Saturday, January 31, 2009

Moving primary election date will just give us a longer primary campaign season

The government official Pat Quinn I know (as opposed to the former prosecutor and judge) was always an idealist. It was that idealism that has managed throughout the years to rub many political people the wrong way.

And it became clear Friday that the idealistic side of Quinn has not been erased by his dealings with Rod Blagojevich.

HOW ELSE SHOULD we interpret the new Illinois governor’s rhetoric about wanting to shift the primary election from February to September?

In Quinn’s wildest fantasies, the 2010 primary elections for state government office (including his bid to get a term of his own as Illinois governor) would take place in September, with the general election being held just two months later on its traditional Tuesday date in early November.

“We don’t need perpetual campaigns and perpetual campaign fund raising,” Quinn told reporter-types at the “Statehouse in Springpatch.” Gov. Pat Quinn has gone from greeting Gold Star mothers to trying to revamp the electoral calendar for Illinois in an attempt to reduce the need for campaign cash. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

Quinn dreams that the public interest would benefit by slashing the general election season in Illinois from the nine months that it was in 2008 when Barack Obama ran against John McCain for president to just two months.

HAVING SUCH A shorter general election campaign season would mean less activity, which would also mean less money needed to make it through the campaign season.

It would also result in less burnout amongst the Illinois electorate. Be honest, how many of you were so disgusted by the time October of 2008 came about that you were wishing for Election Day to come and go on Nov. 4 – just so that the whole process would be over and done with.

But excuse me for being skeptical. I’m not convinced that the few benefits that might be derived from a shorter general election season would outweigh the negative impact of stretching out the primary election season.

And let’s be honest. Shifting the general election would extend the primary election season by however long (seven months) a time-span the primary Election Day was moved.

I SUPPOSE PAT Quinn, in his dreams, thinks that the people who want to be governor will simply wait until early 2010 before they start doing anything toward campaigning for office.

But the reality of electoral politics in the early 21st Century is that the campaigns that have a financial edge are going to use it to try to bury their opponents as quickly as possible.

It already is a given that serious campaigning starts about one year before the actual date of the primary election. Mark my words that the campaign season for the 2010 election for Illinois governor and other statewide offices (along with the U.S. Senate seat now held by Roland Burris) will begin in February or March.

We’re going to start hearing in the upcoming month about all the exploratory committees being created so as to allow the political dreamers to do whatever studies they deem necessary to convince themselves that the people of Illinois desperately want them to be on a ballot come 2010.

BY MAY OR June, we will have candidates formally declaring their interest in specific offices, and assorted campaign stunts taking place so as to draw public attention.

The idea of getting starting in the next few weeks for a February 2010 primary election is to build up a momentum that crushes political opposition.

There’s no way that the candidates are going to put off the beginning of their campaign activity, just because of the off-chance that the General Assembly might actually go along with Pat Quinn’s pipe dream of a September primary – instead of a February election date.

So if Quinn were to get his way, instead of a year-long primary campaign season, we’d have a year-and-a-half-long time span for the political geeks of Illinois to say something stupid in their attempt to get your vote.

TO ME, THE idea of a two-month general election season (which really is kind of short) may be a noble goal. But it is outweighed by the concept of an 18-month primary.

I’m willing to give Quinn the benefit of the doubt that he’s being naïve in not understanding that reality. For otherwise, the alternative is to consider that this move is purely political on Quinn’s part.

The financial reality is that the Democratic dreamers for governor, senator or other top-ranking office all have significantly more money than the Republican frontrunners for those same posts – except for Quinn.

The most recent disclosure statements filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections indicated that many Democrats started 2009 with campaign funds in the millions of dollars (with Illinois Attorney General, and possible gubernatorial candidate, Lisa Madigan being the wealthiest with about $3.6 million in her fund).

QUINN, BY COMPARISON, had just under $90,000, which is a pitiful sum for a legitimate statewide contender to have. With that little cash on hand, he might as well be an Illinois Republican.

I can’t help but think that Quinn’s desire to undercut the influence of campaign cash on a primary season is motivated at least in part out of the reality that he doesn’t have any.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Pat Quinn the governor is likely to propose a lot of “good government” ideals, but ( that doesn’t make them all practical.

Not many government officials enter a new post thinking of themselves as exterminators who need ( to “fumigate” their new employer.

Just in case you thought I was kidding about there being ( another Pat Quinn.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Barack Obama is going to learn that not everybody in D.C. will love him

Perhaps it is a good thing that President Barack Obama received a few political blows this week.

There needs to be a reality check for those people who see the rise of Obama from a lowly state legislator from the South Side to Leader of the Free World as some sort of moral crusade.

THERE ARE GOING to be people who are going to view Obama and his followers as “the opposition.” For whatever reason, they are going to resist the goals of an urbane chief executive (I guess they just don’t realize how fortunate we are to have a Chicagoan in charge). And Obama types are going to have to show they can engage in the world of partisan politics just as much as the lowliest hack.

There are those people who are viewing the House of Representatives’ action this week on the Obama-desired stimulus package as an Obama defeat. Some are going so far as to boast that Obama is a “loser” on what is his first significant measure as president, and what will be one of the most significant acts he takes during his four-year term in office.

The reason they are quick to label House approval as a defeat is because it went purely on a partisan political vote.

Two hundred forty-four members of Congress (all Democrats) voted for the measure, with 188 congressmen (all Republicans) opposed to the idea.

THAT VOTE CAME despite Obama’s attempts to persuade at least a few Republican legislators to support his desire for an $825 billion package that is meant to give the U.S. economy a big enough jolt that business can resume more or less as usual.

Was Obama naïve in thinking that he could get members of the GOP faithful to support something that their ideologue colleagues would lambast as tax hikes and more big government run amok?


Personally, my favorite snitty little quip came from Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., who noted the 627 pages of the bill outlining the stimulus package, saying that it amounted to an average of “$1.18 billion for every single page in the bill.”

BUT WHILE I think it likely will take a drastic measure such as what Obama is proposing to shake the U.S. economy out of its current troubles, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that many people in this country will disagree.

The fact is that while former President George W. Bush left office with approval ratings ranging around 26 percent, the conservative ideals that he espoused when he came into office remain popular with a sizable amount of the U.S. population.

There also is the fact that there were people who were ABO (Anybody But Obama) during the 2008 campaign season who haven’t swung over to the Obama camp. They will be willing to give those lawmakers who voted against a stimulus package their moral support.

In fact, I still wonder how long it will be before some opportunistic political person tries to feed off the mood of these people and become an outspoken voice of Congressional opposition to the Obama program?

NOT JUST THE stimulus package (which Democrats are going to have to use their authority to pass on their own), but everything.

Obama may talk about change and hope, but there are enough people who are willing to use the old ways of partisan political hardball to try to achieve their goals – or to prevent the opposition from doing much of anything until a future election comes along when they can try to ram their agenda into law.

It wasn’t just Republicans in the House who were willing to dump on Obama.

Let’s not forget that the president had been urging that Congress approve a four-month extension in the deadline in which television stations convert themselves to a digital signal, which will make older televisions without special converter boxes obsolete.

OBAMA WANTED THE extension, saying too many people were confused about what was going on and were not ready for a change on Feb. 17 (less than three weeks away). The Senate went along with the request, but the House refused.

So much for the concept of “Saint Obama” who can get his political “allies” to do whatever he wants.

Of course, it wasn’t just on Capitol Hill that people were willing this week to express their opposition to Obama. It didn’t even have to be an issue of historic significance to cause political snit fits.

Take the so-called “crisis” of Obama speaking out against the District of Columbia schools, which closed at the first sight of ice on streets in the capital city. People from the district were upset that Obama implied they were wimps compared to people from Chicago.

“WE’RE GOING TO have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town,” Obama said, when learning his daughters had classes cancelled due to winter weather.

School officials in the capital city were upset that anyone from outside the area questioned their judgment about when to close schools, implying that perhaps it is Chicago – where classes haven’t been cancelled for winter weather in a decade – that is odd.

An official with the private Sidwell Friends school (where Obama’s daughters attend) made a wisecrack to the Washington Post, the punchline of which is that Obama doesn’t really understand winter weather because he went to school in Hawaii.

Personally, I agree with Obama. The District of Columbia could use some “Chicago toughness.” So could much of the rest of the country, particularly those southern goofs who come to the real world (where it snows) and insist on thinking they can drive in icy January like they’re on the Indianapolis 500 racetrack


EDITOR’S NOTES: Obama-mania has some political people who were never ( infected.

I never realized (heavy sarcasm intended) that Chicago roads didn’t get icy during the winter ( I guess I just imagined all those motorists who in recent weeks I saw skid on our local streets.

