Pilsen's Non-profit Industrial Complex: Tweedism


William "Boss" Tweed

“I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating."

- Boss Tweed

I previously wrote about Pilsen’s non-profit industrial complex regarding the metal shredder(s) in the neighborhood. In the always desperate scramble for funding some local non-profits became de facto public relations (PR) firms supporting one metal shredder or another while other non-profits were pressured to not get involved. This time I want to focus on how the institutional corruption of the local non-profits has affected my nascent political career and the neighborhoods' political future.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.)

I repeatedly criticized Sims Metal Management; the existing metal shredder in the neighborhood. Sims funded Pilsen Alliance (and their executive director Nelson Soza’s salary, likely via third parties) to prevent competition from moving into the neighborhood.

Before and during this time I had expressed interest in running for alderman to Nelson Soza for months before this conflict of interest appeared. At this same time, in March, Byron Sigcho invited me out for drinks. He asked me directly about running and encouraged me when I confirmed my interest. I expressed my apprehension to make this public because old machine tricks punish challengers and their families. With this knowledge, Byron and Nelson setup a meeting where they forced me to stand up on the spot and declare my interest in running publicly or to sit quietly and support them. I stood up.

Over the course of five weeks and four meetings, Byron and Nelson used every dirty trick in the book to get me out of the way. There were lies, rushed votes, astroturf hecklers, and secret meetings. These meetings were uncomfortable, but I learned a lot about how these individuals operate. While it took me a some time to realize the games they were playing with the neighborhood, I eventually withdrew my support of them publicly (twice) before the end of the process.

Institutional Corruption

This experience represents was a blend of non-profit corruption and institutionalized government corruption of the kind that was talked about in Hyde Park these last few weeks. The non-profit corruption is this: local non-profits build up some credibility through working on local issues and then the administrators can cash in on that credibility to pay their salaries by treating the non-profit like a public relations firm for hire.

The institutionalized corruption of government is essentially this: there is a de facto two-stage process for getting into office. First you get nominated and then you get voted in. Typically the nomination stage is an implicit funding requirement. In this case, the funding opportunity for the non-profit was/is threatened by a candidate speaking out on the existing metal shredder, leading to an actual rigged nomination process.

“If we rush this vote were no better than Solis!"

Finally, Chicago’s elections operate on a runoff system. So any vote for a contender is a vote against the incumbent. It has taken me a long time to tell this story publicly because I didn’t want to provide support for the current alderman, but after months of having the woman’s voice in my head with the above quote from one of the meetings, I decided to go ahead and publish this. Telling this story privately, it’s clear they have already been spinning this among their volunteers. I’ve heard, “Oh that’s just a personal thing between Troy and Byron.” My personal feelings for Byron are besides the point. I don’t hate the player, I hate the game and I’m trying to change it. “We didn’t know he was serious about running.” I can show you emails on this topic going back to September 2013 with Nelson and March/April/May 2014 with Byron. Nelson approached me one day over the summer and I asked him not to talk to me. He asked what I meant and I explained what not talking to me involves. He replied, “You’re crazy man! You’re out of your mind!” So I’m guessing the current spin is that I’m a madman.

Byron and Nelson play games, tell lies, sell out to metal shredders, and rush votes. They are no better than Solis. They play the same games he does by selling out the neighborhood for campaign cash. Sure they play more nicely with the Teacher’s Union, but even that is a wash. Sims Metal Management is kiddie corner from Juarez High School. It’s those teachers and students who are very likely to be breathing in metal particulate matter for the next 30 years.

Don’t support Byron Sigcho, Nelson Soza, or Pilsen Alliance. There are better community organizations and better campaigns running against the incumbent in the 25th Ward, and I would humbly include myself in that company.

Update: I recently found a post on the Pilsen Alliance webpage (that they promptly deleted and have since reposted after realizing it existed on the internet archive) showing them having a good ol' time at Sims, singing its praises:

SIMS, the current shredder, operates west of Ashland, at 2500 S. Wood. SIMS is an international, publicly traded corporation with a clean record by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sims is also a unionized company, offering living wages and benefits operating under high safety standards.

If these aren’t the actions of a group with a hypocritical, vested interest in a neighborhood polluter, then I don’t know what is.

From left to right, Vicky Lugo is second and Pilsen Alliance executive director Nelson Soza is third.