Bill Moyers explores firsthand how citizens are taking action to improve their communities, focusing on Chicago, where citizen groups have joined with government officials to preserve manufacturing jobs, revitalize parks and prevent crime.
DEVELOPER: It’s noisy. It’s smelly. And people just don’t want to – don’t generally want to be next to this. That was the first residential development in the area and that’s what got all industry very, very concerned. With planning, though, we believe that, you know, the system can work. Maybe there can be residential and there can be commercial if there’s planning on the part of government and industry and community groups working together.
RICHARD A. DEVINE: We want to have an atmosphere in this city where people feel they can lead their lives to the fullest.
MINDY HEIDEKAT: That’s one of the concepts behind the process of building a playground with the community, that the community does feel that it’s theirs.
SALLY SCHWYNN, Wright Community College: We didn’t want another recreation program. We didn’t want another academic program. We wanted a program that could change lives and do it in a hurry.
EDWARD LUNA: Now I want to be a cop. You know, I want to help people.
MARY JOHNSON-VOLPE, Northeast Austin Council: Community organizations such as ours try to empower the people to help themselves.
BILL BILL MOYERS: Tonight, from Chicago, “Making Government Work.”
I’m Bill Moyers and we’re listening to America tonight in Chicago. We’re here because some Chicagoans have decided it’s not enough just to complain about the failures of government, not enough just to bemoan the power of special interests or the follies of public officials. It’s not even enough, they say, just to vote. They’ve decided that the hard work of democracy is to get involved, to organize at the grass roots, to become a participant instead of a spectator. You’ll meet them in a moment.
Their efforts have attracted the attention of the National Commission on State and Local Public Service. The commissioners have been holding hearings all over the country, exploring how to make government work, how talented people can be attracted to public service and how faith can be restored again between government and citizens. Touring some neighborhoods here in Chicago, the commissioners looked at some unique local partnerships where citizens and officials are working together to make a difference.
Some of the members of the National Commission on State and Local Public Service are with us in the studio: Liz Hollander, the former planning commissioner of the city of Chicago; former governor William Winter of Mississippi, the chairman of the commission; Eddie Williams of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and political scientist Richard Nathan, director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York. We’ll hear from them later in this program, but first, producer Barbara Williams of WTTW looks at how one community group here in Chicago pushed for, and got, economic changes in their neighborhood.
NARRATOR: For 30 years Chicago has been losing manufacturing jobs. Once some 650,000 workers held these high-paying bluecollar jobs. Today fewer than 400,000 have them. As industry moved out, old manufacturing buildings were torn down or gentrified into living and commercial space. In an industrial area known as the Clybourn Corridor, an old paint factory would be developed into residential lofts. Tem Horwitz was the developer.
TEM HORWITZ, Horwitz/Matthews Developers: It was set in the middle of this really old 19th-century industrial area, a lot of vacant land, very, very quiet at night, very, very quiet on weekends. And it was this little residential oasis, as we saw it, in the middle of this industrial area.
NARRATOR: But as the oasis grew and the area became more residential, companies like A. Finkl & Sons feared they wouldn’t survive. The company had been in the Clybourn Corridor for nearly 100 years and had 450 employees. President Bruce Liimatainen –
BRUCE LIIMATAINEN, President, A. Finkl & Sons: We were looking at what it would take to move to another state, to lower labor, to cheaper energy, and for us to pick up and move – this facility is in the ground. We’ve put in foundations. And it would be easier for us to go in the development business with this prime real estate than to pick up and re-put these foundations in another location.
NARRATOR: When developers began to talk about building residences with river views, managers of the Charles Levy Circulating Company began to worry. For 40 years the magazine distributor has been working on Goose Island, an area adjacent to the Clybourn Corridor. The company was solid, with 250 employees and annual sales of $100 million.
MARY DONNELLON, V.P., General Manager, Chas. Levy Circulating Co. : We are a 24-hour operation. We dispatch trucks, semis all night long. We are noisy. We generate a lot of traffic. It’s just not the kind of building we think people would want to live next door to.
NARRATOR: The challenge was to strike a balance between residential and commercial and between commercial and manufacturing. Local citizens meeting at the North Side YMCA began working toward a solution. It didn’t happen overnight.
MARGIE GONWA, Acting Executive Director, Local Economic & Employment Development Council: The Y initiated a nine-month strategic planning process, bringing together local businesses, institutions, local residents, and out of that process came some goals and recommendations which included working with the industries to keep them here in Chicago and then to bring the residents into those jobs.
NARRATOR: The groups then began lobbying the city for a zoning change to create a planned manufacturing district, or PMD.
VALERIE JARRETTE, Chicago Commissioner, Planning and Development: PMDs are one land use technique that we can – that we have available to us to try to help nurture and expand industrial businesses.
NARRATOR: Valerie Jarrette is the city commissioner of planning and development.
VALERIE JARRETTE: I think it’s a difficult decision for city government to make, that we are going to impose that kind of land use restriction, but I think it sends a very strong signal to the industrial community that we are serious about retaining them and helping them expand and grow.
TEM HORWITZ: I think PMDs are basically designed to slow down the process of change, to give everybody a little breather while they figure out what’s going to happen next, that there is really no vision and certainly no viable vision inherent in a PMD.
NARRATOR: Not only developers, but some industries oppose planned manufacturing districts. Some manufacturers believe the special zoning would depress their land values and go against natural changes in the city’s economy. But in spring of 1988, planned manufacturing districts passed through the city council to become part of Chicago’s zoning laws. By 1990 a large industrial zone, including the Clybourn Corridor, was protected. This zone is the site of 31 firms in 17 different kinds of manufacturing, employing over 1,700 people. The planned manufacturing district zoning covers a total worker payroll of $39 million and an area in which the city collects $1.1 million in property taxes. For union workers like John Frazier, who has been with Charles Levy for 27 years, passage of the PMD was a relief.
