Friday, October 31, 2008

Is Clayborne a long shot, or frontrunner, for Illinois Senate president post?

I have heard many people who think of themselves as knowledgeable observers of the local political scene who say that state Sen. James Clayborne is the biggest long shot of all the names tossed out as possibilities to become president of the Illinois Senate.

They say Clayborne’s name is only being mentioned to give the appearance that everybody from around Illinois is in the running. The reality is that a Chicago political person will wind up getting the post.

TO THESE PEOPLE, the only question is whether it will be an African-American senator who gets the leadership post (maintaining the idea of a black person as a leader to replace retiring Senate President Emil Jones of Chicago), or whether one of the Anglo legislators has a shot.

Yet if a recently compiled study of campaign contributions is any indication, Clayborne should not be dismissed so lightly.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform released a study this week that shows the senators considered to be in the running are trying to show their political clout by shifting more than $1 million from their own campaign funds to those of their colleagues who can use the financial assistance.

Clayborne, who hails from the portion of Illinois that thinks of St. Louis as their major city (he lives in Belleville), it turns out is the most generous.

HE HAS GIVEN $418,000 to other Democrats in the Illinois Senate – or about 40 percent of all the money transferred.

That could result in Clayborne having a lot of favors owed to him when the new Illinois Senate decides early next year who its new leader should be.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Clayborne has some explicit deal with the legislators who take money from his campaign fund that they MUST vote for him to be the new Senate president when the General Assembly that is elected in Tuesday’s elections convenes for the first time in January.

If he did have such a specific deal in place, we’d have U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald looking for a way to justify prosecuting a Southern Illinois pol in the federal court for Northern Illinois. It would be bribery.

ALL I’M SAYING is that Clayborne is getting his name out there among the 30-something people who matter (the Illinois Senate’s Democratic party caucus) when it comes to deciding who is the new Senate president.

Some of them are bound to have pleasant associations to the name “Clayborne” when they are put on the spot in January and asked to decide publicly (and with finality) who should be the Democrats’ leader – as well as leader of the entire Illinois Senate.

So writing off Clayborne as some sort of rural rube would be a mistake. This could very well become a case where those people on the Statehouse Scene from outside of Chicago could very well decide they want somebody who does not live in the Second City proper.

As confounding as that concept may be to those of us Chicagoans, it is a real attitude in Illinois government. There are times when Springfield-style politics is less about “Democrat vs. Republican” and is more “Chicago vs. Illinois.”

BUT IF THAT’S the case, then there is Chicago competition.

For that same Campaign for Political Reform study that showed Clayborne as a significant factor in helping legislators raise money for their campaigns showed state Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, doing almost as well.

The study claims Cullerton has given other lawmakers $336,000 to help them in this campaign cycle.

So Cullerton becomes a political player for this position as well. That intrigues me because I always thought Cullerton should be considered the frontrunner for the leadership position (even though some political observers see black caucus members such as Donne Trotter or Rickey Hendon as the favorites if the Illinois Senate political fight becomes one between Chicago vs. the St. Louis-area).

CULLERTON HAS BEEN in the rank-and-file of the General Assembly since 1978, and having such a position would help cement his own role within the Cullerton family history. For when it comes to Chicago politics, the name “Cullerton” may very well be more historic and prestigious than that of “Daley.”

The Northwest Side’s 38th ward used to boast that it had been represented in the City Council by a Cullerton since the days just before the Chicago Fire, and there were times when more than one ward was represented in the City Council by a Cullerton.

In addition, P.J. Cullerton was a former assessor of Cook County.

The point in reciting this mini-family history is to show that John Cullerton (despite the anonymity of his political office to many Illinoisans) is not someone who is a political amateur – either in the ways of City Hall or the Statehouse Scene. He’s going to put up a fight to get the post (which would make a Cullerton one of the top political people not only in Illinois, but in his family tree as well).

IN FACT, IN reading the Campaign for Political Reform’s study, I must admit there was one thing that shocked me.

As I mentioned before, both Trotter of the South Side and Hendon of the West Side are talked about as being in the running to become state Senate president (and both men have indicated they’re interested in gaining the post).

Yet when the campaign study compiled a list of secondary candidates (those who have transferred from their campaign funds at least $10,000 to other legislators), neither Trotter nor Hendon were on it.

Could this mean that some political people are over-estimating the significance of Hendon and Trotter? Could it be that neither has the ability to gain the support needed to gain the leadership post?

OR COULD IT be that this factor of considering how much money a would-be Senate president transfers to other legislators is a factor that is being grossly overestimated in importance (if not altogether irrelevant)?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I am skeptical of the idea that either Hendon or Trotter are going to suddenly go away – regardless of what any study concludes.

For what it’s worth, the second-tier of would-be Senate president hopefuls (the guys who could become a compromise president if neither Cullerton nor Clayborne manages to gain enough support to win the post outright) includes Don Harmon of Oak Park, Jeffrey Schoenburg of Evanston and Terry Link of Waukegan, along with Ira Silverstein of Chicago, John Sullivan of Rushville and A.J. Wilhelmi of Joliet.

Probably the candidate who thinks most highly of himself in that group is Schoenburg, who has created a special fundraising committee called “Deep Blue Illinois” to distribute $60,000 to other legislators.

NOW WHY DOES any of this matter beyond the minds of a few political geeks who have nothing better to do than monitor government activity in Springfield?

Keep in mind that the outgoing Senate president was the man who gave Gov. Rod Blagojevich what little influence he had in the Legislature. The Illinois House is a place where establishment Democrats take pride in saying they oppose the governor.

So while some might want to think of a Senate president ballot as being political “insider baseball,” the choice of person to fill that leadership spot could have a strong influence on whether Democrats in the House try to take advantage of that 13 percent approval rating (or 32 percent, if one prefers to believe the St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll) and mess with Blagojevich.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform compiled its latest study ( to try to figure out what influence money might have in determining who will be Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s new opposition.

Are these the front-runners ( to replace retiring Senate President Emil Jones ( in his leadership position?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Crass vs. Vapid – Which is worse?

Some observers of the Illinois political scene are trying to make an issue out of Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., for the remark he made recently to a suburban newspaper editorial board that ostensibly compared abortion to the crime of murder.

Yet in my mind, the congressman from Wheaton has to take Second Place (at best) to the owner of a Minnesota-based company that manufactures a portable gun-rack – one meant to fit beside a person’s bed so they can immediately grab their weapon and start shooting if they think they hear someone in the middle of the night wandering around their home.

WHAT MAKES THE Back Up (the name under which the portable rack is marketed, implying that decent people have a main gun rack somewhere else for the prize pieces of their firearms arsenal) offensive?

The Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday that the manufacturer put out a press release this week promoting the product by saying that actress Jennifer Hudson’s mother might possibly still be alive, had she had a Back Up and a weapon in her bedroom.

“Could a Bedside Shotgun Rack Have Saved Jennifer Hudson’s Family from Tragic Death?,” the company’s press release asks.

The company’s president told the Tribune that he used the prominent slaying so soon after it occurred in his marketing effort not to be offensive, but to give people a “hit between the eyes” on the issue of firearms use.

FOR THOSE WHO weren’t paying attention (and it doesn’t matter where in the country one was because the prominence of the star of “Dreamgirls” meant that the fate of her mother, brother and nephew this weekend became a national story), Darnell Donerson and Jason Hudson were found dead on Friday at Donerson’s Englewood neighborhood home.

Police quickly figured out that a 7-year-old boy who was with the two was missing, and that resulted in the weekend-long search that ultimately ended when a Chevy Suburban van was discovered abandoned on the West Side, with the body of Julian King inside.

From various reports, Hudson is the Oscar-winning actress who has had to toughen up this week to cope with the loss of her mother and brother, and wound up having to provide the positive identification that her young nephew was dead.

In short, she is living these days through everybody’s worst nightmare.

AND HOW DO the manufacturers of the Back Up handle the situation?

They drag up her family name and image, and try to morph her mother into the notion of a “pistol packin’ granny” who could have defended herself, had she only been able to get to a gun.

That line of logic is one I often hear from firearms advocates, and it is one I question, since many people when confronted with a crisis are going to have a brief moment of not being able to think straight.

And all it takes for something bad to happen is that one lone moment. Who’s to say that if Hudson did have a firearm on her, that it would not have wound up being used against her?

FROM ALL INDICATIONS, the person who is not quite a suspect but a “person of interest” (in legal lingo) was a former in-law.

His arrival at Donerson’s home might not have been seen as a pleasant experience. But it was not like he broke in suddenly, thereby alerting Hudson’s mother that she was in danger.

There’s a good chance that she didn’t realize how violent the situation could get until it was too late.

I can’t help but notice that prosecutors have not actually charged the in-law, William Balfour, with any crime in connection with the slayings. The only reason he’s still in custody is because he was on parole – which makes his questioning in connection with the triple slayings a violation in itself (so he gets to sit in a cell in a state prison until Chicago police and prosecutors figure out how to handle this situation).

