Saturday, October 31, 2009

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Will Quinn finally sign campaign limits bill?

I’ll give the “Mighty Quinn” the benefit of the doubt when he says now that he’s inclined to sign into law a measure that would impose limits on campaign contributions.

Pat Quinn told reporter-types that he, “look(s) forward to signing it,” after the state Senate on Friday gave the measure the final bit of legislative approval it requires before the governor can have his say-so.

LET’S NOT FORGET, however, that Quinn helped negotiate a previous version of a campaign finance law that made it through the Legislature, only to then turn around and use his “veto” power to kill it off.

Now I know there are those people who will say that measure was tainted by special interests who imposed so many restrictions on the restrictions that it would have done little to limit contributions. Those people say Quinn did the right thing by killing it off.

But because of that past act, I’m going to wait and see until Quinn goes through the ritual of using a dozen or so pens to put his “Pat Quinn” on the bill, thereby allowing it to become law come Jan. 1.

As it stands, this version of a campaign finance limits law has its critics – but these are purely partisan political people. In short, Republicans are upset that they were not given enough say in the measure’s creation, and they resent the fact that Democrats will be taking credit for giving the people of Illinois a measure of “good government.”

THEREBY IMPLYING THAT it was the GOP that was somehow the problem.

But that is the reality of modern partisan politics. Some people are always going to disagree because they don’t like the letter (“D” or “R”) that follows someone’s name. The merits of a proposal have little to do with it.

For what it’s worth, the measure would limit how much money people and groups could give ( to candidates, and also would require more frequent public disclosure of campaign contributions. But critics are focusing on the fact that the legislative leaders still would have great authority to receive contributions, then distribute that money to individual candidates.

What else was notable in the news on the day before millions of little rug rats go marching through the streets in search of mini-Snickers bars?

NEW OWNERS, NEW BALLPARK, BUT THE SAME OLD BALLCLUB?: I’m not a Chicago Cubs fan (I consider them to be a civic embarrassment), but I couldn’t help but note the fact that the team’s new owners tried to make themselves visible.

In reading a transcript of their comments, I couldn’t help but get the impression that the changes ( from Tribune Co. ownership will be less than overwhelming.

Tom Ricketts made it clear he’s focusing attention on development of a building adjacent to Wrigley Field that would allow for space for the retail shops and restaurants and fancy amenities that many stadiums have these days.

Insofar as the team on the field? He’s deluded enough to think the current team has the talent to win a World Series (a division title is only possible because their division is weak) and he has no plans to change the manager. Lou Piniella is still employed. And the answer is “yes.” Ticket prices will rise for 2010.

MENTALLY DEFICIENT AND DISTURBED!?!: That’s how far Brian Dugan is willing to go to try to avoid having a death sentence imposed against him for the 1983 abduction and slaying of a 10-year-old girl in the DuPage County suburbs.

A judge on Friday ruled that attorneys for Dugan can bring in a psychologist who uses a brain-scan technique that will supposedly show us that Dugan’s brain literally contains “important deficiencies and disturbances” that would make it inappropriate for him to be put to death for the slaying of Jeanine Nicarico.

The psychologist will be allowed to testify even though the state’s attorney thinks that such brain scans ( are not necessarily relevant.

Whether they are or are not is something for a jury to decide. Yet I can’t help but wonder how many people will wind up so confused by the testimony that they wind up disregarding it in their own minds.

THERE’S NO ACCOUNTING FOR TASTE: Not being much of a professional basketball fan, I can’t really figure what’s going on here. The Chicago Bulls for the past decade have drawn more people than any other National Basketball Association team.

It must be the people who view it as a tourist attraction to see the very floor upon which Michael Jordan and crew won a few NBA titles (and where Dennis Rodman used to be the most flamboyantly-clad person in the arena). They can even see the parking lot that once was the Chicago Stadium where the first few of those six NBA titles were won.

Does anyone seriously think that names such as Elton Brand and Eddy Curry were ( responsible for bringing in those crowds – which averaged over 20,000 per game (the NBA average was just over 16,000)?

I’d have an easier time believing that those people were showing up to see the Matadors do their dance routine that makes the image of late comedian Chris Farley as a Chippendale’s dancer ( appear erotic.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Tavern tries to put bigotry to rest, but should it be that easy to cover up?

Bigotry is bad for business.

That is the lesson to be learned from the behavior of a Near North Side tavern that likes to cater to the tourist crowd that perceives itself as “hip.”

IT WAS EARLIER this month that Chicago had another racial incident – one involving students from Washington University in St. Louis who were in the Second City for an academic conference.

After their official activities in the city, six students (all of whom are African-American) decided to behave like many other out-of-towners who are in Chicago – they did the town, and hit the bars in the Rush Street area.

That is what had them at the Original Mothers tavern, where they were turned away on the grounds that their attire was inappropriate.

Their attire was the hip-hop influenced clothes, particularly baggy pants, which was supposedly the item that had the tavern’s managers all upset.

NOW IN A quirk of the moment, the six commiserated with some other people who happened to be in the area – including some white students who happened to be wearing similar clothing. Those students then tried to get into Original Mothers, and wound up being admitted without hassle or incident.

They then cooperated in telling officials what happened, to provide some credence to the stories of six students from St. Louis.

Now for those who are going to wonder whether the students somehow did something else to give off an ominous appearance, I’m going to admit I don’t know. I doubt it, in large part because Washington University isn’t exactly some dinky community college.

It is academically a top-flight school in the Midwest, and it is highly unlikely that any students there would fit the “gang-banger” image that some people might mistakenly associate with those baggy pants (which I have seen on so many rural white kids who speak with drawls that they no longer carry any racial connotation in my mind).

THERE HAVE BEEN countless stories about the incident in recent weeks, with the tavern getting lots of negative publicity for creating the appearance that they were singling out black people when it came to deciding whom to admit.

But Original Mothers officials showed a willingness to bargain, and that caused them to reach a deal that will keep the six students from filing any kind of discrimination lawsuit or taking any other action that would result in them getting money from telling their story.

They got an apology, along with a promise that tavern officials will participate in a protest march against discrimination scheduled for next month and make the employees of their tavern take sensitivity training courses.

They also will participate in four fundraising events for causes considered worthy by the six students.

ATTORNEYS FOR THE tavern told reporter-types this week that the managers don’t believe they based their behavior that night on racial reasons.

But it all comes down to bigotry being bad for business.

They eat a little crow now, avoid having to pay a legal settlement of any type in the future, and there’s a good chance that by year’s end most people will have forgotten this incident ever occurred.

After all, there’s an excellent chance (I’d say 100 percent) that some other business will do something stupid that will draw the attention of people on the watch for racial prejudice in our society.

BUT SHOULD IT really be this easy to get rid of a negative incident?

I have a problem with the idea that the tavern can make this go away so quickly with a “non-denial denial” that never admits to anything being done wrong (their apology technically is for not showing the six students a good time while they were in Chicago).

It makes it seem like the students are upset because a cocktail waitress spilled a drink on one of them and rudely refused to clean up the mess.

Because it is guaranteed that incident would have snowballed into something much more significant if Original Mothers weren’t willing to take a little abuse right now. One member of Congress, Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., had asked the Justice Department to begin an investigation.

THE LAST THING the tavern would have wanted would have been some sort of case in U.S. District Court against them based on a civil rights violation.

Or worse, the possibility of Congressional hearings into race relations, using the incident as its motivation. Just think of how stupid the tavern, and Chicago by reflection, would have looked with such hearings turning up in newscasts.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Washington University’s chancellor used the incident against six students ( at his school to write a negative letter to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In large part, I’m acknowledging this Chicago incident against St. Louis people out of a sense ( of equal time for an incident I wrote about last month in the St. Louis area.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What would Lars Daly think?

Robert Marshall is a physician from suburban Burr Ridge, and he once served a four-year stint as a village trustee in his hometown.

Yet to political observers, Marshall will be remembered for something else. He’s a perennial candidate. Every four years, his name turns up as he runs for an elective office.

WE, THE PEOPLE of the great state of Illinois, have had the chance to choose Marshall to be our state’s governor, our senator in Washington, and one of our congressmen (if we happened to vote in the west suburban district that includes Burr Ridge).

