Politics/National Security

The fight for affordability: Woodlawn’s demands for the Mayor’s housing plan

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

“I am writing to personally and directly share with you the City’s proposals to take advantage of this historic moment, reflect what we heard and partner with you to transform Woodlawn into an even stronger, safer, and more equitable place to call home.”

These are the words of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, penned in a Feb. 25 letter addressed to the entire Woodlawn community. 

Earlier this year, the Department of Housing released a draft ordinance addressing affordable housing protection in the neighborhood after months of stakeholder meetings and public outcry from Woodlawn residents. According to DOH Commissioner Marisa Novara, the aims of the ordinance are to “protect existing residents from displacement and to promote housing options to support equitable and inclusive income diversity in Woodlawn.” 

While it has been nearly a month since the draft was released, there are no announced next steps on the horizon. During a community meeting at Hyde Park High School, where DOH officials discussed the draft plan with residents, Deputy Commissioner Anthony Simpkins said that the plan will not move to a City Council vote until “it has the support of the community.” Continue reading

Female politicians are struggling, but could succeed with more faith from voters

By Shirin Ali
Medill Reports

In 2020, more women hold positions in U.S. political office than ever before. Survey data reveals that 69% of adults believe female political leaders would improve the quality of life for most Americans. The public sees benefit to female leadership, but struggles to convey that faith in the voting booth.

Despite positive statistics in favor of women, the U.S. political landscape suggests a much bleaker reality of female leadership. Despite voters having more comfort electing females to legislative positions, when it comes to the Oval Office, women time and time again face significant obstacles.

“There’s a comfort level with women as legislators, whether it’s at the federal level or state level. They work well up the aisle, but to be the chief executive to be the place where the buck stops, that’s the next, big hurdle,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Though year-over-year data produced by CAWP shows a steady increase in the number of women choosing to run for office, they still face more struggles in winning votes than their male counterparts. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 48% of Americans say men will continue to hold more high political offices in the future, even as more women run for office.

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Special deployment of border patrol agents are targeting sanctuary cities

By Shirin Ali
Medill Reports

After thwarted efforts by the Trump administration to assert federal authority over the country’s multiple sanctuary cities, President Donald Trump successfully began deploying special border patrol agents across the country in a targeted effort meant to supplement local Immigration and Customs Enforcement field teams.

According to The New York Times’ exclusive announcement of the deployment, Chicago along with the other sanctuary cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark are all expected to receive special agents. This comes as a response to local ICE leadership requesting help in sanctuary jurisdictions where agents indicated a struggle to track down undocumented immigrants without the help of police and other state and local agencies.

Under city law, the Chicago Police Department and other city agencies are not allowed to assist ICE except in specific cases where targeted undocumented immigrants have an outstanding criminal warrant, have been charged or convicted of a felony or have been identified as a gang member by CPD. Continue reading

Immigrants using public benefits could jeopardize visas, green cards under new immigration policy

By Shirin Ali
Medill Reports

It’s been almost four weeks since the Trump administration enacted the immigration policy that penalizes immigrants who have used or are deemed likely to use public benefits such as Social Security, public housing and food stamps.

As the new Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds policy takes effect, immigrant communities are grappling with fear, frustration and confusion.

Immigrants applying for a green card, visa or legal admission into the U.S. could be denied entry for their past or potential use of public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, certain forms of Medicaid and certain housing programs. Any applicant who has received public benefits for more than 12 months within any 36-month period would be considered a pubic charge. Continue reading

Alderman Taylor gets candid about Chicago politics during podcast taping

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

“I hate City Hall, it’s the devil’s den,” said 20th Ward Ald.  Jeanette Taylor at a recent live podcast taping.

As election season ramps up, the conversation on what ideas, policies, and people are truly electable becomes more critical at national and local levels. This discussion was the central component of the first taping of a live podcast series, Unelectable, the product of a partnership between Black Youth Project 100 and Chicago-based podcast AirGo Radio. 

Taylor laid it on the line for the series aimed to engage Chicago voters in deep-dive candor about Chicago politics and the electoral process by inviting city leaders who have made waves in the political sphere. The inaugural taping featured two women behind organizing efforts that captured the entire city’s attention over the last year: Taylor and Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacey Davis Gates.

Taylor took on City Hall and the fight for a Woodlawn community housing agreement as she spoke to attendees that packed out The Silver Room, a black-owned boutique at the corner of East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue.

AirGo hosts Daniel Kisslinger and Damon Williams began the meeting by inviting the crowd to grab a mic and share policies they believe would be beneficial to Chicago’s population but seem ‘unelectable.’ Williams said the hope for events such as this is to create community forums to flush out their thoughts on “impactful issues dismissed as being too big or unrealistic by mainstream media.” 

The conversation touched on a range of controversies from universal healthcare to housing as a human right, something Taylor spoke about passionately as her ward is presently battling with the city for more affordable housing protections. 

Taylor criticized fellow aldermen for their inactivity on ordinances for low-income housing proposed by community organizers last year. She cited her own experience before she entered the political arena. As a Woodlawn resident, she said she felt underappreciated by the officials that represented her neighborhood and has vowed to engage 20th Ward residents in a way that respects their concerns and their tax dollars.

