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October 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.




Obama Fights, Madigan Hides

  You've got to give President Barack Obama this much:

  He does not run from a fight.

  The President returns to Chicago Saturday to headline what appears to be a desperation "get out the vote" rally for Illinois democratic candidates.   The latest independent polls suggest the party's U.S. Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias and Governor Pat Quinn are trailing their republican opponents by slim margins as we approach the final weekend of the campaign.  Ditto for State Treasurer nominee Robin Kelly and Comptroller candidate David Miller.

  Polling also suggests as many as three democratic-held Illinois Congressional seats (11th, 14th, 17th) are in play.

  Obama will defend his home turf literally on his home turf.  The GOTV rally will be held on the Midway Plaisance at the University of Chicago, only blocks from the President's Kenwood house.   

  Some national media pundits profess that too many Illinois democratic losses next Tuesday, especially if they include Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, will amount to an embarassing homestate referendum on the President's policies.

  But other observers, including Illinois republican chairman Pat Brady, say the dems troubles here are locally grown.  He cites the Rod Blagojevich corruption case and Springfield's $13-15 billion deficit. 

Where's Madigan?

  Meanwhile, the State Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan is still missing in action.

  Republican Party leaders have made Madigan, who doubles as the powerful Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, an issue in the campaign.   They point to Madigan's inability to resolve the budget crisis, despite the fact democrats control both chambers of the General Assembly, the Governor's mansion and every other statewide office.

  Madigan reportedly has a good reason to lower his usually low-profile:  A Public Policy Polling survey earlier this month put his "unfavorables" at a whopping 52%.

  Unlike G.O.P. Chairman Brady, the democratic boss has made virtually no public appearances or made any statements on behalf of his party's candidates.   And as pointed out in this space (10/13/10) his statewide organization has all but abandoned cyberspace as a means to reach voters.

  Madigan has never responded to republican ridicule of his purported hiring/assignment of a shill "republican" candidate to run against the Speaker in the 22nd legislative district.

  And how about the boss's no-show in Chicago earlier this week at the event where former President Bill Clinton attempted to rally democratic party troops to get out the vote for their struggling ticket.

  On Saturday, President Barack Obama flies from Washington, D.C. to Hyde Park to "run into a burning building" to save what he can.

  One of the owners of that building--who some say played a major role in setting the fire--lives only a few neighborhoods away on the Southwest Side.

  Will he join the rescue?

  Or will Mike Madigan continue to lay low?








The Making of Bubba's GOTV Speech

  Watching the democratic party rally featuring former President Bill Clinton Tuesday tested the patience of this political reporter and others.

  30 minutes past the scheduled start time, The Palmer House ballroom was about half-filled with what organizers estimated as over a thousand enthusiastic democrats.  Many of them held clipboards hoping to sign up volunteers who would knock on doors, staff phone banks and do whatever will be needed to get the party's voters to the polls on November 2nd. 

  The room may have looked more crowded than it actually was because the campaign "consultants" stage these events to give them that "standing room only" feel.

  U.S. Senator Dick Durbin was the master of ceremonies who got the crowd going with introductions of incumbent Congressional candidates Debbie Halvorson (11th) and Bill Foster (14th).   Dan Seals, who is trying for the third time to win the 10th district seat, also did his best to whip up the faithful.

  Then the quartet  mysteriously disappeared for several momentum-killing minutes that you did not see on TV.

  We found out the featured guest was late arriving at the Hotel.  (probably due to weather-related traffic between O'Hare and the Loop)

   When he did get to the ballroom, Durbin and  the congressional candidates returned to the stage in a "re-do" accompanied by U.S. Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and his running mate Sheila Simon.

  They did their best to re-energize the ballroom with remarks from Quinn and Giannoulias who introduced President Clinton.

   For a few minutes, "Bubba" had 'em where he wanted 'em.  He could barely say a sentence without being interrupted by applause.  After all, this is the democratic President who left office in 2001 with a booming economy, a budget surplus and the U.S. at relative peace with the rest of the world. 

  "They want to do just what they did in the previous eight years on steroids this time", Clinton said of Republican plans if the GOP takes control of Congress.

  But that was one of the last good lines.

  The 64 year old Clinton descended into a meandering, wonkish, 45 minutes, way-too-long canned speech he likely repeats on the election year banquet circuit.   

  Hey Bill, this was supposed to be a Get Out The Vote rally.

  Keep in mind, the audience was standing.  You could see the pols behind the former Prez shifting their weight from one leg to another as Clinton droned on.

  I noticed many of the democratic party "soldiers" begin to look at their watches.

   Then worse, as they mumbled comparisons between Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro, many headed for the elevators and exits.

  By the time the former President finished his speech, the half-filled ballroom was at best a third-filled.

