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Welcome to "Precinct7" the official political Blog of ABC7Chicago. This is the place where ABC7 Political Reporter Charles Thomas will share extra information, behind-the-scenes reports, and tidbits about the political beat in Chicago. Learn more about Charles >>>

They Run for the Money

  Have you noticed how quickly Illinois politicians move when it comes to raising taxes or fees?

  Take the Illinois Tollway Authority, for example, and how speedily it "closed" this week's decision to nearly double the rates drivers pay to use the system's highways.

  Board Chairman Paula Wolfe reminded me that her members had considered a toll increase to fund a $12 billion capital program since early 2010. 

  But public hearings on the 87.5% proposed hike did not begin until August 18th and the series of 15 sessions were crammed into the next five days ending on August 23rd.

  Incredibly, the Board met  two days later on the morning of August 25th to "vote" its approval of the 15-year program as if the members had given any real study or consideration to the public testimony, most of which was orchestrated by self-interested labor unions and roadbuilders.

  While covering what critics called the "done deal" at the Tollway's palatial Downers Grove headquarters, I could not help but think of the Chicago Public School Board's decision a day earlier to approve a "maximum-allowed" increase in the city property tax.

  On August 5th, only one week after Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicagoans were being "nickeled and dimed" by taxers, the CPS Board appointed by the Mayor proposed raising property taxes.  The new levy would cost the owner of an average home ($250,000) an additional $84 a year.  The increase would generate $150 million dollars of the district's projected $712 million deficit.

  Taxpayers barely had a chance to see the CPS budget on line, let alone on paper, before public hearings were scheduled five days later on August 10th, 11th and 12th. 

  Emanuel's Board voted and approved the tax increase unanimously August 24th. 


  The Tollway Authority and Chicago School Board may have learned from the "clinic" Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and the democratic legislative leaders held earlier this year on "the need for speed".

  Remember last January when the General Assembly reconvened for its "lame duck" session? 

  In a scant 48 hours ending before dawn on Jan. 12th, the democratic-controlled House and Senate had raised the Illinois corporate and personal income tax rates only hours before new members could be seated.  The next day, January 13th, the Governor signed the bill, which was retroactive to January 1st.


  Taxpayers never knew what hit 'em.

   Keep in mind that high-speed taxation is happening in Illinois as newly-elected state and city "reform" politicians use the word "transparent" to describe their new modus operandi.

  Its transparent, all right.

  Taxpayers should see right through it.




Dismantling Chicago's "Duocracy"

  For over two decades, two guys ran the show at Chicago City Hall:

  A Mayor and a Chairman.

  A Boss and a slightly-less-powerful Underboss.

  The long-rumored power sharing agreement between Richard M.Daley and Edward Burke has been all but laid bare by developments during the early weeks of Rahm Emanuel's term as Daley's successor.

  While "Boss" Daley decided not to run for a seventh term, "Underboss" Burke-- the City Council Finance Committee Chairman and Chicago's longest-serving Alderman--is in a white-knuckle struggle to hang on to control of the city's legislative branch as well as the perks that have come with it.

  Court documents revealed that Daley always had the authority to remove Burke's police bodyguard detail, something the former mayor did not do for all of his 22 years in office. (The 4-6 bodyguards--initially assigned to protect Burke 24-7 during the 1980's "Council Wars"--have since cost Chicago taxpayers untold millions of dollars)

  But the most outrageous evidence of a Daley/Burke deal was uncovered last week with revelations that Alderman Burke's daughter has worked "under the radar" in the City Law Department for the past five years.

  We learned that 41 year old Jennifer Burke is a $99,948 supervisor in the Law Department only after she was nominated by Governor Pat Quinn for a $117,000 a year membership on the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

  Quinn, who was loaned $200,000 by Burke's campaign fund and accepted a $50,000 donation from the Alderman, insists the money had nothing to do with the appointment.

  Aldermen I interviewed, including chairmen of major council committees, were unwaware that the Finance Chairman's daughter worked in the Law Department. There, presumably, her computer password gave her access to the most sensitive information about city-related lawsuits, personnel matters, contracts, police internal affairs, etc. etc.

  Ever heard the saying "information is power"?

  Ms. Burke was hired in 2006 by Daley's ever-loyal Corporation Counsel Mara Georges and surely the Mayor was aware of Ms. Burke's familial connections.

  Inside job?

