Signs of the season-CTA Holiday Train!

One of the great holiday traditions of Chicago visited our neighborhood the Chicago Transit Authority’s Holiday Train.  This train decorated with holiday lights and with an open carriage carrying Santa and his sleigh. The train is greeted at each station by families, children in strollers all looking to capture that special holiday photograph or video.

 

Holiday Train arrives at the Rockwell Station. Photo credit: Jane Rickard

 

 

 

The train will return to our area tomorrow linkage to the full Brown Line schedule here. http://www.transitchicago.com/travel_information/holidaysched/20111202.aspx

It is a fitting way to start our Holiday images.

Santa himself arrives in his sleigh. Photo Credit: Jane Rickard

 

 

Ravenswood to be split into two wards under Black Caucus remap proposal

Current ward boundaries (in red) and a proposal by the Black Caucus (in blue) would shift the 40th and the 47th Wards south.

A proposal unveiled yesterday by the Chicago City Council Black Caucus would split the Ravenswood community between the 40th and the 47th Wards. The two wards boundaries would move south by about one mile under the proposal.

The proposal is the first in what promises to be a contentious debate over redistricting in the city, a once a decade process of giving equal weight to each voter in legislative bodies.

The caucus proposed 19 majority black wards and 13 majority Hispanic wards in the 50 member chamber. Previously there had been 20 majority black wards and eleven Hispanic wards.

The city’s Hispanic population has grown by about 25,000 in the last decade while the city’s black population has fallen by about 181,000, according to census figures. Caucasian populations have also fallen.

The caucus, which was unanimous in its proposal, is seeking to maintain the number of black wards through a theory called non- retrogression. That legal idea is that once granted, a right may not be taken away. The caucus holds that non-retrogression requires every effort must be made to guarantee at least 20 black wards in the remap.

The 40th and the 47th Wards would move about one mile south under the proposal.  Parts of Horner Park East and all of Lincoln Square and Ravenswood north of Montrose would be placed in the 40th Ward if the map is adopted.

Ravenswood Manor, currently in the 33rd Ward, would be represented by the 39th Ward. The 39th Ward would also represent some areas in Budlong Woods. Ravenswood Manor is currently districted into the 33rd Ward.

Both the 40th and the 47th Wards would extend west of the Chicago River to represent areas in Irving Park.

Andersonville, currently represented by four wards, would find most of the business district north of Foster represented by the 48th Ward. The business district south of Foster by the 46th Ward.

The 47th Ward southern boundary would extend to about Wrightwood and would include most of Roscoe Village.

Lathrop Homes and parts of western Roscoe Village would be in the 38th Ward.

Some adjustments were also proposed in the boundaries on the eastern side of the 40th and the 47th Wards.

The caucus noted that it had not worked with Hispanic aldermen on the proposal. In answer to a question from The Bulldog, it also noted it has not presented or consulted with political power houses such as Joe Berrios, Michael Madigan, Dick Mell, Pat O’Connor or Ed Burke about their plan.

It also did not use a state Voting Rights Act doctrine called minority influence district. Finally, the caucus noted it did not take into account Asian communities as they are not a protected minority.

The minority influence district holds that if a minority has a sizable population, but not a majority, the population should not be divided into multiple districts. The theory allowed a sizable, but still minority, population of Asians to be considered in the drawing of districts north and west of Ravenswood.

A concern the caucus did apparently consider were the home address of current aldermen. They noted that no incumbent would be required to run against another incumbent under their plan.

The caucus also provided evidence they considered neighborhood communities in its proposal.

A neighborhood community is a city defined area. There is no city defined area called Ravenswood. The area we generally consider Ravenswood is comprised of two other communities, North Center and Lincoln Square.

State legislators heard considerable testimony about communities of interest, a term that drilled down deeper into our city, considering such things as churches, schools, ethnic groups and other geographic areas with a shared sense of identity.

 

Ward Alderman Democratic Committeeman Republican Committeeman Minority

1

Joe Moreno

Jesse Ruben Juarez

Kathleen Cordes

Hispanic

32

Scott Waguespack

John Fritchey

John Curry

33

Dick Mell

Dick Mell

Lisa Reed

Hispanic

38

Timothy Cullerton

Patricia J Cullerton

Kevin Edward White

39

Margaret Laurino

Randy Barnette

William Miceli

40

Pat O’Connor

Pat O’Connor

Steve Seiling

43

Michele Smith

Michele Smith

Doug Glick

44

Thomas Tunney

Thomas Tunney

Jim Fuchs

46

James Cappleman

Tom Sharpe

Diane Shapiro

47

Ameya Pawar

Eugene Schulter

David Ratowitz

48

Harry Osterman

Carol Ronen

Adam Robinson

50

Debra Silverstein

Ira Silverstein

Kenneth Hollander

 

Cold war relic quietly memorializes 50 years


A segment of the Berlin Wall sits in the Western Avenue Brown Line station.

A segment of the Berlin Wall sits in the Western Avenue Brown Line station. Credit: Patrick Boylan

On the evening of August 12, 1961 29 year-old Werner I Juretzko, was awakened.

“There was an unbelievable noise,” he told The Bulldog. “There were heavy trucks and there were tank” treads moving about the rest of the night and into the morning. Juretzko, sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in a secret trail, was on the front lines of an event that threatened world peace and which has a tangible relic in the Ravenswood neighborhood.

In the morning Juetzko says “we saw the entire prison encircled like a wagon train encircled by Indians. There were tanks and personnel carriers. One tank had its barrel aimed at the prison and the other tank was aimed outside the prison.

“I lived in the American sector of West Berlin,” Helmut Rausch, Deputy Consul General for the Federal Republic of Germany told The Bulldog. “Before the construction of the Wall I could visit my grandparents who lived in the German Democratic Republic. I was in the GDR just days before the construction of the wall to spend my holidays with my grandparents,” he said.

“There were rumors that something was going to happen, so I shortened my holidays and returned to West Berlin,” Rausch said.

It was this night, 50 years ago, that construction began on the Berlin Wall. It would become a focus for the Cold War. It would attempt to tear apart a people.

“I lived in West Berlin from 1950 to 1960. There was no “Wall”, just barbed wire fencing,” Joan Frazier remembers. “It snaked all through the city, right through parks” she told The Bulldog in an email. “I would often have my ball roll under it. Since I was only like 4 or 5 years old I had no trouble going after the ball.”

The Wall remains in two places in Chicago. The largest piece stands in the Chicago Transit Authority Western Avenue Brown Line station. Sitting in a corner of the station, behind a Chase ATM, it is a dirty slab of concrete covered with graffiti. Once protected by armed border guards, barbed wire and anti-personnel mines, today a rail about 18 inches off the ground is all that stands between it and the public.

