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November 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.




"Playin' Fast" In The Mayor's Race

  Gery Chico and Rahm Emanuel offered a "clinic" this week on the tactics necessary to survive the Chicago mayor's race.  

  The other candidates should take notice or risk "catching the vapors".

  Chico planned some time ago to appear Tuesday afternoon at Kelly High School--the former Chicago School Board president''s alma mater--to announce his "education plan".   Chico's new age "chicken in every pot" included the promise that every CPS high school student would be provided a laptop computer by the end of Chico's first term as mayor.

  Emanuel's handlers responded with offers of "one-on-one" interviews with the former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff.  We were advised early Tuesday the sessions would be to be held at the Dodge Elementary School on the city's west side.  Emanuel--without offering his comprehensive schools plan--countered Chico with promises of better teachers and more parental involvement as the centerpiece of his education program. 

  (The "one-on-one" offer turned out to be a joke; not much more than bait.  Each television reporter was given only 5-7 minutes with Emanuel)

  Candidates Miguel Del Valle, Carol Mosely-Braun, James Meeks and Danny Davis had no events to respond to Chico and were no-shows on the afternoon and evening news programs.

   Senator Meeks--who has made education reform the focus of his campaign--was performing his elected duties in Springfield Tuesday during the opening day of the General Assembly's "veto" session.   

   U.S. Congressman Davis was in Washington doing his job at the Capitol. 

  If Meeks, Davis, Mosely-Braun and Del Valle expect to remain competitive, they'll have to stay abreast of each other's major campaign events and make themselves available to respond when necessary.   All should have at least e-mailed statements in response to Chico.

  The event also highlighted what could be a campaign problem for sitting lawmakers Meeks and Davis. 

  The mayoral campaign will move into highest-gear in January and the first three weeks of February, just as the budget-challenged Illinois General Assembly begins in Springfield what could be its most critical regular session in decades.  Can Senator Meeks be in two places at the same time?

  And in Washington, where now-minority Democrats are "circling the wagons" to protect healthcare and financial reform legislation passed during the last session, Rep. Davis will be needed on Capitol Hill as much as he needs to be in Chicago campaigning for mayor.

  Rahm Emanuel apparently had advance information about Gery Chico's event and made sure he would get a piece of Chico's "earned media" on education reform.

  Emanuel gets it.

  They play fast in the big leagues.





Black Coalition: Lost Opportunity

  Black leaders who named West Side U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis as their "consensus" candidate for Chicago mayor last week have lost a golden opportunity. 

  Within 24 hours of Mayor Richard M. Daley's announcement that he would not run for a seventh term, the city council's black caucus began closed door meetings.  Their stated goal was to select a single black candidate for mayor around which the city's African-American community could rally its political and financial support.  The Aldermen--under pressure to involve community, business and religious leaders in the process--evolved into the much larger Coalition for Chicago Mayor.

  From the moment it announced it would interview only black prospective candidates, the Coalition was doomed. 

  The election of the city's third African-American mayor would require a multi-racial coalition because the "non-partisan" process adopted in 1995 requires the eventual winner to achieve 50% plus one.   The Coalition acted as though it was the 1980's when a democratic black plurality could carry the day in a primary and their candidate would automatically win the general election against a republican.

  Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward)--who chaired the Coalition--says he fought for a more inclusive process but was shouted down by "Old Schoolers" who wanted to replicate the 1983 selection of Congressman Harold Washington as the black community's "consensus" candidate.

  Black business leaders recognized flaws in the process early on.  They stopped attending the tumultuous meetings, and in effect, removed their financial resources. 

  For the moment, it appears that all Congressman Davis gets out the Coalition's endorsement is to be tagged as the "black candidate".

  And the taggers are African-American hopefuls the Reverend Illinois Senator James Meeks and former U.S. Senator Carol Mosely-Braun.   Meeks and Mosely-Braun--who vied for the Coalition's endorsement-- are now playing "sour grapes" as they tout themselves as candidates who "will serve all the people" of Chicago.

  But back to the headline of this post:

  Why not invite all the announced or prospective candidates to the Coalition's vetting process, regardless of race or ethnicity? 

  Imagine Rahm Emanuel appearing before a "high council" of black political and community leaders in Chicago.   Emanuel would have been asked not only to outline his vision for attacking the problems facing the city's black community but also to explain what he did or did not accomplish for African-Americans during his 21 months as President Barack Obama's White House Chief of Staff.

  That spectacle would have attracted national media attention and interviews with the rest of the non-black candidates would have made each one of them accountable to the needs of the largest racial group (35-40%) in the city.

  Not only did the interviews not happen, in the near term, the coalition did not reduce the number of African-American mayoral candidates.

  A lost opportunity.







School Daze Doozy: Huberman Jumps Ship!

  Watching the curtain pulled on the inner workings of "Education Mayor" Richard M. Daley's Chicago Public Schools administration is an eye-opener. 

  Two months into the 2010/11 academic year, Daley's CPS Chief Executive Officer Ron Huberman announced he would resign his post effective November 29th. 

  What kind of professional educator, leading a school system serving over 435,000 children, quits in the middle of the first semester? 

  Oh, that's right...uber-bureaucrat Huberman is not and never was a professional educator!

