It Is Difficult (Though Not Impossible) To Misuse Garlic

It Is Difficult (Though Not Impossible) To Misuse Garlic

by Lew Rosenbaum

In the spring of 1965 I moved into my own apartment.  Located on the corner of Zonal Ave. and Soto St. in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, it had once been a physician’s office in Hollywood.  The office had been sold, cut in half, and one half moved to the site i moved into.  The bottom floor was occupied by a family with small children.  The top floor was accessible easiest by a flimsy, rickety outside staircase, which opened into the living room.  Three of us — Steve, Art, and I — occupied the apartment.  The digs were cheap — we split the $70 rent, Art paying the least because he got the least cubby-hole for a bedroom. The landlord, whom we knew as Don Julio, lived next door, and behind his casita he raised vegetables, chickens, and I think a goat. On the occasion of moving into a place with my own kitchen, my sister Greta gave me a cookbook — actually a pamphlet from Jay Rosenberg, a philosophy student at Reed College, called The Impoverished

You Can Never Have Enough Garlic

Weatherbeaten, food-stained, but unbowed, the  Rosenberg manifesto continues to enlighten

Student’s Book of Cookery, Drinkery and Housekeepery.  From Jay Rosenberg I learned important life lessons:  The proportion of water to rice that makes good RICE; the role of spices in transforming cheap eats; and that it is difficult (though not impossible) to misuse garlic.

Rosenberg categorizes impoverished students into two groups: the merely impoverished and the really poor.  He wrote the cookbook for the first group, not the second (who could not afford to buy a cookbook, or even food).  I actually belonged to the latter group, and, having been gifted the cookbook, have spent the rest of my cooking life learning to adapt its methods  to various cuisines, heavily seasoning what is obtainable cheap.  Or free.  I will not regale you with my methods of obtaining fresh meat for free.  Use your imagination. No it wasn’t from Don Julio’s yard. 

I spent the summer of 1966 in Planada, a small town East of Merced, with five other students. We were on a fellowship designed by the Student Health Project — Margie and Effie, two nursing students from Vallejo, CA and Chicago, IL, respectively; Dave, a dental student from UCLA; and Dale and I, both from USC Medical School. We were documenting health care delivery to San Joaquin Valley farmworkers. The three men rented a small house for the summer and shared cooking responsibilities.  Because chicken was cheap (remember: I was a really impoverished student) — 19 cents a pound on sale — that’s what we had when it was my turn to cook.  Relying on the Rosenberg manifesto, I stocked the kitchen with garlic, rosemary,  paprika, and tarragon.  From there I launched my varied chicken recipes from the pages of that amazing tome, to the surprise and delight of my roommates. It was difficult to use too much garlic. 

A few years later I explored the “Drinkery” part of the cookbook.  That section gives directions for making your own beer.  This was long before yuppie beer-making kits and fancy equipment. Once again my sister Greta indulged me, allowing me to use her basement to store a large plastic trash can within which the various beer condiments — sugar, malt, hops, yeast — were allowed to ferment for the prescribed time after which, with the assistance of a plastic tube, I siphoned the liquid into bottles I had assembled for the purpose.  Then with a bottle-capper and fresh bottle caps, I finished off the process.  To this day, my niece Ronni and a number of my friends — those who are still alive from that time — whenever we see each other we recall those halcyon days of drinking the magnificent home brew. It gets better with every remembrance. Perhaps I need to say here, brewed without garlic. 

The other evening, after dinner, a friend was telling what repetitive task she zones out on.  When I mentioned I meditate while washing dishes, she invited me over (please come frequently).  I might have said the same thing about cooking.  Chopping vegetables.  Slicing meat. It’s almost ritualistic.  Forget the almost.  This is especially true about my approach to Chinese style cooking. Eating in Chinatown, Los Angeles, is where I developed my respect for this cuisine.  My lab partners at USC,  Ed and Sam, would frequent Chung Mei for late night rice porridge — congee is what it is called on most Chinese menus, but we knew it as “juk,” a Cantonese variant. Then there was Green Leaves, a restaurant just down the hill from where I lived in Chinatown, and where my wife Lee and I would have dinner frequently. We came in so often, and always asked the waiter to hold the MSG, sugar, and salt, that he would chuckle as he approached us to take our order. “I know: No msg, no sugar, no salt, no taste.” One shop in Chinatown sold kitchen utensils and other goods made in the People’s Republic of China (every other place only dealt in Taiwanese or Hong Kong commodities).  Along with my long gone Mao jacket, here I purchased a prize:  a wooden handled, Chinese cleaver. I named it Eldridge and it accompanied me when I moved to Chicago. 

In the intervening years of betrayal, I changed the cleaver’s name to Kathleen and began to fear that the wooden handle was disintegrating. My good friend and spiritual advisor, pastor Barry, accompanied me to Chicago’s Chinatown in search of another cleaver.  After weighing all options, the most important of which was “How much does it cost”? followed by “Does it feel balanced when I hold it?” I found one, obtained an ecclesiastical blessing on the implement and whatever it participated in making, and have made it my favorite for slicing garlic and everything else.  The ritual — remember the ritual? — a bowl for every vegetable or meat to be cut: mushrooms, bok choy, bitter melon, onion, red bell pepper, lap cheung (Chinese sausage), you name it. When it comes to garlic, I take a bulb, smash it with the cleaver on the top to separate the cloves, and then take a quarter of the bulb.  Then I look at what is before me and probably add another two cloves. Hold the cloves on the cutting board with one hand, slice the garlic fine with the cleaver with the other, then holding the cleaver with both hands mince the garlic.  You can never have too much garlic. 

