Chicago Blog

(Updated on 12 December 2018)

Recently, one of our Facebook followers responded to my article on the origin of Lincoln Yards and the associated tax-increment financing (TIF) district, writing:

"What is missing from publicly disclosed documents are estimates for the amount tax revenue that this project can be expected to generate over the 23-year (more if it's extended) life of the TIF . . . How much in property taxes beyond the estimated $800M for proposed infrastructure improvements that would go into a discretionary (slush) fund under the control of the mayor?"

City infrastructure spending
Chicago Dept. of Planning & Development estimates,
totaling $700M, of infrastructure spending in the
Cortland/Chicago River TIF district.
Source: city of Chicago's 11/14/18 public meeting.

The one thing—and the only thing—we know about the estimated tax revenue from publicly disclosed documents is the amount: $800 million. This figure comes from a FAQ sheet distributed by the Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development at its Nov. 14, 2018 public meeting on the Cortland/Chicago River TIF district.

I think the writer's larger implication is correct: The city has not provided any material to show on what it based that estimate.

Presumably, planning department analysts looked at the potential 23-year life of the proposed TIF district and did the following.

  1. Estimate the number, size, density, and uses of all the buildings that might get built.
  2. Assign an equalized assessed value (EAV) of all the properties identified in #1, for each year of the TIF district's life. Sum them over all the years.
  3. Identify the EAV of all the properties present at the TIF district's inception. Multiply that by the number of years of the TIF district's life.
  4. To get the total tax increment accumulated by the district, subtract #3 from #4 and multiply by the tax rate.
LY land use
Sterling Bay's 11/29/18 update of the proposed Lincoln
Yards building layout. Source: Sterling Bay.

The city hasn't disclosed any of that. Planning department officials did, however, show how they'd spend up to $700 million of the estimated total TIF take (see "Key Public Infrastructure Needs" above).

Some clues about the calculations appear in the TIF district's redevelopment agreement—a document that planning officials said at the Nov. 14 meeting they'd release "in three weeks," but that the city's Web site revealed on Dec. 12.

Another wrinkle: The Lincoln Yards development will comprise an estimated two-fifths of the TIF district. The developer of Lincoln Yards, Sterling Bay, has not made publicly available a detailed list of the projected number, size, density, and uses of all the buildings in Lincoln Yards. Though an enterprising researcher could extrapolate some (or much) of it from the aerial renderings that Sterling Bay's presented at a Nov. 29 public meeting, no one has tried . . . yet.

After the recent resignation of Forrest Claypool as head of Chicago Public Schools, one might ask: Why was he hired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the first place?

One insight into the Claypool-Emanuel relationship comes from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In late 2008, an FBI wiretap recorded then-Congressman Emanuel mentioning Claypool in a telephone call with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The FBI had wiretapped Blagojevich's telephones to gather evidence for the subsequent prosecution of Blagojevich.

Although a detailed transcript of the phone call didn't surface until Blagojevich's 2011 corruption trial, the conversation was first revealed by Blagojevich himself.

In his 2009 memoir The Governor (Phoenix Books), Blagojevich describes how Emanuel, who in November, 2008 had just been appointed chief of staff by the newly-elected Barack Obama, wanted the governor's help to "appoint a congressman who was going to keep the [5th Congressional district] seat warm" for Emanuel.

The "purpose of [Emanuel's] call," Blagojevich writes, "was to see whether or not l would be willing to work with him and appoint a successor to his congressional seat who he would have designated to be a placeholder and hold the seat for him when he sought to return to Congress in two years." When Blagojevich questioned the legality of such a move, Emanuel said "that his lawyers thought there was a way where the governor might be able to make an appointment."

Blagojevich was reluctant to help Emanuel, he says, because "if I helped appoint a congressman who was going to keep the seat warm for him, then I was going to make a lot of people who wanted to be congressman unhappy with me."

