Thursday, December 31, 2009

Garcia campaign merely the latest Latino political bid to intrigue the city

Jesus Garcia is trying for a political comeback, but the conditions under which he is running show that little has changed about the ways of Chicago politics.

The one-time alderman back in the days of Harold Washington who later served in the Illinois Senate hasn’t held elective office in 11 years. But now, he’s going for a seat on the Cook County Board.

“CHUY” GARCIA WANTS to replace Joseph Moreno, whom some people think has become too cozy with the political establishment at the expense of the majority Latino population whose interests he is supposed to be representing.

The reality of Latino political officials in Chicago is that they don’t all think alike. In fact, there is a serious split in the approach that officials of Latino ethnic backgrounds take toward how they serve the constituents of the Mexican- and Puerto Rican-based neighborhoods of the city.

It’s not Mexican versus Puerto Rican. It’s Daley versus non-Daley.

Or, establishment versus activist.

WHAT IT MEANS is that there are those Latino politicos who believe that the way Latinos will benefit is by becoming part of the city’s establishment. In short, by becoming someone who is aligned with Richard M. Daley, which means Hizzoner Jr. will be inclined to include Latinos when splitting up the city “pie.”

There are other officials who believe that Latinos need to stand up for ourselves, and that we need to fight against the political establishment. Which means Latinos need to realize that Daley is the problem (similar to how former President Ronald Reagan once told us that “government IS the problem” rather than the solution to problems.

What is comes down to is that some Latino politicos are for Daley, while others are against. Come Election Day, it invariably turns out that the establishment Latinos work to try to get some of their friends elected in place of activist Latinos, while Latino activists try to dump on their establishment-oriented ethnic brethren.

That was what happened back in 1998 when Garcia lost the Democratic primary for re-election to his Illinois Senate seat. Garcia is perceived as an activist-type Latino, and the establishment types found Antonio Munoz to run against, and beat him.

NOW, GARCIA IS being used as an activist Latino candidate who hopefully can beat someone that activists are upset with for backing the establishment.

In this case, the activists are upset with Moreno because he was one of the five county board members who consistently voted in support of President Todd Stroger during the summer and autumn months when officials kept trying to repeal the county portion of the sales tax increase that had been approved one year earlier.

Getting too close to Stroger has some people thinking that Moreno is not fit to represent Latinos on Chicago’s Southwest Side neighborhoods.

In fact, two of the leaders of that tax repeal effort went so far Wednesday as to formally endorse Garcia, who has worked for various activist and community organizations in the Little Village neighborhood during the 11 years that he has not held elective office.

COMMISSIONERS LARRY SUFFREDIN and Forest Claypool, considered two of the more activist members of the Cook County Board who were most outspoken against Stroger and the sales tax issue, both said they want Garcia in office.

“For almost 30 years, people have turned to Jesus Garcia for help in hard times,” said Claypool, in a prepared statement. “County residents deserve a fighter like Jesus Garcia on the county board who will put their needs first.”

But it also would help if the two Latinos on the county board were to be aligned on a more activist mode.

For that is the current situation. Moreno and Edwin Reyes are the two Latino members of the Cook County Board, and they were consistently split on the sales tax issue – Moreno supported Stroger while Reyes opposed him.

BOTH WOULD CLAIM they were sticking up for the interests of lower-income Latinos – Moreno by saying that the money was needed to pay for county public health services and Reyes by saying Latinos could use a lower sales tax when they shopped.

That was even the case before Reyes was appointed to the county board in autumn. He replaced Roberto Maldonado, who was consistently opposed to Stroger on the sales tax issue before he gave up the county post to become a member of the City Council.

So if Garcia is able to win election to the county board in the upcoming election cycle, it would be an interesting story of a political comeback. But in another sense, it would be just the latest example of Latinos fighting amongst ourselves for the most effective way in which to represent the interests of the ethnic populations that account for more than a quarter of the overall city.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is Chicago supposed to apologize?

It almost seemed like a double hit on the perception of Chicago, as provided in recent days by two of the nation’s prominent newspapers.

Both the New York Times and Washington Post published pieces of copy in the past couple of days that seem to put the Second City in a negative light – the Times ran a full-fledged editorial calling for the closure of the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal as the only way possible to prevent the Asian Carp from destroying the ecosystem of the Great Lakes.

MEANWHILE, THE WASHINGTON Post (the newspaper that recently decided to recall its Chicago-based correspondents on the grounds that it could cover our city from Foggy Bottom) published a story Tuesday about the record of Education Secretary Arne Duncan back when he was in charge of the Chicago Public Schools.

Among the points made by the Post is that school systems in Houston and Miami showed higher average test scores for their students than Chicago, while places like Atlanta and the District of Columbia showed larger gains than did our city’s school system.

The Post, so to speak, is less than impressed with Duncan’s performance in Chicago. Or at least they gave credibility to the thoughts of the Chicago-based people who were glad to see Duncan leave when Barack Obama became president. The Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal has been around for more than a century, yet some out-of-towners are now anxious to give it full blame for the potential Asian Carp infestation into the Great Lakes. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

The latter report struck me as a whole lot of hot air being given credence by the national capital’s local newspaper – which may reflect the mood among some D.C. insiders who are somewhat resentful these days about the degree to which adopted Chicagoan Obama chose his Chicago colleagues for several significant political positions in his administration.

LET’S BE HONEST – that’s part of the reason some people are so willing to see former Illinois Lottery Director Desiree Rogers twist in the wind because those two nitwits managed to sneak into a White House party.

So while I’m not necessarily a Duncan defender, a part of me can easily try to read through the Washington Post report’s lines to figure out how many of the educational accusations are mere political whining.

After all, I don’t think anyone seriously disputes that the Chicago Public Schools still have a long way to go in terms of improvement before they can be considered to be offering an adequate educational opportunity to city-based school children.

Somehow, it was the Times’ editorial that got on my Chicago-oriented nerves more than anything the Washington Post reported.

THE TIMES EDITORIALIZED about the Asian Carp problem – the one involving the fish that if they become a part of the Great Lakes ecosystem have the serious potential to devour the substances that other life forms in the lakes feed off of.

That would lead to a devastation of life in the Great Lakes as we have known it.

It also would be a blow to the regional economy, which relies on that canal to provide the contact between the Great Lakes (through Lake Michigan at Chicago) to the Mississippi River and which considers its construction one of the great engineering achievements of all-time.

Even the Times conceded that point, writing, “that would be hugely costly and poltiically difficult, given the importance of shipping to the region.”

NOW I’M NOT going to downplay the threat caused by the Asian Carp, which managed to get loose from Southern fish farms into the Mississippi River and have been swimming their way up north ever since.

I also realize that the electronic fences installed by the Army Corps of Engineers to try to keep the fish away from the Great Lakes are failing, and I don’t trust the once-proposed suggestion of dumping a substance that is toxic to the Carp into the canal.

Simply put, even though I’m not a biologist by profession, I’m skept ical of the claims that the substance would be harmless to human beings that came into contact with the canal.

But it just strikes me as being a little to simplistic to say that the only solution is to cut off the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. In fact, it may be downright unrealistic to expect anyone to take such a suggestion seriously.

THIS IS A serious problem that requires more thought than just saying “close the locks” (that would cut off the two water bodies from each other).

And while I usually give some respect to the New York Times for putting together a news report that tries to keep the trivialization of public events to a minimum, this editorial just comes off as a little too smarmy.

It’s almost like someone on 42nd Street having too much trouble comprehending what is happening out in the great Midwest.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The national newspapers are giving Chicago a touch of attention on educational ( and environmental ( issues.

The Army Corps of Engineers offers its explanation of how it is trying to keep the Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes (, while the Encyclopedia of Chicago recalls ( the construction of the canal as part of a deliberate effort to connect the lakes to the Mississippi (while also giving us the side benefit of having our sewage flow down to St. Louis – rather than into the city’s drinking water supply.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Time to pay attention to election cycle

I know some people are going to grouse that it’s too early. They don’t want to have to think about Feb. 2 and the elections to be held that day until after they’ve recovered from their New Year’s hangover.

