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August 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.




Mayoral Rumor Mill Revs Up

  When reporters ask Chicago politicians who might challenge Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2011, you get the immediate and ironic Daley-esque response:

  "Gee, I dunno".

  Then if they trust you or see a need to use you, the pols lean in close and ask the reporter the all-important question:

  "Is this off the record?"

   Of course, and the rumor machine begins to whirr. 

   It easily churns out the names of Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) and Cook County Assessor James Houlihan.  No suprises there.  They were both quoted as "considering" a campaign weeks before the Chicago Tribune's midsummer survey reported a 37% approval rating for Daley.   Its the same telephone poll in which 53% of those surveyed--angry about high taxes and privatized parking meters--said they did not want Mayor Daley to run for an unprecedented seventh term.

 Its those other names that raise the eyebrows.

 Ald. Bob Fioretti

 Sources say that millionaire Attorney Fioretti has put out feelers to raise money to put with his own for a campaign.  The alderman, when asked on the record, insists he's not a candidate.    Sure.   Until he announces.

  Fioretti's 2nd Ward, which includes parts of the South and West Sides is perhaps the most racially diverse in the city.  It includes some of Chicago's newly- gentrified neighborhoods as well as some of its poorest.   Seemingly, the Second would make a perfect base from which to launch a citywide campaign. 

  Fioretti, like Waguespack, won his first term in 2007.  He has virtually no name recognition outside of his ward.

  And if he runs for Mayor he'll have to give up his seat on the city council.  That's a huge reason aldermen rarely step up to challenge a sitting mayor in Chicago.

Jonathan Jackson

  Mayor Daley may have thought he defused a possible challenge from the Jackson clan when when he announced his support for a TIF deal to begin development of what used to be the US Steel Plant in Alderman Sandi Jackson's 7th Ward.  The Alderman was absolutely bubbly in her praise for the Mayor shortly after the plan was announced and those of us who watched the scene presumed her newfound love for Hizzoner would spread to her husband, U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr..  

  Remember, Junior had considered a run for Mayor in 2007.  A year and a half later he became entangled in the Rod Blagojevich corruption mess and could be on the witness stand in Blago's second trial during the city election campaign. 

  But what about Jonathan?

  The Kellogg MBA is the businessman/activist who is the heir-apparent to his father's civil rights legacy.  More often, the 44 year old Jonathan leads the Saturday morning program at Rainbow/Push headquarters and has emerged as an outspoken critic of Daley's administration of the Chicago Public Schools. 

  Co-owner with his younger brother Yusef Jackson of a successful Anheuser-Busch distributorship on the city's Northside, he would appear to have the financial independence necessary to begin a career in elective politics.  And he's not the type to be swayed by a development deal in his sister-in-law's aldermanic ward.

Emil Jones

  When a political operative called me one morning last week to float Jones' name as a mayoral possibility, I nearly choked on my blueberry yogurt.  The former Illinois Senate President is only seven weeks shy of his 75th birthday. 

  But "The Hammer", as he likes to be called, looks and presumably feels great.  And no one knows the political game, especially on the all-important South Side, better than President Jones.

  And another thought:

  Jones has no love for the Jackson political family no matter which civil rights activist, son or daughter-in-law might be in front of it.  If Jonathan, Sandi or Junior does make a move on city hall, it would give Jones great pleasure to be the spoiler.

  Finally, Don't expect Mayor Daley to announce his own candidacy for re-election or to hold a fundraiser until after a challenger emerges.   In his previous, mostly uncontested races the Mayor has waited to make his formal announcements during the first week of December.

  But if a legitimate opponent emerges this time around, given the anti-incumbent mood of the electorate, he'll need to get things underway at least a few weeks earlier.













Obama Drive

  In case you missed it (and, like me, you probably did) a stretch of U.S. roadway has been re-named in honor of the nation's 44th President and the first African-American to hold the office.

  Through southwest suburban, predominantly-black Calumet Park, a two miles long, east-west length of 127th Street has been re-named "Obama Drive". 

   This is not an "honorary" designation as is done too often in Chicago.  This is the real deal.   And according to Calumet Park Mayor Joseph DuPar, 127th between Carpenter and Winchester Avenue is the first street re-named for President Barack Obama in the country.

  The village held an official re-naming ceremony on Saturday, August 21st but to the dismay of Mayor DuPar and Cal Park officials no Chicago media showed up to cover it.

  I didn't hear about the event until after the fact and I'm sorry I wasn't there.

