To the editor:

The sheer nastiness and factual distortions of P.J. Gray’s September 3 anti-Helen Shiller letter are typical of all too many of the Shiller haters I’ve met in my 46th Ward.

Rather than criticize Shiller on issues, Gray sarcastically goes after her looks (which are actually not bad), says she has no conscience (that’s a good one, coming from the likes of Gray), and hints that a so-called Reader endorsement of Shiller was what influenced Michael Miner’s August 20 Hot Type column about Tribune writer Ray Coffey’s incessant Shiller-phobia (though, as far as I know, the Reader has never printed its own endorsement of Shiller or anyone else). Gray even attacks Miner’s job history at another paper, as if that has to do with anything except Gray’s own bile. Yet Gray has the nerve to say Shiller isn’t “classy” enough.

Though Gray claims that “hundreds of concerned ward residents. . .find it difficult to reach [Shiller] directly,” my experience tells me that she often can be found just by walking into her ward office. Or she can be found at community events. Or she can be found at City Hall. I’ve even had her unexpectedly answer in detail a letter I had sent to city officials about traffic concerns after I had simply sent her an information copy. Of course, to someone too busy or too disdainful to take such steps, I guess getting in touch could seem “difficult.”

As for the 46th Ward’s concentration of social service facilities and parolees who so horrify Gray: the concentration predates Shiller and goes back to the days when the ward was far more poverty-stricken and decrepit than today. Much is different now, but social change takes time, the people affected aren’t disposable commodities, and planned development has its limits. Economic forces are greater than any alderman or block club. When the housing and retail markets decide that the 46th Ward will become another Ravenswood, Lakeview, or even (perish the thought) Lincoln Park, that’s when it will really happen. Politicians and community groups can do only so much to help it along or retard it–though incessant whining about how bad the 46th Ward is probably won’t help.

Instant-gratification yuppie arrivistes may well have no memory of the old days, but that never seems to stop them from stamping their feet when the ward into which they chose to move fails to transform itself overnight to their complete liking. Add to them a certain number of old-timers who dislike how Shiller’s concern for the rights of the poor plays itself out, and you get a constant stream of invective such as Gray’s.

Disagreement with Helen Shiller is fine. I’ve sometimes agreed and sometimes disagreed. The 46th Ward does have community leaders who oppose Shiller but who do so in a responsible fashion. They are not my target. But calm, constructive, and sustained engagement with all the problems of the ward–not a smug, myopic, self-centered, quick-fix, ban-the-bums perspective–is what will make the ward a better place. It’s time the Shiller haters toned down and buckled down. Shiller did, long ago.

William B. Kelley

N. Magnolia