Who will get the blame when some person who refuses to ditch their decades-old television set (“it still works,” they say) no longer picks up a viewable ( signal?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

EXTRA: Whose vote was deciding factor in first removal of an Illinois gov?

Illinois state Sen. John J. Millner, R-Bloomingdale, will get to be the answer to a political trivia question.

With a minimum of 40 of the 59 Illinois Senate members needed to vote “yes” to remove Rod Blagojevich from office, and the fact that all the Senate members voted “yes” Thursday afternoon on a roll call vote, Millner got the distinction of casting vote number 40 to dump on Milorod.

I’M WONDERING IF Millner is the type of guy who will forevermore boast about being “the guy” who dumped the corrupt governor Blagojevich from office. I also still can’t help but think that the overwhelming disgust expressed by the Legislature is a bit hypocritical, since there are some legislators whose behavior in office is no better (or worse) than the now-former governor.

For the record, the “yes” votes included state Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, whose father, Emil Jr., was one of Blagojevich’s biggest allies in the Legislature.

Even state Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, who earlier this week gave an interview to the Chicago Sun-Times for what I thought was one of the best pieces of reporting I have read in recent weeks – about how the Senate itself supported some of the acts for which Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office – voted “yes.”

So now, we get Gov. Pat Quinn, whose 91-year-old mother, Eileen, made the trip to the “Statehouse in Springpatch” to see her son become Illinois Gov. No. 41. Her concern, according to WBBM-TV, is that her son will work too hard and strain himself.

ONE MORE POINT I must make before I pipe down on this issue (which I will be glad to see go away).

I never thought I'd see the day that Quinn would get a standing ovation from the General Assembly. Or, for that matter, the idea of anyone being happy at the thought of the Mighty Quinn being in charge.


EDITOR’S NOTES: John Millner may have achieved his political legacy on Tuesday (

Should we see if there’s an equivalent to impeachment for certain members of the (,CST-NWS-brown27.article) Illinois Senate?

Pat Quinn truly is the political official whose electoral career won’t die

The political career of Patrick Quinn is one of the most unusual in Illinois.

We’re talking about an official whose most significant achievement in Illinois history took place nearly three decades ago, and whose very presence as a government official since then has been as an irritant to the political establishment.

AT ONE POINT in the mid-to-late 1990s, his career appeared to be over, so much so that the Reform Party allies who thought Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot would be a significant boost to this country were courting Quinn for their ranks because no one else appeared to want him.

While some people say that Quinn the lieutenant governor is a muted version of his old bombastic self who was willing to say or do anything for “the cause,” the fact is that he is not Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s toady. By Quinn’s admission, the governor hasn’t spoken to him in a year-and-a-half (which I take as a sign of Blagojevich’s insularity, rather than as anything negative about Quinn).

But now, Quinn is on the verge of becoming the governor of Illinois – the so-called savior who will purify Illinois politics that some people want to believe was tainted by Blagojevich (but which really has been a cesspool for so long that it could be argued that the system tainted Milorod).Pat Quinn will soon have more significant duties than helping to clean the Illinois River of pollutants. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

It is possible that when you read this, Quinn will either be preparing himself to take the oath of office in a few hours – or may actually have to wait one more day. By week's end, Quinn likely will be the 41st chief executive of the State of Illinois.

QUINN MAY FINALLY achieve something that tops what always appeared to be the most significant achievement of his career – the early 1980s effort that restructured the General Assembly and the way that Illinois voters picked their state legislators.

To government geeks whose passion is the Illinois Statehouse Scene, it is the “cutback amendment.” Whether you say it with a tone of respect or a sneer says more about the way you perceive government than it does anything about Quinn.

Under the cutback amendment, the Illinois House of Representatives was slashed from 177 to 118 members. The entire General Assembly went from 236 individuals to 177.

Quinn was the leader of the activist movement that forced the restructuring onto the ballot so that voters could say that fewer legislators was better. That was the argument Quinn made – there just wasn’t a need for so many Illinois House members.

WHILE MANY PEOPLE talk about wanting to undertake actions that would reduce the size of government (such as cutting the number of aldermen in the City Council from 50 to something like 20 or 30) or the size of government entities (such as breaking the northwestern suburban counties into their own separate county), few people have the initiative and stubborn streak in them to get those causes turned into reality.

Now I have heard the arguments from the people who hate “cutback.” It eliminated the concept of minority party representatives, such as Republican legislators from Chicago or Democrats/independents from central Illinois.

I’d argue that those minority legislators were only getting elected because the old system propped them up – not because the local residents actually wanted them. I have always seen “cutback” as a more honest effort for electing legislators.

For that, we should thank Quinn.

HIS CAREER MANAGED to get a boost when he got elected state treasurer for Illinois government, where he served from 1991-95 and reinforced his reputation as a political gadfly/pain in the tushy by being the guy who would constantly criticize his government colleagues (Democrat or Republican).

It was also in that era that he perfected the technique of the Sunday press conference, figuring that reporter types on that day would be desperate for any activity that could pass for “news.” Quinn gained the reputation of a political egomaniac.

The end result is that few Democrats were saddened when his career in public service appeared to end in that GOP onslaught of the 1994 elections that saw Republicans take over everything in state government.

He tried running for the U.S. Senate in 1996, only to lose in the primary to then-Rep. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. He tried running for lieutenant governor in 1998, only to fall less than 1,000 votes short of Kane County Coroner Mary Lou Kearns.

WHILE THERE WAS evidence that some funky vote counting acts may have occurred, Quinn’s low-budget campaign (Who wants to give money to a political pest who won’t show his gratitude in the future?) meant he didn’t have the money to pay legal fees to challenge the results.

His critics denounced him then as a “sore loser,” but I have to wonder who’s laughing now? Quinn is on the verge of becoming governor of Illinois, while who really remembers that Kearns ever ran for a statewide office? For that matter, who outside of Kane County (far western Chicago suburbs) remembers Mary Lou Kearns?

It was in that era that Quinn kept quiet for a few years, focusing his attention on his law practice (he is a specialist in the area of tax law) because he had two sons who were approaching college age. Somebody had to pay those tuition bills.

When Reform Party types tried to talk him into their ranks in the late 1990s, Quinn wouldn’t come out and say “no” to the followers of Ross Perot, but said back then, “I’m a Democrat at heart.”

BUT QUINN’S “COMEBACK” in the 2002 elections was made possible largely because Republicans by then had sunk from their highs of 1995-96 of dominating Illinois government to their current status of being irrelevant to the day-to-day operations of the Statehouse Scene.

And as for Democrats, the attention was on getting the top of the ticket post of governor. Lieutenant governor is considered so irrelevant to the daily operations of the state that some people think the post ought to be abolished.

So Quinn was able to get back on the government payroll. The old days of Sunday press conferences were toned down. In recent years, Quinn’s “crusade” (since Blagojevich does not appear to have given him any significant duties to fulfill) is showing up at the funerals of Illinois soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, as a gesture that Illinois government cares about the losses suffered by local families.

That takes us to today, when The Mighty Quinn is on the verge of being governor for at least two years.

IT WILL BE interesting if he can gain any advantage from incumbency, because already there are the younger generation of Illinois political people lining up for a chance to run for governor come the 2010 elections.

Some of them already have campaign funds in the millions of dollars (compared to Quinn, who had less than $90,000 on hand as of Dec. 31, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections).

He’s not going to have an easy time of staying in office, particularly since many Democrats are inclined to think that only a younger candidate can truly escape the taint of Rod Blagojevich – particularly if the soon-to-be-former governor’s trial in U.S. District Court winds up taking place some time around the November 2010 general election (which is a very real possibility, considering how long it can take for a case to come to trial).

But being the first Illinois lieutenant governor to rise to the top post since Sam Shapiro replaced Otto Kerner in 1968 will give Quinn a chance to finally do something that tops the “cutback amendment” in his legacy.

HE’S GOING TO be the governor who gets stuck trying to pull Illinois government out of its economic troubles, which were aggravated by the blatant political partisanship between Blagojevich and the General Assembly, particularly that of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

I’m going to use this commentary to wish Pat Quinn “good luck.” All of us, regardless of whether Democrat, Republican or the wishy-washy type who calls himself “independent,” ought to hope Quinn doesn’t muck things up this year and next.

Because there’s a very good chance that a few months from now, his aggravation level caused by the state’s severe financial problems will rise to the point where he’ll wish he was the guy who only had to go to military funerals to pay the state’s respects.


EDITOR’S NOTES: No matter what Rod Blagojevich says, it won’t be much longer before Pat Quinn ( becomes Illinois governor.

Quinn will become governor almost instantaneously once the Illinois Senate rams ( through its vote to remove Blagojevich from office. One of his first “acts” will be having Milorod’s name removed (,0,2666469.story) from all the signs that welcome people to Illinois.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blagojevich a “winner” in media war

How much (or how little) will that Rod Blagojevich-autographed baseball bat be worth some day? Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

In one aspect, Rod Blagojevich is the winner in the political fight for his public life.