Marshall has not even limited himself to a single political party. Most of his campaigns have sought the Republican Party nomination. Yet of late, he calls himself a Democrat. Perhaps he sees the same trend that most other Illinoisans do and doesn’t see a point to being a Republican.

This election cycle won’t be any exception.

Marshall is one of several candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate, wanting to replace Roland Burris after his term ends next year.

SO THOSE PEOPLE who are so disgusted with the mainstream candidates that they can’t bring themselves to vote for any of them (in this case, Cheryle Jackson, David Hoffman and Alexi Giannoulias) can now pick Marshall, whose views on social issues are somewhat to the right of center, but apparently not so far right that he identifies any longer with the GOP.

This isn’t even the first time Marshall has sought the Senate. He ran in the Republican Party primary in 1996, getting 5 percent of the vote in losing to Al Salvi, who ultimately lost the general election that year to now-Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Admittedly, Marshall has his bragging moment – the one time he ran in a general election (1998 for Congress from the Illinois 3rd District), he got 27 percent of the vote. Now-retired Rep. Bill Lipinski, D-Ill., took the remaining 73 percent.

But Marshall is likely to run the same type of campaign this year as he has in the past. He’ll pop out of the woodwork on a couple of occasions to claim that our elected officials are negligent on certain issues, and he will serve to hold the more serious political candidates accountable.

PERSONALLY, I’M CURIOUS to hear what Marshall will say about the bumbling manner in which officials are handling health care reform. I’d expect it will be his chief talking point as he works his way to another 5 percent of the vote come the Feb. 2 primary election.

Not that Marshall is the only perennial candidate who filed nominating petitions with the Illinois State Board of Elections to get a place on the 2010 primary ballot.

William “Dock” Walls III is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor, for those of us who don’t like the idea of Pat Quinn or Dan Hynes.

His actual experience was a job on the Chicago city payroll (“Confidential Assistant to the Mayor” was the actual title) back in the days of Harold Washington as mayor.

IN RECENT YEARS, he has run bids for Chicago mayor and for Congress, challenging Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. Rush kicked Walls’ butt, which means that Walls has one thing in common with Barack Obama – who also once got an Election Day beat down from the one-time Black Panther.

Candidates like Marshall and Walls are on the ballot every year, using the access to Election Day ballots to give themselves a chance to express their views on the issues. Once the election passes, they go back to their daily lives until the next election cycle.

There’s also another type of perennial candidate – one who takes on the same opposition every Election Day.

That is the category in which one should place Rev. Anthony Williams. The resident of suburban Dolton has run several campaigns against Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. He has run in Democratic primaries and as a Republican.

THIS TIME, HE has filed nominating petitions to be the Green Party’s nominee for member of Congress from the Illinois 2nd District.

Williams’ line has been consistent through all his campaigns. He does not like the idea of Jackson as his member of Congress, and he wants to give people who live in the far South Side and surrounding suburbs district a chance to vote for somebody else.

It helps that in past elections he had the support of the Shaw brothers, of whom Bob is now running for Cook County assessor in the next election cycle. He claims to no longer have their active support, but he’s still an outspoken Jackson critic.

Another potential perennial is someone like Daniel Seals of Wilmette, who in recent elections has challenged Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has indicated he wants to move up this time to the U.S. Senate. Seals, who gave Kirk a competitive campaign last time, now wants the to-be-abandoned seat, but faces a serious challenger in the form of state Rep. Julie Hamos, D-Evanston.

THEN, THERE ARE candidates like Patrick J. Ryan of Chicago, who is running for an Illinois House of Representatives’ seat from the Southwest Side. He has run for the same seat in several recent elections.

The occupant of that seat? Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago.

Which means that Ryan is likely to remain a perennial candidate even after the 2010 elections, just like Williams and Marshall and all the rest.

But of course, all of these people pale in comparison to Lars "America First" Daly, the Illinois native who ran for so many offices during the mid-20th Century, including president, usually on the Tax Cut Party ticket. None of the 21st Century perennial candidates is about to don an "Uncle Sam" suit on the campaign trail like ol' Lars used to.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It may not be a true “World Series,” but it’s still the greatest game around

The World Series begins Wednesday, and some of us will take some amusement at the sight and sound of Ozzie Guillen offering “astute” commentary about the level of play.

Some of us may even get a kick out of watching Damaso Marte pitch in relief for the New York Yankees – although those of us who remember his nerve-wracking stints pitching for the White Sox will merely be grateful that he is no longer on the South Side.

I’LL EVEN CONCEDE there are some people who are small-minded enough that they can’t watch a ballgame if it isn’t a Chicago team on the field. I’m not going to be one of them, and not just because I find the Chicago Bears to be unwatchable these days.

For the fact is that I will find it intriguing to watch an “old-school” sounding World Series. New York versus Philadelphia – the kind of matchup that Babe Ruth or Joe Jackson could have comprehended.

True, a Los Angeles “Freeway Series” (Angels versus Dodgers) could have been interesting. Although I doubt the locals would have gotten into it as intensely as the New Yorkers did back in 2000, or the way Chicagoans would if it were ever White Sox versus Cubs.

In fact, I’m inclined to think that the best chance for such a series would be in October 2012 – but only if one accepts those naysayers who believe the ancient Mayans predicted that Planet Earth as we know it will end in December 2012.

BECAUSE THEN A White Sox-Cubs series would be evidence of the end of existence as we know it.

For those people who need to have a Chicago connection to a World Series in order to take interest, here are a few.

For the record, neither the Yankees nor the Phillies qualifies for the Ex-Cub Factor (which says that any league champion with three or more former Cubs ballplayers is destined to lose).

The Philadelphia Phillies have two ex-Cubs – pitcher Scott Eyre and infielder Miguel Cairo (remember back to 1997?)

AS FOR THE Yankees, they only have infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. (although one could argue that Yankees manager Joe Girardi also is infected with Cub-ness and Northwestern Wildcat-ness as well, which when it comes to baseball can be more fatal than H1N1).

So we won’t have to endure tales of the Cubs, even though the factor didn’t stop the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 or the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960. So perhaps the Ex-Cub Factor should be amended to say, any league champion with three or more former Cubs ballplayers is destined to lose, unless the team is playing the Yankees and can drag the series out to a seventh game.

In which case, they will win in the bottom of the ninth inning of game seven.

Nah, too wordy. It’s easier (and more accurate) to think of the Cubs as losers.

SO WHAT ELSE can we look forward to in coming days?

Scott Eyre may be the most unique former Chicago ballplayer; he pitched for the White Sox division title winners of 2000 and with the Cubs’ division winner of 2007. Now, he’s with the Phillies.

Then, there is Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, whom White Sox fans remember as a disappointment from the division winners of ’08.

So what should we think about while watching the champions of the American and National leagues take each other on for bragging rights for the year 2009?

I’M AWARE THAT Phillies ballplayers who were part of last year’s World Series-winning team were pleased to get the Yankees instead of the Los Angeles Angels as their competition this year.

Nothing against the Angels, but they want a chance to beat up on a prominent team (somehow, when your last World Series win comes against the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays, it just doesn’t sound as legit).

Yet somehow, I see a Yankees victory coming, and not just because there are some ballplayers on that team who think that the world has been out of whack ever since 2000 (the last time a Yankees team won the World Series).

The question I have is whether Phillies pitchers will attempt to pitch to infielder Alex Rodriguez – who during the two rounds of playoffs this year has been on a hot hitting streak so intense that he has carried the ball club.

CONSIDERING HE’S THE $25 Million-a-year Man, it’s the least he can do.

So will this be the year that Rodriguez erases the image that has cropped up during his athletic career of a ballplayer who folds under pressure?

Or will the Phillies figure him out, and get him out? If that happens, you can be assured Ozzie will use his post-game analysis to tell us all about it.


EDITOR’S NOTE: New York versus Philadelphia has been the World Series ( match-up on four occasions – 1905, 1911 and 1913 (Giants versus Athletics) and 1950 (Yankees versus Phillies). The two cities are split two each.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Everybody – it seems – wants to be the lieutenant governor for Illinois

It is the job that some people joke only has one requirement – a pulse.

It is the political post that cranks argue ought to be abolished.

YET IT ALSO is the position that has at least seven people desiring it. We’re talking, of course, about the position of lieutenant governor for Illinois.

