University of Chicago – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.14 70 years of nuclear waste http://www.newstips.org/2012/11/70-years-of-nuclear-waste/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/11/70-years-of-nuclear-waste/#comments Fri, 30 Nov 2012 03:24:39 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6790 Seventy years after the first sustained nuclear chain reaction took place at the University of Chicago, the nuclear industry has produced up to 200,000 tons of highly toxic radioactive waste — but made no progress toward finding a way of disposing of it.

It’s a huge problem, and it’s the subject of an international conference taking place at the U. of C.’s International House, 1414 E. 59th Street, on Saturday and Sunday, December 1 and 2 (here’s a schedule).

Speakers from Japan, including survivors of Hiroshima and Fukushima, and from native lands here will provide a ground-level view of living with radioactive contamination, and experts will explore a range of concerns, including possibilities for a nuclear- and carbon-free energy future.

Dr. Norma Field, professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Chicago, will give a keynote address at 7 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the Chicago premier of “The Atomic States of America,” a new film that features a segment on the tritium leak at the Braidwood nuclear plant in Will County that was revealed in 2005.

On Sunday at 3:30 p.m., a commemoration of the first reaction will be held at Henry Moore’s “Atomic Energy” sculpture at 56th and Ellis.  That’s the site of the lab under the university’s football stadium where the Manhattan Project build the world’s first nuclear reactor, which went critical on December 2, 1942.

Red Gate Woods

On Monday, a caravan will visit the site of the first Argonne National Lab in Red Gate Woods in the Cook County Forest Preserve near Willow Springs.  After initial tests, the first Chicago reactor was reassembled there, and ultimately dismantled and buried in a huge hole, along with highly radioactive waste generated between 1944 and 1946.  In the late 1940s Argonne was moved to DuPage County.

In the 1990s, radioactive contamination was found in ground water around Red Gate, and after residents organized and protested, the Department of Energy cleaned up one radioactive dump on the site, though a second was too dangerous to disturb.

Along with this long history, the issue of nuclear waste is playing out in a number of ways in the Chicago area today, said David Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, the main sponsor of the conference.

Radioactive Illinois

With eleven Exelon nuclear plants, Illinois has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of radioactive waste, totalling 8,000 tons, Kraft said.   According to a recent study, Exelon reactors in Illinois have some of the highest concentrations nationally: reactors at Dresden, Byron, Braidwood, and Quad Cities have spent fuel inventories containing more than 200 million curies of radioactivity each.

And as Exelon has intensified production, stresses on waste pools have increased (more here).

Fukushima and Exelon

Problems with radiactive waste storage were central in the Fukushima disaster last year — and are a concern in four Exelon plants of the same design and age in Illinois.

At Fukushima, reactors exploded, caught on fire, and melted down, forcing 160,000 people to evacuate their homes and releasing massive amounts of radiation to the air and water.  The cleanup will take many years and tens of billions of dollars.

The NRC is currently investigating a petition by NEIS and others arguing that the Fukushima disaster revealed fundamental flaws in the design of the GE Mark 1 reactor used by Exelon, including vulnerable elevated waste pools and weak containment structures.

The agency is also looking into issues raised by Exelon’s siting of nuclear plants in flood plains along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

Zion

Meanwhile at Exelon’s nuclear plant in Zion, Illinois, the largest decommissioning effort in U.S. history is now underway. NEIS has been pressing for more secure storage structures than are currently planned.

The dry casks now used for storing the most radioactive waste are “lined up like a bowling alley” on a site in the flight path of hundreds of planes every day, a few hundred yards from Lake Michigan – and planes do crash, Kraft said.

NEIS is also pressing the Illinois attorney general for independent oversight of the state’s decommissioning fund, generated by charges to ratepayers over the years – especially with the company charged with decommissioning Zion, Energy Solutions, undergoing “extreme financial difficulties” in the past year, Kraft said.

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Penny Pritzker’s TIF http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/penny-pritzkers-tif/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/08/penny-pritzkers-tif/#comments Wed, 08 Aug 2012 15:45:51 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6551 School board member Penny Pritzker’s Hyatt Hotels Corp. is benefiting from a $5.2 million TIF subsidy on 53rd Street – while CPS’s proposed 2013 budget cuts seven schools surrounding the hotel project by $3.4 million, which is roughly the portion CPS is losing from the TIF deal.