Blagojevich’s tour of the broadcast media outlets in New York with potential to give him national attention is making Rod himself the story for the week.

BY ALL RIGHTS, the attention of political geeks across the country ought to be on the Statehouse in Springpatch – where the Illinois Senate is preparing to boot Blagojevich from office.

Instead, the public is ignoring the Legislature and watching Rod, even though one can argue that Rod is the story because people are pondering whether or not his behavior qualifies him as insane, or merely delusional.

But regardless of what one thinks of Milorod, he is the focus of attention, not the political people who are doing the work of removing him from office.

Even on Tuesday when senators (along with Supreme Court Chief Judge Thomas Fitzgerald) heard tape recordings of Blagojevich talking about acts that could be perceived as a violation of his government duties, the attention of the world was focused on New York.

THE GUV DOES Rachel Maddow (as in the MSNBC program). He does both CNN and Fox News (where he appeared on a “radio” program that airs only on their website).

He faced so-called news people who were so enamored at being in the presence of a “political personality” that some Fox staffers literally asked to have their pictures taken with Rod (or so claims the governor’s public relations firm).

I’m willing to bet Rod enjoyed every minute. He definitely had a better time posing for those pictures than he would have had sitting in an Illinois Senate chamber listening to tape recordings that will eventually be used against him in a court of law.

Heck, even the one so-called legitimate news organization he appeared before (the Associated Press) can be viewed skeptically. Rather than talk to the Springfield- or Chicago-based reporters whom that wire service employs, he prefers to talk to some New Yorkers who probably think the end-all of politics was watching their state’s U.S. senator become Secretary of State.

THE GOVERNOR GETS to spew his rhetoric that is meant to create the image of a good, hard-working honest politico being tarred and feathered by his partisan enemies, and he does it before people who don’t know enough of the specifics to challenge his overstated allegations.

It is the reason why I wanted desperately to ignore the Blagojevich “world tour” taking place these days. I went out of my way to avoid the live interviews (either watching nothing, or popping a DVD into the player).

But Rod is everywhere these days. I didn’t watch “The View” on Monday. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen repeated showings of his moment on that program.

How many times can we see Joy Behar tousle Milorod’s hair while pleading with him to “do Nixon?” Does she really think she came off looking like anything other than a lightweight (and the governor like an intellectual, by comparison)?

IT DISMAYS ME to know that I was able to “call” accurately what his appearance on that program would be like (Barbara Walters trying to grill him, while the other ladies engage in fluff).

I don’t have to watch any of it. Literally, I don’t. The Tampa-based public relations firm that is representing Rod (and coordinating his New York media tour) has a site on Twitter that gives us those incredibly trivial 140-character spurts of infotainment ( that try to make his every utterance seem like a major happening, in and of itself.

By comparison, what has the Illinois Senate done these days that can compete for attention?

For every person who comes off thinking Blagojevich is a flake (personally, I agree, but I don’t think he’s any more flaky than the bulk of the legislators themselves, it’s not like the Statehouse Scene is a gathering spot for intellectuals), someone else is bound to buy into Rod’s rhetoric that he is being picked on.

HOW ELSE SHOULD we interpret Rod’s comments from earlier this week that he still views federal prosecutors as the “good guys” and how he thinks he and they are on the same side?

I guess that means the big, bad General Assembly are the “bad guys” who are out to get him, supposedly so they can raise our taxes (as though likely future Gov. Pat Quinn would be a push-over on that issue).

So what should we think now?

Personally, I expect Quinn to be governor by this weekend, although a part of me wishes it were possible for the state Senate to vote to remove Blagojevich on Sunday so that Quinn could officially take office on that same day.

AFTER ALL, THOSE of us reporter-types who have dealt with Quinn’s history of staging events that promote his public causes and issues on the slowest news day of the week so as to boost the amount of media attention they receive would think it totally appropriate that Quinn should be active on a Sunday.

But then again, this Sunday is a “Super Bowl Sunday,” as we get to see if the Arizona Cardinals win their first championship since the days the team represented Chicago’s South Side.

And I could easily envision Blagojevich staging some sort of event that involved making an appearance at the game. That would be his ultimate farewell, trying to upstage sport and politics in one swoop.


EDITOR’S NOTES: What would you rather watch, Diane Sawyer ( or the Illinois (,w-impeach-blagojevich-trial-senate-012709.article) Senate?

These are the kind of people who can’t understand why Rod Blagojevich would prefer to be (,0,1106155.story) in New York, rather than Springfield.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Did he blow his dream this weekend?

He went from wearing a close approximation of a police officer’s uniform to wearing an inmate’s clothing, all within the span of two days.

Sadly enough, such a transition is not unheard of. After all, some police officers have been known to cross over the line that divides enforcing the law and breaking the law.

BUT AT FOURTEEN, the case of Vincent Richardson is truly bizarre.

The boy allegedly has dreams of wanting to be a police officer, which makes me wonder if his weekend stunt has managed to give him just enough of a criminal background that he would be rejected if he ever tried to apply to the Police Academy when he’s of proper age.

Richardson has managed to make national newscasts for his weekend activity.

According to the two Chicago metro newspapers (whose reporting has been picked up by the Associated Press, then disseminated to newsgathering outfits including USA Today, the Times of London and the Herald Sun of Melbourne, Australia), Richardson owned items such as a false Chicago police badge, a hat and sweater with proper police insignia, and a black vest with nametag.

HE ALSO OWNED handcuff keys and a case to keep them in. In short, he could appear from a distance to be an actual police officer.

But that does not excuse the fact that the boy was able to walk into the Grand Crossing District police station on the South Side and say he was “reporting for duty,” only to be paired up with a veteran police officer for patrol duty in a squad car.

Chicago police officials, in trying to diminish the embarrassment they now feel, stress that the boy was never driving the car, had no contact with anyone outside of other officers and did not write out any kind of traffic citations.

In short, they claim there’s no one who got arrested on Saturday who is now going to be able to claim their eventual conviction is tainted because they got busted by a kiddie cop.

BUT IT MAKES me wonder how hectic things must have been at Grand Crossing on Saturday if someone in charge actually thought the boy (whose vest was padded with magazines to create a crude-looking effect of wearing body armor) was a legitimate cop.

Now as I noted earlier in this commentary, Richardson made another public appearance on Monday – this one in Juvenile Court, wearing the t-shirt and jeans with the detention center logo that youthful inmates wear.

After all, impersonating a police officer is a crime. It probably is for Richardson’s benefit that he is facing charges in a juvenile court.

That means his “record” will cease to count against him when he turns 21. In short, Richardson gets a chance to have something resembling a conventional adult life – provided he can keep out of trouble for the rest of his teenage years.

BUT APPARENTLY, THE boy has past incidents of a similar nature. He remains on probation for a 2007 incident, and last month was seen at the Ford City Shopping Center in the Scottsdale neighborhood wearing clothes that made police officials think he might be trying to imply he was a cop – although there’s no evidence he did anything at that time.

I don’t know what to think of this incident. His mother insists the boy is fine, although the juvenile court judge who heard his “not guilty” plea on Monday wants him to undergo a psychiatric examination of sorts to see why such behavior continues.

On the surface, we have a Chicago youth who would like to be a police officer. That’s almost a noble goal to have, particularly when one considers that some of the problems our society faces comes from young people developing a distaste for police officers.

But this takes the idea a little bit too far.

I ALSO WONDER what happens to the boy if such activity continues to the point where a judge in the future thinks he is better off spending time in one of the juvenile detention centers that often become training grounds for the next decade’s collection of state prison inmates.

How much harder a time would he get in such a juvenile center for thinking he wanted to be a police officer? Is someone who spends time in such a place still going to think of police as a noble profession, once he returns to the real world?

And once again, would a future application to the police department be tainted by such a stunt? I can easily envision some future panel at the Police Academy looking at his record and saying he lacked the “maturity” that one expects of a police cadet.

For his sake, I hope Richardson manages to overcome his problems, which a pastor testified on Monday in court includes incidents of battery against him and his mother.

AFTER ALL, SEEING an eighth-grader have his life ruined by a stupid stunt is a sad story. That actually is my point in writing this commentary. Too many people are going to want to dismiss this incident as some sort of tale about a “kiddie copper coming to life.”

It’s actually a more serious story than that, and deserves to be played for more than just a quick chuckle.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Some youths’ play cops and robbers, but this teenager took the stunt (,boy-impersonates-chicago-cop-012609.article) too literally for the comfort of the Chicago Police Department.

Vincent Richardson may have taken his participation in a youth program meant to get ( teenagers interested in law enforcement a little too serious.

