Bipartisanship Lives

You still hear the word, and it remains a kind of ideal, a word meant to win approval for arguments, policies, proposals.  ”This has bipartisan support.” “These figures come from the bipartisan office of….”  But the way Washington acts, the way Springfield acts, we often wonder if bipartisanship is just a word for a lost art, a word for something dead or rapidly dying.  That’s what makes the recent endorsements of Rick Guzman and his run for Aurora mayor so heartening.

Guzman-Endorsement

That’s Mayor Tom Weisner, Democrat, on the left (Rick Guzman’s right).  Guzman served Weisner as assistant chief of staff before Weisner stepped down late last year for health reasons.  He’s been Guzman’s mentor and encouraged him to run, so you would expect that endorsement, but the man on the right is Chris Lauzen, Kane County Board Chairman, and a Republican.  The two senior statesmen of their respective parties. Guzman has built the most impressive bipartisan support for his campaign, support founded on dozens and dozens of projects, boards, events, and proposals where he’s been able to bring diverse perspectives into a room to work together. The office of mayor is particularly suited to this kind of work.  In “If Mayors Ruled the World,” I quoted Fiorello LaGuardia’s famous comment that “There’s no Democrat or Republican way to fix a sewer.”

guzman-for-aurora“This is a time for politics to give way to progress,” Lauzen said in his endorsement.  He also noted Guzman’s gentle, inclusive style, contrasting someone who reaches out to you rather than shouts at you.  ”If someone shouts at you, my first inclination is to shout back. Rick doesn’t do that.”  Reporter Denise Crosby has characterized Guzman’s mayoral opponent, Richard Irvin, as more “focused and intense,” as opposed to Guzman’s more laid back style.  In endorsing Guzman, the Daily Herald noted that Guzman represented a decidedly different style among the four major candidates who were then running in the primary election.  ”But we like it,” the paper said.  So this race for mayor is also about style, a subject I will consider more fully in “On Political Style” (a link goes live soon).

In his remarks, Tom Weisner said recruiting Rick Guzman to work for him “was one of the best decisions I ever made.”  And he also noted that one of the first projects he gave him was to work with the Aurora Housing Authority on its controversial plan to “rehab” Jericho Circle.  Guzman has been most noted recently for his work on rebuilding Aurora’s downtown with projects like the new Aurora Arts Center, where he leveraged $500,000 of city funds into $35,000,000 of development commitments, a 70 to 1 return on investment.  Opponents have suggested that Guzman is more interested in Aurora’s downtown than in its neighborhoods, but the St. Charles Hospital project he shepherded makes great strides in stabilizing one of Aurora’s poorer neighborhoods, and his work to block the AHA’s Jericho Circle project resulted in a scattered-site housing plan that benefited both the AHA and the families—especially the children—that had been living in a neighborhood that had failed them for decades.  I will report on this more fully in “Balancing Downtowns and Neighborhoods” (a link goes live soon).

At the end of the news conference where Weisner and Lauzen endorsed him, Rick Guzman noted that it was International Women’s Day, and also thanked Marilyn Weisner, Sarah Lauzen, and Desiree Guzman.  ”I’ve gone to Marilyn when I needed advice different from yours,” he said with a sly nod to the mayor, “and none of us would be up here today without the wisdom, advice and support of these strong women.”

 Go to the Lead Post on this site for articles and videos on Rick Guzman’s campaign, and to the Guzman for Aurora website.

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A “Sleeping Beauty” To Stabilize a Neighborhood

StChasHospital2cThe old St. Charles Hospital on New York St. in Aurora had been vacant since 2010, ironically the year it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.  Then in early 2016 Mayor Tom Weisner put together a team to bring the historic art deco building back to life. The project was shepherded through the city ranks by Rick Guzman, assistant chief of staff.  David Block, director of development for Evergreen Real Estate Group, praised Guzman, saying he “has been a testament to the way this project has worked from the very beginning.”  That is: collaboratively, with many entities coming together in complex, complementary ways.  Rick Guzman, running for Aurora mayor this year (go to the Guzman for Aurora website and see the link below), is the only candidate who has demonstrated the ability to understand and lead people through such complexities that help turn visions into realities.

Rick-StChas2

Steve Lord, writing in the Aurora Beacon-News reports that, “Block remembered how many wondered if the vision he had for renovating the building really was clear… ‘Maybe it’s because I’m an architect, but I like walking through creepy old buildings,’ he said. ‘There were puddles of water on the floors, and you could hear the dripping of water leaking in from the roof. There were creaking noises, because windows were open and the wind was blowing pieces around…There was a hallway that had an abandoned wheelchair in it, turned in just that horror movie kind of way…outside, there was a doll’s head, just sitting there.’”

Now the $24 million dollar project has turned the crumbling building into beautiful and much-needed senior housing.  “The rehabilitation project has,” says Guzman, “restored an historic building to the requirements of the National Register, created 60 construction jobs for local companies, and will help stabilize an economically distressed neighborhood.” Already the pride of that neighborhood, McCarty-Burlington, is palpable.  ”Everybody was so, so happy,” said Ald. Juany Garza, in whose ward it is. “This is a gem. It’s so beautiful, and it’s in our neighborhood.”

Designed by Wybe J. Van der Meer, the former hospital was completed in 1932.  It’s rehab was a private-public partnership, the kind which interim mayor Bob O’Connor calls “the wave of the future.”