Today I’m making a pork based chili verde. It’s going to cook all day, the flavors slowly melding together.  I didn’t get poblano peppers, so it won’t be really green.  I’m starting with a little more than a pound of pork stew meat.  I’m used to slicing the meat into smaller sections that make them easier to sauté, as in Chinese cooking, and so that’s the way I start.  (I don’t deny it. As I cut the chunks of meat I think of all the metaphors that pork or pig calls up, what does the pork represent in political and police culture.  I kind of revel in the thought of pork barrel. Maybe I wield Kathleen and think I hear the Black Panther slogan, “Off the pig.”). Then I brown the pieces in a “Dutch oven”  coated inside with olive oil.   After ten or so minutes, as the meat browns on all sides, I add a can of pinto beans (for this amount of meat, a 30 ounce can will be sufficient).  While they are simmering, I take four tomatillos, of course take the papery covering off, then wash, quarter them and then cut the quarters once or twice more. Putting the tomatillos in the pot, I turn to cut an onion in half, core the end out and peel that half (the other half goes in a container in the refrigerator). Dicing the onion makes me cry, even though I’ve run cold water over it.  Perhaps in spite of myself, I’m thinking of the porker in the White House who praised in a speech last night the “heroes of ICE and the Border Patrol” which by itself is enough to make me sob.

Now I slice a green pepper in half and put one half in the refrigerator for another recipe.  I take the stem and seeds out of the half that I am holding, slice the pepper lengthwise into about 6 or 8 pieces, and then cut each into half inch sections.  Add the onion and the pepper to the beans and pork, add generous amounts of black pepper, cilantro (fresh, diced is best; dried is OK too), and cumin (both ground and whole seed — a generous amount). One whole seeded jalapeño is good; one-half jalapeño with seeds still in if you want a kick, something like what happens when the white house takes away your food stamp benefits.  Not really, the jalapeño tastes good, the government action is in bad taste.

Now is when I pick up the garlic bulb.  And the thought shatters my mind: how do I protect myself, my friends, from all these vampires clutching at my pocketbook, taking away my medical care, pricing me out of my home.  There isn’t enough garlic I can wear, give to all my friends, that will drive them away, is there?  Have I got enough with six large cloves? I still have my first cookbook, weather beaten, acid stained, falling apart though it may be.  Nah!  Add another couple or three or more.  Especially when you are fighting vampires, you can never use too much garlic.

Chicago Elections 2019: The (April) Day Of

Chicago Elections 2019:  April 2

by Lew Rosenbaum

This is more than a guide to the election map of April 2, 2019.  Enough people are talking

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Mayor Emanuel isn’t running, but his fingerprints are all over the crime scene.  He has personally given thousands from his campaign war chest; and his PAC, Chicago Forward, has spread money like peanut butter on the campaigns of his allies.  He’s hoping to preserve his “legacy” by ensuring that his friends remain in their seats.

about how this election could transform city council, how there are some exciting candidates as well as a load of incumbents deserving to be retired. We don’t have 20-20 hindsight yet, so we can’t offer perfect predictions of what will happen.  But here’s the deal:  a debate about major questions of our survival is raging across the electoral landscape.  Whether or not you will have a house or home to return to;  whether or not your neighborhood school will be replaced by privatized charters; whether or not mental health clinics will be restored;  whether or not police will continue to terrorize our communities; these are real debates taking place from wards on the south side to the north.

The demands that people have been making, for example for police accountability and for housing as a human right, have pushed a new crop of candidates into the electoral arena.  As much focus has been on the individual candidates, we should be paying at least as much attention to the movement on whose waves these candidates are riding. And while there is a significant amount of simply populist backlash to turn the long term incumbents out, the real catalyst to the emergence of the new crop of challengers is the anger — righteous and deep — of the people.

Let’s look at some of the wards up for grabs.

Ward 5: Activist William Calloway, best known for his efforts to bring the video of the murder of  Laquan McDonald to the public, has forced incumbent Leslie Hairston into a runoff.  His main support comes from the South Shore neighborhood, but he has gotten an endorsement from the other Hairston challenger, Gabriel Piemonte, whose base is in Hyde Park.  Hairston came close to winning outright, so this will be a difficult one to flip. What makes this race even more interesting is that Willie Wilson endorsed Calloway over Hairston (no love lost between Wilson and Rahm Emanuel).  Wilson took more African American majority wards than any other candidate in the February election. A Calloway victory holds the most promise for the workers of the fifth Ward.

Ward 15: Rafa Yanez led 4 other candidates to force Rahm Emanuel rubber stamp Ray Lopez into a runoff, but just barely.  Yanez had union support in the first round and continues with union support and the endorsement of United Working Families.  A former policeman, he has been vocal in supporting the NoCopAcademy campaign and exposing abuse in the police, not as a matter of bad individuals but as a systemic problem.  Rafa Yanez has the movement support that could make a change in the ward.

Ward 20: Nine candidates vied in February to replace retired/indicted alderman Willie

ct-illinois-election-early-voting-20160929

David Orr retired as County Clerk. He has played a role in the elections often endorsing candidates opposing the incumbents.  This is an indication of fissures developing in the Democratic Party itself.

Cochran.  Of these, Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson made the runoff.  Jeanette, with 29% of the vote, came to the attention of Chicagoans with her participation in a hunger strike to keep Dyett School open.  She earned her right to be part of that group, by decades of volunteer work leading the Local School Councils in the neighborhood.  Her fight for public education is not a whim; it’s life or death, a matter of survival for her, her children and the families where she grew up.  Incidentally, she apparently just joined DSA.  Jeanette Taylor shows something about how the programmatic demands of the people are embodied in the candidates themselves.

Ward 25: In 2015, Byron Sigcho-Lopez and other challengers almost forced Danny Solis into a runoff.  This year Solis decided not to run, after the FBI got him to wear a wire to establish corruption among the aldermen.  Byron is in a runoff this time against Alex Acevedo, a machine hack.  Hilario Dominguez, a teacher and one of the other candidates with progressive endorsement, has endorsed Sigcho-Lopez, who has impressive credentials fighting for public education and against charters (he did a lot of the work uncovering the corruption in the UNO charter network).  He is also an activist in Pilsen Alliance and embraced the “Five Point Program” of the Concerned Puerto Rican Voters, a model of the fight for basic needs.  The movement around Byron Sigcho-Lopez provides an opportunity to develop a citywide network of fighters against gentrification and for public education.

