Regional Web banner January
Jim Nowlan

Jim Nowlan

‘Small ball’ won’t fix city’s big needs

By Jim Nowlan

Not long after college, in the late 1960s, I was visiting friends on the gentrifying Near Northwest Side. My host couple and I took a stroll before a night on Old Town nearby. As we came upon the Armitage Avenue Methodist Church, we saw maybe a dozen young men lounging on the broad concrete steps that led to the imposing church doors.

“That’s Bobby Rush,” whispered friend Gordon, nodding to an obvious leader of a lively discussion ongoing at the foot of the Lord’s house.

GSWNH JimNowlan 083019

Jim Nowlan

Seeing us, the gang leaders (even a Downstater like me could tell that’s who these dudes were) beckoned us up. They put quart beer bottles in our hands, and we bantered about nothing for a few minutes, then departed with a wave, beers in hand. The Black Panthers and Young Lords leaders had more important things to talk about during their powwow.

My takeaway: Back then there were just a few big gangs in Chicago, So, bad as the gangs were, there was identifiable leadership. And power can talk to power, when absolutely necessary. Just as city leaders did from time to time, through back channels, with an earlier gang leader, Al Capone, when necessary to see that an election came off without any mayhem.

Today, in Chicago, there are about 60 gangs, according to the Chicago Crime Commission, and many more semiautonomous offshoots, some on but single blocks, and 100,000 plus members. Gang members outnumber the Chicago police 9-to-1. How do you like them odds?! No wonder so many cops long to depart the city for safer jobs in nearby suburbs.

Nor is there anyone for the cops and city leaders to talk to. Power is atomized, and Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods must often seem like free-fire zones among teens.

Fast forward from Bobby Rush, now a 15-term veteran of Congress, to the early 1980s. My boss, Gov. Jim Thompson, directed me to spend some time in East St. Louis, to see if there were any positive leaders in that benighted city across from its Missouri namesake, whom the governor might support with social and law enforcement programming.

I spent a month in and out of ESL (there was no place in the city of 40,000 to stay). I met Sister Julia Huiskamp, a tough, saintly sort of the Mother Teresa variety. There are a rare few like her in many of our depleted neighborhoods; not enough to make much of a difference.

There was a young man, a college graduate, who had started a printing company. Locals were pinning some hopes on him. A printer myself, I could tell from the outdated equipment in his shop that the business wouldn’t last a year. It didn’t.

I reported back to Big Jim: There is really no effective leadership you can deal with. The city is too far gone. Role models like businessmen, the middle class, school teachers and cops, who lived elsewhere, have all abandoned ESL and neighborhoods like it.

Fast, fast forward to a couple of years ago. I return to ESL to be on a panel discussion, sponsored by the Illinois Humanities Council, a fine, do-good group. We meet in a government building, the only kind still standing. On my purposeful, slow drive through the city of 25,000 (82,000 in 1950), I see little business activity other than liquor stores and storefront churches, a neon cross faintly blinking above one of them. Whole neighborhoods are vacant, trash strewn, houses falling down—apocalyptic.

Once vibrant neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago mirror ESL. You can see this by taking the Number 20 CTA bus west on Madison, from Michigan Avenue out to Austin Boulevard, on the border with Oak Park. (I’ll bet you don’t.) The bus takes you from glitter to litter.

The homicide rates in ESL and Downstate cities like Peoria are even higher than in Chicago, yet they don’t have the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue and tourism to protect. No, it’s Chicago that national newscasters imply is on the bubble, between vitality and fateful disarray.

Liberals, conservatives, the middle class—we’re all at fault. For example, when I was a college student in the 1960s, Aid to Families with Dependent Children was barred to households in which there was a man present! Further, we ploughed new expressways expressly to keep blacks separate from whites. And we built high-rise hellholes to house lots of poor folks behind those expressway walls. We put “Willis wagon” trailer classrooms (named for a city school superintendent) on segregated school grounds, to keep blacks away from our kids.

There is a lot of blame to go around.

What to do? Get 20,000 to 30,000 at-risk teens out of their neighborhoods. After all, that’s what everyone else who can has done. Maybe to programs like the Lincoln ChalleNGe residential school “boot camp,” located Downstate, started by former Governor Jim Edgar (the camps are for the National Guard, which runs the program). And maybe to CCC-type camps in the wilderness, the types that lifted thousands of young whites out of their poverty plight during the Depression—and which mostly barred blacks.

We also have to repair, somehow, the crumpled subcultures of our depleted neighborhoods (including as well those for young white single mothers in my rural Illinois). Too many of these young mothers in urban and rural America have neither parenting skills nor positive support networks, and find drugs and alcohol a comfort in a world which overwhelms them.