But considering that it was possible for some people to begin casting their votes for a U.S. senator, governor, other statewide officials and legislators beginning Monday, that probably means it is time for us to kick outselves out of apathetic mode and consider who they want to vote for.

NOW I’M NOT about to preach to you at this point who should get your vote. I don’t think you’d listen to me if I tried.

This is more about the whole concept of casting a ballot, and why it should matter.

People who are voting now are the ones who for whatever reason cannot make it to the polling place on Feb. 2. So they’re using an absentee ballot. Under changes in state law, it is being made easier to use the absentee process because one no longer has to give a specific reason why they can’t show up on Election Day.

Of course, the one time in my life I used an absentee ballot, all I told them was my job at the time would have me out of town on Election Day (which was true), and it was accepted. No one challenged me or demanded that I prove I had to be in another city.

SO WE HAVE the option of people headed to their clerk’s offices for the application to get the absentee ballot.

That is, of course, if they don’t just decide to wait a while for the early voting centers, which will be opening up soon enough (Jan. 11, to be exact).

For what it’s worth, I used an early voting center the last time I cast a ballot. I happened to be near a facility on other business and noticed they were virtually empty. I was able to get in, get my ballot, cast it and leave within minutes.

There was a certain convenience to it, and I may do the same thing some time during the coming month if I get the chance.

THERE IS A part of me that is a little saddened at the thought that the actual Election Day has the potential to become less important. Rather than being the collective day we gather to pick our leaders, it merely will be the day we expect to hear the results of elections that have been ongoing for over a month.

But at least it does encourage people to vote, which ultimately is a good thing.

Because for all too often, the people who can’t stand measures that boost the voter turnout are the political partisans – the ideologues who are so wrapped up in their causes that they can’t stand to think that other people might think differently.

And I’m not singling out any political party on this ground. I have heard the ridiculous rants from officials of all sides.

SO NOW, WE have to start thinking about what kind of electorate we truly are when we cast our votes. I’d like to think we are the responsible type who put great thought into picking officials who will represent our public interest.

There I go again, sounding as naïve as a Chicago Cubs fan who every spring thinks that this is FINALLY the year their favorite ballclub will win a championship of sorts.

It ain’t gonna happen on the baseball field, and it probably won’t happen at the voting booth either.

This is going to be the extremely partisan electoral cycle where we are going to hear the name “Blagojevich” screamed at us so many times like it is an epithet. How many voters will be swayed is something I am unsure of.

MOST PEOPLE I have encountered are either inclined to disregard it, or their disgust level with electoral politics has become so intense in the past year that they are most likely to ignore Election Day altogether.

I have no doubt that some people will say they are voting knee-jerk Republican as a response to the former Illinois governor’s behavior in office. Yet I can’t help but think that the bulk of those people are ones who NEVER under any circumstances would have picked the name of a Democratic Party candidate on a ballot. This is an election cycle where I am not inclined to predict now what will happen due to the ballots that are being cast over the course of the next 35 days.

Of course, I can think of one more positive aspect to the idea of early voting. If it means that fewer people actually wait until Feb. 2 to vote, it means there is less reason for candidates to engage in the last-minute bursts of negativity (particularly on television) that turns off many real people.

That would be a positive.


EDITOR’S NOTES: There are going to be countless libraries, park district buildings and schools throughout Chicago ( and the surrounding suburbs ( that will serve as polling places in coming weeks – for those people who just can’t wait until Feb. 2 to express their political preference.

This might have been written from the perspective of the suburban Cook County voter, but the procedures ( for casting an early ballot are identical across the state of Illinois.

Monday, December 28, 2009

EXTRA: This is “reasonable” opposition?

Every time you hear the name “Blagojevich” screamed during the coming month, it will be by a Republican candidate who is trying to create the impression that the GOP represents some saner version of electoral politics.

Yet anyone who knows anything about government knows that the goofballs are to be found in all political parties. On Monday, we got a glimpse of some of the “Party of Lincoln’s” people who cause Honest Abe to roll over in his grave more than Illinois’ former governor ever could.

ANTHONY MARTIN TRIGONA, who these days prefers the name Andy Martin and likes to identify himself as a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, is the beneficiary of a new radio spot – one that implies that the alleged frontrunner in the Republican primary – Rep. Mark Kirk of the North Shore suburbs – is not a heterosexual.

It is true that Kirk is divorced, but no one has ever come up with real evidence about Kirk’s sexuality (EVERY politician is some sort of freak – if you listen to the rumor mill). Kirk himself is making it clear that he considers the radio spot slanderous.

What caught my attention about this stupid exchange is that the Illinois Republican Party felt the need to intervene. State party Chairman Pat Brady issued a statement Monday saying that the Illinois GOP “disavows” the statements, adding, “Mr. Martin will no longer be recognized as a legitimate Republican candidate by the Illinois Republican Party.”

Not that it means Martin’s name will be removed from the ballot or that he’s no longer in the campaign. He’ll still be there in the Republican ballot when one shows up at a polling place, or casts that absentee ballot.

BUT IT DID strike me as unusual that the party would feel the need to get involved at all, which is something they ought to get a bit of praise for.

In most cases, we would have had party officials trying to pretend the incident didn’t happen, or that it doesn’t really matter much and shouldn’t be given any attention to. Instead, we got party officials going for the knockdown. Not that it hurts them much.

Chances are good that Martin (who has barely shown up in polls) has so few supporters that the number of people who will be offended at GOP head Brady for taking this step totals in the hundreds (out of 12.9 million living in Illinois).

It also means neither political party has a monopoly on nitwits within its ranks.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Illinois Republican Party felt compelled to “take down” one of their own ( for crossing the “line” in campaign rhetoric.

WBBM-AM reminds us they were obligated to air such a spot, while also letting us know in this report they’re ( not enthused about its existence.

Those of us who have been around for awhile remember Andy Martin ( under his former identity.

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Winter street “dibs” is anti-Chicago spirit

Now that the “holidays” are over with the completion of Christmas and Hanukkah (and proceeding through Kwanzaa), the bulk of us can move on and accept the fact that we’re now in winter.

And with the coming of the heavy snowfalls of recent days, we’re going to get to hear more blowhard rhetoric from people who claim they’re “sticking up” for their inalienable right to park in front of their home – even if it means they have to turn the street into a junkyard in their attempt to “claim dibs” on a parking spot.

COUNT ME AMONG the ranks of those who thinks it downright ridiculous that Chicago would want to claim this bit of selfishness as some sort of character trait.

But there are those who will claim it is part of what makes Chicago unique that some of us think we have the right to own a parking spot for our automobiles once we have dug them out of the heavy snow.

These people think that because they were inconvenienced by snow, they now deserve some sort of perk. That’s ridiculous.

To me, it is one of the realities of urban life that automobile parking is inconvenient. I accept it as a fact that when I venture into certain neighborhoods of the city, it will be difficult to find a parking spot if I choose to bring my car. On days when it snows and some potential spots get covered over, it becomes that much more difficult.

SO THE IDEA that some people think they can “own” the space where their car was just because they had to dig out the shovel is so anti-urban. If you’re really that determined to hang on to that parking spot, then perhaps you shouldn’t move your car.

My basic philosophy on this issue is “you move your car, you lose the spot.” If you want to be able to drive around and have some sort of guaranteed parking near your humble abode, go live in a suburb.

Those people who insist on cluttering their vacated spots with old chairs or other junk are merely one step up from litterers. I have no problem with the police treating them as such. The fact that the Chicago Sun-Times went so far Sunday as to editorialize on the side of the nitwits (,shoveled-own-it-editorial-122709.article) is a holiday-season embarrassment for the newspaper.

What other “issues” are of concern to those of us who choose to live on the shores of Lake Michigan at this time of year, rather than along the Gulf of Mexico or some other place with warm weather?

I WISH THEY’D MAKE UP THEIR MIND: My brother, Chris, and I have always joked about Sam Sianis, the long-time owner (and nephew of the founder) of the Billy Goat Tavern, whom we claim will go along with any gag if it means free publicity for his chain of establishments.

So it wasn’t any surprise (to me, at least) that Sianis played along with celebrations marking the 75th anniversary of the opening of the original Billy Goat on Madison Street near what is now the United Center.

