WBEZ | Vi Daley http://www.wbez.org/tags/vi-daley Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Venture: Do aldermen have too much power over small businesses? http://www.wbez.org/story/alderman/venture-do-aldermen-have-too-much-power-over-small-businesses-84648 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-03/IMG_3573.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The biggest economic news in Chicago this week may be what happens in politics.<br> <br> On Tuesday voters in Chicago will choose almost a third of the city council. And for small business owners, that has big ramifications. They know their success can hinge on who their alderman is.<br> <br> In Lincoln Square, just north of Lawrence on Western Avenue, a block of small business owners learned firsthand a few years ago how powerful an alderman can be. Alderman Eugene Schulter of the 47th ward pushed forward a proposal for the city to acquire their properties and sell them to a private developer to turn into condos and retail stores.<br> <br> Tim Van Le owns Decorium Furniture in the targeted block. Now, three and a half years later, he still heaves a sigh when he describes how it felt knowing he might have to relinquish his store.<br> <br> “Absolutely we feel so hopeless,” Le said. “We really felt like we had no word.”<br> <br> Just next door is Chicago Soccer, which sells cleats and other soccer gear. Imre Hidvegi is one of the owners. He led the campaign to fight Alderman Schulter's plan.<br> <br> “It steamrolled so quickly we didn’t even have a chance to sit down and ask wait, why, how, what’s going on here? I equate it to a violent attack,” Hidvegi says with a laugh.<br> <br> He can laugh now because they rallied enough protesters to get Alderman Schulter to drop the idea. Schulter didn't respond to calls seeking comment.<br> <br> That attempted land grab was pretty brazen, but every day aldermen are asked to sign permit applications for things like awnings and sidewalk cafes. And they get notice from the city for every building permit and license application. That can have business owners feeling like they have to make nice with their alderman.<br> <br> George Fink is president of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce. He says he senses fear on the part of small business owners.<br> <br> “That’s the general feeling in the public that oh well, we can’t do anything unless we go through the alderman to do it,” Fink said. “Is that a good feeling for free people? No, I don’t think so.”<br> <br> Elizabeth Milnikel agrees. She's researched the regulatory environment in Chicago as part of her work as director of the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago. It’s a law clinic with a libertarian bent that works with lower-income entrepreneurs. She says Chicago's political system vests too much control in each individual alderman.<br> <br> “It puts a lot of power in one person and that person can be the gatekeeper for a business that’s really trying to get started, trying to flourish in a community,” Milnikel said.<br> <br> Milnikel says making things easier for small businesses is even more important right now as the city tries to pull out of the recession and create jobs. But she says some businesses can’t even get off the ground if they don’t have buy-in from the alderman. She cites the case of one of her clients who wants to open up a day care but was told by the alderman there were already enough day cares in the area.<br> <br> “She has held this building and paid property taxes for over a year now, [but] she hasn’t even been allowed to start building it up as a day care,” Milnikel said. “Meanwhile this block has yet another empty building sitting there.”<br> <br> Alderman Vi Daley, who’s leaving the 43rd ward, says she worked hard during her 12 years to fill empty buildings. Still, she says it’s the alderman’s job to make decisions.<br> <br> “I mean an alderman certainly knows their community, knows the street and you could probably reach out to chambers and get their input if they’re active on the street, but I guess, who would then make that decision?” Daley said.<br> <br> In Lincoln Square, where those small store owners pushed back, Alderman Schulter is leaving office after more than 35 years.<br> <br> Small business owners say they’re excited about his replacement – a young Northwestern University staffer named Ameya Pawar, who ran as an underdog and won. Pawar says what’s needed for local businesses is more transparency.<br> <br> “I think this is probably endemic in the city of Chicago where campaign contributions are linked to things actually getting done – to signs or awnings processes getting taken care of,” Pawar said. “And I think moving forward what we need to do is create a climate where businesses in the ward and all wards in the city of Chicago feel like they understand how to get a license, how to get a permit, and I don’t think we have such a climate at this point.”<br> <br> Entrepreneurs say they like what they hear from Pawar, but after years of doing business in Chicago, they’ll believe it when they see it. And in 14 wards across the city tomorrow, small business owners will be watching election returns closely to see who will be their new gatekeeper.<br> <br> Each week on Venture, we bring you something called our Windy Indicator – a fresh way to understand the climate of the economy.<br> <br> It could be sunny. Or it could be stormy.