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June 2010

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.




Brady/Quinn Wage War

 For the second time in 12 days, we quote that reknowned sage of Illinois politics, House Speaker and state Democratic Party chairman Michael Madigan:

"The best thing the Quinn campaign has going for it is the Brady campaign."

  Senator Bill Brady, the republican candidate for governor, appears to have stepped into another thorny thicket along the campaign trail.   A trap he easily could have avoided by keeping his mouth shut.

  Frontrunner Brady has been quoted in news stories around the state since last weekend saying that Illinois' $8.25 per hour minimum wage (effective July 1) will be too high and should not be more than the $7.25 federal rate that is paid in neighboring states.

  The Bloomington real estate developer says the state's higher minimum causes businesses either to leave Illinois or reduce the number of people they hire here.  Brady points out the unemployment rates in Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Missouri--which pay the federal minimum--are lower than the Illinois jobless rate.

 Governor Pat Quinn is having a campaign feast.

  The democratic incumbent notes that 390,000 Illinois workers are paid the minimum wage and says most of them would lose an average of $2000 a year if paid $7.25 per hour.  In fact, a 40 hour per week Illinois worker earning the state's minimum wage would gross $330.00 a week. 

  In Bradyland, that gross would fall to $290.00 a week.

  While Brady's theory might play well among business owners who pay the minimum wage, it is a sure-fire political disaster for him among the state's least-paid workers who are trying to survive the worst economy in decades.

  Brady, who criticizes Quinn for trying to raise a minimum wage worker's state income tax $3.30 a week, is suggesting the state's economy would be better served if that same worker took a $40.00 a week pay cut.

  The Senator--who accused the governor of trying to distract voters with the issue--spent several minutes in front of the television cameras Tuesday trying to explain his theory on why the Illinois minimum wage should not be higher than the federal rate.

  That's right, he was recorded saying it to the TV cameras.

  I'll bet he'll be able to watch himself later this year on Quinn campaign commercials.



Alexi's Close "Call"

  What if Alexi Giannoulias had actually spoken by telephone to Rod Blagojevich in the fall of 2008? 

  The Illinois Treasurer, the 2010 Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, admits calling then-Governor Blagojevich's chief of staff John Harris a few days after the 2008 election to promote Valerie Jarrett as a Senate replacement for Barack Obama who had just been elected President. 

  Giannoulias also says he has been subpoenaed to be a defense witness in the Blagojevich trial.

  Admitting to having telephoned Rod Blagojevich's chief of staff about anything during the fateful fall of 2008 is bad business for a candidate in a statewide election just over four months from now.

  And talk about close calls: 

  If Harris had forwarded the live call to his boss, or the wiretapped Blago had returned Giannoulias' call, chances are there would be another name leading the statewide democratic ticket in 2010.

  Like so many other Illinois democrats during the past 18 months, Giannoulias has tried to distance himself from Blagojevich.  When asked about their relationship earlier in the campaign, he proudly has placed himself on the former governor's "enemies list".   He claims the two barely, if ever, spoke to each other after Blago's 2006 re-election, which by the way, Giannoulias and virtually every other statewide democratic elected official endorsed.

  But the Treasurer, apparently, did not consider himself so estranged in the fall of '08 that he would not call Blago's office to endorse the appointment of Jarrett.   

  Did Giannoulias still think he had some "juice" with the Governor?   

  Jarrett eventually removed her name from consideration and accepted a job as one of President Obama's key advisors.

  A spokeswoman for republican senate candidate and "on-the-lam" media fugitive Mark Kirk is already using the subpoena and events surrounding it to link Giannoulias to Blagojevich.  Kirsten Kukowski wrote in a statement "This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer".

  Giannoulias, meanwhile, is counting himself among the other electeds and high-profile pols who have been called by the Blagojevich defense team as potential testifiers who are likely never to appear on the witness stand.

  The democrat's campaign spokesman Matt McGrath wrote "Alexi is not really a part of this circus".

  But he will be, Matt, if he has to testify.


