Saturday, July 31, 2010

Is this cheap shot deserved?

I kind of feel sorry for Republican gubernatorial nominee William Brady, who on Friday got dumped on because of the boorish behavior of somebody who ranks so far beneath him on the political evolutionary scale that it is hard to believe they’re even of the same species.

That is how low the concept of a Chicago Republican is. Nobody within the party pays them much mind. Democrats rarely bother to attack them, because it would give them more attention than they’re worth.

YET BRADY WAS put in the position of having to try to defend himself because of a Chicago GOPer who it seems likes to get a little handsy whenever he is around women.

Several female officials, including state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, held their own press conference on Friday at the Democratic Party offices downtown to demand that the state senator from Bloomington who is running for governor in the Nov. 2 elections answer for this situation which he probably didn’t know a thing about.

So there is a part of me who wants to think I’m being high-minded and idealistic by thinking that Democrats are wrong to try to make this issue about the gubernatorial campaign.

It just seems to me that any action by a Chicago Republican is so out of the party’s mainstream (so far off their radar screen) as to be irrelevant.

WHEN I READ The statement issued by the women who went on the attack against Brady, I see it as the tactical move that it is – trying to deflect much of the pompous rhetoric we have heard and will continue to hear for the next three months about how corrupt all Democratic Party loyalists are.

“After two governors who betrayed the public trust, Illinois cannot afford a repeat of the problems of the past,” the women said. “Women and all voters should be concerned that a cover up of this magnitude was perpetuated by Illinois Republicans.”

So what is at stake here, aside from these public officials trying to force a report into the campaign mindset that has bopped about various websites and got some serious attention from the Huffington Post site, but was in danger of turning into something obscure that only the most pathetic of Internet geeks would know about.

The former president of Chicago Young Republicans, a person named Jeremy Rose, wound up having to give up his positions of authority (he was a director for the Cook County Republicans at one point) when it was learned that a complaint existed that claimed he couldn’t keep his hands off a woman he met at a party function back in 2009.

THE WOMAN GAVE the Huffington Post site an e-mail containing details of her memories of being with Rose that night, but she does not seem to want to pursue this issue much further. I don’t know her name, and personally I don’t care enough about this incident to try to find it out.

Some people would argue that somebody acted like a goof, got caught, and got a punishment. They would claim that the Democrats are now trying to exploit this issue for their own gain. That literally is the tactic employed by state Republican Chairman Pat Brady, who came out with his own response to the women by saying, “this is a political stunt straight out of the Democrats’ playbook,” adding, “this is being doen at the expense of a young woman (who) … believes that this issue has been dealt with appropriately in the manner in which she requested and the issue is resolved.”

Literally, that statement is true, except for the part about the Democrats having a playbook that includes this type of tactic. This kind of cheap stunt is included in the “playbook” of any campaign that wants to do more than fight the good fight in going down to defeat.

Which ultimately is why I can’t feel too sorry for Bill Brady for having these female politicos try to bring his name into the mess, which by the way was avoided by having Pat Brady (no relation) do the actual responding.

BILL GETS TO remain above the fray, except for those moments when he decides it is worth getting trashy in dishing out dirt against opponent Pat Quinn, or the Democrats in general if it suits his political needs on that particular day.

Friday becomes one of those days that reminds me that there is a certain sordidness to the act of political campaigning. There is a degree to which no one should listen to literally to any rhetoric that comes from any campaign, because there is a certain spin to it all.

We got a bit of Democratic spin, which makes up for much of the Republican spin that we have heard for the past few months. This will be a back-and-forth process carrying us all the way to Nov. 3.

That is the “day after” Election Day when we (hopefully) will know the victors, who will then get to write their version and have it recorded as “history.” Except for the Brady campaign, which reportedly this week tried having their people re-write the Wikipedia entry about Brady in ways meant to eliminate the impresson that anyone ever disagreed with him about issues.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

You can’t live in the past

I remember being a kid back in the 1970s with a mother who made a point of regularly watching the television news. And her newscast of choice was WBBM-TV.

As in the station of Bill and Walter. She was devoted to their take on the news, along with their colleagues such as Harry Porterfield, Brent Musberger, and the guy I most recall from that era, Bob Wallace – who used to do all kinds of feature-y pieces for the newscasts.

MY GUESS IS that the CBS owned-and-operated television station in Chicago has management who think the key to success in producing a ratings-successful local newscast is to bring back Bill and Walter, and count on old farts like myself (and my mother, who shifted over to WLS-TV news after WFLD-TV let Jacobson go a few years ago) to tune in for nostalgia’s sake.

That attitude worked last year, when Kurtis and Jacobson were used to anchor a single 10 p.m. newscast, with the idea being that they were fill-ins for regular news anchor Rob Johnson. It was a one-time stunt, it was cute, and it gave the station some attention.

Since then, WBBM has tried to feed off the nostalgia factor by having Jacobson do “Perspective” pieces on a regular basis – although nowhere near as detailed or lengthy as the Walter Jacobson Perspective of old where Walter would get all worked up after his camera crews caught some Streets and Sanitation workers asleep on the job.

Now, he does straight opinion pieces. There’s nothing wrong with that (since it pretty much is the same thing one gets if they regularly read this weblog). But in some ways, it is a shallow shadow of what we once got from Jacobson.

WHICH IS HOW I expect the new pairing of Kurtis/Jacobson as the anchors of the 6 p.m. newscast to play itself out. Those people who remember how comprehensive the Channel 2 News was back in the old days will be disappointed.

Those people who are too young to remember those old days will probably watch once, then wonder to themselves what the big deal was about the sight of a couple old white guys – one of whom looks as though he needs a booster chair in order to do his job. All the grey you'll see watching the Channel 2 News at 6 p.m. won't be due to black-and-white photography.

I’m not knocking the contributions of Kurtis and Jacobson to those old broadcasts I used to watch. They did set a tone of a serious newscast.

