The making of Chicago's independent caucus

Joe Moore is entering the second year of his fifth term representing the 49th ward, which encompasses Rogers Park and portions of the Edgewater and West Ridge neighborhoods. An economically, racially and culturally diverse area, where pockets of poverty abut gentrifying blocks, Rogers Park continues to grapple with issues of crime and economic development.

Over the years, Moore has earned his status as the iconic "Lakefront Liberal" on the council by championing resolutions that put the City Council on record as opposing the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act. In 2006, he made national news by legislating the city's ban on foie gras.

The now 17-year veteran faced serious opposition in last year's aldermanic contest, and he narrowly beat his challenger, banking executive Don Gordon, in a run-off in April 2007. Throughout the campaign, Moore's critics charged that he was devoting too much time to championing national causes at the expense of projects in his ward.

Recently, Moore sat down with the Daily News to discuss the issues facing his ward, as well as city residents.

Q: You have been identified as one of the leaders of an emerging "independent caucus" on the Council. What exactly is this, and what kind of progress has it made so far?

It basically consists of those alderman who consider themselves more politically independent; in other words that will on occasion decide to differ with the mayor on a particular issue.

We have agreed to meet at least once before every city council meeting and we've also explored the possibility of securing funding to hire a staff person who will be able to do research and provide us with information that most legislative bodies have.

The hope is that we'd have a staff person that each of us could rely on for legislative issues--to analyze next year's budget, to explore what other cities are doing with respect to the budget or any other city policy issue. So, the long and short of it is that the progressive caucus is a work in progress.

Q: Have you actually hired a staff person yet?

No. By our nature we're very independent so right now we're trying to form a consensus as to who we should ask for money from and who we shouldn't. And then we still have to work out who this staff person would be accountable to. So, a lot of nuts and bolts that have to be worked through.

Q: Do all the freshmen belong to this progressive caucus?

A large number of them do. Many if not most of the freshmen who came in, came in defeating incumbents who were generally viewed as supporters of the Daley administration, and, almost all of them got elected without any real support from Mayor Daley. So, by that very nature, they're a little bit more free to think for themselves.

They are all to a person, in my opinion, a cut above the people they replaced.

Q: Have you seen significant evidence so far that they are willing to show an independent streak?

Well, there were 13 aldermen who voted against the mayor's budget. There were 21 aldermen who voted against the Mayor's property tax increase. So that was one of the largest bloc of aldermen voting against the mayor in a long time, with the exception of the living wage ordinance.

Q: With this new council do you have the votes for a veto- proof Big Box? Are there any plans to revive it?

Well, we're talking about it. I think there was a feeling that we wanted to work on some other issues first--score some early victories before we took on that battle, which was a very major battle. The short answer is this: I anticipate there will be another living wage ordinance introduced in the City Council. What form it takes, what areas it covers, is still a matter of discussion.

Q: What issues are coming up next on the caucus's agenda?

The Central Loop Tax Increment Financing District comes up for renewal. If we don't renew it, it expires, and that will be an interesting issue. I understand there is some talk [on the part of the city] about taking some money from the LaSalle Street TIF and funding some sort of venture by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or the Chicago Board of Trade. That will certainly be something we want to take a close look at. One of the issues the progressive caucus has been very involved in, in addition to the budget, is the issue of oversight of the police department and police misconduct cases and the new version of the Office of Professional Standards. We're going to continue to be very involved with that.

Q: Your faced some serious opposition in the 2007 election. Your opponents charged that you pay too much attention to city-wide and even nation-wide issues to the detriment of issues directly affecting your ward. Why do you think it's important to address those big-picture issues?

The decisions made downtown and also the decisions made in Washington directly affect the quality of life in Rogers Park.

Case in point, there are some people who said why I am sponsoring a resolution against the war in Iraq? The answer is quite simple: Because that war has cost the city of Chicago $4.8 billion, according to a nonpartisan organization called the National Priorities Project. They figured out that Chicago tax payers have funded the war to the tune of $4.8 billion dollar--that's the City of Chicago's share.

If you divide that by the number of wards, you have $96 million per ward. If you can think of what $96 million dollars would have done for our community. So, I believe it's incumbent upon all of us to not only make sure the potholes are filled--which we do--and the street lights are on--which we do--but also to make certain to speak out on these national issues that affect our quality of life.

