It is a Sunday, late in May. Charles Daas is posing near the Abbott Mansion for the photos we use in this article. Facing into the sun his eyes squint in the warm May sun as parishoners of All Saints Church prepare for a baptism ceremony.
He is squinting as the glare is making it hard to open his eyes.
Reviewing the photos we decide they make him look like Clint Eastwood in one of the ‘man with no name’ movies.
We’ll use that image, make the story wrap that image: Daas staring down the RCC’s past.
Daas is the new kid on the block, hoping to take a wounded Ravenswood Community Council and turn it around.
Daas is the new sheriff in town.
Inside All Saints the bell peals a joyful sound as new members join the community. Outside Daas is taking over as a new head of RCC.
THE RCC IN A NUTSHELL
The RCC is sometimes associated with former Ald. Eugene Schulter’s political organization. Machine candidates for office regularly claimed experience in the RCC. In the 2011 aldermanic race former RCC President Tom O’Donnell’s role in the organization was questioned.
The RCC itself came under criticism during the campaign for failing to clear snow in the SSA. Residents lined up to say the RCC was losing its vision. Businesses in the SSA said it wasn’t effective.
Under criticism from the local media, businesses and residents it was a dark time for the organization.
RCC manages the largest Special Service Area in Chicago Daas told The Bulldog. It is a diverse SSA that includes the former industrial properties along Ravenswood Avenue and the small wholesale shops along Clark Street.
Although the SSA, a taxing district that provides such services as landscaping, sidewalk snow clearance and promotion, is based in the 47th Ward, Large parts of the SSA exist in the 46th and 40th Wards.
Three Tax Increment Financing Districts share parts of the SSA.
And, historically, Ravenswood has not been an officially recognized community area. Never incorporated as a village, Ravenswood existed as a trainstop and area whose boundaries are still open to debate.
When the RCC agreed to undertake the functions of two failed chambers of commerce, the strain of too much mission took its toll on the small 501(c)3 entity. It found itself offering similar services to businesses already serviced by the excellent Northcenter Chamber and the nationally accredited Lincoln Square Chamber. Further east and north, Clark Street is serviced in part by two other chamber organizations: Uptown Partners and the Andersonville Chamber.
Assuming the role of a chamber was a stretch for the RCC. Created in the 1950′s to preserve Ravenswood and to fight urban blight and crime, the RCC has historically been thought of as a residents group.
Following the devastation of the Asian Long Horn Beetle the Greening of Ravenswood group worked to encourage resident participation in repairing the loss of local trees. The RCC acted as the group’s fiscal agent. The RCC’s small repair program for seniors is another key program. Aimed at assisting senior citizens in maintaining their independence, the program recalls the origins of RCC.
However over a period of about a decade, the RCC adopted to being a municipal service provider for the SSA. Membership dues in the RCC plummeted as the organization put less emphasis on community involvement and more on SSA service.
“The SSA is effective,” Daas told The Bulldog. “It returned $65,000 to businesses in 2011 resulting in a smaller 2012 levy.” But, Daas said, the RCC is responding to critical articles by The Bulldog and other local media about delivering services through the SSA and the senior residents repair program.
Those articles indicated there was severe financial problems in RCC in 2007, as well as issues with loss of membership.
In 2011 RCC lost its contract to manage the Local Industrial Retention Initiative. Staff was laid off as RCC lost city contracts for commercial support services.
The remaining full-time staffer left early in spring 2012 putting the RCC’s SSA management under pressure. A board member stepped up to accept a short-term appointment as executive director of the group.
DAAS COMES ABOARD
“Daas is a breathe of fresh air,” RCC board member Bill Helm told The Bulldog. “He has an extensive background in running groups like the RCC, but he has no ties to anyone. He is independent. We insisted on that.”
Helm said Daas will need to share the RCC story and mission with the area businesses.
Daas, Helm said, will need to go out and sell the RCC to the community.
Daas comes to the RCC at a time of squeezed budgets, with activists such as the Civic Federation and even the city Inspector General preparing reports in the past two years calling on the city to end subsidies to local chambers.
In addition, the RCC may become a target in the ‘John Doe’ discovery phase of a Northcenter Chamber law suit as the Northcenter Chamber seeks to uncover the source of anonymous letters its says defamed it and its executive director.
Facing these challenges, Daas comes to the RCC with an extensive background in housing. He is proud of his work in the Chicago Mutual Housing Network, work which created cooperative housing for lower income residents.
Daas is also familiar with the neighborhood, having lived and worked here. He currently lives in Rogers Park.
He managed the beautiful and underused Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial located in the Rockwell Crossing neighborhood.
And Daas worked for three years at the North River Commission. That entity functions in a similar manner to RCC as an Albany Park Chamber of Commerce and a residents group.
DAAS LAYS OUT HIS PLAN
Daas told The Bulldog he wants to help build the constituency of the RCC. It is, he noted, a long-time group that needs to redefine its purpose.
The RCC is still needed. Ald. Ameya Pawar told The Bulldog. Businesses in the Ravenswood corridor and on Clark Street are looking for an organizing entity he said. Persons associated with the RCC have told The Bulldog that initial issues between Pawar and The RCC have been put aside.
“The organization has a long history– most of it very positive– I’m happy to see what appears to look like change and turnover,” Pawar told The Bulldog. “It’s healthy and in the case of RCC, desperately needed.”
Everyone is looking to Daas for signs of change.
“Before I sign off on anything (related to the RCC) they need to show they can produce high quality work,” Pawar said.
Three goals define Daas’ mission. He said he plans to develop leadership, striving to get fresh minds involved. Second, he sees the RCC has a need to rebuild the relationship with the community. And third, Daas sees the RCC as needing to define its purpose.
Daas told The Bulldog that the relationship between The Bulldog and the RCC was ‘complicated.’ That is a good description of a relationship that included The Bulldog titling one RCC profile ‘Distracted Charity’ while also financially underwriting the RCC’s “Bells of Ravenswood” tour last September.
“We need to broaden our base,” Daas said in explanation for agreeing to talk to The Bulldog. “We need to identify what is important to the community, the hot button issues that we can address.”
For that to happen, Daas indicated he is willing to risk exposing the RCC to community scrutiny.
As part of that effort the RCC is planning a community congress in the fall. Through the congress the agenda of the organization will be set Daas said.
The business manager of The Bulldog, Sheila Pacione, is a former employee of the RCC. Sheila Pacione reviewed this post for accuracy, but did not contribute to the interviews or writing of the post.