AND WHILE THEY ponder, some people on the outside will try to figure out ways to use the slayings to their advantage. I would expect the firearms advocates to make such a statement, but the idea of using the incident to try to sell a product is just so crass.

It is why I consider it to be the tackiest talk of the week, even moreso than what Roskam said when he subjected himself to an interview with the Pioneer Press chain of weekly newspapers in the north and west suburbs.

Now what he actually said is left to question.

The newspaper, in its attempt to squeeze a whole batch of information into a short story previewing the Congressional fight between Roskam and Democrat Jill Morgenthaler, paraphrased a lot.

SO WHAT ACTUALLY turns up in the newspaper is that Roskam, “asked in the Pioneer Press interview why women can have abortions if rapists cannot be executed.”

The implication being that a woman who is impregnated by someone because of a rape could not have suffered such a severe indignity to her person if the crime of sexual assault is not one for which the death penalty can be applied.

The newspaper later provided a direct quote from Roskam to the Springfield-based Capitol Fax newsletter about Illinois government that makes it appear Peter was trying to take the logic of former Rep. Henry Hyde (a long-time opponent of abortion services being legal) when he said (in part), “a rapist under the court doctrines can’t be put to death. (Hyde) said, why is it that the baby who is the result of that criminal behavior can be put to death?”

Such talk came off as crass when it came from Hyde’s mouth (it implies there are times when a woman’s life has to play second-banana to a potential life that was forced on her. That’s offensive). But now that we’re getting second-generation Hyde, it loses something in translation.

IT’S LIKE WE’RE getting a photocopy of a photocopy of what Hyde sent. Coming from Roskam, it’s not offensive as much as it’s just vapid.

Eventually, such logic is going to be repeated so often by those people who are just determined to think of abortion as a criminal act in and of itself that it will become absurd.

Roskam is not quite absurd, but his comments are taking the debate on abortion in that direction.

And if it comes to a choice between absurd or crass (which is what I think the Hudson gun rack appeal is), I consider crass to be more offensive any day of the week.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The “Hudson gun rack” ad (,0,264779.story), or “abortion equals murder” ( Take your pick.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Budget cuts hit Chicago cultural perks

It has been more than two decades, but I still remember the show vividly.

Chicago blues singer Koko Taylor, along with guitar player/singers John Hammond and Stevie Ray Vaughn were all on the bill.

FOR SOMEONE WHO enjoys the music of jazz and blues, any one of those performers is a big enough name to command a stage and put on a quality performance.

But I got to see all three (one right after the other), with doses of Sugar Blue (the singer) and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson mixed in as well.

And what made this particular night so memorable is that it happened in Chicago at the city’s blues festival. Which means I got to see all of this for free, while sitting in the shadows created by the downtown city skyline.

In fact, I remember that evening because I wound up sitting next to an attractive brunette from out-of-town (I want to say she was from Dayton, Ohio, but my memory’s not sure), who couldn’t get over the fact when I told her this was an annual city festival, and one of several held each year.

“MY HOME CITY would never think to do that,” she said. “This is special.”

Yes it is. Or should I say, it was.

For earlier this week, the city let it be known that the Jazz Festival and Blues Festival (both of which consist of four days of music performed on various stages in and around Grant Park) are going to be scaled back.

No specifics were offered, but I would expect these will now be two-day festivals. And many of the side stages that allowed people to see lesser (but still enjoyable) acts, will be reduced – if not eliminated altogether.

OF COURSE, IT’S not just jazz and blues. All of the city’s summer festivals are in line to be slashed – even the events that were already just two-day affairs.

Could we wind up with a one-day-long Viva Latin Music Fest? Or just a few hours of Celtic Fest? And that “Mayor’s Cup Soccer Festival” that was created just a few years ago to help promote interest among the various youth leagues throughout the city could also shrink.

Now I am enough of a realist to appreciate the budgetary adage, “You can’t spend what you don’t have.”

With the financial problems that Chicago city government thinks it is going to have to confront in upcoming months, I would expect these cuts are just the first of many programs and services that will be scaled back in dimension.

SO I’M NOT under any delusion that this commentary in any way will persuade anyone to reconsider their vote to hack away at the programming offered during the annual blues and jazz festivals (which in their own way served as markers of the beginning and end – respectively – of the summer festival season in Grant Park).

If anything, this is meant more to mourn their loss. Because those festivals actually helped in their own way to enhance the cultural image of Chicago, even though in recent years some of the musical purists (some might say snobs) were complaining that the quality of acts was in decline.

That fact was largely due to increasing costs of getting musical acts to perform. The fact is that while no admission was charged to sit in the park and listen to music, people were still getting paid for their work.

That meant these festivals were being operated at a financial loss by the city. It was a loss the city was putting up with because it helped boost its cultural image. But city officials say they just can’t see spending so much money to promote events that don’t bring in significant income for Chicago municipal government.

I STILL THOUGHT the festivals were intriguing, even with the so-called lower level of acts.

Admittedly, the days of 1985 (the year that Hammond, Taylor and Vaughn performed together at the Chicago Blues Fest) were long-gone. Nobody would be able to put that bill together for the Chicago Festival today (and not just because Vaughn is dead, having been killed in a helicopter crash after performing at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wis.).

In fact, that evening was unusual even for the Chicago Blues Fest. But all of those musicians had performed together in July 1982 at the Montreux Jazz Festival and had given a performance that was considered, if not historic, then memorable.

It was considered worthy enough to be preserved on an LP (“Blues Explosion,” Atlantic Records) that is still one of my favorites.

THE FACT THAT Chicago Blues Fest officials would attempt to recreate a memorable musical evening (minus J.B. Hutto, who died in between the Montreux and Chicago events) on their own stage shows that the Chicago festivals at their best had some ambition – and were not just some neighborhood festival with a few no-name crackpots playing saxophone very badly (as some dimwits like to try to dismiss the music festivals).

Chicago’s festivals still offered up the chance for enjoyable musical acts, which bolstered the mindsets of our city’s residents – and the image that the tourists who happened to be visiting Chicago took away with them of our city.

I can recall hearing quality piano players such as Wynton Marsalis and Ramsay Lewis – both of whom are capable of commanding significant rates to perform in the largest concert halls. But I saw and heard them at the Jazz Festival.

In fact, I have to admit that personal circumstances caused me to miss all of the festivals in 2008, even though I have to admit that none of the acts scheduled to perform were so big that I felt the events were “must-see” appearances.

SO I DIDN’T get my Chicago festival fix this year. At the time, I took on the mentality of the Chicago Cubs fan who says, “wait ‘til next year.”

But now, “next year” is going to come in such a scaled-back format that I have to wonder if the event will be worth going to. All I can say for sure is that the summer festivals – while they lasted – were one of the perks of being a Chicagoan.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper gets credit for rooting out this story (,blues-fest-jazz-fest-reduced-to-three-days-102608.article) of how the music festivals are going to be scaled back in future years.

The Jazz Institute of Chicago compiled this list of all the musical acts to perform at the ( Chicago Jazz Festival back to its creation in 1979.

Somebody needs to update the Chicago city website, which says the Blues Festival in 2009 will take place from June 11-14 (

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cash for (and against) Con Con

I must admit; it makes me squirmish to be on the side of “big money.”

But if an Illinois Campaign for Political Reform study released this week is at all accurate, then that would appear to be the case.

THE ISSUE AT stake is “Con Con.”

Translated into English, that’s the need for a Constitutional Convention in Illinois. If it happens, it would be the sixth time in the state’s history that the constitution faced a serious rewrite.

Under Illinois law, voters periodically get the chance to decide whether the constitution should face a thorough review. One of those chances (the first in two decades) will come next week.

All Illinois voters (after casting their vote for or against Barack Obama, a U.S. senator and representative, a legislator, and countless numbers of judges) will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” to the idea of a Constitutional Convention – which if it were to be held would consist of picking two people to represent each of Illinois’ 59 state Senate districts at a gathering in Springfield.

I’VE MADE IT clear previously that I will be among those people voting against the idea. My opposition is largely due to the fact that many of the people with pet issues that the Legislature has been unwilling to consider want to rewrite the state Constitution to change the rules, so to speak, so as to make it easier for their pet causes to get passed into law.

I’m a firm believer that the document itself is fine. It is the government officials who are flawed, and these people who are pushing for a “Con Con” would be better off putting their time and energy into trying to dump their incumbents.

In short, I don’t want to see long-term damage done to Illinois government just because somebody is miffed that their pet issue (such as the people who want recall elections in Illinois – another concept that I oppose) can’t get a majority support under the current rules.

Now the Chicago-based group that monitors all those financial disclosure records and maintains a website that tries to make all the information from those reports much easier to comprehend, says it does not have a stance on the concept of “Con Con,” although I wouldn’t be surprised if many of its members privately support the concept and plan to vote “yes” next Tuesday.

