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A new era began in Chicago this morning, when Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as the city’s 47th mayor. Emanuel is the first new mayor in Chicago since Richard M. Daley took office 22 years ago, and the former White House chief of staff made clear to the city what his first priorities will be.

“Today, more than any other time in our history, more than any other place in our country, the city of Chicago is ready for change,” Emanuel said during his inaugural address at Millenium Park.

Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as Chicago's 47th mayor by Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans this morning. (Photo: Getty Images/Frank Polich, courtesy of WBEZ.)

The 51-year-old father of three said he plans to tackle Chicago’s biggest problems: education, violence, the city’s financial problems and creating more jobs.

“New times demand new answers; old problems cry out for better results. This morning, we leave behind the old ways and old divisions and begin a new day for Chicago. I am proud to lead a city united in common purpose and driven by a common thirst for change,” Emanuel said.

“To do that, we must face the truth. It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create and keep the jobs of the future right here in Chicago.”

Said Emanuel, “The decisions we make in the next two or three years will determine what Chicago will look like in the next twenty or thirty.”

As he took office, Emanuel also praised the work of his predecessor, whose father, Richard J. Daley, served as Chicago’s mayor from 1955 through 1976. “Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley,” Emanuel said.

Most of Chicago’s top officials were in attendance at this morning’s event, as was Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

You can watch the inauguration and Emanuel’s speech below, courtesy of WLS Chicago News ABC 7, or check out WBEZ’s coverage here.


GARY, Indiana – What happens when your local library shuts its doors? That’s a question Midwestern towns from Evanston, Ill., to Troy, Mich., are asking as local libraries are targeted in budget cuts. I went to Northwest Indiana, where the Gary Library Board has just decided to close its main branch, to find out the impact on a local community.

Gary has five library branches. The other four have names, like Kennedy, or Du Bois. This one is simply called the “main library”.

There was steady rain on the Saturday morning when I went to check it out. From the outside, the concrete slab exterior makes it hard to realize it’s actually a library – until you step inside.

There, the muted quiet and musty scent of stacks of books are familiar.

Zachariah, left, and Craig Boyd, Saturday morning regulars at Gary Public Libary's main branch. (Niala Boodhoo)

But we all know libraries aren’t just for books anymore. Inside the reference room, I found Craig and Zachariah Boyd, a father and son who often spend Saturday mornings here.

Craig said this is the only branch nearby that he knows is open on Saturdays. He takes advantage of the wireless Internet at the library and does work – and brings Zach to do his homework, too.

“I just want to teach him a good work ethic,” said Craig Boyd.

Father and son sit quietly in the reference room for hours – Craig on his laptop, Zach first with schoolwork, then books and games. When Craig’s done, Zach gets to go to the children’s section as a reward.

But Craig worries about what will happen to other children when the library closes on Dec. 31. Like many communities, the Gary Public Library Board decided it couldn’t afford to keep all of its branches open.

When it shuts, half of the system’s 60 employees will be out of work.

The system now has five branches because it was created when the city had 180,000 people.

Today, Gary’s population is 80,000.

Four other branches across the city will stay open – but many of the main library patrons don’t have their own transportation, so they’ll have a hard time getting there.

Seniors citizens walk here for computer classes.

The charter school down the street uses this as its school library.

And unemployed people come here to look for jobs – like Michael Jenkins.

Michael Jenkins, left, and Cassadra Dee (Niala Boodhoo)

“I’m not too computer savvy,” said Jenkins, who also doesn’t have access to a computer. He does have a commercial driver’s license and is looking for Chicago companies to target for work. That’s why he’s flipping through the Yellow Pages.

“It’s not just like closing a gas station,” said Jenkins of the impact of the library’s closing. “The library becomes a part of the community. You close a library, you’re closing down part of the community.”

Upstairs, part of that community is on the second floor.

Public meeting spaces are hard to find in Gary.