  All of the above is to let you know that what appears in the sound bite driven world of TV news to be a jam-packed, high-energy political rally...was actually something less.

  Just letting you know.



Meeks In The Middle

  As he stood holding the left hand of the Reverend Senator James Meeks at the House of Hope  megachurch Sunday morning, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was in a low boil.

  That's because Meeks' right hand was being held by Quinn's republican opponent Senator Bill Brady.

  Nine days before the November 2nd election and Meeks, arguably the most powerful African-American elected official in Chicago, is still playing the middle between Quinn and Brady.  

  No matter how you look at it, the picture of a conservative republican like Brady being given equal status to a sitting democratic governor in Chicago's largest black church was stunning.

  From a Quinn campaign point of view, the all-important black vote was supposed to be ninety-some per cent in the democratic column by now.   The fact that Brady is still campaigning in Chicago south of Cermak and East of Western Avenue is a "Bad Moon Risin'" and possible sign of big trouble on the way for the Governor. 

  The Reverend Senator Meeks, who is exploring a run for Chicago Mayor, is the democratic party's proverbial "loose cannon".  While he caucuses with the democrats in Springfield and conducts his re-election campaigns under the party's banner, remember that he initially ran for the Senate in 2002 as an Independent who defeated longtime democratic hack, the late Bill Shaw.

  Earlier this year, Meeks enlisted support from republicans--including Senator Brady--in his attempt to pass a bill to set up a voucher system for children in the worst Chicago Public Schools.   Most Springfield democrats (many of whom depend on campaign donations from teachers' unions) opposed the bill which passed the Senate but failed in the House. 

  If elected, Brady says as governor he would twist the necessary arms to pass a Meeks vouchers bill in the general assembly and unlike Quinn, would sign it into law.

  Meeks also sided against many democrats and their union donors on the question of whether retail giant Walmart should be allowed to expand within the city limits.  Earlier this year, Brady joined Meeks in a show of support for a Walmart Supercenter in the Pullman neighborhood which eventually was approved.

  And there is new friction between the Reverend Senator and several black aldermen/democratic committee members over Meeks' mayoral aspirations.  Meeks is miffed that some members of the Chicago Coalition for Mayor are publicly questioning the reverend's plan to continue Sunday sermons at his 20,000 member church if he's elected to run the fifth floor at city hall.   

  The politicians--most of whom are Brady-haters--and their "separation of church and state" criticisms have taken a lot of the shine off Meeks' mayoral star. 

  Is Meeks, with his Brady move, giving his critics a lesson about payback?

  He certainly is reminding them...again...that he's a "democrat" who cannot be counted on to tow the party line.



The Invisible Black Mayor

  Here's something Chicago's African-American political and community leaders should consider in their quest to find a "viable" black candidate to run for mayor next year:

  Perhaps there is no one who could or should run in 2011.

  There are many black political, business and community leaders qualified to run the 5th floor of Chicago City Hall.   But could their community's best choice next year not be an African-American? 

  Think about it...

  All the African-American aldermen to whom I've spoken are not willing to give up their current jobs and risk a run for Mayor.  Most of them will seek re-election in 2011. 

  And for the past decade, the vast majority did not exactly distinguish themselves in the city council.  Most simply rubber-stamped the agenda of Mayor Richard M. Daley who the Chicago Tribune reports has an all-time low approval rating.

  And since 2003, during Daley's last two terms, the Mayor has not appointed African Americans to the highest-profile positions in his government that might have provided the basis for a citywide candidacy.   Remember, there has not been a black Chicago Public Schools CEO since 1995 and no African-American Police Superintendent since 2003.

  How about a candidate picked from the Congressional Delegation?

  Danny Davis:  Too old.

  Bobby Rush:   Health issues.

  Jesse Jackson, Jr.:  Issues.

   Former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, at 63 years old, has proclaimed her candidacy for 2011.  She's trying to resurrect a career in elective politics that most thought ended 12 years ago.   I'm sure her people are busy circulating petitions but if what she's done "on the street" so far is any indication of her campaign's energy level....

   Chicago's black political leadership can only blame itself for not developing a new generation of leaders.

   The Cook County Board might have been a springboard for a mayoral candidate but look there and see ancient African-American members Jerry Butler, Earlene Collins and William Beavers.   The younger Robert Steele is obviously not a healthy man and Brenda Sims is...well...Brenda Sims.

  State Senators James Meeks and Rickey "Hollywood" Hendon would like to be mayor.  But Meeks' viability is questioned by many in "the black caucus" because of his stated intent to continue as head pastor of the Salem Baptist Church.   The conventional wisdom is that the "secular" community (perhaps the majority of city residents) would never vote for a minister/mayor or mayor/minister.

