Ald. Arena has alleged ‘racist’ postings by police regarding housing plan sent to Anti-Defamation League


Alderman John Arena’s office turned over copies of alleged racist remarks that police officers reportedly made on social media Web sites about the proposed housing development at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. to a civil rights organization earlier this year.

It is not clear how many postings from officers were reported to the Anti-Defamation League, and the content of the postings has not been released.

"We don’t comment on things related to investigations by enforcement agencies," an Arena spokesman said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the ADL said that the organization would not have any immediate comment on the postings provided by Arena’s office which it had reviewed. The organization was founded in 1913 primarily to combat anti-Semitism, but it also focuses on a wide range of issues, including bullying and hate groups.

In a May 18 e-mail, an Arena aide informed a representative of Full Circle Communities, the housing developer, that the alderman’s staff has been "working with the ADL on some of the police who have been saying racist things" on Facebook.

The e-mail, which the city released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, includes a link to a file of postings that the alderman’s office had collected. However, the link can no longer be accessed.
News of Arena’s staff working with the ADL was recently posted on "Second City Cop," a police-oriented blog.

"If you print anything that is anti-Arena, his minions will file a complaint against you," one commenter wrote in response to the posting. Another described Arena’s actions as an attempt to censor those who disagree with him.

Other commenters encouraged city employees to stay off Facebook due to privacy issues or to never post controversial comments to protect their job security.

"Do you know why Facebook is free? You are not the customer. You are the product," another commenter wrote. "You are being sold. Your likes, dislikes, your buying habits, your product preferences. Facebook is buying and selling all this information to the highest bidder. They are buying and selling you."

The 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. proposal, which would include 30 Chicago Housing Authority and 50 affordable (below-market rate) apartments, has generated an intense debate on social media and has divided the community.

Arena downzoned the property to stop the initial plan to build only a storage facility there and has since pledged to bring 50 new CHA units to the ward to help desegregate the area.

In a May 22 e-mail, a public relations consultant for Arena suggests that the strategy for gaining support for the project should "move beyond the current ‘is it racist or not’ frame, which is at this point not useful in moving our undecideds."

The e-mail is in response to an earlier e-mail from the developer’s consultant who argues that there is an ongoing generational shift in the area, "evidenced by the split in the long-standing community organization," and that the benefits of increased density should become the focus of promoting the project.

The e-mail refers to how more density, along with planned improvements for the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, would revitalize the commercial area. The 16-year-old Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association generally opposes up-zoning, while the 2-year-old Jefferson Park Forward has a policy that generally favors increased density near the transit center.