Sunday, January 31, 2010

Does Todd Stroger think the Latino vote will put him over the top on Tuesday?

That literally was the thought that popped into my head when I saw the release issued by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger Sunday night about immigration reform.

It seems the Cook County Board passed one of its many symbolic resolutions when they last met – this particular one says that the county officially thinks that people living in this country without a valid visa ought to be able to get the proper papers so they can live openly here.

IN SHORT, STROGER is putting himself on the side of people who want serious reform of the nation’s immigration laws. He’s putting himself against those whose idea of immigration reform amounts to an increase in the number of deportations from the United States.

Not that any of those ideologically conservative types would ever have voted for Stroger. There’s also the fact that Chicago is such an ethnic-oriented city (even the white people are usually fully aware of their ethnic origins) that a measure like this is not the least bit controversial.

In fact, I hadn’t seen any news coverage of the fact that the county board approved this measure – which means it probably got lost in the shuffle of all the more relevant activity that the county board did when they met Jan. 26. After all, it’s not like the Cook County Board has any real authority to pass anything into law that would affect the immigration status of anyone.

But now, Todd Stroger can make appeals to the Latino population – which in Chicago accounts for more than one-quarter of the city’s residents. Technically, this is county government making this appeal, not the Stroger campaign; although end end recipient is one and the same Todd.

STROGER IS USING the language usually used by politicos who want to appeal to the Latino voter – who perceive the immigration issue as evidence of how our growing ethnic numbers are perceived since we realize some people in this country don’t want to have to tell the difference between a Latino who was born in this country and one who was born elsewhere.

“These immigrants could contribute even more to our communities if they were given the opportunity to gain legal status, which would enable them to gain more productive jobs, earn more and pay more in taxes,” he said, in a prepared statement. “It would enable in particular immigrant youths to pursue education and serve our nation in the armed forces.”

Stroger can say he’s in full support of Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who late last year introduced a bill before Congress that would make significant changes in federal immigration law to make it possible for people without visas to get them (the very practice that the nativist element of our society likes to lambast as “amnesty”).

He may even envision having Gutierrez work to turn out some votes in the Puerto Rican neighborhoods northwest where the Congressman has some influence. Considering that the most recent Chicago Tribune poll showed county board President challenger Toni Preckwinkle leading among white voters and Dorothy Brown getting more support among black voters than any other candidate, does Stroger think the Latinos are going to go for him?

HE MAY, BUT that would be delusional, particularly since Gutierrez himself came out in support for the Preckwinkle campaign several weeks back. While I haven’t seen any specific polling of the Cook County Board president’s race broken down along racial or ethnic lines to specify the Latino vote, I wouldn’t be shocked if many are going along with Toni.

Her campaign seems to be the one that is putting together something resembling the biracial, progressive coalition that once put Harold Washington into the mayor’s office. If Stroger wins, I could easily envision the Latino populace being just as shocked as everybody else in this county who wants to count "the Toddler" out.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

What is justice?

Eleven months.

I’m sure there are people who believe that the only injustice related to the criminal case against one-time Chicago alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak is that he didn’t receive a prison term when the chance occurred last year, and that he has spent the past 11 months on probation while living in his mini-mansion on the city’s East Side neighborhood. THOSE PEOPLE ARE extremely happy now, following the ruling made Friday by a federal appeals court panel that took away Vrdolyak’s punishment of five years probation and said he must be re-sentenced for his “guilty” plea on charges that he helped rig a financial deal so as to gain part of a $1.5 million finders fee.

When he got the probation, there were those who were livid at the thought that their fantasy of “Fast Eddie” sitting in a roach-infested prison cell was not going to come true. I fear too many people are going to feel pressure to feed that fantasy, rather than consider what is (or is not) the right thing to do.

Some of those people may even want him to share a cell someday with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but the idea of a one-time politico of Croatian ethnic background getting locked up with a Serbian politico (Milorod) sounds too much like a sick joke.

But much of this attitude has an element of sick jokes to it.

ADMIT IT. THERE are large segments of our population who look down on Vrdolyak, whose political activities of just over two decades ago in thwarting the desires of then-Mayor Harold Washington has some Chicagoans of a certain age enjoying the thought of a now elderly Vrdolyak being punished.

While I remember the sleaziness of the sentiment that caused the Washington opposition within city government during the mid-1980s, I don’t want it intruding on this case. Technically, it isn’t relevant. This just strikes me as a case with so much irrelevant history to it.

In the case of Vrdolyak, a federal appeals court panel of three judges voted 2-1 in favor of overturning the court ruling from February 2009 that resulted in the one-time Chicago alderman receiving probation (rather than time in jail) for his guilty plea on charges related to a real estate deal along Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

Vrdolyak’s “guilty” plea remains intact. But now, someone other than Judge Milton Shadur will have to impose sentence. And with the fact that this case will have the eyes of the public all over it even more intensely than they already were, a prison term seems ever so likely.

IF PEOPLE THOUGHT the outcry over Vrdolyak getting probation once was outrageous, just think of how much they will rant and rage if a second judge tries to show sympathy for him. Prosecutors are asking for a 3 ½-year prison term, and I’m wondering if some judge will feel the need to grant it just because it will make the public happy.

A part of me wonders if Vrdolyak had just been sentenced to prison initially, would it have been for a term that possibly could be nearing completion by now? Is the end result of the legal gamesmanship taking place now going to be that Vrdolyak’s fate will be dragged out for a longer period of time – perhaps one that will last the rest of his life (the man is approaching 73 years of age).

In learning of the appeals panel’s ruling, it comes down to how much of a judgment call Judge Shadur should be allowed to make. When he imposed sentence last year, Shadur said he was influenced by the fact that he could not see that anyone suffered serious financial loss due to Vrdolyak’s actions.

Judge Richard Posner wrote for that panel that Shadur did not properly calculate what constitutes financial loss, although Judge David Hamilton wrote in a dissent that he thought Shadur did consider it thoughtfully, and also was swayed by Vrdolyak’s private character.

THE LATTER FACTOR probably means that Vrdolyak has mellowed somewhat from the days when he was Washington’s most outspoken (although from from only) critic in city government.

The former factor most likely means that an appeals panel majority believes that Shadur did not properly take into account the factor that Vrdolyak is disliked enough by some Chicagoans that he must appear to be punished with prison. Other options cannot be taken into account, even if a judge seriously believes they are relevant.

What I’m now wondering is if the same people who last year criticized Shadur are now going to be critical of Hamilton? After all, he wasn’t taking enough of a knee-jerk reaction critical of Vrdolyak.

The end result of this could soon be the sight of a man in his eighth decade of life whose best/worst political days are long behind him taking up prison space. Which in my opinion seems like such a waste.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Edward Vrdolyak isn’t as free today as when he woke up Friday morning (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/01/prosecutors-win-bid-to-have-new-judge-resentence-vrdolyak.html). Will this legal battle (http://chicagoargus.blogspot.com/2009/02/shadur-name-to-be-linked-w-vrdolyak.html) ever come to an end.

The family law firm remains (http://www.vrdolyak.com/index.html) in place, although Eddie himself has been retired since entering his “guilty” plea.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Pulitzer for the Enquirer? Nah!

It seems in recent days that we’re reliving the fact that former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who had his own political aspirations to become president, is an adulturer.

His mistress became pregnant with his kid (a fact he now admits to). His wife has left him. As recently as Thursday, CNN got excited over the fact that there is an Edwards “sex tape” of him engaging in coitus with the woman who now is mother to his newest child.

WE HAVE HAD some self-righteous hissy fits from the editors of the National Enquirer claiming they ought to receive a Pulitzer Prize because (they claim) they were the first publication to put any effort into nailing down the story that Edwards was not someone who fit the stereotype of a dutiful family man.

The Enquirer does not expect to receive that Pulitzer. Their fits are more along the line of trying to stir up resentment against an establishment that will not recognize them for their achievement.

So part of what I’m trying to accomplish with this particular commentary is to knock back any attempt to stir up resentment. Because as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care about this story anymore.