  But let the record show that Obama Drive is located in Calumet Park, Illinois...

  ...and you heard it here first.



Governor Goofs, Regroups


  Like a Big Mouthed Bass, Governor Pat Quinn opened wide and swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. 


  At the State Fair last Wednesday the unelected Illinois Democrat running for a full term in November, joined the worst elements of what even he has called “The Party of No” and announced his belief that proponents should "rethink" the construction of an Islamic Center near “Ground Zero” in faraway New York City.


  Apparently the 24-hour news cycle's right-wing talking heads, most of them based in Manhattan, convinced the Governor the mosque also is a burning issue for deficit-challenged Illinois with its legions of unemployed.


   On Friday, Muslim-American leaders in Chicago—who until then might have been considered likely Quinn supporters—began a “jihad of words” with the Governor.


   How could Quinn, they outraged, connect the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center with Islam?  In truth, there is nothing in the faith about crashing airplanes into buildings to kill innocents, including many Muslims.


  Why in the world would the Governor, who one survey (Rasmussen) suggests trails his republican opponent Senator Bill Brady by double digits, weigh in on a controversy a thousand miles away?  Doesn’t he realize that in the very diverse city of Chicago and its suburbs there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who practice Islam and abhor the terrorists who in a very real sense have hijacked the 1400 year old faith?


  Quinn--who is perhaps the most talkative Governor in Illinois history--made his controversial comments during his second conversation with reporters Wednesday.    A few hours earlier before the Democratic County Chairmen's Breakfast in Springfield, the Governor answered our questions about the Rod Blagojevich verdict/hung jury on Tuesday.


  With his thoughts on Blago already recorded,  there was time during the second session for Quinn to stray far "off-topic" to offer his opinion on the Ground Zero Mosque, of all things.


  Let me speculate here that it was no coincidence that also on Friday, at around the same time the Muslim leaders in Chicago held their news conference, it was announced that Quinn and the media consulting firm he has worked with for the past two decades were parting ways. 


  AKPD Media--formerly run by White House political guru David Axelrod--issued a statement reading in part, "We and the Quinn campaign agreed that our divergent approaches to disciplined, professional communications are incompatible."


   For several weeks, Quinn political staffers have whispered their worries that the Governor's near-daily barrage of  "official" bill signings and attendant news conferences were causing the campaign pros to "lose control of the message".   


  Was the Ground Zero comment the last straw?


  With his campaign in total re-group mode only ten weeks before election day, Pat Quinn could use some prayers.


   Its unlikely that many will originate in Illinois mosques.



















Pat Quinn's Week to Forget

   The past seven days were Governor Pat Quinn's worst week politically since the 2010 general election campaign began back in February.

   Remember last Monday's ABC7 News report on the governor's appearance at a southside church to sign a bill requiring the Chicago Public Schools to set up a new hotline for young people to report crimes.  Shortly afterward, he joined a group of African-American ministers, including the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Senator James Meeks, on a march in the Roseland neighborhood where police were still looking for the killers of a 13 year old boy who had been murdered execution-style. 

   The reverend Senator Meeks--who leads the 20,000-member Salem Baptist Church--made it clear that he still had not decided whether to endorse his fellow democrat Quinn for election in November.  And notably, none of the other black clergymen stepped forward to say that they had decided to back the governor's campaign.

  The conventional wisdom is that for Quinn to prevail in November, he must win an overwhelming majority of Chicago's African-American vote.

   But the ministers to whom I've spoken are concerned that the governor's campaign is taking their support for granted.  One, who wished to remain anonymous, said that during the group's private session with Quinn earlier that morning the governor appeared and sounded "disconnected".


   Then I found out that three days later, on Thursday, some of the same ministers who attended the Roseland bill-signing joined others in a secret meeting with republican gubernatorial candidate Senator Bill Brady.   The breakfast at Pearl's Restaurant at 39th and Indiana included an estimated two dozen black clergymen and was described as the "opening of a dialogue" with the Bloomington conservative.

  Several of the ministers described Senator Brady as "nothing like the right-wing extremist" described by Governor Quinn and his operatives.

  And it gets worse for Quinn.

  While the meeting at Pearl's was underway, Rasmussen Reports issued the results of a telephone survey of 750 likely Illinois voters.   The respondents favored Senator Brady over the incumbent governor by a margin of 48% to 35%.  It was the largest spread since Rasmussen began polling the race last march and suggested that Quinn's midsummer bill-signing binge had not endeared him to Illinois voters.

  Then, on Friday, the Governor took another haymaker.

