The Chicago City Council will vote Wednesday on the Chicago Children's Museum move to Grant Park. Mayor Richard M. Daley has cause for confidence, since the Council, like the Chicago Plan Commission, is a Daley production. Almost half of the current aldermen owe their seat to mayoral appointment. As political analyst and former 44th ward alderman Dick Simpson has noted, 25 of the city's 50 alderman have NEVER cast so much as a single dissenting vote against any administration proposal.
Elsewhere, after this blog reported that the Chicago Children's Museum falsified support of the Lyric Opera of Chicago in a full-page ad it ran in last Sunday's Tribune, Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin reported in his Skyline blog that the ad's listing of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology was also bogus. Kamin quoted the College's Dean, Donna Robertson, as stating that the letter she wrote endorsing CCM's plan represented her personal endorsement, not the support of the school, something she also confirmed for me in a voicemail she left on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Art Institute of Chicago wrote me that the museum's listing in the CCM ad was also in error. Like Robertson, Art Institute President James Cuno wrote a personal letter supporting the CCM's move, which in the CCM's ethics-free world, was apparently enough to add the Art Institute itself to the list of supporters in their ad. A broadcast on WBEZ referenced a number of similar cases of fictitious listings
Normally you'd think the support of luminaries like Donna Robertson and James Cuno would be more than enough, but not for CCM. Its battle plan depends on fabrication of the appearance of a wide public support that doesn't exist. Like all those that preceded it, a viewer poll by NBC5 last week showed overwhelming opposition - about 80% - to the Children's Museum's Grant Park land grab by the over 3,000 viewers responding.
As much as the damage to Grant Park and the decimation of the court rulings that have provided it protection for over a century and a half, the permanent debasement of public discourse will be a disastrous after-effect of a Children's Museum victory. Naively, perhaps, I've always thought of our cultural institutions as the custodians of Chicago's better nature. I would never have imagined that such an institution - and for the moment let's be kind and include the CCM among them - would conduct a public campaign built out of deliberate deception, withholding of information, race-baiting, gutter politics, and an almost pathological proclivity for telling lie after lie. If the CCM prevails, this type of campaign will become the new norm, one that institutions will ignore only at their peril. It will longer be Daniel Burnham who has set the standard for civic debate in Chicago, but Karl Rove.
The opponents of the incursion need to put together a document that would detail all the various projects in each alderman's ward which could possibly go through if the right of aldermanic privilege goes the way of the Dodo.
A reminder of what could happen on their turf if a precedent is set might sway some of these spineless "weather vanes."
Unless the aldermen and alderwomen collectively grow a pair, this one will have to be corrected in the courts.
I can respect that many people like the idea of the CCM in Grant Park. That's a worthy debate. But it's very sad to see an institution like the CCM resort to lies and deceit to try and show a certain level of public support that evidently doesn't exist. And there will be no accountablity for the CCM for this latest scandal.
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