JOHN FRAZIER: We have about 80 or 90 employees here, you know, in this particular building alone. And had this company moved out of this area, I’m sure – well, most of those people probably would have lost their job and, you know, there’s no opportunities around anymore for factory work.
NARRATOR: For its part in the planned manufacturing districts, the city fixes the infrastructure. Century-old bridges are being rebuilt to support trucks and industrial equipment. Streets and seawalls are being repaved and repaired. The Clybourn Corridor zoning gave A. Finkl & Sons the assurance it needed to reinvest in its plant.
BRUCE LIIMATAINEN: We’ve invested over $2.5 million a year, in the last few years over $5 million in this facility. We put in a new warehouse. We’ve increased jobs. We’ve done everything that allows our unions and ourselves to excel and now in a down economy, when all our competition is in trouble, we’re not doing fantastic, but we’re a thriving good business competing against foreign competition.
NARRATOR: Charles Levy has put $2 million into their plant. They’ve also brought in new employees under the city’s job training program.
MARY DONNELLON: We feel that we can invest in this property without being worried that someday we would need to relocate. And rather than looking for more property out in the suburbs, where we already have some other sister companies located, we’re looking for property on Goose Island.
NARRATOR: Not every property owner in the planned manufacturing district is reinvesting. Some just want to sell, but their options now are limited.
TEM HORWITZ: Occasionally I get a call from somebody who says, “Well, you know my old furniture business is, you know, not making any money. I have this big building and I want to sell it. I’m ready to retire. What do I do?” And you say, “Well, where is the building?” ”Well” – they give you the address. “Well, do you know that that’s in the PMD?” ”Yeah, I kind of did.” I said, “Well, you really can’t change the use. You can’t do residential there and you can’t do retail. And those are the two uses that fit in that neighborhood.” ”Well, what’s the property worth?” ”Well, it’s not worth very much.”
NARRATOR: Although it is still controversial, what is most remarkable about the planned manufacturing district is that it’s a purely democratic solution to a community problem. Residents, commercial interests and manufacturers came together, debated and found a way to live and work together.
BILL MOYERS: [on cameral We have a couple of local citizens to address the issues raised by that piece. Josh Hoyt is a long-time community organizer and grass roots activist. Josh, if the citizens had not pushed, would the city have come up, in its own right, with the planned manufacturing district?
JOSH HOYT, Organization of the Northeast: No. You know, this thing about partnerships, I think it’s the most overworked word in America. Maybe it’s because I’m from Chicago, but my experience is if you don’t get down in the gutter and kick and scratch and bite and claw and make your point, then nothing happens.
BILL MOYERS: How did you do it in this case?
JOSH HOYT: Well, I didn’t do it. The organizer was a woman named Donna DuCharm. But what they did was, they organized the constituency that they had, the manufacturers and the local residents, and they got in there and they lobbied their aldermen, they embarrassed the mayor. The mayor said that he wanted to have residential housing on Goose Island. There’s three manufacturing districts there, right? Three aldermen. They had to pick them off one by one.
BILL MOYERS: How did they do it? I mean, that sounds rather ultimate.
JOSH HOYT: Well, they had to go after each one. They had to organize votes. They had to organize money. That’s the way it works in Chicago and I think that’s the way it works all over the country. If you don’t push, you don’t get anything.
BILL MOYERS: They had to get mean?
JOSH HOYT: They had to get mean. They had to get ugly. They had to embarrass people in the press. They had to have contributors call up politicians and say, “Do your job the way that I want you to do it.” That’s the way it works.
BILL MOYERS: That doesn’t sound like the democracy we learned about in 10th-grade civics.
JOSH HOYT: Well, that’s the way it works. You get down in the gutter and then when you finally get up, they say “Let’s be partners,” OK? That’s a partnership, right?
BILL MOYERS: Jacky Grimshaw is deputy treasurer for economic devel-opment of the city of Chicago and a key figure in city government for many, many years. Why does it take community protest to arouse government to do what it ought to do in the first place?
JACKY GRIMSHAW, Deputy City Treasurer for Economic Development: Well, I think you have to first recognize that governments, just like people, have self-interests and it’s not always in the self-interests of government really to do what the Constitution says the government ought to do and that’s to represent people and to act in the people’s best interest. So people have to take it into their own hands.
BILL MOYERS: Why was this not in government’s self-interest to keep manufacturing jobs in this particular district?
JACKY GRIMSHAW: Because oftentimes the owners of manufacturing operations are not the big contributors to campaigns. You will see local developers, commercial developers, retail developers who are more active in funding political operations than are manufacturers and so, as we also know across the country, where there’s the oil, you get a little bit of opportunity and a little bit of access and a little bit of response when you’re asked for things.
BILL MOYERS: I read a piece in which you were quoted as, even though you’re in the city government, referring to the Chicago “stupid” – excuse me – policies of providing tax and other incentives for certain companies to leave the area.