  Hendon's appeal beyond the African-American community is questioned by many black leaders.

  How about Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers?

  Larry who?

  Rogers is intelligent, personable, well-groomed and financially independent.  But I doubt he has the coin for enough media to make Larry Rogers a citywide, household name in barely four months.

  Ditto for the younger members of the city's African-American delegation to Springfield. 

  The very real chance that there might not be a viable black candidate for mayor is seemingly lost on the group of elected and community leaders conducting this weekend's forum at Bethel AME Church at 4440 South Michigan Avenue.

   The Chicago Coalition for Mayor has invited only potential African-American candidates to appear at the event which is open to the public.

   The Coalition is taking a huge risk.

   There's a chance that the best mayor for Chicago's African-American community in 2011 might come in some other shade.


Illinois' Democratic Dead Zone

  In the raging "cyber-campaign" being waged on Illinois Blackberries, assorted smartphones, desktops, etc., the Republicans are kicking major butt.

  Race for race, the Democrats are keeping pace.  But the Republican National Commitee and especially the Illinois Republican Party e-mail operations have given the G.O.P. a huge advantage when it comes to whose "message" reaches a reporter's or voter's inbox during this election cycle.

  I get so much e-mail from the Illinois Republican Party with the latest from state chairman Pat Brady you'd think that Brady was running for something.  He's not.  But he's always got plenty to say as a surrogate for his party's ticket-toppers Mark Kirk (U.S. Senate) and Bill Brady (Governor).

  Then, there's e-mail from some guy named Ryan Tronovitch whom I've spoken to on the telephone but never in person.  He keeps my Blackberry chirping with the latest spin and propaganda from the national G.O.P..  Tronovitch is especially active this week promoting an Illinois bus tour featuring RNC chairman Michael Steele

  For the Democrats, barackobama.com has stepped up its game over the past couple of weeks, but I don't get e-mail from its spinmeisters half as much as I do from the RNC.

  But where the dems really fall off is at the statewide level.

  The Democratic Party of Illinois has been a 2010 cyber-campaign no-show.  If there are e-blasts, they aren't reaching this reporter who covers politics for the most-watched television station in the state.      

  Nothing.  Nada.

  I went to the website and looked for a way to get e-mail updates from the DPI and found more of nothing.

  Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who doubles as state Democratic Party Chairman, apparently doesn't put much faith (or money) in cyber campaigns.  But then, maintaining cyber silence might be a good idea for the powerful Speaker.  Republicans have tried to make the 19-term state lawmaker a campaign issue in 2010.

  The conventional wisdom shared by both parties is that if Illinois Democrats turn out their voters, the Republicans will lose big-time, the way they've lost during most of the past decade.

  If Democrats don't turn out and the party loses several statewide offices and/or control of the Illinois legislature, its leaders will think about lost opportunities.

  Not using technology to spread its message might be one of them.









Wassup With The "Perp Walk"?

  Watching the news Monday night and Tuesday caused this one-time police reporter to have a flashback.

  Carla Oglesby's "perp walk" was so retro and a clear departure from Chicago Police procedures in place for most of the last decade.  

   Oglesby--Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's deputy chief of staff--was arrested in a Loop parking garage after she left work Monday afternoon.   Hours later, she would be charged with theft, money-laundering and official misconduct in an alleged scheme to rig no-bid contracts.

  But during the time between Oglesby's arrest and booking, law enforcement sources provided three television stations (ABC7, WGN, NBC5) with enough information on the suspect's whereabouts for the news organizations to begin stakeouts at CPD Area 4 Headquarters.  

  The wait paid off for two of the three cameras when state's attorney's investigators pulled up in front of the building on Harrison Avenue.  ABC7 and WGN videotaped the handcuffed and distressed-looking Oglesby as she walked the 20 or so yards from the sidewalk into the lobby of the West Side's largest and busiest police facility. 

  (I'm told the NBC5 cameraman missed the shot because he decided to loaf in his truck while his reporter went to the potty).

   It was perp walk perfection for those who were ready.

  I remember the 1980's and 90's when Chicago police routinely paraded suspects in newsworthy crimes before the cameras.  In particularly heinous cases, the cops would wait for the video and still guys to assemble before they would "walk" the accused from one end of a police station's lobby to another so we could get our shots.

  And sometimes, if a crew showed up late, they'd bring the suspect out for a second pass just for good measure.

  Then in 2000, a Federal Appeals Court in New York ruled that staged "perp walks" violated a defendant's 4th amendment rights.

  The Chicago Police Department still bans and tries to avoid all manner of perp walks, even though subsequent federal court decisions upheld the right of news cameras to shoot detainee transfers if they occurred during the routine movement of prisoners.

