In Memoriam: Ald. JoAnn Thompson
I was distressed to hear the news of the passing of Alderman JoAnn Thompson of the 16th Ward.
Alderman Thompson and I worked together on helping the St. Rose Center, a community center for disabled adults in the Back Of The Yards neighborhood. While assisting the Center as an administrative volunteer, I needed Alderman Thompson’s help on a variety of issues.
Because she held regular Ward Nights in the 16th, it was easy to set up meetings with her. She gave us help with Illinois state funding the Center was due but had not received, and she wrote letters to state officials including Governor Quinn to get things moving once again. I will always remember her availability and effectiveness.
I offer my sincerest condolences to her family, friends and her constituents. She will be missed.
How I Helped Fight The Coal Plants — And Helped Us Win
Like a lot of people in Bridgeport and Pilsen, my family has struggled with respiratory problems tied to the nearby Crawford coal plant. In 2010 I read a report detailing the plant’s terrible health costs to residents, including premature deaths, asthma episodes and heart attacks every year. Beyond that, I learned the dollar costs were more than $120 million to the people in the community.
I knew this situation was wrong. I decided to get involved to change it.
That was the year I and a core group of community leaders co-founded a group called the Bridgeport Alliance and steered it to join the city-wide and Pilsen-centered efforts to end the coal plants’ costs to the community.
I had first gotten involved in the specific coal plant issue after attending Green party community meetings where I learned that Pilsen-based PERRO had been working on closing the plants for years. We first made contacts with Dorian Breuer from PERRO and then later Christine Nannicielli and her staff at Sierra Club in 2011.
I own a business, so I’m always mindful of what works for commerce. But I learned these plants were open for one reason: to sell power outside of Illinois and to contribute to an Enron-style national market for electricity. We know how Enron ended up. There was no way it was right to pay for that kind of business with the health and lives of our people.
That year, I became part of a big effort. My allies and I worked on volunteer organization, educating residents, raising awareness, collecting signatures on South Halsted, collecting photo petitions and enlisting the support of 11th Ward businesses. We were on the streets, engaging our neighbors. Our work, organized and presented as the Clean Power Coalition, culminated in a City Hall action Dec 2, 2011.
Along with the Coalition’s city-wide pressure, which included the Bridgeport Alliance, I personally asked 11th Ward Alderman Jim Balcer to sign on as a co-sponsor of the City Council Clean Power Ordinance, which was introduced in April 2010.
The Old-Boy Leadership: No-Go and No-Show
Alderman Balcer never signed on, and in fact sold out the people of the 11th Ward by delaying the vote on the Council floor twice, putting it off until after the end of the Daley administration.
Also, my election opponent Patrick Daley Thompson, at that time an executive of the South Loop Chamber of Commerce, was a no-show on the coal plants. Patrick made no appearance nor statement about the health hazards faced by the people of the 11th Ward during the entire fight. If he’s ever said anything about people in our community dropping dead thanks to coal plant pollution, I’ve never heard it.
No thanks to Thompson’s absence or Balcer’s interference, it was ultimately the threat of the City Council vote — that threat created by community pressure city-wide through our Clean Power Coalition — that eventually ended the pollution in 2012 and improved the air quality in our community tooday.
Today, as President of the Palmisano Park Advisory Council, it’s one of my greatest joys to climb the hill and look north to the now-smokeless smokestacks, take a deep breath, and remember what can happen when people get together to stop footing the bill for an operation that doesn’t even serve them.
What can happen?
We can win.
(Photo credit: ELPC.org)
Happy Veterans Day
(Above, bottom left: US Army Sgt. John H. Sullivan, ca. 1943)
The men and women in uniform deserve more than a day devoted to them. We need to remember their sacrifices and we need to always think clearly about what it is they do.
We can never forget that our political leadership after WWII has too often used our country’s military callously and carelessly. We must remember that it is our veterans who pay the price for bad command.
We owe them better command, better to match the service the veteran contributes. We must not fail them, and if we do, we should not sweep it under the rug.
My father, John H. Sullivan served in the Army in WWII. A military policeman and cook stationed in the Pacific, he kept many of his stories to himself, preferring to have done his bit and not talk about it. That much I inherited from him — it’s probably why I haven’t stepped into politics sooner.
I know one thing: he would have loved to see me take on the 11th Ward Machine, because he wasn’t a fan. “Stay away from those people,” he’d growl. “They’ll have you doing things you don’t want to do.”