He even went so far as to correct Gov. Pat Quinn, who according to news reports botched the old “no fries, cheeps” line from the old Saturday Night Live sketches that allegedly were based on the Billy Goat shtick.

The problem is that I know that at least one of the Billy Goat locations, at 303 S. Wells St., actually serves fries, no cheeps. Not that they’re particularly good fries. Besides, there’s still the sentiment that the only “real” Billy Goat (,billy-goat-cheezborgers-122709.article) is the one on Hubbard Street underneath Michigan Avenue.

WILL LES EXPOS LIVE ON?: I understand that Chicago Cubs fans are going to get all worked up into a lather over whether former outfielder Andre Dawson deserves to be in the baseball Hall of Fame. He had a couple of respectable years playing with the Cubs in the late 1980s.

Perhaps I should say more than “respectable,” on account of that Most Valuable Player award he took while ( playing for a last place Cubs team.

Yet I’m just wondering how much Cubs fans are going to rant and rage if Dawson actually gets 75 percent support from the sportswriters who will vote this year, on account of the fact that Dawson actally played more seasons and had the bulk of his best years as a player with the now-shuttered Montreal Expos.

Will we have to endure some sort of claim that the Cubs are being slighted when Dawson’s bronze plaque depicts him wearing the “MB” logo of the Expos rather than the cutesy “C” of the Cubs? It will be even more ridiculous than the occasional White Sox fan who still rants that Carlton Fisk’s plaque emphasizes his time with the Boston Red Sox.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Who’s the face of the GOP opposition?

Was I wrong?

NOT REALLY, WHICH is kind of sad when you think about it.

It was just over one year ago (on the day that Barack Obama won election to a four-year term as president, to be exact) that I wrote a commentary that I wish reflected bad on my comprehension of electoral politics.

It was a piece of analysis wondering how close the Obama administration’s ability to govern would come to those years from the mid-1980s that we now recall as “Council Wars” on account of the fact that a vocal opposition did whatever it could to thwart the governmental desires of then-Mayor Harold Washington.

About the only aspect of that commentary where I wrote that a segment of the U.S. population would, “spend the next four years doing whatever they can to thwart an Obama presidency from achieving its goals” that hasn’t fully come true is the part where I pondered which politico would become the national equivalent of Edward R. Vrdolyak.

IN ALL HONESTY, none of them seem to have become the “face” of the opposition the way that Vrdolyak is still remembered as the namesake of the City Council opposition that openly defied everything Washington tried to do during his first couple of years as Chicago mayor.

Which means either that this particular band of political people either is somewhat bland, or personalities such as that belonging to “Fast Eddie” are a rare breed indeed.

I’m sure that Sarah Palin’s followers would like to think that the one-time Alaska governor has that kind of pull about her to lead people in opposition to Obama. Yet I don’t count her because at this point, she’s all talk.

She has no political position with authority that can be used. She can only try to shame the Republican members of Congress into going along with her will, which is the same as Rush Limbaugh and the assorted right-wing rabble that wishes they had Rush’s ratings and “talent” when they go “on the air.”

BUT LOOKING AT this first year of the Obama administration makes me realize that the same mentality that once inspired 29 aldermen to band together to vote against anything Washington even hinted he liked is the same that creates the partisan political votes for what may well have been the two big accomplishments from the federal government this year – getting the Senate to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice and to approve a health care reform package that (while watered down considerably) still gets criticism as being “too radical.”

The mentality that allowed some members of Congress in good conscience to think we’d be better off doing nothing to resolve the situation of some 47 million U.S. residents without any form of health insurance is the same as the one that once allowed members of Congress to refuse to confirm mayoral appointments for years (meaning some people ultimately got confirmed to positions whose terms had already expired).

Some people thought that a short-term loss related to the daily operations of government would be beneficial in the long run if it meant preventing anything that a “disliked” chief executive might well be able to use as an “accomplishment.”

There are those who will try to give Obama credit for getting through a health care reform proposal (assuming, of course, that the measure is not killed off by a conference committee that can’t resolve differences between the Senate and House of Representatives’ versions of the bill), while others will claim that the big victors of 2009 were the Republican officials who were able to make Obama’s professional life so difficult.

FOR MY PART, I’m thankful that the U.S. Senate literally wound up this year with that “filibuster-proof” majority. For if there really were 41 Republican members of the U.S. Senate, then we likely would have had our government achieve absolutely nothing during the previous year. Which is why the 2010 elections will be interesting.

It usually happens that the opposition political party to the president gains some strength in the mid-term elections. And even if you believe there isn’t going to be a massive shift in political power during the upcoming year, all it will take is for a couple of states to shift and we really will get the stalemate that was “Council Wars” to occur on Capitol Hill.

Ultimately, the cheap rhetoric and namecalling that bordered on racial slurs was embarrassing to Chicago. But it was the willingness of some Chicago officials to do nothing out of spite to the chief executive that was the real shame of that political era in the mid-1980s.

I would like to think that we won’t experience the same offensive silliness some nearly three decades later on the national level.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I’m giving myself the day off today.

Call it a moment of holiday-inspired laziness if you must, but I just can’t help but believe that a majority of people have better things to do than to turn to their computers on this holiday to find out what I think about whatever issue happens to capture my thoughts.

FOR THOSE OF you who might fret (all one or two of you), I will be back Saturday.

Until then, log off your computer, get out of your house and enjoy life on this extended holiday weekend, which for some of us (,0,3070094.story) began on Thursday.

Because come Monday, we all have to return to our work and our life’s responsibilities.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Among the interesting songs that emanated from 2120 S. Michigan Ave., was Chuck Berry’s ( take on a modern-day carol that has been covered by, among others, Otis Redding, Bruce Springsteen and Hanson.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Courthouses to remain open on weekends, at least for the time being, Evans says

Perhaps some people think the only place where crime occurs is on the South Side of Chicago and in those suburbs that happen to surround it.

That was the impression I got from learning of a plan desired by the Cook County sheriff’s police to shut down the bulk of the courthouses based in the suburbs. Sheriff Tom Dart justifies the change as a cost-cutting move, saying he could get away with less staff if the courthouses in Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood and Bridgeview didn’t have to be open on Saturday and Sunday.

FOR THE MOST part, they’re not. But invariably, there is crime committed Friday and Saturday nights, which means that bond hearings have to be held. That means a judge, his clerk and the deputies needed for security, have to be on call for the weekend.

Either that, or else those defendants would wind up having to sit in a holding cell at a local police station for several days until a Monday court hearing could be held.

That would be a financial burden for the local cops (whose cells are set up to accommodate a person for a couple of hours before he is transferred elsewhere) and for the judges who would have to preside over extremely long Monday dockets.

So I was glad to learn that Chief Judge Timothy Evans (who I still think of as the former alderman who was the first loser to Richard M. Daley for mayor of Chicago) sent Dart a letter this week telling him to forget (for now, at least) any talk of shutting down those courthouses.

“SERIOUS ISSUES OF public safety, due process and court administration have been raised that I believe deserve attention,” Evans wrote in his letter to Dart, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Those issues include what struck me as an obvious flaw up front about Dart’s proposal – the logistics of expecting that the county could do without those four courthouses in operation for the weekend.

For Dart’s proposal would not have left Chicago and its inner suburbs courthouse-less on weekends.

The county court’s first district (which is the city of Chicago proper) and it’s sixth district (the south suburbs, with a courthouse in Markham) would have remained open.

DOES THIS MEAN Dart (who early in his legal career was an assistant state’s attorney assigned to the courthouse in Markham) really thinks all the crime is concentrated on the South Side? That somehow, the north and west portions of Cook County have no need for a judge to hand down those rulings determining just how much money someone’s family has to come up with in order to keep their loved one from spending the next few months in Cook County Jail while awaiting trial?

I’d like to think Dart, who earlier this year was extremely critical of state officials for being shortsighted enough to think that video poker revenues would resolve the state’s financial problems, hasn’t suddenly fallen victim to similar shortsightedness.

Somehow, I don’t think all those northern, northwestern and western suburbs get that peaceful on the weekends. Nor do I think their local law enforcement officials want to have to take the added time to haul their defendants into the city to achieve Justice through a court hearing.

