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‘Dangerously informed’ Mayoral Tutorial returns

With a new mayor installed on the fifth floor of City Hall, the incisive analysis and biting satire of the Mayoral Tutorial website is coming back.

A relaunch party featuring spoken word artists, comedy, live music, and “rabble rousing galore” takes place tonight (Tuesday, May 17, 7 p.m. to 12 midnight) at Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood.

A new version of the website ( should be up imminently, and organizer Don Washington said he plans to resume monthly forums focused on public policy topics, probably this summer.

During the recent mayoral campaign, MT forums offered an entertaining and participatory approach to allow voters to dig into issues behind candidates’ campaign positions.  One featured a game-show format to elucidate the ins and outs of tax increment financing.

A couple mayoral candidates even participated, though not the eventual winner.

Washington has a basic community organizer’s analysis, which breaks things down to organized money and organized people.  Mayor Emanuel represents organized money, in this analysis, and his task is now to “create a new reality – this is the way things are going to be – which means he remains in campaign mode, and second to control the playing field so there’s more space for organized money and less for  organized people,” Washington said.

He’s “perturbed” that City Council members seem to be “lining up to follow” Emanuel and not countering with alternative policy options.  “If the mayor dominates the process” it’s going to yield “public policy that’s written for the upper class,” Washington said.

Emanuel talks about “shared sacrifice,” but “I don’t know where the shared sacrifice is for the guys at the Board of Trade,” he said.

Washington is focusing right now on budget policy, and worries that indiscriminate cuts in city services risk “turning [the city] into Detroit,” while privatizing services as a way of cutting salaries and health coverage represents a “salary bomb” that will drain the city’s economic vitality.

Joining Washington tonight are educator Amesha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative, educator Bill Ayres, Harishi Patel of the Progressive Alliance, performance artist Nicole Garneau, Sage X Morgan-Hubbard, and Louder Than A Bomb champ FX SupremeDemocracy Burlesque will offer a Farewell to Mayor Daley.  It’s free.

Housing crisis: action, inaction

So now the political ground shifts  dramatically in Washington, even as a tectonic shift approaches in Chicago.  Here, at least, members of the City Council have found a way to break a political logjam and do something about a serious problem facing their constituents.

With the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance stalled in the finance and housing committees since March despite backing by at least 23 council members, aldermanic supporters prepared a rarely-used motion to discharge to call it to a vote before the full council.  The ordinance would designate 20 percent of TIF funds for affordable housing.   (See last year’s Newstip.)

Hundreds of activists from the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition turned up at City Hall today to back Ald. Walter Burnett’s effort.  And the two committee chairs, Ed Burke and Ray Suarez, agreed to schedule a vote on the legislation no later than November 15, if a consensus on an alternative proposal isn’t reached by then.

This may be a sign of a more assertive and independent City Council as the Daley era comes to a close.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration is paying the political price for a sluggish economy – and the composition of the new Congress makes it even less likely that a significant jobs effort can be mounted.

There’s one way Obama could act to stimulate the economy – by requiring mortgage lenders to reduce principal on loans where homeowners owe more than their homes are worth.

That’s at least 15 million American families – 4 million of them are 50 percent or more underwater – whose overpriced mortgages are “absorbing billions of dollars that could be used for other forms of consumer spending – a drag on family finances, the housing market and the entire economy,” Don Lee writes in the Tribune.

“Banks convinced people their homes were worth an inflated amount and persuaded them to borrow against that amount.,” writes R.J. Eskow at Huffington Post.  Forcing homeowners “to pay them the full amount of that inflated loan, with no penalty to the bank for its role in that transaction,” amounts to an “invisible bailout,” he argues.

In the New York Times, economist Yves Smith points to an IMF study that “found that the persistently high unemployment in the United States is largely the result of foreclosures and underwater mortgages.”  He says a “process for major principle reduction” could come about “through coordinated state action or a state-federal effort.”

According to Liz Ryan Murray at National Peoples Action, though, the Obama administration has the tools to force banks to reduce principle, through its HAMP program and through other leverage including TARP and FHA insurance.

Of course, this would require the Obama administration to be significantly more assertive toward and independent from big banks.

The record isn’t strong on this.  Despite administration claims, HAMP isn’t working – even a top Federal Reserve economist recently called it a “failure.”  Foreclosures continue to rise.  The TARP inspector general reported that the program could actually be pushing people into foreclosure by loading back payments, penalties and late fees on homeowners who are denied permanent modifications after successfully completing trial mods.

Even homeowners who get a permanent modification can find themselves farther underwater – and thus more vulnverable to default in the future.

President Obama has downplayed such concerns, saying “the biggest challenge” is to avoid “wasting money on [homeowners] who don’t deserve help.”

On the face of it, this seems a strange statement from a leader who backed a $700 billion bailout of banks to save them from their own irresponsibility.