Ward 30: Ariel Reboyras, the incumbent in the ward and Rahm Emanuel shill, is best known this year as the man who went to the West Coast to research police oversight practices, and came back with two proposals to divert from the Chicago Police Accountability Council, or CPAC.  Jessica Gutierrez, daughter of former Congressman Luis Gutierrez, is in the runoff challenging Reboyras. To some extent this campaign reflects an opposition to Emanuel and the whole police accountability question. A vote for Gutierrez could solidify that opposition.

Ward 33: Rossana Rodriguez has become the star of the runoff season.  She actually polled more votes than the incumbent, but not enough to win outright.  Rodriguez has run as a Democratic Socialist;  the incumbent, Deb Mell, is the daughter of long time Chicago pol Dick Mell, a loyal follower of Rahm Emanuel.  More important than her star quality is that Rodriguez has embraced the NoCopAcademy campaign, supports CPAC, wants an elected school board, and seeks housing as a human right.  Endorsed by United Working Families, a citywide movement is coalescing around the Rossana Rodriguez. campaign.

Ward 40: Alderman Pat O’Connor was part of the Vrdolyak 29 that obstructed Mayor Harold Washington’s program in 1983. He never apologized for his participation in this racist, anti-working class cabal.  As the floor leader in city council for Mayor Emanuel, O’Connor did Emanuel’s bidding for the last eight years.  When Alderman Ed Burke was indicted 6 months ago for extortion and then stripped of his chairmanship of the powerful finance committee, Emanuel placed O’Connor in his place.  In that role just last week he prevented a referendum from reaching the floor of the Council that would tax sales of homes more than $1 million.  That tax would provide funds for services for the homeless. Andre Vasquez was the first among challengers to O’Connor’s seat and will face him in the runoff.  Coming out of the hip-hop movement, Vasquez has embraced everything decent that O’Connor opposes.  He’s endorsed by United Working Families and points out that his winning this office would allow for the further development of a Socialist Caucus of aldermen. Ousting O’Connor by itself would be a worthy achievement. As with a number of other wards, here too the movement for affordable housing for all, for public schools, for police accountability could be solidified with the victory of Andre

Erika and other challengers in 46th ward

Before the February 26 election, the challengers in the 46th ward agreed to support whoever got into a runoff against Alderman O’Connor

Vasquez.

Ward 46:When the votes were counted after the February 26 election, less than 300 votes separated the three top challengers to incumbent Jim Cappleman, gentrifier extraordinaire.  Any of the three would have been a vast improvement over the man Emanuel tapped to take Danny Solis’s (the alderman who wore the wire, ward 25) position on the Zoning Committee. That lot fell to Marianne Lalonde, a PhD chemist who is also on the Board of a shelter for homeless women, Sarah’s Circle.  She is a fierce advocate for people experiencing homelessness, a big problem in Uptown where this ward is located.  Cappleman gained about 44% of the vote in February; Lalonde’s chances are improved by the fact that the other challenger candidates have endorsed her. Getting rid of Cappleman would be advantageous by itself.  A victory for Lalonde could strengthen an already strong movement for housing and education in this ward. 

Ward 47:  Alderman Pawar decided not to run for re-election and instead to run for treasurer.  Nine candidates vied for this office. Matt Martin won 40% of the vote and will face Michael Negron in the runoff.  Martin is endorsed by United Working Families and has a good chance of winning this seat.

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On February 26, volunteers pack the 49th Ward office of Maria Hadden turning out the vote that gave her practically a 2 to 1 margin of victory.

We should at least note that Democratic Socialist  Daniel LaSpata beat incumbent Proco “Joe” Moreno by a 2 to 1 margin; and Democratic Socialist Carlos Ramirez Rosa retained his seat with 60% of the vote. Maria Hadden ousted incumbent Joe Moore by an almost 2 to 1 margin; Moore held his seat for 28 years and operated as a gatekeeper for Rahm Emanuel.  But we should also note that John Arena, a champion of affordable housing, lost his seat because of racist and anti-homeless smear by his challenger.   Most of the African American incumbents on the South and West side retained their seats regardless of their sycophant connection to the Democratic Party machine.

The Mayor: If you have read this far, you are perhaps wondering if we are ever going to discuss the mayoral race.  For a race between deeply flawed candidates, this campaign has ignited considerable passion.  Of the original 14 candidates, few would have predicted that two African-American women would face off against each other.  That the next mayor will be an African American woman is pretty remarkable in this city.  One, Lori Lightfoot, is best known as a Rahm Emanuel appointee to the police review board as well as a federal prosecutor and a lawyer for one of the most connected law firms in the city. Her defense of police in, for example, the Rekia Boyd murder, has earned her the enmity of the police accountability movement.  The other, Toni Preckwinkle, chairs the Cook County Democratic Party.  She is the ultimate insider with scads of experience as an alderman and also as the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.  Anyone in politics as long as Preckwinkle would have to have ties to the corrupt (ties to the recently indicted Ed Burke and the disgraced Joe Berrios).

Preckwinkle has raised over $8 million for her campaign, while Lightfoot in excess of $4 million.  Preckwinkle’s top donors include various branches of SEIU for about half of her donations (teachers’ unions have contributed about $400,000).  Lightfoot has gotten about $500,000 from the Laborers Union and has been endorsed by the Plumbers.  It appears that the Building Trades have more confidence in a Lightfoot administration, while public workers and service workers unions think they have more to gain from Preckwinkle winning.  The newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Sun Times, Crain’s) have endorsed Lightfoot. Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle style themselves as progressive and independent, though their claims make one wonder if we are speaking the same language.

As we said above, the passions are running high in this campaign among activists. The opinions on both sides are understandable, and the objectives (stopping a cop supporter vs dealing a blow to “the machine”) are worthy.  A number of the activists on both sides of the divide recognize that, no matter who wins, the movement is going to have to fight like hell.  And, with respect for the passions of those involved, that is the word we want to leave you with:  no matter who wins, we are going to have to fight like hell.  Thankfully, with the rising movement in the wards around the fight for survival, a citywide movement of those at the bottom will be much more possible.