Q: A recent housing study revealed that Rogers Park is losing affordable rental housing to rapid condo conversion. How do you plan to address what some see as uneven development in Rogers Park?

Right now the market itself has obviously addressed some of that. Nonetheless, you never know when the market might heat up again. One of the things we do is look whenever possible to try to create more affordable housing opportunities, so that we can continue to remain a diverse, mixed-income community.

Every major housing developer that comes and needs a zoning change has to set aside a certain percentage of units for affordable housing. We have a couple of TIFs in our neighborhood. Whenever anyone accesses TIF dollars they have to create affordable housing, if they're doing a residential development.

We've exceeded the city requirement. We've got one development that's under way--a development that's on the southeast corner of Sheridan and North Shore, where they're accessing TIF dollars to rehabilitate their building. In return for getting those TIF dollars they have to maintain their building as a rental building and a large percentage--almost all of the units--are affordable to low and moderate income people. There's another development that's a little bit earlier on in the stages, but they too will have to maintain their rental housing stock.

We've also worked really hard to maintain the affordable rental housing that we have now.

Q: What do you see as the top three challenges facing the 49th ward in next few years and how do you plan to address these issues?

Overall, it is how can we preserve and embrace the new development that's coming to our neighborhood but make sure that the improvements that development brings serve the people who live here now. How can we continue to preserve our economic, racial and cultural diversity in the face of development pressures.

How can we continue to improve our commercial districts, but do that in a way that does not overheat the residential market and cause unchecked gentrification. I see that as the biggest challenge facing us.

They all kind of spin out of that one. Obviously, we want to continue to build on the progress we've made in making the 49th ward a safer place in which to live. We still have more work to do on that. We'll continue to work closely with the police and encourage participation in CAPS meetings as well as continue to encourage the kind of responsible development that will help to lower the crime rate.

Obviously education is another key component: continue to improve on progress we've made in our schools. The test scores in the schools have gone up; the quality of the schools has continued to increase, but there's much more work to be done. Obviously continuing to use our office as a resource to help principals and local school councils get the resources they need to continue to make improvements in local schools is another one of my priorities.

Q: Which accomplishments of your 17-year city council career do you take most pride in?

.Probably the accomplishment I'm most proud of here in the 49th ward is our battle to secure funding for the Gale Park Community Center, which is set to open in the next few months. It's not easy obtaining funding for these things. It took a lot of work, and there were a lot of setbacks on the way, but we ultimately prevailed.

I'm very proud of the role I played in bringing the Gateway Shopping Center to Rogers Park, and as a result bringing a full-service grocery store to the neighborhood, a neighborhood that had been without a full-service grocery story for quite a number of years. In addition to the retail amenities, it created a number of jobs for community residents.

The third thing that comes to mind is the role I played in bringing community policing, not only to the 24th Police District, but also to the city of Chicago. I was a very strong and early proponent of community policing. You can put that down both as a city-wide accomplishment as well as an accomplishment for the ward. We were one of the first areas of the city to have a community policing project. I do believe I played a role in bringing community policing to the city of Chicago.

Q: So far, the ban on foie gras has survived a court challenge. Do you expect it to survive the efforts of its opponents in the council?

Those efforts look like they've kind of gone on the back burner so far. The ordinances were introduced amid some fanfare, but there has been very little action taking place since then. I hope that will remain the case.

I think that most people realize that this was an important statement against cruelty and that the city of Chicago was on the right side of that issue. And, that there are other issues now that we're focusing our attention, and that the ordinance should be allowed to stand.

Q: What do you think about aldermen taking campaign contributions from developers?

If you're going to do that, you need to have a very transparent process for making land use decisions where the community is involved in the process.

I've set up a zoning committee--the 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Committee--that meets on a monthly basis...any land use issue that comes before me is fully vetted by the committee and records of the meetings are posted on-line. We have a community meeting at least once, if not several times, before any decision is implemented. No approval is given without substantial community support.



Did the reporter ask the other progressive council members their thoughts on Joe and his independence?

Why'd he break rank and vote in favor of the Real Estate Transfer tax?

Or why he hasn't updated his ZULAC meetings since October '07?

Joe Moore is a machine hack who will lie, cheat and steal. Unfortunately, this reporter bought his crap, hook line and sinker.