Not that I ever really cared about it, since it was clear early on in the 2008 election cycle that Edwards was going to be a long-shot for those presidential aspirations. How many people seriously remember anything from that year other than the Obama/Clinton brawls that resulted? Personally, Bill Richardson’s lame presidential campaign made more of an impression on me than did Edwards.

CONSIDERING THAT EDWARDS is no longer a public official, I don’t care about hearing continued details. At least not in any sense that those details are informing us for the good of the public.

This has devolved down to the level of tawdry trash. And while the reporter-type person in me appreciates fully that tawdry trash can be news and does help to provide offbeat, interesting copy, the trick is to keep in mind that it ultimately is secondary.

It should not be allowed to prevail in a news report – which ultimately is the problem with many news reports of the early 21st Century.

It’s not a liberal news media. It’s a trivial news media. The more pointless a story is (it seems at times), the bigger play it will get.

SO I WOULD hope that most people would have enough sense to realize that the National Enquirer’s rants about not being taken seriously for a Pulitzer Prize are little more than self-serving rants. An egomaniac who is upset because the people around him have enough sense to ignore him.

Now I know that some people are going to argue that the fact Edwards was once a presidential aspirant who liked to play around sexually is a sign of a character flaw – something that the public ought to have known about before his name could appear on a presidential ballot (he got as close as being John Kerry’s running mate in 2004).

Some others will claim that such sexual daliances rise to the level of corruption if the public official uses the perks of his public position to help promote his affairs (the mistress gets a government job or the official uses government funds meant for legitimate travel expenses to pay for trips that turn into sex romps).

I sort of agree with the latter, but think the people who peddle the former theory are usually talking a load of trash they really don’t agree with.

BECAUSE MANY PEOPLE, when they read or hear these “sex affair” stories, don’t really get worked up over such esoteric concepts. They just want to see pictures of the “other woman,” usually so they can make some judgment call (some thought along the line of, “he cheated on his wife for that skank?”) about the official.

The thought of a “sex” tape feeds into the thought that what matters about such incidents is the tawdryness of the moment. Just think of how absurd the situation would have become in 1998 if we had learned of a videotape involving then-President Clinton and intern Monica Lewinsky.

At least when I heard of the Edwards sex tape on Thursday, it was on CNN Headline News’ “Showbiz Tonight,” which struck me as an appropriate place for the story (which turns out to be that someone found the tape in the trash broken into pieces, but managed to put it back together).

It fit in with all the other trivial celebrity tidbits that really don’t amount to much (and half the time aren’t even really interesting, I don’t care about anything related to Kim Kardashian or her family). I don’t see anybody suggesting that CNN get a Peabody award for their Edwards work.

THE NEWS PROFESSIONAL in me realizes that whoever does wind up winning a Pulitzer Prize when those awards for the news business are announced in April at Columbia University will have done so for a story that is of far more significance to the public than whether Edwards violated his marriage vows (which is a fact that is only relevant to his now ex-wife Elizabeth).

There’s also the fact that a North Carolina television station likes to claim it is the one that “broke” the story that Edwards was not fully faithful in his marriage. I’m not going to get into a debate over who deserves credit for “breaking” this story. The Enquirer may very well deserve full credit for this.

But at a time when we have serious economic troubles and have to wonder how much the partisan political infighting between Barack Obama’s supporters and opponents in Congress will delay the finding of a solution, there are more important issues to worry about than an affair.

For those people who would claim otherwise, I’d argue they are a significant part of the problem with our society.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Some people are misguided enough to see a significance to the work of the National Enquirer (http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/01/09/does-the-national-enquirer-deserve-a-pulitzer-for-breaking-the-j/) when it comes to the behavior of John Edwards.

WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., is claiming a significant “scoop” because they say they were the first to report that Edwards (http://www.wral.com/news/local/politics/story/5791651/) was about to admit paternity of a child out of marriage.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Does Obama care about Chicago?

It amuses me to listen to Republican partisans, usually from rural communities across the nation, when they start lambasting President Barack Obama by accusing him of bringing Chicago-style politics to the federal government.

I say “amuse” because the very notion is ridiculous. After all, if Obama were truly using the ways of City Hall, there would be so many things strong-armed through the political process, instead of the current situation where a minority of the Senate is capable of bringing things to a crashing halt.

IF ANYTHING, OBAMA is an official who has tried reaching out to his opposition and tried to ensure that things get spread around fairly – only to learn that his opposition has little interest in cooperating and has no interest in an equal share.

They want more, just like every government official who is elected ultimately has the bottom line of trying to get as much for his constituents as he possibly can.

These thoughts ran through my head when reading a pair of pieces of reporting published in the Chicago newspapers.

There is the concept of high-speed rail – those trains that would run much more efficiently than the current Amtrak inter-city passenger rail trains. Chicago, being a natural transportation hub, would be a significant part of any high-speed development.

YET ILLINOIS OFFICIALS who were thinking that our state (because of Chicago) would get somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of the $8 billion in initial funding for high-speed rail have come to be disappointed.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Illinois will not come close to getting the $2 billion that was seen as a bare minimum.

Part of the reason is that federal officials are wondering if they can spread money around the country so as to encourage more passenger train usage in places that are not obvious now. They’re not just going to think of places such as New York to Washington, Chicago to St. Louis and Los Angeles to Seattle.

But also, the Obama administration does not want to be tagged with the reputation of someone who is playing favorites with his home state. In short, the fact that Obama officially lives here is being held against us.

SO MUCH FOR the thoughts of those that the Obama Administration would be an era of great fortune provided by the federal government to the Greatest City on the Face of Planet Earth – Chicago.

We might as well be Toledo, Ohio, for all that we’ve gained from having our one-time Senator and state legislator from the Hyde Park neighborhood living and working in the White House.

That sense of fairness in wanting to spread the money around truly is unique. If anything, it is what always made Obama stand out whenever he was in a pack of Chicago politicos.

For if Harvard Law grad Obama truly did fit in with the political crowd that takes pride in having graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law, the last thing he’d be worried about was that public image.

NO SELF-RESPECTING CHICAGO politician would think it bad to be looking out for the old hometown when it comes to shelling out the government goodies. To many, that is the whole point of public service.

They’d argue that the people who complain about Chicago getting its share are either naïve or just jealous that their hometowns couldn’t get more money for their pet projects.

High-speed rail is going to be a moment I will remember whenever I hear the ridiculous Republican rhetoric about Obama being a Chicago political hack. He’s closer to being a goo-goo, with just a touch of that bipartisan idealism that makes him stand out, but also makes him vulnerable to those who are willing to play hardball politics against him.

In short, I think that many of the people who accuse Obama of being a political hack are nothing more than political hacks themselves, and jealous that they can’t say they live on the shores of Lake Michigan between Whiting, Ind., and Evanston, Ill.

THERE ALSO IS a report published earlier this week by the Chicago Sun-Times, telling us of how political adviser David Axelrod was back in Chicago and was thankful not to have to be stuck in the midst of the political brawl that currently is the state’s Democratic Party primaries for senator and governor.

Some people have criticized Obama for not getting active during the primary season to help pick a winner. After all, if he were a “true” Chicago politico, he would consider that to be one of his chief responsiblities.

Instead, he has focused his attention on Washington, where Wednesday night we got to hear “vision” for coping with the fact that his political opposition can now thwart him whenever they see fit (although they don’t yet have the ability to pass hostile legislation on their own).

If anything is true, the political “problems” confronted these days by the Obama administration are the primary evidence that he’s not truly a Chicago political hack – I doubt Obama has anything so brash in him that he would dream up the federal equivalent of tearing down Meigs Field in the middle of the night.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago is going to have to share with the rest of the United States when it comes to (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/01/state-to-get-less-money-than-expected-for-high-speed-rail.html) federal funding for high-speed rail.

Barack Obama plans to get involved in the elections in Illinois once the Democratic Party’s voters decide for themselves (http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/obama/2009940,axelrod-obama-senate-campaign-012510.article) who should run – which is a very un-City Hall-like thought to have.

