Driving around the 49th Ward, aldermanic candidate Michael Harrington pulls over at the intersection of Ashland and Morse Avenues.
'A picture of that building appeared on the cover of the Sun-Times in November as one of the worst examples (of slumlords),' Harrington said, pointing toward the property on the northwest corner.
As his Subaru moved north to where Jarvis meets Ashland, Harrington spoke with frustration about the heavy drug traffic that flows through there. The tour continued northeast toward the lake and Harrington paused at the monstrous construction project in its final stages at Sheridan Road and Juneway Terrace: The Residences at Lakeview Pointe. Where a gas station once took up much of the acreage, these condominiums and townhouses are listed at up to $945,000.
In late March 2000, incumbent Ald. Joe Moore's campaign received $5,000 from C&R Management and $5,000 from Lakeview Pointe Townhomes and Condos, both with mailing addresses of 4735 N. Western Ave. This public-record information also was published in Lerner newspapers after being identified by David Stahr, former research director for Citizens Action of Illinois. Stahr, a resident of the 49th Ward, said SGR Century 21 Realty, who is handling the sale of properties at Lakeview Pointe, also donated to Moore's campaign.
'The developer, Tony Ruh, gave $11,000 in campaign contributions to Moore the same month the zoning variance (needed for The Residences at Lakeview Pointe) went through,' Harrington said.
It should be mentioned that other Chicago aldermen—not just Moore—receive healthy campaign contributions from real estate developers and brokers.
'I'm all for market-rate housing,' said the challenger. 'I believe it's important for the alderman to give support for good development, but we have to give equally enabling support to all developers to represent the needs of all income levels. We're now at a crossroads (in the 49th Ward) and the alderman probably is the sole entity that can preserve balance. The real estate community is torn. They like the idea that Michael Harrington likes quality market-rate development, but I also support development of low-income housing. I've discussed this issue intensively with Ald. (Helen) Shiller and she said development has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.'
Harrington said the neighbors along Juneway Terrace are backing his campaign, that they are displeased with the massive development now sitting between them and the lake and the parking and traffic issues they suspect will arrive once construction is completed.
'The deals are fast and furious with the alderman and the developers,' Harrington said, driving by a modern-design, multi-unit residential structure recently built at 1617 Estes, which he added required a zoning variance. The church across the street, Harrington said, offered cash to buy the building and hundreds of neighbors signed a petition against the development, but the deal already was done.
'Comprehensive community planning would have prevented this,' he said. 'And I'm appalled that Joe (Moore) referred to community planning as Stalinist (in an earlier debate.)'
Harrington, a self-employed community development consultant, moved to the 49th Ward in 1995, buying a single-family home next to a multi-level apartment building that he classifies among those needing attention from the alderman. While driving by his house, passersby can catch a glimpse of the rainbow flag vigilantly waving from a 15-foot pole in Harrington's backyard. He and Jack, his life partner who is a Chicago Public School elementary teacher, are raising two children: Erica, age 5, and Eric, age 4.
'One of the things that compelled me seriously to run for alderman was having children,' Harrington said. 'We need to make the community more enriching and the neighborhoods safer.'
As the Subaru rolled past Charmers, a Far North Side gay bar, the incumbent's office sat inconspicuously to the south in a small, corner shopping strip.
'All the neighbors here (around Moore's office) are voting against him,' Harrington claims. 'I'm disappointed in what he's done. I don't hate him. ... It's about community.'
One of Harrington's long-term goals is to create a 49th Ward congress, comprising one representative from each precinct. This volunteer body would work with the alderman, he explained, spotlighting needs in their neighborhoods of which the alderman's office might not be aware.
'Neighbors in the ward need to help me catalog problem buildings,' he said. 'They know better than the alderman. They know where the gang-bangers are, where the prostitutes are.'
Harrington also proposes the hiring of a full-time housing specialist to lead the effort in remedying the slumlord problems.
'I've been asked to go to at least 15 apartment buildings and invited to meet the residents,' he said. 'They're living in apartments where the hot water is not on, the heat is not up to minimum requirements or not on at all.'
Harrington served briefly on Moore's Zoning and Land-Use Committee, but gave up his seat because it felt like a 'rubber-stamp committee.' He compared his ideas for Rogers Park business development to the Andersonville community, filled with small and medium-sized businesses that traditionally hire from the neighborhood. Beautification efforts would include partnering elementary schools with each of the 60 viaducts in the ward and inviting students to paint them annually, giving youth an artistic and expressive outlet while adding color to the community.
The commander of the 24th police district, David Boggs, has met with Harrington. His officers have been using Harrington's campaign office as a base for weekend surveillance. 'He smells something in the air,' Harrington said, 'and he said he wanted to make sure we were starting out on the same page.'
If elected, Harrington would propose constructing a substantial parking lot along Sheridan Road, opening school parking lots after 3:30 p.m. and on weekends to ward residents, and working more closely with the city streets and sanitation superintendent.
'We need to do a traffic study (on Sheridan Road),' he said. 'Moore has never done one. The city will do it; you just have to get on the list.'
A long-time activist, Harrington is familiar with the challenges—some not so pleasant—of taking a leadership role.
[Windy City Times carried a lengthy investigation of Harrington's role as president of the now-defunct Rodde Center board. That GLBT center ultimately failed and some activists say Harrington played a controversial role in its final years. Back issues are available online at www.WindyCityTimes.com; the series of articles and letters ran in September.]