Monday, January 26, 2009

By looking ahead 50 years from now, Blagojevich is trying to craft a “legacy”

On a certain level, Rod Blagojevich is accepting of the idea that he’s not going to be governor of Illinois for much longer.

In fact, if one accepts the idea that all Blagojevich is trying to do is shape things so that a future generation will view him favorably, then all of his so-called erratic behavior of recent weeks and days makes all the sense in the world.

MONDAY IS THE day that the Illinois Senate plans to begin its “trial” of Milorod R. Blagojevich on ground that much of his behavior during his six years as Illinois government’s chief executive is unbecoming a governor.

It also is the day that Blagojevich himself plans to be nowhere near the Statehouse in Springpatch. He’s going to be in New Yawk City to make appearances on national television programs such as “Good Morning America” and “The View,” and also plans to put himself before the biggest marshmallow interviewer of the so-called Mainstream Media – Larry King of CNN.

Many people have chuckled quite a bit in recent days over the fact that Blagojevich has hired a public relations firm based in Tampa to coordinate such appearances and other stunts designed to make Milorod appear to be a sympathetic figure – rather than the irrational kook that his Illinois critics prefer to portray him as. In all likelihood, Rod Blagojevich has about one more week to say he chooses not to work out of this building. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

It is the same firm that has tried to make former Bolingbrook Police Sgt. Drew Petersen look like a respectable man (rather than a cradle-robber who whacks his wives when they reach the grand old age of 22).

PERHAPS BLAGOJEVICH LOOKS at the fact that Petersen has been under suspicion in the disappearance of his most recent wife for more than a year, but has yet to be hit with criminal charges. Perhaps he thinks the PR stunts have something to do with the quality of police work that can’t seem to nail down this case – one way or another.

Perhaps Blagojevich believes that the PR firm from the land of the Tampa Bay Rays can keep anything bad from happening to him.

Fat chance.

The Illinois Senate’s members are either inclined to satisfy old grudges against Blagojevich, or are too intimidated by the public mood toward our governor to do anything except vote in a way that favors removing Milorod from office.

ON ACCOUNT OF the fact that Blagojevich’s highly-skilled attorneys have backed off the case (in large part because he was ignoring their advice on how to proceed) and that Blagojevich himself says he has no intention of showing up for the state Senate proceedings, the “trial” is going to be a formality.

The Senate won’t have to do much of anything besides hear the formalities that we observers already heard from the Illinois House of Representatives when they voted to impeach the governor.

Without anything resembling a defense (although the state Senate’s rules were so restrictive that Blagojevich wouldn’t have been allowed to put up much of a defense even if he did show up), the proceedings will be quick.

There are some legal observers who believe that the “trial” to be presided over by Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzpatrick (who was once presiding judge of the Cook County Criminal Courts back in the days when Blagojevich himself was an assistant state’s attorney) could be complete by Friday.


Blagojevich’s time in office could be over by week’s end, which makes it a good thing that the governor never moved into the Executive Mansion. There’s no need to go to the expense of moving him out.

By the time people party this coming weekend, it is possible that we will have Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn, who will be the guy who gets stuck trying to dig Illinois government out of the financial morass it currently sits in – made worse by the partisan wrangling between Blagojevich AND the General Assembly (which prefers to place all blame on Blagojevich) during the past two years.

But like I said earlier in this commentary, I think Blagojevich accepts the reality of all of this – even though all he does in public is quote English poets in a way that tries to make himself look intellectual, instead of the Elvis-lovin’ fool that he is.

THAT IS WHAT all the cowboy rhetoric about being hanged without a trial is about. That is what mentioning himself in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi is all about.

That is what the national television appearances are meant to do.

He wants to plant the thought in the minds of the public that he is being persecuted. Bringing up the claim that the Legislature will immediately get new Gov. Quinn to approve a tax increase falls into that viewpoint.

If he can try to make people think that his persecution causes them to suffer too, then he may get some sympathy when the moment inevitably comes that he is removed from office.

IT IS NOT like the national media outlets he chose are the hardest-hitting. They are the ones most likely to catch people who pay little attention to the intricacies of Illinois government.

Who seriously believes the women of “The View” are going to nail Blagojevich on anything? I still remember the one time I actually watched that program. The three blondes who had their own E! cable network show about living at the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner were the guests.

The show’s hosts tried asking questions about how ludicrous it was to think that Hefner could have serious relations with women five decades younger than himself, but wound up bursting out into giggles at their own questions.

Why do I suspect Blagojevich and first lady Patti (who also will do “The View” with her husband) will be able to charm the current crew into thinking he’s a nice guy, similar to how the would-be Bunnies wound up looking like they had intellectual heft?

WHY DO I think Blagojevich is going to spread a lot of charm Monday (even though some would prefer to describe it as doo) on national television?

And why do I think that Blagojevich’s only focus is trying to set up circumstances so that fifty or so years from now, some people will be inclined to remember him as the victim?

When a legacy is all he has left, it is inevitable that Blagojevich will do whatever he can to try to protect it.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Rod Blagojevich hopes that money spent now toward a public ( relations firm will help protect what’s left of his legacy as a public official.

Blagojevich isn’t crazy (, he’s conniving.

As much as I believe the Barbara Walters of old could nail Blagojevich during an interview (, I suspect what is more likely to happen is that Rod and Patti will lay their charm on Whoopi and crew.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

George Ryan allies put too much hope in the unlikeliest of political outcomes

As one who has some respect for the actions taken by George Ryan during his one term as governor (I think his death penalty actions were the right thing to do), I’m not sure what to think of the people who are trying to take actions with regard to the rest of his life.

I’m inclined to think that the people who now expect President Barack Obama to grant him a commutation of his prison sentence after former President George W. Bush refused to do anything for him are the more ridiculous of the batch.

BUT THEN AGAIN, the people who continue to push the notion that Ryan ought to receive the Nobel Peace Prize may also be the modern-day version of Don Quixote – spending their time at a cause that is pointless.

With regard to the idea that Ryan ought to be released from prison now, even though he has a little more than four years to go before he qualifies for early release, it ain’t gonna happen.

I thought it was the longest of long shots that George Bush would do anything for Ryan. I certainly don’t understand why anyone thinks Obama would have anything to gain by taking any action on Ryan’s behalf.

I always figured that Ryan’s activity with regard to the death penalty was so opposite Bush’s attitude on the issue, and the fact that Ryan backers are the Republicans most inclined to look down on the legacy of George Bush the younger, that he wouldn’t feel any particular reason to get involved.


In fact, Bush the younger didn’t feel compelled to do much of anything with regard to the presidential perk of last-minute clemency power. “Scooter” Libby didn’t get the pardon that conservative observers expected, even though now-former Vice President Dick Cheney says he thinks his presidential partner erred on that issue.

The only last-minute bit of clemency Bush gave was totally in character. He released from prison two Border Patrol agents who had become a cause celebré for the far right – the two agents fired shots across the U.S./Mexico border and killed someone, then tried to cover up their actions.

But the conservatives want to believe the agents were the victims who were wrongly sent to prison just for opening fire on some foreigner who probably shouldn’t have been near the United States to begin with.

WITH THAT PERSPECTIVE being the kind of case that draws Bush’s attention, what chance did Ryan ever seriously have? It is about as good a chance as he has of now getting Obama to do anything.

The fact is that if Obama were to want to do anything for Ryan, he’d have to act promptly (as in some time in the next couple of days). He’d have to take action to free Ryan from prison so early in his presidential term that maybe there’d be a chance that the public would forget about it by 2012.

But considering how vociferously Ryan’s critics will act to ensure that anything connected with his name becomes public knowledge, Obama would still have to take a hit.

I suppose Obama could wait until the final days of his current presidential term (early January 2013) to free Ryan. But what would be the point? That is so many years down the road that Ryan might as well serve his entire prison term.

THE FACT IS that Ryan is most likely to go free on Independence Day – in 2013, that is. That is the date that the Bureau of Prisons is tentatively set to release him, assuming he survives that long (he’s currently 74) and manages to qualify for all of his early release time.

Then, there’s the prospect of the Nobel Prize, where academics affiliated with the University of Illinois in Urbana have once again nominated him. They are again saying that his hard-line stance to act against capital punishment in Illinois even though the political establishment was determined to do nothing but maintain the status quo (which was flawed) was a noble gesture worthy of the Nobel medal.

When the idea was first proposed in the days after Ryan retired from Illinois politics (but before he was convicted and sent to prison), the idea had a slim chance of being successful.

There was the notion that just the year before, former President Jimmy Carter had received the Nobel for his life’s work in trying to promote peace in hostile nations throughout the world, out of the belief that the Nobel committee was trying to make a gesture against George W. Bush.