Yet another rant by someone who doesn't have a clue about what Chicago politics truly involves (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/01/22/ken-klukowski-supreme-court-amendment-mccain-feingold/?test=latestnews).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The un-prediction

I don’t know who is going to win come Tuesday’s primary elections in Illinois. Anybody who claims to know is lying to you.

I look at the same polls everybody else does, takes in the same comments from the candidates and tries to make some judgments based on people I actually come into contact with. While it is clear that everybody is angry with the current state of the economy, it seems to me that most people think it’s somebody else’s fault.

IF ONLY ALL people could think just like they do, then everything would be fine.

If it reads like I’m saying that there isn’t much rationality behind the thought process being put into deciding who to vote for come Election Day, you’d be correct.

Which is why I don’t have a clue how things will turn out Tuesday night (or perhaps even the early hours of Wednesday).

Take the campaigns for governor – both of which seem to be tied up. The Chicago Tribune polls show incumbent Pat Quinn with a slight lead, while a poll conducted by Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling shows opponent Dan Hynes leading that primary. Of course, both of those leads are so slim that they fall within the margin of error – which is what the political professionals like to call a statistical tie.

CONSIDERING THE ADVANTAGES that Quinn had over Hynes a month ago, the fact that the Illinois comptroller has even been able to make this a competitive political fight is something that Quinn ought to be ashamed of.

Should Hynes be able to get the Democratic nomination, how willing will Democrats be to unite behind him? Could this turn out to be the repeat of ’76, when establishment Dems fought hard to dump incumbent Dan Walker and succeeded in the primary – only to have a candidate weakened by the fight so that he lost to GOPer Jim Thompson (beginning that 26-year streak of Republican governors that some Illinois Republicans thought the office was their party’s birthright).

Will it turn out that the real winner of the Democratic primary for governor will be Lisa Madigan, who reportedly wanted to run for the post but did not want to sully up her reputation with a nasty fight against an incumbent political ally?

Of course, the Democratic nominee’s chances of winning the November general election will depend heavily upon who the Republican nominee turns out to be. That primary is an even bigger mess than the Democrats – and the more ideological types who make up a significant part of the GOP base are exactly the types to have a tantrum by refusing to vote if their preferred candidate doesn’t get the nomination.

ANY TIME YOU have candidates claiming they are doing well because polls show them getting close to 20 percent support, you know it’s a log-jam.

It would appear that former state Attorney General Jim Ryan is no longer the front-runner. Of course, that early status was due to the fact that most people hadn’t paid much attention to the campaigns, and his was one of the few familiar names.

It’s just like all of the most recent campaigns of another former state attorney general. Now U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., ran campaigns before for the U.S. Senate and for Illinois governor and usually had the lead in the early polls, only to wind up finishing far behind the pack as would-be voters realized they wanted somebody (anybody) else.

Of course, that same poll showing the Democratic gubernatorial campaign as a virtual tie favoring Hynes shows Ryan lagging only six percentage points behind the so-called frontrunner, fellow DuPage County resident Kirk Dillard.

THIS IS THE bizarre primary from my perspective, since Dillard appears to be the favorite of those Republicans of the Chicago suburbs (there aren’t enough devoted GOPers in the city proper to amount to much), while opponent Pat Brady is the preference of those Republicans who live outside the Chicago area and would prefer to have a candidate with no urban ties whatsoever.

With the Chicago area accounting for two-thirds of Illinois’ population, that normally would make Dillard the favorite, except that he loses a chunk of that support to Andrew McKenna, who has some establishment Republicans favoring him and other GOP supporters detesting him because they remember his stint as chairman of the state Republican Party (he didn’t make any headway in terms of winning elections, which is why Illinois has a government that is controlled entirely by Democratic Party members).

To me, that Republican side seems like a mess – one that has the potential to create a lot of dissention come Election Day in November.

The U.S. Senate campaigns seem less confusing. Public Policy Polling’s latest study released Monday of that campaign seems to show the candidates who were thought of as frontrunners before the campaigns maintaining solid leads.

SO IT COULD become Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias running against U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., for the right to represent all of Illinois in the Senate. Kirk backers are making much of the fact that this poll shows Kirk leading with 42 percent support, while none of his half-dozen challengers has more than 10 percent.

But I couldn’t help but notice the truel second-place finisher is not Patrick Hughes (9 percent). It is “undecided” at 39 percent. Having that many partisans this close to Election Day unable to commit makes me wonder if the Kirk campaign has the potential to stir up apathy and resentment – similar to what Democrats experienced in 1998 when then-Congressman Glenn Poshard of Southern Illinois won the nomination for governor and many Democrats from the Chicago area never got over that fact.

Which makes me wonder if Giannoulias is destined to follow the fate (thus far) of his one-time basketball buddy, Barack Obama, who won his presidential campaign in part because of apathy among conservatives toward Republican challenger John McCain – only to have those same conservatives now watching Obama’s every move and doing whatever they can to thwart him.

Will the day come that Giannoulias will wish he had stayed in the Illinois treasurer’s office for another term or two?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The cliché is most definitely accurate this time around – the only “poll” that matters is the one (http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/PPP_Release_Ill_126.pdf) taken on Election Day.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It’s a partisan issue

People inclined to be opposed to President Barack Obama plan to use their new foothold on Capitol Hill to thwart him. The real question is how Obama will respond. Photograph provided by Architect of the Capitol.

The Gallup Organization came out with a new poll confirming what I largely had suspected to be true about the “mood” of the country when it comes to President Barack Obama and his policies, his critics aren't more numerous. They're just speaking more loudly.

The pundits of a conservative bent are trying to portray recent events as a sign that the country is turning against Obama. He’s losing the people who put him in office – we’re supposedly seeing that we made a very big mistake, and that we probably wish we could have first lady Cindy McCain right about now.

I HAVE ALWAYS thought this was more about political partisanship.

The people who on the day after Election Day in 2008 were upset that Obama won remain concerned, and were likely to spend the next four years doing what they could to thwart the goals of a president whom their life experiences make them inclined to distrust.

There have been times I have said the Obama first term as president would wind up being reminiscent of “Council Wars,” the nickname given to that era of Chicago government in the mid-1980s when the City Council used its authority to thwart the will of then-Mayor Harold Washington.

That was a blatantly racial period against Washington, while those people with racial hangups against biracial Obama have been more subtle. Perhaps that is the evidence that we as a society have made some progress.

WHAT I HAVE thought these recent electoral victories that pundits say are evidence of rejecting Obama truly are about are the people who never wanted Obama merely doing a better job of organizing themselves for those Election Days.

As a result, they won. And after Massachusetts, they may well have gained enough influence that they will be able to stop an Obama administration from doing much of anything. He certainly won’t be able to do anything that would make himself look good.

We’re entering a period of nothingness in the federal government – one that will last at least through the next presidential elections of 2012.

One only has to look at the Gallup poll released Monday to see this. That poll shows 82 percent of all people surveyed who identify themselves as Democrats have a favorable view of Obama’s performance. That is down from the 88 percent favorable Democratic rating he had when he was elected, and from the peak of 90 percent back in August.

IT’S NOT EXACTLY a serious drop. The people who got caught up in Obama-mania of ’08 likely are still supportive.

But Obama, it seems, now has the largest gap between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to favorable ratings.

Only 18 percent of the people who identify with the GOP have a favorable rating of Obama. To tell you the truth, with all the nasty rhetoric I read about Obama these days, I’m surprised to learn it’s even that high.

That is a drop from 41 percent of Republicans thinking favorably of Obama when he was inaugurated a year ago, which quickly dropped to 28 percent soon after he took office but is a slight uptick from the 17 percent low Obama hit among Republicans in August of ’09.

IF ANYTHING, THIS seems to be my generation’s contribution (I’m 44) to electoral politics – this absolute belief in ideology that makes the idea of bipartisanship so unworkable.

Gallup digs into their historical records and finds that no president prior to Ronald Reagan had larger than a 40-percent gap in their approval ratings between the two political parties.

It was “the Gipper” who brought about the concept of being detested by one group while loved by the other, and that sense has only grown in recent years. Obama’s split between the parties is even greater than that experienced by George W. Bush, who in recent days has taken to co-writing commentaries with former President Bill Clinton for the New York Times about the situation in Haiti.

