The Urge to Weigh In | Media | Chicago Reader

The Urge to Weigh In 

Opposition to the Children's Museum was as much about the lakefront as Mayor Daley's push was about the children.

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I've never understood the concept of a children's museum. Children are everywhere as it is. Why would anyone pay good money to see them collected, even if it's in a fancy new underground museum in Grant Park?

Mark Brown's a little less confused about the Chicago Children's Museum debate than I am, but not by much. One of Brown's unusual qualities is that when he doesn't understand what the shouting's about he says so, and in his June 12 Sun-Times column he admitted he didn't think it would be "the end of the world" to stick the museum in a corner of Grant Park now occupied by a field house and underground parking. He supposed he was against it anyway, but "not out of any great conviction"—which a columnist admits a lack of only at risk to his career.

"For the life of me," Brown wrote, "I don't see how it constitutes a land grab or hurts Grant Park to put a nonprofit museum beneath the faux green space any more than it did having the parking garage or the fieldhouse under there."

The reason Brown gave for his opposition—"It would have been healthy for city government to keep the mayor in check"—makes sense to me. Mayor Daley threw his weight behind the Grand Park proposal so overbearingly that the only proper place for the righteous was in opposition. Or as Brown put it, "It was never about the children."

According to Mayor Daley, and therefore according to the many aldermen who voted his way, it was always about the children. According to Daley's opponents, it was about a lakefront that should remain forever open, free, and clear—not to mention the sacred tradition of aldermanic prerogative. Most of us are no surer what's really best for the children than we are what's best for Grant Park. But we're always ready to choose sides.

Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke posted a witty chart on the Reader's Clout City blog prior to the City Council vote on June 11, predicting how each alderman would vote and why. For instance, they expected Toni Foulkes of the 15th Ward to vote against the plan. Why? "Actually tries to keep progressive campaign promises." JoAnn Thompson in the 16th would vote yes. Why? "Little interest in keeping progressive campaign promises." There was Daley's side of the debate and there was the progressive side, all the more progressive for being so badly outnumbered.

(It turned out Joravsky and Dumke were wrong about Foulkes. "I have to agree with my colleagues—it's all about the children," she said when she voted aye.)

Mark Brown's Tribune counterpart John Kass worked himself into a lather. In his view, the 33 aldermen who voted for the Grant Park plan "could have had their freedom by standing together" but instead "betrayed one of their own... and in the process they cut their own throats." They cut their throats by disrespecting "an alderman's right to protect his or her ward," as if the idea that a single politician should have absolute authority over the city's lakefront were the noblest principle overlooked by Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Kass named names. He gave us "the 16 brave aldermen who voted to keep Grant Park forever free and clear" and "the 33 knaves who voted to despoil the lakefront park on the king's command." This reminded me of how much I liked his paper's playful series of editorials that proposed other locations for the museum and actually tried to frame its search in terms of what would work for kids.

The law of unintended consequences tells us the future is not ours to know. This law rules public affairs, and not with a light hand. Tomorrow being clear to nobody, we drape each passing issue in symbolism and happily argue today's symbols instead of tomorrow's inscrutable outcomes. This approach is a godsend to journalists, allowing us to weigh in with fervor on just about anything as soon as it's clear who the players are.

That soccer field in lower Lincoln Park was another of those issues. The protest there had its roots in the way deals get done in Chicago, which is very quietly in back rooms where money talks. In this case the Latin School and the Park District cooked up a $2 million under-the-radar deal, stupidly bypassing even the Plan Commission, which must approve any construction project on parkland along the lakefront..

But the debate was never about the city's soccer players or their needs. A self-described "little ragtag group" of nearby residents calling themselves Protect Our Parks went to court and halted construction of the turf field at least temporarily, which ended up scuttling the deal with Latin. Now they hope to force the Park District to restore the field to grass—by going back to court if necessary—even though the work's about 70 percent completed and the Park District is now footing the entire bill. "We would like to get our grassy meadow back, multiuse, natural, cool grass," says Protect Our Parks spokeswoman Greta Lear, who suspects the only reason the Park District wants to finish the field is so Latin can use it anyway. Latin undoubtedly would—it's been booking space in Lincoln Park for its teams to play in for decades.