It required putting together a multi-layered mix of funding and tax credits.  Lord reports that “the financing and tax credits for the project were cobbled together by a collaborative effort from Seize the Future Development Foundation, the Northern Lights Development Corporation, Verigreen Development and Mayor Tom Weisner’s office…Evergreen Real Estate Group collaborated with Invest Aurora, the Northern Lights Development Corporation, the city of Aurora, the Illinois Housing Development Authority and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, along with several private lenders and investors…to fund the $24 million rehabilitation…About $3 million was obtained through the River Edge Redevelopment Zone program, created in 2006 to spur riverfront development in several Illinois cities…The balance of the project’s development StChasHospital2bcost was covered by a combination of federal historic tax credits and low-income housing tax credits allocated by the state and private financing… ‘Our extensive knowledge of available tax credits and alternative forms of financing allowed us to move forward with a project that otherwise would not have been feasible,’ said Block. ‘It’s a true public-private partnership that shows what can be accomplished when various stakeholders in a community work together toward a common goal.’”

The timing had to be just right, too.  It depended upon Verigreen Development getting all work done before the end of 2016 or else certain tax credits would have expired.  “At that point,” Guzman said, “The rest of the $16 million in private funding also would likely be lost.”  But it wasn’t and the first residents started moving in in December.  Of the picture to the left—the one with the arrow pointing to Guzman at the opening ceremonies—Rick said, “This might have been the 8th or 9th time the story made the front page of the Beacon-News.”  And why not?  In the end, it costed tax payers virtually nothing—not a miracle, but the result of intelligent, complex financing.  And Mayor Weisner, who had always seen the building as a “Sleeping Beauty,” saw it experience a kind of fairy tale ending.

 Go to the Lead Post on this site for more on Rick Guzman’s mayoral run.

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Our Kids

Our Kids bookIn his latest book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam deepens and makes even more personal a theme he has worked on for decades: how our increasingly fragmented, isolated lives are endangering the very essence of the American dream, a dream of equality, opportunity, and civic engagement.

In Democracy in America—that remarkably prescient and fertile book about the United States—Alexis de Tocqueville remarked about the American passion for meeting to discuss issues, and linked those discussions to a sense of trust and equality pervading the social fabric.  Those observations became the basis of the term “social capital,” which began to circulate roughly 50 years after de Tocqueville, in 1840, published the second volume of his seminal work on America.  In the 60’s Jane Jacobs, the great writer on American cities, used the term to highlight the importance of “social networks”—more actual, embodied, engaged ones—long before Facebook made it our less embodied thing of the day.  But probably no one popularized the term more than Putnam did with his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, published in 2000 and based on his 1995 essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” where he argued that since the 1960’s our society has undergone a collapse of social and associational life, a draining of our “social capital” leading to disastrous consequences for our civic and political life.

On this site I have written much on our growing inequality and division, including our unprecedented growth in income disparity.  (See the links below.)  I have noted Bill Bishop’s book called The Big Sort, which analyses how we are segregating ourselves into increasingly like-minded neighborhoods, extraordinarily lacking in diversity of persons and ideas.  My son Rick Guzman’s provocative monograph An Argument for a Return to Plessy vs. Ferguson details immense disparities in educational resources.

Robert Putnam

Robert Putnam

Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, published in 2016, details the immense and growing disparity in opportunity.  And opportunity is perhaps at the very heart of the American dream, a thing even more basic than equality and civic engagement, the thing these actually exist to serve.  He does so by focusing on his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, specifically in 1959, just before America’s social capital began to collapse.

“No single town or city could possibly represent all of America, and Port Clinton in the 1950s was hardly paradise,” he writes, admitting that, “As in the rest of America at the time, minorities …suffered serious discrimination and women were frequently marginalized.”  “Few of us,” he says, “would want to return there without major reforms. But social class was not a major constraint on opportunity.”  It’s radically different today.  “When our gaze shifts to Port Clinton in the twenty-first century…the opportunities facing rich kids and poor kids today…are radically disparate. Port Clinton today is a place of stark class divisions, where (according to school officials) wealthy kids park BMW convertibles in the high school lot next to decrepit junkers that homeless classmates drive away each night to live.”

In the New York Times Book Review, Jason DeParle writes, “Robert D. Putnam is technically a Harvard social scientist, but a better description might be poet laureate of civil society.”  That civility, which Putnam has celebrated and pined over in so many essays and books is probably based fundamentally on a hunger for opportunity, for that chance to be equal so we can have time and reason for civic engagement.  Though finally somewhat hopeful, as a poet laureate of civil society is prone to be, we hope that Our Kids isn’t a chronicle of the death of this opportunity.

For More:
Watch a Chicago Tonight Interview with Putnam, where you can also read an excerpt from the book.

Go to Rick Guzman’s monograph An Argument for a Return to Plessy vs. Ferguson, and to my “A Return to Plessy vs. Ferguson?” where I give some historical background on the seminal Supreme Court case.

Go to a short video on Emmanuel House featuring Stephen Caliendo, who references Putnam’s idea of “social capital.”  Learn more about Emmanuel House, co-founded by Rick Guzman.  It has helped dozens of families move out of poverty, and in 2016 was named one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world.

Go to “Not As Divided As We Seem?” for more on Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort, among other things, and to “Graphic Inequality,” which contains stunning visual representations of America’s enormous and growing wealth disparity.

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