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April 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.




A Pause For The Cause

  Need a week off for rest and relaxation.  Precinct7 will return the week of May 3rd.


Bigger Than Broadway Bank

  The long-anticipated failure of Broadway Bank was not the worst news received Friday by the embattled Alexi Giannoulias campaign.  

  The U.S. Senate candidate, his staff and the rest of us who spend most of our days (and nights) reading and writing about this stuff were aware that the feds, by virtue of their own regulations, would make their move at the close of business on either April 23rd or 30th.  

  So they took over the candidate's family-owned bank at 5:00pm on the 23rd.  No real surprise.

  The larger concern for Democrat Giannoulias and his strategists is the story that appeared earlier in the day on the website Politico (www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/36243.html).  The report that the White House was "weighing its options" on whether to actively campaign for the Illinois Treasurer was a devastating blow to Giannoulias, who had counted on his one-time basketball buddy President Barack Obama's support.  Later, for the Chicago media, senior U.S. Senator Dick Durbin sadly confirmed the growing White House doubts that Giannoulias could win the seat formerly held by the President.

  According to Politico, Giannoulias' candidacy is so shaky that the White House reportedly did not notify the democratic U.S. Senate nominee that Obama planned to visit Quincy, Illinois on Tuesday April 27th. 

  And what impact will the story have on the candidate's ability to raise money?  He's already lagging in that effort; during the first three months of 2010, Giannoulias ($1.2m) raised barely half as much campaign cash as Congressman Kirk ($2.2m).

  As Precinct7 has speculated, if polls suggest Giannoulias has fallen farther behind Kirk by mid-May, the pressure will grow on the 34 year old nominee to resign his candidacy so the state's Democratic Central Committee could replace him on the ballot.  I've spoken off the record to some committee members who say that any of several "name" candidates, up and running by June, would have a decent chance against Kirk who has not experienced a groundswell of support despite Giannoulias' troubles.

  Ask him and Alexi Giannoulias will assure you that he can weather the storm and that he's in the U.S. Senate race to the finish.

  But quietly, he has to be wondering if a run without White House support is worth it.



IL Dems "Dis" Their Own

  Ask any of the organizers of Wednesday's "Save Our State" rally in Springfield and they'll tell you, without pause, that the overwhelming majority of the 12-15 thousand demonstrators would describe themselves as "democrats". 

  And many of the teachers, social services workers, union members and seniors would be considered "activist democrats". Not only have they campaigned for individual democratic candidates but their organizations (unions, etc.) have given money to the party that now holds majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate.

  Therein lies the root of their greatest frustration: The party THEY helped put in charge in Springfield has not responded to their demand for a tax increase. Its the only way, they believe, to sustain current funding levels for public education and state-supported social services into the future.

  The Illinois Senate passed an income tax increase bill in 2009 and President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) this week re-affirmed his support for increased revenue as a critical component of any plan to resolve the state's $13 billion deficit.

  But House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also the Chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, so far has not called an updated version of the senate bill for a vote. While Madigan agrees the state needs additional revenue, he has questioned the public's appetite for a tax increase and realizes the political danger of authorizing one during an election year.

   But Wednesday's demonstrators and speakers, who count themselves as a democratic party "core constituency", want Madigan and his caucus to "fall on their swords" if necessary to "save our state".

  In his stirring rally speech, AFSCME Local 31 President Henry Bayer suggested that state lawmakers, including democrats, were trying to keep their jobs at the expense of tens of thousands of public and private sector workers who depend on state appropriations to feed their families.

  So far, Speaker Madigan and his house democrats, who could pass a tax increase bill without republican support, have done nothing to disprove Bayer's theory.

  They've turned a deaf ear to the pleas of thousands of their most loyal supporters.


The Audacity of Rahm

  With one sentence spoken during an interview taped for public television, White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel has launched a campaign to become Chicago's next mayor! 

  When Richard M. Daley decides he doesn't want the job anymore, of course.

  Emmanuel, the former U.S. Congressman who represented the city's northside from 2003-2008 told interviewer Charlie Rose last night,  "I hope Mayor Daley seeks reelection. I will work and support him if he seeks reelection. But if Mayor Daley doesn't, one day I would like to run for mayor of the city of Chicago."

  I think the Hebrew/Yiddish word for it is chutzpah.

  On paper Emmanuel, in the near term, looks like a decent bet.  His campaign would attract national media attention.  Let's assume he'd have the support of a President who presumably is more popular in Chicago than any other city in the nation.  And Rahm, like Daley, would initially corner most of the local political money.

