Street Smart Chicago

Hacking Democracy: Chicago Startup BallotReady Empowers Choice in the Voting Booth

Politics No Comments »


By Sarah Conway

Aviva Rosman and Alex Niemczewski, two of the minds behind Chicago tech startup BallotReady (, bet you’ve done it before. Scanning the hundreds of names on a ballot, you’ve randomly voted for unknown candidates. Outside of presidential and congressional candidates, they’d wager you don’t know the policy stances of the unheralded yet powerful local elected officials, such as the recorder of deeds or the metropolitan water reclamation commissioner, who reside lower down on the ballot.

You’re not alone. Rosman and Niemczewski have found professors and high-level startup-competition judges from the University of Chicago who have also admitted defeat in navigating candidate choices among little-known school council members and judges who wield immense power over the city’s day-to-day life. Rosman and Niemczewski believe most people are guilty of guessing or leaving a portion of the ballot unfilled and that’s what they are here to change. “We’ve never met someone who has said, ‘I wouldn’t need this app. I know everyone on my ballot,’” Rosman says. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Taxing Woman

Checkerboard City, Green, Politics, Transit 2 Comments »
Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle and CNT vice president Jacky Grimshaw. Photo: CNT

Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle and CNT vice president Jacky Grimshaw/Photo: CNT

Back in 2010, when Toni Preckwinkle was running against incumbent Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, she successfully used Stroger’s one-cent sales tax hike as a campaign issue, going as far as to make an ad with a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. “I used to teach my history students about Ben Franklin,” said Preckwinkle, a former high school teacher, in the spot. “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

After she was elected, Preckwinkle rolled back the sales tax to the current 9.25-percent rate. As president, she’s generally been credited with improving the efficiency of the county government and cutting costs, avoiding the allegations of patronage and incompetence that hounded Stroger.

However, to address pension obligations, Preckwinkle is now calling for a return to the higher county sales tax. In response, a Crain’s magazine cartoonist recently portrayed her as a mad scientist crying, “It’s alive!” as the 10.25-percent tax rises from the operating table like Frankenstein’s monster.

There’s a saying in politics, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” Accordingly, The Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance are using this moment when the Cook County commissioners may vote for a tax hike to promote their Transit Future funding campaign. They’re asking the commissioners to simultaneously create a dedicated revenue stream for public transportation infrastructure in the county. CNT vice president of policy Jacky Grimshaw explained the reasoning behind this new push. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Gettin’ Quigley With It

Checkerboard City, Green, Politics, Transit No Comments »
Mike Quigley

Mike Quigley/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If you’re not a transportation geek like myself, you may be most familiar with Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th) from his hilarious segment on “The Colbert Report.” His North Side district includes Boystown, and he’s known as a strong ally of the LGBT community. Therefore, Stephen Colbert, in his persona as a conservative blowhard, baited Quigley by insisting that homosexuality is a choice:

Quigley: I don’t think you choose. It’s from birth. You’re gay, and it’s the rest of your life.

Colbert: Gay babies? I find that offensive, the idea that there are gay babies out there and they’re looking at me, and they’re sexually interested in me, as a man.

Quigley: You have a point. It’s not a good point, but it’s a point.

However, Quigley, a blue-collar dude, built like a fireplug, is something of a rock star when it comes to bringing home transportation funding to the Chicago region. He’s the only Illinois member on the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, with the memorable acronym THUD. He helped secure funding for the federal Core Capacity transit grant program, which will help bankroll the CTA’s rehab of the North Red and Purple Lines, and the TIGER program, which funds various sustainable transportation projects in cities. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Transit Platforms

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Dime Stories, Green, News etc., Politics, Transit 4 Comments »
Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García. Photos: John Greenfield

Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García/Photos: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I’ve discussed with noted Rahm-hater Tony Fitzpatrick, the talented artist and storyteller whose column occupies the other side of this page, there are many issues to consider when deciding who to support in Chicago’s April 7 runoff election. These include jobs, education, crime, privatization, transparency and ethics, to name a few.

However, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of transportation when choosing whether to reelect Mayor Emanuel, or anoint his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García. The need for a safe, efficient transportation system is a huge factor in quality of life for all Chicagoans.

With that in mind, here’s a comparison of how the candidates differ on key traffic safety, walking, transit and biking issues. Note that this article does not represent an endorsement of either candidate.

Read the rest of this entry »

What Would Jesús Ride? A Conversation With Mayoral Challenger Jesús “Chuy” García About Chicago’s Transportation Challenges

Bicycling, Green, Politics, Transit 2 Comments »
Jesús “Chuy” García at a Woodlawn bus shelter. Photo: John Greenfield

Jesús “Chuy” García at a Woodlawn bus shelter/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

For most of the campaign, mayoral hopeful Jesús “Chuy” García has been relatively quiet about transportation issues, except for his vocal opposition to Chicago’s automated traffic enforcement program. Most recently, following the revelation that a former top aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied for awarding the latest red light contract to Xerox, García announced that he would shut down all of the city’s traffic cameras on his first day as mayor.

The Emanuel campaign has noted that, before the Cook County commissioner joined other candidates in criticizing automated enforcement, he supported it. On March 11, 2014, García was part of a narrow majority of commissioners who approved an intergovernmental agreement that allowed Safespeed, LLC to install a red light camera on County property in suburban Forest Park.

Campaign finance records show that Citizens for Jesús García received a $1,500 contribution from Safespeed one day before the vote. When I asked about this issue, a García spokeswoman stated that the donation was from Safespeed president and CEO Nikki Zollar, a “thirty-year-old friend” of the commissioner, and it did not influence his decision.