Once he’s no longer president, will we someday get Obama working on joint projects with Bush?

SO EXCUSE ME if I think this change in the mood of the nation toward the president really isn’t anything more than the people who always were inclined to not want Obama speaking out a little more clearly.

The people who were apathetic about putting John McCain into the White House can now just speak out against what they oppose. I’d also hope for his sake that Obama now realizes the partisan mood of the nation is something he likely isn’t going to be able to overcome.

The Obama who used to like to talk about how he had Republican friends when he served as a state senator in Springfield, Ill., is going to have to realize that not all Republicans are like his one-time poker buddy, Kirk Dillard – the gubernatorial candidate who actually gets some criticism from GOP partisans because he was willing to be friendly with Obama.

If there’s anything I think Obama is guilty of in his first year of office, it is underestimating the partisanship he would face. Some people are just always going to say “no,” and his staff has to figure out a way to work around them in order to get things accomplished for the public good. That alone makes the State of the Union on Wednesday worth listening to.

BECAUSE THERE STILL is a significant portion of the public that is counting on his vision to prevail, which is why I wonder how much of the next two years’ inactivity will be blamed on Republicans for being obstructionists?

There still are problems that need to be addressed – no matter how much the Republican rhetoric rails on, there still is that 47 million estimated people without adequate health insurance.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: As of Monday, Barack Obama had a 48 percent overall approval rating, compared to (http://www.gallup.com/poll/125345/Obama-Approval-Polarized-First-Year-President.aspx) a 47 percent disapproval rating, which sounds to me like the country is split pretty evenly.

In today’s political environment, it appears that the time for bipartisan cooperation is once one leaves (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/world/americas/17prexy.html?ref=weekinreview) electoral office.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wouldn’t it be strange if a trial got caught in a hung jury because Obama held out?

I’m bracing my ears and my mind for the onslaught of rhetoric that will be tossed about by the conservative pundits who are always eager to trash President Barack Obama on the grounds that he thinks he’s above the rest of us.

The issue that potentially gives them factual material to distort? Jury duty.

I’M GIVING THE Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Mike Sneed the benefit of the doubt that she accurately reported in the Sunday newspaper (which I still enjoy reading) that Obama received a summons for jury duty.

According to the Sun-Times, Obama is expected to be at the Cook County courthouse in southwest suburban Bridgeview on Monday. Of course, that is not a guarantee he would serve on a trial. I remember the one time in my life I did jury duty, I spent the entire day at the Criminal Courts building, not learning until about 8 p.m. that my presence on a jury was not needed.

For what it’s worth, the newspaper reported that the summons was sent to the Obama residence on the edge of the Hyde Park neighborhood – the house where they haven’t really lived in just over a year. One has to admit, it’s not every day that a jury summons winds up having to be forwarded to the White House.

Now I don’t expect Obama to be at the Bridgeview courthouse on Monday, and White House officials on Sunday admitted he had asked for a waiver from duty. People who happen to be eating at the International House of Pancakes restaurant just a block or so away will not see the president stop by for a quick cup of coffee before proceeding to the courthouse.

I’LL GO SO far as to say what would offend me would be if Obama were to somehow try to fulfill the summons – which by its very existence shows that legally, Obama is still a Chicago resident. If he had truly transferred his address to the White House, it would be the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia that would be seeking his presence for jury duty.

I do expect that this particular president has more important things to do than to be sitting around a courthouse with a paperback copy of that novel he has been wishing he had time to read, but never was able to do until now. (That literally was how I spent my day of jury duty). Or maybe he’d have a copy of a health care proposal to try to amend into something (anything) that could get passed into law.

So I expect (although I don’t know for sure) that Obama already has had his staff file the legal request for him to get him out of having to be in Bridgeview. Not that Bridgeview isn’t a cute little suburb, but he has more pressing issues to deal with.

Although it would be a hoot if the Cook County sheriff were to have to show up at the White House some day to take Obama into custody for skipping out on jury duty. Then again, Rod Blagojevich’s arrest in late ‘08 on paper was hilarious – the reality was more pathetic than funny.

PERSONALLY, I THINK everything I have written thus far is pure common sense. You don’t try to drag a chief executive of the United States into a courtroom to serve on a jury. It throws the whole jury dynamic out of whack and also causes serious disruption to the nation.

Yet I seriously expect to hear from pundits who will complain that Obama is somehow being elitist by thinking he ought to automatically get out of jury duty. After all, they want to criticize him. It doesn’t matter what for. They just want criticism, no matter how illogical it is.

There’s just one thing I’d have to wonder of the people who are likely to try to use this jury duty incident as an issue – what did they have to say when Obama made that trip to Copenhagen to try to talk up the U.S.A. and his hometown of Chicago as a site for the 2016 summer Olympic games.

I still remember all the people who got all bent out of shape and claimed that making such a trip was a distraction for Obama from his presidential duties. Having to sit through a whole day of jury duty only to be rejected because some prosecutor doesn’t want anyone detracting attention from his arguments against the defendant seems like an incredible waste of time.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Does this mean that Barack Obama is still a Chicagoan at heart, if he’s getting jury duty summonses (http://www.suntimes.com/news/sneed/2007588,CST-NWS-SNEED24A.article) from Cook County. What I’d like to know (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/01/no-jury-duty-in-bridgeview-for-obama-busy-week-ahead.html) is if he has mailed in his absentee ballot yet for the Feb. 2 primary elections.

What would happen if Obama did jury duty, got picked and had to remain in Bridgeview on Wednesday (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60N1U720100124) – the scheduled date for the State of the State address.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How much attention do “fringe” political candidates deserve to receive?

Every election cycle brings the no-name candidates – the people who managed to come up with enough valid signatures of support on their nominating petitions that they can be on the Election Day ballot.

But because of a lack of experience or a lack of funding (or sometimes a lack of charisma), their campaigns never kick off. The end result usually is that news coverage of the elections usually focus on the so-called “legitimate” candidates, and ignore outright the fact that there are other people in the race.

IT IS NOT the least bit unusual for some voters to show up at the polls on Election Day and to not realize that these people exist – until that moment when they look at the ballot and are confronted with names they have never seen or heard before.

It usually takes something serious for any of those candidates to gain any attention. Others spend their campaigns ranting and raging about the lack of attention, which is ignored on the grounds that the people involved aren’t significant enough to deserve having their complaints listened to.

What will probably be the most significant example of this “syndrome” in this election cycle will fall into the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, where most people think that Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, former Chicago city inspector general David Hoffman and former Chicago Urban League head Cheryle Jackson are the extent of the candidates.

That has Jacob Meister, a Chicago attorney, upset.

HE’S THE GUY who filed a complaint this week with the Federal Communications Commission against WTTW-TV because that station, on its “Chicago Tonight” program, had a candidate forum for Giannoulias, Hoffman and Jackson.

They left Meister out, and it wasn’t an accident on their part.

WTTW used the “standard” that is often talked about this time of year, requiring that candidates receive at least a certain percentage level of support in various polls as evidence that they are really significant.

Meister didn’t matter, so now Meister is trying to get back at the public television station by filing a complaint that claims they violated federal regulations that relate to giving candidates equal time. He also complains that the polls referred to by the television station are so old as to be worthless by now – which may be his one legitimate complaint.

I’M NOT SURE if Meister and his attorneys seriously expect some sort of sanctions against WTTW. What this complaint seems more about (in my opinion, at least) is doing something that forces the candidate to be included in news coverage of the campaign.

It could easily turn out that the stories written in recent days about Meister’s campaign will be the only coverage he gets during the primary election cycle.

This kind of thing happens often.

I still remember 1994 and the Illinois gubernatorial primary for the Democrats – the one in which then Illinois Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch defeated then-Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris and then-Cook County Board President Richard Phelan for the right to get beaten by then-Gov. Jim Edgar in the general election that year.

OF COURSE, THERE was a fourth candidate – James Gierach. In fact, he actually won the ballot “lottery” that gave him the top ballot spot. But despite the fact that his name came first, the only reason he got covered that year was when he showed up uninvited at the gubernatorial debate and refused to leave. Officials wound up deciding to postpone the debate, rather than deign to include Gierach.