The fact that it was Claypool whom Emanuel wanted as his seat-warmer didn't come to light until two years later, in June, 2011—in a federal-court filing by Blagojevich's lawyers during the legal proceeding against him.

The filing contained the FBI's transcript of the phone conversation between Emanuel and Blagojevich.

In the call, Emanuel says that "all of a sudden, all the aldermen and committeemen" wanted to take Emanuel's congressional seat as he left for the White House.

"Forrest Claypool, bizarrely," Emanuel says, "would like to be considered, and he says he only wants to do it for, like, one term or two max."

Claypool didn't make it to Congress. But Emanuel, after becoming mayor, appointed him to successive positions as Chicago Transit Authority president, mayoral chief of staff, and finally CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

The federal government never released an audio version of Emanuel's phone call with Blagojevich. However, Inside Chicago Government has created an exclusive audio reenactment: Find it in the premium version of the interview titled "Rahm fired up about—but wouldn't fire—Forrest Claypool."

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about Ben's recent radio experience. Ben and Dave explore how journalists develop trust with the people they interview—including how and when to call bullshit.

Dave and Ben discuss Ben's technique for interviewees who duck the question; Ben's growing reluctance to write direct quotes; and whether Ben gives former Gov. Pat Quinn a pass on Quinn's actions—compared to those of Gov. Bruce Rauner. Length 6.1 minutes standard, 24 minutes premium.

Music: "Outta Tune" by Poly Action

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Article: "How Bruce Rauner is trying to cripple the Democratic Party" (Chicago Reader)

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about conditions at the Reader after its acquisition by a group of investors.

Dave and Ben discuss the history of Reader ownership; whether the Reader's new owners have figured out how to turn a profit; and how wealthy and powerful owners have affected Reader journalism. Length 5.7 minutes standard, 10 minutes premium.

Music: "Machine" by Mercury and the Architects

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Article: "And now, in local news . . ." (Chicago Reader)

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about the the Reader staff's attempt at a collective bargaining agreement in the face of the paper's impending sale.

Dave and Ben discuss the impact on Reader staff of Wrapports' proposed sale; the attrition of Chicago newspapers; and which newspapers have historically provided an independent voice. Length 5.1 minutes standard, 10 minutes premium.

Music: "Seeing the Bigger Picture" by Big Mean Sound

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Article: "Tronc will likely be Sun-Times's new owner. And the Reader?" (Chicago Reader)

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about Ben's new talk-radio program, "The Ben Joravsky Show," on Chicago's WCPT-AM.

Dave and Ben discuss how the show is the culimation of a lifetime of radio listening; the characteristics of the radio station's left-leaning audience; and synergies between Ben's broadcast and print material. Length 5.7 minutes standard, 16 minutes premium.

Music: "Breakup Breakdown" by Cullah

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The original version of our Nov. 17, 2016 interview with Ben Joravsky, "Trump and transit: Rahm railroads Red Line appeal," contained an error.

Reporter Dave Glowacz said that the city's consultant estimated that the Red Purple Modernization Phase 1 TIF district will generate $17.6 billion in tax-increment revenue. That was incorrect.

The consultant's report says that the district will create a total increase in properties' equalized assessed valuation (EAV) of about $17.6 billion over 35 years.

To calculate the amount of tax revenue associated with the total EAV, multiply by the county's current tax rate, .0687 (6.876 percent), by the EAV in each year of the district's 35 years.

That yields a very rough estimate, as the county's tax rate changes year to year.

We've corrected the audio tracks for the interview.

picketers

Staff of the Chicago Reader last year became unionized members of the Chicago News Guild—and since then have been in contract negotiations with the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times.

In the talks, Reader writer Ben Joravsky has emerged as a face of the negotiations—a role he says he didn't expect, nor did he want. That's one subject of this audio interview with Joravsky by Dave Glowacz.

Dave and Ben also discuss Joravsky's role in the bargaining unit; the contentious issues that have prevented a contract agreement; and the dilemma facing activist journalists. Length 6 minutes standard, 30.5 minutes premium.

