Chicago Blog

The owners of the United Center have revealed that they'll develop the surface parking lots surrounding the property.

United Center

The following excerpts come from coverage that appeared in Chicago newspapers on July 23 2024.

Sun-Times: " . . . the ownership group said there's no plan to request city funding or tax increment financing."

Tribune: ". . . the developers will explore the possibility of tapping into a neighboring tax increment financing district."

Place your bets.

In a recent Chicago Tribune opinion piece, the Invisible Institute's Jamie Kalven expanded on a February 22 face-off between two Chicago public safety officials.

In the surprise exchange—captured on audio—police superintendent Larry Snelling challenged the methods of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, headed by Andrea Kersten.

"Nothing would do more," Kalven wrote, "to correct misperceptions on the part of community members and officers about the nature of the [police] reform effort than to have more public exchanges such as this one."

Since August of 2022, over 19,000 migrants have come from the U.S. southern border to Chicago—thousands of whom are now camped out in the city's police stations and airports.

Migrants residing at a North Side police station
in November. Photo by Dave Glowacz.

According to the city of Chicago, most the migrants have come from Venezuela. What caused them to flee their homeland?

A recent report from the Great Cities Institute of the University of Iliinois at Chicago gives some clues.

The report is titled, "The Current Migrant Crisis: How U.S. Policy Toward Latin America Has Fueled Historic Numbers of Asylum Seekers." Its author, Juan González, is a senior research fellow at the institute—and a co-host of the long-running "Democracy Now!" news broadcast.

In these excerpts from the 17-page report, González describes the U.S. government's economic pressures on the nation of Venezuela:

"In late 2014 President Obama signed an executive order—not publicly released until March 2015—in which he declared that conditions in Venezuela had become a national emergency and an 'extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.' The order never spelled out exactly how a small South American country hundreds of miles away, with a standing army of only 100,000 troops, could suddenly become a threat to world’s most powerful nation. Nonetheless, Obama launched a series of economic sanctions against Venezuela."

"His successor Donald Trump followed in 2017 with even broader sanctions which closed off Venezuela's access to Western debt financing, forced many U.S. and foreign companies to leave the country, and crippled its oil industry, the Venezuelan government’s main source of revenue. Trump even froze the assets in 2019 of CITGO Petroleum, a U.S. company that is wholly owned by Venezuela’s state oil company. CITGO’s refineries and gas stations in the U.S. are enormously valuable. In 2022 they generated . . . more than $2.8 billion in profit, but Trump’s actions effectively prevented any of that money from reaching the Venezuelan government and its people."

"Meanwhile, the White House joined with the United Kingdom to freeze Venezuelan gold reserves stored in the Bank of England worth an estimated $2 billion."

"The effect of these massive U.S. sanctions caused the Venezuelan state to lose between $17 billion and $31 billion in oil revenues between 2017 and 2020. Given that Venezuela normally imports 90 percent of its pharmaceuticals and 70 percent of its food, the loss of such a vast quantity of U.S. dollars from its shrinking oil exports has crippled its economy."

The Chicago Headline Club has bestowed a coveted journalism award to Inside Chicago Government reporter Dave Glowacz and the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky for their 2022 coverage of the Chicago City Council.

Lisagor plaque

In its 46th Annual Peter Lisagor Awards event held on May 12, the Headline Club honored Glowacz and Joravsky for having the year's "Best Feature Reporting Series" in an audio format.

Throughout 2022, Glowacz distilled recordings of countless council proceedings into a handful of tightly curated audio capsules. He then sat down with Joravsky to listen and react to the most revealing City Council moments. The result: a monthly audio collage that gave Chicago residents unique samplings of their legislators at work.

Glowacz and Joravsky previously won a Lisagor for uncovering a secret "do not hire" list used by Chicago Public Schools.

The Chicago Headline Club is the local chapter of the national, 114-year-old Society of Professional Journalists.

Rich Miller of Capitol Fax wrote this in a column that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on Aug. 25, 2019:

For decades, all four caucuses [of the Ill. General Assembly] have offered the same basic career ladder to select employees: Work immensely hard during [the legislative] session, then bust your hump during campaigns, then eventually supervise campaigns, then become a lobbyist and oversee multiple campaigns every cycle. It's basically the foundation of the contract lobbying system in Springfield.