Grass is splendid, but soccer is a hugely popular sport and the Park District would like to build six or more new soccer fields around the city, financing them from a variety of sources—including the $2 million offered by the Latin School in exchange for first dibs. Construction of the second and third fields was supposed to have begun a few days ago—these are the ones at Foster and the lake that Region 418 of the American Youth Soccer Organization proposed paying for by advancing $500,000 in rental fees. The money was going to cover grading and artificial turf. Some 3,200 kids play soccer in the Region 418 program, and this spring two of its ten weekends of play were wiped out by bad weather and muddy fields.

But with the Lincoln Park field in limbo, the Park District isn't about to start building others. So in the fall Region 418's teenagers, whose games are at Foster, will still be playing on sloped dirt. Ray Groble, the incoming commissioner of Region 418, considers what happened with the Lincoln Park field a "travesty—all they succeeded in doing is costing taxpayers $2 million." But Greta Lear says, "It's terrible that a city of this size can be run like a banana republic."

Ben Joravsky reported in a piece for the Reader last September on how varsity soccer players at Lincoln Park High practiced in Oz Park, where they had to put up with "potholes and divots," not to mention a manhole cover, while a state-of-the-art field they wouldn't be able to use was in the works a few blocks away. But says Greta Lear, "This particular area has the lowest percentage of school-age children of any area in the city.... It's just the most absurd thing to take [open space] away from all of these people enjoying it when a soccer field is more important for 11 people."

Lear knows about the two fields the AYSO wants rebuilt at Foster and she's not happy about that either. "I think it's a mistake," she says. "Ripping out grass to replace it with artificial turf is not a good idea unless you're putting it over asphalt. They say it's a muddy field. Well, who made it that way?"

Groble sees the opposition spreading its tentacles—Protect Our Parks recently elected three of its members to the board of the Lincoln Park Advisory Council. In response, he's thinking of trying to organize the north side's recreational soccer establishment—reaching out to organizations like the Chicago Lakefront Soccer Club, the FC Drive Soccer Club, and Sports Monster, which runs adult leagues in several sports.

This one could get so nasty and complicated it'll be hard to say who the progressives are. For Groble the dispute boils down to active versus passive use of city parks. But that's a philosophical debate, with progressives apt to show up on both sides. Would anyone besides Mark Brown ever admit it if both those sides had pretty good arguments?

Acquitted but Not Exonerated

It's a teaching moment for new media. R. Kelly got off last week, and a young writer in Chattanooga with the nom de blog "Jebbica" posted an account at Gravy and Biscuits (subtitled "Hollywood Brought to You by the South") that began, "R&B singer R. Kelly has been exonerated of all 14 counts of child pornography." The headline, "R. Kelly Exonerated in Child Pornography Case," was quickly reproduced on bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit and celebrity news aggregators like Lipstick.com.

A Google search indicated that the mainstream media knew better. Those old hands simply said Kelly was acquitted, which was smart because Kelly was exonerated only in his dreams.

Exonerate, quoting Webster's, "implies a complete clearance from an accusation or charge and from any attendant suspicion of blame or guilt." You've hardly been exonerated of child porn charges if the jurors watch the videotape and believe it's probably you having sex with and urinating on some young-looking girl, but they can't be sure the girl is who the prosecutors say she is and therefore can't be sure she's underage.

The Tribune reported after the verdict came in June 13: "Many jurors believed Kelly was the man in the tape, but they couldn't be sure that his goddaughter was the female.... 'Most of us felt that maybe it was Kelly, maybe not,' said juror John Petrean, a Romanian immigrant. 'But nobody could agree if it was her.'"

According to the Sun-Times, juror Bruce Hutcherson called Kelly a "predator." That paper's reporters told jurors some things about Kelly they hadn't heard in court—that "three girls had filed lawsuits against him, claiming he lured them into sexual relationships when they [were] underage, and other girls had threatened similar suits that were settled out of court."

"If they had presented it, who knows what we would have done," said one juror.

"Not guilty" means the case against Kelly wasn't proved to the jury's satisfaction. Innocence is in the eye of the beholder, who can either delude himself that Kelly was exonerated, not give a damn so long as the music keeps coming, or turn his back on the singer. O.J. Simpson, for example, was acquitted but not exonerated and his career was over. Of course, aside from those Naked Gun movies, what career did Simpson have?v

Care to comment? Find this column online at chicagoreader.com. And for more on the media, see Michael Miner's blog, News Bites.

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