  I wonder what Mayor Emanuel's newly-appointed Corporation Counsel Steve Patton thought when he found out that Jennifer Burke's daddy had a big office downstairs...and that pops is the same Ed Burke who supported Gery Chico's campaign against Rahm Emanuel in the mayoral election.

  For the new administration, having Jennifer Burke leave the Law Department is a proverbial "no brainer".

  But as Rahm surveys City Hall he has to be thinking...where are the rest of Burke's people holed up?




If Looks Could Kill

I saw it about ten minutes into Thursday's exclusive interview with the kinder, gentler Rahm Emanuel.

  If only for a second or two, blood lust flashed in the eyes of Chicago's Mayor-elect, who also happens to be one of America's most practiced political serial killers.  

  All it took to momentarily revive Emanuel's predatory instincts were mentions of the names Luis Gutierrez, Bobby Rush and Danny Davis.

  The three congressmen from Chicago--who supported other candidates in the mayoral campaign--said some really awful things about Emanuel in the process.

  Gery Chico-supporter Gutierrez practically accused the former White House chief of staff of single-handedly de-railing immigration reform during the 21 months Emanuel served President Barack Obama

  What's more, Gutierrez spearheaded the spin that Rahm's alleged inaction caused hundreds of thousands of deportations and countless family breakups during that period.

  African-American lawmakers Rush and Davis--who supported Carol Moseley Braun--charged repeatedly that during Emanuel's congressional career(2002-2008), the northsider sided 128 times against the the Congressional Black Caucus.  How many times did we hear the tale of a heartless Rahm who voted against a "measley" five million dollar grant for drought-stricken sub-Saharan Africans?  

   None of the manufactured mud stuck as Emanuel won by huge margins among black voters and held his own in the predominantly Latino wards. 

   But the hibernating hitman within Emanuel must have been stirred by the attacks as he campaigned for mayor in a city which is at least 65% African-American and Hispanic.

  During the interview yesterday, the mayor-elect downplayed the situation calling the campaign rhetoric "politics", adding that at some point he would "reach out" to Gutierrez, Rush and Davis. 

  But the fact that none of the above has offerred even a private apology to Emanuel is perhaps an ominous sign of trouble on the way.

  As he proved during his 2006 chairmanship of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Commitee (DCCC), Rahm knows a thing or two about how to take out a House member.  His victims may have been dozens of Republicans five years ago but his well-honed knives will cut through blue as well as red.

  And the seats of Guiterrez, Rush and Davis will be more vulnerable in 2012 after the state is redistricted according to the 2010 census.

  And remember, Mayor Emanuel will be Richard M. Daley "on steroids" when it comes to controlling political money in Chicago.  He's got the cash to field so-called reform candidates for any office in the region.  "Reform" in this usage is Rahm-speak for people who see things the Emanuel way. 

 So imagine Emanuel sitting alone in his office, pondering three photos of former colleagues while fighting that familiar urge.

 If I was a congressman and knew that mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was staring at my image...

 ...I'd make the phone call.


Daley's Disconnect

  Weisdaley The end of Jody Weis' contract as Police Superintendent is more evidence that the transition underway in Chicago city government is anything but seamless. 

 This is not the Mayor Richard M. Daley Chicagoans have known for most of the past 22 years.

  This is not the all-controlling, micro-manager who was aware of his administration's every twitch, unless of course, the F.B.I. and/or the U.S. Attorney's office was involved.

  (Those were the only occasions hizzoner lapsed into his "Gee, I dunno" mode)

  Surely, Daley did know that Weis' $310,000 a year contract ended on March 1st and would have to be extended until Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was inaugurated (May 16th) and could hire a replacement.

  But Daley and wife Maggie spent the last week of February on vacation in the Virgin Islands while the city's top public safety officer's job status remained in limbo. 

  When Weis bailed on Tuesday, it ignited the kind of city hall chaos we have rarely seen since 1989.

Hillard Thank heaven for good soldiers like Terry Hillard, the former Superintendent, who has agreed to come out of retirement to lead the department in the interim. 

  So when did Mayor Daley begin to lose his "mojo"?

  There are some who suggest he began to disengage as long ago as October, 2009 when the city lost its bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

   Certainly, his job perspective changed in the Spring of 2010 when his wife's medical condition worsened.

   Remember, that was around the same time that the Chicago Public Schools' Chief Education Officer quit and the Mayor never named a replacement.  As reported in this space, the 430,000-student school district opened its 2010/2011 academic year without anyone in charge of instruction.

   Next, after Daley announced he would not run for re-election, his CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman suddenly jumped ship in the middle of the first semester.