An example of this is the weekly open office hours that Taylor hosts at the aldermanic office on South Wentworth Avenue every Thursday. She also gives her constituents her personal cell phone number– which she shared with attendees at the end of the event. 

The rookie alderman is a professed “organizer first,” who never saw herself as an elected official. But now that she has a seat in city hall, she says she’s fighting for people in Woodlawn to be able to stay because she doesn’t see herself as any different from the low-income residents in her community. 

Gates also touched on affordable housing, which was a controversial topic during the CTU’s strike negotiations between the Chicago Board of Education and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Last year, critics admonished CTU leadership for requesting resources for homeless students in its list of demands, but union leadership didn’t back down on the issue.

During the panel discussion, Gates was adamant that a student’s housing-security is directly related to education, and educators should not be told that it’s not in their job description to be concerned. 

“Don’t apologize for it,” she said. 

Gates also encouraged the attendees to continue to organize around the changes that they had earlier expressed they’d like to see in Chicago. 

This wasn’t Black Youth Project 100’s first time partnering with Taylor or Gates. The organization aligned itself with Taylor and the coalition sponsoring the proposed community benefits agreement with the Obama Foundation in hopes of preventing rent and property tax hikes that could displace close to 40% of Woodlawn’s residents when the Obama Presidential Library opens. BYP100 also supported CTU in its teachers strike last fall. 

Photo at top: AirGo hosts Damon Williams (left) and Daniel Kisslinger (right) open the floor to discuss electoral politics in Chicago at the first taping of their ‘Unelectable’ series. (Sidnee King/MEDILL)

Some young Midwesterners don’t align fully with Democrats or Republicans

By Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

MILWAUKEE — Stephanie Olsen does not align with a political party and sees too much “tribalism” in politics.

“I think identity politics is toxic,” said Olsen, a 30-year-old Milwaukee resident. “We’re just fighting against each other constantly. Really, if you actually talk to a human being, you probably agree on most things.”

I spoke with Olsen outside of President Donald Trump’s rally in Milwaukee earlier this year. Olsen was among a large group of people who couldn’t the enter the arena because it had filled up and watched the president’s speech on a big screen outside of the arena. No Trump supporter, she came to the rally because she is considering a political career and she wanted to “get to know the other side.”
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Bernie’s grassroots movement hopes for a comeback in Tuesday’s Illinois primary

By Alison Saldanha
Medill Reports

On a warm spring Saturday in Grant Park, where Barack Obama held his victory rally in 2008, voters waving blue and white campaign signs grooved to the beat of rock,  pop and gospel music, breaking into chants of “Feel the Bern!”

At about 2 p.m., John Lennon’s 1971 single “Power to the People” started to play as the energetic, mostly under-40 crowd broke into loud cheers to greet Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on stage.

“Hello Chicago!” he said, his voice booming through the park.

The 78-year-old presidential candidate, running for the second time, urged voters to support whoever wins the Democratic nomination. “Together we know our differences are far, far less than our differences with this dangerous president,” he said. Continue reading

Illinois political polls, explained

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

Three weeks ago, former Vice President Joe Biden was polling at 20% support amongst Illinois democrats according to Victory Research. This week, he’s at 63% in a Gravis Marketing poll.

Based on the tumultuous nature of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, both of these polls were right at the time when they were conducted.

“I wasn’t planning on conducting another poll before the primary,” said Rod McCulloch, founder of Victory Research. “But the recent nationwide shift in the race between Biden and Sanders makes me curious as well as anybody else.”

Polls are a helpful tool for candidates and voters. Candidates can adapt their campaign strategy based on poll results and voters can feel more informed in their decision making because of them.

“It’s not a perfect predictor of the outcome,” said Dick Simpson, political science professor at University of Illinois at Chicago and a former 44th Ward alderman. “The real predictor is how people vote on election day.”

The accuracy of the polls will be tested once results are shared from the March 17 primary.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Rod McCulloch’s name.

Early voting is in place across Chicago, including at University of Illinois Chicago’s campus. (Samone Blair/MEDILL)

Obama’s ‘Great Lakes Czar’ runs for reelection at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

By Nicole Girten
Medill Reports

Commissioner Cameron Davis, former President Obama’s point person on the Great Lakes, is running to retain his seat at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in part to tackle the issue of flooding in Chicago.

Climate change in Chicago takes the form of extreme weather and severe storms. The water levels in Lake Michigan have risen six feet since 2013 and the Army Corps. of Engineers is predicting that they will continue to rise in 2020. The lake levels have risen, in part, because warmer waters evaporating into the atmosphere are causing storms to be more severe and more frequent.

As a commission board member, Davis’ duties include setting the policy agenda and managing the agency’s $1.1 billion budget. Davis has served on the board of commissioners since 2018 when he ran for the seat left vacant by the late commissioner Tim Bradford. When he ran for that seat Davis broke the record for write-in candidates, superseding Franklin Roosevelt by 6,622 votes. Davis will be on the Cook County ballot in the next election in March.

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