Music: "Space Girlfriend" by The Dirty Moogs

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Premium audio:

Article: "Don't think of the Reader's public appeal as a negotiating gimmick" (Chicago Reader)

Article: "Help us win the fight for the Reader: its bold writing must be saved" (medium.com)

St Louis vs Chi bike lane
St. Louis vs. Chicago bike lane: What's wrong with this picture?

When Bicycling magazine named Chicago as 2016's most bicycle-friendly U.S. city, the news was soon followed by our town's fifth bicycling fatality this year.

That got me thinking about the unfriendly side of Chi biking: the hundreds of bike crashes, whereby bikers gets hurt, that occur each year.

Take, for example, my housemate's recent bicycle crash: She got doored in a Chicago bike lane. The resulting injury required knee surgery. What's more, it was her second dooring—and her second knee surgery. The first time, seven years ago, she injured the other knee.

Years ago, when I started to teach traffic cycling, I taught my students to ride on the left side of bike lanes—to avoid what I and others began calling "the door zone." At the time, it seemed like teaching a child to use a kitchen knife: You had to learn it, because bike lanes—like big, sharp knives—were inherently dangerous. Why? Because the city often installed bike lanes just to the left of parked cars, so the right two-thirds of a bike lane put bikers on a collision course with opening car doors.

Over the years, in my role as bicycling author and instructor, Chicago bikers told me countless "dooring" stories. One gal I met could not recall her dooring crash; she remembered biking carefully (or so she thought) down Halsted, and the next moment she was waking up in a hospital bed, her skull fractured. Not surprisingly, she said she couldn't bring herself to bicycle again.

At some point, Chicago bike planners got the memo: The city began using a bike lane design that includes a striped buffer next to parked cars, showing bikers where not to ride. Unfortunately, many miles of "unbuffered" legacy lanes are still out there.

I just got back from visiting St. Louis with my bicycle. To my wonder, most of the lanes I saw had a buffer in the door zone. What's more, these lanes looked old. Many of Chicago's buffered bike lanes, in contrast, look relatively new—reflecting the recent innovation that they are.

While biking around in view of the Mississippi River and the Arch, I thought about these two Midwestern cities: St. Louis, with its unheralded but cannily safe, buffered bike lanes; and Chicago, with its shiny, new Bicycling magazine award.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is surely proud of getting the "most bike-friendly city" prize. But no one in the Emanuel administration (or at Bicycling magazine, for that matter) is talking about the fact that many Chicago bike lanes are a set-up: The lanes lure credulous cyclists with the appearance of safety, while they actually place bikers in danger that's both predictable and ongoing.

The mayor and his factotums like to brag about how many miles of new, "protected" bike lanes the city is paying for each year. Why not put that effort on hold—and, instead, spend the money on fixing Chicago's legacy lanes, all of which are crashes waiting to happen?

It won't win Rahm any awards—which maybe is why it won't happen any time soon.

 

On August 25, 2015, Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary School, addressed a meeting of the City Club of Chicago. This is an excerpt from a video of the meeting, courtesy of the City Club.

LaRaviere likened the administration of Chicago Public Schools to "a thief stealing your rent money, then attempting to convince you that the landlord is your problem." Length 7.2 minutes.

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Rahm Emanuel's reelection campaign has put out a video ad in which a sweater-clad mayor "owns" that he "can rub people the wrong way." Here's an audio version (2.3 minutes) showing what else some think Emanuel should have owned:

Music: "Ego Grinding" by Megatroid

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Here's the original 30-second ad:

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Rahm Emanuel's reelection campaign has put out a radio ad in which Pres. Barack Obama urges Chicagoans to vote for Rahm. Here's what some have suggested Obama meant to say:

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Here's the original 60-second ad:

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We recently got the following from a staff person with a non-governmental organization in Chicago.