  And what about the Mayor's "kick-the-can-down-the-road" city budget?

  All agree that Daley and the current city council (which included over a dozen lame-duck members) left the inevitable, really tough decisions on service reductions, tax and/or fee increases to their successors. 

  Richard M. Daley has given this city so much of himself during the past two decades, I guess he deserves the right to loosen his grip on its day-to-day dealings and to prepare for retirement.

  But for a couple of more months, it will take some getting used to not having Daley in complete control.


Rahm's the Mayor, Barack's the Boss. Harold and Carol are History.


Rahm Emanuel beat yours truly to church Sunday.

 Chicago's first Jewish Mayor-elect arrived at the 20,000-member Apostolic Church of God earlier than most.  He attended a private meeting with the Reverend Dr. Byron T. Brazier and elders before delivering a 6-7 minutes long speech during the 9:10am service.  The media was not invited.

  Emanuel thanked the congregation--a bedrock of Chicago's black middle class--for its support at the polling places last Tuesday.  He acknowledged his 55% first round win would not have been possible without the overwhelming support of African-American voters.

  He also described his vote from blacks--who still make up a plurality of the city's voters--as a renewal of an old but recently-strained relationship between Chicago's African-American and Jewish communities.

Barack's the Boss.  Harold and Carol are History


  In the final analysis, it was the "endorsement" of President Barack Obama that convinced African-American voters that his former chief of staff Emanuel was the right person at the right time. 

  At the risk of angering many old school politicians and members of the city's black "intelligentsia", let me call Obama the most historic African-American politician ever produced by Chicago.  What's more, Obama's status is confirmed every day he reigns as the living, breathing "leader of the free world".

  Carol Incredibly, Carol Moseley Braun's "consensus" candidacy was built around replicating the winning strategy and tactics that led to the 1983 victory of Harold Washington, Chicago's deceased first black mayor.

  Braun rightfully "wore the jacket" during the pitiful, mistake-filled campaign waged in her name.  Her longtime enemies in the media let her have it at every turn.

  But Braun's place in the history books as the first African-American female in the U.S. Senate was secure long before she charged that anyone was "strung out on crack".

  In the election's aftermath, though, the editorial tailors have plenty of other jackets to sew.

  To be fitted are the black politicians, civil rights activists and assorted reverends who thoroughly misjudged their constituents and embarked on a nonsensical effort to make the 2011 mayoral campaign a competition about race.   

  Was their strategy actually built around a re-enactment of "Beirut by the Lake"?

  It's as though Bobby Rush, Danny Davis and the Reverend Jesse Jackson were sound asleep in 2008 when Obama proved to the rest of the world that the politics of inclusion can actually work in America.

   Harold Washington's struggles paved the way for Barack Obama.  There could have been no Barack if Harold had not come before him.

  At the Apostolic Church of God, It's taught that John the Baptist came first.

  But no one comes to church these days to sing about John the Baptist.

  Time to give Harold and Carol their rightful places in history.

  Time to move on.


The Other Residency Issue

 There's another residency issue being talked about this week by the candidates for Mayor of Chicago.

 Gery Chico said Tuesday that if elected, he was willing to "talk" about changing the residency requirement for Chicago public employees.

  The former School Board President had just received the endorsement of the Chicago Firefighter's Union, an organization not known for its embrace of diversity, and one of several public employee unions who want their members to have the right to live where they wish.

 But wait. 

 The next day Rahm Emanuel virtually echoed Chico.  The Northside's entry into the mayoral sweepstakes said he'd be "open" to a discussion of ending the rule that says if you collect a city, park district or public school district paycheck you must live in Chicago.

  The two millionaire candidates in the race for mayor apparently were not thinking of the hundreds of thousands of unemployed and underemployed people in the recession-ravaged city who think the idea of even discussing the idea sucks.

  Lets see:  Rahm and Gery are willing to discuss expanding the pool of potential city workers from the city's population (2.8 million) to include the entire metropolitan region (10 million).

  I'm no math wiz but if you change the residency rule it would seem that the chances of a Chicagoan to get a job in his or her own city would be reduced dramatically.  Chicago taxpayers in Englewood, Humboldt Park and Hegewisch would suddenly find themselves competing for the work their tax dollars support with suburbanites from Evergreen Park, Naperville, Waukegan, etc.

  And what happens to the effort to correct the racial imbalances on the Police and Fire Departments?  The racial make-up of Chicago's public safety workforce doesn't come close to reflecting the city's minority population (70%).   Add the majority white suburban population to the applicant pool and true diversity may never happen.

