April 28, 2010


Being indispensable is the key to employment longevity. Being tolerable is the key to marital longevity. Become dispensable, you're jobless; become intolerable, you're divorced.

That axiom applies to politics. Indispensable and tolerable means reelection; dispensable and intolerable means ouster.

After 24 years as the Northwest Side's 45th Ward alderman, Pat Levar emphatically believes that he is indispensable. To a growing field of 2011 aldermanic opponents, Levar is deemed intolerable and disposable.

This column is all about Pat Levar -- roughly 1,500 words trumpeting his accomplishments, with nary a negative nuance. Next week, Levar's foes will have their 1,500 words, and it will be brutal.

I promised the alderman an article totally devoid of sarcasm, criticism and humiliation. That's a seismic deviation from this column's norm. I spent 2 hours with Levar, who will turn 60 next January and who has had health problems. In this Q&A format, Levar offers his unedited retorts.

Q: The 45th Ward, created in 1963, has had four aldermen: Ed Fifielski (1963 to 1979), Dick Clewis (1979 to 1983), Gerry McLaughlin (1983 to 1987) and yourself (1987 to the present). You're in your 24th year as alderman and can retire with a maximum city pension, plus a county pension. Why do you want another term?

A: I enjoy what I do. I enjoy helping people.

Q: What have you accomplished?

A: The list is lengthy. We built a new 16th District police station, Edgebrook Library and the Jewel Marketplace. Every street in the ward was paved at least once, with lighting and speed bumps as needed, and alley and curb repairs. Every park was upgraded. Milwaukee Avenue, as well as Devon, Sunnyside and Avondale, was streetscaped. I closed the VIP massage parlor. We had $45 million in sewer and water main reconstruction. Bridges over the expressway at Nagle, Ainslie and Montrose were reconstructed. The Jefferson Park CTA/Metra terminal was modernized.

Q: Rumors abound that you want to pass your job to a family member. The names of Pat Levar Jr. and Michelle Levar have been floated. Will you resign before the 2011 election? Or, if reelected, will you serve your full term?

A: After years of observing the rigors of my job, none of my children want it. If reelected in 2011, I will serve out my term. I will not quit.

Q: Speaking of health, you were diagnosed with cancer. What is the prognosis?

A: I have early stage prostate cancer. I am undergoing treatment, which in no way interrupts my ability to function as alderman. American Cancer Society statistics calculate that my 5-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent, and my 10-year survival rate 91 percent.

Q: After 24 years, why do you need four more? Some politicians contend that they seek another term to "finish the job." What will you do in the next 4 years that you haven't in the last 24?

A: I'm a nuts-and-bolts alderman. I provide constituent service. I will work to continue the economic development of my ward.

Q: Your detractors contend that you are passive, not assertive, that you are excruciatingly slow to make decisions, and that you refuse to delegate authority. You don't have a staffer who concentrates on economic development. You do it all yourself. Is this wise?

A: The people elected me to be their alderman and to make decisions. That is what I do.

Q: None of your predecessors was the Democratic ward committeeman. The alderman's job is nonpartisan. Why, after Tom Lyons' death, did you insist on being appointed as committeeman?

A: I've been a precinct captain all my life. I was brought up in the 45th Ward Democratic Organization. The members are my friends and supporters, and their efforts and feedback help me do my job as alderman. Being committeeman helps me better serve the ward. It's does not detract from my job.

Q: There is a perception that you are slavish in your support of Mayor Rich Daley. Are you a Daley rubber stamp? Can you name any instances where you voted against the mayor in the City Council?

A: I voted against Wal-Mart because they are anti-union. I voted against a property tax increase in 2007. I voted to hire more police officers. I voted against city insurance coverage for domestic partners. I voted against giving the inspector general authority to investigate the City Council.

Q: You've been a cog in the "Daley Machine" and supported Rich Daley in every mayoral election since 1989. Are you endorsing him in 2011?

A: I've worked closely with the mayor, and will definitely support him if he runs.

Q: In the past 23 years, you never opposed a city budget. You supported the sale of the Skyway and parking meters. With revenue declining, how do we avoid a major tax increase in 2011?

A: We need video gambling, and we need it now. We cut the number of city employees from 40,000 to 31,000. We have 28 furlough days and slashed travel and supply expenses. There are across-the-board cuts of 6 percent in every city department. There is no need for a tax hike.

Q: Speaking of economic development, there are many areas of so-called "blight" in the 45th Ward.

On the south side of Lawrence Avenue, east of Milwaukee, there are 55,000 square feet of vacant land. The Mega Group was to develop it and build a (10-story) condominium with 132 units. You opposed it. Nothing's happened for 3 years. Whose fault is it?

A: Blame the economy. There's no investor money. The city owns the property, and sold a slice to the Copernicus Center. I'm trying to find a developer. It's difficult.

Q: What about Six Corners? It's been an economic wasteland for a decade, with a plethora of vacant stores and decrepit signage. What's your plan?

A: I brought in the Jewel Marketplace and Marshall's. We are at the end stage of the Klee Building renovation, with only a few residential and business condominiums yet to be sold. We will soon have a Nick's Pizza, and I'm trying to entice a Kinko's. Admittedly, 30 to 35 percent of the storefronts are vacant, but many landlords charge an exorbitant rent, discouraging potential tenants. The Portage Theater has been totally renovated and is a marvel.

Q: There's a load of other blight. Gladstone Bakery is gone. Gateway Chevrolet is gone. That's a loss of tax revenue and jobs. At Montrose-Central, the gas station closed. The condo project at Elston-Austin is a flop. The strip mall at Foster-Northwest Highway is totally desolate, and the Popeye's shuttered. And the Shops at Forest Glen, scheduled to be built on the former Sara Lee/Bankers Life property on Elston, just south of the secretary of state facility, is still a dream. Is the ward getting worse?

A: Not at all. I helped the Sweet Connection bakery to expand and move from Long-Montrose to Northwest Highway-Bryn Mawr, creating 100 jobs. I'm looking for a replacement bakery on Milwaukee Avenue. A gas station has reopened at Montrose-Central. I'm trying to lure a Culver's to replace Popeye's, and we are in the process of securing at least one grocery store and a bank for the Forest Glen property. There is progress.

Q: There is a perception that crime is rising in the ward. Gang taggers are spraying graffiti with impunity along Milwaukee Avenue. There were two recent armed robberies in Portage Park. There were problems at the Capitol Club. Is this out of control?

A: Ours is the safest ward in the city, with the lowest crime rate. We shut the Capitol Club. We have graffiti blasters on the street every day. Crime is under control.

Q: There are at least six massage parlors in or near the ward. Are these invitations to prostitution?

A: If they conduct themselves lawfully, I have no problem. I closed VIP. I sponsored an ordinance tightening zoning and certification. The local police monitor criminal activities. There will be no prostitution.

Q: There are seven red light intersection enforcement cameras in the ward? Do they promote safety or generate revenue?

A: They are necessary to promote safety.

Q: You got 14,199 votes in 1999, unopposed. You got 8,667 votes in 2003 (64.6 percent) and 7,380 votes in 2007 (56.2 percent). In 2003 you won 16 precincts with more than 70 percent; in 2007 you won none. In 2003 you had under 50 percent in six precincts; in 2007 that increased to 15. That's a negative trajectory. Is there festering "Levar fatigue"?

A: I've never been in a runoff. I've always won a majority. My base (vote) is 7,500. I will win in 2011.

As a courtesy to the alderman, I won't make a prediction, other than to say that he is definitely in deep doo-doo. In next week's column, Levar's opponents critique the alderman.