  But aside from name recognition, the former congressman would have loads of work to do to convince voters citywide that he is the one to succeed the venerable Daley.   Remember, Chicago is a majority minority city.  African-Americans, Latinos and "others" make up 70% of Chicago's population.   

  Emmanuel was elected to Congress by a relatively small base of predominantly white voters on the northside.   He should not take for granted or underrate what Daley has accomplished over the past 20 years as a "minority" elected to the city's top job six times.

  And while Emmanuel's political acumen is legendary, keep in mind that Daley's leaving office for whatever reason will ignite a political "free-for-all" that Chicago has not seen since the death of Mayor Harold Washington.  Who knows how many other candidates might throw their hats into the ring.

  Finally, how about Emmanuel's timing.

  He spoke just hours after it was announced that First Lady Maggie Daley has suffered a setback in her battle against bone cancer.  

  If there is anything we've learned about Richard M. Daley during the past 20 years it is that the one thing he cares about more than the city of Chicago is his family.

  How Maggie is faring later this year will be a major factor in the Mayor's decision whether to seek re-election.




Cullerton's Son, State's SUV, Your Money

  I don't know about you, but the minute I heard of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton's 26 year old son's DUI arrest, I immediately focused on the fact that Garritt Cullerton reportedly was driving a 2009 Ford Escape "registered to the state Senate".

  Garritt, who reportedly worked for the state House until November of last year, reportedly lives with his parents on Chicago's northside.  A statement from the Senate President's office said John Cullerton was "disappointed" with his son's arrest and that Garritt was using the vehicle "without his (John's) authorization".

  The allegation that Garritt's blood alcohol level was over twice the legal limit is a matter for police, prosecutors and the young man's lawyers.   What gives this story "legs" are all the questions about the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV):

  Why does the Senate President need a state owned/leased vehicle?  Doesn't he use the state airplane to travel to and from Springfield?   When he's in Chicago, do taxpayers need to pay for his short commute from the northside to his office in the Thompson Center?

  Isn't the state of Illinois broke?  Who authorized the purchase/lease of a vehicle in 2009 when the budget deficit was soaring to record levels?  Aren't Illinois lawmakers considered part time?  How many other legislative "leaders" have state owned/leased vehicles?  Who buys the gasoline?  

  If John Cullerton is "disappointed" by the weekend events think about what Governor Pat Quinn is feeling as the General Assembly's scheduled May 7th adjournment nears. 

  As Quinn tries to muster support for an income tax increase to help solve the Illinois budget crisis, his political opponents and taxpayers now find out that the state provides an SUV for millionaire lawyer John Cullerton.   And to make matters worse, police arrest Cullerton's adult son cruising in the vehicle on the Gold Coast Saturday night.

  Stay Tuned. 

  Depending on how it plays in the media, the Cullerton SUV could be another "coffin nail" for the Governor's dying tax increase plan.


Daley's "Bad Cop"?

   Count 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale among the people surprised to learn that Beale would be appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley as the new chairman of the city council's powerful Police and Fire Committee.  

   At the Council's Wednesday morning meeting the 42 year old Beale, who represents the crime-ridden Roseland neighborhood, told me that Daley notified him of the appointment Tuesday night.  And Beale, incredibly, went on to say that he still had not spoken at length with the Mayor about the chairmanship.

  "I haven't talked with him in depth about what his expectations are", Beale revealed, adding, "I'm no stranger to the committee.  I'm not formally on the committee but I've attended a lot of meetings."

   Anthony Beale, in his third term as 9th Ward Alderman, is a well-known but often cursed name in Chicago police stations.  In 2008, he provoked an angry reaction from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #7 when he championed the hiring of private, armed security guards to patrol the Roseland business district.  Months later, he infuriated rank and file cops when he publicly questioned their need for an annual uniform allowance.

  The FOP's last contract expired in 2007.  Since then bitter negotiations, punctuated by huge marches by off-duty officers on city hall, have made virtually no progress toward a new deal.  A Daley spokeswoman dismissed any suggestion that the appointment of Beale, perceived by many cops as a police antagonist, was an attempt to send a message to the union.

  The alderman says he wasn't appointed to be a tough-talking "Bad Cop" in the city's impasse with its largest police union: 

  "I think that the police understand that I have a responsibility as an elected official to raise key issues that affect our residents on a day-to-day basis", said Beale.

  The Mayor insisted Beale is the right person for the job at the right time.