The library’s auditorium is used this Saturday morning by a local chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, a sorority for teachers.

And across the hall, there’s a meeting of a chapter of the National Federation for the Blind.

Raymond Harris brought his wife Ella to that meeting, where they found out about the library’s future.

“How can you close a main library? It’s just ridiculous,” said Raymond Harris.

But libraries all over the country are facing budget cuts. If they’re not shutting down entirely, they’re at least trimming hours.

The most extreme case may be Detroit – where an $11 million budget shortfall means at least 10 of its 23 local branches may close. (The Detroit News has been doing some extensive coverage of the situation there – you can see it here.)

Indiana Library Closings, 2008-2011 Source: Indiana State Library

The country’s best funded libraries are in Ohio, where money comes directly from the state. But even there, next year’s budget will be cut at least 5 percent. (By the way, if you’re curious about specific funding throughout Ohio, check this out.)

Raymond Harris thinks the state of Indiana should intervene for this library.

“I think our state is closing us out,” he said, simply. “They don’t care whether Gary lives or Gary exists. I don’t think they even know we are here.”

Gary’s library system is typical of most systems – the money comes from local property taxes. And that revenue has plummeted with the housing market downturn. The situation in Indiana has been further complicated by a property tax cap that was passed by Indiana voters last fall – meaning that even if the local library authority wanted to ask for more money, it can’t.

“When people hear the word ‘property tax’ cap they think it’s a good thing, but they don’t think about how it will shift public services they’ve come accustomed to,” said Susan Akers, the executive director of the Indiana Library Federation.

Tony Walker, president of the Gary Public Library Board (Niala Boodhoo)

The president of the Gary Public Library Board, which voted 4 to 3 to shut down the main branch, is Tony Walker.

“It was just impossible to continue on when you are going to lose 50 to 60 percent of your tax revenue in a year,” said Walker.

That meant cutting about $3 million from the $5 million budget. An outside consulting firm analyzed the data, and pointed out the choice was either to close the main library branch or close the other four spread out across Gary.

Walker knew the decision wouldn’t be popular, especially during an election year. He’s running for the Gary City Council, though, and said he didn’t think it made sense to postpone the vote until after the election.

“I’m running for is Gary City Council, whose total focus is going to be what to take away from people,” he said. “So, if I’m signing up to run for that type of job there is no sense in running from it now.”

The elections were last week. Tony Walker lost.

And those who were elected are left to reconcile an $11 million budget shortfall – and to figure out what other services to cut for Gary to survive.

Here’s a slideshow of my Saturday morning at the library, where I met folks like Mary Jenkins, who is organizing a petition to protest the main branch’s closing:

Richard M. Daley is spending his last week as Chicago mayor. As if to bid him goodbye, thousands of tulips have burst into bloom on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.

The two are closely related. In nearly 22 years as mayor, Daley made the beautification of the city a top priority in his efforts at economic redevelopment. If Chicago looked attractive, tourists and business travelers would be more likely to come, and residents would feel better about their city, or so he reasoned.

Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo looked at Daley’s approach to beautification and his other efforts to spur development on the eve of Chicago’s mayoral election in February.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (Photo courtesy of Kate Gardiner, WBEZ Flickr)

On Monday, the public has been invited to bid farewell to Daley at City Hall from 1 pm to 4 pm. He’ll be succeeded next Monday by Rahm Emanuel, the former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff.

Daley is far from alone in using beautification as an approach to attracting visitors and business. Last week, Holland, Mich., kicked off its annual Tulip Festival, which attracts more than 500,000 a year to the town on Lake Michigan. The festival, which began in 1927, runs through Saturday.

Farther afield, Ottawa, Ontario, is celebrating its own tulip festival through May 23. The Canadian capital is awash in tulips each year, thanks to the gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs from The Netherlands marking the close association between Holland and Canada during World War II.