“This one example shows the fundamental corruption in the way things are done here,” said David Orlikoff of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, a labor and community coalition growing out of Occupy Chicago’s labor committee and supporting the Chicago Teachers Union.

CTSC will hold a press conference and speakout and picket the project at 53rd and Harper on Wednesday, August 8, starting at 5:30 p.m.

“As a member of the Board of Education, it’s Penny Pritzker’s job to find money for our schools, not to take our money for her business,” Orlikoff said.

The $5.2 million subsidy is part of $20.4 million in TIF funds going to the University of Chicago-led redevelopment of Harper Court (see here for some background).  In addition to the hotel, the university is building a 12-story office building in the first phase of the project.

CTSC points out that Pritzker has a net worth of $1.8 billion, and the University of Chicago – now engaged in a huge campus expansion – has an endowment of $6.6 billion.

“They have plenty of money,” said Lorraine Chavez of CTSC.  “They don’t need a taxpayer subsidy to pay for it.  It’s outrageous.”

At Catalyst, Penny Pritzker clarifies that she’s not personally receiving the $5.2 million, and in a statement to Newstips, Hyatt points out that the Hyde Park Hyatt will not be owned by the corporation but, like many Hyatts, operated under a franchise agreement, thus “neither Hyatt Hotels Corporation nor Penny Pritzker…is receiving TIF funds as a result of this project.”

Conflict of interest

“The school board should be defending school funding when the mayor wants to take it for TIFs; it’s the only body in a position to do that,” Orlikoff said.  “But they’re appointed by the mayor, and they look the other way.

“Then they tell teachers they don’t have any money for anything, except the mayor’s pet projects.  It’s a conflict of interest – and it will be a conflict until the school board is elected.

“We need representation on the school board, and we need to end the chronic underfunding of our schools,” Orlikoff said.

CTSC, which exists “to support teachers and fight for equitable quality education,” calls for increasing school funding “by reclaiming TIFs and taxing the rich.”

TIF is “a failed program,” Orlikoff said.  “It’s not fighting economic blight, it’s a way of taking from everyone and giving to the One Percent.”

Questions on 53rd Street

There are lots of questions right now about the 53rd Street TIF, especially with a new TIF district now being carved out of it by a second developer.

Antheus Capital, planning an upscale residential and retail development at 51st and Lake Park, wants to break its parcel out of the 53rd Street TIF to form its own TIF district —  in order apply for $10 million or more in TIF funds.  The 53rd Street TIF advisory council has okayed the proposal.

But after ten years of operation, the 53rd Street TIF fund has a balance of just $3.7 million.

Now, with thirteen years to go, it’s on the hook for a $20-million subsidy, while revenues are slowing (due not just to a lousy economy but to the County Assessor’s new formula, which shifts the property tax burden from commercial to residential taxpayers) – and the TIF district is getting smaller.

“Many of us don’t expect to seek Phase 2” ( a 26-story condo tower and four apartment buildings, estimated to cost $100 million), said longtime  community activist George Rumsey.  “It’s hard to see where the money’s going to come from . Everyone is wondering if there’s going to be enough to finish the first phase.”

“For two years I’ve been asking who is liable if the TIF funds come up short,” he said Rumsey.  “I have not gotten an answer.”

Fourth Ward Ald. Will Burns has backed Hyatt’s TIF subsidy, telling the Sun Times it’s “absolutely essential,” though the Ramada Lakeshore hotel is located a few blocks away.

Time to ‘revisit’ TIF?

The Hyde Park Herald called for “revisiting” the 53rd Street TIF in an editorial last week.  It points out that the TIF district was sold to residents in 2001 on the basis of promised community benefits, including a new addition for Canter Middle School and a parking lot, none of which have materialized.

The stated purpose of the 2001 TIF was to provide support for schools and parks and increase parking, Rumsey said.  In fact a city parking lot at 53rd and Lake Park is being gobbled up by the Harper Court project. The development now under construction includes two floors of parking.

“The one concrete advantage” for the community, a program which hired ex-offenders for street beautification, was cancelled, supposedly due to inadequate funds, the Herald points out.

“There is little evidence at this point that this TIF will do much more than TIFs have done in other parts of the city, namely grease the wheels of development,” according to the Herald.