  "Anthony has a good career. (He) works very hard for his community; an upcoming political leader and a good government official", praised Daley.

   Beale follows former 29th Ward Alderman Isaac Carothers as committee chairman.  Carothers, who resigned from the council after pleading guilty to Federal corruption charges, was a critic of police superintendent Jody Weis but considered a supporter of rank and file officers.

   Chairman Beale told me he will advocate changing the police department's beat system.  He supports more flexible deployment strategies wherein more officers are dispatched to patrol neighborhoods with the most crime.

   And expect the new P & F boss to be an outspoken supporter of change in the police and fire department pension systems.  He calls new benefit guidelines 'critical" to the city's economic survival.

   "Something has to be done", warned Beale.  "If we don't do something then we're going to continue to be faced with huge deficits and not enough revenue coming into the City of Chicago to support those pensions." 

   Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue noted that Beale had never served on the Police and Fire Committee in the alderman's 11 years on the Council.   On the Mayor's appointment, Donahue commented that he "could not think of a poorer choice" to lead the panel that makes major public safety policy decisions for Chicago.


Will Burns: Alderman, "One Way or Another"

  The only surprise is that 26th District State Representative Will Burns (D-Kenwood) would make a move only 15 months into his first term. 

  Burns, the freshman rep who made a name for himself as an aide to one-time State Senator Barack Obama and adviser to former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, won election to the Illinois House in November of 2008 and took office the following January.  This week, he confirmed his plan to replace 4th Ward Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, the democratic nominee for and "lead pipe cinch" to be elected Cook County Board President.

  "I do think that in the Chicago political culture, the alderman has a higher profile than a state rep", Burns told me.  "As Alderman, you really are involved in the every day life of the community."

  Preckwinkle is quoted saying she'll recommend Burns to Mayor Richard M. Daley who will appoint her replacement when presumably she takes over at the County Building in December.  Burns says even if Daley names someone else to serve the remaining weeks of Preckwinkle's term, he'll run for the council "one way or another" in the February, 2011 city election.

  The married father of a two year old daughter holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Chicago.  He says he has a good relationship with Mayor Daley who lives in Burns' southside legislative district.

  I don't want to get ahead of myself here but city council sounds like a "way station" for the ambitious 36 year old Burns. He knows that the three of the city's representatives in the United States House of Representatives (Bobby Rush, Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez) were aldermen before their elections to Congress.

  And while I can't remember the last time a Chicago alderman ran for mayor and won, Burns is an articulate African-American with "cross-over" appeal who would have to be considered "timber" to succeed  Daley who cannot go on forever.

  Will Burns.

  Remember the name.



What Matters to Madigan

  The few reporters who covered the "McPier" hearings at the Thompson Center this week "ambushed" Speaker Michael Madigan for a brief, impromptu news conference.  It sure sounded as though Governor Pat Quinn's hoped-for 33.3% income tax increase for public education is D.O.A. in Madigan's Illinois House of Representatives.

  "That's under review", said Madigan who quickly added, "Americans are not ready for tax increases today.  A lot of Americans are very angry about their condition in life."

   The above was the Speaker's answer when asked if he would call any bill to increase the Illinois income tax before the legislature's scheduled adjournment on May 7th.  In Springfield, the Speaker and Senate President John Cullerton have one-man control over what measures will or will not be considered by their respective chambers.   No one else matters.   

  Cullerton's Democratic majority actually passed its Quinn-approved version of an income tax increase last year.  But Madigan, who doubles as the party's state chairman and is the undisputed democratic "boss of bosses", has not allowed any version anywhere near the floor of his chamber.  He wants to be guaranteed beforehand that there is at least some republican support for higher taxes so democratic lawmakers don't by themselves face the wrath of voters in the fall which could jeopardize his and the party's total control of state government.  

  And Madigan has not wavered in his stance despite Quinn's repeated insistence for the past 14 months that new revenue must be a part of any plan to fill the state's gaping $13 billion dollar budget hole.

  In a perfect world, a sitting governor who had just won his state's primary election would be considered his party's leader.   But this is politics in the far-from-perfect state of Illinois, and clearly, Pat Quinn does not "lead" Mike Madigan who has served as Speaker for 25 of the last 27 years.  What matters is what matters to Madigan.

  Question:   How many times can Madigan publicly stare down Quinn without making the Governor look ineffective and leadership-challenged?

   Answer: Perhaps, too many times already.

   The latest independent survey (Public Policy Polling) conducted April 1-5 reported Quinn's approval rating has sunk to a dangerously-low 25%. 

