproportionate police violence. The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed in May of this year recommending that the contract with ShotSpotter be terminated on this basis.
“Machine learning” has become a buzzword in law enforcement, and over the past ten years, tech companies have developed numerous tools for use by police departments across the country. Digital face recognition, unmanned aerial drones, camera networks, and electronic surveillance devices are aggressively marketed as a way to use computing power and high-tech gadgetry to reduce crime. These systems have also been sold to dictatorships around the world. But numerous studies show that technology such as facial recognition discriminates against Black and Brown people by returning high rates of false positives, especially for people of color. Furthermore, these technologies contribute to the militarization and overreach of federal and local law enforcement, making it much easier to conduct arbitrary surveillance for illegal purposes.
Community groups in Chicago have been organizing this summer to force CPD to cancel its contract with ShotSpotter, timing actions to coincide with the end of the initial three-year agreement. However, according to a CBS News investigative report last month, the City of Chicago quietly renewed the contract with ShotSpotter in December, and did not publicly reveal that the contract had been extended. The renewal is projected to cost an additional $23 million. Instead of giving the people of Chicago the opportunity to express opposition to an extension, the city acted unilaterally to continue using a system that does not work.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) still made the argument that it would be a “grave mistake” to cancel the contract with ShotSpotter because of its life-saving capabilities, citing an unsubstantiated anecdote that he’s heard from “parents whose children have been saved” by its technology. Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward) shamelessly advocated for ShotSpotter and proceeded to use his support as a vehicle for reigniting the debate on bringing back the ability for CPD to engage in foot-pursuits, which the city prohibited in specific scenarios in May of this year.
It’s bad enough that ShotSpotter is ineffective and a waste of money, but it also puts our communities in danger. Thirteen-year-old Adam Toledo was killed in March by police who were responding to a ShotSpotter alert. The system warned police to be on high alert for a potential gunman, and officers responded by killing an unarmed child. Toledo’s death at the hands of CPD resulted in large protests earlier this year, and Chicago Police have not done enough to address allegations that the officers involved acted improperly.
The decision to quietly renew a contract with no opportunity for public comment shows that the city cares more about furnishing the police with expensive equipment than protecting the lives of people.
Impact of Bears moving to suburbs
According to the Daily Herald, with the possibility of a move from Chicago to Arlington Heights, the Bears could be moving to the suburbs. What impact could that have on the city? We looked at the revenue that the Bears brought in over the years and figured in what they pay for the stadium to see the impact of such a move on the city of Chicago.
First, if the cost of a new stadium is $5 million, would there be any tax breaks for the owners? What would the impact be for the owners and how will it be passed on to the people? According to the Daily Herald, the benefits to Arlington Heights would be huge tax revenue, which brings us back to: what would Chicago lose? The same tax revenues that currently pay for city services.
According to the Daily Herald, “SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, where the Chargers and Rams played their first season in 2020, cost an estimated $5 billion to build. But with a billionaire owner such as the Rams’ Stan Kroenke, money was no object for the site southwest of downtown Los Angeles.”
Bears owner Virginia McCaskey doesn’t have pockets this deep, so we don’t know what sources the Bears will use to fund the stadium, which would be similar in scale to SoFi Stadium. According to the Illinoize, McCaskey’s net wealth is about $2.5 million, with the majority of it tied up in the Bears. The same article reveals that the city and the state pay the Illinois State Facilities Authority $5 million a year to cover $500 million in debt from the previous renovation to Soldier Field.
Without some special deal with the government, we don’t see the Bears being able to afford this move. But they may well be trying to negotiate with the city of Chicago for potential upgrades and repairs for Soldier Field that are probably necessary to begin with. Without state funding, which would be passed on to the people in the form of taxes, they will subsidize the cost of the move by raising the cost of tickets.
Mayor Lightfoot has tweeted that the Bears are locked into a contract with the city of Chicago until 2033. She said that the focus should be on winning, the rest is noise, and she considers this to be a negotiating tactic for the Bears.
The Red Star Bulletin was conceived by Ramsin Canon and is a project of the Political Education & Policy Committee. This issue was drafted by CDSA members. Special contributions were made by Sean Kase, Matt Wehmeier, Derek Graham, and Alan Maass. Graphics were contributed by Patrick O’Connell and Jon Lyons. If you would like to contribute to the Red Star Bulletin or have any feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.