And given reaction to the Antheus proposal, “it appears that the neighborhood is not any more enthusiastic about supporting private development with public money than it was when the TIF was first brought up in the ’90s.”

Hyatt under pressure

Meanwhile, Hyatt Hotel Corp. has problems of its own.  Major organizations including the AFL-CIO and the National Organization for Women have signed on to a global boycott of Hyatt hotels to protest the company’s outsourcing of union jobs to agencies that pay minimum wage and its refusal to adjust workloads – or even provide mops with long handles — to reduce injuries.

In Chicago, while other hotels have negotiated over limits on subcontracting and safer working conditions, Hyatt has refused to do so, according to press releases from UNITE-HERE, which represents hotel workers.

In May, OSHA issued an unprecedent letter to Hyatt calling on the company to take steps to reduce the risk of injury (h/t 1537 News).  OSHA has issued 21 citations against Hyatt and its subcontractors.

Staffing reductions and an “amenities race” has increased the risk of permanent, disabling injuries for housekeepers, according to a 2006 study by the union.  A 2010 study found Hyatt workers had the highest rate of injuries of hotel chains studied; Hyatt’s injury rate was twice as high as the best-performing chain in the study.

Hyatt housekeepers’ workload is double the industry standard, according to the union.

“Hyatt’s workplace environment is being characterized inaccurately by union leadership as part of tis ongoing campaign to pressure Hyatt associates to join their union in non-union locations,” said Katie Rackoff, Hyatt’s director of corporate communications, in an email which cited Hyatt’s “outstanding safety record.”

At the end of the month, Hyatt workers in Chicago will have been working for three years without a contract.

The Pritzker family took the Hyatt Cororation public in 2009 but retained control with a separate class of shares that have ten times the voting power of common stockholders.  Penny Pritzker sits on Hyatt’s board, which is chaired by her cousin, Thomas Pritzker.  The family’s total worth is estimated at $20 billion.

In the 1990s, Penny Pritzker chaired the board of Superior Bank as it plunged into the subprime market (the bank later collapsed); recently she established a private equity firm to invest in distressed properties.  (More here.)

She’s a major donor to Mayor Emanuel’s campaign fund and to Stand For Children, which pushed anti-union legislation in Springfield.

 

Reposted from 8-7 and updated to include comments from Hyatt and a revised lead sentence.

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Black history: Jazz ‘Awakening’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/black-history-jazz-awakening/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/02/black-history-jazz-awakening/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2012 21:16:14 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5886 Ken Chaney’s Awakening with Ari Brown – and an award for longtime jazz advocate Geraldine de Haas – are highlights of a Black History Month program Saturday presented by the jazz staff of WHPK-FM.

Also featuring vocalist Milton Suggs and excerpts from the film “A Great Day in Harlem,” the program starts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, at the International House, 1414 E. 59th.  General admission is $10.  Food and drink will be available.

An underground favorite in the early 1970s, featuring hard bop originals with overtones of soul and the musical freedom of the period, Chaney’s band Awakening was a big hit at a 25th anniversary reunion at the 1998 Chicago Jazz Festival and has continued to work together since.

Chaney and Brown, who are among Chicago’s top jazz masters, are original members of the band, and they are joined by the powerful Pharez Whitted on trumpet, Joshua Ramos on bass, and Ernie Adams on drums. This show is highly recommended.

De Haas, known as the “Jazz Lady,” has a long and varied career. In the 1950s she and her brother and sister formed Andy and the Bey Sisters, a popular jazz vocal group, and in the 1970s she began a successful career in theater.  In the 1980s she founded Jazz Unites, which has presented the South Shore Jazz Festival for nearly 30 years.

De Hass will receive the REACH Award from WHPK’s jazz programmers, and she’s expected to talk about her next big project, said Yamaide Ann Morrow, jazz format chief at the station.

WHPK 88.5 (with which I’ve been associated off and on), “the pride of the South Side,” is sponsored by the University of Chicago.  Its jazz shows, programmed by deeply knowledgeable enthusiasts drawn from across the South Side, are really excellent, kind of a people’s jazz almanac that always swings.  And now they can be heard everywhere, streaming live on the web at whpk.org, weekday evenings and much of the weekend.