   And the same poll had Republican Senator Bill Brady at 43% to Quinn's 33% among likely voters in the November general election.

   If it matters.







Gut Check Time for Alexi

  Tough times for the Alexi Giannoulias U.S. Senate campaign just got tougher.

  Independent Public Policy Polling released a survey yesterday indicating that Republican Mark Kirk has pulled ahead of the Illinois Treasurer 37-33%.  PPP called 591 voters around the state April 1-5.  The margin of error is +/- 4%.

   Just two months ago, the pollster reported Giannoulias had an eight point lead.  But since early February, Congressman Kirk and the Illinois Republican Party have unleashed a relentless internet/e-mail campaign focused on the democrat's family-owned Broadway Bank where Giannoulias was chief loan officer before his statewide election in 2006.   Not only is the bank on the verge of failure because of bad commercial real estate loans, Kirk and his surrogates allege Giannoulias authorized other loans to organized crime figures and convicted felons. 

  Earlier this month, the Giannoulias braintrust tried to tamp down the bank stories with a "controlled burn" strategy (See Precinct7, March 4, 2010) but one week later, a new fire erupted with the arrest of  restauranteur Nick Giannis, Giannoulias' largest non-family campaign contributor (see Monday's post). 

  Also, expect the democrat's poll numbers to worsen with the likely federal shutdown of Broadway Bank later this month. 

   So far, as Giannoulias' favorables decline, the PPP survey indicates the percentage of "undecideds" in the electorate appears to be growing.  In other words, the poll suggests voters in this overwhelmingly "blue" state might be deserting Giannoulias but are not immediately moving into Kirk's column.

  No one wants to go on the record now, but some powerful Illinois democrats are whispering doubts about the wounded Giannoulias' ability to survive so many political cuts.  And they wonder if there are more Nick Giannises out there who could further undermine the party's chance to keep President Barack Obama's former seat in the U.S. Senate.  They look at the calendar and note that the general election is still seven months away and that Kirk does not appear to have significant traction among independent voters and the disillusioned democrats taking a pass on Alexi.

  And another question:  How is all of this affecting Giannoulias' ability to raise money?

  You heard it here first: the independent and internal polling that measures this race in mid-May, presumably after the Broadway Bank fails, will be critical to what happens on the Democratic side of the 2010 Illinois U.S. Senate campaign.

  If Alexi Giannoulias' numbers have fallen too far, he can expect some phone calls from Washington.




More Giannoulias Political Blood

  The theory spoken in open court on Good Friday caused this reporter to look up from my notepad to see if anyone else in the room was paying attention.

  In his defense of accused Boston Blackie's owner Nick Giannis, attorney Thomas Durkin opined that Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was part of a democratic party plot to force its own U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias out of the race.

  "When elected officials start doing things that they don't normally do they usually have a reason other than what they claim they're doing." said Durkin. "I don't think its fair to Mr. Giannoulias or his family or anyone else."

  In his pleading to Judge Jackie Portman, Durkin suggested some democrats want their party's elected nominee, who is under a constant barrage of political firebombs related to his family's business, to resign his candidacy.

  There are two Giannoulias connections to the Giannis case:  The 62 year old restaurant owner has donated a total of $119 thousand dollars to the Illinois Treasurer's political campaigns since 2006.  Also, the Giannoulias family-owned Broadway Bank has done business with Boston Blackies over the years.  Now prosecutors allege troubled Broadway was one of several banks defrauded by Giannis and others in an alleged $1.8 million check-kiting scheme. 

  An Alvarez spokeswoman called the conspiracy charge "absurd".  She accused Durkin of  using politics in his desperate defense of Giannis, who in an admitted drunken panic, attempted to leave the country on March 10th within three hours after a warrant was issued for his arrest. 

  Durkin is considered one of the highest profile, never media-shy defense lawyers in Chicago.  If every few weeks, at every court appearance on behalf of Nick Giannis he repeats his "theory" of the case, it will be another venue in which Alexi Giannoulias is linked to another criminal suspect and another alleged shady deal.

  Republican Mark Kirk, meanwhile, is gorging on every opportunity to further bloody the democratic candidate in his effort to take President Barack Obama's former seat in the U.S. Senate.   On Easter Sunday, the Illinois Republican Party sacriligiously e-mailed another press release headlined "Giannis Blames Alexi Giannoulias for His Arrest".

   Actually, it doesn't matter if anyone at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building was paying attention when Durkin made his case on Good Friday.

   But you have to wonder what folks are thinking at The White House.