Part of the reason Cook County’s court system is broken up into the six districts is because there is just too much potential for overload at the Chicago courthouses if they tried to do all the work there.

AND WOULD THIS mean that some of those city cases would wind up getting shuffled down to Markham tp make room for all those northwest suburban “criminals” who now need to take up court space in Chicago?

It just seems to me that this is one of those necessary expenses that we’re going to have to live with.

After all, Thursday in Chicago is another one of those furlough days – a cost-cutting measure by which city employees will not get paid. So they’re not going to work. They get the day off and most city services will not be available.

But even with the concept of furloughs, police and fire department officials are still expected to work.

THINKING THAT THE county could shut down the bond court on Saturday and Sunday in Maywood or Skokie is about as short-sighted as thinking that the Belmont District or the Calumet Area of the Chicago Police could suddenly use some time off in order to save the government a few bucks.

It just doesn’t work that way.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is trying to portray the county’s chief judge as irresponsible ( for not going along with his desire to shut down some of the suburban courthouses on weekends.

It’s a four-day (,0,3070094.story) holiday weekend for City Hall workers – or more like five days for those municipal employees who just slacked off on the job on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We ought to hold courts to high ideal

I can already hear in my mind all the complaints from courthouse types who will be upset that a federal judge dared to overturn the conviction of the former Streets and Sanitation commissioner.

Al Sanchez was the former high-ranking Latino politico who got caught up in the petty graft that takes place at City Hall, which was the reason he went from being a noble public servant to just another corrupt official.

ON TUESDAY, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman issued a ruling that struck down Sanchez’ conviction.

His reasoning?

One of the primary witnesses to Sanchez’ behavior crossing over the line from political to criminal was someone who, to put it politely, sells illicit narcotics to earn a living.

It was the opinion of Sanchez’ attorneys that they should have been informed of that aspect of the witness’ character so they could use it against him during the trial, doing everything they could to besmirch his reputation in the eyes of the jury.

NOT THAT THAT alone would have guaranteed an acquittal for Sanchez. Anyone who has ever covered criminal proceedings realizes that the people who usually know the most about criminal behavior and activity are criminals themselves.

The idea of Jane Q. Citizen being an eyewitness and testifying as her way of serving her public duty occurs so rarely. Most of the witnesses in criminal cases are people who have something to gain by seeing the defendant receive a criminal conviction.

Prosecutors in this case admit they didn’t disclose all the information about their primary witness, although they claim it doesn’t matter. Even if he is not an ideal human being, this should not (in their opinion) be enough of an excuse to toss out the conviction that they worked so many years to obtain.

That is where I would have to disagree.

I REALIZE WE don’t live in the ideal world and that all witnesses have some sort of taint to them.

But something like this should have been made public. Let the defense do their best to try to “take down” the witness.

Because if the overall totality of the evidence is such that it persuades the jury to vote “guilty,” then it can be overcome.

How many organized crime figures are currently serving prison time because their one-time associates decided it was in their best interest (less prison time for themselves) to “give up” their former colleagues?

MY POINT IS that this factor can be overcome by prosecutors. Trying to downplay it by taking the attitude that the prosecution is somehow entitled to a bit of favoritism (seriously, I have heard prosecutors argue that judges are naïve when they use this type of logic to toss out evidence) is a sad case.

For the reality of every criminal case I have ever seen is that the prosecution has so many built-in advantages that there are times I wonder how any defendant ever gets an acquittal.

They shouldn’t have had to try to cut corners such as this.

For now we’re going to have to go through another trial, which will cost the federal taxpayers yet more dollars.

I DON’T ENVISION Sanchez being suddenly willing to plead guilty to lesser charges. He told the Chicago Tribune, “I’ve always maintained I’ve done nothing wrong.”

But then again, I don’t envision the prosecution wanting to give Sanchez any sort of deal that would let him plead guilty to a lesser charge – even though that would be the practical way to try to resolve this case at this stage in time.

For Sanchez is one of the former Hispanic Democratic Organization officials (even the group itself no longer exists) who got caught up in what prosecutors say was a scam to get around the rules that are supposed to govern hiring of employees for city government.

(Yes, there really are rules about how to get a job at City Hall, even though most people don’t have a clue what those rules really are).

NOW, WE GET to relive the whole hiring scam, and probably will get to hear a few stories about the venal way in which HDO attempted to bolster the political interests of Richard M. Daley by working on behalf of Latinos who were sympathetic to Hizzoner Jr.

By this point, it ought to be old news.

But that is what happens when prosecutors think they ought to have more advantages, rather than remembering that – in theory – defendants are innocent until proven otherwise.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This is more about tweaking Madigan, but “search” for Ryan worth a chuckle

I got my chuckle for the day from the Illinois Republican Party, and not because the GOP did something stupid.

The party managed to come up with a humorous dig at the almighty Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, Michael J. Madigan, by reminding potential voters that there will be an alternative to cast a ballot for come the November 2010 general elections.

AS THE BALLOT now stands, Madigan is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for the Illinois House 22nd district seat, which represents a chunk of the Southwest Side of Chicago. But come the general election, the Republicans have a candidate.

Patrick John Ryan, whose greatest electoral advantage is his name – it reeks of Ireland and clearly falls within the old political cliché of how voters prefer the sound of the Irish to any other type of ethnic-sounding monicker.

The Republican Party on Monday put out a statement proclaiming Ryan to be a “missing person” of sorts.

Under the headline, “Has anyone seen Patrick John Ryan?,” the party informs us that Ryan is “willing to fight Madigan Machine,” while also telling us he is a former Democrat-turned Republican who, “believes in less government, lower taxes, true ethics reform and the need to end business as usual style of Illinois politics.”

OF COURSE, HOW they’d know that for sure unless they knew his whereabouts (he gave the Illinois State Board of Elections a home address in Chicago near 78th Street and Pulaski Road) is a bigger issue.

But their statement asking Ryan to call the party headquarters to inquire about what support they could give him was one of the cuter political digs I have ever seen, while also being quite possibly the most attention Ryan has ever got during his political campaigns.

Yes, Ryan is one of those perpetual candidates who takes up ballot spots only to get barely any votes come Election Day. His issue is Madigan. He has always challenged Madigan for his seat in the Legislature, being among the people of this state who somehow want to believe that Michael J. is somehow responsible for all that is evil in Illinois.

“The Illinois Republican Party is pleased to have an individual willing to step up to the plate by challenging the Illinois Democratic Party chairman and House speaker Mike Madigan,” said state GOP Chairman Pat Brady.

“THIS WILL NOT be an easy task for Mr. Ryan, and we look forward to providing him the necessary support to win this election.”

Not that they’re going to give him all THAT much support. After all, every dollar spent to help prop up a fringe candidate is one dollar less available to help a GOP candidate in a legislative district where they might have a chance to win – thereby reducing the size of the Democratic majorities in the Ilinois House and state Senate that are the true reasons why the Republican Party has become ineffectual in Illinois.

So what should we think of Patrick John Ryan, the Illinois House candidate who hasn’t done much publicly since he stood out in the cold of the Illinois State Board of Elections offices on Oct. 26 to file his nominating petitions?

Yes, he was one of those people out there at 8 a.m. when the office opened in hopes of gaining the all-precious Top Spot on the ballot – which in his case became a moot point when he became the only candidate to file for his particular primary.

I REALLY BELIEVE the GOP’s whimsical dig at Mike Madigan will be the highlight of this particular campaign season, on account of the fact that the man doesn’t leave much of a paper trail – at least not one that I could dig up in a single day.

Relying on Google to search for “Patrick John Ryan,” I learned that a man by that name was Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia back at the beginning of the 20th Century. I also was reminded of Pat Ryan, who was involved in the efforts to get the International Olympic Committee to pick Chicago to host the summer games for 2016.

But probably the most amusing find was a mention of the Wikipedia entry for “Jack Ryan,” the fictional character from several Tom Clancy novels (Patriot Games among them) that have since been made into films.

That Jack Ryan has been portrayed by, among others, Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin.