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To tell the truth http://www.newstips.org/2009/09/to-tell-the-truth/ Thu, 10 Sep 2009 21:41:25 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=721 A former editor of the Chicago Tribune has a neighborhood newspaper mad at her for withholding information.

You’d think Ann Marie Lipinski, who became Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago last September, would have learned something from her first assignment, which was to smooth things over after Alderman Pat Dowell discovered that the University was secretly buying up tracts of land on West Garfield Boulevard.

On August 13, Lipinski met with Gabriel Piemonte, editor of the Hyde Park Herald [and Herald general manager Sue Walker].  He asked “five different ways” for information on the demolition of Harper Court (which we discussed here last year).  Lipinski was not forthcoming.

The next day the bulldozers appeared and began demolishing the building housing the Dixie Kitchen (the restaurant recently made famous by Barack Obama on WTTW’s “Check Please”).

The demolition seems gratuitous, in that no developer has been chosen and the restaurant in the building next door has a lease that runs several more years, which (along with a lousy economy) would seem to make redevelopment anything but imminent.

The refusal to inform the Herald seems gratuitous too, especially since the Thursday meeting was a week away from the paper’s Wednesday publication date.

When the Herald complained in an editorial on August 26, Lipinski wrote back that the demolition schedule had been presented at the Hyde Park TIF Council’s June meeting, “a public gathering typically covered by the Herald.” She went on to emphasize “the very public nature of the Harper Court development.”

A editor’s note following the letter pointed out that the TIF council hadn’t met in June.

Piemonte says the reporter who covers the council remembered no mention of Harper Court demolition.  They searched the minutes — no record of any mention in May or July meetings.

So it would seem a refusal to inform is followed by an explanation that involves outright misinformation.  It’s probably better to tell the truth in the first place.

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Preemptive strike http://www.newstips.org/2008/10/preemptive-strike/ http://www.newstips.org/2008/10/preemptive-strike/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2008 13:07:58 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=314

Over the years Newstips has covered story after story about local groups seeking input into development plans and being completely shut out.  Now there’s a group that’s found serious leverage.

Hyde Parkers who are opposed to the University of Chicago’s efforts to bring in a hotel developer to demolish the shuttered Doctors Hospital and build on the site are poised to block the project by voting the precinct dry.

In the print version of its story, the Tribune quotes Ald. Leslie Hairston calling the referendum “an abuse of the process” and suggesting neighbors should see “what the company came up with in response to community suggestions.”

In fact they’re resorting to this “nuclear option” — voting the precinct dry would effectively block any hotel options at the site — because all community attempts at influencing development plans have been rebuffed.

The Hyde Park Historical Society and Landmarks Illinois hired an architectural firm to design a creative reuse of the existing building, with additional construction in back.  (The Maroon, the student paper, published a rendering in May.)  The preservation group added Doctors Hospital to its watch list; the Chicago Historical Resources Survey rates the building as historically significant.

White Services rejected the proposal as not cost-effective.  The company came back with a slightly-tweaked design that residents say is “suburban” and out of character with the urban neighborhood.

The company has also refused the request of UNITE-HERE Local 1 for a neutrality agreement. As Jacob Lesniewski pointed out at Gapers Block earlier this year, White Lodging “not only has no union representation at its 100 or so hotels, but also has been accused of intimidation and other shady practices in its fight against worker organizing,” along with “actively attempting to prevent its housekeeping staff at its Midway hotels from taking their state-mandated breaks”; in addition the company “is being sued by the federal government for discrimination against Muslim employees.”

The public meetings seem to have been held, as is so often the case, after all the big decisions have been made.  As Hyde Park Urbanist pointed out, rather than issue a request for proposals and entertaining offers from a variety of developers in a transparent process, the University pre-selected White Lodging, which is headed by a business school alumni and major donor who serves on a University board. From there the options narrowed.

Since the days of racially restrictive covenants and urban renewal, the University has been heavy-handed in attempting to control the community, and a recent period of relative openness seems to have come to an end with the ascension of President Robert Zimmer.  Under Zimmer the University has forced the closing of the Hyde Park Co-op and bought the community-founded Harper Court.  Third Ward Ald. Pat Dowell has blown the whistle on the University’s secret efforts to buy property on Garfield Boulevard west of Hyde Park.