Meister, who hints that his non-inclusion is due in part to being gay, comes off as the 2010 equivalent of Gierach – who was the candidate who tried campaigning on a platform that said the state’s drug policy was in serious need of reform.

It was (and still is), but nobody wanted to talk about it.

Now I know people in the news business who will defend almost to the death their right to exclude people from the coverage. I once had a political reporter-type for a central Illinois-based television station tell me with a straight face that trying to acknowledge every single name on the ballot would be “too confusing.”

PERSONALLY, I THINK every candidate who manages to get (and keep) his or her name on the Election Day ballot deserves some mention – even if a fringe candidate’s coverage is nothing more than an explanation of why this person does NOT deserve to be taken as serious as other candidates.

So it is with that in mind that I point out an e-mail message I received earlier this week from Tom Castillo, an electrician from Elmhurst who got onto the Democratic primary ballot for lieutenant governor – challenging four state legislators and a businessman (he owns a cleaning products company and the family pawn shop) for the right to be sitting pretty politically should something happen to a future Gov. Quinn/Hynes.

I wrote a commentary late last year about the campaign of Scott Lee Cohen (the businessman candidate), and Castillo this week objected to not being mentioned.

As he wrote to me, “You keep referring to Cohen as the only ‘outside candidate’ in the Lt. Governor’s race. I, too, am an outsider. I just don’t have the big bank account.”

BUT THE POINT of that particular commentary was to point out the influence, both positive and negative, that self-funded candidates can have on election cycles. It may not be fair, but it is life. The fact that Cohen can afford to pay for the kind of campaign that forces itself into the public eye means that eye should be critical.

With no prior government experience to provide a record of sorts that can be studied and no attention being paid otherwise, those will be the reasons that Castillo is likely to finish sixth in a six-candidate field come the night of Feb. 2.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Jacob Meister is one of the few people who thinks of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate from Illinois (http://www.stltoday.com/blogzone/political-fix/political-fix/2010/01/illinois-senate-candidate-fighting-for-place-in-tonights-debate/) as a fully-legitimate four-way campaign.

This could wind up being Thomas Castillo’s only mention (http://www.tom4ltgov.com/) by the Chicago Argus. Here is “equal time” (http://www.meisterforsenate.com/) for Jacob Meister.

This is what can become (http://www.leap.cc/cms/index.php?name=Blogs&file=display&id=418) of fringe candidates.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Washington remains a potent image

Who knew that Harold could still influence the outcomes of elections, some 22-plus years after his death?

That seems to be the case, as both of the candidates who desire the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor are trying to use the image of Harold Washington (the city’s first black mayor) to bolster their own support in the African-American community.

HECK, WE HAVE young voters who weren’t even alive back in the days when Chicago politics was largely about whether or not one supported H.W.

Yet that isn’t stopping Illinois Comptroller DanHynes from using a new broadcast campaign ad that reminds us of the fact that incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn was once the Chicago city revenue director, and that his performance in that job was subpar to the point where he became one of the many political officials who were pressured to “resign” their position to pursue other opportunities.

In Quinn’s case, those opportunities included one term as Illinois treasurer, unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate and Illinois secretary of state, and some time as lieutenant governor, which put him in place to become governor when Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office by the Illinois Legislature.

Yet Hynes dredged up the old news footage of Washington being asked about Quinn’s termination in the revenue department position. The footage shows Washington calling himself “nuts” and “blind or staggering” to even hire Quinn, and has him describing Quinn’s performance on the job as “completely undisciplined.”

OF COURSE, AS Quinn points out, he voted for Washington for mayor both in 1983 and 1987. It also is unlikely that the split between the two men would have turned into a lasting grudge that would continue to this day – if Washington had really be able to fulfill his rhetorical boasts of wanting to be Chicago mayor for 20 years.

It probably is a stretch for Hynes to use this, although it is far from the most outrageous campaign advertisement I have ever seen. It also is not even the most outrageous use of Harold Washington videotape I have ever seen.

That latter “honor” is one I would give to Neil Hartigan – the one-time Illinois attorney general who in 1990 tried running himself for Illinois governor.

Hartigan’s campaign gained access to some old video where Washington said some nice things about Hartigan in general and added a line something to the effect of “I’m for you.”

WHICH HARTIGAN SHOWED at a press conference in Chicago and claimed constituted an endorsement by Washington – who at that point had been dead for only three years.

A part of me thinks for that gauche maneuver alone, Hartigan deserved to lose the election that year to Jim Edgar.

Back to the present, where Hynes is trying to use Washington to take down Quinn, whom various polls show having the bulk of voter support among Chicago’s African-American population (which is nearly 40 percent of the city as a whole).

That’s a nice base, and it is part of the reason why Quinn is considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary over Hynes.

I DOUBT HYNES seriously thinks he’s going to sway many people to vote for him through use of the Washington ad. This is more about making people who would be inclined to support his opponent so disgusted with Quinn that they might be inclined to say “forget them all” come Election Day – which is only a week-and-a-half away.

If he could cut into one part of Quinn’s political base, that could help make his own political bases (those white ethnic voters on the city’s Southwest and Northwest sides who rememberr his father – one-time county assessor and Illinois Senate President Tom Hynes) more significant.

But it also is Hynes’ father that causes some people to be offended by Dan’s use of Washington’s image.

For too many of us of a certain age remember Tom Hynes as one of the outspoken critics of Washington as mayor who went so far as to run a third-party campaign for mayor against Washington.

HE MIGHT NOT be remembered as vehemently as Ed Vrdolyak, but there is a degree to which Dan Hynes (whether fair or not) will always have to pay for his father’s sins in the eyes of black voters in this city.

Which is why Quinn aides on Thursday resorted to the cliché of Washington “spinning in his grave” at the thought of his image being used in support of a Hynes. I guess this means Harold is spinning just like Abraham Lincoln is spinning at the thought of Rod Blagojevich’s behavior in office.

Of course, all of this rhetoric has a touch of “ridiculous” to it. Hynes using Washington to smack Quinn reeks of a cheap-shot payback for all the attacks Quinn has dished out to Hynes trying to put blame on him for the mess that became of suburban Alsip’s Burr Oak Cemetery.

So what should we really believe?

THE BEST WAY to approach campaign ads is to remember that virtually every claim made by every candidate is an exaggeration. The only definite in all this is that the primary season for us comes to an end in 11 days.

If Harold Washington really could communicate to us from the great beyond, my guess is that what he’d really say is that the nonsense can’t come to an end too soon.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Health care “issue” won’t go away. Or, who are 7 percent with “no” opinion?

There are those people who are gloating that the death last year of Ted Kennedy, a long-time champion of serious health care reform, ultimately started the process that could kill off President Barack Obama’s attempts to achieve that goal.

For it now is possible with the election of a Republican this week in a special election to finish the remainder of Kennedy’s term in the U.S. Senate that the GOP – if they unite as a caucus – has enough votes to “filibuster” on issues.

IN SHORT, THEY can prevent anything they want from getting voted on, regardless of whether or not a majority of Congress wants to do something. Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady was bloviating Tuesday night even before the Democratic candidate's defeat was official.

Now I’m not going to complain about the concept of the filibuster – it exists to prevent a majority from running roughshod over their opponents. It is supposed to encourage bipartisan cooperation, although all it does many times is create political inaction.

Besides, being from Chicago, the period of government we are going to be in for the remainder of this year and possibly the next two will seem familiar.

I’m old enough to remember “Council Wars,” that period of the mid-1980s when opponents of then-Mayor Harold Washington had a majority and used it to kill off anything Washington desired to do.

OF COURSE, WASHINGTON had that veto power to kill anything that his opposition majority wanted. What we in Chicago got for a few years was a period of petty bickering (often racially-tinged) and a complete lack of activity.

Which is what the Republican caucuses in Congress want. Since they don’t have the majorities and control like they once did in the early 2000s to ram through their own partisan agenda, they want a period of nothingness – in part because they don’t want an Obama administration to accomplish something that will go into the history books as politically or culturally significant.

