Letter to the editor:

Ben Joravsky did his usual succinct Neighborhood News column on “Screen Savers” (December 10). He depicted Ravenswood residents so agonized about their community that 500 of them turned out to express concern about the threatened closing of the Davis Theater.

Mary Edsey and Sharon Woodhouse, sincerely civic-minded citizens who organized the protest, were pushed aside by Alderman Eugene C. Schulter (47th) who “not only attended [the meeting] but dominated it,” in Joravsky’s well-chosen phrase. Schulter, master of telling selected lies in self-pitying terms, got credit from some irate residents for calling the meeting; in truth, he would have preferred there be no meeting at all. Until Edsey and Woodhouse called the ad hoc gathering, Schulter, who never met a developer he didn’t like, had the redevelopment of the Davis building under wraps. Ravenswood planning and zoning decisions were generally kept there until sprung full-blown on a puzzled community. Witness the Lincoln Square Mall, the Levy Senior Center, removal of the YMCA, and conversion of Hild library to private use at public expense.

What the Davis Theater meeting reveals, since it was the largest and most vigorous community gathering in Ravenswood in recent decades, is the nefarious role played, or rather shunned, by the Ravenswood Community Council. The council, an admixture of civic “activists,” is supported by public funds provided by the CAPS program, the city Departments of Human Resources and Buildings, and the Chicago Public Schools, all under Faustian deals approved by Alderman Schulter. Additional RCC funding came recently as a pork-barrel state grant of $35,000 sponsored by local legislators who can expect to be honored at RCC’s future lovefests. Free rent for the council is provided by Ravenswood Hospital Medical Center, which RCC praised as “community-minded” and “faith-based” after hospital personnel allowed a shooting victim to bleed to death on its doorstep. Only a tiny fraction of the council’s budget derives from dues paid by community residents and businesses or from public fund-raising events.

For several years I served uncomfortably as secretary of the Ravenswood Community Council until finally I was drummed out for suggesting that its annual meeting this year be devoted to a community inventory I called “Rearranging Ravenswood.” Such a meeting would have attempted to examine the impact of wholesale condominium conversions, new demands on Ravenswood infrastructure, what the aesthetic and practical impacts have been of city “streetscapes” and mixed zoning on commercial streets, and the effect of concentrating entertainment venues in the vicinity of the Old Town School of Folk Music quartered–through Alderman Schulter’s benevolence–in the former Hild Regional Library building.

In a letter to the chairman of RCC’s Membership and Development Committee, I said, “your committee has forged ahead with a crypto-Ladies’ Aid agenda that includes a redundant garden walk, a holiday decoration awards program offensive to a multi-ethnic community, a saloon reception for ‘newcomers,’ and insipid suggestions for the annual meeting gleaned, in part, from our aldermen–another case of the foxes guarding the chickens.” My proposal, I claimed, “could bring the Ravenswood Community Council for once closer to the business it is organized to conduct. Such a community inventory is most important now.”

Let’s hope the success of Mary Edsey and Sharon Woodhouse in organizing the Davis Theater protest augurs a new era for Ravenswood in which community residents speak their minds without being bought off by city and state grants. They’ll have to do it with grit and money raised through honest neighborhood organizing, but whatever they do cannot but improve upon the shameful mutual masturbation now going on between phony civic “activists” in the Ravenswood Community Council and their politician friends who lather RCC with taxpayers’ money.

Richard C. Bjorklund

W. Wilson