Meeks/Brady Blockbuster?

"Every idea that republicans have ain't bad...every idea that democrats have ain't good"

  So spoke the Reverend Senator James Meeks (D-Chicago) as he stood alongside republican candidate for governor Senator Bill Brady on the proposed southside site of a WalMart Supercenter.  Later, Meeks took Brady on a tour of his House of Hope megachurch a few blocks away.

  The words and visuals stunned the crazier-than-ever state of Illinois politics.

  Meeks, who is arguably the most politically potent African-American elected official in the state, cautioned reporters not to consider the morning's event an endorsement of his senate colleague Brady.  The two have differed on many issues, including the question of whether Illinois should increase the income tax to help the resolve the budget deficit.

 The Wednesday morning news conference, the reverend insisted, was a demonstration that the senators shared a belief the Chicago City Council should resist union lobbyists and allow WalMart to build dozens of stores in the city to create thousands of jobs in low-income neighborhoods.

  "Just because you have disagreement with a senator on one area, if you agree with him on another area you should be able to stand with him and work on that area," Meeks said.

  But Brady couldn't resist the opportunity to take a shot at his democratic opponent Governor Pat Quinn.

  "We are here today promoting an agenda that frankly, the governor's office has failed to promote over the last eight years," said Brady.

  Democrat Meeks, who was first elected to the Senate in 2003 as an independent, worked with Brady and other republican lawmakers last spring in his failed attempt to pass a school vouchers bill.  It would have allowed parents of children in the worst-performing Chicago Public Schools to move their kids to private or parochial schools, using each child's share of state funds to pay the tuitions.

  If Brady were elected governor, Meeks is certain the Bloomington conservative would not only muscle a few more republicans to support vouchers but also would sign the bill in a heartbeat.  Meeks told me he is just as sure that Governor Quinn would not sign a vouchers bill.

  Also noteworthy, Brady is no "johnny-come-lately" to the WalMart fight.  Last October, he campaigned at another proposed southside site.  He clearly is not conceding the usually-democratic African-American vote to Quinn. 

  So is Meeks considering an eventual endorsement of Bill Brady for Governor?

  "All things are possible. That's what the scriptures teach us. All things are possible," said Meeks.





Daley's WalMart Race Card

  You know its serious business in Chicago when Mayor Richard M. Daley plays the race card.

  As a critical showdown in the city's "WalMart War" approaches, hizzoner angrily smacked down his ace of spades:

  "Why is it only that in the African-American and Hispanic community you cannot build a Wal-Mart?"

   This reporter immediately asked Daley if he was accusing the union leaders who oppose the controversial retailer's expansion in Chicago of racism.  Inexplicably, the Mayor insisted he was not suggesting racism was in play.

  But at the news conference, where he asked the loaded question, you can see the reaction of two African-Americans in the background.  CAPS director Ronald Holt and 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris nodded their heads as they pantomined their agreement with Daley's racially-charged analysis of the WalMart standoff.

  Remember the last time the Mayor used the race card to get what he wanted. 

  In 2008, he goaded Aldermen to break tradition and approve a children's museum in Grant Park.  He suggested that condominium owners who lived nearby opposed the project because they didn't want busloads of field-tripping public school kids, mostly black and hispanic, in the upscale lakefront neighborhood. 

  Ridiculous, you say? 

  But it worked.

  It amazes this reporter how much Chicago has changed in the 20 years since Richard M. Daley was first elected at the end of the two-year political storm that followed the death of Harold Washington.  The white Mayor from Bridgeport now counts the African-American and Hispanic communities as his "go-to" constituencies.  And its good politics for Daley in 2010 given the fact that blacks and latinos now make up a majority of the city's population.

  If the mayor prevails in the WalMart War, it could be better politics in 2011...

  ...if he decides to run for another term.



Good News For Kirk

  Wherever Congressman Mark Kirk is hiding out these days, the U.S. Senate Candidate and his staff must be pleased by news this week from the State Board of Elections in Springfield.  The "drop dead" filing date for Independent candidates and "other" political parties who want positions on the November, 2010 ballot passed Monday at 5pm.