To be honest, he’d use somewhat saltier language than that.
This Veterans Day, let’s honor our vets and remember what service really means: doing the right thing.
Sullivan: I Never, Ever Supported The CHE Heliport
At no time did I support the Chicago Helicopter Express heliport project.
How could I?
When the company arrived, it treated us all like simpletons. And their champion, Alderman Jim Balcer, who had long before caused me to decide to run against him exactly because of his many bad decisions, was making another mistake here. He was unduly impressed by the company’s vague promises of economic benefit and was entirely willing to sell out the neighborhood and get nothing in writing for it.
In February of this year, 11th Ward voters and I were surprised to learn that a suburban company called Chicago Helicopter Express (CHE) had purchased land on the Chicago River at Halsted with the intent to open a heliport. I learned, at that time CHE was in an accelerated zoning approval process, aided by Alderman Balcer and the politically connected downtown law firm they had retained.
The company’s CEO Trevor Heffernan’s outreach to our community was a failure from the start. He attended a meeting of the Bridgeport Alliance but left before his turn to speak, appearing surprised that the group’s own agenda needed to be addressed before his own.
Later, on March 3, Heffernan, along with the company COO Tom Carto, attended a meeting of the Palmisano Park Advisory Council, where I serve as President after my most recent election to the post. This time, Trevor waited for the park business to complete before presenting promises about CHE’s business plan.
At the end of a short presentation, the CHE team asked our council members to sign pre-printed letters of support for their business plan.
Suspicious, I politely declined to sign, citing a lack of information. None of the elected officers of the Palmisano Park PAC signed letters of support.
I recall discussing with the Palmisano council after the meeting the presumptuousness of CHE. Here was a company facing a zoning vote in the City Council for a special and high-impact use of 11th Ward land near our park, and they believed they would obtain support from us minutes after making vague promises about noise (it wouldn’t be bad, they said) and jobs (there would be at least 50 jobs, they said).
I felt like I was being hustled.
At later community meetings I and my Park Council Vice President attended and spoke at, including meetings at St. Barbara’s and Trinity Lutheran, I saw Heffernan and his cast of consultants and his lawyer continuing to get off on the wrong foot with the community. They repeatedly assured the community of the great benefit and low noise of their project.
The problem was, their story kept changing. Fifty jobs became 35. Their business plan, presented early on as being mainly tourist flights, changed several times during these presentations to include a great number of charter flights.
Promises to bring tourists to South Halsted were never accompanied with anything resembling a plan.
Also unattractive was the fact that Heffernan’s and Balcer’s tempers were cut to the quick several times. Obviously disgusted at having to go hat in hand to ordinary people, and unused to having their ideas challenged, both Heffernan and Balcer took to chiding the residents. Heffernan at one point during the Trinity meeting showed his true colors and snarled at a citizen opposing his company’s plan: “I don’t have to be here.”
On March 20th, along with Palmisano Park Council Vice President Rob Warmowski, I attended the first City Council voting session on the CHE project. At my direction, Rob spoke against the vote on the heliport. We called for the vote to be delayed, we called the company’s approach insufficient, and we characterized the entire process as giving the 11th Ward “the bum’s rush”. Rob also appeared on TV saying the same thing.
Statements that criticized the CHE project and the City Council approval of same were published at my direction and approval here and here earlier this year. Our statement on the floor of the City Council criticizing the CHE project and asking to put off the vote is entered into the City Council record.
While my opponent Patrick Daley Thompson was, as usual, nowhere to be found at any of the important community meetings on this heliport, everybody who attended the meetings I or Rob spoke at should know my position, because it is crystal clear:
I never, ever supported the CHE heliport project.
(Photo: Google Streetview)
Today Especially, Let’s Thank Our First Responders And Volunteers
Public service isn’t a job for everybody. It takes unusual guts, brains and determination to do the job well and to fulfill the public’s trust.
There’s probably no better day to reflect on this than today.
Whenever I think of the everyday sacrifices made by our Police, or Fire and our EMT first responders, I will always remember the horror of the attacks of 9/11.
I will always remember the emergency vehicles rushing to the site. I will always remember the men and women in uniform rushing up the stairs when civilians were evacuating.
I will always remember the ultimate sacrifice of 343 first responders on that day.
I will always remember the thousands of volunteers who labored for years in the rescue and cleanup effort. And I will always remember their sacrifices in health and support them in their battle to be recognized for their work.
Public service isn’t a job for everybody.
But it’s a job that everybody should respect.