Chicago's 49th Ward flanks Evanston's South Side and melds into Lake Michigan to the east, making the area a prime target for gentrification—condominiums and townhouses priced from $250,000 to nearly $1 million. The ward, however, encompasses a vast population of low-income households, where the primary wage earner might gross $210 weekly, in much of the sections lying west toward Jarvis Avenue (north of Howard) and Ridge Avenue. The approximate 59,000 residents densely packed into this pocket of the city represent a diversity that muddies plans for the ward's future.
Ald. Joe Moore, who previously worked alongside former alderman and now Cook County Clerk David Orr, shouldered the responsibility of helping clarify those plans 12 years ago, but the incumbent faces thundering criticism from his challengers in the Feb. 25 election.
'It's a diverse community and with the diversity and ethnic makeup and economic circumstances comes a diversity of viewpoints,' Moore said. 'We're a very opinionated community and people have different views about what diversity means. There are some people who believe that the diversity we lack is a diversity in upper-income people. Others are very fearful that quite the opposite is the case, that they're being pushed out by those very upper-income people that people insist we don't have. I've had people say I'm too close to market-rate developers. I've had others argue that I'm too sympathetic to affordable housing advocates.'
The bottom line, Moore said, is he believes they are creating the balance.
'Whatever you do, the extremes on both sides of the ledger aren't going to be happy,' he said. 'The people who want the neighborhood to become another gentrified Lincoln Park aren't going to be happy with me. They have their candidate in this race. And the people who are fearful of any change whatsoever (aren't going to be happy) because they believe any change threatens their ability to live in the neighborhood. When you can't please either extreme, you have a certain amount of freedom to do what you think is right and that's kind of what I do.'
Moore, divorced and the father of two children, has lived in Rogers Park for more than 20 years. Raised in Evanston just north of where he now lives, Moore attended Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., graduating in 1980 with a degree in political science. After earning his law degree from DePaul University, he worked in the Harold Washington administration in the corporation counsels' office for more than six years. Off-work hours donated to an independent organization allied with David Orr laid the groundwork for where Moore finds himself today.
'When David (Orr) successfully ran for Cook County Clerk,' Moore said, 'I ran with his support for alderman.'
Accused by opponents of having no relationship with the mayor and his administration, Moore presents a solid case.
'The mayor is supporting me for re-election and I'm supporting him,' the incumbent said. 'We've had a very good working relationship. I will say quite emphatically that he has given me everything I could ask for for my community. He's been very cooperative. I think we've worked very well together to help increase the quality of life in the 49th Ward.'
This election season pitted Moore against challengers in a half-dozen debates. The field of contenders has dwindled from five to three with Karen Hoover's recent removal from the ballot by the Board of Elections. As he attempted to highlight in those debates, Moore is focused on objectives for the next four years and is proud of his past three terms.
'I want to continue the work we've done the last 12 years of rebuilding the Rogers Park community, 49th Ward, while continuing to preserve its diversity,' he said. 'We've been very successful in that endeavor so far. We've had unprecedented economic development: the Gateway Shopping Centre; all the public investments: new library, new park, new community center going in, two new schools, two school additions, new fire station coming in very shortly, new 'el' station at Howard Street coming in very shortly, a multi-million dollar streetscape project on Howard Street, another on Sheridan Road we did a few years back, a number of formally bad buildings that have been renovated and either turned into quality rental housing or condominiums, a thousand units of affordable housing that have been created over the past 12 years. That's the general gist—to continue to promote those kinds of investments and that kind of balanced development.
'We've made a lot of progress on Howard Street and bringing that street back. I want to focus more attention on Morse Avenue and on Clark Street. Morse, in particular, has been struggling over time. We've had some projects on Morse, but there's still a lot of work to be done. One of the things we can point to that will happen in the next year or so is we are implementing a special service area (SSA) on Clark Street and Morse Avenue. What that is is a district where a special assessment is levied on the property in that district. ... Rather than that additional money going to the county treasury to be distributed to all the various taxing bodies, it stays in the neighborhood to pay for amenities like daily sidewalk cleaning, snow shoveling in the winter, promotional activities to help promote businesses, dollars available for façade improvements, trash receptacles and the like. We've been very successful with the SSA on Howard Street.
'I want to continue to strengthen our community policing initiative. I was the leading proponent of community policing when I was first elected alderman back in 1991. We were one of the first police districts in the city to get a community policing pilot project and it's worked very well up here. We've had a significant decrease in crime—well over 40 percent, which means in terms of human beings we had 4,500 fewer victims of crime last year than we did in 1991.'
Last year, property values went up 14 percent in Rogers Park.
'Census figures show we've created not only affordable rental opportunities but also ownership opportunities for people who want to achieve the American dream of owning their own home,' Moore said. 'There are things we can do through our power (as alderman) we hold over land use to help zoning and the like, to help steer development in the right direction. If developers need a zoning variance, you can use the leverage to get them to commit to setting aside a certain percentage of units as affordable. There are city programs in place that help developers do that, so you're not just asking them to cut into their profits. You are providing some resources at their disposal: more expedited building permitting and subsidies that will cut down on the costs of them doing something like that.'
Vocal members of the Rogers Park community and Moore's opponents say the alderman has not moved fast enough to make their neighborhoods safe and flourishing.
'Projects do take time,' Moore said. 'Things don't happen overnight. But if you compare where we were 12 years ago to where we are now, we've made absolutely incredible progress.'