WHICH MAKES ME wonder, if the latter were to ever decide that he has political aspirations, how strong would the GOP come out in opposition to him.

Somehow, I think the idea of Alec Baldwin as a politico scares Republican ideologues even more than Mike Madigan.


Monday, December 21, 2009

"Religious" imagery backfires too easily

The "offensive" billboard that is gaining a minor league ballclub some major league publicity and the ad (below) saying that a non-Latino "Jesus" backs the Census. Images provided by and the National Associaton of Latino Elected officials.

What do the Joliet Jackhammers and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials have in common?

The professional baseball team on the fringe of the Chicago area and the group that promotes the idea that there should be more Latinos serving as elected government officials both tried to use imagery inspired by the religious in their new campaigns, which means both groups are getting hit with accusations of having committed blasphemy.

IN THE CASE of the NALEO, they are trying to encourage Latinos to realize they should take it seriously next year when the Census Bureau sends them a form so they can be included in the official population count. For the Jackhammers, they’re trying to sell season tickets for 2010.

How does religion get involved in either of these “causes?”

For NALEO, they cited portions of the New Testament that would indicate that Joseph and Mary were headed to Bethlehem so they could be included in something resembling a modern-day Census, which would mean the baby Jesus was born just in time to be counted.

Their advertisements literally tell us, “This is how JESUS was born,” and adds later, “Don’t be afraid.”

NALEO IS ONE of about 136,000 groups cooperating with the Census Bureau to try to get as accurate a count as possible in the Census, which officially records how many people are living in the United States on April 1, 2010.

They’re claiming that nothing is inappropriate with their ad, even though the Washington Post recently reported that some Latinos are seeing blasphemy in the very mention of Jesus, or at least a lack of respect for the so-called Son of God.

Of course, some of the people who are most critical are the ones who are trying to inspire Latinos to engage in a misguided boycott of the Census process altogether. They think it will show the rest of the country that we’re disgusted with the way we’re often overlooked, although I still thinik it will merely delight the nativist element that would prefer to think we don’t truly exist and would use an inaccurate Census Bureau count as some sort of justification of their xenophobic thought process.

Then, there is the Jackhammers, a professional baseball team in the Northern League.

THEY’RE TRYING (LIKE they do every winter) to get local businesses and other fans to buy tickets in advance. It helps the ballclub if they have the revenue from ticket sales already on hand before the season starts.

Part of their campaign is a billboard on Interstate 80 near Joliet, Ill., that says, “Buy Jackhammers Tickets Today” and attributes that quote to “God.”

Does the Almighty really have nothing better to do with his/her/its time than look down upon this planet and watch Jackhammers’ ballgames? With all the success they have had throughout the years, I would have thought God to be a New York Yankees fan (does that make the ’04 championship of the Boston Red Sox some sort of Satanic plot?)

Now if one goes to the Jackhammers’ website (, an explanation is offered that people who buy a season ticket package during the month of December can have the ballclub donate a portion of the purchase price to any church or religious organization the fan chooses.

IN SHORT, ONE can make that thoughtful donation while also ensuring they will have tickets to ballgames for the 2010 season.

Not that such a thought is at all comforting to those people who seem to want to find religious offense in every part of our society these days. To believe some people, rooting for the Jackhammers now is the quickest way to ensure that one will get to spend all eternity under the control of Mr. Applegate.

Some people have been screeching that the billboard needs to come down, although team officials seem to enjoy the free publicity they are getting – saying it will remain in place through Wednesday.

It also would seem that those critics of God being a season ticket pitchman are in the minority – a totally unscientific survey on the ballclub’s website indicated as of Sunday that 93 percent of nearly 140,000 fans think the billboard should remain.

NOW I’M NOT claiming to be a religious scholar by any means. But I have a hard time envisioning people who could have so few problems in their lives that they would have time to worry about either of these two advertisements.

To me, there is a big difference between something offensive and something being trivial. If anything, I would agree that both of these advertisements fall into the latter category. But then again, we as a society have become a group that seems to think there is something significant about the ongoing affairs of golfer Tiger Woods – a saga I personally could care less about.

If anything offends me these days, it is not these advertisements. It is people who want to belive it matters to us what Woods was doing with all those women.

I say it only matters to Elin Nordegren, just as I still have a hard time getting offended by the decade-old behavior of then-President Bill Clinton. I still say that Hillary should have done to Bill what Elin did to Tiger – and that should have been the end of it.


EDITOR’S NOTES: I never realized that baseball ( or the Census ( were issues of great theological concern.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

If Obama was the uncompromising hardliner his critics claim he is, maybe we’d have health care reform by now

Barack Obama is the public official who’s so determined to pass something that he can claim reforms the way in which health care is paid for in this country that he’s willing to compromise on so many points that his so-called allies are now getting disgusted with him.

Which is why I find it comical whenever the “right” insists that Obama is some sort of socialist who is out to undermine everything they stand for.

ONE CAN MAKE the very legitimate argument that he’s so willing to give in to his critics that they ought to be satisfied. Not that I expect they ever would be. Because their rhetorical rants were never about discussion of serious issues.

They are about denying an Obama administration anything that could be seen as an accomplishment. It probably angers them enough that they couldn’t seriously knock down his choice for a Supreme Court justice, so killing off health care reform is what they’re going to be willing to settle for.

Because as things stand right now, I’m not sure what to think of the reform effort – other than to say anyone who thinks Howard Dean has a clue what he’s talking about on the health care debate.

Dean is the one-time presidential dreamer and Democratic Party head who thinks the president should just give up the fight for now, and introduce a new bill in 2010. In short, start all over.

MAYBE IN A theoretical world that would be possible, but not the one in which we live.

Because if Obama were to do that, it would embolden his partisan opposition to the point where they would feel even less of a need to listen to the president in future debate.

Obama aides are correct when they say this issue needs to be kept going, because there’s a good chance that if this particular bill (in whatever form it winds up being amended to) does not get passed into law, then nothing on the issue of health care reform will ever get approved.

And this is an issue too serious to dawdle around with. The Clintons tried to pass something in 1994, only to fail and we had to wait until this year for another attempt. Personally, I don’t think the nation has the ability to wait another 15 years (for the administration of President Lisa Madigan, perhaps?) for a new reform effort.

IT COMES DOWN to the fact that I see the 47 million uninsured as a problem that can drag us all down. We need to deal with finding ways to cover the cost of their health care. Doing nothing, which seems to be the Republican preference, ought not to be an option.

Yes, this ultimately comes down to partisan politics. I think the officials who object about abortion, or Medicare or any other aspect are merely using them for rhetorical reasons. They want to deny an accomplishment that Obama could use to claim he did something worthwhile, thereby justifying the faith of those who voted for him and makes those hard-core opponents look quite a bit foolish.

But then again, if Obama gives in so much that a health care reform proposal passes that does little to nothing to change the status quo, we could make the argument that Obama’s presence made no difference.

As much as I like the ideal of bipartisanship, I’m realistic enough to know how much partisan rhetoric and activity has tainted the process. If anything, Obama is going to start behaving more like a Democrat – rather than some Dem who’s too comfortable among Republicans.

WHAT’S THE OLD Texas cliché? “You dance with them who brung you.”

That is what much of the “liberal” complaints these days about the health care debate is about.

I’m curious to see how this issue plays out. A week ago, I would have thought something would pass. But now, I’m wondering if the GOP and the “blue dog” Dems who for whatever reason don’t just convert political party status will succeed at stalling the issue long enough.

Such motivation was behind their tactic on Friday of refusing to support a bill funding the military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. If that issue got stalled, it would force postponement of any more health care reform – probably until after the Christmas holiday break.

REPUBLICANS SEEM TO think that Democratic officials will return to their home districts and hear an earful from constituents who don’t want health care reform. That might be true if those Dems visited their GOP colleagues’ districts for the holidays. But there are also the masses who see a serious problem and aren’t willing to wait any longer for a fix.

Some Dems, meanwhile, are still pushing to at least get a Senate vote on a health care reform proposal so they can claim they acted before the holidays. Then, it becomes the “conference committee” responsibility to figure out what will happen (since the House of Representatives already has approved a similar – but not identical – measure) on the issue.