But when I think of those old newscasts, I find I remember the other players just as much. Porterfield’s “Someone you should know” segments, or the fact that Musberger literally was once the backup local sports guy (before he became a nationally-known CBS Sports anchor).

JOHN DRUMMOND’S MOB and crime reports before the “Bulldog” became a parody of himself. And yes, I literally remember those old stories done by Wallace, who always seemed to be at a food festival eating something for Channel 2 News.

Without substance to a newscast like that, it really doesn’t matter what Kurtis or Jacobson say or do. Not that I’m bashing the current news crew at WBBM. I’m sure they’re trying their best to do a not-completely-trivial newscast within the constraints of the economics of broadcasting today.

But the anchors can only do so much, if the boat itself doesn’t amount to much.

If anything, I think the most significant change in Channel 2 newscasts in recent months is not the addition of Kurtis or Jacobson. It was letting long-time political reporter Mike Flannery leave to take a job with Chicago’s Fox affiliate.

NOT THAT I think Flannery himself is significant enough to raise that station out of its doldrums. But it shows that Channel 2 might want to give the image of going back to the old days. But they were not willing to do what was needed to keep that one old asset that was still producing quality work for them.

There’s also the fact that many of the younger crowd (the ones that want to rant that television news is “dead” because you can watch the snippets on the Internet at your convenience) aren’t going to want to be reminded of the past.

If anything, they probably view the significant part of Thursday’s announcement as the bit that Kate Sullivan is leaving her job with WCBS-TV in New York to anchor the 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts in Chicago.

She talks about “returning” to the Midwest U.S. (she once worked for WSBT in South Bend, Ind.), yet I don’t sense any special knowledge about Chicago that will come from her.

NOT THAT IT will matter much. She has a certain “look” about her, which will be the illusion of authority to some (and an ability to make Internet-based pervs drool and post anonymous comments about her looks).

Which is an image that seems more important to broadcast news these days than any other factor – even a nostalgic trip back to the days when one of my all-time favorite television programs (Redd Foxx in “Sanford and Son”) was a big hit that I would watch right after the news.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red light cameras? Only ours, please

When the Texas Republican Party last month put together their latest version of a platform, it was filled with all kinds of laughable, Lone Star State hooey. But even the Texans managed to pick up on one idea that has political people to many people.

It is the official stance of the Texas GOP that red-light cameras should be banned!

I CAN’T HELP but think many people would agree with that thought, since our political people seem to be becoming way too willing to latch onto such cameras as a way of enriching their coffers.

Now I will be the first to agree that many people do drive like idiots. I see it all too often as I try to avoid getting hit by some nitwit who doesn’t seem to pay attention to what is going on around him (or her).

There also is a sense that I like the idea that local police officers can be freed up for work on more important law enforcement activity, if they’re not having to spend so much time sitting in cars parked in an isolated spot – just waiting for some nitwit motorist to drive past them and get caught in their “speed trap.”

What most irritates people about these cameras is the arbitrary nature in which they seem to enforce violations. Those cameras take pictures of moving violations, with the resulting photos being regarded as incontrovertible evidence of the wrong-doing.

NO APPEALS. NO nothing. Just fork over the cash.

Which is all the local governments really care about – fines that can be assessed without having to maintain the cost of the appeals process by which flawed tickets can be challenged.

That idea got reinforced in my mind when I was reading a news report out of suburban Tinley Park, where village officials decided to “opt out” of an attempt by Cook County government to set up red-light cameras at intersections of roads that are maintained at county expense.

That “opt out” means that the county can’t put up the camera that they wanted at 171st Street and 80th Avenue (about 12 blocks from the Cook/Will county line) because it falls within the village limits.

IT DOES NOT mean that Tinley Park officials have an ideological objection to the intrusiveness of more cameras watching our society. It’s just that the village maintains three red-light cameras of its own at other intersections of the village (all along Harlem Avenue, for those of you who ever pass through the area).

It seems to me that Tinley Park officials realize that “the people” don’t really like these cameras, and they know that having too many of them around the village will get people seriously upset – perhaps enough to even start voting against local officials.

So if there can only be so many cameras in the suburb before the people get outraged, they want to be sure that the cameras (and the resulting fines) are all controlled by the local officials. “Let Todd Stroger fund the final months of his county board presidency somewhere else,” seems to be the attitude expressed here.

This comes just a month after the county board voted overwhelmingly to install their own red-light cameras at 30 intersections. Those cameras are all supposed to be in place by the end of August.

NOW I MUST admit to not feeling complete sympathy for those people who get caught by such cameras, mainly because every intersection that has such a camera also has a warning sign, of sorts, telling the driver that they are approaching a camera-patrolled intersection.

I remember once hearing a suburban police chief (now retired) say on the subject, “we put up a great big sign warning you, it’s your own fault if you don’t pay attention.”

Personally, I always give my speedometer a quick glance when I see such a sign, and I also do pay a little extra attention to the way I make stops and turns at such an intersection. If it reads like I’m writing that I get a little extra careful, that would be true.

I don’t need a ticket and fine for something stupid, even though I realize that the villages and the county itself would prefer it if I just drove carelessly – because they want my money.

WHICH MAY BE one point upon which I agree with Republican Roger Keats, who is challenging Toni Preckwinkle for the Cook County Board presidency come the Nov. 2 elections. The former state senator from the North Shore suburbs calls it a “cheap ploy to pick the pockets” of taxpayers.

Of course, maybe he (and the Texans who took their “bold” stance on red-light cameras) would change his mind if he actually won election, and saw a use for the revenue. But for now, it’s encouraging to learn that at least a few politicos aren’t so eager to have those bloody boxes hanging up on posts all over our metro area.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It’s that time of the campaign season, Kirk complains about the number of debates

Call it one of my own personal guidelines that I follow when it comes to covering the activity of political campaigns. When it comes to debates, the first candidate to come forward and complain that “My opponent won’t debate me!” is a loser.

