On the day Mayor Emanuel released footage of Laquan McDonald’s murder, I was driving through the south side, checking out the potholes with 17th Ward alderman David Moore.
It all ties together, my friends.
Mayors get judged by big things—like holding on to evidence of murder—and little things, like the condition of our streets.
Obviously, Mayor Emanuel’s falling short on both fronts these days.
In this case, Moore had enlisted me in his effort to figure out why the mayor was paving streets that were in relatively good condition.
It was as though the mayor was looking for new ways to waste money.
Let’s see. . . wasted $55 million on the DePaul basketball arena/Marriott hotel deal? Check.
Threw away $20 million on a no-bid consulting contract to a crooked company that once employed CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett? Yep.
Spent untold amounts on lawyer fees trying to keep the McDonald tape a secret? Did it.
I know! Let’s spend about $800,000 paving some streets on South Racine that don’t need repaving.
The street-paving issue has been on Alderman Moore’s mind since September 22, when he got an e-mail from a construction company saying it would be repaving Racine from 74th to 79th.
“It caught me by surprise,” says Moore. “I didn’t ask them to repave that street. That particular stretch doesn’t even need repaving. There are other streets in the ward far more deserving.”
A few days later, he met with city Transportation Department officials.”They said, ‘If you don’t want this paved maybe we can come up with some other ideas,'” meaning other streets to pave, says Moore.
Then one day in late October, Moore was shocked to see construction crews at work on Racine. “They told me they weren’t going to do it and they did it,” he says. “The city totally ignored me. When I asked them not to do it, they did it anyway. That’s total disrespect.”
The repaving was paid for with money from, what else, a TIF—in this case, the 79th Street Corridor tax increment financing district.
Turns out Moore, who was just elected in February, had been victimized by one of the oldest tricks in the TIF book: Taking advantage of a rookie alderman by stealing his TIF money.
Think of it as an initiation rite—like a fraternity hazing its newest members.
“They told me they weren’t going to do it and they did it. . . .That’s total disrespect.”
—17th Ward alderman David Moore
The first time I heard about the rookie TIF hustle was in 2005. That’s when newly elected 35th Ward alderman Rey Colon discovered that TIF money intended to fund development on Milwaukee near Fullerton was in fact being used to convert a factory into condos about a mile or so up the road in another ward.
“Other aldermen told me: they always try to get away with this with first-time aldermen,” says Moore.
Just to remind you, the TIF tax is in effect a surcharge added to your property tax bill, which feeds a slush fund controlled by the mayor.
I’ve been known to write about this from time to time.
The money’s intended to subsidize development in poor communities, like Auburn Gresham, West Englewood, and other 17th Ward neighborhoods. But thanks to loopholes, most TIF money gets spent on gentrifying communities in or around downtown. It’s like a reverse Robin Hood program, taking from the poor to give to the rich.
For example, the Canal Congress TIF district, located downtown, brought in about $20 million last year. In contrast, the 79th Street Corridor collected just $648,000.
So the neighborhoods most in need of development are not the ones with the most TIF money. And even what little TIF money they have isn’t in their control.
Yet Mayor Emanuel won 55 percent of the 17th Ward vote in the last election. That means voters there are either exceedingly forgiving—or they need to read the Reader more.
In any event, when Alderman Moore saw the unnecessary, unwanted street construction, he contacted the city’s Department of Transportation: “I asked them who authorized the project. I got a letter saying this is a mayoral project. Well, if you’re going to run my ward, how about when Mr. Johnson says the drug dealers are on his corner, you take the calls?”
To point out the streets that actually need repaving, Alderman Moore took me on a driving tour of his ward. Sure enough, there are countless streets in need of repair. In particular, the stretch of 79th from the Dan Ryan to Ashland is riddled with potholes—inexcusable for a major thoroughfare.
Curiously, though, while driving through the ward, I noticed that the street paving on Racine is right in front of Saint Sabina Church, home parish for Father Michael Pfleger, a powerful political figure in the neighborhood.
That got me thinking: Did Father Pfleger use his clout with the mayor to put his street at the top of the ward’s repaving list?
“Absolutely not,” Father Pfleger told me. “Nobody consulted me about this. Nobody asked. The first thing I know about is when I saw the trucks on the street.”
My guess is that repaving Racine was mayor Emanuel’s clumsy attempt to ingratiate himself with Father Pfleger, who supported him in the last election.
For what it’s worth, city officials say they decided to repave Racine after careful study. “This stretch of Racine was identified as badly in need of resurfacing when CDOT performed a citywide survey of pavement conditions,” a department spokesman said in an e-mail. “We look forward to continuing to work with [the alderman].”
This all reminds me of what happened a couple years ago when the mayor—looking to win over black voters outraged by his school closings—proposed to rename Stony Island Avenue for civil rights leader Bishop Arthur Brazier.
That backfired on him too.
I’ll tell you what to do, Mr. Mayor. Find the money to repave all the crumbling streets in the 17th Ward.
Call Alderman Moore—he’ll show you where they are.
It’s the least you can do for having stiffed the 17th Ward with the TIF scam. v