BUT THE GROUP released a new summary this week that is meant to show just how the big money interests that try to influence the Illinois Legislature are among the big financial supporters of efforts to turn out the vote against a “Con Con.”

Their study notes the creation of a group called the Alliance to Protect the Constitution, which has managed to raise $1.2 million since July, with $440,000 coming from five groups.

The biggest of those is the Illinois Federation of Teachers (the parent organization of the Chicago Teachers Union), which reports coming up with $300,000 for the "anti-Con Con" effort.

The teachers’ federation and its affiliates are a political player on the Springfield Scene. The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform notes they are the third-biggest donors ($558,000) to the individual legislators (although much of that money was given to funds controlled by the four legislative leaders – who then dole it out as they see fit to the rank-and-file legislators).

THE ILLINOIS EDUCATION Association is also a big player ($225,000 to the "anti-Con Con" effort and $877,000 to the legislators – the top donor) on both lists.

I’m sure some will want to see this as an effort by legislative supporters to kill a project ("Con Con") that could potentially have negative impact on the General Assembly’s membership.

But the two labor unions related to educators across the state are hardly the types to support establishment-related projects in Springfield.

Both are among the more liberal-minded of interest groups that pay attention to the Statehouse Scene, to the point where Republicans usually complain about their excessive influence over Democrats. The two groups also are usually the bigger financial supporters of the types of legislators who usually gain the support of the good-government types who join groups like the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

FOR WHAT IT’S worth, the other really big financial supporters of the "anti-Con Con" effort are Exelon ($100,000), the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity ($92,500), and the American Insurance Association and Health Care Services Corp. (both tied for fifth with $50,000).

Exelon and the American Insurance Association have just the opposite perspective of the teachers’ unions. They usually are financially supportive of more ideologically conservative government officials.

If it sounds like I think there’s a bi-partisan element to the “Con Con” opposition, I wouldn’t want to trivialize the issue with such a simple-minded statement. After all, a lot of these groups are operating out of their own self-interest – preferring not to have to deal with learning a new set of rules in mid-game.

But it does strike me that there are people with differing perspectives on much of the business that comes before state government who see some logic to the idea that the Constitution itself is not the problem in Illinois.

I ALSO HAVE to wonder about the bit of political spin that the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform put into its own statement announcing the results of its new study. They noted that the two groups most active in trying to get people to vote “yes” for a Constitutional Convention – “Con Con Yes” and “Metro Chicago United PAC” – have raised a total of $5,000.

In short, it’s not like this is a fair fight.

The "anti-Con Con" people have the kind of cash to stir up significant opposition through the use of media campaigns and stunts to persuade people to vote “no” when they get to the end of their ballot.

Why else would former Gov. Jim Edgar and one-time Edgar gubernatorial opponent Dawn Clark Netsch (remember 1994?) be working together these days to encourage people to vote “no” on "Con Con?"

BY COMPARISON, THE "pro-Con Con" people will just have the concept of an anti-incumbent sentiment that runs through many would-be voters, hoping that a majority will be willing to vote “yes” even if they don’t fully comprehend exactly what it is they’re voting in favor of.

So what’s the case? Are the "anti-Con Con" people a bi-partisan group of people from both sides of the political equation, or are they a batch of big bucks bullies willing to push around the will of the people?


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is trying to educate people ( about the upcoming vote on “Con Con.”

Barack Obama’s birth state and adopted home state both are considering whether they ( need to make changes to their states’ constitutions.

Arguments to be made both for (,102608mcqueary.article) and against ( holding yet another Constitutional Convention in Illinois.

Monday, October 27, 2008

EXTRA: Obama Day?!?

Call it an offbeat campaign tactic if you will. I can’t recall the last time I heard a political candidate say his followers ought to take a day off from work.

But that is the case with Barack Obama. The Democratic Party’s nomination for president sent out an e-mail Monday to his followers (of which I became one when I signed up to get his official V-P choice) urging them to not go to work or school come Nov. 4.

INSTEAD, HE WANTS people to work at actually getting people to vote for him, either outside a polling place or working the telephones.

So how long until GOP operatives start mocking this plea by claiming Obama is trying to create ( a holiday in his image?


How long will it take to recover from the partisan rhetoric of Campaign ’08?

I couldn’t help but notice this weekend while bopping about the Chicago metropolitan area a car that was parked outside a supermarket.

The make of car was nothing special. It was the choice of bumper stickers and other ornamentation that made it stand out.

FROM THE CAR’S rear view mirror hung a medallion depicting the flag of Bulgaria. A sticker on the bumper also indicated ethnic pride emanating from the Eastern European nation. But the driver also had a miniature U.S. flag flying on his dashboard.

So if this was not a recent immigrant to this country, the car belonged to someone who still took pride in his ethnic roots.

But the other stickers plastered on the car are what truly caught my attention. There were four of them, and they were stuck on the rear, right passenger window of the car. One depicted a blue-tinted picture of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama with a red slash over his face.

Another gave us the recently popular slogan “NObama,” while a third told us “Vote America, not Obama.” A fourth, using pink-tinted lettering, told us “No socialism.”

AS IF THAT wasn’t enough, the suburban-based SouthtownStar newspaper published a story this weekend telling us of a Tinley Park high school’s mock presidential election. Among students at Andrew High School who bothered to vote, Obama won.

But Republican opponent John McCain had his supporters among the students, and the newspaper found one who is actually 18 (making him old enough to cast a ballot for real come Nov. 4) who said he did not support Obama in the mock election because, “I don’t like the idea of spreading the wealth.”

Admittedly, these are just two people out of the masses who plan to vote on Election Day (or have used new methods put in place to allow them to cast their votes a week or two early).

But it is obvious that these are two people who have been infected with the campaign rhetoric tossed about by McCain and his loyal supporters.

THIS IS ONE of the drawbacks for me in writing about political campaigns. As one who has covered elections in this state dating back to when Paul Simon tried running an “Illinois favorite son” campaign for president (and who remembers them going back to when Dan Walker walked the length of Illinois to draw attention to his dreams of being governor), I have heard enough campaign rhetoric to know it is all nonsense.

Candidates of all partisan political persuasions come up with standard themes and punchy lines that fit the theme – all designed to make their opponent sound like a simpleton.

On a certain level, the candidates know that what they are saying is absurd. It is why they can quickly apologize when a line is taken the wrong way (such as when GOP vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin made a crack about certain parts of the country not being loyal to the U.S., or when Democratic partisans get “worked up” over Palin’s alleged $150,000 shopping spree for clothes to wear while campaigning).

They really didn’t mean it to begin with.

BUT TO MANY people in the electorate (particularly those with real lives who can’t devote every second of their existence to following campaign minutia), this kind of trash talk gets taken seriously. This time around, it seems to me that it is being taken particularly literally.

If anything, this is the influence that race stands to play in this particular campaign season. Potential voters may say they don’t care about a candidate’s racial background, but the fact that Obama is not like many of the Anglo majority means they are willing to believe the mean-spirited distortions that (to the McCain campaign) are just campaigning as usual.

Hence, we get newly minted voters who seriously believe that Obama is about taking the wealth from the masses to give to the poor. It’s actually about taking opportunities to create wealth and spreading them around to all, which is in many ways “The American Way.”

But the McCain campaign rhetoric stirs up a sense in young people who weren’t even alive during the “Cold War” a sense that they too can vote (if not fight) against “the Commies.”

AND IN THE case of the Bulgarian-American motorist, it plays off the fears he (or she, for all I know) has about his native land, getting him to believe that he must absorb the “rants of the right” – lest anyone think he is not truly devoted to this country and ought to have his citizenship revoked.

That strikes me as a sick, twisted ideal of what “The American Way” represents.

Of course, the rhetoric of the right that infects too many Republican campaigns these days seems to want to believe that Obama’s loyalty must be questionable, because he is the son of a man who was a Kenyan citizen and who returned to his native country after completing his education in the United States.

Would we be hearing similar rants if Obama were the son of a British citizen who returned to England after attending U.S. colleges? I doubt it.

BUT JUST WHEN I start to think that we are getting permanently buried under a pile of political dung, I see moments that make me think some of us are still rational.

One such moment came Saturday when I stopped off at a Borders bookstore to purchase a couple of magazines (“The New Yorker” and “Newsweek,” for those of you who care).

Right behind me in line waiting for the cashier was a woman with her young son (I would guess he was about 7). He started chanting, “Obama’s a loser,” much to the dismay of his mother, who was wearing not only a sticker on her jacket indicating she had voted early, she had her campaign button with the “Obama/Biden” logo prominently displayed.

After she gave her son a nasty look, he quickly changed his chant to, “McCain’s a loser.”

NOW ONE COULD argue that the kid was correct at least once (perhaps both times if Chad Koppie pulls off a miracle come Nov. 4.).

But the mother quickly lectured her son, saying, “you don’t know who those people are. It’s not right to say bad things about people when you don’t know anything about them.”