Collage — by Lew Rosenbaum

Collage

a review essay by Lew Rosenbaum

[American Histories, by John Edgar Wideman, was published in May, 2018.  The paperback9781501178351_p0_v2_s600x595 will be released later this month, March 26, 2019, by Scribner– ISBN 9781501178351, $16.  It should be available at your favorite bookstore]

You can discover the key to American Histories, the profoundly dialectical collection of what purports to be short stories by master craftsman John Wideman, on page 206.  “Well, Basquiat asks, how does the artist resolve this dilemma, Maestro? This perpetual losing battle, this shifting back and forth, this absence, gap, this oblivion between a reality the senses seize and a reality the imagination seizes.”  The Maestro in this story is Romare Bearden, the artist who in his youth lived in the Pittsburgh neighborhood, in which Wideman himself grew up a couple of decades later.  The conversation is imagined, but it could have been real, because Bearden and Jean-Michel Basquiat lived and worked not far from each other in Harlem, jean-michel-basquiatwhere both of them died in the same year, 1988.  Bearden, who preferred to be considered an artist and was usually called a “collagist,” was born in 1911.  Basquiat, described primarily as a painter, was born in 1960 and died  at 27.  Bearden and Basquiat never met.

Perhaps it’s the parallelism in their work, the fact that they were both giants of the art world in New York at the same time; that they incorporated, in abstract work, elements that clearly responded to the social situation that surrounded them; that jazz influenced their work; that Bearden was of the Black art movement and that Basquiat seemed unaware of it  – perhaps all of that is why Wideman chooses to imagine a conversation between the two of them.  You can be curious about that if you want to.  But it’s what he does with the mystery of the artistic forms that connect them and what separates them, and the Pittsburgh story, that intrigues me.

bearden_140-176dcbfa09f7c9fa2f2db4f91f5fefb0da0ad0f5-s6-c30

Romare Bearden

For instance, a page later he expands on this  “losing battle” in describing the problem of collage:  “He’s (Bearden) unable to explain to Basquiat why removal of objects from an array sometimes makes the array more plentiful, not smaller.  Nor can he explain how a board on which he is arranging things becomes more spacious as he packs it.” Or, Wideman has Bearden say, a few sentences later, “You might say each collage starts with the bare bones of a story.”  He tells a brief story about how he and two other kids beat up a neighbor. When Bearden’s grandmother intervenes, she brings that disabled neighbor boy, Eugene, to live with his family. A story that haunts the artist for 50 years: “A collage I built [Farewell Eugene] is layer upon layer questions about that simple story.” Adding each piece to the collage requires studying that piece, and the whole composition disappears;  “To see it whole again, his eyes must relinquish his grip on the element.”

And so it is with the whole of American Histories. But in this collage, concentrating on this one piece (“Collage”) brings everything else into focus. American Historiesis a collage of imagined American history, in which the imaginative is at least as important as the sensual.  The writer struggles with the gap between what maybe ought to have occurred and what we believe did happen.  John Brown and Frederick Douglass converse in the very first story, the Old Man unable to convince the escaped slave to join him at Harper’s Ferry. It’s not clear what part of “JB and FD” is real, what is imagined, and through it all what part is the writer’s voice. And ends with wondering why the author makes John Brown a Black man.

Wideman plays with the confessions of Nat Turner, imagining what is going through his head as he stands ready for execution. Turner begins to recite his “abc’s” – he is self taught, and instructs us about his own history and plans. As he explains the meanings of letters, he reaches his conclusion skipping to the end of the alphabet. An alphabet foreshortened as much as execution foreshortened his life.

At the very beginning, Wideman’s “prefatory note” is an open letter to the president. It’s likely written, or at least finished, after the 2016 election, and he wonders if the president who receives this note along with his stories will be a woman, perhaps a Black woman. If any president will receive it, he doubts. Wideman doesn’t explain the stories: They speak for themselves. “The note is a plea, Mr. President. Please eradicate slavery.”   And maybe, Wideman declares, terminating slavery may even be “beyond your vast powers.”  The thirteenth amendment did not accomplish the fact, another example of the play between sense and imagination, “But you should understand better than most of us, Mr. President, that history tells as many lies as truths.”

There is of coure the poetry of the language, a defining characteristic of Wideman’s writing. Framing the whole as a collage though, makes me look again and again at an element in “Maps and Ledgers,” a sentence that begins on page 57 and ends on page 59 and has to be written this way. A story as much about language as about a life experience.  Story with sentences, like this one, without verbs and articles. Another gem of a short story in which every paragraph begins with “We go out to dinner and discuss.” The two paragraph story “Bunny and Glide” parodies with the robbers of legendary fame. The long story, in which Wideman’s narrator stands at the edge of the Williamsburg Bridge contemplating suicide.

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John Edgar Wideman

In the Aldous Huxleyesque universe of “Empire,”  Wideman replaces “superfluous distinctions” like race and gender with the “gratefuls” and the “givers.” This, in a way, a reprises the prefatory note’s allusion to the separation of peoples by immutable but superfluous categories and the question, when will it end and under what circumstances? His story “Expectations” ends with “I expect Nat Turner.  I expect he will die again for the sin of color.”  If we get a second coming of Nat Turner, do we also get a second coming of John Brown?  What will the next Harper’s Ferry look like?

From beginning to end, Wideman layers story after story, after a patient lifetime’s practice, as if they are colors, fabrics, doing what Bearden did on a board, having “practice[d] patiently for a lifetime the skills of cutting and pasting, gluing down

Pittsburgh Memories Farewell Eugene

Pittsburgh Memories — Farewell Eugene by Romare Bearden

textures, colors, fabric, layer after layer to picture what the past may have been and how it rises again, solid and present as the bright orange disc of the sun I put at the top right corner of Farewell Eugene.”

Chicago Elections 2019: The Day After

Chicago Elections 2019:  The Day After

Lew Rosenbaum

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page.