JACKY GRIMSHAW: Well, it’s not just the city of Chicago. We talk about government. Chicago is part of this commonwealth that’s also the state of Illinois and I think probably the most egregious example of that is Sears, Sears Roebuck & Company, a huge company that is known not only in this country but around the world, decided that Sears Tower, also an international landmark, was not where they wanted it to be and so they caused their little, as I call it, “threatening action” on government and convinced the state of Illinois to give them an opportunity to leave the city of Chicago using city taxpayer dollars to subsidize them relocating to the suburbs. And what does that do? That creates a lot of unemployment in the city of Chicago because there’s not the opportunity, at least through public transportation, and also by way of means of individuals to relocate from the city of Chicago to the northwestern suburbs. Now, if that is public policy that is geared towards helping people and making a difference for people, it’s really kind of a – it’s a distorted view of self-interest of government respecting and operating in the best interests of their citizens.
BILL MOYERS: Josh Hoyt, come back with Jacky Grimshaw. If she’s in government, you’re out there trying to get government to change its ways. Do you look upon her government as a neutral agency to be taken over and run? Do you look upon it as a positive force in the lives of the people you work with? Do you look upon – how do you look upon her government?
JOSH HOYT: Well, Jacky’s a very special bureaucrat, a little bit different than most. But no, government’s reactive and they usually react to people with power and with money and the people that I work with generally don’t have either. And so what we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to organize to tip the turtle back on its shell. We’ve got to make them understand that we’re still out there and they have to react to us, too.
BILL MOYERS: What does it take?
JOSH HOYT: You know, Sam Skinner went to Washington, head of the Department of Transportation. Before he goes into the White House, you know what he does? He sends back a $40 million grant to bury a parking lot at the Science and Industry Museum. Now, what I could do with $40 million in the neighborhood I organize – it’s ridiculous. They respond to the elites. That’s how it generally works. And they only respond to the people that I care about and that I work with in the neighborhoods when we organize to make our point.
BILL MOYERS: How do you persuade people in those neighborhoods who do not have the power, the money, as you say, to maintain their confidence doing this? How do you encourage them to take on a struggle like this?
JOSH HOYT: People will act in their own self-interest and if you start with the little things and you keep moving up the ladder, people see that they can make a difference and they start to feel like they are human beings and will get a listening-to. Then they start to feel their own self sense of respect. Then they are willing to take on somebody that thinks they’re important because they’ve got money or a title.
BILL MOYERS: Liz Hollander, what’s important for us to take away from this PMD story?
ELIZABETH L. HOLLANDER, Government Assistance Project, Chicago Community Trust: I think there really is a vision of a city here that’s very important, and it’s a vision that says gentrification isn’t the future of cities. The common understanding was that industry was dead in the city and why would anybody put money into protecting it? And so those in the government sympathetic said to the community, “You need everybody’s backing. You need manufacturing’s backing. You need labor’s backing. You need the upscale community to back it.” And in fact, the community did that task of getting everybody behind it.
BILL MOYERS: We hear so much about the discontent in America today with politics, with government, but Jacky Grimshaw and Josh Hoyt have just revealed a group of people who are not content with discontent. They’re trying to change things. Have you found that elsewhere?
WILLIAM F. WINTER, Chairman, National Commission on the State and Local Public Service: Absolutely. Absolutely. In the face of the cynicism, the disillusionment about the process of government, we are finding in little backwater communities, not just in Chicago, but in little rural communities in my state of Mississippi, for example-
BILL MOYERS: I started to say you’re getting personal. I come from down there, too, a backwater.
WILLIAM F. WINTER: There’s a lot going on out there, unrecognized, unheralded, unrewarded, but where people are making a difference in the lives of the community in which they live.
BILL MOYERS: Last word to you two. Do you want to say anything to these people?
JACKY GRIMSHAW: Well, yeah. I think the other thing is, we talk about public policy and particularly in urban areas – if we’re going to give up on manufacturing in places like Chicago and other large cities, then what kind of future are we really leaving for our children? As we struggle now with how do we reform the Chicago public school system, you have to provide them with some hope, some opportunity that there is life once they graduate.
JOSH HOYT: For all these people watching – hey, go out there and do it because they’re not going to wait for you to – they’re not going to do it for you and a good idea is not enough. You’ve just got to get out there and push.
BILL MOYERS: It isn’t just jobs alone, is it. You were talking about a whole connecting web of a community that creates a certain kind of neighborhood. The jobs are just – they’re necessary, but there has to be more to it than jobs, right?
JOSH HOYT: The specific issues are just vehicles. They’re tools. We have to rebuild a sense of community. We have to rebuild a sense of public business where people can become involved, can do their business and can make government react to them according to the things that we hold as important. We can’t wait for them because they’re not going to do it for us.
BILL MOYERS: Let’s take a look at another form of public business. This is a report from Barbara Williams on neighborhood control of Chicago’s parks.
RICHARD A. DEVINE: I played baseball over at the parks and basketball and touch football and our grammar school football team played in the parks.
KATHLEEN GARTLAND: I learned how to sew and I learned how to – I learned everything from ballet to sports.
1ST BOY: “I know.”
1st BOY: “Radio!”
1st BOY: “Television!”
CHORUS: “Yes, Yes, Yes?”
1st BOY: “Radar!”
CHORUS: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”
JOHN KASS, “Chicago Tribune”: There was baseball. There was football. There were things to do for a kid who grew up in … you know, I was in a working class neighborhood.
NARRATOR: Chicagoans love their parks in a way that goes beyond neighborhood ties. The parks are places of memory, of independence from the concrete city. It’s no wonder, then, that the Chicago Park District is said to spend three times as much money per acre than any other park system in the country. The budget for the city’s 561 parks exceeds $342 million. That’s because the Park District is more than baseball diamonds, swing sets and beaches. It includes city museums, the Lincoln Park Zoo and Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears football team. It also includes gardens and golf courses, sports leagues and classes for children and adults. The president of the Park District’s board of commissioners is Richard A. Devine.