(Updated on 12 December 2018)

Recently, one of our Facebook followers responded to my article on the origin of Lincoln Yards and the associated tax-increment financing (TIF) district, writing:

"What is missing from publicly disclosed documents are estimates for the amount tax revenue that this project can be expected to generate over the 23-year (more if it's extended) life of the TIF . . . How much in property taxes beyond the estimated $800M for proposed infrastructure improvements that would go into a discretionary (slush) fund under the control of the mayor?"

City infrastructure spending
Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development estimates,
totaling $700M, of infrastructure spending in the
Cortland/Chicago River TIF district.
Source: city of Chicago's 11/14/18 public meeting.

The one thing—and the only thing—we know about the estimated tax revenue from publicly disclosed documents is the amount: $800 million. This figure comes from a FAQ sheet distributed by the Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development at its Nov. 14, 2018 public meeting on the Cortland/Chicago River TIF district.

I think the writer's larger implication is correct: The city has not provided any material to show on what it based that estimate.

Presumably, planning department analysts looked at the potential 23-year life of the proposed TIF district and did the following.

  1. Estimate the number, size, density, and uses of all the buildings that might get built.
  2. Assign an equalized assessed value (EAV) of all the properties identified in #1, for each year of the TIF district's life. Sum them over all the years.
  3. Identify the EAV of all the properties present at the TIF district's inception. Multiply that by the number of years of the TIF district's life.
  4. To get the total tax increment accumulated by the district, subtract #3 from #4 and multiply by the tax rate.

LY land use
Sterling Bay's 11/29/18 update of the proposed Lincoln
Yards building layout. Source: Sterling Bay.

The city hasn't disclosed any of that. Planning department officials did, however, show how they'd spend up to $700 million of the estimated total TIF take (see "Key Public Infrastructure Needs" above).

Some clues about the calculations appear in the TIF district's redevelopment agreement—a document that planning officials said at the Nov. 14 meeting they'd release "in three weeks," but that the city's Web site revealed on Dec. 12.

Another wrinkle: The Lincoln Yards development will comprise an estimated two-fifths of the TIF district. The developer of Lincoln Yards, Sterling Bay, has not made publicly available a detailed list of the projected number, size, density, and uses of all the buildings in Lincoln Yards. Though an enterprising researcher could extrapolate some (or much) of it from the aerial renderings that Sterling Bay's presented at a Nov. 29 public meeting, no one has tried . . . yet.

After the recent resignation of Forrest Claypool as head of Chicago Public Schools, one might ask: Why was he hired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the first place?

One insight into the Claypool-Emanuel relationship comes from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In late 2008, an FBI wiretap recorded then-Congressman Emanuel mentioning Claypool in a telephone call with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The FBI had wiretapped Blagojevich's telephones to gather evidence for the subsequent prosecution of Blagojevich.

Although a detailed transcript of the phone call didn't surface until Blagojevich's 2011 corruption trial, the conversation was first revealed by Blagojevich himself.

In his 2009 memoir The Governor (Phoenix Books), Blagojevich describes how Emanuel, who in November, 2008 had just been appointed chief of staff by the newly-elected Barack Obama, wanted the governor's help to "appoint a congressman who was going to keep the [5th Congressional district] seat warm" for Emanuel.

The "purpose of [Emanuel's] call," Blagojevich writes, "was to see whether or not l would be willing to work with him and appoint a successor to his congressional seat who he would have designated to be a placeholder and hold the seat for him when he sought to return to Congress in two years." When Blagojevich questioned the legality of such a move, Emanuel said "that his lawyers thought there was a way where the governor might be able to make an appointment."

Blagojevich was reluctant to help Emanuel, he says, because "if I helped appoint a congressman who was going to keep the seat warm for him, then I was going to make a lot of people who wanted to be congressman unhappy with me."

The fact that it was Claypool whom Emanuel wanted as his seat-warmer didn't come to light until two years later, in June, 2011—in a federal-court filing by Blagojevich's lawyers during the legal proceeding against him.

The filing contained the FBI's transcript of the phone conversation between Emanuel and Blagojevich.

In the call, Emanuel says that "all of a sudden, all the aldermen and committeemen" wanted to take Emanuel's congressional seat as he left for the White House.

"Forrest Claypool, bizarrely," Emanuel says, "would like to be considered, and he says he only wants to do it for, like, one term or two max."