Three Democrats and four Republicans filed nominating petitions Monday seeking a ballot spot for the primaries to be held Feb. 2.

As is the case with all the elections, the Democratic side has the bigger, more recognizable names (at least among people who follow electoral politics on a regular basis). It wouldn’t surprise me if typical people have never heard of any of the seven.

Republicans are banking on the fact that voter displeasure with electoral officials these days will result in an automatic vote against Democratic candidates – on account they have dominated state government for the past six years. Who would ever have thought the day would come that political people would hope to follow the path of Pat Quinn? Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

THERE STILL COULD be more candidates cropping up, since the filing period with the Illinois State Board of Elections runs through Nov. 2. But even with seven, that will be a large field for a job that some people like to joke has only one official duty – calling the governor first thing every morning to ensure that he’s still breathing.

For the record, the candidates thus far shape up as a brawl in the Illinois Senate versus a scrap in rural Illinois.

The Democratic primary is the state Senate brawl. The three people wanting the Democratic party’s nomination for lieutenant governor are all state senators from the Chicago area – Rickey Hendon and Art Turner, both of the West Side, and Terry Link of the far north suburbs near the Illinois/Wisconsin state line.

By comparison, the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor are a batch of rural Illinois politicos, that is if one stretches the definition of “rural Illinois” to include Springfield and Don Tracy.

I KNOW RESIDENTS of the Illinois capital city will object to that characterization, even though the two-thirds of the state’s population that lives in the Chicago area will think it all too appropriate.

But the other three GOP would-be lieutenant governors are all full-fledged residents of the southern half of Illinois – Jason Plummer of Edwardsville, Randy White of Hamilton and Brad Cole, who happens to be mayor of Carbondale.

What makes lieutenant governor so attractive?

It is the fact that whichever two candidates manage to survive the primary season will have the easiest time of any candidates seeking an Illinois statewide government post.

IT IS THE quirk of Illinois law that lieutenant governor candidates run separately during the primary season, but then are paired with the party’s gubernatorial nominee for the general election.

Winning the primary means latching onto a campaign and knowing that unless one does something so blatantly stupid as to call attention to their ignorance, their involvement will be secondary to that of the candidates for governor.

And if one happens to be affiliated with the winning gubernatorial candidate, then they get a four-year post that consists of being on-call for whatever duties the governor is willing to delegate.

It can make an aggressive lieutenant governor capable of picking out an issue or two to focus their attention on, becoming a spokesman of sorts for whatever they want to consider a worthy cause.

I’M SURE ALL seven men also learned from watching the situation of Pat Quinn, who served as lieutenant governor for roughly six years before being in the right place at the right time when the General Assembly went ahead and impeached (then convicted) Rod Blagojevich.

The man got to be governor, and has some Democrats seriously pressing for him to be elected to a full four-year term in his own right, even though Quinn spent nearly three decades being a pain in the buttocks to political people with his goo-goo rhetoric on many issues.

In short, being lieutenant governor is a shot at the big spot when all one has to do is languish in the background without doing anything stupid.

Don’t think that the candidates themselves don’t realize that.

THE DEMOCRATIC FIELD has three veteran senators, each of which will try to claim they somehow are worthy of being in the right spot – should something happen to a future Democratic governor.

Will we vote for Link, a 13-year state Senator who was one of Barack Obama’s closer allies when the two were together in the Legislature, or will it be Hendon, whose outspoken nature will persuade some urban residents that he is the only man willing to stick up for the “little people.”

Or will it be Turner, a veteran African-American legislator, for those who think that Hendon’s outspoken nature is an embarrassment to the people of Illinois, and particularly to the West Side legislative district he has represented for nearly two full decades.

Hendon’s candidacy has its own quirks, since he also filed nominating petitions to run for the seat in Congress currently held by Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. That is the office Hendon really wants, but if Davis decides this week to seek re-election, then he will withdraw and go for lieutenant governor.

FOR THOSE WHO think that the “solution” is to dump Democrats, will they be inclined to back Cole, finding some comfort in his local government experience? Or will they prefer Tracy, an attorney, or Plummer, a small business owner, both of whom portray themselves as non-political people with “real life” experience.

Or will we get White, who ran a write-in campaign for lieutenant governor in 2006 on the grounds that none of the candidates on the ballot had views that were “in alignment with Biblical principles.”

In short, it’s going to be a feisty fight for an office some people like to say is about absolutely nothing.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Will we someday have Lt. Gov. (or Rep.) “Hollywood” Hendon, or will ( we have state Sen. Hendon seeking favors from Lt. Gov. Link ( or Turner (

The “Party of Lincoln” has a four-way going ( when it comes ( to people ( who want to be ( “second-in-command” for Illinois government.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Death penalty for the most exceptional criminal cases, will Dugan qualify?

When it comes to the death penalty in Illinois, it has never failed to amaze me the degree to which people can talk tough but then hesitate when actually confronted by it.

What brings this to mind is my personal experience from when I was a full-time reporter-type person who (for one year) covered courts full-time.

I COVERED COUNTLESS criminal cases where a defendant was up for a death sentence. Yet in all but one case, the jury wound up going for the alternate of a life prison term.

Only once did I ever get to see a Cook County judge go through the ritual of reading a death warrant, culminating in that ever-eerie line, “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Of course, the whole concept of a death warrant being read is anti-climactic because of the amount of legal appeals that every single death row inmate is entitled to. There’s also the fact that Illinois still has a moratorium on executions, meaning that the 15 people now on death row aren’t in any danger of having execution dates scheduled no matter what happens.

My point in reciting all this is that I wasn’t all that surprised last week when one of the criminal defendants in the so-called “Brown’s Chicken Massacre” did not receive a death sentence – despite the fact that many people would view the slaying of seven people at a fast-food franchise in suburban Palatine as one of those extremely heinous crimes that warrants a heinous punishment.

SO JAMES DEGORSKI and Juan Luna both are now inmates within the Illinois Department of Corrections. They’re likely never to be released from prison. Considering their age, they could easily have another three or four decades of life.

Then again, considering prison conditions, their lives could be over soon. Who’s to say?

For those people with an interest in the death penalty and its application in this country, we’re going to get a similar tale in coming days out in suburban DuPage County.

Because that is where Brian Dugan is trying to ensure that he doesn’t have to move from a cell in the general population to one in the extra-secure hall where death row inmates are kept.

I COULDN’T HELP but notice the news coverage as officials of both “sides” presented their case.

Dugan is now claiming he may have once been a victim of John Gacy, the serial killer who was put to death in 1994. Perhaps he hopes that he can sway at least one person into thinking that he deserves some sympathy (similar to how Degorski’s mother testified at his sentencing hearings that his father helped twist James and his other sons sexually with the behavior he permitted around the house when the kids were growing up).

But the prosecution countered that by putting the parents of Jeanine Nicarico, who was 10 years old when she was abducted and killed and would be 36 now, on the stand.

We the public got to hear tales of how the Nicarico family was devastated by losing their daughter, and how they have yet to recover from the act – which Dugan has hinted at committing for years, but has always tried to avoid a death sentence.

HE’S ALREADY DOING life-prison terms for the slayings of other young girls in the distant suburbs back in the 1980s.

His current action was designed to get people to quit speculating about his tie to Jeanine’s death, while not adding to his overall punishment. When one is already doing multiple life prison terms, what is one more?

But the people who for decades have been determined to get a death sentence for the Nicarico crime are equally determined to make sure that a life prison term is not the end result.

So when this case finally goes to the jury sometime next month (testimony resumes at DuPage County court on Wednesday), it will be curious to see.

WILL DUGAN BE the victim of John Gacy? Or is he going to be the monster who devastated the Nicarico family’s lives (Jeanine’s father last week said Dugan is the “boogeyman” come to life)?

It will be curious to see which side can most overwhelm the impression of the jury. Will Dugan fall in that majority of criminals who are found eligible for execution but ultimately get a life prison term?

Or will he fall into the minority – becoming inmate number 16 on Death Row in Illinois?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Jurors who hold out against death sentences during deliberations can (,0,806297.story) face pressure (,0,3895676.story) to go along with the majority.