On top of that, in the wake of the foreclosure fraud scandal, Treasury officials admit that mortgage companies enrolled in HAMP “may be receiving taxpayer funds despite not having a legal right to the home or to the mortgage,” Huffington Post reported.  And “despite faulty or missing paperwork, the Obama administration allows mortgage companies to boot homeowners from the program, sticking the borrowers with massive bills that often leave them worse off.”

Fifteen million homeowners facing potential trouble certainly represent a threat to the stability of the economy, though writedowns would hurt banks’ bottom lines and executive bonuses.  And the money they’re spending on the “invisible bailout” is money that could be boosting the economy and feeding job creation.

New Labor-Community Coalition?

Does growing political independence on the part of organized labor in Chicago present possibilities for new labor-community coalitions?

A forum this Friday, hosted by the Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies, will discuss “the politics of the new Chicago labor movement” and “the future of the new Chicago labor-community coalition.”

Once a loyal division of the Chicago machine, labor has grown more independent as Mayor Daley has increasingly emphasized pro-business strategies including privatization of city services and opposed labor-backed initiatives like living wage ordinances.

Last year SEIU held training sessions for potential aldermanic candidates and charted union membership in each ward. In this year’s election — with Daley’s patronage armies taken out of the picture by federal prosecutions — labor contributed funds and foot soldiers to help defeat key mayoral allies and elect seven new council members.

“Something really different happened,” said Bob Bruno of the Center for Working-Class Studies, housed at UIC. Labor “ran against the mayor across the city and beat him just about everywhere.”

One panel at Friday’s forum — with CFL secretary-treasurer Jorge Ramirez, SEIU state political director Genie Kastrup, and Illinois Citizen Action’s William McNary — will focus on the aldermanic election. A second panel will look at housing, public transportation, and privatization, with John Cameron of AFSCME, John Bartlett of Metropolitan Tenants Organization, and Alejandra Ibanez of Pilsen Alliance.

Bruno says the forum could lead to further roundtable discussions of issues that could inspire coalition work.

The forum takes place Friday, November 30, 2 to 5 p.m. at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan. Admission is free but pre-registration is requested (312-996-2491).

Community organizing and the new City Council

Community organizers from across the city will meet Friday to discuss opportunities presented by new dynamics in the City Council.

Interest is so strong that registration for the Government Accountability Conference is at capacity and closed, said Brian Gladstein, director of the Developing Government Accountability to the People (DGAP) project.

“There is real excitement for this,” he said. “People are really itching to find ways to work together on progressive issues in citywide coalitions.”

In a morning panel, former Ald. Dick Simpson and Cindi Canary from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform will analyze Chicago’s new City Council. Panels of experts and organizers will discuss the city budget; how to research campaign contributions and pursue issues of electoral reform, accountability and transparency; how to use the election cycle to push community issues; and how a human rights framework offers community activists global tools when local options have been exhausted.

In the afternoon, aldermen from the City Council’s new independent caucus — including Ricardo Munoz and Sandi Jackson — will join in a discussion of how community organizations can work with the new council.

DGAP emphasizes the connection between social justice issues and issues of democracy, accountability, and corruption. Last year the group issued a report card giving a comprehensive overview of city policies on the environment, transportation, jobs, education, criminal justice, and ethics — and grading them (from A- on environmental policies to F’s for criminal justice and ethics); report cards for aldermen covered voting records on a range of issues and campaign contributions.

Gladstein said the group plans to issue biannual report cards and use them for community and citywide organizing around specific issues.

The Government Accountability Conference takes place Friday, November 16, at Access Living, 115 W. Chicago.

For more: Brian Gladstein, DGAP, 312-663-0960 x316,

Community Leaders to Meet on Election Issues

Community and civic leaders from across the city will meet October 4 to discuss a range of issues to be included in an upcoming Aldermanic and Mayoral Report Card on Justice and Democracy.

The Developing Government Accountability to the People (DGAP) coalition emphasizes the connection between social issues like housing, education, and jobs, and issues of democracy, accountability, and corruption, said Brian Gladstein of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. The coalition joins groups ranging from JCUA and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform to the Pilsen Alliance and the South Side Organizing Summit.

The group’s first project is to produce report cards on the mayor and City Council prior to the 2007 elections, and Wednesday’s meeting is a step in that process, Gladstein said. The goal is to educate Chicagoans on the job performance of aldermen and the mayor, and to raise the profile of social justice issues in aldermanic races. City Council report cards will also address “democracy” issues like corruption, contributions, and inclusiveness in aldermanic offices, he said.

DGAP’s Government Accountability Forum 2006 takes place Wednesday, October 4, at the Spertus Institute, 618 S. Michigan. An afternoon session (1 to 4 p.m.) will address citywide issues relevant to the mayoral race; Salim Muwakkil of In These Times will give a keynote address. An evening session (5 to 8 p.m.) will address community issues facing City Council members.

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