Claypool didn't make it to Congress. But Emanuel, after becoming mayor, appointed him to successive positions as Chicago Transit Authority president, mayoral chief of staff, and finally CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

The federal government never released an audio version of Emanuel's phone call with Blagojevich. However, Inside Chicago Government has created an exclusive audio reenactment: Find it in the premium version of the interview titled "Rahm fired up about—but wouldn't fire—Forrest Claypool."

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about Ben's recent radio experience. Ben and Dave explore how journalists develop trust with the people they interview—including how and when to call bullshit.

Dave and Ben discuss Ben's technique for interviewees who duck the question; Ben's growing reluctance to write direct quotes; and whether Ben gives former Gov. Pat Quinn a pass on Quinn's actions—compared to those of Gov. Bruce Rauner. Length 6.1 minutes standard, 24 minutes premium.

Music: "Outta Tune" by Poly Action

Standard audio:

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Article: "How Bruce Rauner is trying to cripple the Democratic Party" (Chicago Reader)

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about conditions at the Reader after its acquisition by a group of investors.

Dave and Ben discuss the history of Reader ownership; whether the Reader's new owners have figured out how to turn a profit; and how wealthy and powerful owners have affected Reader journalism. Length 5.7 minutes standard, 10 minutes premium.

Music: "Machine" by Mercury and the Architects

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Article: "And now, in local news . . ." (Chicago Reader)

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about the the Reader staff's attempt at a collective bargaining agreement in the face of the paper's impending sale.

Dave and Ben discuss the impact on Reader staff of Wrapports' proposed sale; the attrition of Chicago newspapers; and which newspapers have historically provided an independent voice. Length 5.1 minutes standard, 10 minutes premium.

Music: "Seeing the Bigger Picture" by Big Mean Sound

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Article: "Tronc will likely be Sun-Times's new owner. And the Reader?" (Chicago Reader)

Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about Ben's new talk-radio program, "The Ben Joravsky Show," on Chicago's WCPT-AM.

Dave and Ben discuss how the show is the culimation of a lifetime of radio listening; the characteristics of the radio station's left-leaning audience; and synergies between Ben's broadcast and print material. Length 5.7 minutes standard, 16 minutes premium.

Music: "Breakup Breakdown" by Cullah

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The original version of our Nov. 17, 2016 interview with Ben Joravsky, "Trump and transit: Rahm railroads Red Line appeal," contained an error.

Reporter Dave Glowacz said that the city's consultant estimated that the Red Purple Modernization Phase 1 TIF district will generate $17.6 billion in tax-increment revenue. That was incorrect.

The consultant's report says that the district will create a total increase in properties' equalized assessed valuation (EAV) of about $17.6 billion over 35 years.

To calculate the amount of tax revenue associated with the total EAV, multiply by the county's current tax rate, .0687 (6.876 percent), by the EAV in each year of the district's 35 years.

That yields a very rough estimate, as the county's tax rate changes year to year.

We've corrected the audio tracks for the interview.


Staff of the Chicago Reader last year became unionized members of the Chicago News Guild—and since then have been in contract negotiations with the owners of the Chicago Sun-Times.

In the talks, Reader writer Ben Joravsky has emerged as a face of the negotiations—a role he says he didn't expect, nor did he want. That's one subject of this audio interview with Joravsky by Dave Glowacz.

Dave and Ben also discuss Joravsky's role in the bargaining unit; the contentious issues that have prevented a contract agreement; and the dilemma facing activist journalists. Length 6 minutes standard, 30.5 minutes premium.

Music: "Space Girlfriend" by The Dirty Moogs

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Article: "Don't think of the Reader's public appeal as a negotiating gimmick" (Chicago Reader)

Article: "Help us win the fight for the Reader: its bold writing must be saved" (

St Louis vs Chi bike lane
St. Louis vs. Chicago bike lane: What's wrong with this picture?

When Bicycling magazine named Chicago as 2016's most bicycle-friendly U.S. city, the news was soon followed by our town's fifth bicycling fatality this year.

That got me thinking about the unfriendly side of Chi biking: the hundreds of bike crashes, whereby bikers gets hurt, that occur each year.

Take, for example, my housemate's recent bicycle crash: She got doored in a Chicago bike lane. The resulting injury required knee surgery. What's more, it was her second dooring—and her second knee surgery. The first time, seven years ago, she injured the other knee.