RICHARD DEVINE: It isn’t enough to say we have a city and we have a police department to protect life and property and we have a fire department to put out fires. We want to have an atmosphere in this city where people feel they can lead their lives to the fullest.
NARRATOR: Since 1988 there’s been a change in these green spaces. The parks are now being run by the people who use them. Under a program called “decentralization,” power has been taken from downtown and placed out in the neighborhoods. The city has been divided into 17 clusters, each like a small park district itself. Each park in the cluster is run by an advisory council. This is a group of neighbors who decide what programs they want in their park. The supervisor of each park implements those programs and the cluster manager gets each park material and services they need to run the programs. Seventy parks, playlots and beaches on the North Side are managed by Kathleen Gartland.
KATHLEEN GARTLAND: Working with advisory councils, that’s probably the most positive thing that decentralization – that has come out of decentralization, is that they have a voice now. They have someone that they can talk to instead of one or two people downtown and they can never find the right person.
NARRATOR: For years the Park District had been an important political arm of the city’s Democratic machine. Park workers were considered a patronage army and parks and neighborhoods out of favor received little or no resources from downtown. That was the finding of the federal government when in 1983 it issued a Civil Rights decree against the Park District. The decree charged that black and Hispanic neighborhood parks had been allowed to decay. The Park District agreed to spend $10 million each year bringing resources back to neglected parks. With that, machine control of the parks had been broken. By 1988 decentralization became the operating program. The following year the Civil Rights decree ended.
JOHN KASS: Decentralization was brought in, as advertised, to make the parks more accessible to local communities, but in reality what it was, was to dismantle the political arm of the Cook County Democratic Party that was vested there.
NARRATOR: John Kass has covered the Park District for the Chicago Tribune.
JOHN KASS: The park programs are even more run down than ever before at a time when they’re truly needed, particularly in the inner cities. They – it has given the anti-machine folks a chance to invest their own bureaucrats and their own patronage in the bureaucracy.
NARRATOR: Because the Civil Rights consent decree ordered money spent in neglected parks, funds weren’t available to others. The neighbors around Indian Boundary Park had a problem. Their 13.5-acre park had always been the centerpiece of a white middle class neighborhood. By 1986, the North Side neighborhood hadn’t changed, but the park had. The dangerous old playground equipment was removed and because of the federal decree, no monies were available for rebuilding. So the Indian Boundary neighbors did it themselves. A group of neighbors raised almost $50,000. With the help of an architect, they designed and built their own playground. Mindy Heidekat worked on the project from the beginning. When she brought her daughter to play here for the first time, she felt-
MINDY HEIDEKAT: Very protective. Not of my daughter, of the playground, that this was our playground and actually, that’s one of the concepts behind the process of building a playground with the community, that the community does feel that it’s theirs, that they feel protective and involved in the playground’s welfare and not just their children’s welfare.
NARRATOR: Before the playground was built, about 1,000 people came to Indian Boundary Park each year. The park now has 20,000 visitors a year and the experience of building a playground has also produced one of the strongest advisory councils in the city.
Decentralization is still being debated. Critics wonder if it works for all the people.
JOHN KASS: Those who have resources and access to power can organize and get something done for their parks, but what I’m talking about are poor people, black, white, Hispanic working people who need a place for their kids to play and work and to run off some of the steam from the time they come home from school till the time they go to bed. And they don’t-and they don’t have that. They say they have it, but they really don’t.
NARRATOR: Though the framework now exists for the parks to serve all the people, citizens must become active and park supervisors must be enthusiastic if the city is to meet all the needs of all its children.
BILL MOYERS: Erma Tranter is executive director of the Friends of the
Parks. Are there instances where community groups have risen to the occasion only to be frustrated by downtown power?
ERMA TRANTER, Friends of the Parks: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: Still?
ERMA TRANTER: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: Give me an example.
ERMA TRANTER: In a very troubled neighborhood right now, Englewood, we have severe gang problems, high unemployment, very high level of poverty. But the community saw the need for a recreation facility, obviously to provide opportunities for kids early on, to get them in after school, to get them in on weekends, to organize, to provide educational and recreational and cultural opportunities. They succeeded. They succeeded in getting the facility. Took them a long time. What’s the problem with that? It’s basically locked to the community. I mean, not-I mean, if you’re a 12-year-old and want to knock on the door and feel that you can handle that, then you can get in. So they’ve been frustrated, so frustrated they got to the point of building it and now there’s a problem of how you get it to operate and it’s been in operation several years. And the frustration, that level, is so severe there, that the community’s now dealing – I mean, they have such severe problems in that community that this is one of the smaller issues, once again. The kind of got burned out.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. I was going to ask you, did they just give up?
ERMA TRANTER: For a while they gave up on this issue, yes. And it’s going to take another organizing battle and a sense that something can be done, showing where other communities have done it and perhaps, you know, providing support from outside the system.
BILL MOYERS: Well, that brings us to our next witness, Jim Hobson, who is the park supervisor for one of the largest parks in the city. Mr. Hobson, does it help in this work to have been a combat platoon sergeant in Vietnam?
JIM HOBSON, Supervisor, Garfield Park: Boy, it certainly does. I, as you mentioned earlier, am the supervisor of Garfield Park and that happens to be one of the largest parks in the system. I also just recently came from one of the smallest parks in the system. And so when I think in terms of the problems that we face at Garfield Park and Kiwanis Park, they’re all similar in nature. Let me give you an idea. Garfield Park has the most number of murders in the city, Garfield Park community – the most number of murders in the city. We have the most number of unemployed black males in the city. We have the most number of syphilis in the whole city. This is a serious problem. Garfield Park, just prior to 1990, had very few programs that were functioning. They were there in place, but they were not functioning. Now, just a year and a half later, Garfield Park has the number one team in gymnastics. It has the most – it’s the largest gymnastics program in the city. We came in fourth in the city. We are city-wide champions in boxing, city-wide champions in wrestling. This is empowerment. It could not have happened with just me. What we did was, we went out and we formed a coalition that included business, community organizations, political leaders and the whole spectrum of the community. We brought that in there.