And New Yorkers look forward to the annual displays of tulips and other flowers on Park Avenue and at Rockefeller Center. This year’s tulips were orange, planted in honor of the Netherlands.

Does your Midwest city make an effort to spruce up its downtown? What does it plant — and do you think it makes a difference

Send your pictures to and we’ll post them here.

This was the first of three events in this year's Thunderdrome series. Photo by Tim White via Flickr.

Last week, we previewed Thunderdrome, the party-race series staged in Detroit’s formerly abandoned Dorais Park velodrome. This past Saturday, over 900 spectators watched 134 racers compete on everything from mopeds to pit-bikes to track bikes. There was even a “tiny triathlon” that sent competitors wading through a muddy pit in the middle of the track. Our Chicago partner WBEZ’s Robin Amer was there to watch the mayhem and brings us this video dispatch.

If you missed the fun this time around, the Thunderdome series will continue in Kalamazoo, Mich., on June 12 at wrap up back in Detroit on September 10.

Kanye West performing at SXSW 2011. Photo by David Wolf via Flickr.

We asked, and you answered. Here are more of your nominations for the Best from the Midwest. Any current band or performer with Midwest roots is eligible. (More suggestions? Post them in Comments.)

From Chicago and Illinois:

Kanye West is from Chicago, Illinois. He’s already received 14 Grammy awards, and often asserts that he deserves even more.

Rapper Common is also from Chicago and also has a couple of Grammy awards under his belt, as is Lupe Fiasco.

Songwriter and multi-instrument player Andrew Bird also hails from the Windy City, as does Steve Goodman. Illinois also gets the credit for American country/folk singer John Prine, from Maywood.

Cleveland and Ohio:

The home of rock and roll — and home city of Changing Gears partner ideastream is also well represented in this latest round of Twitter and Facebook votes. Among the best known is the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails founded in Cleveland in 1988. They have earned two Grammys, plus an additional Golden Globe and an Oscar for front-man Trent Reznor (along with Atticus Ross) for the score of The Social Network.

The group that produced the ultra catchy song I Know What Boys Like is also from Cleveland – that would be the new wave band The Waitresses. Recently reunited power pop group The Raspberry’s are Clevelanders, as is the band The James Gang. That latter group is perhaps best known for their guitarist, Joe Walsh, who later went on to become a part of The Eagles. Musician, DJ and politician Michael Stanley is also from the Cleveland area.

Detroit and Michigan:

One Changing Gears fan noted that we would be remiss not to mention musician and activist Ted Nugent, from Detroit Michigan. Bob Seger of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band was born in Dearborn and grew up in Ann Arbor, home to partner station Michigan Radio. You can catch Seger on tour now.


John Mellencamp, best known for his heartland rock, was born in Seymour, Indiana.

And then there’s Prince…

Though the Changing Gears coverage area is generally Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin, we’re bending the rules for some notable exceptions this time around. Michelle Norris, co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, nominated Prince from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prince has earned himself seven Grammy awards , one Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Score too. American musician, poet and painter Bob Dylan calls Duluth, Minnesota home.

We also had a few nominations for musicians who aren’t from the Midwest but still had a big impact on the area’s music scene. Chief among those is McKinley Morganfield, otherwise known as Muddy Waters. He’s from Mississippi but is better known as the Father of Chicago blues.



It’s rare that a Detroit anchorman gets an interview with the president. But Stephen Clark of WXYZ-TV sat down with President Barack Obama at the White House this week, and grilled the president on the top issues facing people in Michigan and across the region.

Clark told the president that while the unemployment figures may be dropping, many people in Michigan say they do not feel there are many more job opportunities. Obama said he gets thousands of letters each day from families still looking for work.

“I mean they’ve done all the right things, they’re retraining, they are out there hitting the streets, knocking on doors, looking for work,” the president said. “The economy has grown, we’ve actually seen 2 million private sector jobs created over the last 13 months but it’s not happening as fast as people would like and certainly not as fast as I would like.”