  Mayoral Candidate Miguel Del Valle--who supports the residency requirement--suspects Chico is "pandering" to selfish, already-on-the-payroll public employee union members who oppose the rule. 

 And a Carol Moseley Braun statement warned that allowing city workers to live in the suburbs would mean "a mass exodus of city employees and the rich diversity they contribute to the city."

 By Wednesday, Chico tried to tamp down the controversy he'd ignited the day before.

  "When we say talk about the idea, that doesn't mean do the idea. We said talk about it," Chico said.

  Chico and Emanuel also "talk" at great length about job creation in their campaign rhetoric.   An emerging question is...

  ...are you talking about jobs for voting Chicagoans...

  ...or suburbanites?


Daley's Chinese Transit Authority

  Last Wednesday in Washington, Chicago's Richard M. Daley was smiling and gracious as he became only the 19th American mayor in nearly 80 years to receive the U.S. Conference of Mayor's Distinguished Public Service Award. 

  Later, Daley would admit that during the ceremony, his thoughts wandered to other places:

  The White House.  China.  Chicago.

  That evening, the Mayor and wife Maggie Daley would join other guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a state dinner honoring Hu Jintao, the President of China.  

  The next day, Thursday, Daley would become the only American elected official other than President Barack Obama to host Hu when the leader of the planet's most populous country arrived for an overnight visit to Chicago.

  In fact, Daley--a longtime proponent of increased economic ties between the U.S. and China-- would have considerably more face time with Hu last week than Obama.

  But to the point of this post:

  Daley told me during our interview--eavesdropped upon exclusively by the Chicago Suntimes Lynn Sweet--that he's pressing his case for Chinese investors to underwrite the construction of a high-speed rail line from O'Hare International Airport to the Loop.

  As widely reported during Hu's visit, the Chinese--with the world's fastest-growing economy--are poised to invest tens of billions of dollars in the U.S. and around the world.  Mayor Daley  is selling the idea that public infrastructure projects in the U.S. should be included among the prime investment targets.

  Remember how last fall, during and after his trip to Chicago's sister city of Shanghai, hizzoner raved about the high speed train that whisked passengers in seven minutes from the airport to the center of China's largest city.

  A construction project of such magnitude in Chicago would be a jobs generator the likes of which the region has not seen since the "deep tunnel".

 While Daley's vision continues to be a work in progress, there are major questions:  Would all or part of the CTA's Blue Line to and from O'Hare need to be ceded to the developers?  What happens to the local El on the Northwest side during and after construction?  Would the privateers raise the high-speed train's ticket price as high as a one-way cab ride between the airport and the Loop ($35-40)?  And finally, what amount of disruption would happen to traffic and neighborhoods along the right-of-way?

 After the deal to lease the parking meter system, any discussion of transferring control of public assets to private hands ignites political fires at Chicago City Hall. 

  But lame duck Daley remains steadfast in his belief that private ownership of certain infrastructure will lower the city's bonded indebtedness and provide a longterm shield for homeowners against property tax increases.

  After Chicago's failure to land the 2016 Olympics, a worsening city budget deficit and a school system in disarray, Mayor Daley's legacy could use some fine-tuning during the last few months of his 22 years in office.

  A billion or so Chinese dollars for a high-speed rail system to and from the airport could do the trick.

  And Chicagoans could still refer to it as "The C.T.A."


A New Mayoral Frontrunner?

 Where was Rahm Emanuel at 7:00pm New Year's Eve (CST)around the time that Congressman Danny Davis announced he was dropping out of the race for mayor of Chicago?

 Was Emanuel, the mayoral "frontrunner", still vacationing with his family in Thailand where it was eight o'clock in the morning on New Year's Day?

  Or had Chicago's would-be first family already returned to its "home" in Washington, D.C. where the time was 8:00pm (EST)?

  It really doesn't matter where the former White House Chief of Staff received word about the Davis decision. 

  For the campaigns of Emanuel, Gery Chico and Miguel Del Valle to become Chicago's next mayor, the moment was a political "game-changer".  

  The stunning announcement that couldn't wait for New Year's Day (when it would have been given banner headlines in the heavily-read Sunday newspapers) said simply that Chicago's African-American political and business leaders had actually chosen a "consensus" candidate to run for mayor on February 22nd, 2011.

  She is former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun.

