Community Meeting Squashes Free Speech – Attempts to Deny Maxwell Street Market a Voice

By Steve Balkin, Professor of Economics, Roosevelt University, November 25, 2008. Email:

West Loop resident, developer, preservationist, and civic booster Bill Lavicka invited me to attend the joint 2nd and 27th Wards Community Meeting of Alderman Robert Fioretti and Walter Burnett, hosted by the West Loop Community Organization at Merit School of Music. The meeting took place on Tuesday evening, November 25, 2008.

Since the New Maxwell Street Market is in Alderman Fioretti’s Ward and Alderman Walter Burnett was the one of the ones who strongly pushed for the Maxwell Street ordinance to drastically raise vendor fees. I came there to raise the issue to them to ask they rescind the fee
increases. This is the wrong tax on the wrong people at the wrong time. Also in attendance with similar views was Bill Lavicka, a shopper and cultural historian of the market; Merlin McFarland, a vendor and Viet Nam Veteran known as the Mayor of Maxwell Street; and
Clarence Lil Scotty Scott, a Maxwell Street Blues legend and singer denied access to perform in the Market by overly restrictive rules.
Lil Scotty has had brain surgery and speaks with a tracheotomy tube – though miraculously he can still sing.

I brought copies of comments on the fee increase, from the Chicago Sun Times webpage for their article: “Higher vendor fees could ‘finish
off’ Maxwell Street” by reporter Mary Houlihan. Bill Lavicka and I quietly tried to pass out this sheet in the meeting, counting the
number in each row and just giving them to the first person in each row. We then were told NOT to pass out information in the public
meeting and was threatened to be forcibly removed from the room. Since when is it a crime to quietly pass out information at a public meeting pertaining to an issue to be raised at the meeting?

When there was a questions period, Bill raised his hand to speak. The chair of the meeting, Eric Sedler, President of the West Loop
Community Organization then started a verbal fight with Bill Lavicka trying to deny him the right to speak. Through the intervention of
Alderman Fioretti, Bill was finally allowed to speak. Merlin McFarland and Lil Scotty wanted to speak too, but were passed up.
Finally Merlin got up and demanded to speak to the extreme consternation of Chairman Sedler. Lil Scotty never got to speak. I
was shocked at the strong arm tactics of the host, West Loop Community Organization. So were attendees at the meeting. A resident of the
area commented to us that the city likes to pick on those with the weakest voice, the weakest clout, and the weakest resources. I thought the Maxwell Street fight was over but the city and real estate developer backed organizations seem intent to not just relocate Maxwell Street but to kill it off with mismanagement and high vendor fee increases.

If I would have had a chance to speak I would have said that the government is ready to bail out AIG and Citibank but what about
Citi-Soul, the New Maxwell Street Market, a weekly public grassroots community celebration for all classes and all races, a positive human
relations get-down for all of Chicago — those are linkages too. The poor minority, new immigrant, and working class vendors pay for
themselves with the 5000% fee increase from the time they were moved from Maxwell and Halsted. The market is NOT in debt or deficit.
They are not looking for handouts. There are more creative ways to raise money for the city than on the backs of the “least among us.”
This new fee increase diminishes Chicago ethically and culturally.