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July 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.




Daley's Lakefront Legacy

  Its the part of Mayor Richard M. Daley's legacy that's so huge its difficult to see.

  That is, unless you're in a helicopter flying along the lakefront on the south side.

  From the Museum Campus to Soldier Field and Northerly Island...over the green, rocky or sandy shoreline...along the biking/jogging path that courses to 79th street and Rainbow Beach...the south lakefront has been transformed during Daley's six terms in office.

  Sorry, Cubs fans.  Your gaudy, carnival-like northside beaches and playgrounds are not in the same league with the classy, ecologically-friendly spaces to the south.

The Politics of Completion

 Does the Mayor's announced intent to finish the south lakefront transformation mean that he will run next year for an unprecedented 7th term?

 This week, Hizzoner  asked the city council to approve $96 million dollars in bonds to begin building roads and other infrastructure on 500 acres of lakefront land once occupied by the U.S. Steel Southworks Plant.  The parcel between 79th and 85th streets would be the site of phase one of what is planned to be the largest retail and residential development in the city by 2013. 

  Alderman Sandi Jackson, who told me she was unaware of the Mayor's proposal until minutes before he announced it, has championed the overall $400 million dollar development plan since she was first elected in the 7th Ward in 2007.   At the announcement news conference, she proclaimed her support for the Mayor "who supports the project". 

  Remember that Alderman Jackson is the wife of Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., a politically-wounded but still-mentioned possible Daley challenger in 2011.  Does the Southworks deal neutralize a potential foe and bring what's left of the Jackson political machine into the Daley camp?


  And the Mayor--who the Chicago Tribune reports suffers an all-time low 37% approval rating--would get a "two-fer". 

  Not only a chance to complete his south lakefront vision...but also a better chance to win another term in which to do it.


Daley's School Daze II

  There stood Mayor Richard M. Daley and his Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman... in one of the few air-conditioned rooms in a depression-era high school building that should have been shut down decades ago...trying to convince reporters there were reasons to be proud and to "celebrate".

  There were also reasons to be sad.

  The press corps had been summoned to the Chicago Vocational Career Academy (1940) for the announcement that the system's Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) scores had increased 1.5 percentage points.  After the 2010 test, 29.4 percent of CPS eleventh graders met or exceeded state expectations.  That's up from 27.9 percent in 2009.

  Put the slight improvement aside for a moment and realize the results also suggested that in the Chicago Public Schools, only three out of ten high school juniors perform at or above grade level.

  That sucks.

  Since 1995 when control of the city's public schools was handed over to the Mayor, hizzoner has called his leadership of CPS his most important responsibility.   His administration has ordered and overseen the construction of dozens of new buildings and the organization of magnet schools.   The magnets have become educational "destinations" in the region, compelling many middle class and wealthy families with children to remain in the city. 

  Some critics maintain that if you remove the scores of magnet schools like Whitney Young, Northside Prep, Walter Payton, Jones Prep, etc., the citywide PSAE numbers would be significantly lower.

  At the news conference, CEO Huberman insisted the 2010 results revealed a citywide improvement that included many "neighborhood" high schools.  In fact, the PSAE scores at Chicago Vocational Career Academy increased over 6% year to year.

  As for Mayor Daley, virtually all of those eleventh graders who took the PSAE entered the Chicago Public Schools after he took control.  They are "his kids".  He certainly should be proud of the 30 percent but what does he really think about the test indicating that the overwhelming majority are not performing at grade level?

  And keep in mind that we are talking about the children who actually attend CPS high schools.  Remember, the system's dropout rate after 9th grade is estimated to be in excess of 50% (Cities in Crisis, 2008)

  In baseball, bat .300 in your career and you get a bust in Cooperstown.

  In Chicago politics, three out of ten is as good as you can spin it.


Black, Green and Dangerous For Dems

  For Illinois democrats trying to hold on to the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs in the 2010 general election, the emergence of LeAlan Jones is up there near the top on the list of "worst things that could happen".   

  And Precinct7 has learned that high-ranking democrats in Chicago and Washington, D.C. are trying to get the 31-year-old journalist and football coach off the ballot

  Jones is the Green Party's nominee.  And with so much voter anger and frustration aimed at the major parties, that alone would be enough to make him a factor in the race.