  Millionaire mortgage banker Mike Niecestro, the west suburban conservative who talked for months about running as an independent against Republican Kirk, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and the Green Party's LeAlan Jones, did not file petitions for a position on the November ballot.  Niecestro--who needed 25,000 signatures of registered voters--told me that his petition drive fell way short of its goal because a "certain republican politician" did not make good on his promise to get 45,000 signatures.  In fact, according to Niecestro, the politician known as a "flake" in GOP circles, delivered a goose egg.

  Retired U.S. Marine Randy Stufflebeam of downstate Belleville did file for the U.S. Senate as part of the Constitution Party slate.  But the ultra conservative Stufflebeam, a Tea Party favorite, told me the Constitutions filed only 34,000 signatures.  The conventional wisdom among election lawyers and politicians is that you need at least twice the required number to come up with 25,000 valid names.

  So self-described moderate Kirk is likely not to have conservatives on the ballot to take away right wing republican votes.

  Meanwhile, LeAlan Jones' performance at the Metropolitan Planning Commission's luncheon Monday made it clear that his confirmed ballot position could pose a problem for democrat Giannoulias.   Jones, a 31 year old journalist and television producer with outside-the-box ideas is a strong communicator who makes his points. 

  The Green Party's U.S. Senate standard bearer, who garnered 14% of support in the latest  PublicPolicyPolling.com survey, is also African-American and could siphon off any number of usually-democratic black votes desperately needed by Giannoulias in what is expected to be a down-to-the-wire contest.

  So its not all bad news for Mark Kirk.

  Despite his credibility issues and recent status as a "media fugitive", he's still very much in the running.

  No pun intended.


See Mark Run. Run, Mark, Run!

  U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk has given new meaning to the phrase "running for office".

  The republican congressman "quickstepped" his way through a Hyatt Regency kitchen while being chased by reporters who had just watched him speak to the Metropolitan Planning Commission.  We newsies thought we could ask the gentleman from Illinois about his admitted "misremembrance" of his military record and the latest controversy over his teaching career as reported by the New York Times.

   The NYT story quoted leaders of a Methodist Church community in Ithaca, New York saying that Kirk "never, ever" taught at the congregation's nursery school in 1981 as he has claimed in campaign ads and other bios.  They say at most, then-college student Kirk may have been a teachers' aide whose duties would have included playing with the pre-schoolers at recess.

   There's a C-Span videotape from 2006 in which representative Kirk is seen and heard on the floor of Congress speaking about "the kids who were the brightest lights of our country’s future" and "those who bore scrutiny as people who might bring a gun to class.”  

   Who can blame reporters for having questions about the congressman's claim to have faced down gun-toting toddlers in Ithaca?   Isn't this the same U.S. Navy Reserve "Intelligence Officer of the Year" who once told a congressional hearing that he survived anti-aircraft batteries "shooting at us" in Iraq?  The same guy who later "misremembered" the award (he didn't receive it) and later admitted there weren't any records of the hostile fire incident?   As in maybe it really didn't happen? 

  Yeah...that's the ticket!

  Obviously, Kirk and his campaign strategists have made a decision to "stonewall" the media on his military and teaching histories.   Don't talk about the made-up stuff and people will forget about it.  Ignore the reporters and they'll go away. 

  Well, the candidate and his braintrust should think again. 

  The sooner Mark Kirk stops running and answers the questions, the sooner he can resume running for the U.S. Senate.



"The best thing the Quinn campaign has going for it is the Brady campaign."

  Those are the words of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the chairman of the State Democratic Party, spoken to a cluster of reporters last month in Springfield at the end of the regular legislative session.  The quote came to mind as I sat in the Chicago City Club Thursday watching republican gubernatorial nominee Senator Bill Brady introduce his latest endorser.

  Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

  That's right.  Bush. 

  As in George W.

  There we sat in the bluest city in one of the bluest states in the country watching Brady pal around with a guy whose first and last names make democrats see red.