Small ball won’t make a difference. President Biden thinks big, but he apparently wants simply to throw money at people, and not use it to hold them accountable for striving to better themselves.

As for Chicago, I think Mayor Lori Lightfoot should take a page from the playbook of another female Chicago mayor. In 1981, Jane Byrne moved into the infamous Cabrini Green public housing project. Sure, it was a gimmick, but it focused awesome public attention. And Cabrini Green is now gone, though probably more so because developers wanted to put upscale condos in its place.

Lori — and her inner team — should move to Englewood or another violent neighborhood for six months. Take apartments, live there, and set up a mini-City Hall, where supplicants would have to visit to do business. After all, Englewood is just as much a part of the city as Lake Shore (now DuSable) Drive.

Chicago’s out-of-control gangs pose an existential threat to Chicago’s future, which is otherwise bright and shining. Small ball won’t do it.

We are reaping what we have sown.

Jim Nowlan is a former state legislator and aide to three unindicted Illinois governors. A retired professor of American politics, he writes a newspaper column on Understanding Illinois.

Local News

The Rios family plans to make The Great American Bagel shop at 12774 S. Harlem Ave. a go-to breakfast and lunch choice in Palos Heights and beyond. Pictured (from left) are Manny Jr. Manny Sr., daughter Silvia, Mia and mother Silvia Rios. --Photo by Cosmo Hadac

Experienced bakers buy The Great American Bagel in Palos Heights

New owners nearly double the menu for breakfast, lunch By Cosmo Hadac When The Great American Bagel’s shop in Palos Heights changed hands late last year, the new owners who walked in the door weren’t exactly new. Manny Rios Sr. and his wife, Silvia, have nearly 50 years of combined experience in the bagel…

SRP-IMAGE-Logo

New owner will keep Palmer Place name and burgers Copy

By Steve Metsch Palmer Place Restaurant and Biergarten, a mainstay in downtown La Grange for nearly 40 years, will soon have new owners. But not much else will change. The name on 56 S. La Grange Road will still read Palmer Place. The employees now there will still have their jobs. And the hamburgers that…

SRP-IMAGE-Logo

Clear-Ridge Reporter and NewsHound PDF January 19, 2022

Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney and the village council could make a decision on Monday regarding video gaming. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

Palos Park could be making its decision on gaming on Monday

By Jeff Vorva Will Palos Park make its decision on bringing in gaming machines to the village on Monday? The world will have to wait until Monday to find out. The village council will meet for the first time in 2022 on Monday after its Jan. 10 meeting was cancelled because of a lack of…

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau said that mandates from Cook County are unlawful. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

Pekau takes Rubin and Foxx to task over mandate punishments

By Jeff Vorva Orland Park has Cook’s County’s attention. The village’s decision to vote against enforcing Cook County COVID-19 mandates at a special meeting Dec. 28 has been a hot topic. The village’s position is that businesses need not require proof of vaccination for patrons to enter. Some businesses are taking the board up on…

CRRNH_FrontPageStory_011922

‘These bruises won’t heal’

CPS kids back in school, but bitterness remains By Tim Hadac Teachers who walked off the job in the new year returned last week after the Chicago Teachers Union rank and file voted to accept Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s offer of increased safety measures at schools. But it was a divided vote, with just 55.5% in…

CRRNH_JohnShakerAnd Burt_011922

Smooch from a pooch

Mutts of the Midway volunteer John Shaker smiles as he gets a smooch from Burt, a 5-year-old American Pit Bull/Boston Terrier mix. Shaker works as a transporter, driving dogs to and from veterinarian appointments. The 37-pound Burt was rescued by the non-profit Mutts of the Midway from a shelter in Texas. For several months, he…

The Clear-Ridge Little League is scheduled to start its games in April, but signup is occurring now. --File photo

Here’s a sure sign of spring

By Joan Hadac Your correspondent in Clearing and Garfield Ridge (708) 496-0265 • [email protected] Hi everyone. How have you been surviving January? This is one month I always hope flies by. If the sun is out, the temperatures are, or feel like they are in the subzero range. If it’s cloudy, which is most of the…

Justice Police Chief Kraig McDermott (from left), Justice Police and Fire Commissioner Don McGuire, Justice Police Officer Kady Sassenger, and Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz. (Photo by Carol McGowan)

Justice swears in new police officer

By Carol McGowan The Justice Village Board approved the recommendation of the Justice Fire and Police Commission to hire Police Officer Kady Sassenger at its January 10 meeting. Her move from the Coal City Police Department to Justice is considered a lateral move, which means the officer transfers from one department to another for the…

Michael Medeisis chats with village Trustee Norma Pinion after the board promoted himto the rank of fire battalion chief. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