I’m not predicting what will happen in coming days, other than to say that Obama himself will have a lot on his mind when he and the First Family take their traditional annual holiday trip to Hawaii.

As for those of you who want to complain that he’s not spending Christmas in Chicago, I’ll agree it would be nice to have Obama back in town next week. But then again if it were possible to get a couple of days of sunshine, I’d probably take advantage of the opportunity as well.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Much of the complaining these days about Barack Obama is coming from his “allies” ( At least the president gets a couple of days in Honolulu to recover from partisan headaches.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What does an endorsement mean?

It’s hard to say just what the effect is of an endorsement by a government official for someone seeking another electoral office.

Do I think there are thousands of potential Chicago-area voters who are now going to rush right out and cast their vote for Cook County Board president based on what Reps. Danny Davis or Luis Gutierrez, both Illinois Democrats, said on Thursday?


Yet that didn’t stop the two men who represent Chicago in Congress from issuing statements telling us who they think should replace Todd Stroger.

That’s the key. Neither man is backing the Son of John.

Davis thinks we should support Dorothy Brown, while Gutierrez gave his backing to Toni Preckwinkle.

NOW I DON’T think either man is all that interested in how the electorate is going to vote. What I mean is that they’re really not trying to influence the turnout.

What an endorsement like this is really about is a government official willing to take a gamble that they are picking the eventual winner. Meaning, that Davis fully expects the county’s circuit court clerk to make the move up to county board president. Which is also why people like Richard M. Daley rarely make such endorsements. He’s afraid of picking the wrong person and developing an enemy.

When Brown winds up holding that position of great authority (which some local political observers have been known to refer to imformally as the “mayor of Cook County”), Davis wants her to know that he was among her early backers.

Which really means he’s going to want to know that he can count on her to do his political bidding on local affairs.

WHAT IS INTERESTING is that Davis has taken the factual data that has cropped up thus far and come to the conclusion that Brown will be the county board president. That same information was made available to Gutierrez, who apparently interpreted it differently.

He’s banking on the fact that there will someday be a “President Preckwinkle” working out of the fifth floor office located down the hall from the Cook County Board chambers.

Who knows something that the other person doesn’t? That is the question we will be pondering for the next month-and-a-half until the Feb. 2 primary election.

There has been one poll of significance thus far in this campaign – the one commissioned by the Chicago Tribune so they could write stories that could try to influence the course of the electoral cycle.

THE PUBLIC SPIN put on that poll early on was that incumbent Stroger was lagging in third place in a four-candidate field. That means Brown and Preckwinkle are the numbers one and two candidates respectively.

But with a significant number of undecided voters remaining, no one should assume it is impossible for Preckwinkle to close the gap that she faces, provided she can put some energy into her campaigning.

There are those who wonder if she’s a tad too boring, and possibly Hyde Park-ish, to appeal to the bulk of Chicagoans.

For his part, Davis said that Tribune poll motivated him to make his decision, although he said the results matched up with two polls he commissioned as well. Davis is the guy who put aside his own desires to be county board president so as to reduce the chances that he would split the black vote up and enable a white guy to win the post.

SO I’M SURE he is viewing his endorsement as bolstering the leading African-American candidate’s chances of success.

Could Gutierrez be thinking just the opposite, hoping that his selection helps persuade many Latinos to start thinking of Preckwinkle as their preferred candidate?

Preckwinkle seems to hope so.

In her statement announcing Gutierrez’ support, she touts him as the “highest-ranking Hispanic elected official,” hoping she can repeat the Barack Obama formula of a variety of voters of all the ethnicities and races will come together to move her up to the county board presidency.

I BRING THIS up because while she may be trying to appeal to many of the same Chicago-area people who were smitten with the presidential bid last year of Barack Obama, she doesn’t necessarily have his same personable quality that enabled him to capture the emotions of the voter the way he did.

She may be from Hyde Park and may once have been Obama’s alderman, but that doesn’t mean things will automatically transfer over.

But then again, back in the ’08 Democratic primary season, Illinois was one of the few places where Obama won the Latino vote (remember how much we loved Hillary for awhile?). That was done with Gutierrez’ help.

Could the Preckwinkle bid turn out to be a political encore for Gutierrez? If so, then a Preckwinkle victory would mean some serious favors owed to the Congressman, which is what these kinds of endorsements are truly all about.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

“Awesome?” How about absurd instead?

There has been speculation in recent days that Rod Blagojevich and his legal defense team might very well try to drag Barack Obama into the courtroom sometime this summer in hopes that his comments and political goodwill would reflect well upon himself.

Of course, the fact that Obama now goes by the title “Mr. President” means that his people will do everything they possibly can to ensure that the onetime U.S. senator from Chicago won’t have to set foot anywhere near the Dirksen Building anytime soon.

FOR THE RECORD, Blagojevich’s lead attorney told reporter-types on Wednesday that being able to question Obama under oath would be “an awesome experience.” It would be so bizarre, but it also would ensure that Samuel E. Adam would be the focus of the legal world for that one day.

Not that there’s anything Obama would seriously be able to add to the understanding of this particular case.

If anything, the real purpose about dreaming of getting Obama involved is to turn the Blagojevich trial into a legal circus of sorts. Get everybody so focused on the actions of Obama that people begin to think of Milorod as secondary, if not downright irrelevant.

From there, acquittal is an easy step. Not that anything related to this particular criminal case is easy or sensible.

IN THIS PARTICULAR case, attorneys will remind us that federal investigators themselves thought Obama was significant enough to interview back when they were trying to figure out how extensive the criminal behavior related to Blagojevich truly was.

I would guess they will claim that since “the feds” got to question Obama, they too should be able to do so. Not that they expect to get serious information. Like I wrote earlier, this tactic is all about misdirection.

What does Obama know? Why won’t Obama testify? What is Obama trying to hide? Of course, they’ll use the words “cover up.” As in What is Obama trying to cover up? It sounds so much more ominous that way.

And if they can somehow turn this case into a debate of sorts about Barack’s behavior, rather than that of Milorod, they may think it will work in their favor. At the very least, they may cause enough confusion among the eventual jurors that a mistrial would be a distinct possibility.

I HAVE TO admit to hoping that Obama never does have to get involved in this particular legal mess, and not just because I don’t think there’s much he could say that would truly be relevant.

It’s just that I remember how much of a circus a trial can become when a major political figure has to take an oath to tell the “truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth” and be treated just like any other schmoe who is subpoenaed to testify in a criminal trial.

I still remember the summer of ’97 when in U.S. District Court for central Illinois, executives of a company that did business with the Illinois Department of Public Aid were on trial along with some state officials.

Then-Gov. Jim Edgar had some contact with the defendants (one of them was something resembling a computer “whiz” who literally helped set up a computer for Edgar’s use at his home in suburban Springfield).

THOSE OF US who observed that trial ultimately got to see the day when the legal proceedings became a mess because Edgar had to show up and testify that he personally wasn’t aware of any illegal activity by the people who he knew as acquaintances.

In the end, I’m not sure what information Edgar was able to provide that added anything to my understanding of the case. I just remember Edgar’s day in court as the day that a whole lot of television crews showed up to crowd the hallways and turn the downtown Springfield courthouse into something resembling a zoo.

I could easily see the Dirksen Building becoming the same way if Obama were forced to return and talk about what questions he answered in those days when he was president-elect and when Blagojevich was in charge of picking the person who would get to replace him.

We remember the many names who were sucking up to Blagojevich in those first few days after Obama won the 2008 presidential elections, hoping that he would give them the appointment to finish the term to which Obama was elected in 2004.

WE ALL EVEN know that Blagojevich inquired about what it was these people would be willing to do on the governor’s behalf if they were giv en the appointment – which would have given them the benefits of incumbency if they sought re-election in next year’s elections.

I don’t know that Obama himself knew much about the degree to which Blagojevich crossed the line between playing partisan politics and engaging in criminal behavior. He’d probably wind up taking the same line of logic that Edgar took on his day of testimony, claiming he, “didn’t know anything.”

Personally, I don’t know that such a revelation is worth all the hassle that would be created, just so Adam could have his “awesome experience” for his legal career.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

They're coming to Illinois, accept it!