“Too late for sympathy or remourse,” was the words from the mother of Jeanine Nicarico when she spoke ( briefly last week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Durbin DREAMs of immigration reform to benefit the youth of “America”

It’s “tick off” time.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., managed to “tick off” a certain segment of the population with his participation Friday in a forum at DePaul University, and now I’m going to irritate those same individuals by calling them out for their ignorance.

THE LINCOLN PARK neighborhood-based university was the site of an immigration forum where the senator told us the same thing that Democrats have been saying for months.

We’re not getting immigration reform this year, even though some members of Congress (including Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.) have hinted they are drafting bills that could be introduced before year’s end.

Democrats in Congress are so focused on getting something that can be described as health care reform approved so that President Barack Obama can sign it into law that they’re pushing all kinds of crucial issues aside.

That includes the serious revamping of the nation’s immigration laws, which the president has said will occur some time in 2010, and which Durbin reiterated will occur some time next year.

THE FACT THAT the rhetoric is so vague makes me wonder if the debate won’t even start until late in 2010 – the better to not give the nativists yet another excuse to drag out their cheap and stupid rhetoric for the November general elections.

But Durbin on Friday made it clear he, at least, will be supportive.

The senior senator from Illinois for years has been a supporter of the “DREAM Act,” the measure that is meant to help those young people who have lived the bulk of their lives in the United States and are fairly well assimilated – but were born elsewhere so their citizenship status is mucked up.

There are many cases across the country of families that are split on the immigration issue – some are U.S. citizens while others aren’t.

BUT WHILE PEOPLE of logic would figure that the solution to this confusion is to figure out the way to fully naturalize these families, the kind of people upset by Durbin are the ones who would use the non-citizen family members as the excuse to deport the whole family!

In the case of the non-citizen children, their lack of U.S. citizenship makes it impossible for them to apply for the standard sources of financial aid that most people in this country use to help them pay for a college education, particularly in states where the local government officials have gone out of their way to pass punitive measures meant to hold people back.

The DREAM Act would make it possible for those students caught between countries to be regarded the same as U.S. citizens, which would make it possible for those who otherwise would naturally advance to a college education to do so.

In the process, they will educate themselves and become of greater use to our society. Durbin on Friday let it be known that his individual measure will be included in any overall immigration reform proposal that eventually gets considered by Congress.

PERSONALLY, I HAVE always thought that the only people who truly get worked up over this particular issue are the people who, for whatever reason, don’t have as many opportunities to advance academically, and they see they are being surpassed by others.

Opposition to this particular act strikes me as being cheap and petty, and an attempt to hold other people down to their level.

In the long run, it hurts our society if the people who are here are not given the chance to advance themselves to their full potential. Note that I’m not saying they are entitled to achieve that potential – only that they should not be held back just because of some lunk-headed partisan politics that reek of xenophobia.

I know this issue will tick some people off. If you doubt me, check out the website of the Daily Herald newspaper of suburban Arlington Heights.

THEIR PUBLICATION OF a story announcing Durbin’s intention to partake in the forum triggered a reader commentary that reeks of ridiculousness.

“Liberal garbage,” “douche bag” and “clown” were among the phrases used to describe Durbin, while one would-be wit-less pundit suggested that Immigration and Customs Enforcement deport everybody who bothered to attend the forum – on the assumption that only non-citizens would be interested in hearing Durbin.

One of the reasons I write as much as I do about immigration reform, even though nothing is happening yet, is that I am trying to brace people for the intellectual level that the debate will take once the issue does finally get discussed.

For those who think that the partisan rhetoric over health care reform has become nasty or petty or vindictive, all I have to say is (with apologies to Bachman Turner Overdrive), “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”

DURBIN TELLING US Friday he will never give up on the concept of the DREAM Act brought out some of the trash talk.

But I’m convinced that historians some five or six decades from now will look at the health care partisanship as hugs and smooches, compared to the level of trash talk we will get next year. Because that will be where the partisans align with the nativists to try to take this issue down and hold our society back into some vision they have.

Let’s also hope those historians don’t remember our era as the time when our society’s weaker half holds us back.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Read the commentary for yourself. What is particularly sad about these comments ( is that they’re not at all unique to anyone who has studied the partisanship involved in immigration reform.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ozzie to enhance World Series analysis

In my mind, the World Series this year just got interesting.

We’re going to get a dose of straight-shooting talk for commentary. Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen got hired to work for Fox Sports, where he will provide pre-game and post-game analysis of the on-field activity.

OZZIE, THE MAN whom some White Sox fans claim is too quick to throw his own ballplayers “under the bus” (but whom I often think is the only one willing to just tell the blunt truth), will get to give us his thoughts about the 2009 season’s ending.

We already know how disgusted he is about the fact that the White Sox were unable to even remain in the running ‘til the very end of the regular season in the fight against the Detroit Tigers – who for the second time in four seasons managed to let the Minnesota Twins overcome them on the final day of the season.

While I don’t expect to hear Guillen’s potty-mouth run amok on national television (although I can’t help but wonder if somebody is going to be on-call with their finger over a button to try to blip out any off-color remark that might slip from Ozzie’s lips), there’s always the chance that we could get some South Side insight into the World Series participants.

By South Side, I mean blunt, as in not concerned if somebody’s feelings get hurt by their physical and mental errors being pointed out to the world.

THIS IS THE man who back in the 2005 World Series signaled for his top relief pitcher to come into the game by using his hands to parody Bobby Jenks’ big gut. Ozzie isn’t someone who’s going to be bashful about expressing his opinion if he sees something stupid happen on the playing field.

He sure wasn’t bashful about letting White Sox fans know that the club they rooted for this year blew it, in a year when their American League division was weak enough that they could have won it despite the team’s flaws.

It is that same bluntness that always made Venezuelan Guillen appealing to that South Side sports fan who has no hesitation about calling out their favorite ball clubs if they sense someone isn’t trying their best to win.

At the very least, it gives people outside of the middle portion of the Washington/Boston corridor a reason to pay attention to the World Series broadcasts that have the potential to stretch this year well into November.

OZZIE WILL BE entertaining.

And we will get those many people scratching their heads in confusion trying to comprehend Guillen’s command of the English language, which grammatically isn’t bad. The only real trick is that one has to listen closely when Ozzie speaks, particularly if they’re too used to hearing people speak in drawls in their daily lives.

Of course, the idea of telling people they ought to shut up and pay attention during a ballgame is just a good concept regardless of who’s doing the broadcasting. Too much of what is wrong with sports these days relates to the idea of trying too hard to appeal to people who aren’t truly interested enough in the event to just watch the game.

If Ozzie is let loose, then people will at least watch his portions of the World Series broadcasts. Because the potential matchup of American League versus National League champions this year is going to cause grumbles from provincial types who don’t live on the East Coast.

SOME ARE GOING to complain about the idea of the Philadelphia Phillies defending their championship status by taking on whichever team winds up winning the American League championship – most likely the New York Yankees, but I suppose there could always be a historic comeback by the Los Angeles Angels.

New York versus Philadelphia for the championship of the “mundo del beisbol.” I can already hear the sports pundits whining that nobody outside of those two cities will care about this series.

It sounds like the same rhetoric that came up in 2005 when the World Series gave us the White Sox and Houston, even though that series gave us a nerve-wracking Game 4 (the only run scored near game’s end), an endless Game 3 (all 14 innings, the longest game on the clock ever) and a few other moments of athletic glory worth remembering (even though I personally thought the highlight of that whole “postseason” was the way in which the White Sox beat the Angels for the American League championship with all four of their starting pitchers managing to pitch complete games).

Personally, I would have paid attention to a New York/Philadelphia (or maybe it really will be a Los Angeles/Philadelphia) World Series, even though the only people who are going to get overly emotional about it are those aging Philly fans who still haven’t gotten over the fact that the Yankees swept Philadelphia four straight games back in the 1950 World Series – the only other time the two teams have met in October.

THERE’S ALWAYS THE chance of some unsung athlete making his name by coming through at the most inopportune moment.

In short, who is going to become the 2009 equivalent of 2005’s Geoff Blum?


EDITOR’S NOTES: For those ( of you who feel compelled to look at some numbers.

For those of you ( who feel compelled to read an Ozzie rant.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

GOP’s strategy towards Obama: Lets use it on him before he uses it on us!

