I really hate Chicago. The Chicago Tribune had these two articles in it today. Found the online version. The honorary street sign program probably won't go away, but I'm thinking the Fred Hampton thing won't pass now with the publicity.
Signs of discontent in the city
Alderman seeks to end practice of honorary street designations
By Gary Washburn
Tribune staff reporter
Published March 2, 2006
With honorary street signs already dotting Chicago's landscape at nearly 1,300 locations--and a proposal to name a stretch of West Monroe Street after slain Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton generating increasing heat--a veteran alderman on Wednesday called for an end to the city's sign program.
Ald. Thomas Allen (38th), chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, introduced a measure that would ban the spread of the ubiquitous special placards, citing everything from the cost to confusion that he said they generate.
But with signs in all 50 of the city's wards in a program used routinely by aldermen to curry favor with constituents, the fate of the legislation is unclear.
The controversial proposal to erect a sign commemorating Hampton simmered beneath the surface in a City Council that goes to great lengths to avoid internal conflict over race but whose members' views nevertheless are affected by life experiences and the color of their own skins.
Many white aldermen view Hampton, who was slain in a controversial 1969 police raid, as a terrorist who advocated violence to change the system, said Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), who is African-American.
Many black aldermen see Hampton as someone who stood up against discrimination and oppression and helped lead an organization that fed African-American schoolchildren, he said.
"I think it depends on whether you are the minority or the majority and how you color and paint history," Brookins said.
The council happily voted on another racially-tinged, but much less controversial issue on Wednesday when it officially recognized Jean Baptiste Point du Sable as Chicago's first non-native settler. The ordinance citing du Sable, a Haitian of African heritage, passed unanimously.
Allen's measure notwithstanding, Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd) said she would push ahead with her proposal to name a short portion of Monroe in her ward as "Chairman Fred Hampton Way."
Haithcock said she was "appalled" at the flap over the issue.
"If you read the history of Fred Hampton, you won't see anything that bad," Haithcock said. "All he said is he was going to defend himself against policemen, and evidently he didn't because they murdered him."
Fred Hampton Jr. and his mother, Akua Njeri, attended Wednesday's meeting.
"It is not only important to me personally but also to African people and humanity in general that the contributions that Chairman Fred made be acknowledged," Hampton said.
The Panther party "courageously stood up and fought for the rights of people to self-determination, land, bread, education, clothing, justice and peace ... under the leadership of the Illinois Chapter of Chairman Fred Hampton," said Njeri, who was with the senior Hampton and was pregnant with her son at the time of the police raid.
The Fraternal Order of Police vigorously has opposed the honorary treatment, and so have some aldermen.
Allen on Tuesday called preliminary approval of the honorary sign by his committee an "embarrassment" that came without debate because committee members were unaware the Hampton on the agenda was the Black Panther leader who critics said threatened to kill police.
Allen, who long has contended the honorary street sign program has been out of control, decided to draft his legislation following the Hampton episode.
Credentials of those honored aside, Allen said the city expends the resources and labor of the city's Transportation Department to erect the signs, and the placards' presence is confusing to tourists trying to make their way around Chicago.
Selecting honorees also is "highly subjective [and] there are no criteria," Allen said.
And aldermen are put into an "awkward situation" when they are asked by supporters to honor someone, whether or not the candidate may be worthy.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) disagreed.
"I don't think there is anything wrong with the program," he said.
"I think it is a way of honoring citizens of Chicago," including "people who have made contributions to the city."
Mayor Richard Daley did not directly voice support for Allen's proposal, but he said that people seeking to honor someone should do things such as contribute to a scholarship program or an environmental program in their honor.
And multiple signs at a location can lead to confusion when someone calls for police or other emergency response, Daley said.
"We become liable for that," he said.
"Lawyers are going to sue us for that."
As a backup, Allen also introduced a measure that would require submission of a biography of the proposed honoree with any honorary street sign submission.
The last major controversy over a sign came when Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd) sought to honor Chicago native and Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner.