Medeisis promoted to fire battalion chief in Bridgeview

By Steve Metsch The Bridgeview Fire Department has a new battalion chief. Michael Medeisis, 55, was promoted from the rank of lieutenant at the Jan. 5 meeting of the Bridgeview Village Board. “Hey, hot diggity dog, we’ve got a great guy (promoted),” village Trustee Michael Pticek said. Trustee James Cecott said the promotion was due.…

Neighbors

DVN JCs Restoration House Ad
Cook County Sheriff ad.2
The Rios family plans to make The Great American Bagel shop at 12774 S. Harlem Ave. a go-to breakfast and lunch choice in Palos Heights and beyond. Pictured (from left) are Manny Jr. Manny Sr., daughter Silvia, Mia and mother Silvia Rios. --Photo by Cosmo Hadac

Experienced bakers buy The Great American Bagel in Palos Heights

New owners nearly double the menu for breakfast, lunch By Cosmo Hadac When The Great American Bagel’s shop in Palos Heights changed hands late last year, the new owners who walked in the door weren’t exactly new. Manny Rios Sr. and his wife, Silvia, have nearly 50 years of combined experience in the bagel…

SRP-IMAGE-Logo

New owner will keep Palmer Place name and burgers Copy

By Steve Metsch Palmer Place Restaurant and Biergarten, a mainstay in downtown La Grange for nearly 40 years, will soon have new owners. But not much else will change. The name on 56 S. La Grange Road will still read Palmer Place. The employees now there will still have their jobs. And the hamburgers that…

SRP-IMAGE-Logo

Clear-Ridge Reporter and NewsHound PDF January 19, 2022

Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney and the village council could make a decision on Monday regarding video gaming. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

Palos Park could be making its decision on gaming on Monday

By Jeff Vorva Will Palos Park make its decision on bringing in gaming machines to the village on Monday? The world will have to wait until Monday to find out. The village council will meet for the first time in 2022 on Monday after its Jan. 10 meeting was cancelled because of a lack of…

Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau said that mandates from Cook County are unlawful. (Photo by Jeff Vorva)

Pekau takes Rubin and Foxx to task over mandate punishments

By Jeff Vorva Orland Park has Cook’s County’s attention. The village’s decision to vote against enforcing Cook County COVID-19 mandates at a special meeting Dec. 28 has been a hot topic. The village’s position is that businesses need not require proof of vaccination for patrons to enter. Some businesses are taking the board up on…

CRRNH_FrontPageStory_011922

‘These bruises won’t heal’

CPS kids back in school, but bitterness remains By Tim Hadac Teachers who walked off the job in the new year returned last week after the Chicago Teachers Union rank and file voted to accept Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s offer of increased safety measures at schools. But it was a divided vote, with just 55.5% in…

CRRNH_JohnShakerAnd Burt_011922

Smooch from a pooch

Mutts of the Midway volunteer John Shaker smiles as he gets a smooch from Burt, a 5-year-old American Pit Bull/Boston Terrier mix. Shaker works as a transporter, driving dogs to and from veterinarian appointments. The 37-pound Burt was rescued by the non-profit Mutts of the Midway from a shelter in Texas. For several months, he…

The Clear-Ridge Little League is scheduled to start its games in April, but signup is occurring now. --File photo

Here’s a sure sign of spring

By Joan Hadac Your correspondent in Clearing and Garfield Ridge (708) 496-0265 • [email protected] Hi everyone. How have you been surviving January? This is one month I always hope flies by. If the sun is out, the temperatures are, or feel like they are in the subzero range. If it’s cloudy, which is most of the…

Justice Police Chief Kraig McDermott (from left), Justice Police and Fire Commissioner Don McGuire, Justice Police Officer Kady Sassenger, and Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz. (Photo by Carol McGowan)

Justice swears in new police officer

By Carol McGowan The Justice Village Board approved the recommendation of the Justice Fire and Police Commission to hire Police Officer Kady Sassenger at its January 10 meeting. Her move from the Coal City Police Department to Justice is considered a lateral move, which means the officer transfers from one department to another for the…

Michael Medeisis chats with village Trustee Norma Pinion after the board promoted himto the rank of fire battalion chief. (Photo by Steve Metsch)

Medeisis promoted to fire battalion chief in Bridgeview

By Steve Metsch The Bridgeview Fire Department has a new battalion chief. Michael Medeisis, 55, was promoted from the rank of lieutenant at the Jan. 5 meeting of the Bridgeview Village Board. “Hey, hot diggity dog, we’ve got a great guy (promoted),” village Trustee Michael Pticek said. Trustee James Cecott said the promotion was due.…

DVN Complete Auto Service House Ad
Regional Natural Healing House Ad