Chicago Astroturf Alert

Richard J Daley Bicentennial Plaza

The deep pockets (Pritzker wealth? David Axelrod?) behind the proposed (and silly) move of the Chicago Children's Museum have hired the notorious PR Firm, Hill & Knowlton, to create at least the appearance of public support for the initiative. You can view the invitation to the astroturf letter campaign here (PDF), signed by Adele Simmons (Chicago Metropolis 2020); Carlos Tortolero (National Museum of Mexican Art); Maria Whelan (Action for Children); Lois Wille (Journalist and Author, Forever Open, Clear and Free: The Struggle for Chicago's Lakefront); Phillip Harris (Former Board Chair, Chicago Children's Museum).

The Chicago Children's Museum is poised to seek approval for its controversial plan to build a new home in Grant Park and has hired a prominent public-relations firm to drum up support as part of a renewed push.

After a lull in the battle, the museum has hired the massive Hill & Knowlton firm to prepare a public-relations push.

In the letter obtained by the Tribune, recipients are urged to contact an employee of the firm to express their willingness to lend their names to the campaign for the new museum in the park. The effort could include letters to newspaper editorial pages, paid ads and a news conference this month or in early April, according to the letter.

Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose ward includes the site of the proposed museum building, strongly opposes the plan. On Friday, he derided the letter as "an attempt to manufacture public support that isn't there."

"It's ironic that the museum has to pay consultants while average, everyday citizens are working on their own to protect the park," said Reilly, a former public-relations executive. "It is clear that there is huge opposition to this plan."

[From Kid museum's sights still set on Grant Park -- Arts and Culture, Grant Park, Chicago City Council --]

Mayor Daley is on the side of the museum, even though by long-standing Chicago political tradition, Alderman Brendan Reilly has the final say over what is built in his (and my) district. You'd almost think Daley has a financial interest or something.

Under City Hall tradition, development proposals cannot move forward unless they secure the backing of the alderman whose ward includes the building site. But Daley has said "aldermanic prerogative" should not apply to the museum issue because it affects people far beyond the downtown 42nd Ward.

The Sun-Times adds to the discussion:

Residents of high-rises surrounding Daley Bicentennial Plaza urged Mayor Daley, aldermen and museum officials today to "take the blinders off" -- by holding public hearings -- on two dozen alternatives to the mayor's controversial plan to build a $40 million Children's Museum in Grant Park.

"The Children's Museum is aggressively seeking taxpayer subsidies. If they want taxpayer's money, they should also seek taxpayer's ideas ... by seeking full public input into alternative sites," said Peggy Figiel, co-founder of Save Grant Park.


rebel rookie Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) last month presented the Children's Museum with the list of two dozen alternative sites suggested by residents "inside and outside" his downtown ward. He argued that it "doesn't pass the smell test" to suggest there is only one location where the museum can thrive.

Some of Reilly's suggested sites are on park land that would allow the Children's Museum, currently located at Navy Pier, to qualify for an annual, $1 million public subsidy through the Museums in the Park program. Other sites are located on private land, but accessible to public transportation and parking.

Last fall, Reilly set the stage for a political confrontation with Daley when he declared his opposition to building a new Children's Museum in Grant Park on grounds that the park should remain "forever open, free and clear," as Montgomery Ward once put it. [From Residents want hearings on museum plan :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Metro & Tri-State]

As I've written before, Alderman Reilly has my full support in this matter. There is no reason the only location the Chicago Children's Museum can relocate to is Grant Park, no reason at all. Furthermore, I don't think the CCM should benefit from tax payer subsidy, unless they change their admission policies. After all, this is a private museum, even if it does have a mission that parents might like. A reviewer from Waukegan wrote at Yelp in 2006:

I took my daughter to this museum on Saturday with a group of other mothers and children. The other children had more fun than she did, maybe because they were younger than her, not real sure. She wasn't too interested in much except the Big Backyard Room (I think that was the name of it it, it's on the 3rd floor). Otherwise, I think this place is more enjoyable for kids younger than 5...or maybe up to 5. After 6, I didn't really see any interest. The bigger kids just seemed to be running around and messing things up, as opposed to really paying attention to any of the attractions. There were a lot of children there in costumes, there was some face painting, and there was some type of live show going on right out the in the atrium part (in front of the McDonald's). I don't know that I would take her back unless she specifically asked me too.
but most parents seem to enjoy the museum.

Hill & Knowlton is most famous for being a tobacco industry shill, but they've had other successes, depending upon your political views that is. They merit at least seven pages of text in

Weapons of Mass Deception
, all of which is only relevant if you believe corporate cultures are important. In other words, if a PR firm is judged by the quality of its previous work, than Hill & Knowlton is an enemy of the people.

I wonder if the Chicago Children's Museum board miscalculated, and thought a freshman Alderman would be an easier mark to manipulate than the somewhat unpredictable Burt Natarus. Even though Alderman Natarus was a friend to the developers (a good, good friend), he still had a sense of history, and drama, and might not have rolled over so easily either.

If you happen to see any suspiciously worded support letters for the Chicago Children's Museum's relocation, please pass 'em along my way.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on March 25, 2008 8:02 PM.

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