The People’s Tribune encourages reproduction of articles so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

If the November midterm elections were a wave of resistance, how to describe the Chicago general election of February 26, 2019? With sub-freezing weather coupled with a lackluster bevy of 14 mayoral candidates, turnout rose only slightly above record low numbers.  One thing was consistent throughout: the electorate is showing how fed up they are with the officials who ignore them or actively work against them.  The people are taking their fight for housing, healthcare, schools and a safe community to the polls, and candidates are stepping up to respond.

Here is a brief list of what the people of the city of Chicago accomplished yesterday:

  • 1st. Ward: Voted overwhelmingly against corrupt incumbent Proco Joe Moreno, electing in his place Daniel LaSpata
  • 5th Ward: William Calloway, perhaps best known for fighting to have the video of the murder of Laquant McDonald released, appears to have forced Leslie Hairston into a runoff.
  • 10th Ward: Sue Sadlowski Garza won re-election in a deindustrialized South side ward, once a center of steel production in the midwest.
  • 14th Ward: Ed Burke, longest sitting alderman in Chicago history, now under indictment for extortion, retained his seat by an unexpectedly slim margin.  Tanya Patino captured almost a third of the vote in her challenge to Burke.
  • 15th Ward:  Rafa Yanez forced incumbent Raymond Lopez into a runoff.
  • 20th Ward: Jeannette Taylor, long time community activist and leader in the Dyett School hunger strike is the leading candidate in a runoff in a ward without an incumbent running.
  • 25th Ward:  Byron Sigcho-Lopez, an activist in the Pilsen Alliance and in struggles around education, won nearly 30% of the vote to force a runoff in the ward formerly represented by the corrupt former chair of the zoning committee, Danny Solis.
  • 33rd Ward:  Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez actually leads incumbent Deb Mell in the vote tally.  Both are polling a little above 40%,  in a ward that will see a runoff in April.
  • 35th Ward: Democratic Socialist Carlos Ramirez-Rosa was reelected.
  • 40th Ward: Andre Vasquez will face incumbent Pat O’Connor in a runoff.   The main issue in this ward, says Vasquez, is affordable housing.  O’Connor has been Emanuel’s floor leader in the City Council, was tapped to head the finance committee when Burke was stripped of his chairmanship of that committee.  One of the most powerful of the City Council, O’Connor only got a third of the votes.
  • 45th Ward: We missed this one in the original article. Jim Gardiner defeated incumbent John Arena in a close race, capturing 51% of the votes.  Arena was elected in 2011 and in 2012 was one of very few alderman willing to walk a Chicago Teachers Union picket line. He was reelected in 2015 by only 30 votes.  In the last years he has taken heat for supporting affordable housing in his ward, assailed by critics who accused him of bringing “Cabrini Green” to his ward — a naked racist slur referencing the now-demolished near north housing project. Kathy Powers writes us: “You missed the 45th ward (Jefferson Park) .We lost the very special John Arena who actually fought and won a NEW building for accessible, affordable housing on Northwest Highway. I protested there a couple of times. The racist SOBs in JP didn’t like it.”
  • 46th Ward: With 3 precincts left to be counted, three challengers are separated by 300 votes in their bid to unseat gentrifier-in-chief James Cappleman.  Maryann Lalonde seems most likely to wind up in the runoff, followed closely by Erika Wozniak Francis and Angela Clay.  The challengers have promised to support whoever gets into the runoff against Cappelman, whom Emanuel has tapped to lead the Zoning committee instead of disgraced Danny Solis.
  • 49th Ward: Maria Hadden trounced 28 year incumbent Joe Moore, winning nearly
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    At the Maria Hadden campaign office on election day, Feb. 26.  Maria is in the right foreground.  Photo taken from her FB page, posted by Jeff Reed

    2/3 of the votes against her opponent.  Hadden announced in her victory speech that the next step would be to mobilize to help other similar candidates in other wards.  This could have important consequences for runoff campaigns, especially the 40th and 46th Wards, where entrenched, reactionary aldermen are vulnerable.

  • Furthermore — incumbents were forced into runoffs in the 16th, 21st, 30th, 31st and 43rd, Wards.  It’s noteworthy that incumbent John Arena lost to James Gardiner in the 45th Ward. It’s also worth mentioning that Ariel Reboyras, the incumbent in the 30th Ward, distinguished himself in the last year by bringing to City Council two police oversight proposals intended to undercut the CPAC (Chicago Police Accountability Commission) proposal, an outgrowth of community, grassroots agitation.

And then there is the mayoral election itself.  While there were some very fervently held opinions about the candidates, the most consistent at the grass roots was against Bill Daley, scion of the Daley dynasty. There was very little enthusiasm for anyone. People often modified their arguments for any candidate  by the proviso, “She’s not perfect, but . . .” All of the top four candidates, who together garnered about 60% of the votes, had ties to the “Chicago Machine.”  Lori Lightfoot, who had never won elected office but had been appointed to various positions in city administration, was the “outsider” and  won the most votes.  Daley, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations , received $2 million from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin.  Toni Preckwinkle is Chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.  She occupies a power base in the Party tactically in opposition to Emanuel, but strategically going in the same direction.  Susana Mendoza, on the other hand, has distinct connections to Emanuel.  The indictment of Ed Burke ensnared both Mendoza and Preckwinkle in a web of corruption that they can’t entirely shake.  The runoff between Lightfoot and Preckwinkle will yield the first African American woman mayor of the city.  It will not yield a mayor friendly to the interests of the working class, whatever it’s color.

The tremendous advances that we’ve seen in this election should only whet our appetite, not satisfy us or make us complacent.  In fact, for all that was accomplished, here are a couple of sobering thoughts.

First of all, the election turnout.  What do the majority of Chicagoans think about these candidates?  Does the electorate think that voting makes a difference?  Even in wards like the 49th, the turnout was 40% and rarely in the city exceeded 45%.  In some wards, the cynicism was rife.  But how can you blame people whose votes are taken for granted and whose elected representatives don’t bother to represent? The signs are there that a sleeping giant is awakening, how quickly we don’t know, but direction is more important than speed.

