January 31, 2007
CANDIDTATES RIP 45TH WARD AS "SODOM AND GOMORRAH"

ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART

The less-than-objective critics of Alderman Pat Levar are convinced that the 45th Ward is going to hell in a hand basket and that it has become the equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Biblical cities destroyed by the sinfulness of their inhabitants.

According to Levar's Feb. 27 aldermanic foes, the Milwaukee Avenue corridor between Montrose Avenue and Agatite Avenue, which until recently housed the V.I.P. Salon and Day Spa, where prostitution allegedly flourished, is a veritable sin strip, with bars and pornographic videos.

"It's a strip of undesirable businesses," said Terry Boyke, Levar's former aide. "It's a disgusting situation," said Bob Bank. "It's an example of inept and corrupt aldermanic leadership," added Anna Klocek.

But the most telling observation came from Paul Tsakiris, the owner of the building at 4422 N. Milwaukee Ave., the site of the V.I.P. Salon: "He is allowing whorehouses to dominate the area," Tsakiris said. "I tried to evict my tenant, but he did nothing to help. The case was pending for 2 years. It was only after Boyke began picketing the site that they moved out. Boyke did more in 2 weeks than Levar did in 2 years."  Boyke organized pickets in front of the salon, which attracted attention and television cameras. That, plus the seizure of cameras which were used to tape sex acts, effectively ended the business.

 "Levar got the Charybdis Multi-Arts Complex (at 4423 N. Milwaukee), where there was alleged nudity, closed within 3 months, but he couldn't close massage parlors where there is prostitution," Banks said. "That's unacceptable."

"I worked as fast as I could," Levar said. "They hired lawyers. They demanded a jury trial." Levar noted that the original license in 2004 was for a therapeutic massage parlor, that it was closed in 2005 for morals violations, and that it reopened in 2005 under new ownership. Levar wants to change the law to ban such businesses within 500 feet of a school or church. "The solution is simple," Boyke said. "Include all commercial property under 'special use' restrictions. That means the Zoning Board of Appeals makes all decisions, not the alderman. It gives time to investigate."

Levar, age 56, was first elected alderman in 1987 with 54.5 percent of the vote, and he was re-elected in 1991 with 82 percent, in 1995 (68.6 percent), in 1999 (unopposed) and in 2003 (65 percent). He is chairman of the City Council Aviation committee, which oversees airport operations. He will spend $150,000 on his 2007 re-election, he got more than 8,000 signatures on his nominating petitions, and he has at least four workers in each of the ward's 53 precincts. Levar is a contender to succeed the late Tom Lyons as ward Democratic committeeman, and he says he is a "24/7 service alderman."  Nevertheless, there is "Levar fatigue" in the ward, and he could lose.

The 45th Ward, encompassing Portage Park, Gladstone Park, Jefferson Park, Forest Glen and part of Mayfair and extending from Irving Park Road to Nagle Avenue along Milwaukee Avenue, is undergoing significant demographic and generational change. In the past 4 years, there has been a population turnover of at least 15 percent, with families replacing older residents. There's a huge Polish immigrant population around Saint Edward and Saint Constance parishes, a growing Hispanic presence in Mayfair, and many Asians. Housing values are $500,000 and up in Portage Park, and $300,000 and up elsewhere.

"The new people coming into the ward are intelligent and independent-minded," Boyke said. "They expect to have a competent alderman, and they won't back Levar."

"I am running to bring respect, honesty and accountability to the alderman's office," Klocek said. "We don't have that now."

The ward has 30,666 registered voters, and Levar's base vote is in the 7,000 to 8,000 range. He got 8,667 votes in 2003, and his two foes got a combined 4,736 votes, in a turnout of 13,403. Levar will finish first on Feb. 27, but will he get a majority to avoid an April runoff?  The combined Boyke-Bank-Klocek vote must exceed 8,000, in a turnout of less than 16,000, to force a runoff.

There are four major issues:

(l) Commercial development: Boyke, Levar's aide for 6 years, said the ward's "whole business district is a shambles. There's plenty of payday loans, dollar stores and dirty restaurants, but no development." Bank said there is "pay to play" on Milwaukee Avenue, and that developers must make contributions to Levar.