   But back to the question posed by the headline of this post:

   Howizzit that in the same city where police limit media access to multiple murder suspects does a 41 year old woman, with no previous record, accused of a white collar crime be subjected to the ultimate indignity of a "perp walk"?

   It wasn't a coincidence that cameras were waiting for Oglesby. 

   Somebody wanted her humiliated.


Re-Booting Rahm

  How many "Chicago Guys" do you know who could leave their jobs without having been hired for another one of equal or better pay? 

  And how many people could make that move in this economic environment with three school age children at home?

  Rahm Emanuel, who made his millions during four years (1998-2002) as a private sector investment banker, has to convince working class Chicagoans he "feels their pain" when he launches his campaign for mayor with a "tell it like it is" tour this week. 

  Emanuel--named President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff shortly after "The Great Recession" began-- has less than five months to connect with city voters, most of whom live in neighborhoods ravaged by unemployment, crime, foreclosures, underfunded schools, cops who don't come quickly enough, declining city services, and a privatized parking disaster to boot (pun intended).

  Emanuel, as expected, declined all requests for media interviews after his elaborate East Room sendoff at the White House Friday.  By mid-day Saturday, the website chicagoforrahm.com was up and running and Sunday, the Rahmster appeared on it with a video message, once again bypassing reporters to communicate directly with the voters.

  What we've seen during the past two weeks are signs that Emanuel will use "new media" to eschew the ward bosses who control Chicago politics "on the ground".   It also appears that his most important contacts with local print and broadcast media will occur in the advertising sales departments of those outlets as opposed to their newsrooms.

   I know that politicians like to "control their message".  But if this is an indication of how Emanuel plans to run his mayoral campaign and/or how he would run the nation's third largest city, he already is raising concern among Chicago journalists.  

  Think about it:  Emanuel made his ambition to run for mayor of Chicago public last April and still has not allowed any reporters in the city to interview him publicly on the subject. 

  Mayor Richard M. Daley has been a tough cover for two decades but none of us will say that Daley did not make himself available.

"Change" You Can See

  Just one other note about Emanuel's sendoff Friday at the White House. 

  The East Room was filled with about 200 people, including most of the Cabinet Secretaries, to see and hear the President thank his outgoing chief of staff and introduce Emanuel's replacement Peter Rouse.  The audience included most of the people who work in The West Wing and other top staffers who literally run the executive branch of the U.S. Government.

  The diversity--male, female, people of every ethnicity you could imagine--was a sight to behold.

  America--at the White House--looks more like itself than at anytime in history!


Drinkin' The Rahm Kool-Aid

  The fact I'm writing this post from a Washington, D.C. hotel room should be all the evidence you need that Rahm Emanuel is a master manipulator of all things political.  For a candidate with virtually no "on the ground" support for his planned run for Mayor of Chicago, he is getting more publicity than any of the other hopefuls despite the fact he doesn't even live in the city.

  Emanuel has served the past 20 months as President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff.  He is the "gatekeeper" at the Oval Office who choreographs Obama's every presidential move.

  So it follows that he set up his own "resignation ceremony" that cameraman Derrick Robinson and I flew through a rainstorm tonight to cover tomorrow.  Its one more drop in the drip-drip of manufactured news leading up to Emanuel's eventual announcement.

  He'll make national headlines in the East Room Friday before heading back to Chicago where cameras will greet him at O'Hare like some new-age Napoleon.  Then Monday, Emanuel plans a listening tour in the neighborhoods outside the Northside Congressional district he represented before he quit the House to become Obama's Chief of Staff.

  But back to tomorrow's ceremony for a moment.  The President will undoubtedly thank his outgoing chief for his 21 months of 24-7 devotion and wish Emanuel well in his future endeavors.  Does that mean that "His Audaciousness" is endorsing Emanuel to be Chicago's next mayor?  Could "The Leader of the Free World--with enough national and international problems on his plate--actually get involved in hometown mayoral politics?

 And is the fact that Emanuel would involve himself in such doings at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue evidence of a "disconnect" with real people and real issues back in Chicago?  Are people in Roseland, Englewood, Sauganash, Lakeview, Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, Chatham, North Lawndale and dozens of other Chicago neighborhoods really impressed by Washington, D.C. ceremonies?

  They're more concerned about unemployment, crime, foreclosures, vacant buildings and trash pickup.  Rahm's campaign might be better served by cancelling the White House farewell and catching an earlier flight home to begin his planned "listening tour" a few days earlier.

  But Emanuel knows best when it comes to how to run a campaign and he's proved it over the years.

  After all, he's got me tossing and turning in a D.C. Hotel...

  ...Drinkin' the Rahm Kool-Aid.