Perhaps we ought to have that mother sit down with the candidates to lecture them. A slightly more civil discourse would be beneficial to all of us.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Real-life socialists think it is absurd that anyone could believe that someone (,0,4048540.story) so willing to work within the mainstream as Barack Obama could be suspected of being a “socialist” himself.

Chad Koppie of Gilberts, Ill., a retired airline pilot who likes to run campaigns for elective office to tout his conservative ideals, got more support for his fringe presidential (,102508mock.article) campaign than did Ralph Nader, in a mock election held at suburban Evergreen Park High School.

Even when trying to denounce the constant use of labels such as “socialist” to attack Obama (, his opponents still find ways to criticize him.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bush (the elder) and McCain – will Blagojevich make it a bipartisan pol trio?

I still recall a political luncheon in Chicago early in 1993 when a semi-prominent Illinois Republican official with whom I was engaging in mindless chitchat let me in on what he considered to be “a secret.”

“You know why George Bush lost the election, don’t you,” the GOPer told me of the then-recently completed presidential election that saw the nation get eight years of Bill Clinton.

“IT WAS THE economy,” he told me. “If it hadn’t conspired against us, we’d have a real president now.”

I guess it was hard for the Republican faithful to accept that a good chunk of the U.S. voter population didn’t want George Bush the elder for a second term as president. Perhaps they were still bitter over the way that Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot’s presidential dreams impinged on some people who usually would vote Republican.

Easier to blame it on something that was out of their control, and to think of it as a “conspiracy,” a force upon which they could fantasize unleashing the U.S. attorney to prosecute somebody for denying us four more years of George H.W. Bush.

This particular moment came to my mind Friday when I learned that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is blaming his unpopular stance among the Illinois electorate on “the economy.”

THAT’S WHAT HE told reporter-types in suburban Blue Island as a semi-snide response to the Chicago Tribune – which earlier in the week published a picture of the governor that made him look particularly vacuous, next to a bright red “13 %.”

That percentage is a statistic offered up in a Tribune-commissioned poll, and it supposedly is the number of people in Illinois who actually believe Blagojevich is doing an acceptable job as governor.

Heck, even George Bush the younger gets approval ratings these days of between 25-30 percent in various polls.

Is Rod Blagojevich really more incompetent than George W. Bush?

IS IT TRUE that only 10 percent of the electorate would vote for Blagojevich for a third term as governor when the next Illinois elections are held in 2010?

Since Blagojevich has already made it clear he plans to seek that third term, we will find out in just a couple of years (which will fly by so quickly) when the governor has to face a challenge in the next Democratic primary.

For his part, Blagojevich made it clear this week he thinks the Tribune poll’s low approval rating is really disgust by the electorate toward all government officials, due to economic troubles.

He is applying the logic of George Bush the elder in thinking that would-be voters are taking out their frustrations on him, as though they would eagerly vote to re-elect him if only they would think about the issue sensibly.

IN TALKING WITH reporters, Blagojevich even went so far as to say he thinks he would win re-election, if the Illinois state government elections were held this year.

Gov. Milorod apparently thinks the coattails of Barack Obama in Illinois are so long that they would stretch even to him. And I know I have heard some political pundits speculate that an Obama presidency could put Illinoisans in such a rose-y mood for the next year or two that they will look favorably upon all Democrats in 2010.

In short, a “President Obama” would make a slight majority of Illinois voters (which is all one needs to win an election) forget the political infighting of Springfield of recent years.

I’m not sure what to think of Blagojevich’s lack of popularity, which is a combination of rural Illinois Republicans who remain miffed that Rod brought a 26-year-stretch of GOP governors to an end when he got elected in 2002, combined with the infighting among Democrats of differing factions that is the status quo of the City Hall political culture.

THERE MAY BE a lot of Democrats who think Blagojevich is some sort of jerk, but will ultimately back him because they consider themselves loyal to the party, and it’s not like someone has to personally like someone in order to cast a vote for them come Election Day.

Which is why I don’t think it all that outrageous that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in its attempt to boost the chances of congressional hopeful Debbie Halvorson, used as an accusation against her Republican opponent (concrete magnate Marty Ozinga) that he made campaign contributions totalling, “23 grand ($23,000) to Rod Blagojevich.”

Some people are amazed that Democrats would use a contribution to their political party’s guy as a negative. I see it as the standard issue accusation made against a political person during a campaign season. It’s trash talk of the finest kind, and should not be taken too seriously.

So what should we make of all this?

IS BLAGOJEVICH TRYING to set the stage for future campaign rhetoric, claiming that opposition to his re-election as governor is irrational? Is it a delusional way of thinking that the negative perception of Blagojevich is something that will go away?

Is it just a smart-aleck response to a Tribune poll story that was laid out in a way to inspire the local pundits to spend the next few days taking cheap shots at the governor (with Mother Tribune getting a free plug every time somebody brings up the “13 percent” figure)?

“It’s a baker’s dozen. I consider it a lucky number,” Blagojevich quipped on Friday.

I’m also sure that our state’s governor is trying to feed off the political problems faced by Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

ALL THOSE POLLS showing him dropping far behind Democratic opponent Barack Obama in recent weeks are tied to the public perception of the economy. Many Republicans are convinced they would be more competitive if not for the Wall Street meltdown of ’08, and are trying desperately to shift the voter’s attention to other issues.

In short, the evidence is already laid out for McCain to use the Bush the elder excuse for losing Campaign ’08 should he turn out to be unsuccessful come the Nov. 4 elections. Is our governor really squirming so much that he’s determined to make that GOP duo a bi-partisan trio?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Does Rod Blagojevich really believe his popularity rating is a cyclical thing ( that inevitably has to rise?

Democratic political operatives in Washington perceive Blagojevich as so low that he can be used ( as the punch line (of sorts) for political attack ads.

A new poll shows only 26.1 percent of the electorate (or at least those who were surveyed) think the nation’s economy would improve if the United States were to be blessed ( with a “President McCain.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Gasoline price dropped “below” $3 right before my very eyes. Will it last?

Gasoline prices are on the decline these days, and I had the strangest example of getting “ripped off” at the pump.

I was driving Wednesday afternoon around the area south of Chicago, and I happened to notice I could use gas in the car when I approached a Speedway station/convenience store on Lincoln Highway at Harlem Avenue (I’m not sure if I was IN Frankfort, Ill., or just outside of it).

BECAUSE THE STATION was on the Will County side of the street (literally, Cook County was just a few yards away), the taxes configured lower, so I paid $3.03 a gallon. I was able to fill up my car (a Saturn SL2) for just over $20.

As I pulled away from the station, I felt good. That was the lowest price I had paid in gasoline quite possibly all year. So I went about my business in the land where Joliet is just a short drive away.

About a half-hour later, my business was complete, and I was retracing my route to return to the civilized land of Chicago when I passed the same gas station. During that time, the price dropped.

It was now $2.999 per gallon. Admittedly, that gets rounded off to $3 when it comes to paying the cashier. But seeing that price gave me a jolt – both in that it was the first time in a long time that I had actually seen a gas station offer gasoline for a price starting with a 2 and because I felt a second of disgust that I had missed the chance to pay that lower price.

JUST OUT OF curiosity, I stopped, went back into the gas station/convenience store and asked, and was told by the manager that he had just finished resetting the pumps. He had literally in mid-day been given the approval to lower the price yet again.

Now I understand that gasoline is NOT the significant part of the business for these local franchise operators who have gas pumps as part of their store.

Offering me cheap gas was supposed to entice me to come into the store and buy some of the junk food, overpriced office supplies and other goods that he was peddling (and in fact, I bought a newspaper – the Joliet Herald News, out of curiosity as to what was happening locally).

For all I know, the store made more of a profit off my $0.75 for the Herald News than it did off my $22.36 I paid to fill up my gas (which considering that at the worst point I was paying nearly $40 to fill up was a good price).

I HAVE ALWAYS realized that it was not the gas station operators who were getting rich in recent months, as gasoline prices soared over $4 per gallon, and even had some people speculating that we would someday see the $5 per gallon price at least in downtown Chicago proper (where gas always costs more), if not in all of Illinois.

All this came soaring to my mind when I read a Chicago Sun-Times account Thursday about the price of a barrel of oil dropping below $67, which is resulting in some stations being able to price gas at as little as $2.81 per gallon (the metropolitan area average is $3.22 per gallon, according to the Chicago Motor Club, and I know a Shell gas station located one block from where I live was charging on Thursday $3.19).

Could Alaron Trading Group really be correct when it told the Sun-Times that gas prices could be as low as $2.80 average across the Chicago area? That could mean the cheaper gas price places could be charging as little as $2.50 per gallon (perhaps more, if they’re really determined to get you inside their convenience stores to buy those rubbery hot dogs or greasy pizza slices that no one with sense should ever eat).