Federal officials made it final on Tuesday, the U.S. government is going to buy the largely-vacant prison near Thomson, Ill., and use it to house many of the alleged terrorist suspects who until now have been held indefinitely at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

President Barack Obama made one of his first actions in office to be the signing of an order that those inmates be moved out of there as soon as was practically possible, and the purchase of the prison means that the answer to the question “What will we do with them?” is now “Send them to rural Illinois.”

AS WAS TO be expected, this is becoming a partisan issue amongst our political people. Democrats are lining up behind the president, while Republicans are engaging in the scare tactics of ridiculous rhetoric implying that somehow, this makes Chicago more of a target for future terror acts than it already is.

Or do these people believe Chicago should give up O’Hare International Airport and the Willis Tower?

All big cities in this country are targets, just because an incident in Chicago or somewhere else significant will draw more international attention than, say, an attack on Watterson Towers in Normal, Ill. (and my apologies to any Illinois State University alums who ever actually lived in that 27-story structure).

Also, there’s the fact that no more than 100 Guantanamo inmates are being sent to Thomson, a maximum-security facility that has about 1,600 cells. This is not going to be the end destination for all those would-be terror suspects, so we’re not going to get the brunt of negative attention.

YES, I WILL come out and write it. I mock the idea that Illinois is somehow being put at risk by shifting these inmates to Thomson. I realize that they ultimately have to be put somewhere on the mainland United States, and a place in northwestern Illinois that is located a hundred or so miles from any city of significant size is about as isolated a ground as one can find.

About the only placemore isolated might very well be to build a facility in Alaska and transport them there – but then I could envision Sarah Palin getting all worked up.

Part of what makes me think little of the Republican rhetoric was the debate held this week among the GOP dreamers for Illinois governor – all of whom took their own shots at Democrats, which is to be expected.

But one-time Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, in his attempt to criticize, wound up conceding the absurdity of the argument.

“I THINK IT’S a very bad idea to bring the mastermind of (the World Trade Center attack) to Thomson,” said Ryan, according to the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights. “I have no doubt we can keep him there and he’ll never get out . But no one can tell me there’s no risk.”

In short, he concedes that it would be impossible for these inmates to sneak out of the prison and “blend in” with the surrounding community. So what’s the problem?

Is it just that some people are determined to complain no matter what the issue or how ridiculous a viewpoint they must take in order to be “in opposition” to the “other” side? Because under typical circumstances, these particular officials would be the first ones to praise the opening of a new prison facility because of the creation of so many new jobs for people who are their potential political supporters.

At least with the case of Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., whose campaign website promoting his bid for a U.S. Senate seat contains a link to an Internet petition to be sent to Obama, his ridiculous rhetoric can be explained away as a cheap attempt to gain attention to his political aspirations and to try to appear more conservative than his voting record would indicate he is on various issues.

I’M SURE HIS people took a look at polls such as the one recently released by the Chicago Tribune that showed nearly half of would-be Republican voters (46 percent, to be exact) remain undecided, which means their initial look at Kirk was not enough to convince them to want to support him.

It may be shameful, but Kirk’s rhetoric is political, and his comments of today may very well be the ones that he tries to downplay in the future when he’s trying to get the votes of “real” people – not the ideologues.

My problem with the issue, and the reason I’m glad to see that movement is being made to get the inmates out of Guantanamo is that I always have believed the odd conditions (unlike those of any other person being incarcerated by our government against his will) of that facility go a long way toward undermining the moral authority our country claims with regard to the military efforts taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A line I often have used remains true today – any time Fidel Castro can criticize you (and he has many times on this issue) without being totally dishonest means you’re doing something wrong.

TUESDAY’S ANNOUNCEMENT ALSO gave me a kick because it had the feel of Illinoisans taking over the White House for the day. Obama made sure to have Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., at his side, along with Gov. Pat Quinn – who made last-minute changes to his schedule so he could be in the District of Columbia for the day instead of at his Chicago office.

Heck, even our other senator, Roland Burris, D-Ill., got into the mood, issuing the statement that usually would have been the priority of Republican officials and which likely will be the last time anyone pays serious attention to him.

More than 3,000 jobs created for the local folk, along with the potential for much more federal funding for the area on account of the fact that the Thomson Correctional Center shifts from the Illinois Department of Corrections to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cohen’s personal money can help, but it’s not the only factor at work in primary

I never realized that cleaning products and pawn shops were so profitable.

But that appears to be the case for Scott Lee Cohen, who is the one non-political person wishing to receive the Democratic Party’s nomination for lieutenant governor.

SERIOUSLY, THE BULK of his opposition in the Feb. 2 primary are men who have served significant stints in the Illinois Legislature, as opposed to Cohen – who’s trying to portray himself as the businessman who would bring his “real world” expertise to Illinois state government.

There are many people who will try to simplify the candidate field to four by claiming that Terry Link, Mike Boland, Art Turner and Rickey Hendon are the only ones that ought to be taken seriously. But Cohen is making rumblings that indicate he will force others to take him seriously.

In short, he’s rich. He has money. He can afford to spend some of his own wealth to try to win a primary nomination for public office.

The source of that money will cause some chuckles among politically oriented people. He founded a company that sells environmentally-friendly cleaning products, which will play very well among more liberal Democrats. He also owns several pawn shops in the Chicago area, which is bound to be the image the Republicans tag him with if his campaign starts to get too much traction among the public.

SO WHAT DOES Cohen have in mind?

Specifically, Cohen told the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald newspaper that he will spend up to $3 million of his own money on his primary campaign. None of the aforementioned trio could come close to matching that kind of money out of their own bank accounts or investments.

Personally, I find it kind of hypocritical when people think they ought to be able to use their personal wealth to give their campaign dreams a jolt. They usually are the ones who rant and rage about political people spending too much money to get themselves elected – even if it is money that comes from donations from potential supporters.

Cohen himself includes among his campaign rhetoric support for spending limits, along with a claim that candidates should only be allowed to raise up to $100,000 from outside sources to seek the lieutenant governor’s post.

SOME WILL SAY that Cohen is merely playing the political “game” with the rules that currently exist, and that his talk of reform would apply to himself in the future should he manage to get elected.

To me, it seems like he thinks he ought to have a financial advantage because of his personal wealth,which is a trend that has played out in election cycles past.

Some times it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

I still remember the millions spent by one-time state Rep. Al Salvi, who in 1996 was able to dump the Republican Party’s preferred nominee of Bob Kustra for U.S. Senate and in 1998 beat out Loleta Didrickson for the Illinois Secretary of State nomination.

HE DIDN’T WIN either general election (and by his own admission, his personal wealth dropped so much from having to pay for two statewide campaigns that he no longer qualified as a “millionaire”), but he was able to force his face into the public view.

Let’s also remember the way Chicago attorney Al Hofeld used his own money to pay the bulk of a primary campaign for U.S. Senate, using his money in 1992 to try to tar incumbent Al Dixon. There are some who believe that the personal money worked in that it caused Dixon to lose, even if a plurality of voters preferred the third option – then-Cook County Recorder of Deeds Carol Moseley-Braun.

But when Moseley-Braun tried running for re-election in 1998, she had to encounter another man with personal wealth. Peter Fitzgerald ran a campaign that kept him out of the eye of everyone except the most hard-core GOP supporters – and he won his one term in the U.S. Senate.

My point in reciting these past pols is to show that there’s no guarantee Cohen can buy the Democratic Party’s nomination for the right to be one heartbeat away from serving as governor. But money, if handled right, will go a long way toward jumpstarting the Cohen campaign into electoral legitimacy.

OF COURSE, IF Cohen has a skeleton or two in his background (and I’m not aware of any, other than the fact that some people will try to turn his connections to pawn shops into something sleazy), all of his money won’t help him.

He could wind up suffering the fate of Blair Hull, who early on in the 2004 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate was the leader – in fact, the only candidate who was able to get much public attention, because he could afford a batch of television spots that made it appear as though he was the ONLY candidate in the campaign.

But when it came out that he had a history of domestic abuse involving his ex-wife, his money couldn’t save him, which created the political vacuum that ultimately was filled by the state senator from the Hyde Park neighborhood whom we now refer to as “Mr. President.”