  But he's also an African-American who wants to replace the only black member of the Senate, Roland Burris, who was appointed to take the seat vacated by President Barack Obama, who was the only elected black person in the chamber until 2008.

  With white male major party nominees in Illinois--democrat Alexi Giannoulias and republican Mark Kirk--many black folks here and around the country are distressed and even outraged by the likelihood that the U.S. Senate will revert to its usual count of zero African-Americans. 

  And many of those black voters might express those feelings on November 2nd with a vote for Jones.

  In fact, a June Public Policy Polling survey suggested Jones was favored by 14% of the electorate during a poll of 552 Illinois voters. 

  And what perhaps is most important about the survey is that Jones' showing means he should be invited to participate in the televised debates.   Black voters, in particular, who do not know an African-American is on the ballot will realize as much after they see and hear the young, articulate black man standing alongside Kirk and Giannoulias.

  Giannoulias, whose democratic party relies on the usually dependable and heavy African-American vote, has the most at risk.  That's why, sources say, democratic party operatives are reaching out to Jones, who will not confirm or deny that such contacts have been made.

  "At no point am I going to compromise my candidacy", Jones told me by telephone.

  "I'm in this thing to win it.  And I'll be in it until the end."

   That's what I mean by "Black, Green and Dangerous".

   Especially for Democrats.


Jason Plummer, Where Art Thou?

 Anybody seen Jason Plummer?

 The political reporter at the most-watched television station in Illinois, yours truly, would like to meet the guy.  

 Like sometime before the November 2, 2010 general election.

  In Chicago and its suburbs, sightings of the republican nominee for lieutenant governor are few and far between.  And what's really weird for a candidate, when he does make an appearance north of Interstate 80 it is usually unannounced to the media by the Brady/Plummer campaign.

  Last week, the 27 year old son of an Edwardsville lumber company owner "tweeted" from Geneva where he pressed the flesh at a Kane County Cougars minor league baseball game.  His facebook account mentioned other stops in Carpentersville and Oakbrook that reporters like me could read about after the fact.

  ABC7's Sheldon Hoffenberg, the producer of our Sunday morning Newsviews segment tells me that he's tried unsuccessfully for months to get Plummer on the set for a taping.

  So what gives? 

  The Bill Brady for Governor campaign is pretty good about letting us know when the Bloomington state senator is anywhere near Chicago.  Brady also bends over backwards to give reporters access when he's in town and is available by telephone when he's downstate.

  Jamie Elich, a spokeswoman for the ticket, told me that Plummer is concentrating his efforts downstate and that his campaign appearances in and around Chicago have been limited by his commitment to the U.S. Navy Reserve.


  To this reporter, it seems Plummer has been gun-shy when it comes to Chicago television since his disastrous live interview on WTTW's Chicago Tonight in late February (See Precinct7 February 26, 2010).  And the first-time candidate who financed his winning primary campaign with over a million dollars of his own money has been a virtual fugitive from Chicago journalists since his refusal in May to release his federal income tax returns. 

  That was two months ago.

  Surely, Senator Brady and his advisers do not expect that Plummer can avoid the Chicago media and its questions for an entire general election campaign.   They should also understand that the longer Plummer tries, the more questions the city's newshounds will have about the number two candidate on the republican ticket. 

  The choice of a lieutenant governor for Illinois is a critical decision.

  Just ask Pat Quinn.




Our Next White Male Mayor?

  Political tongues in Chicago are wagging this morning in the wake of the weekend Chicago Tribune/WGN poll that suggested Mayor Richard M. Daley's approval rating is an abysmal 37% only seven months before the February 22, 2011 city election. 

  And what perhaps is more ominous for hizzoner, a whopping 53% of the 500 registered voters surveyed July 8-14 said they do not want to see Daley re-elected for an unprecedented seventh term.

  The poll result was so stunning that the Chicago Sun-Times broke protocol and did its own story about its rival's survey for its on-line edition on Sunday.  In both publications, the reports speculated on what pols might consider running against the wounded incumbent.

  That's where this post begins.

  The Trib and Sun-Times reporters listed possible candidates including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, Cook County Assessor James Houlihan and Sheriff Tom Dart.  From the ranks of Aldermen they mentioned Scott Waguespack (32nd), Robert Fioretti (2nd), Tom Allen (38th), Tom Tunney (44th) and Sandi Jackson (7th).