I have been to enough rallies and events as a reporter-type person in which the conservative opposition to Barack Obama vents its views that I have repeatedly heard how the incumbent U.S. president is “Hitler-esque.”

Now, it would appear that the right is coming up with another label, one that will make Obama’s supporters shudder. They’re saying the president is “Nixonian.”

AT LEAST THAT was the impression I got from learning of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who made remarks Wednesday in Washington that imply Obama and his aides are developing an “enemies list.” That tactic literally was used by former President Richard M. Nixon, who put together a literal list of people he considered to be the opposition, with the idea that the federal government would single them out for abuse (an IRS audit, anyone?)

Anyone with sense will realize how ridiculous this tactic is, because it is coming from the people who ideologically were sympathetic to the Nixon administration, and probably had no problem with the idea of a list that singled out certain Democratic political officials, labor union executives and several news media editors and commentators.

About the only way using this tactic makes any sense is if it is viewed as a distraction. Getting political pundits to spend a few days debating the issue of “Is Obama Nixonian” will shift the focus away from the political hardball that Republican political people are playing with their opposition to health care reform.

For the record, that is the issue upon which Alexander says Obama is using such “Nixonian” tactics, and may very well be putting together an “enemies list” of people who won’t back his goal of trying to do something about the 47 million people in this country who currently have no health insurance (and therefore, no way to pay for medical treatment, should they need it).

DOES THIS MEAN that Republican opponents fear they are going to lose this political fight, and now they’re trying to set things up so that anything bad that happens to them in the future can be blamed on partisan politics?

Considering that the country as a whole is split on this issue, it probably is completely appropriate that the debate these days is messy. Take the latest Gallup Organization poll, which on Wednesday said that 50 percent of the populace wants a health care reform proposal with a public option (which in my mind is kind of the whole reason for even bothering with reform).

Also, while 58 percent of the people surveyed (25 percent for and 33 percent against) have made up their mind – another 39 percent (a rather significant total) want to see exactly what is in the final proposal before deciding whether to support it or not.

Now I’m not going to lie. Despite possessing some ideals about a Better America, I know better than to think Obama is “Saint Barack.”

HE MAY BE Hawaii-raised, but this is a man who learned his electoral politics in Chicago and at the “Statehouse in Springpatch.” This is a man who was mentored by former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, who wasn’t a “goo goo” by any means.

Heck, this was a guy who got elected to his first electoral office by playing political hardball and getting his incumbent opponent kicked off the ballot (remember Alice Palmer?).

Barack Obama isn’t a political virgin.

I don’t doubt that he and his people are capable of engaging in political tactics meant to hinder the opposition in order to try to get measures they want passed into law. That is what electoral politics is about.

IN A SENSE, I don’t really blame the Republican opposition for the tactics they are using these days to try to stall action (if not kill it outright) on a healthcare reform measure. That also is what electoral politics is about.

Would we really rather have a government where officials just impose actions by issuing statements, rather than have to engage in the give-and-take of politics? That give-and-take, by definition is what Democracy is all about.

Government by pronouncement is something more in line with fascism – and I don’t think many people in this country seriously want that approach.

Now I’m not calling Alexander a fascist. That would be ridiculous.

BUT I FIND it equally ridiculous that he’s trying to blame Obama for trying to fight back against his health care opponents, who have been blasting him for months for bringing the issue up in the first place.

Could it be that this latest round of attack about an “enemies list” is something that should be dismissed as nothing more than political whining?

Or is this just a matter of conservative officials who know how to use dirty political tactics automatically assume that the whole world plays the political game the same way they do?


EDITOR’S NOTES: By his own admission, Lamar Alexander knows about “enemies lists” ( because he was a low-level aide in the Nixon administration.

The latest thoughts of the American people on health care reform ( from an organization that says Barack Obama has a “favorable” rating from 50 percent of the public.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How do we rectify past racial slights?

I’m sure there are going to be people who will try to make an issue of the fact that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is willing to see a black man receive a pardon for a criminal conviction that clearly was racially motivated, only to have the first non-Anglo president turn it down.

That is the position that President Barack Obama finds himself in with regards to Jack Johnson, one of the great boxers of the early 20th Century whose presence ticked off much of white America because Johnson was a black man who felt no need to have to kow-tow to Anglo society.

SPECIFICALLY, JOHNSON DID a 10-month prison term for a violation of the Mann Act, which was a law meant to prevent women from being abducted and taken elsewhere for sexual purposes.

In Johnson’s case, he found a consenting adult female who happened to be white (and who later married him). Which was his real “crime” in this case. He did that 10 months in prison for not sticking with “his own kind.” This prison term came at a time when he was a defending boxing champion, and it threw his athletic career offstride as he had to spend much of what should have been the prime of his athletic career boxing in the Caribbean instead.

Now some people will try to argue that we shouldn’t be trying to judge the past by our contemporary standards. Miles Davis did the complex, not easy listening soundtrack album to the 1970 documentary film about the life of boxer Jack Johnson, which is a complex story not easy to listen to in and of itself.

But McCain, Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential election who fancies himself a boxing fan, has touted this idea before.

IN FACT, HE has gone so far as to get his Senate colleagues to overwhelmingly back a resolution that urges the president to approve a pardon for Johnson, who died in 1946.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with a pardon. Nobody with any common sense would argue that Johnson committed any act that deserved to be a crime, for that very law was often used by local officials to justify getting at people whose presence was an annoyance.

Keep in mind that several decades later, rock ‘n’ roller Chuck Berry had his musical career sidetracked by a conviction of the very same Mann Act – and for the very same act as Johnson.

But it is for that very reason that I am a little hesitant to just automatically say that Obama should sign the pardon and allow McCain to have a moment of glory by claiming he influenced officials to undo a racial wrong of the past.

BECAUSE IT WASN’T just Johnson who was wronged in the past. As I just noted, Berry also got hit with the same legal action and did his jail time back in the early 1960s for having relations with white women who weren’t the least bit objecting.

While some can argue that changing musical tastes throughout the years would have sent Berry’s career downhill after the 1950s, it can’t be argued that the jail term threw him off-track rather quickly.

What I fear is that some people are going to be inclined to think that by giving Johnson a posthumous pardon, all of the racially inspired injustices of the past have suddenly all been rectified.

Would it be right for Johnson to have to represent all of black America in taking a pardon for every black man who suffered in the criminal justice system just because some white person was offended by their existence at a particular moment?

AND WOULD IT really mean all that much for Johnson to receive that pardon some six-plus decades after his death?

Yet I can also appreciate how difficult it would be to go through the rolls of criminal cases throughout the United States (not just the South, even though some of us would like to think bigotry was restricted there – it wasn’t) and try to undo every single case where a black person was wronged.

It’s not like Johnson is in the situation of boxer Muhammad Ali, who at least was alive and capable of resurrecting his athletic career when his own racially-motivated criminal conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Obama’s aides have been reluctant to say what they will do with the Johnson pardon request, which on the surface would be a hard one for him to deny.

I CAN ALREADY hear in my mind Rush Limbaugh, fresh off of being denied the chance to sit in the stands at St. Louis Rams football games and claim himself to be an owner, trying to use the issue to say on his radio program that McCain is the champion of racial justice and Obama is somehow a bigot.

Those of us with sense would dismiss such trash talk as cheap political rhetoric. But there will be those in today’s politicized environment who won’t want to let it go.

I would hope that if Obama does go ahead and grant the Johnson pardon, he somehow manages to use those rhetorical skills he possesses to let us know that the Scales of Justice aren’t suddenly balanced out because of this one action.

He’d have to make it pretty clear that the degree to which this nation’s racial situation was out of whack in the past was so severe that it can never truly be pardoned.

OF COURSE, THAT kind of statement (no matter how true) will offend some people in our society because they’re the ones who want to believe that a single stroke of a president’s pen can somehow erase the negative portions of our nation’s history.

Which is the real reason some people are anxious to have this particular pardon approved. They’d rather give up a token gesture to a deceased black man than do anything of substance to those who are still living.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Jack Johnson picked up his boxing skills in part by spending his early days ( in Chicago and later owned a nightclub in the Second City.

Is Johnson going to become the centerpiece of the 2009 confrontation ( between Barack Obama ( and John McCain?

