All posts by derekrobertson2017

Q&A: What is a TIF, and why is everyone talking about it?

By Derek Robertson

TIF – or tax increment financing – is maybe the most sometimes-controversial, sometimes-coveted, little-understood financing tool at the City of Chicago’s disposal. It’s also potentially more important than ever to the city, with the twin threats posed by a missing state budget and a likely decrease in federal funding on the horizon. There are currently 146 TIF districts in the city, and according to Cook County Clerk David Orr, one in five Chicago properties is part of a TIF zone. This Q&A will answer some basic questions about a program at the center of Chicago’s budget debate.

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Obama-endorsed alderman holds seat in special election

By Derek Robertson

Alderman Sophia King of the 4th Ward won a special election for the office last Tuesday, her first appearance on the ballot since her appointment by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in April of last year.

King received 63 percent of the vote, well above the threshold of 50 percent required to avoid a runoff election. She faced four opponents united in criticizing her ties to Emanuel, but her closest runner-up, real estate attorney Ebony Lucas, captured only 17 percent of the nearly 7,000 ballots cast.

In a ward that covers portions of seven diverse neighborhoods and has over 36,000 registered voters, Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen described turnout as comparable to other off-year contests.
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U. of C. Students protest speech by Ex-Trump Aide

By Derek Robertson

University of Chicago students recently protested a seminar featuring former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, stoking political divisions on campus.

The UChicago Institute of Politics held the Wednesday event, which was closed to both the public and the press, at the university’s Quadrangle Club. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa hosted Lewandowski as part of the Institute’s “America in the Trump Era” speaker series.  Protesters gathered across the street in the courtyard of the University Church before moving directly onto the club’s lawn after the event began.

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Video: Ex-Trump manager greeted by protesters at University of Chicago

By Derek Robertson

Roughly 100 students gathered outside the Quadrangle Club at the University of Chicago last Wednesday to protest the appearance of Corey Lewandowski, and ex-Trump aide, at a closed forum held by the university’s Institute of Politics. Students squared off with opposing views on the Institute’s decision to host Lewandowski, and the ramifications his appearance had for free speech on campus.

Protesters raise a pinata bearing President Donald Trump’s visage across the street from the Quadrangle Club at the University of Chicago last Wednesday. (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)

‘We can’t take this sitting down’: a socialist group’s moment of resistance

By Derek Robertson

Ryan Heaney lingered on the edge of the crowd at the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial near the National Mall the morning after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The first of over 500,000 marchers were streaming down Capitol Hill toward the Mall for the Women’s March on Washington, some of them preparing to protest for the first time in their lives.

That contingent included Heaney himself, so incensed by Trump’s inauguration speech that he immediately registered with the country’s fastest-growing socialist group – the Democratic Socialists of America.

“I always had believed in socialist ideals, but I’d never acted,” said Heaney, 24, while waiting for the crowd to assemble that morning. “Last night after watching Trump get sworn in it hit me that this starts now. I have to do something, and the DSA seemed like the best vehicle to do that.”

The group, which swelled to a record 14,000 members over the weekend, has seen membership skyrocket since the Democratic primary campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the avowed socialist from Vermont whom the DSA endorsed fervently. It planned a schedule of inauguration weekend activities, including participating in the Women’s March, to demonstrate its commitment to opposing Trump’s agenda.

DSA members gather at the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial the morning of the Women’s March on Washington. (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)

The DSA describes its platform as committed to both labor issues and racial and gender equality, and the organization believes the policies it advocates are authentically popular in a way Trump’s never could be. Members emphasized repeatedly through the weekend their belief that it’s now more important than ever to provide voters with a distinct alternative to the policies put forward by centrist Democrats in recent years.

David Duhalde, the group’s deputy director, described the way that dynamic has fed into the organization’s recent growth.

“Folks who want to resist Trump and are looking for new avenues to do so see DSA as a great vehicle to build progressive and radical and democratic  — with a small ‘d’ — alternatives to Trump,” Duhalde said.

“These people supported an economic message that represented racial justice, feminism, and fighting for LGBTQ rights, and they know that kind of social and economic vision with a socialist worldview can defeat the right.”

The first item on their agenda for the weekend was joining the #DisruptJ20 protests Friday, the day of Trump’s inauguration. Organizers from several groups assembled on McPherson Square that morning just blocks from the White House, where the DSA set up a merchandise and recruiting table that was doing brisk business.