"My coworkers and I had been trying to track down the contact information for Rahm Emanuel's reelection campaign.

"For all the other mayoral campaigns, we were able to find mailing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses within the first hour of looking. Within the second hour we generally had the names and direct contact information of their campaign managers and schedulers.

"We noticed that Rahm's campaign Web site provided no contact information whatsoever. Not a mailing address, not a phone number, not an e-mail address. Curious, right?

"We did tons of Google searches, drawing blanks. No information anywhere on the Web about where this campaign office is, or how to reach it. I was dumbfounded.

"So I contacted three aldermen with whom I have relationships to see what advice they'd have, and I asked if they could help poke around to find a phone number or mailing address. No dice.

"Then I had a brainstorm: the Chicago Board of Elections. They would have to know, right? When I called, the guy said they 'don't deal with that' and redirected me to the City Hall info line.

"So I called City Hall. The person there redirected me to the fifth floor. The fifth floor placed me on hold for five minutes, then finally gave me a number to Rahm's 'field office,' 312/854-3074.

"I called the field office. The number rang endlessly. No voicemail. After allowing the phone to ring for literally five minutes, a staffer picked up. She was willing to provide a mailing address and general inquiry e-mail address for the campaign. It's This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., if you're wondering.

"Taking advantage of finding a real live human on the phone, I mentioned to her that Emanuel's campaign Web site doesn't provide any contact info, and I said that, as a result, the campaign is nearly impossible to reach.

"She said, 'Yes, that's correct, it is.'

"And ended the call."

Just before Christmas of 2014, the city of Chicago released a report on police misconduct−how to prevent it, that is.

The report was prepared by the law firm Schiff Hardin and the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, both based in Chicago.

Although the firms say they provided the report at no cost, the city has paid Schiff Hardin (also known as Schiff Hardin & Waite) about $1.2 million for various services since 2010. Schiff Hardin has helped defend the city against lawsuits brought by citizens who have claimed police misconduct.

To head off misconduct, the Schiff Hardin report recommends that Chicago Police Department:

  • Adopt discipline guidelines, where few or none exist today.
  • Fire any officer engaging in a “code of silence.”
  • Include training as a discipline option.
  • Make supervisors more directly responsible for officer conduct.
  • Look into officer-worn cameras.

To handle misconduct after it happens, the report's authors say that:

  • Misconduct investigations should wrap up within two years.
  • Various investigative bodies should use the same case management system.
  • Investigators should have a community advisory board (which, the authors later say, has already been created).
  • To get accused officers to cooperate with investigations, investigators should "plea bargain" with them.
  • The city should increase the number of investigators.
  • Officers should have less opportunity to appeal discipline decisions to the police board.

In response, officers blasted the report via the termagant Second City Cop blog. Blog posters said that:

  • The annual number of citizen complaints has decreased, so why boost the number of investigators−especially when detectives and evidence technicians are in short supply?
  • The report's authors are a "bunch of assholes" for proposing to restrict the number of "false accusers" that are referred for prosecution. Noting that a false accuser can be charged with a felony, a blogger calls this idea "fucking brilliant."
  • Though former top cop Jody Weiss's policy was to "fuck [officers] every chance you get," officers credit Weiss with fighting citizen lawsuits in court to cut down on frivolous complaints. According to the blog, the Emanuel administration has done a complete 180: it's gone back to settling lawsuits. It did this "in order to enrich connected [law] firms," which the city often hires to defend accused officers.
  • The department can cut down on misconduct-related lawsuits by firing "untouchable" clouted cops who "cost millions" in legal fees. Examples of these "clout babies," says the blog, can be found in daily headlines: "sergeants raping women . . . sergeants firing guns at suburban cops . . . detectives shoplifting . . . commanders sticking guns in people's mouths...things like that."


According to a recent analysis, an estimated 14 percent of ninth-graders in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will earn a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school.

The analysis, released in early December of 2014 by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, also stated that only 40 percent of CPS high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges.