(The second piece is embedded into the Tribune Tower).

Sitting on CTA property, the wall is also protected by CTA policies. The CTA, in a bit of irony, wrote the Bulldog “the CTA will not/does not grant permission for anyone to cross the fence that divides the wall from the public space at the station as the fence is there for the protection of the customers as well as for the wall.” (Emphasis and underlining from original).

“The immediate effect” of the Wall “was that I couldn’t visit my grandparents any more, Rausch said. “I was cut off. Direct communication was not possible.” Rausch said the family kept in touch by mail. His grandparents, who were retired, received permission to migrate to the FRG in 1962.

However, Rausch was unable to return to the GDR for more than a decade.

It was a wall like many walls we could name:

  • The Peace Wall in Northern Ireland
  • The Green Line in Cyprus
  • The West Bank Barrier
  • The Mexican- US ‘Secure Fence’

It was created to separate. It is an idea as old as the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall.

A photo from the dedication of the Berlin Wall memorial at the Western Avenue Brown Line Station. Credit: Screenshot from ColdWarHistory.us

A photo from the dedication of the Berlin Wall memorial at the Western Avenue Brown Line Station. Credit: Screenshot from ColdWarHistory.us

“My mother would have a total meltdown over my attempts” to retrieve my ball Frazier said. “I never did understand what her problem was. Plus our balls were really nice, very colorful, with lines of red and yellow and a border of ducks or stars all around them. They were not something you could just replace.”

“I was released on August 18, I was released to the west,” Juretzko said.

Juretzko said the prisoners knew the GDR had constructed something. The news was passed by rumors, overhearing guards talk and a prisoner telegraph system.

It was tense. Juretzko remembered that in 1956, when Hungary had risen against Communist rule, the people had freed political prisoners. The tanks stationed outside the Brandenburg Prison were intended to stop the prisoners and the public.

The Wall, scholars now say, was constructed to keep the GDR from bleeding to death from emigration. Alan Dowty, author of Closed Borders: The Contemporary Assault on Freedom of Movement says the GDR had lost 20 percent of its population to West Germany by 1961. Figures indicate the situation was growing.

But in the GDR the wall was called antifaschistischer Schutzwall (the anti-fascist protective rampart)—protection from the West.

Juretzko, who was apprehended in 1956 while on an authorized military espionage mission behind the Iron Curtain while employed as a US Army G2 intelligence operative, had no doubts that the Stasi, the East German secret police, could execute him with little thought. Following his release he documented 46 operatives working for the Americans, British, French and Germans executed. Their deaths were listed as heart failure.

They were, he says, guillotined.

His release, he says, was unrelated to the construction of the Wall. It was part of a larger swap of prisoners.

Rausch says being divided from his grandparents was terrible. “That was personally hard. I loved my grandparents,” he said. “I was accustomed to spend my holidays there every year. It was a major experience for me personally.”

“It affects the current world still,” Rausch said. “Think about North and South Korea. It is similar to the wall. This is very similar to my personal experience.”

The segment of the wall at the Western Avenue station was part of a network that was upgraded several times during the Cold War.

 

Read more about the ‘authorized military espionage mission,’ trial in East Germany, torture and release of Werner I Juretzko on the ColdWarHistory web site.

Read about the installation of the Berlin Wall at the Western Avenue station on ColdWarHistory.

Read ‘Above and Beyond; An Excellent Description of the Stasi’ by John O Koehler.

 

 

 

 

 

Schulter exits; His legacy remains Part 1


This weekend marks the end of an era, not just for Chicago, but for Ravenswood. Today, for the first time since 1975, the 47th Ward will not be represented by Eugene Schulter.

Schulter’s impact on the Ward will last well into the future, even as the laminated signs disappear from our alleys and his name from projects completed.

Schulter joined the council at the age of 26 in 1975. At the time he was the youngest alderman to ever serve.

Schulter will be remembered in the Ward for his leadership in the movement of the Old Town School of Folk Music main campus to Lincoln Square, the establishment of the Sulzer Regional Library and the economic revitalization of Lincoln Square.

In this first part The Bulldog examines the political legacy of Schulter. In part two, we look at the civic projects and legacy of his time in office.

 

Political career

 

Russ Stewart, an attorney who often editorializes on Chicago politics for the Nadig Newspaper chain, describes Schulter as “the caricature of the meek, mild, loyal, do-what-you’re-told” Chicago alderman.

Back in 1975, when Schulter was just 271, powerhouse 47th Ward Democratic Committeeman Ed Kelly plucked him from obscurity and ran him for alderman. In a major upset, Schulter beat 28-year Republican incumbent John Hoellen by 2,300 votes, getting 57 percent of the votes cast.

In a 2009 history of 47th Ward politics by Ben Joravsky in the Chicago Reader, Schulter was called “one of the most cautious cats in the City Council.”

In 1968 (Richard J) Daley anointed Ed Kelly, soon to be named general superintendent of the Park District, as the (47th) ward’s Democratic committeeman, the party’s ward boss. In those days the job consisted of building and marshaling a patronage army that could deliver the vote on Election Day—and the better the results, the more jobs and power were granted from the mayor. Kelly was just what Daley was looking for. He handed out Park District jobs and chipped away at Hoellen’s base, and by 1975 he had enough campaign workers to oust this gadfly once and for all. All he needed was a candidate.

Kelly drafted Schulter, then a 27-year-old aide in the county assessor’s office, to run against Hoellen for alderman. “We needed a German name to run against Hoellen and Schulter is a German name,” says Kelly. “I bought up all the billboards in the area. Put Schulter’s name all over the ward. People didn’t know Schulter’s name when the election started. They did at the end.”

Schulter remembers things a little differently. As he recalls it, he wasn’t exactly a creation of Kelly’s organization. “Yes, I had the Democratic Party’s support, but I had a lot of support in the area,” he says. “I was a community activist.”

The 26 or 28 year old “community activist” played get-along and go-along politics at first. In the council wars he first sided with his political mentor, Kelly, working to block Mayor Harold Washington from appointing replacement Park District Board members. Schulter’s biography in CloutWiki notes:

The parks stalemate broke following the 1986 special Council elections, when the council tied between Washington supporters and Vrdolyak supporters, giving Washington the tie-breaking vote. One of the new council’s first actions was to appoint a new Park District Board and oust Kelly. In response, Schulter startled his long-time mentor, Kelly, by moving out of Kelly’s 47th Ward office and switching his support to Mayor Washington. Schulter supported Washington in 1987 and began a long-running enmity with Kelly.

With Kelly in control of the Ward organization and Schulter in City Council, the next 16 years were tense. Members of the 47th Ward Democratic organization wanted to replace Schulter, but were held back by Illinois Senator Bruce Farley and also by Kelly’s lack of interest.