A member (left) hoists  a sign showing racial solidarity through the Democratic Socialists of America's logo during the Inauguration Day  protests. (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)
A member (left) hoists  a sign showing racial solidarity through the Democratic Socialists of America’s logo during the Inauguration Day  protests. (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)

Most of the media attention that day focused not on them, however, but a “black bloc” of anarchists who committed property damage throughout downtown, leading to 217 arrests , according to a D.C. CBS affiliate.

Duhalde distanced the DSA from the bloc’s actions, but expressed sympathy for who he viewed as the victims of an overreaction from the city’s police.

“We’re a nonviolent organization and we interact with politics through civil disobedience and other forms of political protest,” Duhalde said, “but we think the riot charges against the protesters are a miscarriage of justice and an abuse of power.”

DSA members mainly got their post-inauguration catharsis not through shattering windows or clashing with riot police, but later that night at D.C.’s Lincoln Theatre – where an “Anti-Inauguration” was held featuring remarks from leftist luminaries like Naomi Klein and Jacobin Magazine publisher Bhaskar Sunkara.

Ajmal Alami, 21, a member of the DSA’s D.C chapter, described it as a welcome respite from what he and most leftists viewed as a dark day in the country’s history.

“I personally thought the event was very well done, and was pleasantly surprised that it was more of energetic speeches [sic] than a traditional teach-in or panel style event,” Alami said in an e-mail the week after the inauguration. “We can’t take this sitting down.”

The audience was raucous, but the most rapturous applause was reserved for the frequent and scathing criticisms of the Democratic party. Klein’s assertion from the podium that it “either needs to be decisively wrestled from corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned” drove this point home, and was echoed earlier that day by Colin Hernandez, 26, another D.C. chapter member.

“It’s been becoming clearer and clearer that Democrats wouldn’t give up corporatism,” Hernandez said. “I think so many new people have joined [the DSA] in the last year because they were so disheartened over Bernie losing in the primary. There needs to be a third party, a party of minorities and workers.”

Colin Hernandez, a D.C. chapter member, displays a sign expressing his concerns with the Democratic party. (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)

The DSA is not a political party, but it has endorsed several Democratic politicians including Sanders  — an independent member of Congress who ran in the Democratic primary — and Mike Sylvester, a member of the Maine House of Representatives who ran openly as a democratic socialist and whom Duhalde held up as an exemplar of the DSA’s electoral strategy.

Duhalde emphasized, however, that the DSA is open to endorsing any candidate it thinks represents the mission of democratic socialism, and that the group is primarily focused at this moment on adapting to the explosive growth it has experienced and protecting communities it views as immediately threatened by Trump’s administration.

Sammy Almashat, the chair of the inauguration committee that planned the weekend’s activities, echoed that sentiment while describing the group’s participation in the Women’s March.

“As of now, Donald Trump is the number one target for the DSA,” Almashat said. “The policies he is going to enact are our sole concern and we want to make sure we defeat those initiatives.”

A D.C. chapter meeting capped the weekend’s activities in the basement of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. With nearly 150 in attendance, Duhalde described the scene as roughly six times the size of an average meeting. During the #DisruptJ20 events and the Women’s March alone 642 new members joined.

Almashat said the DSA plans on participating in several other major protests this year, and that the impact of newer members had already paid off.

“Twelve or thirteen active members [of the inauguration committee] were completely new. Almost all of them had joined since November… we are thrilled that all of these new members have completely taken the initiative, and you can just feel the energy they have to make sure that this is a success,” he said.

One of those members was Mary Petrovic, 29, who introduced herself for the first time at that meeting. Members expressed anxiety, joy, righteous anger, enthusiasm, and wariness all in turn throughout the weekend. The urgency they see in the current political moment, however – and the growth they hope will continue to power them through it – was summed up in just one sentence during her introduction.

“I’m not a joiner,” Petrovic said. “But now’s the time to join.”

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Socialist Feminism Makes Its Mark on the Women’s March on Washington

Scenes from the DSA’s Inauguration Protests

Photo at top: DSA members unfurl their banner at Columbus Circle in Washington, D.C. before marching to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump. (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)

Photo Gallery: Scenes from the Socialists’ inauguration protests

By Derek Robertson

During a weekend where over 600 members joined the longstanding left activist group, the Democratic Socialists of America made their mark on the protests surrounding the inauguration of Republican President Donald J. Trump.