The analysis further concluded that:

  • Chicago places close to the national rate (estimated at 18 percent) for ninth-graders earning a degree, and places ahead of other large urban districts.
  • Based on ACT test scores, many CPS students remain unprepared for college.
  • At four of the 10 four-year colleges most frequently attended by CPS graduates, the six-year graduation rates are below 50 percent—presenting a major barrier to college completion.

The conclusion that CPS students graduate unprepared is not a new one; teachers, parents, employers, and other observers have said the same thing for decades.

Inside Chicago Government has followed the issue of student preparedness for some time. An aspect that we seldom see popular media address: How might the typical structures of school grade-levels and student assessment work against learning? Teachers and education policy wonks we've interviewed have some interesting ideas about this. Here's a summary.


1. Homework might not only be a waste of time, but a bad way to assess learning.

When teachers grade homework, some experts say, they're measuring effort, the ability to complete tasks, and the number of right answers—but not necessarily measuring student competence in the subject, or skill.

Experts point to two phenomena they've observed:

■ Homework doesn’t stick. Even students who get good grades all through college can't recall much of the material on which they had to do homework—the homework that helped them get the good grades. This is because homework often asks students to simply memorize facts, or rephrase what the teacher or text has told them—not internalize content in a way that's useful to them in their lives, or even in a job. Students are rewarded for their knowledge of a subject's content, rather than their mastery of subject-related skills.

■ Improving homework performance doesn't affect grades. Education researchers say that "homework help" initiatives—wherein teachers or aides help students with their homework—often don't result in better grades or test scores. This suggests, they say, that either homework doesn't actually helps kids do better in school, or that grades don't work well as a measure of student performance.


2. Grade levels group students to the disadvantage of many.

Emotional, social, and intellectual development varies widely among children of the same age. Classrooms therefore might work better, experts say, if they grouped students based on where the students place in a development spectrum—rather than by age, as most grade levels typically do.

Furthermore, once students are grouped in a grade level, they're expected to meet "accepted" standards for that grade level—rather than perform at a level that's based on where they are in their own development. Forcing students to "pass" a grade level, experts say, not only ignores their individual level of development; it can set up unreasonable expectations for how they should perform at the next grade level.


3. Knowledge of subject content shouldn't be the only basis for graduation.

Many agree that high-school graduates should exhibit core competencies. For example, graduates should be able to articulate their thoughts orally and in writing. And they should know how to add, subtract, divide, calculate averages, and figure percentages.

Beyond that, some experts say, a person graduating from high school would be best served in later life if they know how to (a) regulate their own emotions, (b) work well in groups, and (c) have empathy for people around them. Furthermore, they should understand (and take comfort in) the fact that individuals are not naturally good at some things; rather, they develop skills through practice and hard work.

The latter point underscores the importance of exposing students to a variety of disciplines such as music, art, and social sciences—without having to memorize or be tested on content. Exposing students to these arts and sciences can help them later—either in school or after graduation—when they're ready to decide in which areas they might want to focus and perhaps work.



On our Facebook page, a subscriber named Marc recently asked, "Can low income African American parents transform their neighborhood school like the parents of the Nettelhorst school?" He included a link to a 13-minute video (posted on YouTube) that describes how local parents helped improve the North Side's Nettelhorst Elementary School, at Broadway and Belmont.

My reaction: If they had similar resources, maybe.

The video features Jacqueline Edelberg, a mother in the neighborhood of Nettelhorst who sought a school to which she could eventually send her young kids. She and another mom toured the nearby Nettelhorst, but found it lacking.

Speaking in the video of what led her to organize local parents to help improve Nettelhorst, Edelberg recalls, "My husband said, 'You're not working now, go make yourself useful.' "

That comment underlines what's clear from the video: Edelberg—as well as the parents she helped organize—have spouses, stable income, and good education. I don't think this holds true for many parents of Chicago's public-school students.