Anybody who doubts that racial considerations factor into this political equation is being naïve. I’ll be the first to admit that some people in this country felt like the 2008 election of Obama with its "historic" overtones was a rejection of their “values.” Whether or not that “rejection” was a good thing is an issue for another day.

So a of this is about denying Obama any accomplishments, of which passing a health care reform program into law would have been a significant one.

NOW I KNOW there is talk going around Washington about how to take the current situation and get around the political partisan rules that could prevent a straight-forward consideration of the issue.

Some of it centers around forcing the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to accept the Senate version of health care reform, rather than trying to reconcile the differing measures that passed through the House and Senate.

That causes a distaste among the “blue dogs,” the basically-conservative officials who managed somehow to get elected as Democrats even though they come from largely rural, conservative areas. Because it means they’re going to have to eat a certain amount of crow from their Democratic colleagues.

Others think it might just be best to give up on the current bill, which pundits like George Will already are saying is evidence of Obama’s ineffectualness. They blame him for placing so much attention on a single issue, then failing to deliver.

THE “POLITICAL HACK” in me can see the logic, because it would emphasize the fact that the issue failed due to the Republican opposition that was purely for partisan political reasons. There is a part of me who wonders if Obama’s re-election bid is now clinched because he’s going to have an easy target to blame for everything he will try to do – but which the GOP legislators will knock down in hopes that a future president of their ideological preference can address and get credit for.

The people who for the past year have been critical of Obama for inactivity are going to have their eyes opened as to who is deliberately standing in the way of the progressive goals they would like to see our government achieve.

But a large part of the problems with our governments these days is that the “political hack” in all of us is being allowed to prevail over the part of us that is concerned with doing “the people’s business.”

When it comes to health care, the problem remains. There is that “47 million” figure, as in the estimated number of people who do not have any form of insurance to cover the cost of their medical treatment. The end result is that in some cases, these people place burdens on the emergency rooms of our hospitals to get some minimal form of care and the hospitals suffer financially by having to “eat” the cost.

IN MOST CASES, though, those people just don’t get the adequate level of care, which makes them a drag on our society.

Which is the part that I think the ideologues on this issue who want to believe that someone else’s health care isn’t their problem are failing to believe. Having that many uninsured is a drag on our society. It’s that so-called “weak link” threatening the strength of the whole chain. Just because some people prefer to put partisan politics ahead of addressing the issue does not mean the issue goes away.

For those who want to spin this issue as somehow being related to Obama’s unpopularity, I couldn’t help but notice the Gallup Organization’s daily update Wednesday for the president’s approval rating. Forty-three percent of those surveyed disapprove, compared to 50 percent approving.

Which makes me wonder how this disapproving minority can be that haughty? And what cave have those other7 percent of the public been living in this year?

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Will the political gamesmanship skills of our Congress be tested in coming days (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/sns-dc-health-congress,0,5376753.story) to try to salvage (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/19/AR2010011904426.html?hpid=topnews&sid=ST2010011904461) something from the past year’s debate on health care reform?

Perhaps the reason the president’s “approval” rating seems so low these days is because it was so ridiculously high (http://www.gallup.com/poll/125294/Approval-Typically-Falls-Points-President-Second-Year.aspx) in the early, giddy days of his administration. Nobody seriously could have maintained that “high.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

EXTRA: Raoul pitches in for Haiti relief

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, who to the best of my knowledge is the only Chicago politico of Haitian ethnicity, is doing his part to try to bolster the relief efforts in support of Haiti.

Raoul created a website (http://www.raoulrelieffund.org/) this week that tries to make it easier for people who wish to make financial contributions in support of the relief, which is trying to help cope with the earthquake last week and aftershock earlier this week that has left at least 200,000 dead.

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EDITOR'S NOTES: Until now, Kwame Raoul's political claim to fame was that he replaced Barack Obama (http://www.ilga.gov/senate/Senator.asp?MemberID=1496) in the Illinois Senate when the latter went to Washington.

Chicago's Haitian population got a temporary boost this week (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/01/evacuees-from-haiti-to-arrive-at-ohare-tonight.html), while Gov. Pat Quinn appeared to be trying to get the votes of their relatives who are already living here.

Did Blagojevich get a perception break?

A part of me wonders if Rod Blagojevich should feel blessed today, what with a federal judge deciding that the trial on corruption-related charges of a one-time city government official will take place this summer.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman ruled Tuesday that the new trial for Al Sanchez, the one-time Streets and Sanitation commissioner, will begin in July – the Tuesday after Independence Day, to be exact.

SANCHEZ IS THE one-time head of the Hispanic Democratic Organization whom federal prosecutors claim was using his city government post to be able to give city jobs to those members of his Daley-supporting Latino organization who were particularly good at their campaign work.

As it turns out, Sanchez already has been found guilty once of federal charges and faced prison time, only to have his conviction overturned on the grounds that federal prosecutors were not completely honest about the criminal arrest records of some of their key witnesses.

That means Sanchez and aide Aaron del Valle will have to go on trial again. Gettleman is eager to get the process going, so he chose the July 6 date to start the process, which makes it likely that some time around August and early September we political observers are going to have to once again relive the tales of corruption and political hiring emanating from City Hall.

But let’s not forget that in a courtroom just eight floors higher in the Dirksen Federal Building, U.S. District Judge James Zagel is going to be presiding over the trial of Blagojevich, which has its own tentative start date in June.

THAT IS LIKELY to be a complex jury selection process (I seem to recall it took nearly two months to pick a jury to preside over the trial of former Gov. George Ryan) that will take time. I won’t be surprised if that case doesn’t start getting into some serious testimony until about August or early September.

As I see it, Rod Blagojevich is not going to be the only corrupt politico (or should I say alleged corrupt politico?) on trial. For those people who like to watch the activity coming from the federal courts for northern Illinois, there are going to be dueling trials.

Blagojevich’s case is going to have to compete with Sanchez for public attention. It has me wondering how the news judgment is going to be made on days when both cases literally go head-to-head (and reporter-type people are having to use the stairs to go up and down from the 17th to the 25th floor on days when the elevators are on the fritz).

Personally, I’d lean toward the Blagojevich trial only because we’ve already been through the Sanchez trial. But if things start picking up momentum in Sanchez’ favor, then it could wind up becoming the bigger deal since Sanchez’ conviction was a significant part of what is considered to be one of the biggest scams out of City Hall during the past decade.

IF SANCHEZ WINDS up getting acquitted, that could be a bigger deal than anything happening to Milorod – unless Blagojevich himself gets acquitted, in which case we will have mobs of angry people descending upon the Ravenswood neighborhood to express their disgust at the man they want in prison regardless of the truth.

But I also understand the reality of many local residents when it comes to politics. Anything happening out of City Hall is of much greater significance than something happening in, or related to, Springfield.

A city official allied with Mayor Richard M. Daley who gets caught doing something bad is going to be considered more important than any goofball governor – even if his wife literally does eat bugs on national television.

Sanchez literally could steal the local thunder from Blagojevich when it comes to criminal corruption trials for the year 2010, particularly since both men claim they’re not guilty and that they intend to fight their cases through the legal procedure.

I DOUBT EITHER one of these guys would seriously consider a plea bargain. They both believe in themselves way too much.

Now I know there are political people of the Republican persuasion who are counting on Milorod being in the news on a regular basis this summer so as to bolster their rhetoric – which will consist of little more than screaming the name “Blagojevich!” and claiming that Democrats are all associated with him.

That will happen despite the reality that Democrats in Springfield didn’t get along with the now-former governor and were more eager than Republicans to get rid of him back during the Legislature’s impeachment and trial proceedings early last year.

They’re probably going to claim that voters will look at the combination of the two and dismiss all people from Chicago when they vote in the November general election.

I DON’T DOUBT that some people will think that. But I think those residents of Anna, Dixon and likeminded places likely would have felt that way regardless of the circumstances. And I’m not convinced there are enough of them to swing an election.