BECAUSE CARTER’S VIEWS on the issue were so opposite that of Bush, it was seen as a symbolic statement against the former president.

Would the Nobel committee be willing to make gestures against Bush two years in a row – this time using Ryan to show how much other parts of the world look down upon the parts of the United States that insist on maintaining a capital crimes statute?

As it turns out, they did not. They had more important issues to deal with, and have continued to have them every year since.

There’s also the fact that the president they would supposedly have been making a gesture against is now gone, and is largely considered to be discredited in the eyes of many across the nation and around the globe.

IT’S ALMOST LIKE a Nobel Prize for Ryan now would be a wasted gesture.

And it might be almost as ludicrous an idea as the one that Obama would waste any of his political honeymoon period to do a favor for George Ryan.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Will Barack Obama show sympathy for George Ryan, or will he take the same attitude ( that the Illinois Senate took toward Ryan’s desire for them to approve a death penalty reform package he could sign into law – the Legislature chose to do nothing.

This will be the sixth time that University of Illinois officials have pushed for George ( Ryan to get a Nobel prize. In what was possibly the one year a Ryan bid would be taken seriously, the former Illinois governor lost out to former President ( Jimmy Carter.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Could financial advantage overcome Blagojevich “millstone” in ’10 campaign?

For the sake of the Illinois Republican Party and anyone who has interest in a member of the GOP becoming governor from the 2010 elections, they ought to hope that Pat Quinn has a successful two years as governor.

By that, I mean that I am working under the assumption that it is just a matter of time before the Illinois Senate removes Rod Blagojevich from office, and it will fall to the lieutenant governor to finish the roughly two years remaining on Milorod’s second term in office.

AFTER LOOKING AT the sum totals offered in disclosure reports filed earlier this week with the Illinois State Board of Elections, it would appear that Quinn would be the weakest of any Democrat with dreams of winning election to his/her own four-year term in office.

There are many Republicans, and even some general political observers, who are operating out of the belief that any Republican candidate for governor, U.S. Senate, or any of the state constitutional offices has an advantage in 2010 because so many people are so disgusted by Blagojevich that they would be inclined to vote for anybody BUT a Democrat.

But when one looks at the likely list of Democratic Party members inclined to run for a top office in ’10, and compares it to the favorites of the Republican Party, it becomes apparent that the 2010 elections could very well be a repeat of ’06.

That was the election where Blagojevich got re-elected even though he had low approval ratings among the Illinois electorate and many enemies among government officials. But he had significant amounts of cash in his campaign fund, while GOP opponent Judy Baar Topinka had very little.

ROD CRUSHED JUDY early and often throughout the campaign, creating an image of the blunt-spoken, accordion-playing and fun-loving Topinka as some sort of corrupt politico in line with former Gov. George Ryan – ignoring the fact that many of the people who voted for Blagojevich were also the ones who backed Ryan’s gubernatorial bid in 1998 because they didn’t like the excessively rural tendencies of the Democratic Party’s nominee that year.

Just imagine what would become of the governor’s race in 2010 if it were to be a repeat of the 2002 campaign for Illinois attorney general – Lisa Madigan against DuPage County state’s attorney Joe Birkett?

The campaign disclosure reports filed this week indicate Madigan raised $1 million during the last six months of 2008, bringing her campaign fund as of Jan. 1 to $3.5 million.

By comparison, Birkett only had $44,676 in his campaign fund to start the year.

ADMITTEDLY, THERE IS just over one full year to raise money and campaign. I’m sure Birkett (who is bound to run for some office at or near the top of the Republican ticket) will significantly boost his campaign cash.

But so will Madigan. With that much of an advantage, we would soon get the image pumped down our throats of some right-wing nut who is a two-term loser (he failed in ’02 for attorney general and in ’06 for lieutenant governor).

Her campaign cash advantage could overcome any Blagojevich millstone effect.

When it comes to Democrats, it’s not even just those two.

ILLINOIS COMPTROLLER DAN Hynes (who failed previously at a bid for U.S. Senate, but may think he has a shot now that Barack Obama is no longer a local political factor) has $2.85 million in his campaign fund, while state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (who has the advantage of close ties to Obama) has $1.6 million.

By comparison, the most politically wealthy Republican official who is being considered for higher office could very well be Bill Brady. He’s a state senator from Bloomington in central Illinois, and he has the “grand total” of $331,000 on hand – although he also has existing debts from his past failed campaigns.

Then, there’s Doug Whitley, a politically-connected business executive who took a leave of absence from his job at the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce in order to have time to campaign.

During the past four months, he has raised about $85,000, and had $81,588 in the campaign account on Jan. 1.

DOES IT SEEM like anybody the Republicans put up is going to get buried in mounds of media mailings and other advertising, all meant to create an image of the GOP official as out of touch with the bulk of Chicago and Illinois residents? Does it sound very much like the Blagojevich millstone effect can be overcome?

It’s all too likely.

That’s why the Republicans ought to think about rooting for Quinn.

He began 2009 with only $83,000 in his campaign fund. A Quinn vs. Whitley gubernatorial campaign would be a pretty fair fight financially.

BUT THERE IS also the fact that Quinn has never had ample financing for any of his past campaigns. He’s used to doing things on the cheap, and he would have the benefit of incumbency – even if its incumbency due to completing the term of an impeached governor.

There’s also the fact that I recently heard a former prosecutorial type on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program who noted the fact that Quinn never has money likely is evidence that he’s an honest politico – nobody sees any need to waste money to “buy off” the guy who won’t be bought.

Now I’m not claiming that the Democrats have a shoo-in to victory for Illinois governor come 2010. I don’t know who will wind up getting the nomination for either political party.

I expect it to be a fully competitive campaign – and possibly one of the closest in Illinois history because some people will vote GOP because of Blagojevich. But if the Republican Party in this state is basing their hopes for winning the governor’s race solely on the fact that their guy isn’t Gov. Milorod, they could be in for disappointment come the day after the November 2010 general election.


EDITOR’S NOTES: There is still plenty of time for prospective candidates to raise (,0,2179038.story) campaign cash for a 2010 bid for Illinois governor.

Republicans are smelling blood in the water at the possible effect of a Blagojevich ( millstone in the 2010 elections for Illinois governor.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

“Moment of Silence” for prayer silenced in Illinois (for now, at least)

Anybody who has observed the news and public policy for the past couple of decades like I have has an impression of atheist activist Rob Sherman as fairly shameless, and more than willing to drag his children into his political crusades.

Yet this week, a Sherman-inspired measure resulted in a Chicago-based federal judge doing the right thing when striking down the “moment of silence” that religious activists pushed the General Assembly to approve.

U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE Robert Gettleman issued a ruling that called the law “a subtle attempt” to bring back prayer in the public schools. He noted that the people affected by the now-unconstitutional law were children who were at an “impressionable age” when it comes to religious thought. Sherman filed the lawsuit that challenged this law on behalf of his teenage daughter, Dawn.

The simple fact is that there are some people who seriously can’t handle the thought that “the American Way” of life prohibits them from imposing their particular religious beliefs on other people.

Many of these people are among the ones who seriously believe that our society has gone downhill ever since prayer in the public schools was found to be a violation of provisions of the Constitution that call for a separation between organized religion and the government.

To them, the “moment of silence” was always the compromise measure they were willing to put up with so as to get something resembling a prayer back into the beginning of the school day.

WHEN THOSE PEOPLE lobbied the Illinois Legislature to approve the measure, they argued that a “moment of silence” could be used by the children for whatever they wanted. In theory, the children could spend the moment thinking about Hannah Montana or anything else they chose to do.

The reality is that people in some of the smaller communities where such thought is publicly popular would have felt compelled to think some sort of religious thought during those moments.

And in those communities, woe be unto the individual whose religious beliefs might not fall in lock step with the bulk of the community.

Personally, I always thought the concept of a “moment of silence” was an attempt to crack the door open just a tad toward getting religious thought back into the public schools. I thought the Legislature was misguided when they went along and approved the measure (mostly out of fear that these supporters of the idea would create a vocal ruckus that could cost them votes).

IF IT SOUNDS like I think some of the legislators who voted to approve the idea were cowardly, you’d be correct.

If anything, the idea of a “moment of silence” almost could work in communities where the population is larger and more diverse. In such places, the idea that not everybody would have the same “thought” during a “moment of silence” would be accepted more readily.

Yet it is some of those rural communities, many of which have intentionally isolated themselves from urban Chicago, where such ideas play the best.

If I thought seriously that such ideas would be restricted purely to the rural communities, I wouldn’t mind so much. I would just add such ideas to the list of why I have no personal desire to ever live in rural Illinois. Having lived in both Bloomington and Springfield for a couple stretches of my life, I feel like I have lived close to it enough to get a feel for it, and why I wouldn’t want to be there.