Some people want to view Johnson’s actions as potentially worthy of a (,_unnecessary_intersection_of_sports_and_society) criminal conviction.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With his big bucks, Giannoulias is in a “tie” for next year’s Senate election

There are those people who want to believe that “guilt by association” with now-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich will cause many Democrats to go down to defeat come Election Day, but a pair of surveys make me wonder if continued screeching of Milorod’s name will be enough to benefit the GOP.

All the people who typically give cash to political campaigns are making the U.S. Senate bid of Alexi Giannoulias the biggest-funded of the field. Some of it is people playing it safe, but it also shows a significant sense that Alexi’s mind is not the only place where Giannoulias ought to be regarded as the front-runner.

THERE ALSO WAS the latest poll conducted by the Rasmussen Report, which shows that Giannoulias is in a tie with possible Republican frontrunner Mark Kirk.

Even if Giannoulias were to somehow lose the primary in February and run against one of the other Democrats with dreams of being a United States senator, Kirk only has a slim lead – the kind that could easily wither away on account of the fact that there is more than a year until the November 2010 general election.

Could it be that Illinois, with its two-thirds of the population that lives in the Chicago area, has just become so urban and Democrat leaning that no one should be thinking of the GOP congressman from the North Shore suburbs as some sort of political big shot?

It was the thought that popped into my head after learning of a pair of surveys of sorts.

THERE WAS THE Rasmussen Report, that showed Kirk and Giannoulias each getting 41 percent of the vote, if the election were to be held now. Thirteen percent said they had yet to make up their mind, while the remainder were people who are so devoted to another candidate that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for either.

But then there also was an Associated Press survey of the leading Democratic candidates for the Senate seat now held by Roland Burris.

Giannoulias’ campaign is coming up with the big bucks that will make it competitive, regardless of what is thrown at it. In short, unless Giannoulias turns out to be a complete incompetent, he’s going to have the resources to define himself – instead of being defined as a corrupt banker (which is the image that Kirk and GOP partisans would like to see become reality, similar to how Judy Baar Topinka in 2006 was nothing more than the kook who danced the polka with George Ryan).

According to the wire service, Giannoulias raised $1.1 million between July and September, while only spending $345,000. On Sept. 30, his campaign fund reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections that its balance was $2.4 million.

NONE OF GIANNOULIAS’ primary challengers even come close to being able to produce that kind of money. In fact, the only other candidate with a balance exceeding $1 million was attorney Jacob Meister, a fringe candidate who came up with $1.04 million by taking out substantial loans.

The two significant challengers to Giannoulias in the Democratic primary raised about one-third the total of what the Illinois treasurer came up with.

David Hoffman, the former Inspector General for Chicago city government, took out a $500,000 loan to give himself an $837,000 campaign fund, while Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Robinson Jackson raised $367,000 during the summer months, and had $318,000 on hand.

What will be the end result of all that money?

HONESTLY, I CAN’T get past the idea that the two are in a tie, despite the presence of Blagojevich. If it were truly as big a factor as hard-core Republican partisans dream about, I’d think polls would be constantly showing Kirk as a leader.

The Rasmussen Report survey taken prior to this latest survey only showed him with a slim lead – 41 percent to 38 percent, so close that it falls within the “margin of error” and deserves to be called a tie.

Now, we get a poll that shows a literal tie.

When it comes to breaking down the results, it seems like the standard partisan breakdown. Women prefer Giannoulias while men prefer Kirk. But didn’t women prefer Barack Obama in 2008, compared to men thinking more of John McCain?

IN FACT, WHAT may be the most interesting part of this study is the one that shows Jackson gaining on Kirk, if it were to turn out to be a general election campaign between the two, with Giannoulias getting to enjoy a few final months as state treasurer before lingering in political retirement for at least a couple of years.

In that potential campaign, Kirk would beat Jackson 43 percent to 39 percent if that election were held today. But the same 13 percent remain undecided, and that same 5 percent thinks so little of both that they’d seek somebody else.

He used to lead Jackson by 17 percentage points in Rasmussen Reports polls. Could it be that there are a significant number of people in this state who will reject the Republican label, regardless of who runs under it?

Or could the only real truth to all this political prognosticating be that at 13 months prior to the general election, it’s still too early to be trying to figure out who will win?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Alexi Giannoulias won’t lose the 2010 election cycle due to a lack ( of campaign cash.

The existence of Rod Blagojevich may make next year’s Election Days close, but is ( Illinois too “blue” for Mark Kirk?

Will Barack Obama become a help or hindrance to Giannoulias’ ( Capitol Hill aspirations?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Will The Times (N.Y., not London) make an impact on the Chicago news scene?

I’m curious to see the so-called Chicago zoned coverage that is being proposed by the New York Times as a way of strengthening that newspaper’s position as a national publication.

The Times last week began doing a San Francisco edition, of sorts. Basically, copies of the newspaper sold in the Bay Area will include a two-page spread twice a week that will be filled with stories of local interest.

TIMES OFFICIALS HAVE said that they also view Chicago as a market that could support such an effort, and that if the San Francisco “edition” does not turn out to be a complete flop financially, the Second City will be their second venture into the world of local journalism.

There are many ways to view this activity.

One is that it is ridiculous for the Times to think that “local” journalism is somehow going to be the publication’s economic savior, because it is something that it does not practice on its own home turf. People who want to know what is happening in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Queens need to read the Daily News on a regular basis. Even the New York Post gives a better account of the nitty-gritty of New York life.

The Times is the publication written and edited for New York residents who want a worldly view.

SO NOW, THE publication that doesn’t do the best coverage of its own back yard thinks it can come into our yard and snatch enough stories from the Sun-Times or Tribune that it would boost the circulation of their national edition in the Chicago area.

But now, having taken a cheap shot at the “grey lady,” I have to admit I try to read the Times on a regular basis. In part, it is because of their Chicago “coverage.” For the Times does maintain a bureau in our city, with a few reporters living here so they can cover the news throughout the Midwestern United States.

It is not unheard of to read stories in the Times about the political geeks, sorry athletes and other screw-ups who comprise the people that give Chicago its unique character.

Of course, when the Times comes in and covers something at City Hall or at the Statehouse in Springpatch, they usually come in after everybody else who is local has already tried to bleed the story dry of all its information.

OCCASIONALLY, THE TIMES can come up with an interesting factual tidbit that wasn’t known previously. But what they usually do is manage to do the one single write-up that puts an entire issue into perspective.

While the local press will be obsessed with advancing “the story” on a daily basis, the Times comes in when it is already advanced and tells “the world” what it all really means.

That can have its purpose (although, in all fairness, it was the competing Wall Street Journal that put the “Council Wars” of the mid-1980s into perspective when it came up with the defining phrase, “Beirut by the Lake.”)

But I would hope that the Times doesn’t think they can boost their circulation significantly in Chicago by merely giving us rewrites of what was already published in the local press. It won’t work.

NOW AS I understand, it won’t be the Times’ editorial staff that actually does the work of putting together a pair of pages on a pair of days each week.

They’re trying to work out partnerships in the Bay Area by which the actual “work” on those local pages will be done by public broadcasting news types, along with academic types from the University of California at Berkeley.

Does this mean we have the potential to get newspaper pages put together by WTTW, along with those earnest (but extremely inexperienced) students of Northwestern University? If they had to go that route, I'd just as soon see them pair up with Loyola University, which now has on its faculty one-time City News Bureau managing editor Paul Zimbrakos -- who I'm sure could browbeat reporter-types into coming up with "real" news.

I’d like to think that image of academia in daily journalism is just too ridiculous to be taken seriously. But I’m also realistic enough to know that the bottom-line of this project is to boost advertising revenue, not to necessarily improve the editorial quality of the newspaper as a whole.

WHAT’S THE POINT – in the minds of too many newspaper executives – of coming up with more ad revenue if you’re just going to spend it on payroll and expenses of producing stories? There’s a company as a whole whose stock value needs to be bolstered.

Yes, I’m a tad cynical about this whole project.

If improved Chicago coverage were all that significant to bolstering the quality of the newspaper, it likely is something that would have been done years ago.

This sounds, to me, like the thoughts of an advertising executive who sees that the potential sales to businesses in the New York metropolitan area have “maxed out,” so they’re trying to figure out how they can snatch a share of the advertising revenue elsewhere.

