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Where Jesse Granato Stands



Dear editors,

After reading the August 27, 2004, Neighborhood News piece regarding another planned redevelopment project in the East Village neighborhood, I was curious whether you require fact-checking as a necessary prerequisite to publishing. Or do you encourage the story's main source to provide the facts and conclusions as the basis for what you publish?

Let me be more specific.

The Edmar Foods-Dominick's proposal has been public knowledge since at least early 2002. I know because I was then the First Ward alderman, and I didn't give an approval to Dominick's zoning-change request for that location. Just as I opposed McDonald's request for a zoning preference for an empty lot at North and Bosworth (abandoned by McDonald's after a court fight with the city of Chicago), I actively solicited input and advice from community members and groups on all sorts of zoning and redevelopment proposals.

When in 1999 the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it planned to demolish Saint Boniface, I intervened to allow the preservationists to prepare proposals for a community purpose reuse of the historic facility. When the owner of Huntley House applied for a permit to demolish the 1860s frame house on Paulina Street, I put an aldermanic hold on the demolition permit, which forced the city, owner and preservationist to try to find a way to save the "Green House." And when the East Village Association complained to me about residential redevelopment producing towering buildings all around, I offered to downzone the entire East Village. Twice EVA answered my proposed offers with an unequivocal NO.

None of the above examples resulted in so much as attaboy from the preservationists or the community organizations' zoning panels that continuously reviewed requests I referred to them during my eight years as alderman.

Nor did I hear sounds of satisfaction when I worked in 1997 to save the Goldblatt's building from the wrecking ball rather than put a Delray food store in its place, when I initiated and passed an ordinance to place height limitations on property zoned R-4 and R-5, when I proposed and passed legislation landmarking the Congress Theater building and countless other individual proposals throughout the First Ward.

As Alderman Flores deliberates the merits of the Edmar-Dominick's zoning proposal, I hope he is listening to the voices of all parties involved, but particularly those residents who would be most directly affected by his decisions. That's why he's the alderman.

And editors, may I respectfully suggest that you encourage your reporters to check your archives or, at a minimum, the prior articles they themselves authored before solely relying on a stakeholder for information.

Maybe good, old-fashioned reporting and fact-checking would be an appropriate fallback if the first suggestion isn't acceptable.

Jesse D. Granato

Ben Joravsky replies:

My article stated that Jesse Granato was "public enemy number one to the local antidevelopment, preservationist crowd" in the First Ward. I also noted that many of this bunch actively worked against him in his 1999 and 2003 runs for reelection.

Whether he deserves their enmity is another question. I don't blame him for being upset that he's been made the fall guy for East Village's overdevelopment. All in all, he was no better and no worse than most aldermen; like them he pretty much just followed Mayor Daley, who advocates development on the grounds that it builds the tax base.

Aldermen usually get what they want on zoning and preservation issues--as 20th Ward alderman Arenda Troutman did when she supported landmarking Saint Gelasius. In this regard, Granato's finest hour was the Goldblatt's battle: bowing to intense community pressure, he dropped his support for a demolition plan. Eventually Mayor Daley offered to buy the store and convert it into a city office building.

But for the most part, Granato was cautious and tried to have it both ways. He attended a few preservation rallies and occasionally made bold pronouncements, such as his offer at a meeting with EVA to downzone whole swaths of the ward. But he rarely followed up. He never, for instance, slapped a moratorium on development so he could buy some time to set up a system that would prevent too many old buildings from being lost. Instead, in a few high-profile cases he did and said what he figured was just enough to placate the preservationists without alienating Daley by doing or saying too much.

Yes, Granato put a hold on the Huntley House demolition permit, but that saved it only temporarily. He didn't endorse the preservationists' request to landmark the house, and it was destroyed in 2002.

Yes, he opposed the McDonald's and endorsed landmarking the Congress, but so did the city--he wasn't sticking his neck out. Saint Boniface wasn't even in his ward when the city was considering landmarking it; it was in Alderman Walter Burnett's ward. Portions of the structure were demolished two years ago.

As for Edmar Foods, Granato didn't take a stand on the Dominick's zoning change because he didn't have to. Dominick's didn't follow up on its original zoning request for almost two years; its parent company, Safeway, was apparently preoccupied with labor issues. The zoning request wasn't even an issue in the 2003 aldermanic campaign. It became an issue this past spring, when Dominick's officials notified Alderman Flores they were actively seeking the change.

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