  Judge David Erickson's seven month investigation concluded that the Quinn administration's 2009 MGT-Push program had put public safety at risk.  Erickson said the Illinois Department of Corrections--in an ill-conceived effort the save money for the cash-strapped state--accelerated offers of "Meritorius Good Time" to reduce the sentences of many inmates, some of whom were violent offenders who should not have been involved in the program.

  By Sunday, Brady was holding a news conference blasting Quinn for MGT-Push and demanding that the governor fire IDOC director Michael Randle.

  It isn't the first time in Pat Quinn's 19 months as governor that he's been on the ropes.  And I've lost count of the times that he's gotten up off the political canvas during his long and storied career.

  But clearly, the momentum his campaign sought to generate this summer was lost in the last seven days...

  ...during a week he'd like to forget.




More Crime and Politics

  We've all listened in varying degrees of disbelief as Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis repeatedly claims that the city's violent crime rate has decreased steadily over the past nineteen (19) months.

  The Superintendent claims we live in a safer city and blames the "24-hour news cycle" for over-doing its coverage of crime and violence, especially those incidents when dozens of people are shot during one night or weekend, sometimes several victims on the same crime scene.

  Make sure you're sitting down when you read the following look "behind the numbers".  

   Roderick Drew, the police department's media affairs director, confirmed this morning that when multiple persons are shot during a barrage of gunfire in Chicago it is counted as ONE aggravated battery.

  That's right.  Only one.  That's because a shooting, no matter how many people are hit, is counted as a single incident.

   Just last weekend (August 6-8), there were five incidents with multiple victims.  The cops counted only five aggravated batteries when in fact over 15 people were injured or killed.

   "I can't say why its counted that way", Drew told me. 

   "Its that way all over the country."

   Also, when folks in Englewood, Roseland and other ultra violent neighborhoods hear dozens of gunshots on a hot summer night, the vast majority of the incidents--even those reported to 9-1-1--are not included in the crime stats. 

   Not only is it against the law to fire a weapon inside the city, the bullets--assuming most missed their targets--are evidence of attempted aggravated batteries or even attempted murders.

  But again, nobody's including those obvious crimes in the statistics.

  I guess its not nearly as violent out there as people think it is...

  ...when you count your crimes the way the Chicago Police Department counts them.


Pimpin' Fords

   If I see one more politician at the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant on Chicago's south side, I might call police.

   Pimping is a crime in Illinois. 

   Isn't it?

   Last Thursday, his audaciousness President Barack Obama led a procession of pols onto the assembly line floor of the Torrence Avenue facility.  The President's entourage included Illinois Treasurer and U.S. Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias, media-fugitive Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and his U.S. House colleagues Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Richard M. Daley.

  They were joined by several city and state lawmakers who came along for the leech.  

  All the pols preened and posed in Ford's oldest continuously-operated plant, trying to share credit for the resurgent automaker's plan to hire an additional 1200 workers to build energy-efficient cars and SUV's in Chicago.

  The presidential appearance meant "second helpings" for Quinn and Daley who earlier this year attended separate Ford events orchestrated in part by their media staffs.

  A week earlier, Mr. Obama visited struggling General Motors and Chrysler plants in Michigan.   Before The President's 15 minute speech in Chicago, his administration announced the U.S. Import/Export Bank would provide $3.1 billion in financing to help Ford sell its products in foreign markets.

  After the Presidential remarks, Governor Quinn's media staff worked reporters hard, practically begging them to re-tell the story of how the state used tax credits to help convince Ford to build its new generation of vehicles in Illinois.

Pimpin' Ain't Easy

  Jumping on the Ford bandwagon is a difficult leap for politicians, including the President of the United States.  Remember, the company is the only one of the Big Three U.S. Automakers that did not accept a bailout from the Federal Government.  And to hear Ford employees tell it, their savior is someone who has never run for public office.

  Ever hear the name Alan Mulally?

  Mulally is Ford's President and Chief Executive Officer.  He is a former aerospace executive at Chicago-based Boeing Corporation who was hired in 2006 to lead the then-troubled automaker.   Mulally spent the last four years directing Ford through a difficult and sometimes painful restructuring.  The company closed plants, laid off workers, dropped product lines, invested in new designs and made dozens of other major changes as Mulally's team "right-sized" Ford to compete globally.  

  When the world's financial markets collapsed in the fall of 2008 and U.S. automakers GM and Chrysler teetered on the edge of extinction, only Mulally's rebuilt Ford was healthy enough to weather the economic storm without taxpayer assistance.