Much of the interview focused on rising energy prices. Obama said there’s no silver bullet. “Families day to day are driving to work and they’re just watching their paychecks get whittled away,” the president said. “They need some relief.”

Obama said the growing economy has increased demand for oil world wide, whle unrest in places like Libya has “spooked the world oil market.”

He said his administration is already working with automakers in Detroit to increase fuel efficiency standards and alternative fuel vehicles to help reduce the demand for oil. He also said the U.S. has to continue oil production, adding that it must be done in a safe way to avoid any future disasters like last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Obama said the economy, which was shedding jobs, is now growing and adding jobs. He said his administration will keep working to create long-term jobs until every American who wants a job can get one.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, visited Chicago today to tape one of the final episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” That episode is set to air on Monday.

Here is Clark’s interview with the president. (Feedback for Clark? Find him on Twitter @sclarkwxyz. He convenes a Twitter group each newscast called #Backchannel.)

There’s a shop on Michigan Avenue in Chicago that has exclusive designs — and it’s only open until Saturday. But you might not have heard of any of the designers. That’s because they’re getting their start through a fashion incubator. These programs are popping up across the Midwest, with various degrees of success.

WBEZ’s Erica Hunter, an expert on the Chicago fashion scene, provided Changing Gears with a look at fashion incubators.

In most cases, a fashion incubator is a non-profit organization that offers workspace, resources, mentoring and sometimes a curriculum for aspiring designers.

One Midwest city that’s having much success is Chicago. For the past three years, Chicago’s fashion scene has been bustling with trunk and fashion shows displaying clothes by local designers, and much of this buzz is because of the success of Chicago’s fashion incubator which began in 2008.

“Our programming has been so successful because of the support of the community to be totally honest,” said Lara Miller, director of Chicago’s Fashion Incubator.

“Chicago as a fashion industry is under the radar manufacturing hub. People don’t realize how much manufacturing is actually here. But there’s quite a lot of that available to young designers,” she said.

Donaldo Smith is one of those young designers who just finished his year as a designer in residence at Chicago’s incubator. In addition to helping him gain visibility, he said the incubator helped him learn the business side of the fashion industry to help build his contemporary men’s line, Killian Gui.

“I had done a couple garments in the past, but I didn’t have a full brand. I know the incubator really helped me to turn it from a hobby into a business.” Smith said.

Stephanie Kuhr also recently finished her year at the incubator. She was a little unsure about costing structure for Dottie’s Delights, her line of vintage lingerie and foundation wear for women.

Kuhr said the incubator helped her create a budget and stay within it.

“It’s probably what makes or breaks a new designer because it’s a big question, it’s a huge deal to make sure that you’re paying yourself enough and covering all of your cost indirect and direct.” She said.

Because fashion is a global industry, designers don’t necessarily have to be in places like New York, Paris or Milan to be successful. And because of this, Miller said people in different cities around the Midwest and elsewhere have reached out to her for advice and guidance about starting an incubator in their cities.

But Chicago isn’t the only place with these incubators. Around 2005, Detroit made an attempt at a fashion incubator, but by 2007 it was closed.

Sarah Lapinski who was a contributing designer to the Detroit incubator said the right infrastructure wasn’t in place for designers to continue to grow. Aside from location, there was one other major hurdle for Detroit’s incubator, “people don’t really shop in Detroit, it just doesn’t really happen.” Lapinski said.

But there is hope in other Midwest cities, like Cleveland. Valerie Mayen who was a contestant on season eight of Project Runway is the founder of Buzz and Growl, an incubator like program in Cleveland slated to open this summer. The main goal of Buzz and Growl is to provide designers with space and professional equipment.

Mayen said people associate fashion with runways and overseas production, but for Cleveland that’s not a realistic venture. “We’re hoping that we can to help designers to grow to start their own small businesses that are legitimately providing their full time income.” said Mayen.