SO IN THE same way that some rural people think of gun control measures as an urban idea that does not apply to their way of life, I’d say such goofy ideas as a “moment of silence” are rural concepts that just don’t fit in with life in a place like Chicago.

I only hope the idea is dead for good.

Because I won’t be surprised if the concept’s supporters try to get the General Assembly to approve another version of the same basic concept – one that would slip the same idea with technical changes so as to comply with the letter of the law, as expressed in Gettleman’s ruling on Wednesday.

In the current political climate where many Democrats are concerned that Rod Blagojevich’s so-called sins will reflect badly upon them, I could easily see Dems in the Legislature being willing to approve such a revival of the “moment of silence” out of a misguided belief that it would lessen the likelihood of such people turning out in strong support of a Republican for governor, Senator, and all the other state government posts, during the next statewide elections in 2010.

SO FOR THE time being, we do not have children being pressured to “pipe down” so they can reflect on God (that’s what the point really was). If that means a little bit less intimidation in the public schools, that’s a good thing.

Because I honestly believe that parents who seriously want their children to receive religious indoctrination in between mathematics and social studies ought to just accept the fact they need to pay tuition to a parochial school.

If it means that Sherman’s latest crusade has helped people to realize the truth of that statement, then he has accomplished at least one good thing during his adult life.

I may even forgive him for the time some two decades ago that he showed up at the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago at about 3 a.m. on a weekend, just to make me have to listen to a tape he had of then-President Ronald Reagan making some half-wit comment about religion.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now that the Inauguration is over, it’s time to put focus back on Blagojevich

Forget about Capitol Hill and the White House. The focus of our political concerns shifts back to the Statehouse in Springpatch.

Those of us who find a certain intellectual pleasure in observing the ways of Chicago and Illinois political people have to turn our heads from the District of Columbia and the glory of watching one of our own become president back to the ways of Rod Blagojevich.

We go overnight from the glory of Barack Obama's inauguration to the depths of Milorod's impeachment.

FOR IT IS on Monday that the Illinois Senate will begin its formal proceedings that are meant to create the impression of conducting a dignified legal hearing to determine the fate of Illinois’ governor.

In reality, they’re a legal sham meant to boot Blagojevich from office, the sooner the better. It’s literally a case of making sure the door hits Rod in the rump on his way out.

As of now, Blagojevich is the lone member of the club of Illinois governors who can say he was impeached (twice, by the Illinois House of Representatives, with his only apparent friend being his sister-in-law, Deborah, a legislator from Chicago’s Northwest Side).

There’s a book considered a classic among state government geeks (but practically unknown to the general public) that refers to Illinois’ governors as “Mostly Good and Competent,” even though some of them have gone on trial for their actions and have done time in prison.

YET TO LISTEN to the political people who comprise the modern-day version of the Illinois General Assembly, Blagojevich takes us to a new low when it comes to the concept of political corruption.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Anyone who has been reading these commentaries for the past month or so will note a steady overtone of skepticism about the appropriateness of impeachment and conviction/removal from office.

Now I have heard the criminal charges being sought by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago, and am aware that more charges could come from a grand jury now expected to complete its work sometime about the April 7 municipal elections.

IF A FEDERAL prosecutor is able to convince a jury that Blagojevich has committed even some of these improper acts (although I still must say I never realized it was a crime to try to intimidate a reporter-type in the way Milorod is accused of doing to the Chicago Tribune), then he will be punished.

Prison time will be handed down, even if it comes in a work camp or minimum-security facility such as the federal correctional center in Oxford, Wis.

I have the patience to wait for that day to come in federal court, because that will be the real sense of justice and punishment being handed down.

What is taking place in Springfield these days is absurd.

IT IS NOT that I think Blagojevich is not guilty of the “injustices” for which the Illinois House impeached him.

It’s just that I think many of the practices and conflicts that Blagojevich supposedly committed against the people of Illinois were either for things that had the support of the Legislature or were for things that the legislators themselves could be found equally guilty.

Whenever I hear some blowhard in the state Legislature start to rant and rage against Blagojevich, I can’t help but think that this buffoon probably did the same things themselves, or stood by and did nothing while Blagojevich behaved the way he did during his six years (thus far) as governor.

The ridiculous delays that the Legislature and governor endured before being able to approve a state budget in the past couple of years are events for which both sides deserve their share of blame. But one of the results of impeachment is that some will try to write history in a way that places full blame on Blagojevich – as though the Legislature is the victim.

THE IDEA THAT the 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly provide a high-minded government body that ought to sit in judgment of Blagojevich is laughable. It’s too bad we couldn’t hold hearings to discuss the morality and suitability of each and every legislator.

I can’t help but think we’d have at least half (maybe three-quarters) of the Legislators doing dumb things for which the word “impeachment” could be bandied about the way the lawmakers are doing to Blagojevich.

The proceedings taking place at the “Statehouse in Springpatch” these days are truly absurd. Too many people are trashing the professional reputation of attorney Ed Genson for his repeated criticisms of the legal process for impeachment.

This is actually a case where an attorney is calling it like he sees it, and he’s seeing it completely accurately.

THE REASON THE General Assembly is able to get away with such proceedings (and for that matter, the reason U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald can trash Blagojevich publicly as he did at his early press conferences) is that we have a governor with such a low approval rating that nobody cares if his rights get violated, or if the process of removing a duly elected official from a government post gets ridiculous.

I will always remain convinced that Blagojevich’s low approval ratings are a combination of Republicans still bitter that they lost the 2002 election for Illinois governor after having held the post for 26 years, combined with disgust by supporters of various government officials who can’t believe they are being asked to share power and influence with “that guy!”

Put that many people together, and you suddenly will have the bulk of government ganging up on you for political reasons. Combine it with a personality that tends not to want to work with people, and it is a natural that Blagojevich would have a Legislature filled with people out for his hide.

So if it sounds like I’m saying this “impeachment/removal from office” process is less about punishing someone for his so-called offenses and more about knocking a government official out of the way so that everybody else can have a larger share of the political pie, the truth is that there are NO good guys in this fight.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Illinois Senate has a 78-page report alleging various “crimes” (,CST-NWS-watchdog19.article) committed by Rod Blagojevich that would warrant his removal from office two years prematurely.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar’s press secretary wants to believe that Blagojevich will be a significant part (,0,5000133.story) of the resurrection of the Illinois Republican Party.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama’s Chicago political past ought to help him in his Oval Office future

The first product of City Hall and the Statehouse Scene in Springpatch to win a U.S. presidential election takes the Oath of Office in just a few hours.

Tuesday is the day that Barack Obama gets to drop the “-elect” from his title, and gets to challenge Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson for being the biggest name associated with the number “44.”

YET ON THIS day, all that I as an observer of the Statehouse and City Hall scenes can do is think back to the past for one last dose of reminiscing about just how it came to be that Obama rose to a position where the electorate would take seriously the thought of him as President of the United States.

Now I know the real hard-core political people, particularly those who realize that the neighborhoods of the South Side are not to be ignored, can tell you stories about community activist Barack, or socially-concerned Obama when he chose to bypass the law firms that could have made him a wealthy junior executive and instead chose to be the type of attorney who did “poor people’s law” on behalf of the public.

I’m not one of those people.

The first time I became aware of the existence of Barack Obama was back in the spring of 1996. I was a Statehouse-based reporter-type in those days, and I heard stories in Springfield about this newcomer who had the nerve to get an incumbent senator kicked off the ballot so he could have her seat in the state Senate.

This is the official image of new President Barack H. Obama, who is now the first Chicagoan who gets to live (instead of merely work) in the White House.

MY UNDERSTANDING IS that Alice Palmer is still miffed that her public service career ended with Obama getting her knocked off politically because she submitted sloppy nominating petitions that her staff rushed to put together because she had originally spent considerable time thinking about running for Congress.

In the world of Chicago politics, giving an incumbent a pass for something that would have been used to kill a political dreamer before he could drift off to sleep would have been considered common courtesy.

In the world of goo goo politics, letting her remain on the ballot then trying to engage her in high-minded political debate on “the issues” would have been the thing to do.

Instead, Obama went for the kill, showing he was never as wimpy a liberal as some of those social conservatives tried to make us believe during the general election campaign season last year.

PALMER, WHO CAMPAIGNED openly for Hillary R. Clinton in Illinois and northwest Indiana, made the mistake of thinking that Obama would get out of her way for her legislative seat after realizing there was no way she could win a seat in Congress in the 1996 elections. For Obama, his political “mistake” was not coming to the same realization as Palmer when he challenged Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., a few years later.

It was 2000, and in the first year of the millennium, Obama took on Rush in the Democratic primary for the first congressional district of Illinois. It was a district that long represented the African-American majority of Chicago’s South Side.