Farley’s conviction on mail fraud in 1999 changed the equation.

In 2000 Schulter took on Kelly directly, running for 47th Ward Committeeman. Schulter lost that election by 153 votes. When Schulter ran again four years later the 80 year-old Kelly did not oppose him.

Schulter’s independent streak manifested itself again in 2010.

In that campaign, Cook County Democratic Party boss Joe Berrios ran for Cook County Assessor.

Berrios had won an early primary in 2010, gaining the party’s nomination with just 40.58 percent of the vote. His election was challenged by the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.

However, it was only after Forrest Claypool’s entry as an independent that there was a chance of success of defeating Berrios, according to political watchers.

Schulter joined other Democrats opposing Berrios and supporting Claypool. Berrios gathered more than twice as many votes in the city as all other candidates combined, and 48.03 percent of votes in the county overall.

The 1987 split with Kelly reappeared as Schulter’s end was forecast by anonymous commenters on sites such as CapitalFax.com. Older precinct captains indicated they hadn’t forgotten what “Mean Gene” had done to mentor Kelly. Berrios didn’t need to wait long to deal with Schulter.

In December 2010 Schulter announced he would seek the opening on the Cook County Board of Review created by Berrios’ move to the assessor’s office.

As noted at the time in The Bulldog, Berrios opposed Schulter’s appointment.

Schulter threw an all-in bet, announcing he would not seek reelection as alderman.

As the door closed on Schulter’s bid for alderman, his bid to be on the Cook County Board of Review closed too. In late January 2011 Schulter was passed over for the position.

That left Schulter supporting Tom O’Donnell’s failed bid for alderman in the 2011 municipal election.

Schulter’s ability to support candidates had been in question for several years.

For example, in the 2010 primary Schulter had backed Dan Farley against two candidates for the 11th Legislative seat. Ann Williams, who was supported by Lisa Madigan won the election with 46.23 percent. Farley, the son of Bruce Farley, garnered just 32.06 percent of the vote.

A further example is Schulter’s attempt to fill the seat of Larry McKeon in 2006. In a four hour executive session of four Democratic committeemen, Schulter’s candidate, Tom O’Donnell was abandoned as Schulter, with 32.85 percent, joined committeemen Patrick O’Connor, (D-40) 21 percent, and Tom Sharpe, (D-46) 35.75 percent, in appointing Greg Harris.

Nevertheless, Schulter remains well funded, with $8,092 available under his control in the Democratic Party of the 47th Ward and $834,600 available to him through Citizens for Gene Schulter.

 

1Stewart has the age for Schulter at the beginning of his term as 27. The website of the City has it listed as 26, which is the age used by The Bulldog. However, further clouding this small detail, Schulter’s birthdate is listed as November 14, 1947. If he took office in 1975, how could he be 26 and born in 1947? Perhaps we should demand the birth certificate?

Read Part 2 of the Schulter legacy.

*** UPDATE 05/16/2011 1.19P *** Schulter did not move out of Kelly’s offices until 1997.

Schulter exits; His legacy remains Part 2

Ald. Eugene Schulter

Ald. Eugene Schulter Credit: Jane Rickard

This weekend marks the end of an era, not just for Chicago, but for Ravenswood. Today, for the first time since 1975, the 47th Ward will not be represented by Eugene Schulter.

Schulter’s impact on the Ward will last well into the future, even as the laminated signs disappear from our alleys and his name from projects completed.

Schulter joined the council at the age of 26 in 1975. At the time he was the youngest alderman to ever serve. Schulter will be remembered in the Ward for his leadership in the movement of the Old Town School of Folk Music main campus to Lincoln Square, the establishment of the Sulzer Regional Library and the economic revitalization of Lincoln Square.

In part two, we look at some of the civic projects and legacy of his time in office.

Sulzer Library

Among the big projects that will last generations is the creation of the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library. Was it Schulter’s creation of that of Ed Kelly, his political mentor? Both politicians take credit for the library.

The library was opened in the fall of 1985 at a cost of $5.5 million to replace the Hild Regional Library. Although the design created “one of the city’s brightest and airiest” libraries, the 65,000 quare foot building “lopped about 30,000 square feet” from the original design according to Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader.

It also suffered from a design flaw that allowed water to leak into the structure as late as 2001.

By 2001 the library is reported to have had the second largest circulation in the Chicago Library System according to the report by Joravsky. A report in Inside Publications in 2001 says the branch had a circulation of 72 percent that of the Washington main branch.

In August 2001, according to press reports in the Reader and other local newspapers, the Sulzer branch collection was hit with a purge of the collection. Activists estimate the library lost ten percent of the total collection, up to 35,000 books.

Schulter joined Sulzer’s Friends of the Library and local media in a confrontation with central office staff as news spread of the purge. In a basement confrontation at the library Schulter got into a shouting match with “one of (Library Commissioner Mary) Dempsey’s staffers,” according to the Reader’s interview with Ron Roenigk, a member of the Sulzer Friends of the Library.

Schulter, the Friends of Sulzer and others met with Dempsey later that week. Their agreement to create an advisory council does not appear to have been followed-up as there is no such council presently active at Sulzer.

Old Town School of Folk Music

According to the Chicago Tribune, “most people credit (the arrival of the Old Town School of Folk Music) with kick-starting the neighborhood’s transformation. The opening in 1998 transformed the former Hild Library building into a neighborhood cultural center with regular music performances. The first location for the school was in the Old Town Triangle on North Ave. In 1968 the school moved to a 13,000 square foot location it still owns on Armitage.

Schulter says he approached the OTS to move into the Hild Library building, vacant after the construction of the Sulzer Library. In 1994 the OTS was chosen as the preferred recipient of the former Hild building. This assessment of Schulter’s role was shared by Bau Graves of the OTS as well as Schulter.

The new 43,000 square foot $10 million site opened in 1998. It had a 400 seat venue for concerts and allowed the school to expand enrollment to 6,400 students per week according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. In 2010, the school laid the ground for an $18 million 27,100 square foot expansion across Lincoln Ave. from the Hild location.

An economic engine, the school employs 300 teachers and staff and expects to add 250 when the expansion is complete.

Although the school plans to add up to 4,800 students a week after the completion of the addition, plans for handling the parking crunch have not yet been explained.

The school also holds an annual Folk and Roots Festival in Welles Park each summer.

The school has also acted as a magnet. The strip of Lincoln near the school does not appear to have as many issues with storefront vacancies and the school is credited with attracting the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative.