So now we can see what Blagojevich might seriously be hoping for. What if we got both verdicts on the same day? Could Milorod wind up becoming an afterthought?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New political boundaries an issue for upcoming ’10 gubernatorial campaigns

There is an issue at stake in the campaigns for governor this time around that most voters don’t think about. Some may even view the fact that it is an issue as part of the problem related to electoral politics.

I’m talking about reapportionment – the redrawing of political boundaries for Congress and the state Legislature that will take place in 2011 after the Census Bureau gives us updated figures for the U.S. (and Illinois) population.

UNDER THE PROCEDURES used by Illinois to redraw those boundaries to conform with current (rather than decade-old) population trends, the governor gets a chance to veto any attempt at a map that is approved by the General Assembly.

Which means that while some people think that Republicans would consider themselves completely successful if they were to have their party’s nominee win the U.S. Senate seat once held by Barack Obama, political operatives realize that winning the gubernatorial election in November is more important.

Having that “veto” in the control of someone of the GOP persuasion would ensure that it would take only the absolute of freak luck for legislative boundaries to be drawn in ways that benefit the Democratic Party (as they were back in 2001).

Most of the candidates haven’t talked about this issue at all, although Democrat Dan Hynes and Republican Kirk Dillard both have included in their campaign platforms some rhetoric that sounds like “good government” talk – trying to shift the drawing of boundaries from political hacks to objective sources.

PERSONALLY, I’M NOT convinced there’s anyone who could truly draw district boundaries in an “objective” manner. Which is why I have to respect the bluntness of incumbent Pat Quinn, who would like to get himself elected to a four-year term of his own – instead of being the guy who goes in the history books for finishing off Rod Blagojevich’s second term as governor.

Quinn met recently with Crain’s Chicago Business officials, and told their editorial board how he thinks the reapportionment issue will get tied into other issues – including the increase in the state income tax that Quinn has long wanted to help balance the state’s budget but which legislators have long feared.

As Quinn put it, he expects many of the Democratic majorities of the Illinois House and state Senate to become more sympathetic to his desires because they will want to see a Democrat win the campaign for governor in this year’s election.

As much as Republicans would like to have one of their own in place to “veto” a Democratic partisan plan, Democrats would love to see one of their own in place to sign such a measure into law – or at the very least veto any attempt by the GOP to implement their own partisan plan.

AS QUINN TOLD the publication, “if I win the primary, like I expect to do, I think some politicians suddenly will like me.”

Of course, Quinn threw out his own rhetoric of wanting to draw legislative and congressional district boundaries that are fair.

The only problem is that we all have to figure out now what constitutes “fair” in their minds. For everybody will be inclined to think of “fair” as something that benefits themselves. It if hurts their partisan enemies, that’s probably just a fringe benefit.

The reality of reapportionment is that there is no absolute. There is no one map that is legal and that must be picked above all others.

WHICH MEANS THAT they are always going to have partisan edges to them.. They will reflect the mood of the electorate in ways that might make some of us a bit uncomfortable.

In fact, for those people who inevitably suggest that we ought to design a computer program that would “draw” boundaries irregardless of how those districts would affect the re-election chances of incumbents, I am skeptical.

I’d want to know about the political partisan views of the programmer to figure out what aspects he (or she) considers most important. Who’s to say that such a “non-partisan” map wouldn’t be just as partisan as anything our legislators have designed in recent decades?

And yes, someone who claims to be “non-political” might go out of their way to draw up districts meant to take down incumbents. Or there might be people who resent some of the racial or ethnic factors that must be taken into account when political boundaries are drawn.

TALK OF DISTRICTS that are perfect squares and don’t have any of the quirky shapes that have been created in recent years could just be their way of wishing for the day when such factors could be ignored.

Take the situation in Illinois for the past two decades, where a district has been designed to increase the chances of a Latino representing a portion of our state in Congress. There are some people who say that the Latino population has grown to the point where two of Illinois’ districts may become Latino-influenced.

Yet a desire to keep districts that are “clean” could also result in splitting up ethnic neighborhoods to the point where no Latinos were elected. Think I’m kidding? How often have people derided the district of Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., for looking like a pair of earmuffs?

This is going to be a key issue for the next governor to get involved with. And perhaps it is something we should give more thought to when trying to figure out who to vote for to be Illinois governor come Election Day.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Our Legislature is using this website (http://clients.ecampaigning.com/ilr/main.htm) to try to appear to be open about the process behind redistricting. For those who want to review past attempts (http://archive.fairvote.org/redistricting/reports/remanual/il.htm) at reapportionment, districts can be found.

Monday, January 18, 2010

16 days until Election Day, and Pat Quinn tries to remind us why to vote for him

The cynical side of me is coming out just as I learn that Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a measure that creates a whole new regulatory structure for people who have complaints about cemeteries and concerns about the way in which their loved one’s earthly remains are being cared for.

The fact that this bill got signed into law on Sunday means it was treated as the one real bit of news occurring, which means it got significant play by news organizations.

IT ALSO MEANS that news organizations got to relive the whole mess that broke out at Burr Oak Cemetery and other graveyards throughout the Chicago area that have historically catered to African-American clientele.

Which means that Quinn now has something he can spin into a positive action he took on behalf of all those black people, many of whom are also registered voters (I’m not going to make any electoral jokes about the deceased also voting).

Do I think that if this issue were about trying to come up with any serious reform that it would have been handled differently? Of course.

Instead, just a little over two weeks away from Election Day Feb. 2 we get the creation of a “regulatory” structure which means that people will now have a state government process they can follow if they wish to file a complaint.

IT MOST LIKELY means yet another place where complaints can get tangled up in “red tape” rather than actually being resolved.

After all, the state already regulates cemeteries through the Illinois comptroller’s office (I can remember when Dan Hynes first ran for that office in 1998, he used to get so confused about questions involving such cemetery regulation).

Now I realize that the comptroller’s “regulation” was limited to specific circumstances (usually complaints against graveyard owners who let their properties become all raggedy and decrepit).

But then again, the situation at Burr Oak was a particularly bizarre set of circumstances. When one has massive numbers of families convinced that their loved ones don’t lie underneath the spot they have been visiting for years (if not decades), it is hard to have a specific state law in place that can address the situation.

I’D HATE TO think there is anyone seriously gullible enough to think that Pat Quinn has single-handedly resolved this problem. Or that there was much of anything that the state could do other than to take a serious look at the conditions at Burr Oak.

If anything, that was what the Cook County sheriff’s police wound up having to do for much of 2009. If there’s any political person who ought to be able to take some personal credit for having done something to improve the conditions in suburban Alsip, it is Sheriff Tom Dart.

He’s the one whose investigators had to struggle with the county’s financial problems that could have prevented a thorough investigation from taking place. He’s also the one who had to have officers camp out at Burr Oak for months in order to prevent the situation there from becoming worse.

If it reads like I’m saying Quinn is trying to hog too much attention on this issue, you’d be partially correct.

I’D ALSO HAVE to wonder about the individual legislators who served on the task force that “investigated” the issue – even though all they really did was took what the sheriff’s police uncovered and claimed it for their own.

Quinn, in a prepared statement, said that his new law enables, “bereaved families will have a place to turn if they are not satisfied with the services provided by cemeteries, funeral directors and embalmers.”

That sounds nice. It may even help a family or two at some point in the future, although I’m not convinced that the situation is all that radically different for the public with this new law than it was with the old ones.

Personally, all I got out of the announcement that this bill gor signed into law is evidence that Quinn – who in his decades of public service as an elected official and a gadfly has conducted many a Sunday scheduled “news” event to try to get himself some public attention – is still the master.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Pat Quinn just took away from primary opponent Dan Hynes the legal responsibility (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-quinn-cemetery-18-jan18,0,3524036.story) to keep an eye out on cemeteries and their management.

Immigration reform still at stake

Immigration reform has the potential to be a feisty issue out of Capitol Hill later this year, and already we in the Chicago area have been seeing rhetoric coming from the Latino activists representing the people to whom this matter is non-negotiable.

For those wanting to know about what is at stake with the bill sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., the Chicago Argus' sister weblog The South Chicagoan (at http://southchicagoan.blogspot.com/) has more to offer.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Will Chicago-less bid cost World Cup?