Among those who've written about this disparity of resources is the Chicago Reader's Steve Bogira, particularly in his recent, multi-part series on the inequities of Chicago public schools.

In an article titled "Three families tell us why they ditched CPS" that appeared on Sept. 26, 2013, Bogira writes, "Middle-class parents tend to be zealous advocates. They're more likely to know an alderman or a reporter, and make noise about a problem their children's school is facing."

Bogira's article features parents who, like many others, spurned Chicago for the suburbs so their kids could go to good schools. In the article, a parent named Sue opines about the challenges faced by the parents in her former North Park neighborhood, which is populated by many low-income Asian immigrants: "You really didn't get those ethnic groups to participate [in their children's schools], because they're out of their comfort zone, or they're out working numerous jobs, or they don't understand English."

In an earlier article, Bogira quotes from an essay by Richard Kahlenberg that appeared in the journal American Educator. In middle-class schools, Kahlenberg wrote, parents volunteer more often "and know how to hold school officials accountable when things go wrong."

I don't mean to imply that one can't mobilize parents who live in poverty, have a low level of education, and/or lead stressful lives. In fact, such efforts exist—like the Parent Mentor Program of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which specifically targets parents in low-income communities.

But you can't just show low-income parents a video by their middle-class counterparts and say, "Go do this."

In my 7/25/13 interview with Ben Joravsky, we couldn't bring clarity to a statement that appeared in a 7/23/13 Sun-Times editorial ("TIF cash only a start for CPS"):

The city estimates a surplus this year (half of which goes to the schools) may yield only $10 million for CPS, but it could be larger. It all depends on how carefully the city scrubs each TIF—determining how many dollars are already spoken for and how many aren’t—and what percentage is counted as surplus. The city currently uses 20 percent.


The city uses 20 percent of what, for what?

The answer came in another Sun-Times editorial, this one on 8/4/13 ("A small lifeline for our schools"):

. . . the city historically allows only 20 percent of uncommitted cash to count as surplus. City Budget Director Alex Holt told us last week that 20 percent was "probably the starting point" this year.


In other words: Of each year's budget surplus for which the city has no plans, the city's been able but unwilling to spend four-fifths of it.

The following update on the Wolf Point development appears on the Web site of Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd).

Third Community Presentation for Proposed Wolf Point Development
WhenThu, December 20, 5:30pm – 7:00pm
WhereThe Conference Center at UBS Tower - One North Wacker Drive, 2nd Floor - Michigan Ballroom (NE corner of Wacker and Madison) (map)
DescriptionDear Neighbor: I am writing to invite you to join me for a third public presentation for the site located at 350 N. Orleans Street, commonly referred to as "Wolf Point". I directed Hines Development Corporation to design this third public meeting around information related to site programming, the bulk table numbers governing the maximum allowed dwelling units, hotel key counts and office space that could be positioned within the proposed building envelopes. Also at this meeting, Hines will discuss their sixth revision to the traffic study---which I required in conjunction with their proposed programming and in anticipation of our upcoming public discussion. I advised Hines that this next revision must contemplate the maximum numbers, in other words, the most intense combination of uses that could be built with the understanding that economically, such a scenario is somewhat unrealistic. In summary, Hines has submitted a proposal for the development of three towers: Phase I (West Tower) proposed as a residential, 525 foot tall structure containing a maximum of 510 units and 200 parking stalls; Phase II (South Tower) proposed as a 950 foot tall, mixed use structure which may contain office space, retail space, residential units and hotel space with 885 parking stalls; and Phase III (East Tower) proposed as a 750 foot tall mixed use structure which also may contain office space, retail space, residential units and hotel space with 200 parking stalls. A maximum of 900 residential units and a maximum of 450 hotel rooms will be allowed to be distributed between Phases II and III with the combined number of residential units and hotel rooms not to exceed those maximums of 900 residential units and 450 hotel rooms. The final draft bulk table can be downloaded here.
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