Lincoln Square Pedestrian Mall success and failure

It may not appear like it today, but at one time the small boutique stores of the Lincoln Square Mall struggled against larger retail areas, particularly a Lake View big store strip centered on Belmont, Ashland and Lincoln.

An entry in The Encyclopedia of Chicago by Amanda Seligman notes the situation:

The intersection at Lincoln, Lawrence, and Western Avenues had never been as popular as other regional shopping districts, and the growing number of empty storefronts after World War II made some merchants worry about their ability to attract customers. In 1956, they erected a statue of the late president Abraham Lincoln, for whom the area and its major street were called. In 1978 they developed the Lincoln Square mall, a pedestrian plaza that required a controversial rerouting of local traffic. The chamber tried to evoke an Old World flavor with European-style shops and a lantern imported from Hamburg, Germany.

Although he was just in his 20′s and two years in office at the time, Schulter claims credit for the redevelopment of the mall. “One of his first initiatives as Alderman was to change the traffic flow on the 4800 block of N. Lincoln Avenue to create the pedestrian mall in the Lincoln Square,” his web site says.

The pedestrian mall began filling the storefronts south of Lawrence Avenue. However, the area north of Lawrence continued to languish behind the mall.

In March 2006 a Chicago Tribune story noted a city plan to purchase 11 parcels in the “4800 block of North Lincoln” and the “4900 block of North Western.”

“Of those buildings, maybe three are occupied” by commercial tenants Schulter told the Tribune.

In September 2007 the city Community Development Commission approved acquiring 16 parcels saying the businesses “do not represent the highest and best use of the land.”

However, the owner of Chicago Soccer, Imre Hidvegi, and the owner of Decorium Furniture, Tim Le, organized against the eminent domain.

They pointed to their successful businesses and their investments. On December 5, 2007, as Schulter guided eminent domain legislation towards a vote, a group called Save Lincoln Square met at Chicago Soccer to organize against the City Council vote. When the crowd asked why Schulter wasn’t there to meet with them someone announced that he had open ward night at his office and wasn’t available.

Someone else announced they were residents and stood up saying something to the effect of ‘I’m going to go down there.’

According to Tom Mannis of the Chicago News Bench 200-300 people marched down Lincoln Ave to Schulter’s office. A report in the ChiTownDailyNews said the number was closer to 100.

“Alderman Eugene Schulter yelled at his constituents and threatened to have the police haul them away,” Mannis reports. Mannis’ version was confirmed to The Bulldog by other witnesses that night.   The video below, from the Chicago News Bench shows the protest.  

The Sun-Times Mark Konkol noted Schulter’s capitulation:

Bowing to pressure following a community protest and the Sun-Times coverage of his redevelopment plans for the Lincoln Square business district, Alderman Gene Schulter (47th Ward) pulled an ordinance that would have allowed the city to use its eminent domain powers to gobble up the 4800 block of Western.

(In a statement Schulter said) I would like to also take this opportunity to thank the many residents of the 47th Ward who have called, written, and emailed their thoughts and views on this issue to my office expressing both support and concerns.

Other achievements

Talking to Schulter during an informal meeting last spring, prior to being cut-off from further contact, Schulter told The Bulldog he had a hand in the development of most of the business in the Ward.

It was a fantastic claim from a person who had never started a small business.

Here are a few of the major claims on the Schulter’s bio on the city web site:

  • Developed Levy Senior Center
  • Established Western and Belmont police and court facilities
  • Created fire station at Damen and Grace
  • Created new field house at Chase Park
  • Advocated for substantial improvements at Welles Park and Paul Revere Park
  • Created new jobs and retained jobs in the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor
  • Created Greening of Ravenswood
  • Sponsored capital and operational improvements at schools in ward, new additions at McPherson and Chappell
  • Fought negligent and delinquent landlords in ward
  • Established Lake View High School Campus. (“city’s first school campus.” I guess the campus at Lane Tech came later?)

The Western Avenue North TIF, which is unmentioned above, reports it funded one project. It also hung out several million dollars for small business development. Millions move from this TIF to other TIFs in the city.

The Western Avenue South TIF helped the Martha Washington Hospital campus transform into a senior campus and can be considered a TIF success.

It too ships millions of dollars out of the community to help the city’s general revenue fund.

Greening of Ravenswood doesn’t seem to have been active for several years. Its website is for sale.

The Ravenswood Community Council, itself a creature of Schulter, is trying to reinvent itself after years of failure.

The Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce has collapsed. The industrial corridor is reinventing itself as an artist district.

The neighborhood schools are adequate. As noted in previous Bulldog reports, sadly, they are not excellent. Responsibility for their problems are denied by our elected officials, though the shiny new additions are credited to politicians who have supported fiscal policies that have robbed the schools of potential resources.

In the 15 months The Bulldog has existed  Schulter famously returned from vacation to vote against a recommendation that would cut his control of street sweepers and trash collection. Later Schulter told the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce he would fight cuts to their funding.

(What happens when the Chamber crosses the alderman? Read about it here.)

Later, Schulter did not appear at a special meeting of the City Council called to put a referendum on the ballot regarding increasing police presence and to reconsider the parking meter lease.

For the final word on Schulter’s legacy we refer you to a report carried by WBEZ: “We really felt like we had no word,” Tim Le of Decorium told the radio station about Schulter’s eminent domain plans.

Read Part 1 of the Schulter legacy.

*** Update 110515 5.03P Bau Graves name had an extra ‘e’ (Beau). ***

 

Redistricting should be transparent and honor recognized communities of interest

A Bulldog Editorial

Two weeks and a holiday exist between now and the end of the regular session of the Illinois General Assembly. The Statehouse is abuzz as it passes a controversial education reform bill and grapples with the legacy of financial mismanagement from two convicted former governors. But the elephant in the room is redistricting. And so far it is going unnoted. Using redistricting the politicians will be selecting the voters they want to vote for them. Oh! You thought you selected the politicians to represent you? That is a nice thought and worthy of a third grade essay. No. As the Bulldog has been discussing, the process for determining how our neighborhood will be represented is well underway. It is being purposely hidden from your view. And, it will all be over in two weeks. During May a redistricting plan only requires 60 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate to pass. In June, the same plan will need a 3/5ths majority of each chamber for passage. In other words, if the plan, which is not yet public, is not passed in the next two weeks, it will require Republican votes for passage. To suggest there isn’t a map shows arrogance and conceit. Yet, that is the claim of certain insiders and the Democratic Party leadership. Activists have been demanding for months the legislature reveal maps that insiders now say they have seen. The activists are demanding at least a week to respond to the proposed boundary lines. So far that call has gone unanswered. The insiders laugh at the naivety of activists and the press and our readers and thousands of other citizens in this state. We demand transparency. Who the hell do we think we are? THE STORY SO FAR As The Bulldog noted, a coalition of Asian, Hispanic and African American groups called the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations have developed a comprehensive map that would increase representation of Hispanics and potentially of Asians without costing the African American community any representation. In Ravenswood the maps offer two versions. In each map plan Deb Mell will be forced to run in a district that is new to her. That is of concern to the LGBT community. Only three members of the General Assembly are openly gay. Mell is one of those reps. The LGBT community is not a protected minority. As Jacob Meister notes in an editorial in NowInGayChicago.com “the Census Bureau did not bother to collect data on LGBT individuals and families.” And, as The Bulldog has noted, gay activists believe that although certain retail areas, particularly in Uptown and in Boys Town, are associated with the gay community, gays are spread throughout the community and drawing a line to describe an area as being gay is not going to happen.