Now a part of me wants to be optimistic. Prices are going down. Perhaps a sense of rationality is returning to the market.

PERHAPS THOSE ANALYSTS who offer lofty opinions are correct when they say that oil companies saw how much people hated paying prices in the $4 range for gasoline that they learned to “drive smarter” and use less gas.

Oil companies are realizing that more gasoline will be sold, which results in more of a profit for the oil companies – if not necessarily for the local gas station owners.

But then I wonder what yet-to-occur event will trigger a paranoia that will result in gas prices soaring again. I can’t help but see the lesson being that people in this country are so dependent on their automobiles and other motor vehicles that they WILL knuckle under and pay up.

Plus, we as a society have now been put into a mental place where we think gasoline for less than $3 per gallon is cheap.

I CAN REMEMBER when people were outraged to pay more than $2 per gallon, although a part of me is lodged enough in the past that I think paying anything much over $1 for a gallon of gasoline is ridiculous. I’m just like those old-timers who remember when “penny candy” cost one cent.

So where do I go from here?

There are times when I’d love to be able to scrap my car altogether and rely on public transportation. There’s a certain convenience to not having to worry about gas prices or finding parking spaces that I enjoyed back in the times of my life when I did not have an automobile.

But then I look at the funding cuts to mass transit and the rising fares that result in lower ridership, which means more service cuts. The whole thing becomes an endless cycle, which means I’m stuck with the need for a car.


EDITOR’S NOTES: People purchasing gasoline at stations in downtown Chicago were paying (,CST-FIN-gas23.article) $3.99 per gallon earlier this week.

Dominick’s supermarkets are working with BP to offer gasoline discounts to people who shop (,0,245367.story) at the two stores. It’s too bad I carry a card for Jewel supermarkets in my wallet.

Tensions in the Middle East, or even another hurricane in this country, could send ( gasoline prices back on the rise again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Who pays to use Grant Park?

Grant Park on Nov. 4 will be significantly more crowded than it was on this early 20th Century afternoon. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

I’ll be honest. I’m considering joining the crowd that is going to converge on Grant Park come the night of Nov. 4.

Many of the people who will show up in downtown Chicago that night want to be able to say they were on hand and physically in the presence of Barack Obama (no matter how minute that presence really is) at the point when Obama learned for sure whether he will become U.S. president number 44.

BUT I’M NOT going to be one of the people who pays the Obama campaign possibly up to $1,900 to be able to work that night out of a special press area that will include the telephone lines and other utilities required to be able to file intelligible copy for publication in newspapers around the world.

Nor am I going to be one of the people looking to get into the auxiliary press area, which costs nothing, but also does not provide any direct access to the candidate or his campaign staff.

Personally, I can understand why newsgathering organizations should have to foot some of the bill when it comes to setting up a press area. It doesn’t strike me as being any different than Mayor Richard M. Daley expecting the Obama campaign to reimburse the city for all the added security that will ensure the 1-million-plus crowd of Obama fans doesn’t become a 1-million-plus riot.

Most of the debate that has occurred in recent days about whether it is justifiable to charge companies is really nothing more than quibbling over price. Publishers who might not mind kicking in a couple hundred bucks object to a fee of nearly a couple thousand.

FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, any interest I have in the Grant Park scene on Nov. 4 is going to be focused on the people who show up. I’m curious to know what goes through the mind of someone that they feel compelled to be there – especially if they have no personal tie to the candidate.

I know the Obama campaign itself is concerned that people who are supposed to be working Election Day on turning out the vote in Indiana and Wisconsin will cut their work short that day so they can be on hand at Grant Park – which could cost Obama some late-in-the-day votes in those two battleground states.

The whole affair strikes me as being almost as ridiculous as those people who converge outside a sports stadium when the home team wins “the big game.” They didn’t see the game, but they want to “be there,” particularly if there are taverns in the neighborhood.

And if the Obama scene were to become an unruly mob, then I would want to see it for myself.

IF IT SOUNDS like I would be working the crowd of Obama supporters (and perhaps a person or two who couldn’t get out of downtown Chicago in time to beat the evening rush of people INTO the city), that is correct.

I don’t need to shell out significant amounts of money just to hear David Axelrod or other Obama campaign officials try to influence me with their rhetorical “spin.” I can figure out for myself what the results mean, without being told what to think they should mean.

And it’s not like I’m going to need the working conditions to file my copy the way reporters with some national newspapers will. For them, the telephone lines are the primary purpose of a press area (transmitting copy via a cellular telephone is a pain in the butt if you are trying to send anything longer than 20 words).

It actually reminds me of a “big event” assignment I once covered for United Press International – the day in June 2001 when the federal government put Timothy McVeigh to death at the prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT contracted out to a private company to “deal” with the logistics of reporter-types from across the country focusing attention on the prison. I remember UPI being hit with a bill for the services, which wound up amounting to a special tent set up within the security perimeter set up by the Bureau of Prisons to ensure that right wing activists inclined to think of McVeigh as some sort of anti-government hero would not attack the prison.

In that tent, I got use of a telephone line all to myself, along with a table and chair, and some of the doughiest-tasting pizza I have ever had. But when one is in the middle of trying to find out what McVeigh was having for a final meal (two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream, for anyone who cares to know), anything edible was appreciated.

Excuse me for thinking that the circumstances are not all that different. Reporter types covering the candidate on Election Night are going to want to have some place to work at the scene. After all, it’s not like they can return to an “office” to file their copy.

And while the rally may be free for those who attend, for those who are working, there are expenses. Somebody has to pay.

SO WHAT IS the significance of what will be written about that night in Grant Park?

Using the public park on the Chicago lakefront (with the downtown skyline in the background) would give an Obama celebration a character unique to a campaign victory party.

Usually, candidates rent out a ballroom in a swanky hotel, then pack it with supporters who will cheer if told their guy won (or boo if told their guy lost).

The point of all of this is to provide a scenic backdrop for the candidate when he makes his victory/concession speech –which is timed to air live on the late night television newscasts.

CAN WE REALLY be surprised that the Barack backers who turned a Denver football stadium into a nomination acceptance speech, and also has attracted hundreds of thousands of people to rallies in St. Louis (with the Gateway Arch in the background) and Berlin would come up with a culminating campaign spectacle set in Chicago?

And we all know that no matter how many people really show up, someone will come up with a type of mathematics that allows the crowd size for an Obama rally to be estimated at 1-million-plus.

If anything, I am most amused that the news coverage of the announcement that Obama was going to use Grant Park for his celebration/concession makes mention of the fact that Pope John Paul II also used the same site (and stage) when he visited Chicago in 1979 and held a city-wide papal mass.

Some people joke that Obama is trying to compare himself in stature to the Pope. Some conservative pundits are trying to make an issue out of Obama having the “audacity” to put himself on that level, although if that were truly the case, then it would be sacrilegious to hold the annual music festivals in Grant Park.

BUT WHEN IT comes to the priorities of many Chicagoans, there is another figure of prominence who has walked that same stage. The Chicago Bulls basketball team used that site to celebrate their six NBA titles in the 1990s.

Even if Obama becomes the first U.S. president from Chicago, Michael Jordan will always remain primary in the hearts and minds of our residents.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Police cost money ( So sayeth Richard M. Daley.

Reporter-types are being expected to pay ( for the working space set up within Grant Park enabling them to file copy for publication on Nov. 5.

Officials are beginning now to ready Grant Park for its use by the Obama presidential campaign ( 12 days from now.

It would be difficult for an Obama Election Night rally in Grant Park to be more gauche than the annual food festival known as the Taste of Chicago. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Burge case finally arrives at a charge

It was with a bit of joy that I woke up Tuesday, did a quick search of the Internet to see what was happening in the world, and stumbled across the reports that just a few hours earlier, Jon Burge was arrested at his home in the suburbs of Tampa, Fla.

So much for Burge, a retired Chicago police officer, being able to enjoy the World Series in his adopted home town in peace.

BURGE IS ONE of those names that comes up perennially in Chicago news reports, and is one that many people may vaguely recognize – even if they’re not sure off the top of their heads who he is or why we should care about him.

For the Burge story has been around for so long that the specifics of his case are lost upon most people. Too many just hear the name Burge and apply one of two labels to him – “corrupt cop” or “victim.”

The latter is true. I have heard some people complain that Burge is merely being picked on by people who want to “coddle” criminal elements.

Now for those who don’t remember, Burge was a Chicago police officer in various capacities and ranks from 1970 to 1993 – when he was officially fired from his job. By that point, he had been on leave and had unofficially retired to Florida, where he continues to live to this day.

WHAT DRAWS THE attention of activists is Burge’s time when he was assigned to the Chicago Police area Two, whose stationhouse is located in the Pullman neighborhood and which encompasses all the police districts on the city’s Far South Side.

Activists who take an interest in police brutality and torture argue that Burge was a master of both genres. They claim his interrogation techniques cross the line between pressure to get someone to talk, and outright abuse.