EDITOR’S NOTES: He may be one of the least known of the lieutenant governor “dreamers,” but Scott Lee Cohen ( may become the latest wealthy guy to try to buy himself an elective office in Illinois.

Cohen says he can handle up to $3 million ( to pay for a campaign, but his supporters are more likely to try to portray him as a businessman with “real world” experience ( that could benefit state government if he is elected.

Monday, December 14, 2009

EXTRA: Preckwinkle wants women’s vote

Toni Preckwinkle, the Chicago alderman who’d like to run on what’s left of Barack Obama’s coattails for the presidency of Cook County Board, is counting on getting a significant share of the women’s vote if her campaign is to succeed come Feb. 2.

Preckwinkle is the African-American candidate whom some pundits say is the one black person that African-American voters want nothing to do with.

SHE’S A PRODUCT of the same Hyde Park neighborhood that gave us Obama (he used to represent the area at the Statehouse in Springfield, compared to Preckwinkle making the trip downtown to City Hall).

But while the African-American vote, some polls indicate, seems to center around city Treasurer Dorothy Brown and incumbent President Todd Stroger (not everybody thinks he’s a goober), Preckwinkle is the one who ran in second place in a recent Chicago Tribune poll, behind Brown but ahead of Stroger and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District head Terry O’Brien (a.k.a., the white guy).

It was with that in mind that Preckwinkle made public on Monday a list of groups that endorsed her – including Planned Parenthood of Illinois (the first time that group has ever bothered to get involved in a county board campaign).

The group cites the fact that they long supported her as an alderman and that she was a backer of the Bubble Zone Ordinance – the measure that prevents anyone from getting within eight feet of a woman trying to enter a clinic where abortions are offered.

SHE ALSO GOT the support of Democratic organizations in Chicago’s 49th Ward (the far north side), along with Evanston, Northfield and New Trier townships (the far northern suburbs of Cook County), and with Citizen Action/Illiinois – a good government type group.

In short, it looks ( like the same kind of white people who had no problem voting for Obama for president are the ones most inclined to prefer Preckwinkle for county board president.

Which makes me wonder if we ought to quit paying much attention to O’Brien, who was only being taken seriously on the mistaken grounds that white people would mass around his campaign.


It's still early in campaign season

A lot of people don’t have a clue who they’re going to vote for when it comes to the Feb. 2 primary elections.

At least that’s what I got out of the trio of polls used by the Chicago Tribune in recent days to write exclusive stories about how the campaign season is going thus far.

THEY’RE EXCLUSIVE IN that the newspaper got them first, and everybody else who writes stories based off the results is forced to acknowledge the fact that it’s the Tribune they’re stealing from. That’s the real purpose of the stories – enhance the impression that the Tribune reigns supreme over other Chicago newsgathering organizations by being able to afford to sponsor their own polls.

We got to see the headlines predicting Quinn/Ryan and Giannoulias/Kirk campaigns for Illinois governor and U.S. senator from Illinois, and the fact that Dorothy Brown gets to call herself the front-runner in the campaign for president of the Cook County Board.

The trick to consider about polls is that they indicate what the results might be, if the election were held today. But instead of mid-December, the elections in Illinois will be in early February, and it is very likely that many people won’t seriously think about the political process until next month.

In short, they will make up their minds at the last possible minute. So nobody ought to be thinking of themselves as having the election locked up (not even Quinn, whom the Tribune poll indicates has a huge lead over leading opponent Dan Hynes).

SERIOUSLY, THE TRUE leaders as indicated by the Tribune polls were Brown for county board president, Quinn for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor, and undecided for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, and both party nominations for the U.S. Senate seat that Roland Burris finally had to concede he had little chance of winning election to in 2010.

The number of people surveyed who don’t know whom to vote for was higher than the support for Jim Ryan, Alexi Giannoulias or Mark Kirk.

In fact, many political observers are convinced that the only reason Ryan has more support in the poll than any of the other Republican possibilities for governor is because none of the other candidates is that well-known.

The theory is that once people get to know who the other candidates are, their support will shoot up and one of them is bound to surpass the one-time Illinois attorney general who is trying for a second time to become Illinois governor.

AS FOR GIANNOULIAS and Kirk, it could be that their opponents have a chance to overcome them – since there are elements of each one’s political party that would rather have nothing to do with them,.

It’s really bad for Kirk, who’d like to think he’s the inevitable GOP nominee for a U.S. Senate seat. But nearly half (46 percent, to be exact) of Republicans are undecided about who they’d like to have – other than that they don’t want a Democrat.

In short, they know they want the Senate seat once held by Barack Obama (because of the snickering they will be able to do in political circles by achieving such an electoral victory), but they don’t know who they want.

Giannoulias, whom some Democrats fear has political skeletons in his family’s financial history that could become negative issues, is not as bad off. But 31 percent favoring him and 35 percent being unsure who they want is a sad state of affairs in and of itself.

IN SHORT, I don’t know how these primary campaigns are going to turn out. Anybody who says they do know is either dishonest or dumb – if not both!

Too many people are going to wait after the winter holidays before they give much thought to elections. That is when the undecideds will drop to a more typical level – there are always a certain number of people who say they’re undecided because they are indecisve.

They just can’t make up their minds about anything.

But at this point, having that many undecideds indicates a series of election cycles that can go in any direction.

WHICH MEANS THAT the Tribune polls really didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, except for the fact that Tribune Company remains an organization with more muscle than any other news outfit in this town.

Who else is likely to pay for the multiple rounds of polls they are likely to conduct in coming weeks that the Tribune will give us?


Saturday, December 12, 2009

EXTRA: Does endorsement hurt Topinka?

What does it say for Judy Baar Topinka that she is the lone Republican who got the support of the leading labor union that represents state government employees?

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local that covers state government workers made public their endorsements, and much attention is being paid to the fact that the union picked Alexi Giannoulias for U.S. Senate, but chose to back nobody for governor.

CONSIDERING THAT ILLINOIS Comptroller Dan Hynes has been counting on the notion that organized labor will boost his campaign to victory in the Feb. 2 primary, that has to hurt (particularly when combined with the fact that a Chicago Tribune poll shows Hynes getting his butt kicked by Gov. Pat Quinn.

But the endorsement for Topinka was the one that caught my eye.

Like most labor unions these days, they tend to prefer Democrats in elective office (similar to how the business-oriented groups all want Republican officials).

All of the AFSCME endorsements made public this weekend are for Democratic officials (although no political observers are getting excited about the idea that the union wants Bobby Rush to win another term in Congress).


The lady from Riverside who always has been considered something of a loose cannon by her GOP colleagues received the endorsement of the AFSCME in her bid for Illinois comptroller.

What makes it interesting is that the union also gave an endorsement to the bid of state Rep. David Miller, D-Lynwood, who wants the Democratic Party’s nomination for Illinois comptroller.

So the labor union is telling us that this would be the one campaign where it might be permissible to consider voting for a Republican.

IT HAS ME wondering if some Democrats are conceding that it is highly unlikely they’re going to continue to win every single state constitutional office, so this is the post they’d be willing to sacrifice.

After all, Topinka as a state senator and as Illinois treasurer has a record of being as reasonable as any Republican can be – at least as far as Democrats are concerned.

But I wonder how long it will be until Topinka’s Republican primary opponent, Jim Dodge of suburban Orland Park, starts letting us know about this endorsement. For having a perception of being sympathetic to the interests of organized labor can be the literal kiss of death for a Republican candidate.

Did AFSCME unintentially do some serious harm to the Topinka camp by giving her their support?

WILL THOSE SAME Republican supporters who hated the idea of Topinka as their political party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2006 use this as a reason to deny her a political comeback?

Considering that this is a political campaign where the conservative ideologues are convinced that the name “Blagojevich” means they don’t have to compromise anything when it comes to picking candidates for the general election, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

For those of you who want to think that the electorate has enough sense to see through such a shallow logic, consider that these are the same people who got fooled by that video clip four years ago of Topinka dancing with George Ryan.

This could easily be twisted into something equally "sordid" in the logic of electoral politics.