OUR GUIDING PRINCIPAL: OUR MISSION STATEMENT

That said, we also look at our Mission Statement. We interpret those words to mean we should give voice to persons without voice. We believe that the LGBT community, although it has not received legal status as a protected minority, deserves protection by persons of good will. Therefore, The Bulldog supports map proposals that offer minorities and the LGBT community districts in which the minorities can run candidates with a good chance of winning. But that doesn’t guarantee a win. And, we find gerrymandering the map to get rid of an opponent offensive. We believe that has happened to Mell with the proposals by the United Congress. So, although we support the goals of the United Congress, and in general support the proposed map of the UC, we urge change.

WHAT THE BULLDOG HOLDS IS NECESSARY IN RAVENSWOOD

The Bulldog is calling on the Statehouse to move the line for the 40th legislative district proposed by the United Congress in such a way that Mell’s home continues to be within the 40th district boundaries. We urge persons to oppose Mell in an open and fair primary and election if they don’t like her politics. And, we note that we have taken Mell to task in the past for working to keep opponents off the ballot using election law. We pledge to watch Mell carefully, but also watch her opponents. Everyone should play nice. End the Gerrymandering.

  1. The Democratic map should be revealed NOW. We do not buy that the map doesn’t exist. Government should be about transparency, not secrecy.
  2. A Hispanic majority district in the area of Albany Park/ Avondale and Irving Park should be established as outlined by the United Congress.
    1. That district should NOT carve out the home of Rep. Deborah Mell.
  3. If a house and/or senate district with Asian influence can be created, as outlined by the United Congress, it should be created.
  4. We believe there are several strong reasons to tie the following neighborhoods together in the same district due to existance of several separate groups that coexist:
    1. Ravenswood Manor
    2. Ravenswood Gardens
    3. Greater Rockwell
    4. Lincoln Square
    5. The portion of Ravenswood between the Chicago River, Foster, Lawrence and Lincoln Ave.
  5. We believe the tandem of a corridor along Lincoln Ave and the Brown Line should form the backbone of a district of common interest.
  6. We believe the eight  retail/residential areas below should each be kept in a single house and single senate district
    1. St. Ben’s
    2. Roscoe Village
    3. Bowmanville
    4. Budlong Woods
    5. The six corners of Lincoln/Belmont/Ashland
    6. The six corners of Lincoln/Damen/Irving Park
    7. Wrigleyville
    8. Southport Corridor
  7. We believe that the natural boundaries created by the Chicago River, industrial areas and cemeteries should be used to draw lines and that any legislative district representing this area not include any part of the suburbs.
  8. The entirety of the campus, offices, parking facilities and future development of Swedish Covenant Hospital should be intact within a single district.

The Bulldog editorializes that legislative districts be drawn to create majority Hispanic districts, an Asian influence district and protect the boundaries of nine communities of interest.

COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST AND OUR EXPERTISE

The Bulldog is a for-profit enterprise. It is also a hyper-local news effort that had to define what were its communities of interest. The concept of communities of interest should be taken into consideration by the legislature. It is a concept that received a lot of attention during the legislative hearings that have led us up to this moment. Ravenswood is represented by two State Senators holding powerful leadership positions: Senate President John Cullerton and Sen. Heather Steans. We believe that the leadership will act to protect the districts of these two leaders despite any protest made by anyone. That said, The Bulldog claims expertise in defining what the communities of interest in Ravenswood are. We believe that the purpose of the Democratic Party to protect Cullerton and Steans can be met and the needs of the community protected too. We are using our editorial voice, an expression of the community of writers and photographers, because someone must stand and state these principles to the legislature before it is to late. We urge Cullerton and Steans to consider that our community will be better represented if certain the following are considered prior to finalizing the map.

  1. A Hispanic majority district in the area of Albany Park/ Avondale and Irving Park should be established as outlined by the United Congress.
    1. That district should NOT carve out the home of Rep. Deborah Mell.
  2. If a house district with Asian influence can be created, as outlined by the United Congress, it should be created.
  3. In general there are a number of significant boundaries present in the area that prevent easy community building. They provide opportunities to create boundaries.
    1. Rosehill Cemetery.
    2. Graceland Cemetery.
    3. St. Boniface Cemetery.
    4. The small cemeteries north of Wrigley Field.
    5. The Metra/ UP North Line is also an appropriate boundary, except as noted.
    6. The combination of the Addison Industrial Corridor, Lane Tech High School and the former property of Riverview.
  4. The Chicago River should form a boundary.
  5. The map should recognize that there are communities of interest in Ravenswood that are centered on retail districts and transportation nodes. When possible, the retail districts and the transportation nodes should be intact within a district.
    1. One of the most important distinctions for Ravenswood residents is the proximity to the Brown Line. This transportation feature is common to several neighborhoods. It ties together Ravenswood Manor and SouthEast Ravenswood and gives reason for the strange “L” shape of Ravenswood.
    2. A second key feature in this neighborhood is the Metra Line.
    3. A third key to the area is Lincoln Ave. It appears that the district drawn in 2000 which is now represented by Cullerton centered on Lincoln Ave. That district is relatively cohesive and shares many interests.
    4. In the case of both senate districts, we believe that they should remain entirely within the boundaries of the City of Chicago.
  6. The Ravenswood neighborhood is, in general, a neighborhood that has a small number of protected minorities. However, that does not mean it doesn’t have distinct ethnic differences.
    1. A German community of interest, the rump of what was once a much larger German community, still exists, centered on Lincoln Ave., and in particularly we find anecdotal evidence this community continues to exist near Lincoln Square.
    2. A Greek community of interest exists. As is the case with the German population, this is an ethnic group that is losing its population as new generations move out and new groups move in. We find anecdotal evidence this group continues to exist along Lawrence Ave from the area near California Ave to Western Ave. This area includes the church of St. Demetrios.
    3. Former Yugoslavia community. We find anecdotal evidence, based primarily on the existance of bars serving the community, that this recent group exists in the area of Lincoln Square.
  7. Key retail areas should not be divided into separate legislative districts. We point to Chinatown as an example of how poorly served a business district can be if it has more than one legislator. We point, in our own area, to Andersonville, which is divided among several wards, as an example of terrible planning during redistricting.
    1. The Lincoln Square retail area is a two block radius area centered at Lawrence, Lincoln and Western.
    2. Bowmanville, which has no significant retail area, nevertheless should be kept together.
    3. Budlong Woods is a distinct area and should be kept together. In the not to distant past, this neighborhood would have formed a boundary due to its being a farm. Current maps call for this area to be included in the proposed Asian influence district.
    4. Andersonville should not be divided again. It is generally defined by Clark Street from near the corner of Ridge to south of Foster.
    5. Ravenswood Manor has more in common with the Ravenswood Garden community across the Chicago River than many other contiguous communities. They should be in the same district. In some areas these two communities are considered to overlap Greater Rockwell which itself overlaps Lincoln Square. It shouldn’t be an issue to keep these small neighborhoods together.
    6. St. Ben’s is a distinct area and should remain together. We define it as the area within two blocks of the church/ school complex at Leavitt and Irving Park Rd.
    7. Roscoe Village is a distinct area and should not be divided. We define it as an area within two blocks of Roscoe running from Western Ave to the Metra railroad.
    8. In addition, we see retail areas forming communities of interest around Wrigley Field, Lincoln/ Irving and Damen and Belmont/ Lincoln and Ashland. The city has definitions of the two retail areas that the six corners define. Wrigley, in our opinion, is the area that receives a significant economic impact due to the proximity of the ballfield, or about two blocks from the intersection of Clark and Addison.
    9. In general, public elementary school attendance boundaries should be kept intact.
    10. In general, larger communities, such as Ravenswood, Uptown, Lake View and Rogers Park should be kept in one legislative district.
  8. Now, joining the chorus, The Bulldog has shown its map. We want the leadership to show its map.