Until Monday, there were never any criminal charges against Burge. But earlier this year, the City Council and Mayor Richard M. Daley approved a $20 million payment to settle a lawsuit brought by four people who claim Burge abused them while they were in police custody some two decades ago.

Now as often happens, the criminal charges now pending against Burge are not for the actual physical force (I don’t doubt those suspects were hit, what is at stake is whether the force crossed the line into torture).

THE TWO CHARGES of obstruction of justice and one charge of perjury relate to court proceedings in 2003 when Burge provided information about the decades-old physical force. Federal prosecutors say Burge did not tell the truth (he says he never tortured anybody). So they want to turn him into a convicted liar.

That is what activists with an interest in police brutality are going to have to settle for. A special report put together by Cook County officials two years ago determined that while some criminal suspects may have suffered torture back when Burge ran the detective bureau in Pullman, the statute of limitations had run out.

The end result was that the now-60-year-old Burge was required to appear before a federal judge in Tampa on Tuesday, where bond was set at $250,000 (he put up his house). He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Chicago on Monday, although the question is whether he will be allowed some sense of dignity in remaining free or whether bond will be revoked and he will get to live at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, looking out at the streets of downtown Chicago through one of those slits in the side of the building that pass for windows.

I can already hear the arguments from people who always want to give the police the benefit of the doubt in such cases (even though I think that police ought to be held to a higher standard to ensure they don’t abuse the great authority entrusted to them by working in law enforcement).

THESE WERE CRIMINALS who needed to have some force used (this is the real world, after all). Not only that, these are old cases and who’s to say how well anyone remembers the details. Besides, is it really fair to prosecute Burge now, all these decades later?

But U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago is applying the same higher standards to police that he has applied to Chicago political people in recent years.

“There is no place for torture and abuse in a police station. There is no place for perjury and false statements in federal lawsuits,” Fitzgerald said, in a prepared statement. “No person is above the law, and nobody, even a suspected murderer, is beneath its protection.”

So now, the same federal prosecutor who took down former Gov. George Ryan for acts that some consider to be “just the way Illinois politics operates” is going after Burge for behavior that some might say is “just the way Chicago police operate.”

NOW, WHILE I concede the fact that police have a legal authority to use some physical force (we wouldn’t arm them with pistols and nightsticks if we didn’t expect them to be used every now and then), the stories told about Burge have always exceeded any sense of legal restraint.

Stories of inmates being given electric shocks to provide the “proper” (ie., self-incriminating) answers to interrogation questions are old. I heard them back when I was a full-time police reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago.

That was back in 1988, so none of this is new. And for what it’s worth, I used to make regular trips to that same Pullman Area stationhouse, and encounter many police officers who were quick to defend Burge’s behavior. I never actually met the man – he had been reassigned to a different unit by then, and always seemed to work different shifts than I did.

If anything, it is the age of these stories (the Chicago Reader stories that are considered some of the most definitive reporting on the Burge situation date back to 1989) that makes me glad something has finally happened.

IT IS TIRING to hear the Burge name turned into just a vague label that somehow relates to police brutality, but which most people don’t really know how. And to think that Burge will be able to tie into the groups of people who want to support police even though he may have abused his law enforcement power is kind of sickening.

Getting an indictment means we can start taking the steps toward something resembling a trial. That means eventually, the name “Burge” will quit being something of significant interest in news reports across the city.

Jon Burge, if convicted, can become just another anonymous inmate. Or, if he manages to beat the charges and get an acquittal, he can become just another anonymous retired cop who chose to leave Chicago and urban life for some rural, sunny climate.

Either way, it’s “Good Riddance” to Burge on behalf of the people of Chicago.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Chicago Reader was one of the first publications to take seriously ( the concept that something funky with the police was taking place on Chicago’s Far South Side.

The Chicago Sun-Times tried to score points by claiming to be the first Chicago newspaper (,jon-burge-cop-torture-chicago-arrested-102108.article) in Tampa, Fla., for the story. The Tampa Tribune offers ( their take on the Chicago story.

A University of Chicago-supported group offers this timeline of the Burge situation (

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yet another year goes by without the World Series being played in Chicago

The World Series begins Wednesday, and those dreams some of us had of an all-Chicago affair deciding a U.S. professional baseball championship for 2008 are so dead they’re burned to a crisp.

It’s going to be the Tampa Bay Rays against the Philadelphia Phillies. While I can’t say I really care who wins the thing, I must admit to taking some interest in potential Chicago angles to this series.

IT IS THOSE Chicago angles that makes me think all of us in the Second City ought to be rooting for the Devil Rays (I don’t care if that name offends the locals, it’s a sea creature and it sounds better than just “Rays”).

In fact, this ought to be something that could potentially unite fans of the White Sox and a certain other ball club that had delusions of winning a pennant.

Take the Phillies, a ballclub that like the Cubs dates back to the 19th Century. And it is a team that quite possibly has an even more pathetic history than the Cubs (who were a respectable National League franchise for the first third of the 20th Century).

While the Cubs have only won two World Series in their history (1907 and 1908), the Phillies are a team that have only won the series once (1980) in their history.

JUST IMAGINE THE anguish Cubs fans would feel if the Phillies were to win the World Series, thereby giving them just as many overall victories as the Cubs? Ever since the Braves changed the losing character of their franchise history in Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta by rattling off a dominant string of division titles and five league championships in the 1990s, it has been the Phillies and the Cubs as the historic doormats of the National League.

And if the Phillies were to win a World Series, it would create the perception in some minds that they too have dumped their losing ways, leaving the Cubs all alone (except for a few dumpy expansion teams) at the bottom of the baseball pool.

They went from being convinced this was THEIR year to potentially being left alone in the loser pool.

I don’t think I could handle the mass depression that the North Side and its sympathizers would sink into. In fact, I think such depression would make Cubs fans even more unbearable.

BUT THERE ARE a pair of other reasons for which I will admit to taking some interest in Tampa Bay winning a World Series title – even though they have only been in existence for 11 years (it took the Houston Astros 44 years of existence before they won their first National League pennant, and are still waiting for that first World Series title).

Those reasons are pitcher Chad Bradford and outfielder Cliff Floyd – both of whom found their baseball fortunes at a point this year where they wound up signing to play for Tampa Bay.

Floyd is a Chicago area native who played his high school ball in suburban South Holland (the same high school that produced one-time Chicago Bull Eddy Curry and former White Sox and Cubs pitcher Steve Trout). He’s also the guy who grew up a White Sox fan (claiming Harold Baines as his favorite ballplayer) who later went on to play for the Cubs (in 2007).

This could literally be the year that all Chicagoans can unite behind rooting for a hometown guy to have that BIG moment, thereby making him a local sports legend for the remainder of his life – even if his “local” moment came for another city.

CHICAGO SPORTS FANS have so little history of baseball heroes in October that we’ll settle for a local boy done well somewhere else – just like we don’t hold it against Bill Skowron (who learned how to hit while playing slow-pitch softball back in the 1940s) that he had his baseball heroics playing for the New York Yankees back in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Then, there is Bradford, a relief pitcher who I still remember from the beginning of his career when he was with the White Sox.

Bradford is not the BIG MAN who comes into a game to finish it off. He’s the guy who pitches to a hitter or two at a time in mid-game, to prevent a messy situation from becoming a complete disaster.

What makes him unique is that he’s a sub-mariner. He throws his pitches with a motion that’s not quite underhand. But it definitely isn’t a sidearm throw.

I STILL REMEMBER the first time I ever saw him pitch (in 2000 in a late-season game against the Seattle Mariners). As it turned out, I had a seat that game in the lower deck straight behind home plate.

I got the same view of the pitcher that the catcher and umpire had, and I still remember the break on Bradford’s pitches as being absolutely freaky. He doesn’t throw overly hard, but I can’t hit him even in my dreams.

While I realize the White Sox shared the same doubts about Bradford (how can such a freakish throwing motion ever work long term?) that many conventional baseball people have, I must admit to being intrigued that he has lasted for so many ball clubs throughout this decade (the average major league baseball player’s career is only four seasons – he’s already lasted for nine).

If anything, I’ll watch Bradford come into ballgames and try to envision “What if?” As in, what if Bradford had been kept in Chicago? What could he have achieved on the South Side?

THEN, THERE’S THE biggest “What if?” What if we had lost the White Sox to St. Petersburg, Fla.?

Don’t forget that the monstrosity of a stadium that Florida officials built in the mid-1980s in hopes of luring a major league team to the Tampa Bay area nearly lured the White Sox (Thank God for political manipulation, Springfield-style, that kept the team in Chicago).

That World Series title in 2005, along with division titles in 1993 and 2000, and generally winning records throughout the 1990s and 2000s, could have easily been achieved by the “Florida White Sox.”

I’m willing to throw the fans of Tampa Bay a bone and let them finally have a winning season (including an American League pennant and a chance at a World Series title), particularly since it means those of us who are Sout’ Siders at heart got to keep our historic ball club.