Second, even if we can toss O’Connor and Cappleman overboard onto the trash heap of history, even if in Wards 5, 15, 20, 25, and 33 the winners are ready to fight for a program of the working class, that still leaves a large number of politicians in place that graze in the pastures of wealth.  It will be an uphill battle for the working class, and we’d best remember that the victory is less in the seats captured than in forming ourselves into a battle-ready contingent for future encounters.

We won a lot in this election cycle, which continues now until April 2 and the runoff. No matter what happens in the runoffs, we have a potential network of grass roots activists developing across this city. We especially won the right and responsibility to up our game and keep fighting together for that which did energize the electorate:  the right to housing, education,  police accountability and an end to violence, and all the basic needs of the people.

[See also “The Four Aldermen of the Apocalypse” on this blog.]

Chicago Elections 2019: The Four Aldermen of the Apocalypse

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page by Lew Rosenbaum.  This is a tale of four aldermen embroiled in the kind of corruption Chicago is known for — and the challengers who are bringing the demands of the people to the polls on February 26.

The People’s Tribune encourages reproduction of this article so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

Chicago Elections 2019: The Four Aldermen of the Apocalypse

by Lew Rosenbaum

In this election season, the truth is clear now: Chicago lies at the corruption center of Crook County.  Retiring Alderman Solis (25thward) wore an FBI wire for two years and, in the wake of revelations about his trading sexual favors, was stripped of his Zoning Commission chairmanship (it’s now obvious why he decided not to seek re-election); Ed Burke (still running in the 14thward) has been indicted for extortion and stripped of his chairmanship of the Finance Committee.  These two most powerful chairs, allies of Mayor Emanuel, have been replaced by two more staunch cronies of the Mayor (Cappleman from the 46th, O’Connor from the 40th).  These four wards are shaping up as key battlegrounds in the February elections. As Chicagoans bring their demands to a political elite wallowing at the public trough—an elite who refuse to hear their constituents – insurgent candidates are fighting to become the representatives of a program of the people.

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Byron Sigcho-Lopez

Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who ran for the office of alderman in the 25th ward in 2015, is running again.  He has supported the People’s Tribune and has the endorsement of the CTU and the Pilsen Alliance, and has fought in the 25thward for education and housing for all. He also signed on to the five point program advocated by the Concerned Puerto Rican Voters, a program of what we-the-people need to survive.

In Burke’s ward Tanya Patino is striving to win against long odds, but this year, because of the indictments, Burke may be vulnerable.  Patino  has been endorsed by Chuy Garcia (who also endorsed Hilario Dominguez in the 25thWard). Patino told the Chicago Tribune that this is these are her top priorities: “The top campaign issues I am advocating for are; equitable education and social services funding, funding housing improvements and security to improve residents homes and facilitate them remaining in the community, increasing opportunities for and access to good jobs which will also require more frequent and reliable transportation services in the neighborhood, and a greater focus on safety in our neighborhoods. To accomplish that I intend to work to pass legislation such as an Elected Representative School Board, TIF Reform, a reformed property tax system, rent control, a $15 minimum wage, Fair Workweek Ordinance, a welcoming ordinance with no carve-

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Taanya Patino

outs, abolishing the gang database and new activities for our youth.”

Hopefully, O’Connor and Cappleman will not be around to enjoy their new chairmanships for long.  In both wards, at least three worthy opponents are vying for their seats.  In the 46th, activists Erika Wozniak Francis, Angela Clay and Marianne Lalonde have challenged the incumbent.  The 46thward is where the city evicted an encampment of people who were homeless from a sheltered area under the Lawrence and Wilson viaducts.  Cappleman lied when he promised to find homes for the people living in the encampment.  Public housing,  education, and sufficient social services are among the chief concerns of the ward. Erika recently spoke at a United Working Families and People’s Tribune joint fundraiser and was interviewed by Eric Allen Yankee for the People’s Tribune. Her full interview is available on this pageHere is a snapshot of  two other challengers:

46-lalondeMarianne Lalonde (46th Ward) “We need to ensure housing stays affordable – meaning we must preserve each and every unit of affordable housing in our ward, and also add more. As we’re adding additional units, we should add family-sized affordable housing where parents can raise their children and send them to 46th ward schools, creating a long-term investment in our community.”

Angela ClayAngela Clay (46th Ward) “Uptown’s history and core values of community, family, opportunity, and affordability are all currently under attack. Many of my neighbors, longtime residents who built this community, are being displaced because they can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood that made them. Without investing in our schools, affordable housing & resources, our neighborhood will continue to push us out – which is why this matters. Uptown matters! Affordability matters! Your vote matters!”

 

The nearby 40thward also boasts three challengers all of whom are responding to concerns that the incumbent refuses to heed.  Here Diane  Daleiden, Andre Vasquez and Ugo Ukere all express that housing is the major issue (Daleiden, whose experience is as a teacher, also speaks authoritatively about what needs to be done in the public schools).  In both the 40thand 46thwards, the sometimes unspoken fundamental issue that strides forth is privatization on steroids: unbridled corporate development without any attempt at affordable housing and encouragement of charter schools.  Here are thumbnail 40-daleidensketches of what the 4oth ward challengers are saying:

Dianne Daleiden (40th Ward) “My number one priority to help traditional neighborhood schools. We are building a two-tiered education system in Chicago, with privatized charter schools and some elite schools getting the resources they need, while other schools suffer. If we really want to improve educational outcomes, we have to invest in traditional attendance based neighborhood schools.”

40-vasquez

Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) “On a public policy level, affordable housing is the number one issue that I hear from neighbors who are being priced out of this ward every day when I knock doors. I support the creation of affordable housing in my ward and across the city in a lot of different ways: rent control, greater investment of public dollars in housing stock and rent subsidy, and protection of existing affordable housing.”

