Sunday, December 10, 2006

Phallus envy: Finkl Steel acquired

Well! After a 127-year legacy in the area, Finkl Steel, located in the 43rd Ward, is closing its doors and is now poised to unload its valuable property to the highest bidder.

Children's Memorial Hospital is doing the same as we speak. Lincoln Park Hospital was just sold once again. New City YMCA just announced this year that it's moving. And of course there's the Columbus deal in Diversey Harbor.

There are 350 workers employed at Finkl's plant. Most or all will be out of a job when they move. Jobs were an important reason for keeping Finkl local and why it received enormous subsidies, tax advantages, aldermanic indulgences, zoning boosts, and other incentives in the past 25 years from 43rd Ward and city powers. Many influential personages are interwoven into the Finkl story, including several North Side politicians and the governor.

The Finkl gerrymander is a one-block-high, half-mile-wide notch of the 43rd Ward that juts like a phallus to the west, deep into the 32nd Ward. This has been much to the annoyance and confusion of folks who happen to live between Armitage and Dickens west of Sheffield. This kind of political tomfoolery greatly affects how reliably people receive services.

I understand this is connected with Marty Oberman's tenure as alderman (1975-1987), Oberman having become Finkl's very richly compensated attorney and lobbyist after leaving office. (It's known as "entering politics after leaving politics.") I would welcome him to respond to this point, since details are somewhat vague and it now becomes as "salient" as the Finkl phallus.

After all, Oberman appears to have almost as many hats as Imelda Marcos has shoes. He is now quietly working behind the scenes in his capacity as campaign manager for attorney and 43rd Ward aldermanic candidate Michele Smith, and I am increasingly concerned whether his role as Smith's eminence grise could create various conflicts of interest should she take office. (By the way, Smith is attempting a similar politics-to-politics move, though she is reverse-commuting: she was a longtime lobbyist and general counsel for International Harvester just before entering the aldermanic race.)

One of my intentions was to put the Finkl property back into the 32nd Ward - where it logically belongs - in the 2010 redistricting, so that constituents in the connected area may be served more efficiently. However, now that the property will go up for sale, I cannot redistrict it unless and until I have firm understandings in place, regarding planning for the land, with whichever candidate wins the 32nd Ward aldermanic seat. Just for starters, the several streets (such as Southport) that were domained over the years as political favors to Finkl and Labkon now need to revert back to public use. This has been very frustrating to residents and businesses in the area.

We also need to ensure that this area remains manufacturing, per the recommendations of the LEED Council. We need to find at least 350 new jobs to fill the void. Given the relatively large footprint-per-employee for something like a steel mill, I think the space could provide jobs for thousands more, with some lighter-industry applications.

The 43rd Ward has been home to numerous speculative land deals lately. Children's, Finkl, Columbus Hospital, and New City YMCA are just a few of the entities that have opted to pull up stakes very recently, at least partly motivated by the windfalls they will reap. These institutions can leave Lincoln Park in the lurch when they move to greener pastures. While we must consider the needs of the seller, profitability takes a second seat to preserving the health of our community. Vigilance is paramount: As I promised before, I intend to form an interim Ward Assembly the day I take office that will help guide me in this process. I also will not hesitate to institute ad hoc land-use controls that will guarantee us a strong position at the negotiating tables.

Anyone who knows me should be well aware that it is impossible to buy me, and although some have tried, nobody has ever controlled me politically.

Related stories:

"Finkl acquired, to move North Side base," Chicago Sun-Times, Dec. 7, 2006
"Chicago plan aims to curb factory loss," New York Times, Dec. 10, 1987


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