  To be sure, Jeb is no George.  Senator Brady pointed out that during Jeb's two terms as Florida governor (1999-2007)the younger Bush is credited with stabilizing the sunshine state's pension system which Brady says desperately needs to be done in Illinois.

  But there's no escaping the reality that democrats in Illinois and around the country count the Jebster as a major player in the Florida GOP cabal that "stole" the 2000 Presidential election from Al Gore and set the stage for George W. Bush's two terms in the White House.  The rest is history that includes 9-11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial industry collapse and the "Great Recession".

  Governor Pat Quinn jumped on the Jeb endorsement like Paul Konerko on an 80 miles per hour fastball down the middle.  At a northside news conference later Thursday, he connected Brady to "failed" George W. Bush economic policies that drove the country "into a ditch".

  Brady appeared not to worry that the Bush name lost its magic in Illinois a long time ago.  George H.W. Bush used Ronald Reagan's leftover gas to win the state's electoral votes in the 1988 presidential election but Bill Clinton carried the state by an overwhelming margin in 1992.  George W. Bush, in his two successful runs for the White House nationally, lost Illinois by decisive margins in both 2000 and 2004.

  Democrats hold a large majority among registered voters in Illinois.  Bill Brady absolutely will need some of their votes to win the fall election.

  For Governor Quinn and his party's leaders, Jeb Bush is just the guy they were looking for...

  ....to help keep the democratic base intact.

















Daley's School Daze

  How many times have we heard Mayor Richard Daley say that his oversight of the Chicago Public Schools since 1995 has been his most important responsibility as the city's chief executive.   Hizzoner says Chicago's very future hinges on the education of its children and the availability of quality schools to retain families that are the basic building blocks of healthy city neighborhoods.

  But the starts, stops and stalls in the effort to improve public education in Chicago must frustrate Daley to no end.

  I watched this week as the Mayor delivered the commencement address for 27 eighth graders at the Joseph Stockton Elementary School on the northwest side.  Later, it was explained for this reporter that while Stockton had 36 students in the eighth grade at the end of the 2009/2010 academic year, nine children, for a variety of reasons were not allowed to participate in the cap and gown ceremony.

  So Stockton's on-time graduation rate this year is 75%.

  A 75% graduation rate

  For an elementary school? 

  Surely, most of the missing nine will attend summer school and get their eighth grade "diplomas" a month or two from now.  But when one-fourth of a group of 13-14 year old people don't have it together enough to graduate from elementary school it's evidence that Stockton, and by extension the Chicago Public Schools, have a long way to go to fulfill the mayor's vision.

  And if you believe the experts, the chances that more than half the 27 Stockton eighth grade grads will finish high school on time are borderline.  Accounting for dropouts, A 2008 study (Cities in Crisis) estimated the CPS graduation rate as low as 51.5%.  CPS officials, though, report higher rates in the 60-percentile range and insist that the percentage of students who earn their diplomas on time has improved in recent years.

  As for the Mayor, the recession-driven $600 million CPS budget deficit and the prospects of reduced state aid (already slow-arriving) do not bode well for the city's public education system in the near term.  This week, the Chicago School Board authorized teacher layoffs and increased class sizes for the 2010/2011 school year.

  In his commencement address, Daley was upbeat and optimistic about the future.  He smiled as he posed in photographs for each of the 27 Stockton graduates.

  But somewhere behind that smile, he has to be worried.



A "Boo-Vation" for the Governor

  Now that the confetti is swept away and hundreds of thousands of Blackhawks fans are safely back in the suburbs, let's remember the tense few seconds Friday after Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was introduced to the throng at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.

  The Guv got "a standing boo-vation".

  Quinn's campaign strategists have to be concerned. 

  The brief, spontaneous chorus of boos happened just over 24 hours after the latest Rasmussen Poll suggested the governor had fallen behind Senator Bill Brady by double digits (11%).  The survey of 500 likely general election voters was taken only four days earlier on June 7th.  The 47% to 36% result has a margin of error of +/- 4.5%.  Compare it to a similar Rasmussen sample taken in late April that showed Brady ahead by 45%-38%.