Winning it would have put Obama in a political legacy with people like Harold Washington and Bill Dawson, both of whom had a streak of viewing themselves as representing black peoples’ interests in Washington.

And Rush managed to clean Obama’s clock by peddling the image of an Ivy League elitist who didn’t understand black people (and probably wished he could be white instead of merely bi-racial).

IN SHORT, THAT was the election he lost because he was NOT the kind of person whom the conservative activists last year tried to make him out to be – the “black power” type who takes literally every single word that came from the mouth of his long-time preacher – Jeremiah Wright.

That experience molded him in a sense of realizing he would have to turn his bi-racial, exposure to many classes of people, background into a plus. Instead of thinking he could build up overwhelming support among any one group and ride that to victory (which is what many of our local political geeks do), he was going to have to reach out to get votes from many types of people.

I have always thought Obama’s ability to do just that is the reason why he, instead of any of the other people who populate the Chicago and Illinois political scenes, was able to rise above the ranks of our local politics and become a credible presidential candidate.

Not that I’m claiming I knew way back when that he would be president some day. I still remember the 1988 presidential dreams of Paul Simon. The senator from Southern Illinois was respected, but his campaign caught the imagination of no one outside of Illinois. With a couple fewer breaks, Obama's '08 campaign could easily have turned out the same.

WHEN I FIRST met Obama face-to-face on the day in January 1997 that he became a state senator, my impression was of an intellect that would take him up and out from the Statehouse scene. But President? Maybe a president will pick him someday for a Cabinet post (Attorney General Obama? Shows you how little I know).

But I don’t think it is possible to predict with any certainty just which of our political geeks ought to be taken seriously when it comes to presidential aspirations. There are just too many factors that have to break any given way for the event to occur.

Take into account that some people used to take seriously the notion that Rod Blagojevich would someday be a U.S. president (or at least a Democratic Party nominee). Does anyone outside of Milorod’s mindset still harbor such delusions?

So the fact that the White House will now be staffed with many people who gained their experience working at City Hall and the Statehouse is not the only reason that Chicago political observers will see a familiar tone to the antics that will now take place in and around the Oval Office.

LEARNING TO PLAY hardball politics in the Second City has molded him in a way that will seem familiar to anyone who has ever spent time at City Hall, although I think his intellect and personality will make him more than just a carbon copy of “Richard M. Daley does D.C.”

Despite this moment of reminiscing, I am not likely to be among the people parked in front of a television intending to observe every single second of “the event,” followed up with tons of analysis about the significance of what I just saw.

As it turns out, I am a freelance writer who scraps together various writing assignments in hopes of bringing in enough money to earn a living. On Tuesday, I will be chasing stories for a suburban newspaper about upcoming elections for municipal office.

In short, my attention will be on the future. Because that is when solutions to the problems our nation faces will have to be discovered. An Obama victory last November means little if his term turns into a big fat nothing.

PERHAPS THAT IS something everybody ought to keep in mind as they watch Obama take the oath of office, try to utter the inaugural address phrase that puts him in the history books alongside John F. Kennedy, or dances a waltz with first lady Michelle at one of the many balls at which he will make a perfunctory appearance.

Tuesday’s festivities are cute. But the majority of voters chose Obama over John McCain because they want him to try to dig this country out of the mass they perceive it is in due to the antics of departing President George W. Bush.

If he fails, it won’t matter how inspirational his words were, how lovely Michelle’s evening gown was, or what it was that Sasha said or did that struck the nation as cute but which she will find forevermore embarrassing when it is thrown in her face 20 years from now.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Here’s hoping on behalf of Chicago political observers everywhere ( that Barack Obama doesn’t do something during the next four (or eight) years in the White House that specifically reflects badly upon the Second City.

Some people know how ( to carry a grudge.

Before he became the man who helped turn Roland Burris’ Senate appointment into a racial issue (but long after he was a Black Panther), Bobby Rush was the man who gave Obama ( a political whuppin’ that made him a better candidate in the future.

Monday, January 19, 2009

White Sox mascot to help represent Illinois in D.C. inaugural parade

Tourists to the District of Columbia and residents of the capital city are going to get a garish sight when they happen to catch a glimpse of the float included in the inaugural parade that is meant to represent Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois.

To be pulled by a John Deere-brand tractor (the company is based in Moline, Ill.), the float will have a display meant to represent what the Land of Lincoln is all about.

BUT INSTEAD OF having some young girl in a tiara and sash that declares her to be Miss Illinois something-or-other waving her hand, one of the things meant to represent us will be a fuzzy green blob (that’s the best way I can think to describe it) waving its left paw to the masses gathered along Pennsylvania Avenue.

I can’t help but wonder what all those people who don’t have a direct tie to the South Side will think of the sight.

Will some think that we’ve gone goofy in Illinois and/or Chicago? Perhaps they’ll think some creature from the California float snuck onto the Illinois float to try to take over, or that Rod Blagojevich wanted to be a part of the day’s festivities, but had to put on a silly costume in order to sneak in because nobody would let him in as himself?

Because what those people will really be seeing, is Southpaw.

FOR THOSE OF you who have no clue who Southpaw is, the character is the official mascot of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. The guy who wears the costume at White Sox games and at public appearances on behalf of the team is now in the District of Columbia, waiting for his participation in the inaugural parade.

The White Sox (whom Obama has often said are his rooting choice for a professional baseball team) approved inclusion of their mascot on the Illinois float – probably with delusions that it would result in lots of national publicity for the ball club spinning about in their collective head.

Now there are a couple of professional sports franchises who have costumed mascot characters that are a significant part of the teams’ public character. Just about any fan of professional sports in this country knows what the Philly Phanatic is.

In fact, there’s always “The Famous Chicken,” who has become bigger than his original ball club, the San Diego Padres (who now employ a giant costumed missionary named “Friar” to dance around in between innings).

THEN, THERE ARE teams like the White Sox with “Southpaw,” a character created a couple of years ago out of hope that he could help enhance the child-appeal of the ballpark atmosphere at U.S. Cellular Field. Nobody outside of the hardcore fandom has a clue what it is supposed to be.

I don’t know how successful Southpaw has been in trying to gain the love and respect of White Sox fans, or of Chicagoans in general. There are many in our city who don’t have a clue as to his existence. He certainly isn’t beloved.

For every kid who gets a kick out of a giant ball of green fuzz shaking their hand in between innings, there are several (slightly inebriated) adults who find his presence irritating – usually because they think they have to have an attitude that if something didn’t exist in the ball park when they were kids, it must be bad.

In short, Southpaw certainly isn’t a figure that I think of as universally representing our city or state.

I CAN’T HELP but wonder why Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t send the mascot of his other professional sports team in this city – Benny the Bull of the Chicago Bulls would likely have had greater recognition upon being seen by the masses from around the nation. It would also seem to work better, since Obama himself has indicated that while he likes watching the White Sox, basketball seems to be his preferred sport.

So what will the nation think of Southpaw when he gets his national introduction on Tuesday? Will they think he’s cute? Or will they wonder what “Oscar the Grouch” is doing wearing a White Sox uniform?

There is one plus. At least the White Sox no longer have their dueling mascots from the 1980s.

Just think of how ridiculous people would think Illinois is if they were to see the sight of Ribbie and Roobarb engaging in slapstick while roaring down Pennsylvania Avenue on their motorbikes?


EDITOR’S NOTES: There will be moments of sophistication and high culture as part of the Inauguration festivities on Tuesday. Then, there will also be moments such as those ( involving Southpaw.

Jesse White will go from being the guy whose bureaucratic action stalled Roland Burris (,0,2963946.story) from becoming senator for one week to being the namesake of the tumbling team that also will represent Illinois in the parade.

Moline-based John Deere will have dealerships in Pennsylvania and Maryland provide the tractors that will pull floats ( in the inaugural parade.

This ( is Southpaw.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Will they win again?

Am I the only person who finds something ironic in the Arizona Cardinals’ 32-25 victory Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles, thereby making the Cardinals the “champions” of the National Football Conference for 2008?

When the game ended with the Cardinals taking the lead in the final minutes, team ownership was presented with the NFC trophy – named for Chicago Bears’ founder George S. Halas.

IT WAS HALAS’ hardball politics within the NFL back in the 1950s (meant to benefit the Bears financially) that put the old Chicago Cardinals at such a business disadvantage that caused the Bidwell family to decide in 1960 that St. Louis (and later Phoenix) were more attractive home bases than the South Side of Chicago – where they won the lone championship in team history (1947), although they came close to repeating the following year.

What thoughts (if any) went through the Bidwell brains as they accepted the Halas Trophy? Or has the passage of time erased any unpleasant memories?