BILL MOYERS: There are people watching who want to know exactly how did you do that.
JIM HOBSON: I have a goal. My goal is to try to avoid this – have children avoid the dehumanizing elements that are in our cities. I served in Vietnam for two years and I – my mission was to seek out, capture and destroy the enemy with those 47 men. And now I’m doing a similar thing at Garfield Park, only in this instance it’s the loss of our children. Our children are dying out here in the streets and –
BILL MOYERS: Tell us about your first day on the job 12 years ago.
JIM HOBSON: Well, my first day on the job, when I came in, I came in in a suit and tie. On one end of the court, there was a gang called the Vice Lords who were fighting a rival gang. I had a suit and tie and a briefcase on at Kiwanis Park. I turned around and I went home and got into some other clothes. I realized what was needed there.
BILL MOYERS: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, huh?
JIM HOBSON: That’s right. But let’s not forget this. It took a coalition of people. It cannot be one individual or two individuals or one community organization. It takes a community effort. Government works if you have the right people in place.
BILL MOYERS: Only if you have a combat veteran from Vietnam-
JIM HOBSON: Forget the combat veteran. I’m – you know, remember, we have a multitude of programs and it’s going to take the effort of each of the park supervisors – over 200 of the parks of the 561 are staffed. And we are working diligently with these community organizations to come up with solutions to the problems. They’re right there in front of us. When you have children who are walking down the street in Garfield and are afraid to cross the street, there’s something wrong. If you go over to Englewood and they can’t even go to school, something is wrong. So what we have said at Garfield Park, and as we said up in the Rogers Park community where Kiwanis Park is housed, “We’re not going to take it anymore. There are more of us than there are of you and we’re going to take these parks back and we’re going to make the supervisors accountable. We’re going to make the community accountable and we’re going to make the people that we serve accountable.”
BILL MOYERS: Eddie Williams, this talk of parks seems a long way from your fields of economics and politics. Is there any relationship?
EDDIE N. WILLIAMS, President, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies: There’s a great relationship. The fundamental issue here is one of power and empowerment and it is an issue of the people being in charge of their lives, bringing programs and decisions as close to the people as we can. And that is as old as America and as American as apple pie. And it works more effectively and more efficiently in some areas than in others.
BILL MOYERS: What does it take to make it work?
EDDIE N. WILLIAMS: It takes-
BILL MOYERS: Other than a Jim Hobson and an Erma Tranter.
EDDIE N. WILLIAMS: Well, it takes them. It takes leadership and it takes greater involvement in the political process. That’s how we get people in positions in the first place. They aren’t just found because they were Vietnam veterans. Somebody found them, searched for them and got them into these jobs and they used that creative, visionary leadership to accomplish goals that are important to the community. There is no substitute for that leadership, whether in a poor community or in an upper-income community.
BILL MOYERS: When you see people like Jim Hobson and Erma Trantor, what do you think about the seething discontent that the press keeps talking about in the country, and the disillusionment that we hear is settling in over America toward our political and governmental institutions?
RICHARD P. NATHAN, Director, Rockefeller Institute of Government, S.U.N.Y. : Well, I think we’re looking at the wrong place. We’re looking at the celebrity, spin-doctored, sound-bite high politics of the television clip and we’re not getting out, as this commission does, and as we should try to get other people to do, to see the hard work of wonderful people in government who are making things happen, who believe, care, have deep knowledge. We’re not looking at the right part of the system and that’s something that commissioner – Governor Winter’s been very strong in urging us to look at exact – to make exactly this point, that there are unsung heroes and wonderful stories and government is a lot deeper and more complicated and important in people’s lives than what we’re exposed to every day in the sort of popular culture of particularly this campaign. It’s disturbing.
BILL MOYERS: What would you like to say to this commission?
ERMA TRANTER: I think there is discontent in government overall. I think it’s – we have huge bureaucracies. I think that’s – I see that as a reality in our communities and in the city of Chicago. However, I balanced with that, I don’t see the frustration getting to a level where people are giving up. Matter of fact, I see quite the opposite, where they’re rolling up their sleeves and saying “This is my neighborhood. This is my community. It’s not happening fast enough. I’m going to make it happen. I’m going to put pressure on it. I don’t like the way the – I don’t like the pace of government and I’m going to keep shoving.” We’re going to push and it’s this bottom up where it’s changing. It’s changing in the local neighborhoods. It’s changing in some parks. It’s really much easier when you have a Jim Hobson in charge of a park and we always said the solution to Chicago’s parks is “clone Jim Hobson.” That’s not going to happen. We’re just trying to find more examples and there are others. So it’s community, really, putting the pressure on what is there, to make it work for their neighborhood.
BILL MOYERS: Jim Hobson, what is the key for dealing with that gang that you encountered the first day on your job?