Who knows, maybe someday one of those designers will dress Chicago’s most famous contribution to fashion, First Lady Michelle Obama.


Would you like fries with that?

CHICAGO – Would you like some fries with that? That’s the phrase many are perfecting for April 19, which McDonald’s has dubbed National Hiring Day. Here’s a quick story on where the jobs will be here in our region.

McDonald’s got its start here in the Midwest, and it has a substantial presence throughout the Great Lakes states. That’s why 10,000 of the 50,000 new workers the company wants to hire will be based across Illinios, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

On a recent weekday morning at the McDonald’s on Chicago Avenue & State Street in downtown Chicago, business is steady. It’s 11 a.m., and people are ordering everything from coffee to crispy chicken sandwiches.

McDonald's franchise owner Nick Karavites demonstrates the company's mobile hiring app. (Niala Boodhoo)

Owner-operator Nick Karavites and his family own this location and 18 others in the Greater Chicago area.

“Fifty thousand is a lot of people,” Karavites said. The Karavites need about 100 workers for their 19 restaurants, and are looking for everyone from cashiers to kitchen staff. Across the country, the fast food chain needs all levels of workers, including managers.

As the employment market improves, job seekers can get more selective about where they work. That’s part of the idea behind promoting the day, said company spokeswoman Nicole Curtin.

Karavites said pay at their restaurants averages $9 an hour, and that all of their workers can participate in a McDonald’s Insurance program.

McDonalds is selling a lot of fries, and other stuff - 2010 global sales were up 5 percent (Niala Boodhoo)

McDonald’s says the company needs the employees because of how good business is.  The company’s sales last year were up five percent.

Many reported on the National Hiring Day as McDonald’s attempt to get over the idea of the “McJob”, which Merriam-Webster actually defines as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.”

Coming up, I hope to do a little more reporting on McDonald’s and its Hamburger University, where owner-operators and managers, and yes, restaurant workers, go for training. It’s actually one of the oldest corporate training programs out there and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

In the meantime, let us know: Have you worked at McDonald’s?

Say the name Patricia Wells to a foodie, and they’ll immediately mention her guide to Paris and her French cookbooks. Say Patricia Wells to a Midwestern foodie, and you’ll get the response, “she’s from Milwaukee.”

Patricia Wells, by Micki Maynard

This week, Wells is on her home turf, visiting Chicago and Milwaukee in conjunction with her latest book, Salad As A Meal: Healthy Main Dish Salads For Every Season, just published by William Morrow.

Wells, a long-time journalist for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune as well as an author, is a perfect subject for Reinvention Recipes. Over the past decade, she’s reinvented herself and her approach to writing about and preparing food.

I bought my first Wells book, The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, years ago, and used it to plan many trips to Paris. She followed it with books on bistro cooking, Provence, and another version of her food lover’s guide, this time for all of France. Those books were laden with rich recipes that reflected classic French cooking, even though many people did not cook that way on a regular basis.

But in the middle of the last decade, Wells made a dramatic change in her lifestyle. She lost 30 pounds by shifting away much of the butter and cream laden recipes that permeated her cookbooks, and placing more emphasis on olive oil, herbs, flavored salt and vegetables.

She began to go jogging in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Paris park, and sought new approaches to healthier meals. When I attended her cooking school in 2007, we used butter just once in a week of lessons, but had vegetables at every meal, often drizzled with flavored oils. (But it wasn’t Spartan: we also drank a lot of wine.)

Wells’ previous book, Vegetable Harvest, was the first she wrote since adopting her new regime. Salad As A Meal is the next step her healthier approach. “It’s a continuation, without hitting people over the head about it,” Wells said at a book signing in Chicago this weekend. “I’m saying, ‘this is good food. Try it.’”

One of her goals is to change the perception of salad from a side dish to centerpiece. She also wants her readers to think of salads as an opportunity to be creative. “This is not a book about salad bars, where you just pile things on a plate,” Wells said.