Years ago, when I started to teach traffic cycling, I taught my students to ride on the left side of bike lanes—to avoid what I and others began calling "the door zone." At the time, it seemed like teaching a child to use a kitchen knife: You had to learn it, because bike lanes—like big, sharp knives—were inherently dangerous. Why? Because the city often installed bike lanes just to the left of parked cars, so the right two-thirds of a bike lane put bikers on a collision course with opening car doors.

Over the years, in my role as bicycling author and instructor, Chicago bikers told me countless "dooring" stories. One gal I met could not recall her dooring crash; she remembered biking carefully (or so she thought) down Halsted, and the next moment she was waking up in a hospital bed, her skull fractured. Not surprisingly, she said she couldn't bring herself to bicycle again.

At some point, Chicago bike planners got the memo: The city began using a bike lane design that includes a striped buffer next to parked cars, showing bikers where not to ride. Unfortunately, many miles of "unbuffered" legacy lanes are still out there.

I just got back from visiting St. Louis with my bicycle. To my wonder, most of the lanes I saw had a buffer in the door zone. What's more, these lanes looked old. Many of Chicago's buffered bike lanes, in contrast, look relatively new—reflecting the recent innovation that they are.

While biking around in view of the Mississippi River and the Arch, I thought about these two Midwestern cities: St. Louis, with its unheralded but cannily safe, buffered bike lanes; and Chicago, with its shiny, new Bicycling magazine award.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is surely proud of getting the "most bike-friendly city" prize. But no one in the Emanuel administration (or at Bicycling magazine, for that matter) is talking about the fact that many Chicago bike lanes are a set-up: The lanes lure credulous cyclists with the appearance of safety, while they actually place bikers in danger that's both predictable and ongoing.

The mayor and his factotums like to brag about how many miles of new, "protected" bike lanes the city is paying for each year. Why not put that effort on hold—and, instead, spend the money on fixing Chicago's legacy lanes, all of which are crashes waiting to happen?

It won't win Rahm any awards—which maybe is why it won't happen any time soon.


On August 25, 2015, Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary School, addressed a meeting of the City Club of Chicago. This is an excerpt from a video of the meeting, courtesy of the City Club.

LaRaviere likened the administration of Chicago Public Schools to "a thief stealing your rent money, then attempting to convince you that the landlord is your problem." Length 7.2 minutes.

Standard audio:

Rahm Emanuel's reelection campaign has put out a video ad in which a sweater-clad mayor "owns" that he "can rub people the wrong way." Here's an audio version (2.3 minutes) showing what else some think Emanuel should have owned:

Music: "Ego Grinding" by Megatroid

Standard audio:

Here's the original 30-second ad:

Standard audio:

Rahm Emanuel's reelection campaign has put out a radio ad in which Pres. Barack Obama urges Chicagoans to vote for Rahm. Here's what some have suggested Obama meant to say:

Standard audio:

Here's the original 60-second ad:

Standard audio:

We recently got the following from a staff person with a non-governmental organization in Chicago.

"My coworkers and I had been trying to track down the contact information for Rahm Emanuel's reelection campaign.

"For all the other mayoral campaigns, we were able to find mailing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses within the first hour of looking. Within the second hour we generally had the names and direct contact information of their campaign managers and schedulers.

"We noticed that Rahm's campaign Web site provided no contact information whatsoever. Not a mailing address, not a phone number, not an e-mail address. Curious, right?

"We did tons of Google searches, drawing blanks. No information anywhere on the Web about where this campaign office is, or how to reach it. I was dumbfounded.

"So I contacted three aldermen with whom I have relationships to see what advice they'd have, and I asked if they could help poke around to find a phone number or mailing address. No dice.

"Then I had a brainstorm: the Chicago Board of Elections. They would have to know, right? When I called, the guy said they 'don't deal with that' and redirected me to the City Hall info line.

"So I called City Hall. The person there redirected me to the fifth floor. The fifth floor placed me on hold for five minutes, then finally gave me a number to Rahm's 'field office,' 312/854-3074.

"I called the field office. The number rang endlessly. No voicemail. After allowing the phone to ring for literally five minutes, a staffer picked up. She was willing to provide a mailing address and general inquiry e-mail address for the campaign. It's This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., if you're wondering.

"Taking advantage of finding a real live human on the phone, I mentioned to her that Emanuel's campaign Web site doesn't provide any contact info, and I said that, as a result, the campaign is nearly impossible to reach.

"She said, 'Yes, that's correct, it is.'

"And ended the call."

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