JIM HOBSON: Well, I think that, first of all, we have to recognize the economic problems that we are experiencing in this country. We also have to recognize that – the deterioration of our cities. We have to recognize that and we also have to recognize the value system in our homes and in our country has gone amuck and we have to return to those traditional – and I say “traditional values.” I believe in traditional values and that is the only way that we’re going to regroup and reclaim our country. In terms of the gangs, the gangs are certainly here. They’re here to stay if we do not address the problems of our children. It is very difficult for the Park District or any other major entity that provides services to children, as well as the rest of the community, to have any impact when a child is hungry at night, when a child can’t get a decent education. We’re not going to stop trying. The Park District is working very diligently in addressing every one of those problems.
BILL MOYERS: What did you do when you changed from your suit to your street clothes and came back to the park specifically? What’s the first thing you did?
JIM HOBSON: Well, first of all, I had to get the community involved and so I wanted to find out who the political leaders were and who the community leaders were. That was my first and primary objective. Once I found that out, then it was smooth sailing. We had 18 murders in and around that park between 1975 and 1980. Since assuming command of – “command”! Since assuming –
BILL MOYERS: That’s traditional values.
JIM HOBSON: -assuming responsibility
BILL MOYERS: Military traditional values.
JIM HOBSON: -assuming responsibility for the park, for the next 10 years we never had another murder and we were considered one of the best parks in the city, just as we are at Garfield Park now.
BILL MOYERS: That’s an inspiring story. And thanks to both of you.
For our next report, Barbara Williams took her cameras to Chicago’s West Side community of Austin to look at some community policing.
NARRATOR: Under an innovative program called “community policing,” 20 patrolmen are on the streets of Austin on Chicago’s West Side, walking beats.
TIMOTHY LEE, Patrolman: What I try to tell the kids, you know, there’s something out here better than hanging out on the corners making $3 for every pack you sell, which it really is. Go to school. Get education. Play basketball. Read books. There’s something out here better besides just selling dope for somebody else. You’re going to make somebody else rich. You’re going to take all the risk and go to jail.
NARRATOR: Drug dealing is a major problem in Austin. Police say drugs are responsible for 95 percent of the arrests here. Only a few years ago, residents felt they were fighting both the criminals and the police, whom they didn’t trust.
BENNIE MEEKS, South Austin Coalition Community Council: We had many communities that were out of control, where drugs were sold, you know, blatantly out on the street.
MARY JOHNSON-VOLPE, Northeast Austin Council: But we were also seeing assaults, armed robbery, drive-by shootings, that type of contact crime. And people were getting to the point that they wanted help and community organizations such as ours try to empower the people to help themselves.
NARRATOR: When Leroy O’Shield became commander of Austin’s 15th police district, everything began to change. A key reason was putting the police officer back on the beat.
OFFICER TIMOTHY LEE: I really believe I’m making a difference because a lot of them is out here playing. At one time, you couldn’t see people out here playing because the corners were so infested with people hanging out, selling dope.
Commander LEROY O’SHIELD, Austin Police District: We’re looking for an officer who can relate to the community, an officer who has the skills and the temperament to handle situations. We want an officer who needs little or – little supervision and is a self-motivated individual and an individual who enjoys seeing the end results of a problem that has been identified and resolved.
NARRATOR: An officer like Timothy Lee, who’s been on the force for four years.
COMMANDER LEROY O’SHIELD: He would always see this young man with the group that was selling drugs.
OFFICER TIMOTHY LEE: He would never go to school. He’d be out here at 9:00 o’clock in the morning till he make his money, until he sell out. So I would tell him, “One day I’m going to catch you.” So I waited for him one morning. I got out here early one morning. And as he was selling, I ran up to the gangway and caught him and he didn’t know where I was coming from.
COMMANDER LEROY O’SHIELD: He was not on the street anymore and so Officer Lee went by his house, after having established a rapport with him, and said “Where have you been?” And he said, “Well, I’ve gone back to school.” He said “Why?” He said “Because you keep catching me.”
NARRATOR: Even the best police officer can’t work alone. The people who live in Austin say they can help.
MARY JOHNSON-VOLPE: They could hire 7,000 policemen tomorrow and that doesn’t mean that crime’s going to be deterred because people have got to get to know each other and they have to rely on each other for information. I think Commander O’Shield and the other commanders know that when we call in with information, they listen. And we help each other. They know that we’re out here. We give them support.
NARRATOR: If neighborhood cooperation is the heart of community policing, the neighborhood’s children are its soul. Commander O’Shield is preventing crime by giving kids an alternative to street life. He’s invited children into the police station for a variety of classes and activities from self-defense to math and science games and CPR. There’s even a young astronauts program held in the station’s roll-call room. The Positive Alternatives Project was organized by educator Sally Schwynn.
SALLY SCHWYNN, Wright Community College: We didn’t want another recreation program. We didn’t want another academic program. We wanted a program that could change lives and do it in a hurry. So we created a core of classes around issues of building self-esteem, responsibility, following rules, telling the truth, becoming a good citizen, becoming an entrepreneur, all of those issues that help kids follow what we’ve known as the American Dream.
NARRATOR: Former gang member Edward Luna got his high school degree through the district’s Teen Power program. Now he’s in college.
EDWARD LUNA: I mean, now I want to be a cop, you know? I want to help people. I want to help the gang members and just, you know, be able to help them out instead of just beating them.
NARRATOR: Some 6,000 kids have gone through these classes and truancy and petty theft rates among juveniles in this district have dropped. But violent crime is still a major problem in Austin. Recent gang wars have resulted in seven murders last April, compared to one murder in April of 1991. But using violent crime figures to judge police effectiveness may shortchange community policing. The people of Austin feel they know what’s best for their community. They’re cooperating with the police and both are making an investment in the community’s children. Though they’re still facing a desperate fight against gangs and drugs, people in Austin believe there’s hope.