40-okereUgo Okere (40th Ward) “I have been a vocal opponent of the Cop Academy because the issue of crime and violence in this city is an issue of austerity. Instead of further investments in the carceral and repressive functions of the city, money needs to go into public schools, the re-opening of expansive mental health clinics, and community centers to tackle the root causes of violence – poverty and youth who are given no path to a better future. Ending gun and intra-community violence means properly compensating and supporting teachers in CPS, by hiring social workers, nurses and teachers in every school.”

There is a golden thread which ties all these ward struggles together – it is indeed the golden thread of bribery and corruption and subversion of democracy that the corporate control of the electoral process has.  The not-so-veiled hand of the Democratic Party machine is fighting to maintain its power through the city-hall-connected incumbents.  Meanwhile the people are seeing an opportunity to take to these elections the demands they have not been able to have resolved by the miscreants who have occupied these offices for decades. In the wake of the turmoil grass roots leaders are stepping forward in a bid to take on the machine. February 26 can lead one step away from the apocalypse and toward achieving the program of the disenfranchised.  Let’s get prepared for new battles in City Council.

 

Chicago Elections 2019: Maria Hadden in the 49th Ward

Market City or People City? Most People

Want to Be Involved

[Lew Rosenbaum interviewed Maria Hadden for the People’s Tribune.  She is running in the 49th Ward to unseat long time incumbent Joe Moore.  The incumbent has a long record of courting charter schools and neglecting the neighborhood public schools; of supporting the closing of half the city’s mental health clinics (including one in his own ward); of opposing an elected school board; of prioritizing the needs of the gentrifying corporations over the residents of the Ward; of offering to help Mayor Emanuel avoid blame in the coverup of the Laquan McDonald murder. This article also appears on the People’s Tribune Chicago Area FB page.

The People’s Tribune encourage reproduction of this article so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

The People’s Tribune talked with Maria Hadden about her candidacy for alderman in Chicago’s 49thward.

We asked how she decided to run.  It began when the developer who owned the condominium building where she lived absconded with the residents’ money, leaving stacks of unpaid bills and the apartment building only half completed.  Faced with losing her home, she found that “The city of Chicago had no plan when things fell apart” in the 2008 housing crisis.  “I talked to not-for-profits, the city, the current alderman, and none had a solution.  I asked Alderman Moore what kinds of discussions City Council was having to address what was happening.  The only thing he could say was ‘It’s a really big problem, and no one person can fix it.’  But isn’t that what government is for?”

In contrast, Hadden got involved with participatory budgeting (PB) in 2009 and has worked with aldermen around the Chicago area implementing the program. Residents of a ward vote on how the alderman’s discretionary funds will be spent, a program that ax224_77e0_9-e1548619332497gave her some insight into what democratic processes could be like.

She found out three things. “First, government works better when people most impacted by problems have a seat at the decision making table. Second, a lot of the ways that especially local government works are still based on 200 year old policies, practices and charters;  they aren’t set up to be inclusive for the people we see today. Third, most people want to be involved.  They don’t necessarily want to be involved deciding all the time, but people want to be involved making their communities better for themselves and their families.”

What are the main issues in her campaign?

“My first priority is development without displacement. The status quo of housing is unbridled development, which is not meeting the needs of most residents.  In a community like the 49thward, diversity of housing serves a variety of racial, cultural and ethnic groups, it’s built on the fact that many people can find a home here and afford to live here.  I want to maintain that and manage it so the people who live here now can continue to live here.”  She added, “Nearly all new developments require some change in zoning. Developers need to come to the alderman to get approval. Our current alderman does not use that authority in our best interests. Alderman Moore is chair of the Housing and Real Estate Committee [in the City Council], but also he is heavily influenced by developers, more than by the residents. . . [I am concerned with] what is it going to take for people who currently live here to stay and want to live here? . . .What are the needs of the ward residents, how much can people afford, what kinds of services are needed?  As alderman I want to be able to negotiate for us to have more affordable units, accessible units.”

We could not discuss housing without raising the question of homelessness, something often swept under the rug, hidden from view.  Hadden answered our queries by pointing out that, though there are some “fantastic social services” available in Rogers Park, they don’t meet the need here, and that she would be an advocate for more and better services throughout the city, private as well as public. In her view, “Until we fundamentally change we are still very reliant on the non-profit sector. . . we could increase the public safety net, publicly funded SRO’s for example, things that are done in other cities to make sure that people are not just discarded. “

The problem, Hadden said, is explained well in a new book she is reading, Market Cities, People Cities: The Shape of Our Urban Future. *  The book contrasts Houston and Copenhagen, but, according to Hadden, they might as well have chosen Chicago as Houston. “Market cities,” she said, “are based on how do we show up in the market, in the capitalist economy? How are we bringing more business and industry to the city?”  On the other hand, “People cities are framed around how are we best serving our residents?  What are we doing to provide the best quality of life?

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Volunteers at the Maria Hadden campaign office 

“People cities are cities that include how the market works, good jobs, and other market issues, but they’re goal is people. . .Chicago long has had the goal to be a driving economic force — by pursuing Amazon for example. . . Because of what we are seeing globally, nationally and locally, I don’t think a market driven city is going to lead us to a future stable city. We have to change our focus, otherwise we will continue to have inequity, continue to struggle, and make ourselves vulnerable to takeover as in Michigan.

“When we have 12,000 people on the streets to protest closing 50 schools, because they are making decisions (not wrong for their frame of a market driven city) that are not meeting people’s needs.  This is not about politics, it’s about buckling down in the city, long term goals, make some conscious intentional choice. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, capitalist, socialist or communist ideology— its about what is really happening.  You can believe what you want, but this is what’s real.  I don’t want a city that is filled with buildings that provide housing for international wealthy visitors along side empty buildings and machines.”

Cities have a decaying infrastructure that politicians in the past refused to plan for. “How could the people in power 20 or 30 years ago not see what could happen  . . . People in power are profiting off of an existing system.  They’ve come to a conclusion that we don’t matter enough.  A fair amount of members of city council members care about their community, but it’s not their number one priority.”

