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December 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.




Rahm's Patience Test

  He took "Queen Sister's" best shot and did not lose his cool.

  Whether he meets the requirements to run for Chicago mayor ultimately will be decided by the Cook County and Illinois court system. 

   But in the court of public opinion, candidate Rahm Emanuel may have won a victory with his temperament during his testimony at the Chicago Election Board's hearing on challenges to his residency. 

  Around two dozen "objectors"--all but three of them non-lawyers--fiercely and sometimes unfairly interrogated the former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff for nearly 12 hours.

  The vast majority of the inquisitors were clueless about courtroom procedure and confirmed their utter foolishness repeatedly during their direct and cross "examinations" of Emanuel. 

  The 51 year old candidate--with a reputation for having one of the shortest fuses in American politics--was verbally chastised by self-crowned (really) objector Queen Sister Georzetta DeLoney, conspiracy theorist Jeffrey Black and others.  

  The fact Emanuel remained calm and smiled his way through the marathon was at least one day's testament that if elected, he has it in himself to hear out Chicago's entire political spectrum from the mainstream to the "fringe".

  As the tortuous hearing continued, I thought about Emanuel's journey since I watched his resignation "ceremony" at the White House on October 1st.  

  Here's a guy who only ten weeks ago was the top adviser to the leader of the free world.  He was a major player in meetings with the cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He was President Barack Obama's point man in the START nuclear arms negotiations with Russia and the companion stateside effort to get U.S. Senate approval of the deal.

  On Monday, he sat on a makeshift witness stand in a basement conference room of 69 West Washington just off the underground pedway.  The balky public address system squawked too much as passers-by wondered "what's going on in there?".

  Rahm Emanuel was having his patience tested.

  He passed.


Rahma Drama

 Is the Rahm Emanuel for Mayor campaign getting the pre-residency hearing jitters?

 Are the candidate's handlers risking their credibility to put the best spin possible out there before their candidate testifies where he does or does not live?

 The effort's usually reliable and very professional communications director Ben "Lightning" LaBolt e-mailed a missive at 5:05pm Monday titled "Developments Today", presumably a general update on all things Emanuel.

  In it, he writes "...The Sun-Times has a new poll that shows strong support for Rahm across the city and across demographic groups."

  It turns out this "development" was a Lynn Sweet blog post on a "poll" the Emanuel campaign had done for itself.   In other words, LaBolt gave the Sun-Times ownership of the survey perhaps trying to get the rest of us to bite and report it.

  Does he think we're stupid? 

  The Washington-based Sweet, one of the best political reporters in the country, should be livid.

  ABC-7 does not report the findings of internal polls because the questions are sometimes asked to elicit positive answers about the candidates who commissioned them.  Keep in mind that these kinds of surveys frequently are used to convince campaign donors to give and keep giving.

  And how about LaBolt and others in the Emanuel campaign making written reference to their candidate by his first name only?  

  Yeah, Rahm is one of the cooler first names out there and undoubtedly when its spoken in Chicago, we know exactly to whom it refers.  I've used it for a headline or two in this space.

  But are Emanuel's handlers trying to make their guy the "Prince", "Madonna" or "Oprah" of American politics?

  Enough on this.  Gotta get to the residency hearing.


Danny Davis, M.I.A.

 Has anybody heard from Danny Davis?

 I'm not writing about the U.S. Congressman who represents Illinois' 7th Congressional District.  He's been as busy as ever in Washington. 

  It's Davis, the candidate for Mayor of Chicago, who's been missing in action.

  He still has no campaign office or website that this reporter can find, nor has he announced the appointment of a campaign manager or communications director.  And while State Senator James Meeks, City Clerk Miguel Del Valle, Carol Moseley Braun, Rahm Emanuel and Gery Chico are engaged in a discussion of the issues at various levels, physical or electronic signs of a Davis campaign are nowhere to be found.

  He rushed into the fray riding a wave of headlines:

  On November 6th, four days after Davis won election to what will be his eighth term in Congress, The Coalition for Chicago Mayor selected the 69 year old progressive to be the African-American community's "consensus candidate" to succeed the retiring Richard M. Daley.  Eight days later on November 14th, Davis formally announced his candidacy at the Allegro Hotel.

  On the 22nd, he led a parade of supporters to the Board of Elections where he presented petitions he said listed the signatures of over 50,000 Chicagoans who supported Davis' candidacy.

  Then on December 1st, Davis won the drawing to be the coveted first name listed on the ballot.

  In Washington early last week, I asked the Congressman about the mayoral campaign and he sounded like an old Sam and Dave song when he answered "Hold on, I'm coming".

  The question remains...when?

  Pols began whispering doubts about Davis' mayoral ambitions as long ago as his mid-November announcement.  Many of the prominent Coalition members who named him their "consensus" candidate did not bother to show up.

  And Davis' Congressional colleague Rep. Bobby Rush--who was one of the original movers in the effort to rally financial and political backing around a single black candidate--announced his support for Carol Moseley Braun.

  There is also whispered concern that Davis has not been able to raise enough cash for a campaign.

  What Danny Davis does have is great name recognition, an admirable record serving Chicago in Washington and a voter base that stretches from the lakefront to the city limits on the west side.

 What I'm sure he does not have is a lot of time between now and the February 22nd city election.

 If he's serious about running for mayor...he'd be advised to begin acting like it.


Circus Emanuel

  Burt Odelson appeared not so sure of himself anymore.

  On Monday morning, the esteemed election law attorney was sitting in the front row facing hearing examiner Joseph Morris as the "leader" of over two dozen objectors to the Chicago mayoral candidacy of former Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

  Odelson was the first to raise a red flag over Emanuel's candidacy.  He claimed that because the former White House Chief of Staff's northside house was leased to a tenant during Emanuel's service in Washington,  Emanuel technically does not meet the candidate's requirement of one full year's residency in Chicago prior to the February 22, 2011 election. 

  But during the weeks that Odelson prepared and recruited objectors/financiers for his case,  over two dozen citizen activists jumped on the bandwagon to file their own challenges against Emanuel's candidacy.

  The problem for Odelson is that too many of the bandwagon jumpers are members of what can only be described as Chicago's political "fringe".  They include "Queen Sister" Georzetta Deloney, the homeless but "Honorable" Sylvester 'Junebug' Hendricks, perennial candidate/election loser William "Dock" Walls, and right-wing radio talker William J. Kelly.

  Some objectors wore buttons with the words "Indict Rahm".  One who called himself a Kelly supporter launched into a speech alleging Emanuel was part of some unexplained criminal conspiracy.

  Political mainstreamer Odelson clearly was embarassed to be in such company.  He indicated to Morris he preferred that his presentation--based solely on the Municipal Code--be considered apart from the other "unlawyered" objections to Emanuel.

  "We want to move this along, especially in light of the 30 odd cases aside from my case," said Odelson.

  Odelson's discomfort was countered by the hint of a smile on the face of Emanuel's attorney Mike Casper.  Casper has indicated that his client will testify at some point during the hearing that despite leasing his house, he and his family lived in Washington for most of the past year because of his service at the White House.  Emanuel is expected to testify that it never was his intent to leave Chicago. 

  Is it possible that the challenged candidate--in a room filled with political loonies--could come across as a victim?

  Burt Odelson says he's confident the law is on his side and that he should win his case to keep Rahm Emanuel off the ballot.

  But he also knows that when the circus comes to town...

  ...anything can happen.