<br> <br> One person who’s banking, literally, on April showers is Jeff Hodgson, founder and president of Chicago Weather Brokerage - a brokerage for precipitation. He says the amount of rain we get can be a strong indicator for all sorts of sectors of the economy.<br> <br> “A lot of people talk to me and they talk about speculating. ‘Wow, I can’t believe you can trade rain or snow. Now you’re betting on the weather,’” Hodgson said. “And the answer I always get back to people is, ‘You’re investing all this money into a marketplace where the main revenue driver is something you cannot control. You’re the one speculating here.’”<br> <br> The Chicago Mercantile Exchange started selling rain contracts six months ago. The whole idea is that farmers, golf courses, outdoor music venues, and fertilizer companies could treat the rain contracts as a sort of insurance. Heavy rainfall could be an economic disaster for those businesses. But so far – it’s been a hard sell.<br> <br> “Farmers understand how to trade crops – crop futures. You know, wheat, corn, soy beans, things of that nature,” Hodgson said.<br> <br> But Hodgson says it’ll take some time to get customers used to the idea of putting money on the weather – something you probably don’t think about buying.<br> <br> Next week – our Windy Indicator goes premium at the gas pump.<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 04 Apr 2011 05:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/alderman/venture-do-aldermen-have-too-much-power-over-small-businesses-84648 Winning a referendum is no silver bullet http://www.wbez.org/story/200-cut-rate-liquors/winning-referendum-no-silver-bullet <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-March/2011-03-13/REFERENDUM_Rea_Woods.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The idea behind a referendum is to give voters a direct voice in making their community better. These ballot questions can cover anything from stem-cell research to the fate of an empty lot. They may be binding or just advisory. Last month, referenda were on ballots in nine Chicago precincts. But it&rsquo;s not clear the voters will get what they had in mind &mdash; even if they were on the winning side. We&rsquo;ll hear now from WBEZ reporters in three parts of the city. We start with Chip Mitchell at our West Side bureau.<br /><br />MITCHELL: Kurt Gippert lives near a building here in Humboldt Park that seemed like a magnet.<br /><br />GIPPERT: Gang banging, loitering, drug sales, some prostitution, tons of urinating.<br /><br />MITCHELL: It was a liquor store.<br /><br />GIPPERT: In 2010, we had at least nine people shot in front of that store.<br /><br />MITCHELL: Under city pressure, the store closed last fall. Gippert and his neighbors wanted it gone for good, so they turned to a 77-year-old Illinois law that lets voters ban selling alcohol in their precinct.<br /><br />GIPPERT: It&rsquo;s the only power we had &mdash; the only surefire, effective thing that was going to last longer than six months or a year.<br /><br />MITCHELL: They petitioned to put the referendum on last month&rsquo;s ballot. And voters passed it about 4-to-1. Starting next week, the precinct will be dry. There&rsquo;s just one problem.<br /><br />SOUND: Car alarm.<br /><br />MITCHELL (on the scene): The place with the gang bangers in front wasn&rsquo;t the precinct&rsquo;s only store selling alcohol. I&rsquo;m outside a CVS a few blocks west. The clerks inside tell me booze accounts for about half their sales. But there&rsquo;s also a stream of customers who rely on this CVS for everything from prescription drugs to shampoo and milk. Without its liquor sales here, some of these folks worry CVS might close this store.<br /><br />CUSTOMER 1: Some of my family members get their prescriptions filled here. And it&rsquo;s really convenient that they can walk here instead of worrying about getting a ride or catching the bus.<br /><br />MITCHELL (on the scene): Do they have cars?<br /><br />CUSTOMER 1: No.<br /><br />CUSTOMER 2: I got three kids, so we need milk. If you get something for them from the corner store, it&rsquo;ll probably be old.<br /><br />CUSTOMER 3: Everybody around here, I guess, is poor. So they need to get to a place that most of them can walk to. Bus fare is high. Cab fare is high. So, yeah, it would hurt them.<br /><br />MITCHELL: CVS isn&rsquo;t answering whether it&rsquo;ll keep the store open once it quits selling alcohol. Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) supported the referendum. But he admits there&rsquo;s collateral damage.<br /><br />MALDONADO: We don&rsquo;t have a lot of retail in the area. And we have never heard complaints about CVS. However, if they depend on liquor to remain viable, then they should not be open.<br /><br />MITCHELL: I ask Maldonado about other precincts in his ward.<br /><br />MITCHELL (on the scene): Businesses that are selling alcohol and doing so responsibly, without a lot of problems out in front, do they have anything to worry about?<br /><br />MALDONADO: No, they don&rsquo;t have to worry as long as they are conscious about their own responsibility [to be] a good business neighbor.<br /><br />MITCHELL: And as long as residents don&rsquo;t vote the precinct dry. Reporting from Chicago&rsquo;s West Side, I&rsquo;m Chip Mitchell.