It could be, in some sense, that the referendum is an “abuse of the process.”  It’s not a response to a problem bar or liquor store.  Such ballot questions have become a widespread tool for smoothing the edges of gentrifying neighborhoods, and Mayor Daley continues to promote them, most recently as a threat against Wrigleyville taverns.  Here the goal is much different:  to block unwanted development.

But it may be the only recourse for a group of neighbors facing what has become a far more widespread abuse of process — powerful interests using public hearings to check off legal or public relations requirements, while taking no heed of what the public is actually saying.  Time and again, across the city (look at the hearings on school closings), the public meetings are full of residents who don’t like what’s proposed, and political and economic powers ignore what’s being said and roll right over the opposition.

Usually the public has insights that the powerful would do well to consider.  And usually the public can’t do anything about it.  But watch out, Goliath — this time little David seems to have a good-sized stone in his slingshot.

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Harper Court rebate? http://www.newstips.org/2008/05/harper-court-rebate/ http://www.newstips.org/2008/05/harper-court-rebate/#comments Thu, 22 May 2008 16:35:12 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=191 Could the University of Chicago get a few million dollars back on the $6.5 million purchase price for Harper Court

The Harper Court Arts Council, which is selling the nonprofit shopping center to the University, has said it will disburse its assets to local cultural charities, and earlier listed the University’s multimillion dollar drive to build a new performing arts center as a possible recipient.

A spokesperson at the Attorney General’s office thought that might be legal.

The bigger question, though, is whether the resulting redevelopment will be worse than the University’s first development disaster, the urban renewal program of the 1960s (see Jane Jacob’s “Death and Life of Great American Cities” for details; Arnold Hirsch explores the racial motivations in “The Making of the Second Ghetto”).

The track record of the dominant parties is not promising.

Fourth Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, who has said she “brought together the parties” to complete the sale, has developed a giant shopping center on 47th Street which for years has lacked an anchor tenant.  Other than that, she’s facilitated a drive-through McDonalds and a Borders bookstore, which doesn’t seem to have hurt locally-owned bookstores much, but which was recently making noises about closing due to low profit margins.

In recent years, the University of Chicago bought the Hyde Park Shopping Center at 55th and Lake Park and redeveloped it into an even worse example of  the sprawl esthetic.  Then several years ago, they bought the historic Hyde Park Theater (adjacent to Harper Court) — and last week announced they had fired a developer who had successfully located a number of solid and worthy potential retailers and restaurants.  The problem?  They weren’t the national chains the University wants.

(The University is said to want “name” stores that are recognizable to parents of prospective students — though the Border’s experience shows that the commitment of such enterprises to the communities where they’re located is minimal.)

The ultimate irony is that all of Hyde Park’s commercial shortcomings stem from the University’s disastrous urban renewal program, which completely levelled the neighborhood’s commercial strip on 55th Street and replaced it with a sterile modernist wasteland.

“The best thing would be if the University got out of real estate completely,” said local activist Jack Spicer, who recently worked with the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference on a community planning process for Harper Court (results are here, and much more at HPKCC’s site).  “The University doesn’t have to make a living at it, so they can afford to make every mistake in the book.”

He expects the Alderman and the University will use eminent domain to demolish the stores and offices on 53rd east of Harper (which include the storied Valois restaurant), creating a megablock for the Harper Court project.

“We need incremental, regular, ongoing development,” Spicer said.  “Instead we get a big burp every 50 years, and then we’re stuck with a massive development that will go out of style, but it’s so big there’s nothing you can do with it.”

He points out: “Fifty years ago, 55th Street was very similar to Belmont Avenue; both of them were crowded and messy.”  Then the University worked its magic, while Belmont developed incrementally.  “Today no one would take 55th Street over Belmont.”

There are also questions about the Harper Court Arts Council, which “has pushed aside” its original purpose, according to Charlotte Des Jardins in a letter to the Hyde Park Herald.  Des Jardins writes as one of hundreds of Hyde Parkers who bought small bonds in the early 1960s to finance Harper Court as a refuge for artisans and small businesses pushed out by urban renewal.

Arts Council board members “began to think and act like Harper Court was their own private property,” she writes.  “They met secretly, without public notice, to plan its demise, with representatives from the University and the 4th Ward alderman, who never asked her constituents for their input.”  She cites Arts Council minutes which she tells Newstips she obtained through an FOIA request to the Attorney General’s office.