So now, the Cardinals prepare to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, even though their 9-7 regular season record on paper makes them look identical to the 9-7 win/loss record (but no playoff appearance) compiled by the Bears during ’08.


EDITOR’S NOTES: A bit of sports trivia, the Cardinals achieved their last victory as a ( Chicago-based football team on Nov. 1, 1959 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, they still had six more games after that (, all of which they lost.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What should an attorney-less Blagojevich tell us about the case’s future?

Some people are speculating that Rod Blagojevich is taking a step toward accepting reality with the announcement that his attorney, Ed Gensen, does not plan to bother fighting further the attempt by the Illinois Senate to remove the governor from office.

It could be seen as proof that Blagojevich has someone close to him who realizes the fight is over, and perhaps he could be persuaded to resign prior to “conviction” by the Illinois Senate.

OTHERS SEE IT as a conspiracy, thinking that Blagojevich is concocting a plot by which his lack of a lawyer before the Illinois Senate’s impeachment tribunal would prevent the political people from moving forward with their plans to gain retribution for years of perceived grievances.

I think both theories are a little far-fetched, although the latter is downright ridiculous.

I have always seen the whole impeachment/removal from office aspect of dealing with Blagojevich as being less significant than the criminal case that will be pending for the next couple of years in U.S. District Court.

It would appear that Gensen has come to the same realization.

HE PLANS TO earn his money (or whatever money he can get from Blagojevich, since the feds will probably take legal steps to cut him off from much of the money that exists in his campaign funds) by focusing on the criminal trial, whenever that occurs.

Gensen can sense the mood at the Statehouse in Springpatch that people who show anything less than complete disrespect to Blagojevich are perceived as somehow being immoral (just listen to the abuse state Rep. Patricia Mell, D-Chicago, took in some quarters for not voting against her brother-in-law on the issue of impeachment).

Too many legislators are determined to have their political biographies say they personally took some action that resulted in either Blagojevich being impeached (if they’re Illinois House members) or convicted (if they’re in the state Senate).

So Blagojevich is gone.

THE REAL TRICK is to see whether Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn’s prediction that the matter would be resolved by the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday will come true.

Or will Blagojevich engage in some action in coming weeks that will attempt to upstage the Legislature (or perhaps take attention away from Barack Obama, who is scheduled to take the oath of office as president on Tuesday).

Such a petty act would be totally in character with the past behavior of Blagojevich and Illinois political people in general.

With the governor gone regardless of what Gensen says or does during impeachment proceedings, it literally becomes a better use of his time to focus on the criminal case.

KEEPING HIS CLIENT out of prison (even a minimum-security federal workcamp) is a victory in and of itself, since the U.S. attorney’s office has backed itself into a corner with its rough rhetoric in the case.

There isn’t much room for them to negotiate a plea deal for less than a maximum penalty, unless U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is prepared to hold a follow-up press conference in the future where he concedes that much of his talk from Dec. 9, 2008 was a load of hot air.

He’s not about to do that. So he’s going to keep the pressure up.

In fact, the only real question I have about Blagojevich’s situation is how long will he persist in staying in office.

MANY LEGAL OBSERVERS have speculated that Blagojevich’s one bargaining chip with federal prosecutors is his ability to “resign” from office voluntarily, in exchange for a lighter sentence (perhaps one where he only winds up doing a year or two in that aforementioned work camp?)

If he lets himself get booted from office, that would appear to eliminate his last chance at avoiding some type of maximum sentence (some legal observers have speculated it could be close to 20 years in a federal prison, if a jury could be convinced that Rod Blagojevich is one of the most heinous political figures to walk this planet).

So could we see some quick resolution to this whole affair? Or is it more likely that Blagojevich has one trait in common with Fidel Castro?

By that, I mean that Castro (in his early years prior to the 1959 takeover of Cuba) gave a speech touted by Communist propagandists entitled, “History will absolve me.” The gist being that people in the future would look kindly on all his then-perceived-as eratic behavior.

DOES BLAGOJEVICH SHARE some similar belief that school children 50 or so years from how will think of his name as the ultimate victim of partisan politics?

Or is it more likely that the hard-core power politics being used by Blagojevich’s enemies will wind up making them look as ridiculous as the governor himself during his six years in office?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Rod Blagojevich is now lawyer-less ( before the Illinois Senate.

Friday, January 16, 2009

BARTOLO’S RETURN: Are the White Sox a dumping ground for aging stars?

I’m starting to wonder if there is something in the character of the Chicago White Sox that makes them a “dumping ground” of sorts for aging ballplayers past their prime.

The White Sox made an attempt to bolster their pitching rotation by signing aging hurler Bartolo Colon, who once was an aspiring star pitcher for the Cleveland Indians who also had some solid seasons for the Los Angeles Angels.

BUT AFTER HAVING an injury-plagued season in 2008 with the Boston Red Sox (he only got into 7 games out of the 162-game season), he found himself unemployed to the point where he was willing to listen to the White Sox – who are hopeful his arm can recover to the point where he can be a useful ballplayer in ’09.

But it was similar logic that caused the White Sox to take on other aging stars, all of whom clearly showed that their best days were in the past and that no one would remember their careers for anything that was achieved on the South Side.

Take the career of Sparky Lyle. He was once one of the best relief pitchers in the American League, and combined that skill in throwing a slider with a prankster nature (Sparky’s derriere and birthday cakes had unusually close relationships on many occasions) to make him one of the most notable ballplayers of the 1970s.

Fans of the New York Yankees remember him as one of their team’s all-time stars, while Red Sox fans remember him as a would-be star who got away (does anybody remember Danny Cater?)

BUT LYLE’S CAREER included a stint in Chicago. In fact, this is where it all ended for Sparky as a major league ballplayer.

The White Sox picked him up for the latter half of 1982, and about all that was proved was that the Philadelphia Phillies (who employed him the first half of that season) were justified in getting rid of him.

In 11 games, he pitched 12 innings, and managed to get the final save of the 238 he managed to build up during his career. Otherwise, it was a forgettable stretch of time.

Is something along those lines what we’re likely to see from Colon? An aging star for the Indians will give the White Sox nothing, except some speculation in future years about what the White Sox could have achieved had they not let him go following one year he was with the Sox in 2003 (winning 15 games that season)?

IF THAT IS the case, the Colon is the latest version of Rocky Colavito.

For those too young to remember Rocco Domenico Colavito, he was a star slugger in the 1950s and early 1960s who entertained Indians fans of that era. In fact, the more irrational of them (perhaps it’s something about drinking water from the Cuyahoga River) talk of the “Curse of Rocky Colavito,” which refers to his trade to the Detroit Tigers and the fact that the Indians have not won a World Series championship since.

On a side note, that is the difference between Chicago Cubs fans and fans of real baseball clubs. Indians and Red Sox (Babe Ruth) fans talk of curses caused by the trading away of star ballplayers, while the Cubs think they’re cursed because some Andy Frain usher had the sense to kick a fan with a goat out of the ballpark.

Eventually, Colavito wound up with the White Sox. It was 1967, the year they lasted in the pennant race to the final weekend of the season, before getting swept in a season-ending series to the last-place Kansas City Athletics (who departed the Midwest a few weeks later for their current home in Oakland).

COLAVITO WAS A part of the reason the White Sox couldn’t rise above the pennant race pack consisting of the Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins.

When a Colavito bat was supposed to be a major factor in their pennant drive, the fact that he hit only .221 with three home runs and 29 runs batted in over 60 games is worthy of blame.

It is awful.

Are we destined to see something similar from Bartolo this season? Will those of us White Sox fans who are hoping the ball club can once again contend for a division title someday be blaming Colon’s girth and age for failing to inspire the Sox?

AGE 35 IS not old in real life. But when it comes to athletics, it borders on ancient – even in today’s era where physical conditioning enables some devoted athletes to play ball well into their 40s.

The problem is that Colon has never been a conditioning freak.

The 235-pound weight indicated by baseball officials is likely a generous estimate. I remember the one time I interviewed him coming away thinking this was someone whose girth was larger than mine.

So Colon will be remembered as the guy who managed to win 150 games thus far during his 12-season career pitching in the major leagues, and he got 135 of those wins during a span from 1998 to 2005.

ONE CAN ARGUE he was once one of the best pitchers in baseball.

But a combination of age, physical conditioning and the sense that anything that can go wrong to a Chicago ball player will makes me wonder if the White Sox are destined to be the team that allows him one last game pitching in the major leagues – in between stints on the disabled list.


EDITOR’S NOTES: After getting White Sox fans to briefly believe he was returning to Chicago in 2008, Bartolo Colon signed a contract to play ball on the South Side ( during 2009.

Colon is considered one of the best Los Angeles Angels ballplayers ever. Somehow, I doubt ( he will achieve the same status in White Sox history.