By that measure, Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. – who is the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate seat now held by “forced-into-retirement” Roland Burris – ought to start working on his concession speech to Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias (the current state treasurer).

WE’RE APPROACHING THE time period when campaign activity will kick into full gear and we will have to start thinking about debates – which are one of the key moments for an electoral cycle because they give us (in theory) a chance to see the two candidates go against each other, and operate under identical rules.

In many campaigns, the debate (or debates) is one of the high points that can influence undecided voters what to think (even if it usually is because one candidate says something incredibly stupid).

What usually happens for a high-profile race like U.S. Senate from Illinois (and Illinois governor) is that we get two debates – three if the candidates are feeling generous. It usually comes to one held in Chicago and another held somewhere in a non-urban part of the state, and is meant to be a gesture acknowledging that Illinois doesn’t end at the Cook County line.

What also invariably happens is that some candidates try to turn the number of debates into an issue. They try to claim they personally want more debates, but that their opponent is in “hiding” and trying to keep the public from knowing where he really stands on issues of great significance.

WE ALSO GET cases where candidates will ask for high numbers of debates, with the theory being that many people across the state will get a chance to have one in, or near, their home community.

The reason I came up with my rule calling these candidates “losers” is quite simple. They all lost. I can’t recall a single instance where the candidate who complains about the number of debates wound up winning.

Which is why I’m wondering what is going through Kirk’s mind these days. For on Tuesday, his campaign made public the idea that the Congressman wants seven debates – beginning Aug. 21 and running through Oct. 21.

Kirk’s people issued a statement that envisions the debates as having themes where specific issues would be brought up, and he sees them starting in Ottawa (a north-central Illinois town near Interstate 80) and winding up in Carbondale. It plays well off the idea that Illinois technically consists of 13 metropolitan areas – of which Chicago is only one (technically, Joliet and DuPage County are their own metro areas, and not part of Chicago).

IT MEANS HE wants the bulk of the debates (five of the seven, with one in Chicago and another in suburban Northbrook) held in territory where his campaign is considered the obvious choice, rather than where the bulk of Illinoisans live (about 45 percent in Cook County, and about two-thirds within the six-county Chicago area, where many are skeptical of him even though the alternative is Giannoulias).

Kirk has put himself in the position of being the candidate who is now going to cry that his opponent “won’t debate me/play with me.” I threw that last bit in because it really does come off as sounding like a whining child who can’t handle the fact that he has to “play nice” with everybody else, instead of being able to dictate to them.

Not that I think Kirk himself really wants to do that many debates. From a scheduling standpoint, that really is an awful lot of events – particularly if one insists on holding several of them in the more distant parts of downstate Illinois.

It’s about creating an issue for himself – my opponent won’t debate me.

FOR WHAT IT is worth, the Capitol Fax newsletter used its website to report that Giannoulias’ campaign is saying they contacted the Kirk people last week to try to talk seriously about scheduling debates – only to have Kirk turn around and try to make this an issue against him.

I’m not sure I believe the Giannoulias camp portraying themselves purely as an embattled victim in this brawl. But they’re not completely wrong when they say this issue is cheap. If anything, it gets in the way of having a serious debate or two on the issues.

Which really is better than having repeated debates scattered across the state. The concept sounds nice, in theory. But what can happen is that the candidates themselves are so rehearsed into trying to ignore questions and take their pot-shots at each other that it just becomes multiple excuses for political trash talk, and we learn nothing of significance.

I don't want to believe that is what Kirk really wants us (the potential voters of Illinois) to have to endure.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Will kids sway jurors?

Rod Blagojevich has had his wife, Patti, at his side throughout his entire legal proceedings. Yet on Monday, he made a point of bringing his daughters to court.

They get to spend a day with Daddy, as attorneys for the prosecution and defense make their last-stand closing statements before the whole case gets thrown to a jury locked away in a back room somewhere until they reach a verdict.

TO ANSWER YOUR question, “yes,” people were aware those were his daughters, Amy and Annie. The Chicago News Cooperative used their website to report that the now-impeached governor made a point of introducing the girls to those people in the courtroom.

Some people are saying it is a cheap attempt to sway the jury. Others think it is somehow cruel and unusual to the kids themselves to be exposed to a courtroom where attorneys will be making a point of saying in graphic detail that their dad is a crook who belongs in prison.

My gut reaction, however, is to say this isn’t a new tactic. I have seen it used once before, albeit under nowhere near as drastic as circumstances.

What I’m referring to is an incident involving Pat Quinn, who back then was Illinois treasurer. Which means his now-grown sons were still kids.

BACK THEN, I was a reporter-type person for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, and one of my assignments that day was to show up at the WBBM-AM radio studios on McClurg Court, where Quinn was supposed to show up to tape the news radio station’s weekend interview program “At Issue.”

I forget exactly what the “controversy” was involving state government that made the treasurer’s office particularly relevant that week. But it meant that Quinn accepted the invitation to appear on that program knowing he was going to get grilled in the questioning, and that there would be people looking for him to slip up in the details so he could be accused of not being fully truthful with his answers. The Blagojevich daughters have been seen in public with their parents before, including this event back when Milorod was still governor. Photograph provided by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Maybe it really was coincidental that Quinn picked that exact date to have his sons with him, allowing them to see “Daddy” at work, while also getting to see the insides of a real live broadcast studio.

What I remember of the event was Quinn sitting those kids in a spot that was between himself and the questioning reporters on the program’s panel. I don’t remember any of the specific questions or answers (we are talking about 18 years ago), but I do remember the tone was rather mild.

AFTERWARD, I STILL remember one of the reporter-types who was part of the panel saying, “it’s hard to grill him when you got those boys looking doe-eyed at us.”

Is that the effect that Blagojevich was hoping to have by deciding that Monday was the day to bring Amy and Annie (the latter of whom, I believe, is only 7)? I almost hope I can have a chance to talk to those girls some two decades or so from now, just to get a sense of what memories they keep from Monday – or if they manage to blank out the entire day from their life’s memories.