  The former policeman, mayoral chief of staff, OEMC and CTA boss is jumping ship at a time when CPS is already without a Chief Education Officer (Precinct7, Sept 1, 2010).  

  Dr. Barbara Eason Watkins' post still has not been filled after she resigned "in a huff" last Spring.  Sources say that Eason-Watkins--the system's ranking professional educator--felt "dissed" when the mayor appointed his "go-to guy" Huberman in 2009.

  Huberman's exit will leave the "lame duck" Daley without a top administrative team to run over 600 schools until the end of hizzoner's term next May.   Expect even more turmoil when the new mayor takes charge during the second semester.  

  Perhaps Daley sees no real purpose in continuing the political confidence game/public relations effort to convince Chicagoans what a great job he's done "transforming" the city's public education system since he took it over in 1995.

  Isn't he concerned that the system he'll bequeath his successor is an administrative basket case? 

  And that's not to mention the ballooning CPS budget deficit and test scores showing that over 70% of the system's high school juniors do not perform at grade level on the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

  And what's up with CPS still pretending it has a reknowned professional educator in charge of its academic programs?

  The system's website (http://www.cps.edu/About_CPS/At-a-glance/Pages/At-a-glance.aspx) continues to list Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins as its Chief Education Officer even though, as mentioned earlier in this post, the PhD left CPS and has worked the past six months as the Superintendent of Schools in Michigan City, Indiana. 

  We pointed out the misinformation in this space two months ago and nothing has been done to correct the website.

  Maybe no one at CPS is paying attention.

  Maybe no one at CPS has reason to care anymore.


Still Blue Where It Counts

  When the republicans finished their version of a political "carpet bombing" Tuesday night, Illinois' bleary-eyed citizens awakened to see the democratic party wreckage. 

 The dems lost the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama in their most embarassing loss of the night.

  Certainly three and possibily four members of the party's congressional delegation (11th, 14th, 17th, 8th?) had been ousted and a fifth seat (10th) the democrats thought they could wrest away from the republicans didn't budge. 

  The republicans now comprise a majority of the Illinois delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

  The Treasurer's and Comptroller's offices fell by wide margins, giving the G.O.P. its first Illinois "constitutional" victories in eight years.

  But the smoke rising from the debris has an unmistakable blue tint.

  It appears incumbent democratic Governor Pat Quinn has survived the barrage.   And peeking out of the rubble, we also see House Speaker Michael Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.  

  Enough democratic lawmakers withstood the G.O.P. onslaught to maintain the party's majorities in both chambers.

  So here we go again. 

  The democrats will control the the Governor's office and the 97th General Assembly.  Incredibly, the people of Illinois have given the party another chance to enact a real strategy to attack the state's fiscal crisis.

  And judging by their votes to re-elect Quinn, the majority is willing to accept a tax increase and more borrowing as part of the budget-balancing effort.  In fact, the state Senate will re-convene this week during the "veto session" to pass a $4.1 billion dollar borrowing bill (bond issue) to pay the state's 2010/11 pension obligation.

  An income tax increase is likely to be high on the agenda when the regular session convenes in January and there's little the republicans can do to stop it.

  So while the new republican United States senator and Illinois' new republican congressmen pledge to fight for lower taxes and less federal spending when they arrive in Washington, mostly the same folks-- dominated by democrats--will return to the state capitol.

  And in the near term, where Illinois taxpayers' pocketbooks are concerned...

  ...Springfield is where it counts. 




The "Tea Party" Illusion

  Attend a "Tea Party" rally and ask individual participants one very simple question:

  "Did you vote in the 2008 presidential election?"

  When this reporter has posed the question, virtually all of the self-described new-age patriots have responded in the affirmative.  And many of them, using the adverb "absolutely" or the phrase "of course" appear insulted that I would even ask such a question.

 I never ask the obvious follow-up question because I believe a voter's right to keep his or her choice private is sacred.

  But let's assume a tea partier's choice in 2008 was not named Barack H. Obama.

  So here's the point of this analysis.

  If the vast majority of Tea Party members voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008, aren't they actually what's always been the far right wing of the republican party?   Isn't "Tea Party" just a name for people who separated themselves from the G.O.P.?

  The "separation strategy" has worked like a charm for the republicans.

  As the loosely organized Tea Party units work themselves into a sometimes racist, homophobic, anti-immigrant lather, the GOP no longer has to take ideological ownership of its most reactionary constituency.  All that the mainstream leaders care about is whether the partiers "come home" to vote republican on November 2nd. 

  And they can't get enough of that Tea Party energy.

  A classic example of the strategy played out at what was billed as a Tea Party pre-election rally in Homer Glen last week.   Illinois Gubernatorial candidate Senator Bill Brady appeared with republican Governors Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Haley Barbour (Mississippi) and Bob McDonnell (Virginia).

  Brady--who during the campaign against democratic Governor Pat Quinn has "moderated" his long-held conservative views on social issues--can still depend on the support of a republican right wing energized by a force "separate" from his campaign which has targeted the electorate's middle.

   Republicans would like the media to believe that since November, 2008 they have enlisted thousands of new voters poised to reject the democratic/Obama agenda.  

   In reality, the tea partiers only left G.O.P. ranks for a few months to make their special brand of political mischief.

  Now they're back in the fold.

  Whoever thought this up was brilliant.