Despite heavy opposition, a "Hugh M. Hefner Way" placard went up at Michigan Avenue and Walton Street.
That was in 2000 when there were 859 honorary signs in the city, about 400 fewer than there are today.
Allen at the time unsuccessfully introduced a measure that would have limited additional signs to two per ward per year.
A similar proposal failed three years earlier at a time when the sign total stood at 594.
The sign program began in 1984.
Honorees range from celebrities and business leaders to local pastors, community leaders and institutions.
A Fascist hides in plain sight downtown
Published March 2, 2006
I tell you who deserves to have a street named his honor: Ald. Tom Allen (38th), the brave politician trying to put a stop to honorary street names (see accompanying story).
Allen has twice before failed to move similar legislation through the City Council. And one reason he's keen on the idea, he told me Wednesday afternoon, is because the current haphazard, no-standards systems gives "no protection against us getting blindsided" by rubber-stamping an honoree whom many might consider less than honorable, Allen said.
Was he referring to anyone in particular? Say former Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, whose mixed legacy includes service to poor children and threats of death to police officers, and whose death in a blizzard of bullets in a 1969 raid remains an ugly stain on the reputation of local law enforcement?
Allen wouldn't bite on that question: "Fred Hampton, Jack Brickhouse, Hugh Hefner, I don't care," he said. "We shouldn't be in the business of deciding who gets a street sign."
Agreed. At least not the honorary ones.
But everyone now sputtering indignantly about Hampton's alleged lack of fitness for an honorary street should realize that our city is in no position to judge Hampton unworthy as long as we have a real street named for Italo Balbo, a Fascist general and leader of the Blackshirts under World War II Italian dictator and Nazi ally Benito Mussolini.
The Blackshirts did more than just talk about killing people. And Balbo himself was suspected in the 1923 murder of Rev. Giovanni Minzoni, an anti-Fascist priest. This suspicion "probably has some truth to it" in the view of Dominic Candelero of Chicago Heights, the executive director of the American-Italian Historical Association and author of "Italians in Chicago."
However, Candelero said, Chicago officials renamed 7th Street Balbo Drive in 1933 to honor Balbo's achievements as an aviator and his spectacular visit to the Century of Progress, not his fascism. Of course. Nobody's perfect.
But come on. If we don't take steps now to rename Balbo Drive for a more virtuous person of Italian descent--one of my readers suggested Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, who developed the first nuclear reactor while at the University of Chicago; I thought of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin--then we should cool it with the hand-wringing about Hampton and his unfortunate pronouncements. Nobody's perfect.
Ald. Allen, meanwhile, said he expects his no-more-signs proposal (I'd go further and take them all down) to die in committee again. Which is why he also introduced a second proposal Wednesday, this one requiring that all aldermanic requests for honorary street signs come with supportive documentation, such as biographies and summaries of achievements, "so at least we know who we're supposed to be honoring," he said.
What a guy! You don't suppose he's Italian, do you?
We were almost the center of the talk-show universe. Tuesday's appalling declaration by Cook County Judge Kerry Kennedy that an alleged gang-rape victim would either have to watch a video of the incident or face jail time for contempt of court had activists around the country in a full lather by Wednesday morning.
The woman testified to having no memory of the alleged attack shown on the 20-minute tape and refused to watch it. So we were looking at the prospect of a forced viewing--her eyelids at least metaphorically propped open to behold the horror--which reminded me and others of the darkly grotesque film "A Clockwork Orange" in which devices make it impossible for the main character to avoid watching scenes of disturbing violence.
Kennedy would have rightly been the nation's rhetorical whipping boy for days had he not backed down early Wednesday afternoon. Good for him, at last. And good for her for standing her ground. Tomorrow's victims owe her one.
Reader response to Judge Kennedy's first position was very strong and actually somewhat mixed, with some respondents contending that the defense attorneys should have every right to test the alleged victim's memory or lack thereof as she watched the videotape.