Runoff Election Day, April 2015: We are in a Golden Age of Civic Engagement

It is axiomatic to say that it’s hard to recognize you are in a golden age while you are in one. Chicago: we are in a golden age of civic engagement. Treasure it, build it, please don’t let it go.

Today is election day in Chicago. I strongly urge you to vote to retain our Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, in office. He’s earned more time. In the last six weeks I’ve written much about why I support him, on this website and on social media. Please vote today for Rahm Emanuel.

It has been a stressful six weeks. I’ve stuck my neck out for this guy, personally. And that is part of the golden age. I’ve seen hundreds of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, supporters of both candidates, do the same. Taking stands, with integrity, openly, and with love.

I’ve reviewed budget books for the last four years to check facts on funding levels for the Chicago Public Library. I’ve looked up the ordinance covering the Inspector General’s authority. I’ve seen, finally, more media voices in the coverage of TIF spending.  I’ve seen more real talk about the pension crisis than I’ve heard, ever.  I’ve listened to people peppering the Mayor with tough questions at a get-out-the-vote event. Watched debate after debate.

I’ve participated in Twitter fights. I’ve defended my vote on long Facebook threads, and watched as friends have done the same. All of this with respect, and the unquestioned understanding that it won’t affect our real relationships.

I’ve watched with growing awe at the early voting numbers, brought to me by Aldertrack, a service I’ve seen grow over the last eight years into an essential tool for the people of this city. They cover everything, every race, with the detail and attention each ward— each precinct— each person, deserves.

I’ve seen one candidate promise to listen more and the other promise to figure out what’s going on if elected. I strongly prefer the one in office, the one who already knows what he’s talking about, the one who I believe can guide us out.

But the last six weeks, the rest of us have learned— or remembered— that we have the knowledge, the power, and the tools to hold everyone to their promises. Let’s not stop.


Technology, Equity, and Who’s Mayor

I read this article this morning, looking for myself, since I am in technology and I support the Mayor for re-election: “Can Chicago’s Tech Community Carry Rahm Emanuel To Victory?

I found lots of places and themes that are familiar to me (1871 as a hub for innovation, the growth in tech jobs, and the Mayor’s concrete efforts to make Chicago a more inviting place for tech businesses).

What I didn’t find is anything about the parallel growth in support for public computer centers, and the training in digital skills, and the support for the hundreds of technologists and regular residents I work with all the time in order to make technology work for everyone.

It’s a common oversight. There’s a natural tendency to focus on heroic tech people, gleaming downtown workspaces, and gaudy corporate job announcements. But we’ve got a pretty special sauce here in Chicago, and the Mayor’s policies and people have played a significant role in that.

Technology isn’t just a driver of raw economic growth— it’s an engine of equity for all. Where getting an email account is necessary for getting an entry-level job, where being connected to the Internet is essential for receiving social services, and where we can use networks to plan our lives together. I want more of that.

Public Computer Center, King Library, Chicago
Public Computer Center, King Library, Chicago


The Sweater Ad, Feelings, and the Methods for Listening

Mayor Rahm Emanuel published a new campaign video last week.

The ad has gotten lots of attention and has been covered by media in the context of the runoff to be held on Tuesday, April 7, 2015.

The Washington Post put it this way: Rahm Emanuel’s remarkable confession.

The 30-second ad, which began running on Tuesday in Chicago, shows a very different side of Emanuel — all soft-spokenness and humility. “I can rub people the wrong way. Or talk when I should listen,” Emanuel acknowledges in the spot. “I own that.” Later, he admits: “I’m not going to always get it right.”


Emanuel is trying to make a simple argument in this ad: I may be a jerk (and I know I am one and I’m sorry), but I’m your jerk. And don’t let my abrasiveness get in the way of the accomplishments I have racked up in my first four years.

I don’t know if “remarkable” is the right word for it, as it seems a completely reasonable and normal thing, when running for office, to address issues that voters have with you as a candidate.

As I’ve indicated before, I support Rahm Emanuel for Mayor (here’s a possibly helpful post re: where I’m coming from).

I take the Mayor at his word. He’s trying to address the feelings that people express about how he works and how his decision-making process runs. He doesn’t always make people feel good, but I think his policies are, in large part, winners.

One example is the minimum wage. The Mayor has supported “$13 minimum wage by 2018 that will inject $800 million into the Chicago economy and lift 80,000 residents out of poverty—including 8,000 single mothers.”

To me, that’s a win. It makes me feel good to know that Chicago is out front on this issue. But I’ve seen lots of issues with how he came to support it. Here’s a good timeline. To me, this seems a focus on process and feelings rather than results. By nature, I like results.

But I also appreciate processes and procedures, especially genuine ones that allow for real people to drive policy and solutions. I do a lot of this work in my professional life— I am deeply devoted hearing people and responding to their  needs. It’s the most human thing we can do for each other. The goal is better lives, and that feels better.

In a second Emanuel term, I would love to see more structures for listening to residents. This is what election are for— to elect the people we want, and to get them to make us feel the way we want to feel.

Let’s work with our Mayor on that.

Sometimes things don't feel good; sometimes they do.
Sometimes things don’t feel good; sometimes they do.

The FCC “Political File” Ruling and Price Transparency

Last week the Federal Communications Commission ruled that stations affiliated with the top four national networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) and serve the top 50 markets must post “political file documents” online.