Here’s a Newstips report from 2006.

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Hyde Park Co-op president ousted http://www.newstips.org/2008/05/hyde-park-co-op-president-ousted/ Fri, 09 May 2008 17:36:13 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=177 Hyde Park Cooperative Society board president James Poueymirou was ousted, and three advocates for opening the books were elected to the organization’s board, it was announced today.

Poueymirou, a mortgage broker who led the board in closing the Co-op’s 55th street grocery during the 75th anniversary of the organization’s founding, hadn’t been elected to the board in the first place; a member of the organization’s nominating committee, he’d been appointed to fill a vacancy on the board.  He came in last place in the election, with 41 votes.

Turnout was low in an election run on a very small scale, with no direct communication with the membership.

New board member Joan Staples, who previously served on the board in the 1970s, said she hopes for answers to questions that were never addressed during the closing of the store, including the nature of an agreement with the University of Chicago to finance the closing.

Also elected were Doug Anderson (of bird-watching fame), a longtime member, and M.L. Rantala, a former editor of the organization’s newspaper, who led opposition to the closing.

Some members hope to find a new role for the organization, though prospects for the future are unclear.

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HP Co-op Vote Underway http://www.newstips.org/2007/12/hp-co-op-vote-underway/ http://www.newstips.org/2007/12/hp-co-op-vote-underway/#comments Fri, 07 Dec 2007 17:37:55 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=58 Bolstered by the possibility of a new financing package, supporters of the Hyde Park Co-op have launched a new website, savethecoop.com, just days before ballots in a membership vote on the future of the financially-beleagured organization are due.

All along, Co-op supporters have been playing catch-up to a well-orchestrated campaign by the University of Chicago to shut down the organization, including what Co-op supporters call bluffs and threats by the university.

Ballots on the future of the 75-year-old cooperative society have been mailed to 19,000 members and must be received by December 12.

 “The university set it up to make it almost impossible to organize against them,” said Jay Mulberry, a retired principal who is the Co-op’s webmaster and creator of savethecoop.com.

“There’s no time,” said Amelia Tucker, president of the Chicago Joint Board of RWDSU, which represents Co-op employees.  “I think they planned it that way.”

Tucker has sought union financing to keep the Co-op afloat, “but two weeks is not enough time — especially when you are talking about $2 million.”

Everyone seemed surprised by the amount of support for saving the cooperative grocery at a town hall meeting November 18 (see our previous post).  Mulberry said he went to the meeting prepared to support the university’s offer of a $4 million “debt workout” plan, which would forgive rent owed by the Co-op for its 55th Street store (located in a shopping center owned by the university), pay off other debtors and bring in a new store.

He was won over by presentations by two Co-op board members for an alternative plan to seek financing to keep the organization going — ideally through Chapter 11 debtor-in-posession financing that would enable it to shed a longterm lease for a shuttered store at on 47th Street. (This is dubbed Proposal B on the membership ballot; the University’s, backed by board president James Poueymirou and a majority of board members, is Proposal A.)  Judging by the audience response, hundreds of others were also won over to the alternative plan.

One of the objections at the meeting was that the university wasn’t saying what store would replace the Co-op; at the organization’s board meeting on November 26, UC real estate director Jo Reizner said it would be Treasure Island or Dominick’s.  Many believe the former has the inside track.

It wasn’t until about November 27 that a website supporting Proposal A, hungry4change.org, was launched by a university consultant.  Subsequently Hungry4change produced thousands of anti-Co-op fliers which were handed out and mailed community-wide, with support from the Southeast Chicago Commission, the university’s community arm, and Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.

 [In the final week of balloting a telemarketing firm was reportedly calling Co-op members on behalf of Hungry4Change (12-12-07).]

Also on November 27, Hank Webber, the university’s vice president for community affairs, sent a university-wide e-mail saying the debt workout proposal would be withdrawn if members voted for the alternative.  This made a vote for B seem more risky, since failure to obtain financing could mean a drawn-out liquidation process and months without a grocery.

Savethecoop.com says this position is both “blackmail” and a bluff — the university wouldn’t shoot itself in the foot just out of spite.

It’s not a bluff, said Deborah Halpern, a p.r. consultant for the university who said she also represents the Co-op.  “The university did not want to force an option on [members] that they did not approve,” she said. “The university is trying to come to grips with what to do” if B passes, she added.