WHAT IS THE LAW? The basic requirements for a legislative district, according to the Federal government are:

  • Federal Voting Rights Act. Provides protected minorities that could create districts of 50 percent or greater population proportion with protection from practices of cracking and packing to dilute their strength.
    • States and municipalities cannot do “too much” to compensate for race. However, they may not use redistricting to dillute the voting strength of minority populations. The fine line between whether a plan leans on dilluting minorities or makes the election accessible often sends plans to court for adjudication.
  • Gingles Factor. A court test based on the Federal VRA provides that to prove a section 2 VRA violation
    • The minority group is sufficiently large and geographically concentrated to make up a majority district
    • That the minority group is politically cohesive
    • That the white majority votes together to defeat the minority candidate
  • One person, one vote
    • Baker v Carr, 1962 court decision held that districts have to have roughly equal population

In addition, Illinois has a Voting Rights Act. That law mandates the following:

An alternative majority Hispanic district proposed by the Illinois Hispanic Agenda also excludes Rep. Deb Mell’s home. Credit: Illinois Hispanic Agenda
  • Contiguity.

Districts cannot include “islands” that are not geographically connected in some manner to the district (for example on real islands, there needs to be a transportation link such as a bridge or a ferry to the rest of the district).

  • Compactness.

The boundaries of the district can be measured by a number of measures. Let’s summarize this limitation as calling for the districts to be able to withstand tests that their boundaries are logical.

  • Nesting.

Illinois uses a system in which two Illinois House Districts are associated with each Illinois Senate District.

  • The state law created three categories of districts for the legislature to consider:
    • Crossover districts- Districts where a minority is large enough to elect the candidate of its choice provided the candidate receives support from voters outside the minority.
    • Coalition districts- Districts in which more than one minority can form a coalition to elect a candidate of their choice.
    • Influence districts- A district where a minority can influence the election even if its preferred candidate cannot be elected.
  • Encourages ‘communities’ of common concern
    • May be ethnic, religious, based on transportation, sexual, etc.
    • Legislature will act not to break up (crack) such communities

In addition, let’s layout a few other specifics.

  • Majority Hispanic districts are generally higher in the proportion of Hispanics than majority white or black districts due to a skew in the average age of the population: more of the population is too young to vote and there appears to be lower participation in the election process among Hispanics. 65 percent is considered necessary to create a majority Hispanic district.
  • While there is some information available about single-sex households, in general information about LGBT communities is not based on census data.
  • In Illinois the location of incumbents homes are taken into consideration. This is not true for all redistricting efforts. Iowa, for example, uses a computer that does not consider incumbent addresses in its plan.
  • Illinois has a history of using redistricting to punish potential opponents of incumbents. Famously, in the redistricting of the South Side following the 2000 census, a young Illinois Senator, Barack Obama, was redistricted out of Congressman Bobby Rush’s district.
  • Illinois also factors in political loyalty of a district. Specifically, Illinois legislators look at voting along party lines in previous presidential, US Senate and state executive offices.
  • The final consideration  is that the legislature is asked to take communities of interest into consideration. A community of interest can be any self-defined group. For example:
    • Ethnic groups
    • Religious groups
    • Groups based on employment (e.g., farming, auto parts, colleges, etc)
    • Communities of LGBT and similar sexual orientation and identity
    • A town or neighborhood
    • Communities that are defined by infrastructure (such as use of the Brown Line)
  • Gerrymandering is the act of remapping to give an unfair advantage to one political group. The Federal Voting Rights Act protects minorities against racial Gerrymandering.
  • Cracking. Diluting a group. A violation of the VRA for protected minorities if it harms the ability of minorities to elect representation
  • Packing. Concentrating a group. A violation of the VRA for protected minorities if it harms the ability of minorities to elect representation

SIGNIFICANT DATES IN THE PROCESS:

  • Tues., May 31 Last day to pass reapportionment by 50% +1 of membership
  • Fri., June 3 Gov. Pat Quinn must receive reapportionment legislation
  • Thurs., June 30 Last day to pass reapportionment by 3/5ths of membership vote
  • Wed., Aug. 10 Last day for eight member commission to submit a reapportionment plan
  • Wed., Oct 5 Deadline for nine member commission to submit a reapportionment plan
  • Early November Candidates begin passing petitions for office under the reapportionment

St. Demetrios Good Friday services.

Last year the Bulldog  photographed  Saint Demetrios Church  shortly after the Easter holiday.At the time we were  invited back to photograph the 2011 Good Friday services and neighborhood procession.  When we returned this year inclement weather had forced the  procession to be held indoors  for the third time in living memory.  The night may have been cold and wet how ever the community at  Saint Demetrios warmly welcomed us inside to photograph their Good Friday services.