All stations— regardless of size— already have to maintain such files and make them available to the public. Stations balked at this rule, however, because they’re concerned that their competitors will be able to easily see revenues from political ads and overall rates charged. Here’s a snip from the Chicago Tribune story, “FCC passes online political ad rule: Stations will be required to post campaign spending info“:

For months, broadcasters have objected to the new rule, arguing that even though they already must disclose it, posting it online would give competitors access to commercially sensitive rate information. Broadcasters last week had proposed a compromise to instead post a campaign’s total ad buy, rather than specific information on the exact amount paid per ad. Stations are required to sell candidates time at the lowest unit rate.

We hear these kinds of arguments all the time, and they feel more and more like the fading bleats of lambs. There is a brutal efficiency to spreadsheeting rates for ad time. We’ve all experienced the pain of hidden truths in markets (no one else really wants the house you’re bidding on, the car dealership is about to stop selling that Dodge Dart, the grocer is about to throw out those tomatoes anyway). People make bank off of knowledge gaps, and closing them can be scary. Let’s go ahead and be scared for a while.

It was interesting to see the FCC struggle with requiring stations to post in a standard format for reporting this data. Here’s snips:

We will not establish specific formatting requirements for documents posted to the online public file at this time. Some commenters promoted making the data well-structured as searchable as possible, and downloadable.


We agree that certain information in the public file would be of much greater benefit to the public if made available in a structured or database-friendly format that can be aggregated, manipulated, and more easily analyzed; this continues to be our ultimate goal.

This is evidence of growing pains inside this particular industry that are repeated nearly everywhere else. We can expect that wily stations may upload their documents in non-searchable PDFs so that they can comply with the rule while making analysis as difficult as possible.

One day at a time.

FCC 12 44A1 (Text)

Easter Morning for an Urban American Catholic in an Age of Misplaced Catholic Energy

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I am a lifelong urban American Catholic, and I am not going anywhere.

That’s my message to the extremists in my religion who have strayed from our core principles of tolerance, labor, and love to focus on exclusion, doctrine, and shame.  My experience of Catholicism in the cities of Pittsburgh and Chicago over the last 40 years has been full of people devoted to service.

  • Fr. Regis Ryan gave me my First Communion at Annunciation Parish on the North Side. He’s still working near Pittsburgh today, running Focus on Renewal, a slew of agencies that provides services for the homeless and the working poor in McKees Rocks
  • Strong, intelligent, loving nuns served as principals and teachers of my grade schools in Pittsburgh (Annunciation, St. Philomena) and Chicago (St. Mary of the Lake). St. Mary of the Lake (4200 N. Sheridan Road) was an oasis of peace in Uptown for dozens of Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees in the late 70s and early 80s
  • Tough, serious priests at Gordon Tech taught by example the importance of service. There was never a component of condescension or judgment for people in need. The men I know who graduated from there are all involved in community service in some way
  • I lived near Mt. Carmel Parish in the mid 80s, and I remember the dozens of funerals held there for gay men who died of AIDS. To me, as a teenager, it was completely uncontroversial and expected that the Church would do this
  • I’ve benefited from professionals who were also people of the cloth— therapist nuns, lawyer priests, and so on. People who have been essential to me and my family as we’ve gone through tough times
  • As a catechist for the Church, I was required to take a training course called “Protecting God’s Children“, and I have to keep up with it on a monthly basis

I don’t mean to paint a inaccurate, bucolic picture. My father obtained an annulment of his marriage to my mother after seven kids and decades of marriage. A priest at St. Benedict High School cast aspersions on my mother as a single parent in the early 8os. A good friend, the pastor of my church in the early 2000s, was removed from ministry based on an accusation of sexual abuse in the 1970s. In general, the priest abuse scandal uncovered a criminal enterprise operated within the Catholic Church.

My point is a matter of focus. In my experience of the Church, the focus is on helping people, being of service, and tending to the needs of the poor. Over the last few years— coinciding with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops— the static coming from official Catholic organs and prominent Catholics has been disturbing to me.

  • Dolan applied key pressure to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation in their disastrous jettisoning of Planned Parenthood. The mission of Planned Parenthood is 100% in line with my experience of the Church, so I found this meddling very worrisome
  • The Church has been utterly unhelpful in the matters of basic human rights when it comes to gay marriage
  • The two nuttiest Republicans in the presidential race are not the usual Evangelical Christians but, in fact, Catholics. Santorum’s stomach trouble vis a vis the separation of Church and state is particularly troubling, and completely un-American
  • The entire Church went into conniption fits over the President’s reasonable plan to make sure women employed by Catholic organizations had acceptable health care. My kids and I had to listen to two off-kilter homilies in two different churches earlier this year. One of those homilies threatened the Mass Hour Social Compact. There is very little more sacred, in a secular sense, to the American Catholic than the idea that the Mass lasts an hour. You get in, you read some stuff, you hear some stuff, you consecrate some stuff, you consume the body and blood of Jesus Christ, you sing one last song, and you’re out. The time the priest spent inaccurately describing the birth control policy severely impinged this essential compact, so we split (after proper genuflection in the aisle) while he was still talking

I have been disheartened at times by these policies and developments. But there is hope here, and it exists in the millions of Catholics like the ones I’ve grown up with. The deal struck by the President on birth control showed that mainstream American Catholics are in lock-step with the rest the country.

A new New York Times/CBS News poll has found that 57 percent of Catholic voters supported the requirement for religiously affiliated employers, like hospitals or universities, to cover the full cost of birth control for their employees, while 36 percent opposed it (7 percent said they did not know). There was almost no difference between Catholic and other voters on the question.

I still go to Church, I still teach religious education to 7th graders, including my eldest child. I deeply believe every word of the Nicene Creed. Transubstantiation is a fact, not just a long word. In short, I am Catholic, and I am not going anywhere.

Christ is risen. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.