But the move cut both ways — adding motivation for members who are disenchanted by the Co-op’s recent performance to support A, but raising resentment among residents who think the university has too much power in the community.

 On November 28 the Hyde Park Herald contained a letter by Co-op board secretary James Withrow (posted in this pdf) saying the informational letter going out with the ballots (updated version here) and signed “The Board” had not been approved by the full board and was “illegitimate.”  Halpern disputes his account.

Support for the Co-op was slow to form amid the confusion.  It was clearly expressed in Hyde Park Herald editorials (although letters to the editor leaned slightly toward Prop A) and most emphatically in the Evergreen, the Coop’s member newspaper, which came out around December 1 and warned members of university “disinformation” and “Hungry4Lies.”   And at least 130 Co-op members have pledged over $35,000 in a capital drive announced at the town hall meeting [now totalling $65,000 (12-12-07)].

It percolated in a neighbor’s listserve run by Mulberry, which tossed questions around and commented on postings at the pro-university blog, Hyde Park Progress.  Finally Mulberry called a meeting at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club and was surprised when 50 Co-op supporters showed up.

Richard Orlikoff, introduced by Mulberry as “hero” for his late ’90s opposition to the Co-op’s disastrous expansion to a new shopping center on 47th Street (his anti-expansion slate swept one board election but was ignored by the incumbents), spoke in favor of a $2.5 million commercial loan proposal which Poueymirou had just told the Herald is still on the table.

Poueymirou showed up halfway through — and Mulberry told him he should resign as board president if he couldn’t support the Co-op.

Savethecoop.com went up the next day and features explications of “the lure of Proposal A” and “the promise of Proposal B” — as well as FAQs addressing questions ignored elsewhere:  how did the Co-op get in such a mess?  what about the University’s threat? what is Ald. Preckwinkle’s role in the atack on the Co-op?  (Preckwinkle was the main proponent of the 47th Street mall, where the Co-op was anchor tenant in a huge store that has stood vacant since 2006.)

“I’ve been one of the biggest critics of the board for a long time,” Mulberry said, cataloging a list of “horrible decisions.” “And now I’m turning around and saying let’s keep this thing going.”

Bringing in a chain grocery “leaves us with no voice,” he said.  “But if we win this battle we can’t let it slip back to the way it was; we have to take over the board and change things.”

Savethecoop.com calls the Co-op a “democratic center of community involvement” and says: “They want a Treasure Island to attract the gentry.  What we want is a Co-op that serves everybody and responds to everybody.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that after years of ineffective and unpopular general managers, two months ago the Co-op hired Bruce Brandfon, an industry veteran who many think has the capacity to implement extensive improvements, given the resources.  His straight-talking manner is a relief for members used to puffery and evasion from previous GMs — as are storewide price reductions he implemented.

“Nobody thought there was any real hope until the new GM came along,” Mulberry said.

Another little-discussed factor is the prospect of union picketlines at the opening of a new store.  Treasure Island recently won a bitter union decertification campaign at its North Side stores.  “They busted a union,” said RWDSU’s Tucker. “We’re not going to let Treasure Island come in and kick our members to the street.  And we will be asking the community to support our picketline.”

The university has promised Co-op employees would be given interviews in a new store, but Treasure Island might be averse to hiring very many long-time union members.

RWDSU Local 239 members have foregone wage increases for almost five years and given concessions on benefits in order to help the Co-op, Tucker said.  “Many have been working there 30 or 40 years,” she said.  “They’re too old to find new jobs and too young to retire.

“They don’t give a damn what’s going to happen to those people.”

Tucker said Poueymirou met with her at the end of November to give the required 60-day notice, telling her the store would close January 28.  She said she’s “very disappointed.”  For years the board has ignored her complaints about mismanagement, she said. “I’ve been asking questions for a long time and getting no answers.”

Observers give Proposal A the edge in the election — but no one knows.

The new president of the University of Chicago, Robert Zimmer, has told the U. of C. Maroon that he has disliked the Co-op since he was a graduate student in the 1970s, and admitted that “everything we’ve been doing” has been “to get them in an orderly exit.”

But he must also be considering how much credibility will be sacrificed by high-pressure tactics — and how many Hyde Parkers, including students and faculty, will be unable to cross a union picketline.

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