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‘We can’t take this sitting down’: a Socialist Group’s Moment of Resistance

Socialist Feminism Makes its Mark on the Women’s March on Washington

Photo at top: Members of the DSA’s D.C. chapter display their banner at Columbus Circle. (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)

Socialist feminism makes its mark on the Women’s march on Washington

By Derek Robertson

The Democratic Socialists of America brought a unique perspective on feminism along with their flyers and signs to the Women’s March on Washington.

DSA members at the March were only a drop in the massive bucket of humanity. They converged on Washington and across the nation last weekend, but they proclaimed their mission with stark red flyers reading “Working Women of the World Unite.”

Rachel Paneth-Pollak, the head of the group’s D.C. chapter’s socialist feminism subcommittee, described the way the group views feminism as inseparable from their core vision of economic equality.

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Quigley criticizes Trump’s relationship with Russia, defends Obamacare

By Derek Robertson

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said Monday night that in light of an increasingly unpredictable political climate both at home and abroad his work on the House Intelligence Committee is more critical now than ever.

Quigley didn’t mince words before 45th Ward Ald. John Arena and some of his constituents at the Filament Theatre in Portage Park,  regarding the challenges congressional Democrats face dealing with Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

“This is going to be very difficult,” Quigley said, criticizing what he described as Trump’s “romance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in light of his own role on the Intelligence Committee. Trump has made numerous remarks in recent weeks accusing the American intelligence community of partisanship in its  handling of information regarding Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Quigley announced Tuesday that he would not attend Trump’s inauguration, according to a Chicago Tribune report, joining more than 50 Democratic legislators in boycotting the event.

At the meeting Monday,  he addressed the Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act as well, asserting that if implemented they would increase the national debt by up to $1 trillion. He conceded that reforms are needed to combat rising monthly premiums, but added he would fight to preserve what he views as parts of the act that enjoy bipartisan popularity.

Portage Park resident Pamela Conroy, 47, said she was concerned about the Republican health care agenda.

“I’m looking for a full-time job because of the repeal,” Conroy said. “I can’t deny, it’s been expensive, but I’ve looked at private plans and they’re even more expensive.”

Evie Raffanti, a 63-year-old Portage Park resident, asked Quigley if he supported Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s bid for chair of the Democratic National Committee. Quigley declined to answer because of his lack of a say in who becomes chair.

“I’m a big believer in speaking truth to power,” Raffanti said, expressing her disappointment. “I wanted a stronger answer – I want someone like [State Rep.], Will Guzzardi [D-Chicago], [35th Ward Ald.] Carlos [Ramirez-]Rosa, John Arena. … [Quigley is] part of the New Democrat Coalition. He’s one of those neoliberal Democrats.”

Conroy shared Raffanti’s desire for more progressive voices in Chicago-area politics, something Dick Simpson, professor of political science at UIC and a former Chicago alderman, described as a trend both on the Northwest Side and in Democratic politics nationally.

“The Northwest Side has usually been a bastion of machine politics,” Simpson said, “…but recently with the election of aldermen, like Arena, and then with the election of Will Guzzardi, there’s been a growing base of progressives – partly it may be that some of them who used to live near the lakefront have moved to the Northwest Side because of  housing prices, and partly it’s just the changing times.”

Arena touted his progressive credentials throughout the meeting, describing “trust issues” on CPS spending and pointing out that his moments of agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, viewed as overly moderate by many on the left, have been rare.

Arena said the City Council’s Progressive Caucus will ask the mayor to investigate the leadership of the city’s Department of Law, which has been cited three times since last July for not producing relevant information in investigations of the CPD.

He also criticized Emanuel for waiting too long, in his view, to terminate former CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy, under whose tenure a  police officer fatally shot Laquan McDonald. Arena closed with harsh words for current CPD leadership in the aftermath of the release of a Department of Justice investigation revealing numerous police abuses. He argued that the department’s lack of oversight hurts the credibility of officers on the street.

“This should piss you off,” Arena said. “And if I’m a police officer – one of the 10,000 rank and file officers in this system, I’m pissed off too.”

The 45th Ward Ald. John Arena addresses constituents Monday after remarks from Rep. Mike Quigley (D-5th). (Derek Robertson/MEDILL)