BILL MOYERS: Irene Johnson is president and CEO for the LeClaire
Courts Resident Management Corporation. She’s been a resident of public housing for over 24 years and has spent 21 years volunteering her services to her community.
Ms. Johnson, what do you think when you see that piece, that report?
IRENE JOHNSON, LeClaire Courts Resident Management Corporation: Well, I can relate that to LeClaire because we care about our community and decided to get up and do something by working with a number of agencies, and the police department is one of those.
BILL MOYERS: What did you do?
IRENE JOHNSON: Well, we organized. We came together and realized that there was a need to get up and take control of our community.
BILL MOYERS: How do you train and instill confidence in beleaguered residents?
IRENE JOHNSON: Information, caring, love, respect.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of information?
IRENE JOHNSON: Information about the system, educational system, the federal government, just the whole process. Number one, we encourage young people as well as older or middle-aged to go to regular secular education and we always point out that education is freedom. And so we learn the process of how the housing authority works and how the federal government works, in terms of subsidizing. And we learn our lease to see what our responsibilities are as residents. Because we have families. We care about safety, housing, education, jobs like everybody else. So we thought that if we do this, we can get more in the mainstream and get more attention because to be organized is to be recognized. And so we had to organize ourselves and earn the respect of society because the image of public housing residents is very low throughout America and people have such negative attitudes. So we thought that if we check ourselves out – resident management as far as self-management and so we looked at ourselves to see what kind of attitudes we have. A lot of us were living there out of circumstances beyond our control. Some were there by choice. And so people just stigmatize you because you’re in public housing or society says that we’re lazy, we don’t want to work. But that’s not true. We want to work. We want to be part of the mainstream. We want to contribute. We want to participate. We love beautiful surroundings. We love God. We love one another. And so we say “We’re part of America. There’s no reason why we should be isolated because we’re living in assisted housing.” And we would have classes to analyze that the president of the United States gets paid with tax dollars so if you’re a public aid recipient, what’s the difference between tax dollars?
BILL MOYERS: Who gave you your self-esteem?
IRENE JOHNSON: Well, through my parents, the way we was raised, by God’s good grace. They were Christian parents. We was born and raised in the South, raised on a farm, and we was taught appreciation and respect for life and for one another and for yourself. We was also taught that you had to work for a living, that wasn’t nothing good going to come free. So with that kind of instilment, even though the jobs that we were able to get, my husband and myself, was mediocre jobs and we didn’t have college education, but we did have high school, but we had common sense. And so we made that effort. And I think the majority of our families in LeClaire, especially the middle-aged group, the womens that went out and organized our community, that still presently is working, have the same desire, same concerns, same respect and love a beautiful, clean place to live. And we knew we was part of society and we just had to get up and prove that and make way for our children so they wouldn’t have a stigma on them if they grew up in public housing.
BILL MOYERS: There are so many layers in the public housing authority. Isn’t it possible for one person, somewhere deep in that process, to bring your efforts to a grinding halt?
IRENE JOHNSON: Oh, yes. There’s many things that have been set to stop us, but we have a program that we call “the three P’s.” We start off, we pray together once every day for a year. We was patient and we’re persistent. So after we learned the system, we pushed the P’s.
BILL MOYERS: Pushed the P’s!
Vince Lane is chairman of the housing authority. Mr. Lane, don’t you have third and fourth-generation tenants who now expect government to take care of them? And what do you do about them?
VINCE LANE, Chairman, Chicago Housing Authority: Government has almost created the problems that we’re confronted with today by bad public policy. The welfare system says if Irene, if she were on welfare, accumulated more than $1,000 because she just wanted to sacrifice and save, they would punish her and penalize her for saving more than that $1,000. At HUD, they have a REP policy that says-
BILL MOYERS: Housing and Urban Development, HUD.
VINCE LANE: HUD. The residents who live in public housing pay 30 percent of their income, no matter how much that income is, for rent. So over the years, the last 30 years, they’ve driven working families out of public housing. Now, where are the role models for the kids coming along when – like Irene, when she was young?
BILL MOYERS: Well, if government is creating these bad policies, why doesn’t government change them?
VINCE LANE: Well, I think government doesn’t change them because, as someone said earlier, the political forces have reason not to change them and what we have is, in our poor communities, they don’t have the resources with which to develop strategies to deal with it. Now, that’s changing today. Folks like Irene and the National Resident Management Association – it’s a national organization with, I think, over 2,000 residents – who are organized and who are putting a lot of pressure not only on HUD, but on Congress.
BILL MOYERS: How would you, then – back to my earlier question. How would you change the mentality that now expects “government to take care of me” into the third and fourth generation?
VINCE LANE: By being very blunt and frank with them and not trying to sugarcoat things. I meet with residents around Chicago and around the country, in fact, all the time and I tell them, “Look, the problems that you’re confronted with today, maybe you didn’t – aren’t responsible for them being this way, but you certainly are part of the problem unless – and it’s not going to change unless you want it to change.” And that means it’s not going to be President Bush. It’s not going to be the governor or Illinois or the mayor of Chicago. It’s going to be the people who live in these communities who are going to make it change. And everything you’ve heard today suggests that that’s the only way out.
BILL MOYERS: In this case, what do you think it will take to make government work?