  In fact, it was announced last month that Ford had actually turned a profit for five consecutive quarters dating back to the spring of 2009.  That performance is remarkable given the fact the success occurred during the worst economic downturn in 70 years.

   And that leads to another observation during last week's theatrics at the southside Ford Plant:

   Alan Mulally was a no-show.

   And there was nothing in the handout material given reporters to explain why Ford's CEO did not take the one-hour flight from Dearborn, Michigan to welcome the leader of the free world and many of the most powerful elected officials in Illinois to the company's Chicago works.

  Apparently, Mr. Mulally had more important things to do than watch his company's success pimped by politicians who had little or nothing to do with it.




Barack's Blago Break

  Barack Obama ran into a burning building.

  The President's advisers understood the political risk when they arrived in sweet home Chicago Wednesday night and planned to spend all day Thursday here.  They knew the Rod Blagojevich jury would be conducting its eighth day of deliberations--and possibly would announce a verdict--while Mr. Obama was attending one official event and three political fundraisers. 

  The White House decided to throw caution to the wind and make the trip anyway.

  And two of the President's advisers--Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett--who had been subpoenaed as possible witnesses in the trial, returned home with Obama so the boss wouldn't feel "hung out to dry" if the worst (a verdict) actually happened. 

  Think about it for a moment.  If the Blagojevich jury had come back Thursday, ABC7 and every other TV news organization in Chicago would have gone "wall-to-wall" with coverage as soon as it was announced a verdict had been reached.  We would have filled the time until the decision was actually announced and stayed on the air for several hours with reaction and analysis.

  Not only would coverage of the President's agenda here--including his endorsement of democratic U.S. Candidate Alexi Giannoulias--have been lost, Mr. Obama would have been hounded for his own reaction to the verdict by the national press corps. 

  And of course, the 24-hour news cycle talking heads would have had a field day reminding the free world of its leader's many connections to the Illinois political cesspool.

  But Barack Obama, who's been known to catch a break or two during his historic political career, heard the news late Thursday afternoon that the Blago jury had ended another day's deliberations without a verdict.

  Two hours later, he and first puppy Bo were aboard Air Force One returning to Washington.

  He escaped the inferno at home without the political flames having singed a single hair on his graying presidential head.


Crime and Politics

  I'm not sure about the Chicago Police Department's latest statistics claiming an overall decrease in crime in the city.

  But I'm absolutely certain about what I was told by virtually everyone I talked to earlier today at the corner of Madison and Pulaski:  

  They don't believe the department's crime stats.  

  We're talking about the heart of Chicago's west side where dozens of people told me the black-on-black crime problem has grown so far beyond police control that a growing percentage of residents, if not most, don't bother calling officers to report offenses.

  At a news conference this morning Police Superintendent Jody Weis trumpeted the latest crime stats:

  "For 19 consecutive months, we've had a reduction in crime, reduction in homicides, reduction in violent crime, reduction in overall crime" reported Weis. 


  Does Weis really believe that since January of 2009 until now, a period marked by the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression, Chicago's crime rate has fallen on a monthly basis?  The numbers defy the results of countless studies suggesting crime increases during periods of economic distress.

  Cameraman Ken Bedford and I conducted our unscientific survey a few minutes after we heard Weis.  Everyone we interviewed--men, women, young and old--recalled an incident during the past two years in which they were the victim of a criminal act that they did not report to the police. 

  Their reasons included fear of retaliation from gang members, distrust of the police and the general belief that the cops would be ineffective.  Some interviewees told me that they were believers in "street justice" to settle the crimes they suffered.  Imagine for yourself what that means.

  The bottom line is that unreported crimes are not counted by police and FBI statisticians.

  20 year old Hassan Brewer, who said he and a friend were the victims of an unreported attack by masked robbers in an alley recently, said Weis was using the crime stats to promote the political agenda of Mayor Richard M. Daley.

  "You know (crime) happens everywhere. You know, they gonna try to say it's not happening to make them(selves) look good", opined Brewer.

  The Mayor would not answer when I asked him earlier in the day if he thought the city was safer in 2010 than it was when he took office in 1989.  Daley surmised it was some kind of trick question (it was not) when he remarked that "You're gonna go outside and find somebody who just got shot".

  If he runs for re-election next year, hizzoner should think twice before using crime stats in his campaign literature and TV commercials.

   People in high-crime neighborhoods like the one around Madison and Pulaski aren't falling for it.