Actually, I’d wonder who Blagojevich would be trying to sway. Does he want the prosecutors to ease up on the all-out attack they want to do – to make up for the fact that they didn’t get to do any cross examination of him on account of the fact that he didn’t testify on his own behalf? Or does he want the prosecutors to smack him about like a piñata in front of his daughters – out of some hope that the jurors will see the shock and fear in the girls’ eyes and feel some compassion for him?

For the record, prosecutors said in their closing statements that Blagojevich made claims that were “outright lies,” particularly when it comes to the former governor’s claims to maintain separation between government and campaign activities.

THEY DID, HOWEVER, try to clean up the obscene language that Blagojevich engaged in that was caught on tapes of FBI wiretaps of his telephone conversations. Of course, those of us following the trial have heard the “f---ing golden”-type comments so often that our minds fill in the foul language.

It could just be that Blagojevich wants the jury to see him with his wife and two young daughters to make them realize that there are people who care about him and who will be hurt if they reach a guilty verdict on so many charges that a lengthy prison term becomes mandatory?

Or maybe it truly is just that Blagojevich wants to expose his daughters to the ways of public policy and public service, and Monday truly was the best time for the girls to spare to sit in a courtroom on a hot July day at the Dirksen Building courthouse.

Nah!!!!! Even I’m not so gullible as to believe that.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Might as well stick to your guns; you’ll lose by trying to compromise too much

If there is a lesson that President Barack Obama should have learned from the Shirley Sherrod fiasco, it is that he might as well stick to his ideological beliefs. Because any attempt to compromise them out of hopes of gaining a few brownie points from “the other side” is only going to tick off his so-called political allies.

The fact is that we have an ideologically split nation, with just as many people inclined to look down on Obama as are inclined to back him. (On Sunday, the Gallup Organization gave Obama a 44 percent approval rating, with 47 percent not approving of him).

SHERROD IS THE former Agriculture Department employee who got fired from her federal job because of comments she made on a 25-year-old videotape that are now on the Internet – comments that made her out to be some sort of black bigot who wants to single out white people for abuse.

Of course, that was before we got to see the whole thing – which is that Sherrod admitted the error of her decade-old ways and has gone out of her way to make amends.

The political observer take on the situation (at least those observers without blatant ideological hangups) is that Obama and his aides jumped the gun and fired Sherrod because they wanted to cut off conservative pundit attacks. Had he waited and found out the full story, he would never have been put in the position where he wound up having to make a personal telephone call to Sherrod to apologize for his presidential conduct.

Yet I couldn’t help but notice a pair of commentaries that appeared recently on this issue. The commentators are Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, and talk radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh.

THEY’RE BOTH TRASHING Obama for this situation. They’re both using it as a microcosm for what is wrong with this man. Yet it also is clear that their underlying logic is so different that there would have been no way Obama could have pleased both.

In fact, the only way he could unite them is by bungling the situation so badly.

In the case of Dowd, she is one of those pundits who says that Obama was too eager to appease the conservative pundits. It’s almost like the Latino situation, where many activists wonder about an Obama who says he supports immigration reform because he knows the system is flawed, yet seems eager to appease the conservatives by first bolstering the enforcement mechanisms of that same flawed system.

As far as Sherrod is concerned, Dowd offers up the idea that the president’s Harvard Law pedigree and Hawaii upbringing are so radically different from the African-American mainstream of this nation (remember the Campaign ’08 allegations that Obama wasn’t “black enough” to be the first African-American to become president?) that he didn’t realize upfront how ridiculous the allegations against Sherrod truly were.

SHE THINKS THAT if there were more black people on Obama’s White House staff, perhaps one of them would have flagged this for the president, and he could have averted a situation that wound up making him look foolish.

I can’t help but think, however, that if Obama had those extra black staffers with backgrounds more in touch with the Southern experience of old (the “slave thing,” as Dowd quotes one black Democratic advisor as saying), we’d have the pundits such as Limbaugh all worked up into a frenzy even more than they already are.

As it is, Limbaugh is upset by the situation because he thinks too many people caved in by accepting the idea that Sherrod’s comments initially were taken out of context. He wishes we were still trying to portray Sherrod as some sort of black bigot, with her very existence on the federal payroll then somehow blamed on Obama (even though back in the days when she made these comments about how race affected her judgment on the job, it was Ronald Reagan who was president – she’s NOT an Obama hire).

In short, Obama’s initial reaction to this situation was meant to cut off people like Limbaugh – who would have feasted on the story to engage in their usual ideologically conservative rhetoric. There is a sense that he was trying to appease them – perhaps justifying it in his own mind as a sense of bipartisanship that includes giving the other side something.

I WOULD HOPE that this experience would teach him that some of these people don’t want to be appeased. These are the ones who voted ABO back in 2008, and are determined to vote for anyone but Obama two years from now. There just isn’t any reaching out to them.

When you do, all you’re doing is setting yourself up for a symbolic smack upside the head (a literal one will get you tackled by the Secret Service, which will then cause the conservative pundits to complain about the high level of security being wasted on this man who they don’t consider worthy of the presidency) from the people who are supposed to be your political allies.

Bipartisanship is a nice concept. The fact that we don’t seem to be able to achieve it is something that is wrong with our society.

But the reality is we do have a dual political party system for picking our government officials. And there are times when one has to remember what “team” gave them a uniform so they could play the political game.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Where’s John Scott?

I kind of felt sorry on Sunday for John Scott.

He was an outfielder in professional baseball who, in a sense, made it to the top of his profession. He has three lines of type in Baseball Encyclopedias indicating he played parts of two seasons with the San Diego Padres and one year with the Toronto Blue Jays back in the team’s first year of existence in 1977.

HE WILL FOREVER be able to say he was a major league baseball player, and I realize there are many people who would desperately have liked to have made that claim – but cannot.