VINCE LANE: What it will take is realizing that poor people have something to contribute to this country and that poor is not synonymous with bad. And what we’ve got to do is start giving people a helping hand and not a hand-out. We need to-
BILL MOYERS: Well, by “helping hand,” do you mean-
VINCE LANE: I mean with resources. They need subsidies, but these subsidies ought to be intended to get them up and on their own. Poor people need the same alternatives as anyone else. We started a symphony orchestra here in public housing in Chicago two years ago. Now, people said “That’s another crazy Vince Lane idea.” The reason I did it was to prove a point. If you give poor people, kids, the same alternatives as kids have in other neighborhoods, you’ll get a similar product. So it’s not – today those kids, two years later, 4 to 15 years of age, not only play Bach and Beethoven, they’re writing their own classical music that they composed themselves. They aren’t just, because they’re black, rap music fanatics and “shake a tail feather” kinds of dancing. These are kids that, if you expose them to normal things, they will react like normal people.
BILL MOYERS: What are some other crazy Vince ideas? What about it, Ms. Johnson? Is he crazy?
IRENE JOHNSON: Well, we like that kind of crazy.
VINCE LANE: Well, the other thing is about safety. You can’t – unfortunately, the situation is as it is and you have to take a firm hand with crime and drugs and all the other social problems in this country because you can’t have community when people are afraid to know who their next-door neighbor is, because that is community.
BILL MOYERS: What do you all think about this, you commissioners? What do you make of what you’ve just heard?
EDDIE N. WILLIAMS: We’ve seen Los Angeles. There’s a feeling in the black community in particular that if you don’t throw a brick, you don’t get attention and it’s a real travesty of government that we have to get to that point of desperation in our society before we take a look and before we become responsive.
ELIZABETH HOLLANDER: I think there are a couple of really important points. One is that what makes these ventures work is a deep respect on both sides. The government people respect the role of community and the community people push real hard, but boy, do they know when they have a good bureaucrat to work with. I think the other key is resources. The people are resources here, but it takes real dollars to do these things and empowerment doesn’t just mean people taking responsibility. It means they take responsibility with some real money to do things.
WILLIAM F. WINTER: What we’ve just heard is how we reestablish credibility, the credibility of government. So many people have a perception of government as some impersonal, remote bureaucracy that does not know about their problems. What we’ve heard from Mr. Lane and what we saw with Commander O’Shield and others – government is individual human beings and it is only based – this is how people measure the performance of government, on the basis of the individual performance of those involved in government. And we’ve seen so many illustrations across this country of people doing exactly what Mr. Lane, Commander O’Shield and others have done here in Chicago.
BILL MOYERS: One of them is Gale Cincotta, who is a Chicagoan, the chairman of the National Training and Information Center and an old friend of mine. I’ve known Gale for 20 years. I interviewed her in the early 1970’s when I came here to do a documentary about banks that were red-lining districts in this city, banks that would not make loans to poor and working-class neighborhoods. Now, you’ve been at this, Gale, for 20 years. What have you learned about it?
GALE CINCOTTA, National Training and Information Center: What have we learned? We have to still keep the fight up. We have to fight Congress every year not to lose the bills we got passed – the Community Reinvestment Act, the Home Mortgage Disclosure. But what we also learned is we have negotiated, the citizens, over $8 billion of agreements for loans in our neighborhoods that were previously credit-starved. That translates into the city of Chicago at least $250 million available for business loans, for home improvement loans, for multi-family loans, loans to non-profits. But we’ve learned eternal vigilance.
BILL MOYERS: What has kept you from burning out over the years?
GALE CINCOTTA: The spirit of the people, not only in Chicago, in the neighborhoods, but across the country. What have we learned? People power makes a difference – consistent follow-through, learn from each other, create more and try and change government to understand the community, and if you could harness all that energy and talent, are the assets. Now if we can convince the foundations that this nitty-gritty work that has to go on year after year should be funded fully, not the – sometimes private foundations, to me, have the idea of the month. “We think you all should be working on this” and “We think you all should be working on that” or “We think that now it’s family values.” And we say in our communities, isn’t decent housing, a job, a park, good schools what creates the family values, than something esoteric that somebody thought up for us?
RICHARD NATHAN: That’s right.
BILL MOYERS: What did you say, Dick?
RICHARD NATHAN: I said “That’s right.” There’s a person who, all by yourself, made a revolution on red-lining and community investment. That’s a wonderful story, Gale.
GALE CINCOTTA: But it’s not all by myself. When I was by myself, I’d raise my hands at meetings and nobody paid attention. It wasn’t till you got a lot of folks in the community saying the same thing over and over. So I might have been there with them or leading on it, but not all by myself.
BILL MOYERS: Well, that’s the point of democracy. Seems to me that democracy in this country is in much better shape than the government. If we can ever discover how to connect those two, the fervor and intelligence and passion and strategy of people like Gale and all of you that we’ve seen today, then there might be a second American revolution.
Well, you’ve just met some Chicagoans who refuse to let unresponsive public policy dictate the future of their communities. They’ve joined with government officials here in the city to create these working relationships – I almost used the word “partnerships.” Somebody said maybe that’s not the right word. But they are working relationships which can help all of us, perhaps, wherever we live, to meet the challenges of urban life today. These citizens clearly understand that they are the government, but only if they get involved.
Thanks to WTTW for hosting our visit, to my colleague Barbara Williams for her splendid reporting. And thanks to you for joining us. I’m Bill Moyers.
Next time on Listening to America:
OLYMPICS OFFICIAL: The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the city of Atlanta.
ATLANTAN: To think that Atlanta is the site of both the 1996 centennial Olympic Games and the Atlanta Project initiated by Jimmy Carter is an incredible thought.
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: What can we do to correct our own failures-
I think we can break down the chasm that exists between rich people, on one hand, and poor on the other.
BILL MOYERS: Next time, “Building the Good Society.”
You can view more about the Listening To America series on this website.
This transcript was entered on April 8, 2015.