SO GO RAYS! Beat the Phillies (even if our junior senator, Barack Obama, is being deluded enough by his campaign manager to root for Philadelphia).

And preferably, they’ll do it in less than six games. Because I’m really not in the mood for a Republican stink over the Obama infomercial on Oct. 29 delaying Game Six of the World Series. We have enough stupid issues in Campaign ’08. Here’s hoping baseball helps avoid another one from arising.


EDITOR’S NOTES: All those people who placed pre-season bets on Tampa Bay to win the World Series this year (back when the odds were 200-1) have the potential to clean up ( financially.

There are two Rays players ( with the potential ( to stir up Chicago interest.

How will David Letterman mock Tampa Bay baseball these days (

A history lesson ( about what could have been.

No ball game today in Chicago!

A question to be pondered by Chicagoans on both sides of the baseball partisan split. Which concept is more depressing?

Is it the sight of all those unsold souvenir books in bookstores and supermarkets proclaiming "This is the Year!" that no one wants because it reminds Cubs fans of just how quickly (and tackily) their ball club failed in the National League playoffs this year?

OR IS IT the lack of a sight of similar souvenir books celebrating the fact that the White Sox also won a division title in 2008, and did so with a truly historic flourish at season's end? But because of the way the White Sox barely lasted longer than the Cubs in American League playoff action, there was no time to put something together.

I can't think of any White Sox fan who's that anxious to buy something now. You can't even find caps with a patch or t-shirts proclaiming the 2008 A.L. Central Division champions. And those Cubs shirts and caps that were mass-produced out of a delusion that this truly WAS the year are already marked down significantly in price.

It just means we're shifting attention to next year.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama campaign means to place ads before otherwise uninterested eyeballs

I once met a guy who wanted to engage in chit chat, only to find out that the guy had no interests in life other than professional sports. And he wasn’t the athletic type who could play ball – he was a couch potato who watched ball games.

“The perfect life would be nothing but sports, I wouldn’t miss anything else,” he told me.

SO WHEN I learned in recent days of the attempt by the presidential campaign of Barack Obama to interpose their campaign advertising in unique places, he was the one I thought of. Obama is figuring out ways to creep his message into this guy’s life.

For one of the spots he has come up with is a lengthy “infomercial-type” program that he is using his huge campaign kitty to buy airtime on all the network stations simultaneously in prime time on Oct. 29.

What has some people worked up, particularly Republican partisans who are used to the idea of their candidates being the ones with money to burn and resent having to run against a fully-funded Democratic opponent this time around, is that such a date and time would come at the beginning of the World Series game tentatively scheduled to be played that day.

The Republican partisans are literally going so far as to accuse the Obama campaign of being “un-American” for thinking that its campaign message is more important than a World Series game.

NOT THAT ANYONE interested in seeing the game ought to be concerned about missing a minute of activity – the Fox network has worked it out so that the game that night will be delayed (to about 7:35 p.m., Chicago-time, or 8:35 p.m. local time, since this is going to be an all East Coast World Series).

I find it comical that people are getting all worked up about the idea of a Tampa Bay/Philadelphia World Series having to play second fiddle to the campaign season. Of course, there’s always the chance that one team will just rattle off four straight victories and bring the World Series to an end before Oct. 29 – which would make the whole affair a moot point.

It’s not like Fox is pre-empting the broadcast of the World Series game for politics. People will merely have to wait about another 15 minutes before the game actually starts. And for those people who think baseball broadcasts in October already stretch too long, that is the fault of the networks determined to squeeze advertising in between innings – turning postseason baseball into a snoozefest unless one has a personal rooting interest in one of the teams that qualifies (could that be the reason that baseball postseason television ratings for the past decade have been terrible?)

If anything, I think the complaining about the Obama campaign is coming from the partisans who are jealous of the fact that they didn’t think of placing ads just before a World Series game first.

SOME WILL NOTE the significance of getting all those Philadelphia Phillies fans (in fact, all of those Pennsylvania viewers) to see the Obama spot, perhaps helping to sway enough of them to the Obama campaign so that Barack takes the state’s 21 Electoral College votes.

And when Tampa Bay managed to not blow their 3 games to 1 lead in the American League playoffs (winning the AL pennant Sunday night), there is the chance of having the same effect for Florida viewers.

But these spots are probably more important for their national effect. They will reinforce the idea that the Obama campaign is somehow innovative and coming up with new ways of reaching out to people.

I can already envision the coverage and attention Obama will get from people who watch the spots – even if they manage to be offended by them. He’s assured that he will be the national focus that day – just one week before Election Day.

OBAMA BECOMES THE campaign of the 21st Century, compared to the stodgy, old ways of John McCain (whose followers think that because he was a one-time POW during the Vietnam era, that should have made HIM a shoo-in to win the presidential election).

Yet I have to admit that the infomercial just before a World Series game strikes me as the least interesting of Obama’s tactics.

I’m more intrigued by his deal to place campaign ads within video games.

It’s true.

PEOPLE WHO PLAY games that use the Xbox 360 game console will start seeing ads depicting the Obama campaign logo (the capital “O” made to look like a red, white and blue sun rising) in the background.

Most of the games that will have these ads are (you guessed it) games with sports themes.

Now while I have never been much into video games, I have a brother who is. And I have seen that when it comes to the sports games, the key to attracting people to think your game doesn’t stink is to use the latest graphic technology to recreate all the minute details of a ball game.

The figures depicting players have to look human and the configuration of the stands has to look like the real stadiums.

IDEALLY, ANY NOTABLE features of the surrounding neighborhoods also ought to be recreated (such as the bridge beyond the outfield at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, or the “Citgo” sign outside Boston’s Fenway Park, etc.).

We also ought to be able to see the advertising billboards, and ought to be able to read them.

Well, for those people who play the games in the next couple of weeks, those ads are going to be for Obama. You won’t be able to escape it, unless you’re willing to swear off the games until mid-November, which might not be a bad idea).

The trick is that the Xbox has an Internet connection, so that the background details are continually being updated.

THAT GAME YOU purchased this summer will suddenly have new Obama ads for the next few times you play it, and those ads will go away after Election Day (I doubt the Electronic Arts Inc. people will leave them up any longer, since they won’t be getting paid for it).

Besides, if the McCain campaign truly wanted to rebut this trend, they ought to arrange for a digital simulation of John McCain himself to somehow be inserted into the “stands.” He could be seen sitting in a prime seat, “watching” the “game.”

It certainly wouldn't be any more ridiculous than the reality of the 2005 World Series, when former President George Bush and one-time first lady Barbara Bush were seated right behind home plate for the two games played in Houston, with Barbara doing her best to give an "evil eye" of sorts to the White Sox.


EDITOR’S NOTES: People who are offended by the possibility of Barack Obama infomercials delaying the beginning of a World Series game ( ought to root for a quick end to the series to make the issue irrelevant.

The day we see a sports-themed video game with a simulated streaker running across the fake playing field ( is the day that things will have gone too far.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

CAMPAIGN LAWN SIGNS: Are they political speech, or merely political trash?

Just two blocks straight east of where I live, a homeowner (whom I don’t know personally) has on his lawn two signs – both promoting the re-election bid of Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., to Congress.

I know. I know. It’s that time of year. People put up signs of their favored candidates. Invariably, some get trashed and accusations are made of electioneering.

SOME PEOPLE GO too far in putting up all this cardboard and wire on their front lawns to tout their political preferences. But it is the “American Way” that people are allowed to express themselves if they so wish as to who they would like for us to vote for.

There’s just one thing I don’t understand about my particular neighbor.

He (and I) both live in the Illinois First Congressional District, which means our incumbent representative is Bobby L. Rush. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale represents an area of Illinois that is to the northwest of us.

She has nothing to do with our area, not now in Congress or even before when she was a state legislator representing a couple of towns in DuPage County.

AT WHAT POINT do lawn signs become absurd?

I probably should state that I am not the type of person who gets into the concept of lawn signs for the campaigns. I suppose it gives a candidate a big ego boost if they can drive up and down a block and see a whole row of signs promoting their campaigns (without any evidence of backing for their political opponents).

And I will admit that most people show some sense of decorum. One or two signs. Usually, the intent is to promote a single campaign or issue. (And this election cycle, it seems the presidential campaign is all the rage. “Obama” or “McCain/Palin” signs are most of what I see, along with an occasional anti-war sign that, upon closer inspection, contains the Obama campaign logo in the lower right-hand corner.

In fact, the Biggert sign stands out in my mind because it is one of the few non-presidential campaign signs I have seen this season (although just on Friday afternoon, I also got my first glimpse of a bright red with white lettering sign touting the campaign of Democrat Anita Alvarez to be Cook County’s state’s attorney.)

THE BULK OF the reason I don’t get into signs (although I enjoy seeing other types of political memorabilia, particularly those campaign advertising fliers that flood many peoples’ mailboxes these days) is that it is too easy for them to become tattered or damaged.