  Quinn's slide in the polls comes after a difficult month of May.  He failed in his effort to get the General Assembly to pass his one per cent income tax surcharge for education and he could not get GA approval to borrow nearly $4 billion to pay the state's pension obligation for fiscal 2010/11.

  After 16 months in office with members of his own party in control of both the House and Senate, Quinn is even farther way from a balanced budget.  As the 2010 regular legislative session ended in May, the Governor was unable to get democratic legislative leaders and lawmakers to agree on a plan to resolve a reported $13 billion deficit which includes nearly $6 billion dollars in arrears bills.  

  A central theme of republican Brady's campaign is Quinn's ineffectiveness.

  During May, the Bloomington real estate developer focused on building his name recognition in the Chicago suburbs where, incidentally, most of those 'Hawks fans live.  Since last weekend, his campaign was assisted by $400,000 worth of anti-Quinn television advertising purchased on Chicago television by the Republican Governor's Association

  The incumbent insists he isn't worried about Brady's ad blitz or the challenger's reported favored status in a poll taken five months before election day.  The Governor told me he has plenty of time to respond to the republicans and that Illinois will choose "his side" over Brady's once voters start paying attention.

  But judging by the way many 'Hawks fans expressed themselves at the rally Friday, The Stanley Cup Playoffs weren't the only games they paid attention to in May.


In Search of Jesse, Jr.

  Now you see him...now you don't.

  Or is it then you saw him...now you don't?


   The point is that Jesse Jackson, Jr., the U.S. congressman representing Illinois' 2nd District (Chicago and South Suburbs) has reverted to his low media profile.  And who could blame him? 

  Jackson has been subpoenaed to be a witness in the trial of ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich and according to legal experts, is the current office-holder most likely to appear as an actual courtroom witness. 

  Jackson, who wanted to be appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, met with Blagojevich the night before the former Governor was arrested at dawn on December 9th, 2008.

  As far as we know, the Congressman has spent all of his days since the trial began in Washington, D.C. where he continues to be under investigation related to the Blagojevich affair by the House Ethics Committee.  He has not returned our calls to his Capitol office.  Rick Bryant, who runs Jackson's office locally, would not comment on anything related to the trial.

  On Jackson's political website (http://www.jessejacksonjr.org/), the last "tweet" on the link titled "What is Jesse doing" was entered on May 20th.  Other links titled "Jesse's TV" and "Latest Photos and Events" are blank spaces leading to more blank spaces.

  Nonetheless, Jackson remains a candidate for re-election in November and his seat is considered "safe" by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  His republican opponent, Isaac Hayes believes otherwise, suggesting the 8-term incumbent is in jeopardy.

  "We have known since December of 2008 that Mr. Jackson was a co-conspirator with the ex-governor.  They had a meeting on Monday and Rod Blagojevich was arrested early Tuesday morning - quite the coincidence."

  Hayes went on to say,

 "The people of Illinois Second District have had enough with corruption."

  Jackson has not been charged with any wrongdoing.  He has said repeatedly that he had no knowledge of an alleged attempt by a group of his supporters to make a $1.5 million contribution to Blagojevich's campaign fund in return for the appointment of Jackson to the U.S. Senate.

  About a month after Blagojevich's arrest, in early 2009, Jackson changed his cell phone number and virtually suspended media access to himself for over a year.  In early 2010, he re-appeared endorsing his favorite candidates and all appeared back to normal.

  Then suddenly in late May, at least to the Chicago media, he went underground again.   The city's political reporters searched far and near for Jackson trying to get a comment on a May 24th Politico.com report that he is considering endorsing republican Mark Kirk for the senate seat he once coveted over fellow democrat Alexi Giannoulias.

  Then, the Blagojevich trial began on June 3rd.

  So much to talk about.

  But no Jesse, Jr. to talk about it.