Here are the images of the services and the procession. Thank you to the faith community of Saint Demetrios for allowing us to share in their Good Friday observances.


Lincoln Square Featured in Debut Novel

Kathryn Simpson always knew she wanted to be a writer. When she moved from Colorado back to her home state of Missouri, and later to be near her husband’s family in Illinois, the drafts of several novels she had started went with her.

But unlike most frustrated novelists whose masterpieces sit in a desk drawer, or on a hard drive, never to be read by anyone not related to the author, Simpson saw her tenacity pay off last year when her first novel, The Farmer’s Story, was finally published, nine years after she wrote the first line.

“I started it in 2001,” says Simpson. “The first line of the story just came to me one day. I wasn’t even thinking about starting a book, I just had the thought: ‘The farmer stares at his two worthless children.’”

Kathryn Simpson, Lincoln Square resident and author of "The Farmer's Story". Credit: Camille Whitworth

The 38-year-old theater major had done some writing for a newspaper and an alternative press magazine, but she always came back to the novel. “I started writing and then I would walk away from it for a period of time because we would move or I would be focusing on something else,” Simpson recalls. “I would convince myself that it was a ridiculous pursuit, but it was always there: ‘One day I’m going to finish this book.’”

The Farmer’s Story tells the tale of John Johnson, a southern Illinois farmer whose wife’s dying wish was that he reconcile with his estranged adult children, Marie and Johnnie. So the farmer travels to Marie’s home in St. Louis, then to Johnnie’s home in Chicago, where they confront the tragedies that had torn them apart. It’s a fast-paced, tightly-woven story that provides both funny and sad observations about human nature while keeping the reader wondering what will happen next. There’s not much that can be revealed without spoiling the many surprises that unfold along the way.

Johnnie lives in Lincoln Square, the neighborhood Simpson and her husband, Ryan Otto, have called home since 2004. “When we moved up from Missouri, we stayed with my mother-in-law [in the suburbs] for a few months while we looked for a place. We researched all the neighborhoods, and this is the one we wanted. We love the trees, the Square is awesome, the Brown Line is right there, and we have great neighbors.”

Simpson’s affection for the neighborhood inspired scenes at two area restaurants. Johnnie and his girlfriend take his father to the Chicago Brauhaus [a Welles Park Bulldog advertiser] for dinner and dancing. The next morning, the two men head to the Horseshoe for Sunday Bluegrass Brunch, where musicians from the Old Town School of Folk Music perform.

No, the Horseshoe doesn’t serve brunch anymore, and you can’t smoke inside like the Johnsons do after they’ve finished their meal. But the novel is set in 2002, long before the smoking ban.

It doesn’t seem like 2002 was all that long ago, until you notice other small details: Johnnie calls the Davis Theater to get showtimes, instead of checking their website. While riding the Brown Line to work, he listens to Dave Alvin on a Discman, not an iPod.

"The Farmer's Story," 181 pages, AuthorHouse. Jacket design by Kevin Schnabel.

The novel is set eight years earlier than its publishing date, not because Simpson felt nostalgic for the good old days, but because that was when she began writing it. “Once I started writing about the farmer at that time, I felt like to change it would have been disingenuous,” says Simpson. “Which is interesting because I started my next book, Standing With Buffalo, even earlier – in 1996. But I’ve gone back almost to the drawing board with that one, so it’s set in the present day. Now there are cell phones and text messages.”

Where does Simpson find the will to keep working on a novel she started fifteen years ago? Last year, just as she was getting ready for her first book signing in Chicago, she began to experience extreme dizziness and nausea, which led to a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. “I’m still getting used to everything that goes along with this, but I’m much more fortunate than many people with MS,” says Simpson. Although she has started a drug protocol that should stop the progression of the disease, the incurable aspect of MS gives her a sense of urgency. “Since there are some cognitive and vision issues that go along with the location of my lesions, I’m very anxious that there’s a clock ticking.”

But even before the diagnosis, long before the symptoms began, Simpson was eager to find a way to become a full-time writer. “In 2009, I’m crabby, I’m frustrated, I just want to write. So my husband says, ‘I will figure out a way for you to just write, so give notice.’ And I did. I left my job as an office manager for two restaurants down in the [Fulton] Market District and he found a way to allow me to just write.” Otto, an office manger for the Chicago region of AFLAC, became the sole breadwinner. “He’s very supportive. I’m more fortunate than I probably deserve to be.”

Simpson gave herself a regimented writing schedule and a goal of finishing the novel in 2010. “I thought, we’re taking this tremendous risk by me being unemployed right now. We’re living off of the meager savings that we have, so I’m going to take as much advantage of this as possible.”

The book was finished in May. Simpson immediately started sending the manuscript to publishers. “I was trying to attract agents, I was doing all of the things that you’re supposed to do when you’ve finished a book, which was…”

Demoralizing?

“Exactly. I started doing more research, I started looking at all the options, regarding the traditional publishing industry. What were the odds? What was going to happen?” Simpson worried. “We’ve gone and done this. My husband sacrificed all these things to make it possible for me to finish it, so I have to get it published.”

Like most aspiring writers, Simpson had a prejudice against self-publishing. “I always thought, ‘If I’m going to do it, there’s going be a publisher. There’s going to be somebody who tells me that it’s good.’” But the longer the manuscript sat there, unpublished, the more Simpson started to think that self-publishing wasn’t such a bad idea. “I thought, now that it’s done, I can’t just sit and wait for someone to tell me it has value any longer.”

Simpson found a self-publisher in Indiana, AuthorHouse. “They came from the traditional industry and they didn’t like what was happening with it, and that’s why they started their own company,” Simpson explains. She believes working with AuthorHouse was the right decision. “I just felt a really positive vibe from them, and still do. I would use them next time.”

Now it’s Simpson’s job to sell the finished product. “It’s not like we’ve got thousands of dollars that we can invest in getting the whole PR push. So that’s why we’re totally doing it guerilla warfare over here,” she laughs.

Simpson’s been fairly savvy for an amateur marketer. She negotiated a book signing at Borders Books & Music in Uptown during Thanksgiving weekend (on one of the busiest shopping days of the year), gave a presentation to junior and senior high school students in Bismarck, Missouri and held a book signing at Bauhaus Kaffee in nearby Farmington. She has formed relationships with independent booksellers in the neighborhoods where the novel is set, and has sent courtesy copies to media outlets across Illinois and Missouri.

“All it would take would be for one copy to fall into the right hands,” sighs Simpson. “But forgive me, if one more person tells me that it needs to get to Oprah, I will stab myself,” she laughs. “Of course! I would love for that to happen, but that’s not how it works.”

Not that she’s complaining. Simpson is happy to finally be living her dream. “I’ve been very fortunate. It would be weird now if something suddenly came easily.”