Yet on Sunday, when Andre Dawson was giving his acceptance speech upon becoming a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Scott was, well, who knows? He hasn’t done much that has attracted public attention (which can be positive in that he hasn’t seriously screwed anything up) since leaving baseball (where he is a career .222 hitter who managed all of two home runs in his career).

What ties the two men together is that staple of memorabilia – baseball cards. The set issued by Topps Chewing Gum for 1977 includes card number 473, which depicts four rookies all of whom have that fresh-faced look of a full life of baseball glory ahead of them.

One of them is Dawson, who is the reason this card has a book value of $20 (compared to the perhaps $0.50 it would command if it didn’t have a Hall of Fame player on it). Another is Scott.

WHAT IT AMOUNTS to is that the highlight of Scott’s baseball career could literally become that he once had his picture put on the same piece of cardboard as the man who went on to become the Hawk to a generation of North Siders (Sout’ Siders know who “The Hawk” really is).

While Dawson went on to play baseball into the 1990s and is beloved to certain Cubs fans, how many Blue Jays fans except for the most hard-core remember the man who was a part of their team’s original ballclub?

While Dawson managed to get himself immortalized, Scott’s career ended at age 26 in 1978, when his attempt to stick in baseball with the Springfield Redbirds of the old American Association produced a .281 batting average, 50 stolen bases – and no interest by the parent club St. Louis Cardinals in promoting him back to the major league roster.

His claim to fame in Blue Jays history? He was the lead-off Blue Jays batter in their first game ever, on April 7, 1977 against the Chicago White Sox (the game that was played even though it snowed heavily throughout). He was struck out by pitcher Ken Brett.

BOTH DAWSON AND Scott were equals, in a sense, back in the spring of ’77, as they had hopes of lengthy careers playing baseball in Canada. Dawson made the trip players dream about that ends in Cooperstown. Scott took the trip that occurs much more often, struggling (and failing) to stay in baseball while playing in Springfield, Ill., the very next season.

I wonder if he has any memories of the capital city, or of eating a “horseshoe?”

For his sake, I hope his life has turned out well, post-baseball. At the very least, the value of his baseball card just shot up significantly – all due to Dawson.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

A special election for 8 weeks in office – that’s the legal mess Illinois is in now

The complications being experienced in U.S. District Court these days in trying to figure out how to hold an election to pick a replacement for what is left of the Senate term Barack Obama was elected to in 2004 ought to be evidence of how inane the appeals court ruling was that called for such an election.

It was the federal appeals court in Chicago that earlier this year ruled that federal law requires special elections to be held to pick an interim senator, and has rejected claims by elections officials in Illinois that conducting a special election in this case presents too many logistical problems.

SO NOW, WE have U.S. District Judge John F. Grady hashing through the process with elections officials, trying to figure out just how we Illinois residents will pick a permanent replacement for Obama’s term, on account of the fact that Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., can only be regarded as a temporary replacement.

Never mind the fact that he has been senator for nearly twice as many months as the permanent replacement will serve in weeks in the U.S. Senate.

Some people are just election-happy, regardless of how impractical it was.

Now anyone who has consistently read the commentary here knows that I did not have as much of a problem with the idea of Sen. Burris as some people did. I liked the idea of an older caretaker who would merely finish out the last two years of the Obama term representing Illinois in the Senate, and would not be a serious candidate to win a six-year term in the Nov. 2 elections.

I DIDN’T WANT anyone getting the benefits of incumbency. I wanted the two major party candidates for the Senate seat to have more-or-less equal footing (which is what has happened, we’re in a political fight in Illinois to see whether Alexi Giannoulias or Mark Kirk is the bigger fool).

I also did not want what some incredibly impractical people were calling for – a special election in 2009, followed up by the regular election in 2010.

Having to go through this nonsense of a full-fledged campaign cycle in two consecutive years, right after going through a presidential election in ’08 (and followed up by what many people consider to be the important race – for mayor in ’11) would be electoral overload.

It would break elections officials financially to have to do that, as well as fry us mentally.

BUT WHAT WE’RE going to get is something more ridiculous. Because the people who think they’re pushing for a good-government ideal by wanting yet another election to deal with are going to have to cope with the fact that all they’re doing is putting the major political parties in complete control of the process.

Isn’t that what they want to believe is the root of the actual problem?

Nothing is definite (that’s what elections officials are trying to resolve with Grady), but it seems that the Democratic, Republican and Green parties (they are still legitimate in Illinois) will get to pick the actual candidates to represent them in any special election. The “voters” will get no say. There’s also a good chance that any other parties or political independents will be shut out of this process – even though “Roland, Roland, Roland” Burris says he wants to be a part of any ballot to pick his successor.

How long until one of those independents challenges this whole process? What about Burris himself? I still think it would make the most sense to let him have those final eight weeks in federal office. This may be the one time that those people have a legitimate point.

AS HAS BEEN speculated, when people show up at their polling places on Nov. 2 (or at an early voting center in the weeks leading up to Election Day), they will be asked to vote twice for U.S. Senate – once for a person to serve from Nov. 3 to Jan. 3 at noon, then another to take over at that time and serve the full six-year term.

Common sense says that the political parties will nominate Giannoulias, Kirk and LeAlan M. Jones, which means that most people will vote for the same person for both Senate slots.

Which means that the practical result of this so-called desire for good government in picking our U.S. Senate member is that we will be giving whoever wins the real election an eight-week head start over all of the other new members who get elected to the Senate come Nov. 2.

I’m sure Giannoulias or Kirk (or, if a miracle happens, Jones) would like that. It would give them all that much more seniority among their Senate colleagues – which can mean for slightly more influence. It certainly would eliminate the end result of the 2004 elections when the Senate guidelines for determining seniority ensured that Obama was ranked as the 100th member of the Senate (out of 100).

PERHAPS ILLINOIS IS better off if our new senator ranks in the mid-90s. But it strikes me as a miniscule benefit to receive in exchange for the confusion people here are experiencing now in trying to figure out how we pick an eight-week replacement.