  Sandi Jackson?

  Mrs. Jackson, the wife of Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and the only female or minority possibility mentioned, is nearing the end of her first term and according to sources in her ward is no cinch for re-election.  She's considered a "back bencher" on the city council and during the winter campaign, can expect a serious controversy over whether she lives in South Shore or Washington, D.C..  And to make matters worse, her husband (once considered a mayoral hopeful) is embroiled in the Rod Blagojevich corruption case.

  So howizzit that my colleagues at the city's two largest daily newspapers listed all those white males in their stories when considering who might run for mayor in 2011?  If you believe the most generous count of the city's white population (40%), then the "pool" from which the reporters chose includes only 20% of the people living in Chicago.

  Are the Trib/Sun-Times scribes saying they don't consider any blacks or latinos or females (besides Alderman Jackson) as viable possible candidates in a city where people of those ethnicities comprise an overwhelming majority?

  For the record:  There are many people of color and women qualified to run Chicago and capable of winning a citywide election for mayor. 

  By the way, the by-lines atop the reports in both newspapers included no people of color. 

  This is a classic case of how reporters sometimes allow their personal points of view to leak into the speculative parts of their stories.  

  Its the kind of reporting that ENRAGES minorities and women. 


Dems Catch Break in Blago Trial?

  When federal prosecutors rested their case this week in the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial,  Illinois democrats could breathe easier, in the sudden realization that the trial would most likely be over by mid August.  That's at least a couple of weeks before Labor Day which traditionally begins the stretch run leading up to the first Tuesday in November general election.

  Earlier this year, legal "experts" predicted the testimony that began in early June would continue well into the fall campaign season and give republicans plenty of material with which to blast democrats, the party of choice for virtually all of the characters in the drama at the Dirksen.

  If Rod and wife Patti Blagojevich both testify and each spends a courtroom week on the witness stand, that takes us only to around the first of August.  Even with as many as a half dozen other defense witnesses, a few more testifying for the prosecution in rebuttal and a week of jury deliberations, there's virtually no chance this trial will ever see the light of a September day. 

  The speed at which the case is moving is wreaking havoc on the best laid plans of more than a few republican strategists.  They actually expected the trial would be the backdrop for the party's campaigns for the U.S. Senate and Governor during September and perhaps as late as October.

  And one more thing. 

  Whatever happened to Tony Rezko?  Wasn't Blago's certifiably corrupt fundraiser--still unsentenced and on standby in a Wisconsin county jail--supposed to be a federal witness against the former governor?

  Obviously, the feds believe they can nail Blago without Rezko.  It could be they're saving their cooperating witness for the trial of indicted republican boss William "Big Bill" Cellini.  Remember him?

  The new likelihood that the Blagojevich trial will have ended before the fall campaign season gets underway is a major development.

  Guilty or not guilty, the democrats just want the nightmare ended as soon as possible.





Quinn "Clotheslined"

  Poor Pat Quinn.

  There stood the Governor, the only elected official in the Thompson Center "blue room", announcing and trying to explain the cuts he'll have to make to bring the Illinois budget into "balance".

  Conspicously absent were the General Assembly's leaders and individual lawmakers who, in their devious way, helped orchestrate the one-man show.  In their election-year deliberations last spring, the GA refused to recommend politically unpopular cuts while during the same session would not agree on the Governor's proposed tax increase and/or borrowing to adequately fund the government departments and programs they left intact.

  So the "accidental" Governor is on his own.

  Hung out to dry.

   Like ripped and tattered drawers pinned on a political clothesline.  Blowin' in the summer wind in clear view of millions of disgusted Illinois voters.

   Quinn, who must have seen this day coming months ago, tried to buy some time when he signed the budget bills Thursday.  He did not announce which specific programs he'll whack to reach his proposed total of $1.4 billion in cuts.  A spokeswoman told me the administration would make those decisions after consulting with individual departments and agencies.  

  Do you think the Quinn administration will announce cuts in Human Services, Education and Public Safety with as much fanfare?   During an election year?

  Meanwhile, those cowardly lawmakers are back in their home districts excercising their index fingers.

  They'll use them to point at the Governor when their constituents complain about the loss of state services.