  As recently as two days before Christmas, there were three (3) major black candidates running for Mayor of Chicago.  With the trio threatening to divide their natural base of support, there was muffled laughter in the other candidate camps at the political disorganization and disunity in the African-American community. 

  Then on December 23rd, State Senator James Meeks bowed out in the name of unity.  Meeks was joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson and others in secret negotiations and eight days later, Congressman Davis withdrew adding his endorsement to Braun's campaign.

  It leaves Braun as the major African-American candidate running for mayor in a city where black voters routinely make up 40-45% of Chicago's election turnout.

  She also is the highest-profile female candidate running for mayor.

  Braun's emergence as the "consensus" African-American candidate would seem to virtually assure a first or second place finish on February 22nd.   And if she is able to consolidate her base in the black wards, it is not unfathomable that she could reach out to enough voters citywide to win a 50-percent-plus-one victory in the first round.

  As for Emanuel, his first order of business in January will be a poll to measure how much of his "frontrunner" status he may have lost during the last eight days of 2010. 

   And if he finds out he's just another mayoral "wannabe", he'll certainly re-think his campaign tactics. 

   Will Rahm reconsider participating in those candidate forums he so far has not had time to attend?  (To play catchup, he'll have to play)

  And if Braun does show progress in consolidating the black vote, will Emanuel play his "ace of spades" meaning President Barack Obama? 

   The plot thickens.


Rahm's Patience Test

  He took "Queen Sister's" best shot and did not lose his cool.

  Whether he meets the requirements to run for Chicago mayor ultimately will be decided by the Cook County and Illinois court system. 

   But in the court of public opinion, candidate Rahm Emanuel may have won a victory with his temperament during his testimony at the Chicago Election Board's hearing on challenges to his residency. 

  Around two dozen "objectors"--all but three of them non-lawyers--fiercely and sometimes unfairly interrogated the former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff for nearly 12 hours.

  The vast majority of the inquisitors were clueless about courtroom procedure and confirmed their utter foolishness repeatedly during their direct and cross "examinations" of Emanuel. 

  The 51 year old candidate--with a reputation for having one of the shortest fuses in American politics--was verbally chastised by self-crowned (really) objector Queen Sister Georzetta DeLoney, conspiracy theorist Jeffrey Black and others.  

  The fact Emanuel remained calm and smiled his way through the marathon was at least one day's testament that if elected, he has it in himself to hear out Chicago's entire political spectrum from the mainstream to the "fringe".

  As the tortuous hearing continued, I thought about Emanuel's journey since I watched his resignation "ceremony" at the White House on October 1st.  

  Here's a guy who only ten weeks ago was the top adviser to the leader of the free world.  He was a major player in meetings with the cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He was President Barack Obama's point man in the START nuclear arms negotiations with Russia and the companion stateside effort to get U.S. Senate approval of the deal.

  On Monday, he sat on a makeshift witness stand in a basement conference room of 69 West Washington just off the underground pedway.  The balky public address system squawked too much as passers-by wondered "what's going on in there?".

  Rahm Emanuel was having his patience tested.

  He passed.


Rahma Drama

 Is the Rahm Emanuel for Mayor campaign getting the pre-residency hearing jitters?

 Are the candidate's handlers risking their credibility to put the best spin possible out there before their candidate testifies where he does or does not live?

 The effort's usually reliable and very professional communications director Ben "Lightning" LaBolt e-mailed a missive at 5:05pm Monday titled "Developments Today", presumably a general update on all things Emanuel.

  In it, he writes "...The Sun-Times has a new poll that shows strong support for Rahm across the city and across demographic groups."

  It turns out this "development" was a Lynn Sweet blog post on a "poll" the Emanuel campaign had done for itself.   In other words, LaBolt gave the Sun-Times ownership of the survey perhaps trying to get the rest of us to bite and report it.

  Does he think we're stupid? 

  The Washington-based Sweet, one of the best political reporters in the country, should be livid.

  ABC-7 does not report the findings of internal polls because the questions are sometimes asked to elicit positive answers about the candidates who commissioned them.  Keep in mind that these kinds of surveys frequently are used to convince campaign donors to give and keep giving.

  And how about LaBolt and others in the Emanuel campaign making written reference to their candidate by his first name only?  

  Yeah, Rahm is one of the cooler first names out there and undoubtedly when its spoken in Chicago, we know exactly to whom it refers.  I've used it for a headline or two in this space.

  But are Emanuel's handlers trying to make their guy the "Prince", "Madonna" or "Oprah" of American politics?

  Enough on this.  Gotta get to the residency hearing.