That is an experience that makes me shudder to the point where I just might try casting Burris’ name as a write-in vote for the eight-week term as an act of protest.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Blagojevich the 2-ton gorilla in the room that crushes out real corruption cases

I know I’m in the minority for thinking this way – but I actually believe that the criminal case against Rod Blagojevich is, at best, the third most interesting one to come up this summer at the Dirksen Building courthouse.

To me, much of what has been heard in testimony is merely evidence that Blagojevich was a goof, and more capable of talking trash than committing crimes. If anything, he was an amateur incapable of pulling off any schemes – which is what U.S. District Judge James Zagel alluded to when he was heard making a remark saying Blagojevich was a “.110 (hitter) in the D-minor leagues.”

ALTHOUGH I WONDER how many baseball fans under the age of 50 realize that the minor leagues ever extended down to the Class D level?

Personally, I take more interest in the other two court cases that have made the Summer of ’10 at the Dirksen Building a bizarre place to be.

We had the trial of Jon Burge, the one-time police commander on the far South Side who was found guilty of not telling the truth about his use of physical force during interrogations. Of course, had he told the truth, he would have been in significant amounts of trouble – since his idea of force is what many of us consider to be torture.

Then, we got the sequel to the criminal trial of Al Sanchez, the one-time head of the Hispanic Democratic Organization (which was supposed to be the part of the Democratic Party that locally pushed for Latino political empowerment).

SANCHEZ WAS FOUND guilty this week of using the oldest trick in the political handbook to achieve and maintain political influence. Sanchez also was head of the city Streets and Sanitation department, which means that people who did tasks that helped him maintain his poltiical influence were rewarded with city jobs – nearly 4,000 people worked for Sanchez’ department when he was a city commissioner.

The idea of driving around in a smelly truck and picking up peoples’ trash may sound unappealing to some, but I have known many people who get over the fact that the stink of trash will stick to them after work by looking at the financial rewards and job security.

You can’t very well outsource trash pickup to a firm in India, can you?

So people were getting city jobs for doing work for campaigns favored by Sanchez and the HDO leadership (which gained the rightful reputation as an organization devoted more to picking Latinos who would be loyal to Daley, than trying to get Latinos elected to office in general). The degree to which they engaged in such activity became so blatant that the U.S. Attorney’s office got involved.

THAT IS WHY Sanchez was found guilty in 2009, and was again found guilty on Wednesday (that original conviction was tossed out by an appeals court because prosecutors did not let it be known that at least one key witness against Sanchez had a criminal record that could be seen as tainting his testimony).

The fact that this trial was a do-over, so to speak, is what caused it to get much less attention this time around, which is why I got a giggle over reading a commentary I wrote about a year ago, wondering if Sanchez had the potential to steal public attention away from Blagojevich.

I thought the fact that he was city government would have some sort of attention-grabbing appeal. It didn’t. It shows you how much I know.

But I really can’t help but wonder if this has become an instance where the more significant cases are getting less attention because of Milorod. Is it just that Blagojevich’s behavior is so comical at times that we can laugh at it, unlike the behavior of Burge (where people were beaten, then locked away in prison for many years – if not decades) or Sanchez (who was using his city government position to bolster his political position, and trying to disguise it under the noble concept of promoting Latino political empowerment).

I’M NOT KIDDING when I say that the behavior of Sanchez offends me, and Burge’s conduct is nauseating, whereas Blagojevich is more buffoonish than anything else. How else to think of the fact that Blagojevich may have been delusional enough to think he could force some sort of reward for himself in exchange for his appointment to the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois?

That seat was never actually sold, and it seems from some of the testimony that even Blagojevich eventually came to realize it wasn’t going to happen, that he wasn’t going to get anything.

Yet Sanchez turned his Hispanic Democratic Organization into a group that influenced city politics (and has several aldermen currently sitting who owe their initial elections to HDO), while Burge put people in prison who shouldn’t have had to endure such a fate.

Burge and Sanchez, however, have their defenders, while Blagojevich is the man whom many people these days want to believe is somehow the political Public Enemy Number One. That logic is just twisted.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blagojevich did us a favor by shutting up, even though some don’t appreciate it

I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief when it became official Wednesday that Rod Blagojevich is NOT going to blather on for days, if not weeks, on end, trying to justify himself as a noble public official – rather than just a government geek who got where he did because of his father-in-law.

In fact, we may have heard the most honest thing we will ever hear come from the mouth of a public official when he told reporter-types at the Dirksen Building courthouse, “maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I talk too much.”

THE IDEA OF a politician piping down is something we ought to be thankful for – even though the tone of much of the punditry about Blagojevich’s criminal trial these days is that he somehow owed us his testimony.

That idea was based on all the boasting that Blagojevich did throughout the months leading up to this trial claiming that he wanted a chance to “tell” his own story so as to convince the public of his innocence of any criminal behavior.

It was pleasant to know that the Republican research teams doing work for the various GOP candidates will have to dig elsewhere, rather than just write down the words Blagojevich said on the stand in their efforts to dig up dirt on Democrats who nominally were the former governor’s political allies (but in reality were more pleased than Republican legislators when he was impeached and removed from office over a year ago).

Because that would have been one of the few benefits to actually having Milorod on the stand during his trial.

SO WE SHOULD thank the defense attorneys who talked Blagojevich into not testifying – and give a coscorron a la cabeza (a smack to the head, for those who don’t habla Español) to the one defense attorney who said he wanted Milorod to testify.

Now I will go so far as to make this prediction. While I think there is some legitimate thought to the idea that the prosecution did not prove its case against Blagojevich, I don’t think that matters.

I expect Rod Blagojevich to be found guilty of all counts in the case before him. If this jury feels any compassion, it will be in terms of determining the fate of brother Robert. They may feel he was an un-political rube who got thrown in way over his head, and shouldn’t have his life ruined because of his younger brother.