HEARING THAT THE Times is now in San Francisco creates in my mind the image of an easterner headed west to pan for gold, more than a century-and-a-half after the Gold Rush of 1849.

I guess we’ll find out if “there’s gold in our hills” if the Times then doubles back sometime in the near future and decides to descend on our streets.

So here’s a quickie local lesson for the potential New York newcomers – Madison is a street, not an avenue.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Chicago Tribune took a more serious look at their potential (,0,3236866.column) future competition led from New York.

Judge it for yourself. I’ll determine its relevance by the quality of stories it can unearth, while ( some executives in New York will judge its success by the number of local advertisers it picks up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New political campaign will take token opposition to Olympic heights

There are times when people do things politically just because they think the “time” is right, and that waiting for a more opportune moment would be waiting for something that will never occur.

That is the blunt way to view the political campaign of Tom Tresser.

HE’S THE GUY who led that whole “No Games Chicago” activist bid that drew a lot of public attention to the fact that there were people around here who were more than content to not have the summer Olympic games of 2016 be held in Chicago.

The fact that the International Olympic Committee ultimately rejected Chicago’s bid (actually, that of the United States) puts Tresser in a position of success. It may very well be the biggest success of his professional life – the line that leads off his obituary when he departs Planet Earth some three or four decades from now (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he will lead a long, healthy life).

But it also puts him in a position where some of the afterglow of that success will cause people to bother to listen to him.

That’s about the only reason I could think of for him to think that he ought to run a political campaign for “high local public office.” That’s his phrase. He won’t say what he’s running for, although his campaign logo of “TOM 2010” uses the Cook County seal in place of the “O” and he has registered his “Friends of Tom Tresser” committee with the Illinois State Board of Elections to support a county board Presidential bid.

COULD TRESSER THINK that Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is so incapacitated politically and all of his declared challengers are so bumblingly inept that all those people who hated the thought of the Olympic Games in Chicago could turn out and vote him into office?

Or at the very least, enough of those people to get the roughly 26 percent that it could take to win what has shaped up to be a five-person Democratic primary (six, if Tresser gets into the campaign)?

In a typical election year, I’d think that Tresser’s campaign was a waste of time. I wouldn’t bother giving it any thought.

But this is not a typical election year.

EVEN THOUGH THE Republicans appear to be planning to run a slate of candidates who are ideologically conservative as any of the other GOP contenders of recent Election Days who lost, they seem to think that screeching the name “Blagojevich!” will take them to victory.

And it will have some influence. I expect it to be a close general election day in November, and I expect the primaries to be complete chaos.

So under these circumstances, perhaps a guy who gained some experience and feel for the city by traveling to all 50 of those sessions the Chicago Olympics committee held in each ward so he could toss out some opposition information might be able to gain some attention.

There are those who think the Cook County Board race has the potential to be a racial battle, with Stroger and three black challengers running against a white guy from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

SOMEHOW, I THINK in this battle, Tresser just might be able to take them on. If not by winning, he could bloody them up a bit to make this particular primary campaign just a bit more intriguing.

For all we know, 2010’s election cycle could very well turn out to be the “Year of the Outspoken Crackpot” in Illinois.
For the Republicans have running for the GOP nomination for governor Dan Proft, the media consultant with the knack for “shooting from the lip” (to use an overworked cliché) and a willingness to hurt his opposition’s feelings.

Proft is the guy whom observers of the gubernatorial primary want to “write off” as unelectable, but they don’t because they’re unsure if this year’s dynamic might just be the one time that he can seriously get the nomination.

I CAN’T HELP but think the same is true about Tresser.

Of course, his big challenge will be raising money. He may have put together quite a list of supporters while running “No Games Chicago,” but it’s not like that group raised money for its own efforts in amounts high enough to sustain a county-wide campaign.

But, he’s going to try to feed off the “free media” as an alternative to “paid media” (news coverage, versus campaign commercials) and hope he can push the image of being a reformer and fighter to some success on Election Day.

This is a guy who helped “take on” City Hall when he worked with others to help kill a deal by which the Park District would have paid to develop an athletic field whose primary user would have been the private Latin School of Chicago (they wanted a nearby field for their soccer programs).

NOW, TRESSER IS the guy who “took on” the world – specifically, the IOC, and got them to put the Olympics somewhere else.

Does this mean Tresser is the guy who will now “take on” Cook County by seeking its top post? He might be a long shot, but this is the time in the election cycle for long-shots to dream broadly, just as big as those people who used to dream about the Olympics being held in Chicago – only to have Tresser come along and squash them.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Olympics opponent-turned-political candidate Tom Tresser will begin campaigning ( Saturday, but he’s already managing to tick off some of the people ( who didn’t want the Olympics in Chicago.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Jacobs the lone voice of reason?

Back in the days when I was a reporter-type person covering the Illinois Legislature, one of the few legislators willing to speak his mind on a regular basis was then-state Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline.

The now-retired legislator from the Quad Cities most definitely considered himself to be “old school.” He wouldn’t have flinched from the label. Most likely, he would have looked down upon anyone who tried to use that label as a pejorative.

I COULD EASILY envision Jacobs (who once told me that 99 percent of what legislators say during sessions of the state Senate and Illinois House is “nonsense that should be disregarded”) being among the few to stand up and vote against the measure considered on Thursday that creates the concept of recall elections whenever a significant number of people get ticked off at the governor.

That is why I was glad to see that when the state Senate voted 56-1 to approve that nonsense bill, the lone legislator to show some sense was Mike Jacobs – Denny’s son. Mike replaced Denny when the elder Jacobs decided to retire from the Legislature in 2005 – following more than two decades representing the Quad Cities and northwestern Illinois in Springfield.

The younger Jacobs, who once was presented with a pair of boxing gloves as a gag by his colleagues after he got into a verbal altercation with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said what some of his colleagues agree is true, but were afraid to back up with their vote.

I know some people are going to vehemently disagree (and some may start sending me obscenity-laced anonymous e-mail messages), but Jacobs is correct when he says the concept of recall elections can, “lessen the independence of a governor.”

THERE ARE TIMES when a government official has to be prepared to stand up for what they believe to be truly proper – without having to worry about whether enough people will have a political hissy-fit and start screeching, “recall.”

I also happen to believe that if an official gets himself elected with a majority vote, that majority ought to have to live with their mistake until the next Election Day.

If there really are circumstances taking place that are so abhorrent that an official ought to be removed from office, there is the option of impeachment. For those who will argue that impeachment imposes a high standard that is next to impossible to achieve in most cases, I say that’s a good thing.

It should not be easy to remove a public official from office. When an official takes that oath of office, we ought to have some reasonable assurance that they’re going to finish the term to which they were elected.

RECALL IS OFTEN the tool of the sore losers who can’t stand the fact that their preferred candidate didn’t get a majority, so they become obstructionists (rather than opposition, there is a difference between the two terms).

And the answer is “no.”

I don’t consider it to be a significant compromise that this measure approved on Thursday is limited solely to the recall of Illinois governors.

A bad idea is a bad idea, even if it only affects one political person at a time – rather than all elected officials.

I DO EXPECT this idea to eventually come up, since Gov. Pat Quinn throughout the years has been so eager for the general concept of “recall” that I can easily envision him signing the measure into law, then getting all worked up in coming months trying to get people excited in the November 2010 general election about undoing the results of the past.

Anyone who has read my commentaries published here in the past will not find this viewpoint surprising. I have always thought recall was one of those political concepts that was absurd – something done in places that have much less common sense than Illinois.

Like California.

Do we really want to be copying this costly, complicated measure that threatens the outcome of elections just because a few loudmouths want to scream?

THAT IS WHERE Jacobs was coming from when he became the lone opponent to recall, although the Chicago Tribune reported that a few other senators (including Kwame Raoul of Chicago, who represents Barack Obama’s old neighborhood in the state Senate) expressed the same theoretical opposition and said they were “reluctantly” voting “yes” on the recall.

I can understand where they’re coming from.

I fully expect the same people who would have been willing to lambaste them come Election Day will try to devote a little bit of their conspiracy-theory oriented approach to life to trashing me for writing this commentary – and perhaps many other pieces I have published in the past.