Maria Hadden’s campaign combines attention to the basic needs of the residents of the community as well as the vision and outlook of someone who understands the city, national, and global context in which the campaign takes place. This would be a breath of fresh air for the 49th Ward.

 

Thank You For Your Service — a Review by Lew Rosenbaum

[I became FaceBook friends with Robert Sommer after an exchange with Oklahoma poet laureate Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. Bob was kind enough to send me an advance copy of his book then.  Although I had difficulty extracting myself from the book once I started reading it, the content was difficult for me to process.  Difficult as any important story told with lyrical and thoughtful earnestness. Difficult to figure out the entry point into such a complex story.  Thanks to Jeannetta for the indirect introduction, and to Bob for writing.The FB page for Losing Francis is here. You can order Losing Francis (Fomite Press, 2018, $15) through your local bookstore or other used and new sources. ]

Thank You For Your Service

A Review of Robert Sommer’s Losing Francis

by Lew Rosenbaum

 

“Sometimes people told me . . . thank him for his service. They were sincere. They meant well. But now, after years of war, and with so little sacrifice by so many and so much by so few, phrases like that resonate in the hollow white noise of bumper-sticker platitudes that have become the background chorus of our lives.”  Thank him for his service?  What could they know?

That refrain repeats itself, sometimes in Francis’ own words, throughout the Robert Sommer’s powerful collection of connected essays that form a coherent memoir.  Losing Francis gives us a strong and complex rendering of the complicated story of Francis Sommer, the son of anti-war activist parents, a young man who joined the army to fight in Afghanistan. Francis, with an IQ of 140, did poorly in school and barely graduated from high school. Without prospects for college, he resorted to alcohol abuse and found his way to the army as a kind of salvation.  The army deployed him in Iraq and then Afghanistan, and 4 years later, in 2007, discharged him.  He was treated by the VA for PTSD with a variety of medications, went to Johnson City Community College (Kansas City) where he nearly completed his education in culinary arts, and then, drunk, drove his car into a ditch and killed himself in 2011.

I have waited for months to write this.  I’ve actually sat down at the computer three or four times and too much inundated my head.  I couldn’t get straight all the strands, all the interwoven threads.  But somehow the poignancy of “Thank you for your service” seems to strike at the heart of it.  What service?  Francis certainly came to question the rationale for sending him overseas.  When you are “in-country,”  you are obligated to defend your comrades’ backs, because (if for no other reason) you depend on them.  But what about the tasks you are performing on the ground?  And also, imagine the misgivings of parents, like Bob Sommer and his wife Heather, who picket against the war while their son is on the front lines.  Francis comes to understand and support this, but isn’t there at least a little kernel of guilt that can never be assuaged by the slogan: “Support the troops. Bring them home”?

And then, of course, fundamentally, the pragmatism of American life removes us from the fields of conflict, the battlegrounds, such that fewer and fewer people have any personal ties to the wars.  Without a draft, with more and more deployment of drones and high technology warfare, the number of Americans isolated from any action of armed forces in war areas is minimal and shrinking.  Just exactly who are our troops serving?  How does a soldier come to terms with  his or her “service,” perhaps what they have come to regard as crimes committed?

Robert Sommer

Robert Sommer feels bitter about the environment of “so little sacrifice by so many and so much by so few,” where “bumper sticker platitudes” fill the air.  This is how he describes what it was like leading up to his son’s deployment (p. 68):

This is an American project, an American invasion and war, and it is without doubt coming soon, any day, following a long, intense build-up of arms and troops, and fear-mongering by the Administration and its apologists. By now, thanks to additional support for the war (and fear-mongering) in much of the corporate media, Americans have been mostly won over to the cause and along the way have become expert on a handful of factoids about the Middle East, which they recite to one another in coffee shops and kitchens and break rooms and garages and offices and warehouses and bars across the country.

Whoever tells the best story wins the hearts and minds of the people.  And clearly the best story was being told, through the corporate media, and repeated in every venue, over an over again. What makes this observation relevant and resonant are the factoids and platitudes and outright lies swirling in the media environment today.  It’s not clear who has the best story, but it is clear that the best story does not have to be grounded in reality.  And when Francis Sommer returned from deployment, that very unreality clashed with the reality he knew and had experienced.

Francis Sommer – Christmas morning 2007 (from the Fomite Press web site)

Francis Sommer was diagnosed on discharge with PTSD. He showed signs while still on active duty. His father observes that PTSD is not simply isolated to the combatants.  It is contagious, it vitiates families and communities. Much of the narrative that describes Francis after his deactivation portrays his inner and external conflict. That conflict started years earlier.  Robert Sommer tells the story of a call from Iraq in 2004. There were occasions when Francis asked his father to take the call where his mother could not hear.  This was one of those calls.  Francis had killed — by mistake — one of the translators on his team.  He was trying to come to grips with what he had done (the army hand cleared him of any blame) and wanting to hear his father’s voice.  So they exchanged words and assurances.  And, Robert says, “everything wrong with that war was compressed into what had just happened and now what we said . . . turned anger and pity into jingoism and nationalism.”  How can there not be post traumatic stress and its contagion?

The outcome of Losing Francis is betrayed by its title. It’s not entirely clear when Robert and Heather lost Francis — the author questions this as well.  But there is one definitive moment, the moment that the police came to the door to inform the parents about the car crash and the death of their son.  It didn’t matter that they had avoided the scenario they had rehearsed years before, expecting the visit from military personnel.  It didn’t matter that the Francis that returned from war was not the same person as before; or that even the pre-war Francis was, in a sense lost.  This was finality.  It’s over.

Or is it?  Losing Francis brings memory to lyrical life, and “Memory is not altered by truth, only strengthened. . . Like seeing rust on the hillsides, and dying glaciers, and wars.”

One of the most suggestive details in John Singer Sargent’s ‘Gassed’ (1919) is the soccer match in the background, symbolically evoking the contrast between the worlds of war and no-war — a major theme also in ‘Losing Francis: Essays on the Wars at Home.’ (From the FB page for Losing Francis.)