Along with salads, the book has recipes for tarts, breads, and other accompaniments. But its centerpiece is the idea of salad as a main course, something many Americans have adopted anyway. “Half the time, when you go to a restaurant, that’s what you have,” Wells said.

Her timing is ideal for farmers’ market season, which is getting off to a bit of a late start this year around the region thanks to lingering snowstorms. But as soon as spring peas and asparagus arrive, recipes from the book await. “It’s spring, and people are thinking about” salads, Wells said (even if they’re also dusting off their cars and decks).

Wells’ approach also is in line with food trends in the United States, where restaurants like The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland work closely with local farmers. Times readers will remember a wildly popular feature story by Mark Bittman, 101 Simple Salads for the Season, that ran in 2009.

Because she’s based abroad, however, Wells may not be as famous in America as our celebrity chefs and cookbook authors, like her friend Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. But she has a firm following, through her website, her Facebook page, and her blog, which recently featured fellow Parisienne Olivia de Havilland. She also is now on Twitter, @patriciawellsfr.

This month, Wells’ hometown paper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, profiled her in a piece called “Living the Foodie Dream.”

A busload of her fans from Lansing, Mich., drove three and a half hours to Chicago to see her this past Sunday, and a steady stream of autograph and photo seekers thronged her at Spice Market, a shop in Chicago’s Old Town.

Fans greet Wells

Wells returns the enthusiasm. Arriving in Chicago this weekend, she took a long walk up Michigan Avenue and enjoyed spotting new buildings and businesses that were not there on her last visit. “It’s so vibrant,” Wells said of the Windy City. “It looked so clean and lovely — and you have a new mayor!”

Wells will be in the States a little longer, and then it’s back to Paris to work on her next project. She’s updating The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris once more.

Here are two salad recipes from Patricia Wells, via The Today Show:
Chicken Salad with green beans
Crab Salad with lime zest

Have you tried a Patricia Wells recipe? Which of her cookbooks do you own?

The Chicago Cubs and White Sox already had their turns. So have the Cleveland Indians. Last Friday, it was the Detroit Tigers’ turn.

If there’s one common theme among Opening Days, it’s that they’ve become days to party. Fans arrived in downtown Detroit in a morning deluge and waited out the rain, wind and general gloom until game time. Business owners around Comerica Park in Detroit were glad to have them. For once the baseball season starts, the area around Grand Circus Park comes alive with activity.

In recent years, Grand Circus Park, long a center of movie theaters, concert halls and hotels, has again become the city’s liveliest entertainment district. New restaurants have opened, and summer weekends promise lots of festivities. A winning team (please!) only attracts more people to the city in the summer, even though many will come anyway.

As an extra bonus, the Detroit Red Wings are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, meaning at least their first two home games coincide with the baseball season.

But there is some controversy surrounding the sports events. In Detroit, where the budget is strapped, some neighborhood leaders say downtown businesses should pay for extra police patrols, rather than see officers diverted from the rest of the city. In some cities, team owners pay off-duty police officers to patrol around the stadium streets, something Detroit has yet to seek.

On Friday, for example, fans had the possibility of a double header — the Tigers’ home opener in the afternoon, and a late season hockey game at night. On Saturday, there was another double header — the Tigers’ second game and the return of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra after their lengthy strike.

Friday was a red circle day for die-hard Tiger fans and celebrants alike. The Tigers got what hopefully won’t be a rare victory this season over the Kansas City Royals, although the Royals went on to sweep the series.

Comerica Park was bursting with fans, drawing 44,799, the fourth-largest crowd.
The venders were back, and so were the servers who look after executives from companies like General Motors, Lear Corporation and Jet Blue Airways in their private boxes. While fans bought beers and souvenirs below, officials from the Tigers stopped in to greet their upscale clients.

Take a look at the atmosphere, and tell us: did you go to Opening Day? What’s your favorite Opening Day memory?