In addition to Standing with Buffalo, which is about a sous-chef and the death of a father, set in Arkansas and Missouri, Simpson has started two more novels: Good Men, about some seemingly unrelated men who turn out to be related through strange circumstances, which takes place in the 1950s in northern Illinois and Wisconsin; and one more book set in Lincoln Square entitled The Brown Line, about young woman who steps in front of a train at the Western stop, the people who are witnesses to the event, and the ripple effects.

The Farmer’s Story is available locally in paperback at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square and at Women & Children First in Andersonville. Or it can be purchased online (hardcover, paperback or electronic) through AuthorHouse.com, Amazon or Borders.

For more information, see Simpson’s website, thewritersstory.com.

Old School Record Shop Keeps Up With the Times

On Wednesday morning at 11:00, I arrive at Laurie’s Planet of Sound, 4639 N. Lincoln, to interview the owner, John Laurie. The store has just opened for the day, and Laurie is busy turning on the lights, opening the cash register, and selecting a record to play. I figure we’ll have plenty of time to talk. How busy could a record store get on a weekday morning?

Dalton Homolka of Kansas City combs through stacks of vinyl record albums. Credit: Camille Whitworth

But as Laurie places a Robyn Hitchcock album on the turntable, the first customer has arrived and the phone starts ringing. “Who says record stores are dead?” I exclaim, proud of my comic timing. “You heard that from someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” Laurie snaps. I’ve touched a nerve. Not a good start.

Laurie grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, where he worked at a record store for ten years. He eventually started making the commute from an apartment near Lincoln Square, where rents were cheap. But in 1997, Laurie decided it was time to open a shop of his own. “I thought it would be nice to have a record store where I lived. My wife and I had two options: buy a house, or open a business.”

Laurie’s Planet of Sound (the name comes from the title of a Pixies song) was one of the first shops in Lincoln Square that appealed to a younger demographic. At the time, most of the businesses in the Square were stores and service providers who catered to an older, mostly German and Eastern European clientele. Then, in 1998, the Old Town School of Folk Music arrived and the neighborhood began to change. As a proprietor and resident of the area, Laurie was pleased to see toy stores, book stores and the like begin to move into the vacant spaces.

Laurie’s has survived several changes in the music industry that many were convinced would kill the business altogether. “I’ve lived through a lot of hand-wringing and doomsaying, including the fear that home taping was killing music,” Laurie laughs. He has seen that music sellers have to change with the times, but shouldn’t do so at the expense of older technologies. “In 1997, stores thought they could just sell records, not CDs,” says Laurie. Those stores didn’t survive, but neither did stores that carried only CDs. Laurie’s first job in a record store was to take the 8-tracks off of the shelf and stick them in a box in the basement, but his own store currently carries 8-tracks, as well as new and used vinyl records (albums, 45s, 78s), CDs, VHS tapes, T-shirts, posters, buttons, magnets, books, incense… The DVD rack includes an impressive selection of horror and stand-up comedy. The magazine rack features Bitch: The Feminist Response to Pop Culture, As Loud as Possible: The Noise Culture Magazine, and In These Times, a left-leaning independent news magazine published here in Chicago.

45s and 7” records, sheet music, and magazines. Credit: Camille Whitworth

Believe it or not, Laurie’s has had a hard time keeping turntables in stock. And they’re not just for collectors buying older, used records. Laurie informs me that even though the big record companies abandoned vinyl albums in the 90s, smaller record labels never stopped making them. “CDs are cheaper to produce, so it wasn’t cost-effective to make albums in such large quantities. But for a smaller label printing only 5,000 copies, there wasn’t that much of a difference in cost.”

I’m surprised by a young man who approaches the counter to inquire about a cassette. Laurie hands him his second-to-last copy of a limited-edition cassette released by indie-rock band The Mountain Goats, who will be playing at the Vic on April 5th. The band released their current album, “All Eternals Deck,” on LP and CD. As a special promotion, ten independent record stores got ten copies each of a cassette with a hand-drawn sleeve, containing demo recordings of the songs on the album, plus a couple of extra tracks. The cassette was given away for free with the purchase of either the LP or CD. Laurie’s was the only store in Chicago that received the cassettes.

Laurie goes back to inspecting a box of used movies and books brought in by a customer offering them for sale. Laurie pulls out an 8-track of the Star Wars soundtrack, and walks back to the 8-tracks section. “Can you believe I already have it?” he laughs, holding up both copies.

How does Laurie know which albums to keep in stock? “Being an old man, I depend on younger employees whose hearing isn’t shot and still have the stamina to roll in at 4:00 AM and make it to work the next day,” he says. “If Lincoln Hall Links Hall sold out last night, then we know we should be carrying that band’s records.”

John Laurie, owner of Laurie’s Planet of Sound. Credit: Camille Whitworth

Laurie also keeps track of phone-call inquiries. “You can always tell when something got played on NPR. If I get two calls in a day about some band I’ve never heard of, I’ll ask, ‘Did you hear about this on public radio?’ We get a lot of NPR listeners in here.”

The next time the phone rings, the caller is asking if Laurie’s carries Avery Sunshine. Laurie checks his computer and sees that one distributor has an import for $30, so he checks to see when it was released. March 11th, in England. He’ll remember to buy it once it’s released in the US. The soul singer will be performing at The Shrine on April 30th.

Laurie believes this type of personal attention is what has kept his business going. He says the Virgin/Tower business model of having a computer determine what the public wanted to hear worked for a while, but just wasn’t sustainable. “I’m still here because I’m not a computer.”

Independent record stores are like one big family, and on April 16th, Laurie’s will be participating in the celebration of the fourth annual international Record Store Day. Festivities will include in-store performances by three bands. For more information, see lauriesplanetofsound.com.

***UPDATE 04/05/2011 0352P We misheard Links Hall in our interview. The venue John discussed was Lincoln Hall. We apologize for the error. ***

Schulter lays out accomplishments and vision

Eugene Schulter gave his last address as alderman to the Lincoln Square and NorthCenter Chamber of Commerce. Credit: Patrick Boylan

In what will be his last appearance as alderman, Eugene Schulter briefly laid out his accomplishments as alderman and then put forth a vision of how he hopes the ward moves.

The 36 year veteran of the Chicago City Council stepped aside earlier this year to pursue a failed attempt to join the Cook County Board of Review. Four candidates are vying for the post of alderman in the election tomorrow.

Schulter noted street scape projects, the establishment of the Black Ensemble Theater and the UP-North Metra work as accomplishments he looks forward to seeing reach completion.

Schulter spoke seperately at the North Center Chamber of Commerce and at the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce Thursday.