Inclement weather can turn someone’s political statement into warped or tattered cardboard.

Then, there are the half-wits who like to vandalize or steal signs, which was the fate of the one time I did put up a sign (“Simon for Senate” back in ’84).

I couldn’t help but notice a letter published this week in the Wednesday Journal newspaper of suburban Oak Park, where a local resident complained that someone stole her lawn sign touting the McCain campaign.

THIS PARTICULAR LETTER writer went into a diatribe about the intolerance of liberals toward his preferred candidate. And I suppose it could be some Democratic precinct captain for that particular block who viewed a sign touting the GOP presidential nominee as a smirch on his professional reputation.

But I have usually found that many of the signs that get taken away are done so by people with little political agenda, other than that they’re bored and feel like taking something. The signs that are vandalized by somebody with a “magic marker” and an obscene sense of creativity are the ones that are being hit by someone with a political agenda.

They probably get a cheap thrill at the thought of you having to remove the sign because the scrawls on it make it unviewable (or potentially obscene).

But there also is the possibility that someone took it upon themselves to call your sign placement nothing more than litter.

PERHAPS THEY EVEN thought it was somehow illegally placed.

That would be the case of one sign I saw being removed a couple of weeks ago. I actually witnessed a police car stop, a uniformed officer get out, and take the signs out of the ground before tossing them in his trunk.

These particular signs touted the campaign of Republican Tony Peraica for state’s attorney of Cook County. But they also were set up at a major intersection in south suburban Cook (175th Street and Cicero Avenue, to be exact) on a plot of land that is unincorporated and under county control.

Did someone go too far in putting up a partisan political message on county property for a specific county government candidate?

OR DO YOU think this is a local cop with too much time on his hands, overreacting to a piece of cardboard attached to wire?

I’d be inclined to think the latter, except that I know what the end result of too many campaign signs and leaflets is.

They turn to trash because they are left out way too long after Election Day. Some people are even more ridiculous when it comes to refusing to remove their campaign lawn signs than they are when it comes to refusing to take down their Christmas tree.

That actually is why there is one political person in this state I admit I can admire.

LARRY BOMKE IS a Republican from Springfield who serves in the Illinois Senate. One thing that makes him unique is that on the day after Election Day, he personally goes around to all the homes in the Illinois capital city that bothered to put up his signs, and removes them before they can become trash.

If only more political people took a similar attitude, there’d be less political trash.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Some people ( just have ( too much free time on their hands.

No matter how little one thinks of the McCain campaign’s tactics, this kind of response is ( just disgusting.

How long until a campaign yard sign vandal or thief claims his actions are merely an expression ( of his own political beliefs?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Calumet City willing to resurrect “sin city” image out of financial desperation

I can remember back just over a decade ago when a then-newly elected mayor of south suburban Calumet City decided he wanted to do away with the sinful image his hometown had throughout the Chicago area.

Calumet City was the place with a string of bars and strip clubs located just west of State Line Road, with some of those clubs having direct historic ties to the days of Al Capone. The State Street (not to be confused with Chicago's Great Street) strip was a place that respectable people avoided (and where Gary Dotson got arrested in the 1980s just after being released from prison for a rape conviction-turned-flawed).

THE MAYOR DECIDED his town couldn’t be criticized for promoting sin if there was no sin present. So he literally shut down the bars and had them bulldozed into a large plot of land, claiming he was creating an industrial park to bring significant business to the area’s economy.

Those businesses never came.

The last time I drove through the area, it remained an empty blot that one passed through just before crossing the street into Indiana, where garishly-lit-with-neon stores promoting cheap pop, cigarettes and fireworks beckoned to Illinoisans.

And that mayor is long gone, having run a pitiful attempt to become Illinois treasurer in 1998, then getting himself busted for government corruption and being forced to serve a couple of years in federal prison.

MY POINT IN reciting this quickie moment of Calumet City history is to say that this is not a prissy town. Not now. Not when I lived there some 30 years ago. Not ever.

Although it has turned from a white ethnic place to a majority African-American population, it remains middle-to-low income. It is a place that could use an economic boost, and isn’t particular about where the cash comes from as long as it’s green.

So if anybody thinks that bringing in a few preachers and other moralists to talk of the evils of gambling is going to persuade the local political people from wanting a casino in their town, they must be heavily intoxicated.

For it is true. Calumet City is one of the places that is desperate get the state’s attention to have a casino placed within their boundaries. Current state law permits up to 10 licensed casinos to exist, but there are only nine currently in operation.

UP HEAR O’HARE International Airport, Rosemont is trying again to get that 10th gambling boat license, while other groups also are working with companies that would operate casinos within their towns.

One group that wants to place a casino in the southwest suburb of Stickney literally has hired former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka to talk about how “wunnerful” it would be to place the casino down by the Hawthorne Race Course.

Just imagine, playing the ponies and the slots, all in one place. It might actually make you forget for a few seconds that you’re gambling near the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s sewage treatment plant that happens to be the largest such facility in the world.

But then, there’s Calumet City, which is trying to spin its proposal in a context of doing the state of Illinois a great service by having a casino within its boundaries.

AS THINGS CURRENTLY stand, many people on the South Side and surrounding suburbs get in their cars and drive east on Interstate 80 or the Chicago Skyway toll road into Indiana when they feel the need to gamble.

Casino boats in Hammond and East Chicago within site (and sometimes smell) of the steel mills and oil refineries draw millions of dollars in tax revenues for their hometowns – money which could have been spent in Illinois if there was a southern Chicago-area gambling site other than the casinos in Joliet.

Calumet City’s officials claim they would literally be able to stop people from venturing to the unsophisticated side of State Line Road, while still allowing them to be able to fulfill their personal need to dump all their money into Illinois-based slot machines or on card games, roulette wheels or whatever particular game of chance is their preference.

Personally, I’m skeptical. And that’s largely because I remember the reason that the 10th riverboat casino that used to exist wound up failing financially.

IT WAS CALLED the Silver Eagle. It was a gambling boat moored in the Mississippi River at East Dubuque, Ill., which means it was located just across the river from Dubuque, Iowa, which had its own casinos.

Now perhaps it is the “American Way” that the people choose which businesses they want to patronize, and those that do not appeal to the public go broke. That’s what happened to the Silver Eagle, which was consistently the Illinois gambling boat with the lowest gross income when it existed in the 1990s.

It had a lot to do with the rules under which Illinois casino boats operated. At the time, they had to offer cruises of the river, while Iowa’s boats remained in dock all the time. Illinois’ boats were under the pretense of being cruises where some gambling took place. Iowa just came out and admitted that the boats were places where no one should be shocked to find gambling taking place.

People who derive pleasure from visiting casinos chose to gamble in Iowa, even those who lived in Illinois. It is this same reason that the gambling boat in Rock Island always has faced stiff competition from gambling operations in Iowa, and where the Casino Queen of East St. Louis has to ensure it does not fall behind gambling in Missouri.

MY POINT IS to say that it is likely the hard-core gamblers who don’t care about any of the frills and just want to live out a dream that someday, they’ll hit a huge score will go to the casino that puts up the least resistance. Illinois laws regarding casinos are meant to put up resistance.

I suspect that makes the Hammond and East Chicago sites of more appeal than any gambling boat in Calumet City would ever be. I’ve already heard some people point out that a casino in Illinois would have to comply with the public smoking restrictions that do not exist in Indiana.

Would a Calumet City casino become the place where people snicker for a second before crossing over the state line on their way to East Chicago or Hammond? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

And it also wouldn’t shock me to learn that a Calumet City casino could suffer the same fate as the Silver Eagle.

BESIDES, THERE’S ONE other point. The same people who desperately wanted a casino to be built in Rosemont (near O’Hare and hotels where tourists stay) will make the same argument now that a casino meant to take people’s money should be built in a place convenient to where those people actually are.

So if I had to bet money, I’d place it on Rosemont. Who’s to say how the local politicos there will be able to influence their state counterparts to see the benefit of bright, shiny lights from a casino helping to guide planes into O’Hare, then guide those passengers to the slots – where they can go for broke.

Maybe they’ll even figure out a way for people merely making a connection at O’Hare and waiting for another flight to make a quick trip to the casino.

Isn’t that a pleasant memory for people to take from Chicago?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Proponents of putting a casino in Calumet City, Ill., think they can ( stop Chicago-area people from traveling east to Indiana to gamble at casinos in Hammond and East Chicago.

Seven companies are submitting bids to the Illinois Gaming Board seeking to control the last license currently available to (,0,3058513.story) operate a gambling boat in this state.

Mike Ditka likes to gamble. Or at least he likes to take the money of casino operators in ( order to promote their facilities.

How many towns openly include the name “Al Capone” among a list of prominent people ( who helped shape their municipal character? How many towns think a name change will significantly alter their ( character?