<br /><br />MOORE: And I&rsquo;m Natalie Moore at our Side South bureau. The situation was different in a 3rd Ward precinct along East 47th Street. Voters didn&rsquo;t take aim at all liquor. They had specific targets: Night Train, Wild Irish Rose, Thunderbird &mdash; cheap, fortified wines that some residents say attracted low-end elements to the neighborhood. The referendum was nonbinding, nothing more than an opinion poll. Still, the majority voted to ban fortified wines at two stores. No more malt liquor either. But one of the stores took 22-ounce malt liquor off the shelves in July.<br /><br />MICHELIS: Took a hit on sales, between $20,000-$25,000 a month, but I gained it from the wines I put in the store.<br /><br />MOORE: Steve Michelis owns a store called 200 Cut Rate Liquors. Michelis says voters got what they wanted. He says the loitering and begging in front of his place stopped last year. Still, he didn&rsquo;t mind last month&rsquo;s referendum.<br /><br />MICHELIS: I don&rsquo;t care. I don&rsquo;t have anything to hide.<br /><br />MOORE: Maybe another reason Michelis didn&rsquo;t mind so much was because he was already getting other pressure &mdash; from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).<br /><br />DOWELL: You have people who stand outside, they drink it, they throw the can down, they beg for money or they go back in and get some money from somewhere and go back and buy another can.<br /><br />MOORE: Residents targeted Aristo Food and Liquor on the ballot, too. While residents gathered signatures for the nonbinding referendum, Dowell had her own approach. She&rsquo;s been working on getting the owners to sign agreements to stop selling the cheap liquor. She&rsquo;ll then attach them to their liquor licenses with the city. That would make them binding. The owner of Aristo says he plans to comply with Dowell. But the alderman says she&rsquo;s still waiting to hear back from him. Reporting from the city&rsquo;s South Side, I&rsquo;m Natalie Moore.<br /><br />YOUSEF: And I&rsquo;m Odette Yousef. Here on the North Side, one alderman and some voters are not on the same page. And, the issue isn&rsquo;t liquor. It&rsquo;s land use.<br /><br />GLAZIER: There&rsquo;s going to be three large driveways next to each other.<br /><br />YOUSEF: This is Josh Glazier.<br /><br />GLAZIER: Two for trucks coming in and out of the project, and one for several hundred cars that are going to remain inside the building.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Glazier lives behind this unused hospital garage in Lincoln Park. He&rsquo;s not happy about a developer&rsquo;s plan to turn it into a grocery store.<br /><br />GLAZIER: The community really objects to the grocer and the trucks.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Glazier says Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) has heard him out. He and others recall her saying she&rsquo;d stay neutral until the community reached a consensus on the project. But in spite of overwhelming opposition at public meetings. . .<br /><br />GLAZIER: We&rsquo;ve been hearing for quite some time that the alderman had this secret list, with the names of all the project&rsquo;s supporters and opponents. And increasingly she&rsquo;s been telling us the count was very close. And we didn&rsquo;t feel like a secret list should be the basis for any decision on the project.<br /><br />YOUSEF: So Glazier and fellow opponents gathered signatures to put the issue on their precinct&rsquo;s February ballot.<br /><br />YOUSEF (on the scene): So you knew going into this that this would not be a binding result?<br /><br />GLAZIER: Of course it was not going to be a binding result, but it was going to create some transparency.<br /><br />YOUSEF: And that&rsquo;s what Glazier says he got. Most voters opposed the project at the polls. So he was stunned to hear Ald. Daley&rsquo;s official position just days later. In a statement, she wrote, &ldquo;I will not delay this project any longer and I will vote to approve this project at City Council.&rdquo; Daley said only a narrow majority of voters opposed the development. She said she heard from many ward residents who do want it. They live outside the precinct that voted on it. I asked Prof. Christopher Berry of the University of Chicago if that was a legitimate reason to discount the referendum results:<br /><br />BERRY: Well, it&rsquo;s a legitimate tack to take, but the only way we would really know the answer is to have some sort of scientific public opinion poll that was done, that included everyone in the affected geography.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Berry says referenda are anything but scientific. They&rsquo;re often put together by self-selected groups on one side of an issue. And, usually, only a small fraction of voters come out to decide it. Berry says with referenda, the real story often isn&rsquo;t about how the vote came down. It&rsquo;s that an issue came down to a vote at all.<br /><br />BERRY: When you see a referendum, which means citizens have to be directly making this policy, it suggests some sort of failure or breakdown in the process between the citizens and their representatives.<br /><br />YOUSEF: Berry says those breakdowns are rare because politicians usually want to get reelected. But, in Lincoln Park, that&rsquo;s not the case. Ald. Daley retires in May. On Chicago&rsquo;s North Side, I&rsquo;m Odette Yousef, WBEZ.</p></p> Mon, 14 Mar 2011 11:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/200-cut-rate-liquors/winning-referendum-no-silver-bullet