Then again, the contempt factor for Rod may be so intense that it will take down everything in its path – even Rob, who amused me when he admitted during his testimony that he still considers himself to be a Republican. That will be one fact the GOP “attack dogs” will ignore.

THERE ALSO IS the fact that U.S. District Judge James Zagel is determined to set the rules that the jury must follow in ways that ensure they disregard many of Blagojevich’s claims.

How else to explain Zagel’s comments outside of the earshot of jurors when he compared one-time first lady Patti Blagojevich to a pair of madams from 19th Century Chicago, and his comments about how conspiracies can be just words (since Blagojevich’s attorneys have tried saying that much of the political trash talk caught on FBI tapes was merely speculation that never occurred, and the former governor himself describing it as “brainstorming ideas”)?

As Zagel put it (and was reported by the Chicago Tribune), “you can have a conspiracy entered into with fools and bumblers, and it’s still a conspiracy.”

“Fool” and “bumbler” are probably the nicer words that people would use to describe Blagojevich these days. Is that what we really would have wanted to hear coming from the witness stand for the next few days?

I HONESTLY BELIEVE that if Blagojevich has a chance at having his name cleared in a strictly legal sense (the bulk of Illinoisans are going to think that Rod is skuzzy, regardless of the jury’s eventual verdict), it is going to come in the appeals courts.

Blagojevich could wind up suffering the same fate as former Gov. George Ryan, whose appeals up to the Supreme Court of the United States were unsuccessful – despite the firm belief of dissenting justices who think that Ryan’s behavior wasn’t criminal.

But it likely would be there that we will learn whether Zagel’s rigid control over what could or could not be said in court was truly an attempt to keep Blagojevich from turning the trial into a circus, or merely a judge leaning too far to benefit the prosecution

One last thought.

SHOULD BLAGOJEVICH SOMEDAY have his name cleared, I would envision him spending the rest of his days on this Earth blathering on and on about how he was victimized – similar to how I now expect former newspaper magnate (and Chicago Sun-Times owner) Conrad Black to behave, now that he has been granted bond to be free from prison while his criminal appeals are pending.

True justice would be to lock the two of them in a room together and let them suffer from each other’s over-bloated egos.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gov gives Brady what he wants, still loses

The summer isn’t even over, yet we’re getting hard-core campaign activity. How else to explain the fact that Republican gubernatorial nominee William Brady is upset about a new law he sponsored?

At stake is the fact that Brady currently is a state senator from Bloomington, and one of the bills he introduced this spring actually made it all the way through the legislative process, and was signed into law earlier this week by Gov. Pat Quinn.

CONSIDERING THAT THIS gives Brady a legitimate legislative accomplishment to include on his record, and one that could bolster his record when it comes to the campaign season, some might have expected Quinn to veto the measure out of political spite.

Sure, the Legislature could have come back during the veto session and over-rode him – making it law anyway. But that wouldn’t have happened until after the Nov. 2 elections. Who would have remembered? Or cared?

Instead, Quinn signed the measure into law. Yet Brady is upset. He thinks Quinn didn’t give him and his “issue” enough public attention. He would have wanted Quinn to tout this bill as a major accomplishment of the administration – and one given to him by Brady himself.

If it sounds like I write that last sentence with a mocking tone, you’d be correct. Brady ought to be thankful he got his “new law” in place, because that bill was one of his own attempts to create an issue for the campaign season. It would have made sense for Quinn to veto the thing, just for the sake of rejecting it.

INSTEAD, HE DIDN’T.

Enough of this partisan babbling. The issue relates to the early release of prison inmates who appear to be behaving while incarcerated in a manner sufficient enough that their continued imprisonment just doesn’t make much sense at a time when the state’s prison system is grossly overcrowded.

There already are measures for early release for good behavior, but it seems that under Quinn, there was a program by which additional good time could be earned. The result is a set of inmates who were set free, and some of them either immediately got themselves arrested, or are not complying with probation requirements because they have managed to disappear altogether.

That situation creates embarrassment for Quinn. Back during the primary campaign season, opponent Dan Hynes tried to make an issue against Quinn out of this, and it did hurt his support.

BRADY HIMSELF TRIED to score some political points by coming up with his bill that is now law – requiring the Illinois Department of Corrections to use their website to publish pictures and basic information about inmates who are set free under special early release programs.

Theoretically, it gives the public information that might help us realize that a person who suddenly shows up in our communities might have a past that we should be concerned about. In reality, it allows Brady to say that such a law was required because of the incompetence of state corrections officials during the Quinn administration.

Brady had his campaign spokesman issue a statement saying that Quinn should have signed this bill into law with much fanfare. Perhaps a big bill-signing ceremony, with Quinn turning over the pen he used to apply his signature to paper to Brady himself, who would then be allowed to grandstand on the issue – with the “Mighty Quinn” forced to stand at his side and take the verbal abuse.

Once again, more sarcasm on my side. Such a sight was never going to occur, and Brady knows that. For him to have such self-righteous claptrap be issued in his name makes him look absurd – almost as absurd as it was back in June when Quinn held a ceremony to honor the Illinois Wesleyan University baseball team for winning an NCAA Division III national championship and Brady took offense that he wasn’t invited on account of the fact that he is an alum (Class of 1983).

THE SIMPLE FACT is that the Illinois Legislature approves hundreds, sometimes near 1,000, bills each year. The number of them that get elaborate ceremonies to celebrate their approval are but a dozen or so.

Most of them get signed in batches usually timed for moments when political people think no one is paying much attention. By and large, few people are.

Then, there are cases such as this bill, which was signed just as its time for consideration was running out. State law gives a governor 60 days from the date a bill arrives in his office to take some sort of action. So yes, it is true that Quinn handled this particular issue in as low-key a manner as possible.