It’s just a shame that we don’t have more political people willing to stand up to the loudmouths of our society who want to shout down their opposition to the point where our society would become as deadly dull as they are when it comes to their ideology.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Will Mike Jacobs become as unpopular in coming weeks as state Rep. Deborah Mell, D-Chicago, who still gets grief from some people for being the lone ( legislator to vote against impeaching Rod Blagojevich (a.k.a., her brother-in-law)?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will activist pleas fall on deaf ears?

It’s going to be a common sight for the next few days at the Statehouse in Springpatch – various groups are going to send people to the Capitol in hopes of rallying in the rotunda (to the left) and urging the General Assembly to get off its collective rump and approve a long-term (as in the full fiscal year) solution to the state budget.

For you may remember when the Illinois Legislature finally approved a spending plan that averted the possibility of a state government shutdown due to the lack of a budget in place, they only approved a plan that takes us through the end of Calendar Year 2009.

THE CURRENT FISCAL year runs through June 30, which means come January we’ll be right back in the same place we were in back in July – only worse because a significant portion of the state’s revenue for the fiscal year will have been spent.

The reason nothing happened?

It all comes down to political people who are so fearful of Election Day and being labeled as some sort of tax hog by certain elements of our society.

For it was Gov. Pat Quinn who wanted the political people to just break down and accept the fact that some sort of income tax increase was essential to ensuring that state government would have sufficient revenue to perform all its functions for the fiscal year.

BUT LEGISLATORS KNEW there would be some people willing to play politics with any such vote and try to turn it into an issue to use against them.

So they preferred to do nothing.

It is with the idea of persuading the Legislature to now do something that a group calling itself the Responsible Budget Coalition plans to have hundreds of people show up at the Statehouse on Thursday – all in hopes of persuading legislators to do what they didn’t want to do back in July.

Come up with some more revenue, which sadly enough is essential because the cost of things does go up. That is regardless of whether one wants to pay it. With costs going up, the income also has to increase.

AND AS FOR those people who will argue that government should somehow operate more like a business, I’d argue that viewpoint is ridiculous. A government performs functions that must take place, whereas in the overall scheme of things, a business can cease to exist.

In short, the Legislature is paying too much attention to people with an ideological axe who would like to take it to those government programs they have disagreements with.

In fact, I can already hear those people get their responses ready that the groups preparing to show up at the Statehouse are merely ideological tools themselves – ones whose opinions should be disregarded.

If there were legislators who were afraid of ticking people off on a future Election Day back in July, just imagine how angry they will be now.

IF THE LEGISLATURE had acted back in July to resolve this problem, there’s a good chance that the masses would have forgotten many of the specifics and wouldn’t have continued to give it much thought.

But now, the Legislature is only three-plus months away from that Feb. 2 primary. There’s a better chance that doing the right thing now will be remembered more vividly.

And if the Legislature doesn’t act in their fall veto session, they would be forced to confront this issue in January – which means literally in the weeks before the primary election.

That is when people are paying attention and would remember every little detail.

IT IS BECAUSE of this time factor that I think these groups will be speaking on deaf ears in the Legislature. The individual lawmakers will want to get in and out of Springfield this fall while doing as little as they possibly have to.

Thinking that they have a serious chance to urge the Legislature to act may be somewhat naïve.

In fact, the most honest thing I have heard in recent days came from the mouth of a community center organizer in Chicago who will be part of a group representing the Chicago Area Project – a group that distributes state funding to neighborhood groups.

That organization experienced significant cuts in its own funding that are now trickling down to less money for community groups, and they have hopes of getting into the office of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, when they visit Springfield next week.

WHAT IS HONEST about that? She concedes that her group likely will have little luck getting that meeting with the Speaker.

“You don’t just walk into Mike Madigan’s office and demand his time,” she told me, adding she expects she and her colleagues will have to settle for one of Madigan’s top-ranking colleagues, state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

If that’s the case, I can envision Lang having a very busy veto session – having to tell everybody “no” while his boss hides away in his Statehouse office.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hey you kids, Get Off My Lawn! And give me back my one dollar bus ride!

I’ll state it up front. Today, I’m a grumpy old man who’s going to tell you how much better things were when I was young. So if you’re one of those 18-year-olds who can’t handle being reminded that there was a Planet Earth and a society before you came into existence, go read something else.

What has me ticked off today is the word that the Chicago Transit Authority is seriously considering another rate increase.

$3 PER RIDE. Whoa!

I used the CTA as recently as Saturday, and I can remember the thought of disgust that went through my mind as I was pumping change and dollar bills into those vending machines so that I could use the subway to get from the Loop to the Near North Side (the Chicago History Museum at Clark and North, for those of you who just have to know).

Now, the thought that the same ride is going to cost one-third more. That ticks me off.

Part of it is that I can remember the days when I was a regular user of the CTA – my younger days when I took full advantage of the fact that one can live in Chicago without an automobile.

I STILL REMEMBER how to use the elevated trains to get to just about any region in the city, with the buses then working to fill in the gaps.

Back then, it was one dollar. Actually, I can remember the level of trauma many Chicagoans felt when it went from $0.90 for the ride and a dime for the transfer to $1 for the ride and an extra coin for aforementioned transfer.

It seemed like we were being massively ripped off. The very thought that our lone buck wasn’t enough, and that we’d now have to carry bills and coins for our bus/train fare somehow seemed absurd.

Now, it seems like as dated a memory as when my mother talks of how bus rides in this city were once a quarter.

ACTUALLY, IT ISN’T the cost so much because I can accept the idea that things cost more now than they used to. I can appreciate the idea that the CTA can’t function on the same amount of money as it used to in past decades.

So the thought of fare increases is a necessary evil.

But if it goes to maintain the kind of transit service that allows one to function in the city without an automobile, then it becomes worth it. In short, if I thought that things would get better with an increase, I’d have little problem (although still some grumbling) with paying it.

Even at $3 per ride.

BUT WHAT TICKS me off is the fact that this fare increase is being paired up with service cuts – a 9 percent drop in train service and 18 percent less bus service.

Now I don’t know exactly what those percentages mean. I suspect certain bus lines will simply run less often and will stop running at earlier times in the evening. There likely also will be less “late night” service, although in all honestly the amount of late night service being offered is already such a reduction from the days of the past that there are times I wonder what is being accomplished by pretending that our city has a 24-hour mass transit system?

We’re being asked to pay more for less service. That irritates me.

I’m a believer in mass transit, and happen to think that its presence is one of the factors that helps distinguish a metropolitan area of quality from one that is merely second rate.

DURING THE PORTIONS of my life where I have lived outside of Chicago (my life story is one of repeatedly moving from the city, then returning to it), I have been in places where mass transit systems usually consisted of a few bus lines that would take people to some select places.

A look at transit system maps for those cities usually would show large portions that had no such service (usually with the explanation that the local politicians catered to those residents who didn’t like the idea of just anyone being capable of coming to their neighborhood).

And those systems usually cut off at some insane hour of like 5 p.m., and had limited (or no) service on weekends.

My reaction to those cities (none of which I would want to live in again) is, “why bother?” If they can’t put forth a system that can actually move people about in large numbers, why have a third-rate system that accomplishes little?

AND MY REACTION to Chicago is to wonder if this is just another step toward giving us a third-rate system that makes it impossible for certain people to go to certain places within the city.

Now I realize the CTA is being hit with the same problem that is impacting many other local government entities across the state – Illinois government’s financial problems are causing them to cut their funding for local programs and also make the aid payments they’re still promising on a schedule that is months behind.

CTA officials claim that this $3 per ride talk wouldn’t be taking place if the state were to cough up what it had previously promised, let alone what it has offered in the past.

The problem with making such cuts is that once they are done, they tend to be permanent. Even when economic times do get better and the state gets closer to paying its bills in a timely manner, I wouldn’t be too optimistic that the CTA will be able to restore things.

THIS COULD BE one of the casualties of the fact that the General Assembly was so adamant in not wanting to have to come up with a permanent solution to balance out the state’s budget back in July – instead preferring to come up with makeshift solutions whose time is now running out.

Government officials being afraid to do something that can be distorted by political cranks on Election Day is a part of this problem, and it is one that has the potential to turn many things in our society into third-rate replicas of what they once were.