Shortly before the February 24 municipal election, García, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from UIC, broke his relative silence on other transportation topics by releasing a transportation platform ( The document suggests that he is well informed about transit funding and transit-oriented development, although there’s little mention of pedestrian and bike issues. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: A Tribute to Jane Byrne

Dime Stories, Politics 2 Comments »
Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

An odd thing happened with the death of Jane Byrne on November 14: She became beloved as we began to realize the worth and scope and vision of Chicago’s only woman mayor. It’s bitterly funny how some people’s value cannot be measured while they’re alive.

While Richie Daley did his level best to try to erase her from the city’s history, Little Janey Byrne, a tough Irish girl from Sauganash, hung in there like a pit bull. To his everlasting credit, Mayor Rahm Emanuel included Jane Byrne in every significant city event and this is not a small thing—there are still plenty of remnants of the old machine who vividly remember Jane Byrne, all hundred pounds of her, thoroughly kicking their collective asses in grand fashion in 1979. And to this I say “Good on Ya Janey—You knocked their dicks in the dirt.” You see, we Irish? We’re poets.

She was a favorite of Daley the first. The old man liked her and she could have almost been his own daughter. She came of age in the ungentle atmosphere of City Hall. She was around the rough breed of men who made public policy in this city her whole professional life and she realized the casual brutality of the Democratic machine was an all-consuming beast and one would be wise to tread lightly, to watch and to wait for one’s moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Lollapalooza Green Street: Lolla Cares

Events, Green, Politics No Comments »

Part of the Official Guide to Lollapalooza’s Green Street

Lolla Cares organizations, located in Green Street North and South, support surrounding and international communities with causes ranging from health advocacy to sustainable living to fighting poverty at home and abroad.

Food Policy Action
Green Street North
Completed by Cory Sullivan, assistant to Tom Colicchio & Food Policy Coordinator

Is this your first Lolla? If not, how many years have you been here?
This is the first Lollapalooza for both myself and our organization, Food Policy Action. We’re very excited to be here.

What will we find at your Lollapalooza booth?
An interactive copy of our National Food Policy Scorecard, appearances by famous Chicago chefs, a photobooth chock-full of food props, and a raffle to win dinner at a legendary Chicago restaurant… Read the rest of this entry »

Votes for Sale: How More Money in Politics Might Make Illinois—and America—A Better Place

Politics No Comments »

3.6.14NewcityCover_webBy Brian Hieggelke

American politics is broken. By just about any measure, we are collectively disenchanted with both the system as it exists, and the people we elect through that system to carry on its business. Particularly disheartening, money has become the defining force in shaping our political character. In Illinois, we’ll be holding a primary on Tuesday, March 18, wherein the highest-profile election will be the race for the Republican nomination for governor. The putative front-runner in that campaign is billionaire Bruce Rauner who, not coincidentally, is one of the richest men in America.

A few weeks ago, I met E. Glen Weyl at a cocktail party and heard about his quadratic voting idea for the first time. A simple idea on the surface—allow the buying of votes, but with the provision that the cost of each vote is squared as you increase in number, with all the proceeds redistributed equally to all voters—it also seems simply absurd at first. After all, money in politics is the problem, not the solution, right? But as he explained its implications—the reductive influence of wealth given the power of exponential pricing, the positive implications for the “tyranny of the majority” and so forth—I became intrigued. Why are we so blindly attached to a way of conducting democracy that was conjured up hundreds of years ago, in a time far removed from most of today’s concerns and technological capabilities? If the system is broke, why aren’t we trying to fix it? That’s what our Founding Fathers would have done.

Weyl is a rising young star in the University of Chicago economics department. Just twenty-eight years old, he achieved his first notoriety for finishing Princeton as the valedictorian of his undergraduate class while simultaneously finishing all the coursework for his PhD, which was awarded a year later. His partner in this idea is Eric Posner, a professor in the University of Chicago Law School who, among other things, is a regular contributor to Slate magazine. And yes, Posner’s father is Judge Richard Posner, the celebrated jurist and scholar. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tox Lab: When U Chicago Was in the Chemical Weapons “Business”

Hyde Park, Politics No Comments »

ToxLabConnecting the dots is what an academic does. On September 10, Richard Neer, a University of Chicago professor of art history with a sideline in cinema, sent out an email with the subject line “Chemical Weapons Research at Chicago.”

The recipients of the email belonged to a listserv connected to the Committee for Open Research on Economy & Society (CORES). Founded by U of C faculty in 2008 to challenge plans for a Milton Friedman Institute, CORES was concerned with the “symbolic endorsement” by their employer given to the late economist’s politics. Neer signed a petition in opposition to the Institute, which blended with the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory in 2011 to become the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics.

A similar alarm was sounded in 1979 when the university bestowed the Albert Pick Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to International Understanding to Robert Strange McNamara, then president of the World Bank. Campus protests prompted university president Hannah Gray to write her guest the day after the black-tie gala: “I hope you will accept my apologies, offered both personally and on behalf of the University, for any discourtesies or awkwardness to which you may have been subjected.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: What About Bob?

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, News etc., Politics, South Loop No Comments »

Bob Fioretti by the Dearborn protected bike lanes./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Second Ward Alderman Robert “Bob” Fioretti got a raw deal in last year’s ward remap. His district currently includes portions of several neighborhoods on the Near South and Near West sides, but in 2015 his territory will flip to the Near North Side, which means he has to win over a whole new set of voters in the next election.

Perhaps because he has an uphill reelection battle anyway, lately he’s had no qualms about going against the mayor’s wishes on issues ranging from charter schools to the renegotiation of the city’s reviled parking-meter contract. As part of a series of interviews with aldermen about their view on transportation issues, I recently had coffee with Fioretti downstairs from his law firm, a stone’s throw from the Dearborn protected bike lanes. Read the rest of this entry »