The alderman, however, boasts that the ward has seen construction of a Jewel-Osco, an Ace Hardware, a Marshalls and new restaurants at Six Corners, a CVS pharmacy at Lawrence-Milwaukee and a Senior Suites on Northwest Highway, and expansion at Veterans Square, and that he helped get $2 million in state and federal funds for CTA terminal upgrades. His most obvious failure has been the "Jefferson Village" development on Lawrence, east of Milwaukee, which was to feature a six-story building and a 10-story building, each with condominiums and stores, sandwiched around the Sportif bicycle shop. After community protests, Levar withdrew his support for the plan. Levar said that the bike shop's owner wants $3.9 million for property worth $600,000, which impedes the viability of the project.

(2) Residential development:  "It's out of control," groaned Bank, citing the razing of homes for condos on Edmunds Street and a six-story condo at Lawrence and Lavergne Avenue. "The whole ward must be downzoned to R-2. At present, most 25-foot parcels are zoned R-3, which means a developer can buy two lots, do a knockdown and build a huge house on a 50-foot lot. This is happening all over the ward."

Levar disagrees. "I encourage community input," he said. "If residents oppose it, I oppose it." Levar noted that 64 new homes are being built on Armstrong Avenue, that he is downzoning several blocks in Mayfair from R-3 to R-2, that he has excluded tattoo parlors and adult entertainment, and that the rehab of the Klee Brothers Building at Six Corners, which will have 64 condos and 18,000 square feet of commercial space, is proceeding. He also said that he had softer turf installed in area parks, had lighting upgraded and had speed humps installed around schools and churches.

Boyke scoffs at that notion. "We had $1.2 million annually to spend in discretionary ward funds, for improvements," he said. "He didn't spend it all."

(3) Constituent service. "He's an absentee alderman," Boyke said. "He's rarely in the office. He doesn't attend community or chamber of commerce meetings, and he misses (City Council) committee meetings." Boyke concedes that Levar, as chairman, is always present for Aviation Committee meetings, but he claims that Levar missed 36 of the last 41 Police and Fire Committee meetings.

(4) Credibility. "Voters want a change," Klocek said. "Boyke was Levar's apprentice, and now he's a turncoat. If he wins, nothing will change." Levar said that Boyke's perfidy makes him unelectable. "I was like a father to him," he said. "He can't be trusted." Boyke worked for Levar from 2000 to 2006, and he announced for alderman within days of his resignation. Some voters, surely, must catch the irony -- or hypocrisy -- in Boyke's blistering criticism of ex-boss Levar. "I did what I was told," Boyke said in his defense.

Levar's 2000 bid for clerk of the Circuit Court opened a rift with Lyons, who was the Democratic county chairman. Lyons helped Levar get slated, but Levar got only 27.5 percent of the countywide primary vote, losing to Dorothy Brown. Levar blamed Lyons for not pressuring the mayor to deliver the predominantly white wards on the South Side. Lyons, who had been the 45th Ward committeeman since 1968, died on Jan. 12, and Levar and state Representative Joe Lyons, Tom Lyons' cousin, are angling for the job.

There is no doubt that Levar wants to hand off his job to his son, Pat Jr., who works for the Chicago Park District and who Levar calls "a future leader." But the Democratic precinct captains are not about to choose Levar as committeeman if he's going to quit as alderman. "I will serve my full term" if re-elected, Levar pledged. The outlook: Democratic precinct captains will pick Lyons' successor. They will elect Joe Lyons after Feb. 27 because they don't want to embarrass Levar before the election. As long as Rich Daley is mayor, he has the power to appoint aldermen. Does Pat Levar have enough "clout" to get his son appointed?

"This is not a monarchy," Klocek said. "There is no heredity entitlement. People know what Levar plans to do."

My prediction:  Levar said he has 18 billboards and 450 large signs, and he expects to have 3,000 yard signs. "It's the Levarization of the 45th Ward," Klocek said. "There's no place left to put any signs." "Every abandoned property has a Levar sign," Boyke said. "People notice."

Loyalty and continuity are the mainstays of any political organization, and the 45th Ward Democrats are no exception. The defection of Boyke, a longtime precinct captain, is deemed traitorous. "Win this one for Tom" is the clarion call. Expect a turnout of under 14,000, with Levar coming in with 7,200 votes, just barely avoiding a runoff. Boyke will get 4,100, Klocek 1,500 and Bank 1,200.

The next term will be Levar's last term, and the next 4 years will be a time of great tumult in the 45th Ward.