I still remember the summer of ’94 in part because of watching the World Cup soccer tournament that was played in the United States.

While that year’s championship game was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., it was we here in Chicago that got to see the opening ceremonies of the month-long international tourney, along with the first couple of matches.

LITERALLY FOR A couple of days, the eyes of the world were on Chicago and Soldier Field in a way that the Bears (who may be the only people happy to learn that someone won’t tread a decade from now on the “precious” turf they use eight Sundays a year) could never attract.

But if it turns out that the United States does manage to get to host the World Cup again when it is held in 2018 or 2022 (this year will be in South Africa, while 2014 will be in Brazil), we in Chicago are going to be irrelevant.

The U.S. officials who are putting together the bid that FIFA officials will consider later this year in determining where to hold the World Cup released a list of 18 cities that could wind up hosting games.

The closest that list came to Chicago was the thought of playing matches in Indiana-noplace (the city that earlier this week thought it cute to have government officials bet against Baltimore officials and require that an Indianapolis Colts banner be flown in the Maryland city. What next, the L.A. Dodger banner in Brooklyn?)

READING AROUND THE Internet, there have been people all week who have been wondering who was behind the “snub” to Chicago. What reason was being used for not having any of the matches (it’s not like we’re demanding the championship game proper) in the Second City?

Now, we’re reading in the New York Times (or at least those editions that include stories off the Chicago News Cooperative news service) that it was the city itself (specifically, the Chicago Park District) that insisted that Chicago not be included as part of a U.S. bid to stage the World Cup.

If one wants to believe the city’s rhetoric, the tough economic times our nation has faced during the past year makes this a bad time to engage in the politicking necessary to stage an international sports event.

For those who like to believe whatever conspiracy theories are available, particularly if they make Mayor Richard M. Daley look bad, this is about Hizzoner Jr. being a big baby over the fact that Chicago was rejected to be the host city for the summer Olympic games in 2016.

IF THE INTERNATIONAL Olympic Committee can’t see how wonderful Chicago is, then we’re going to snub everybody (including FIFA, the governing body for soccer around the world).

Regardless, it is unlikely that the process could be altered now to suddenly include Chicago, which means the U.S. is going to have to try to appeal to the world without one of its few cities that includes so many international elements.

Some of the pundits whose “world” revolves around international soccer are saying the United States is a favorite to be awarded the World Cup tourney for one of those years (2022 seems to be the concensus). But how serious are world-wide officials going to take a list of countries that includes places like Indianapolis, Nashville, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla., and where some U.S. officials are seriously pushing the idea of San Diego as the perfect place to stage the championship game (in Qualcomm Stadium, quite possibly the worst corporate name in use on an athletic building).

Maybe I’m just overestimating the international significance of Chicago. But with an event such as the World Cup (where officials pick a host country and spread the games among many cities, as opposed to the Olympics where officials pick a host city), one needs a good mix.

WHILE THE GAMES themselves will be attended by people who travel to the cities from around the world, one is going to need to have a local interest as well. That is what the city’s strong ethnic composition in so many different ethnic groups has to offer.

So has the city crippled the U.S. bid?

I think it’s possible, although it could wind up that FIFA officials will be so eager to have the event in the United States (which will translate into higher U.S. television ratings for the games, which means bigger broadcast bucks) that they may overlook the lack of Chicago.

Which means that in the end, I think Chicago officials may have done the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot by thinking that the city can’t accommodate the event because of economic concerns.

EXCUSE ME FOR believing that by 2018 (or 2022), the current economic struggles are going to be ancient history. Heck, by then Barack Obama will be history – even if he wins two full terms. I don’t buy using that as a reason.

There is one sense that the city’s current behavior is historically reminiscent. Take the political nominating conventions, where Chicago used to be a regular player for hosting the Democratic event and also used to host the Republicans (we are in the Land of Lincoln, after all) now and then.

But after 1972 when Democratic officials offended then-Mayor Richard J. Daley by deposing part of the Chicago delegation, he made pronouncements that the city would “never again” seek to host the events that make a city the center of the U.S. political universe. That view lasted for more than two full decades, until Daley-the-younger went ahead and sought the Democratic National Convention for 1996.

Could this be Daley-the-younger’s “never again” statement that some future political official will have to do an about-face on in order to bring such an event – and the potential for economic perks that goes along with it – to Chicago?

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Friday, January 15, 2010

What should we think of Haiti?

I realize it is the way of political people to try to make themselves appear to be on top of every possible issue.

Yet I got my chuckle the other night when in my e-mail turned up an announcement from Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, informing me and everybody else he felt the need to notify about the county’s relief efforts intended for the people of Haiti.

THAT CARIBBEAN ISLAND nation suffered a severe earthquake earlier this week that you have to be a virtual shut-in to have avoided hearing anything about. Of course, some people are complaining about the degree to which they are hearing things, wishing they could shut themselves off from the suffering taking place there.

But seeing the big bold red typeface telling me Stroger to kick off Cook County Haitian relief effort made me wonder how desperate is Todd for votes if he’s trying to put himself at the head of the pack – since he was the first Chicago-area politico (to my knowledge) to take a public stand on Haiti.

Then again, I’m surprised it took our local political people until Wednesday night before they started issuing statements trying to make themselves appear to be aligned with the needs of Haiti – a nation that many of them usually try to ignore. Life won't be anywhere near this idylic in Port-au-Prince for a long time. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

Now I shouldn’t complain.

IT IS NICE that Cook County government is cooperating with activists and other people in Chicago’s population of Haitian ethnic descent to put together some sort of relief effort to help people who are trying to dig through the rubble for survivors – while also helping those people above-ground to rebuild their lives.

They probably had very little to begin with, and now have managed to lose even that. It is a shame that eventually, another news story will come along to sweep Haiti out of the public eye because it likely will take years for the island nation to rebuild itself.

But locally at this point, I would guess that Stroger is looking for every possible vote source he can find in hopes of putting together the magical “30 percent” level of support that would theoretically enable him to win a four-way primary for county president.

So trying to be on top of the Haitian situation could help in terms of gaining votes from those Haitian people now living here (about 40,000 estimated out of the 2.9-something million population of Chicago as a whole).

IF IT READS like I’m being crass or cynical, perhaps it is just the mood of the candidates these days that is rubbing off on me. Anybody who believes that political people always behave altruistically is being naïve. And I’m not trying to imply that it is just Stroger who can have political motives.

Even President Barack Obama is on top of the Haiti situation now – saying Thursday that their situation ought to be a “top priority” for federal government agencies. Our nation is pledging at least $100 million in aid, with more likely to follow up in the near future.

Former President Bill Clinton, who would like to someday displace Jimmy Carter in the informal title of “Greatest Ex-President ever,” got his name in the news by saying people should make cash donations to relief agencies if they truly want to help. Which is why I took notice of a CNN Headline News report that gave a “voice” to people who were angry about so much attention being paid to Haiti.

It seems like the economic struggles of our nation for the past year have so many people feeling like they have too many problems of their own in order to afford to make any kind of donation.

COULD IT BE that these appeals for aid from political people will wind up causing some resentment that will cost them votes on future Election Days? I can appreciate that some people don’t like to be made to feel guilty about their inability to give.

Or will they just take it out on the so-called “liberal news media” for exaggerating the significance of the situation in Haiti – although I’d argue it is difficult to “exaggerate” the destruction caused by a 7.0 Richter Scale earthquake that may have killed at least 100,000 people.

Unless someone is truly callous enough to think that a crisis in Haiti isn’t worth our attention because it’s only Haiti. I’d like to give our society more credit and that the complaining isn’t due to that kind of reasoning.

But then again, maybe that’s just me being naïve.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: You can find just about every ethnicity in Chicago, although the Haitian community isn’t (http://www.aliciapatterson.org/APF2002/Valbrun/Valbrun.html) exactly a dominant part of the (http://cbs2chicago.com/local/haiti.earthquake.chicago.2.1422309.html) Second City’s culture.

People can make a $10 donation to the Red Cross through their cellphones (http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/ha/earthquake/index.htm), although more significant donations can be made (http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2007/impact/) through various groups.