But considering that this is an election year, it would not have been surprising for Quinn to just take a “no” attitude toward anything with Brady’s name connected to it. Which means my bottom line is that Brady should be thankful he got his legislative accomplishment – which I’m sure he will still find ways to use to smack Quinn upside his head a few times.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Obama the real target of GOP’s Senate unemployment extension opposition

It has been four years since I last collected a check for unemployment benefits. Yet the flow of emotions is coming back to me as I prepare to sit back and watch to see just how the U.S. Senate will behave Tuesday with regards to the issue.

My own employment history became erratic during the past decade, as I twice have had job layoffs that resulted in my being eligible for unemployment.

SO I CAN comprehend how people feel who are stuck in a position where they have to rely on those biweekly checks for a few hundred dollars at a time, just so they can have a little bit of cash to pay some bills. In short, what unemployment does is helps to avert a person going broke financially at those times when they lose their jobs for whatever reason.

In my case, I had employers both times who decided that their own profit margins would be greater if they didn’t have to cover the cost of my salary or any kind of health insurance benefit. The apologies (so to speak) of how my talents on the job would be missed didn’t overcome that bitter sentiment.

As things worked out for me, I had two different experiences when I went for unemployment. Or should I say, when unemployment ran out. For that is the situation political people will be asked to confront when the issue comes up in the Senate to extend the amount of time that a person can receive such benefits.

My first time, I received new paying work literally at the exact time that my “benefits” ran out. In fact, it worked out that because of the delay from when one verifies they need a check and when it is received, I literally got to cash my last unemployment check at the exact same time that I cashed my first partial paycheck from the “new” job I wound up getting – a job that was part-time and which eventually disappeared in its own right.

I LATER MANAGED to land a full-time job – one that was not news-oriented. Technically, I got out of the news business for a year-and-a-half. That job disappeared due to layoffs – and that time, I wasn’t so lucky.

When my time came for benefits to run out, I could cite several rejections for full-time work, but no offers.

So what I am saying is that I know first-hand what it feels like to get a job in the nick of time, and also to have benefits run out and not have a clue where the next bit of income will come from.

To use a euphemism from my junior high school days, “It reeks.”

EVENTUALLY, I LINED up my current employment situation, which consists of a part-time job with a newspaper that throws a lot of work my way, occasional checks for the work I do in publishing this weblog and its sister site, and occasional other assignments that pay bits of cash.

It is not a large income, but it beats unemployment. Or more accurately, it beats having one’s unemployment benefits run out.

Of course, I’m sure that some political people – especially those of the Republican persuasion – want me to pipe down. The last thing they want to hear is from people who are going to be expected to keep paying their bills, even though they have been unable to find work significant enough to cover one’s expenses, so to speak.

If anything, I can identify with those people who, admittedly, were used by President Barack Obama on Monday to try to drum up political support for the bill pending in the Senate that would extend the amount of time that benefits can be received.

IT MAY BE political, but then again, it is no less blatant than the opposition being generated by those politicians who want to represent interests that want to believe anyone who loses their job must have done something to warrant such action.

That is a shallow attitude to have, yet it is one that is too common. Recently, a broadcaster whom I used to know personally when I lived/worked in Springfield, Ill., put on his Facebook “wall” as his status, “ … if you are out of work for more than a year, maybe the problem is you …”

I don’t doubt that my “friend” (who now works in radio in Indianapolis, along with a few, varied part-time jobs, as I understand) seriously believes that, or that he isn’t alone in having such thoughts.

What is ridiculous is the thought that anybody would seriously rather have unemployment benefits rather than work. Because I remember the size of the checks I would receive back when I collected them. They weren’t for much money.

NOBODY GETS RICH collecting unemployment.. Everybody has to scale back their lives significantly – some people more than others.

I still remember the second time I collected unemployment, I was eligible for about $260 per week, for up to 26 weeks. I would have complained about that amount, except that I remember I was filling out my application alongside a woman who was trying to support two children on a crummy-paying job, then lost it. I still recall she was eligible for barely over $100 per week (because of how little her last job that laid her off had paid).

I accept that many politicians (who have jobs) are going to vote agaisnt the extension on Tuesday. In fact, the partisanship is so intense that Democrats are forced to wait to vote on the extension bill until after Carte Goodwin is formally sworn in as senator from West Virginia – to prevent the issue from failing due to a filibuster.

The bottom line is that we will hear a lot of rhetoric Tuesday about high-minded ideals. In reality, it is nothing but cheap politicking – at a time when we have some people suffering significantly in this time of economic struggles.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

EXTRA: Term number 7?

For what it is worth, I could not help but notice a sign Monday at Damen and Cermak avenues promoting the re-election bids of Mayor Richard M. Daley and 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis.

To answer your suspicion, the sign was nowhere near battered up enough to be a holdover from the 2007 campaign. So even though Hizzoner, Jr., has yet to declare anything, at least some political people already are trying to gain benefits for themselves with the notion of “Daley in ’11.”

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Daley “approval”: I don’t buy it

Will we be reminded of this headline again on May 4, 2011 (the city's next Inauguration Day?

Excuse me for being skeptical, but I spent the weekend wondering if the Chicago Tribune had come up with a front page this weekend that would be remembered alongside “Dewey Defeats Truman” and the day that the newpaper prematurely obituaried long-time Alderman Vito Marzullo.

“Majority says no to Daley” was the banner headline put atop the lead story, which told of a poll the newspaper commissioned for itself and WGN-TV news to write about, saying that Mayor Richard M. Daley is vulnerable politically as we approach the 2011 municipal elections.

AS THE NEWSPAPER reported, only 37 percent of those surveyed approve of the job the mayor is doing these days. Only 31 percent are willing to say they want Daley to get re-elected next year.

Admittedly, that is not as bad as the 22 percent final approval rating George W. Bush got when he left the presidency last year. It is nowhere near as bad as the 13 percent approval rating that the same Chicago Tribune gave to Rod Blagojevich – and which we got to hear Blagojevich himself mock on all those audio tapes the U.S. attorney’s office used as evidence against the former governor during his corruption trial.

But still, having potentially only one-third of the people in support of you is not a sign of great confidence – even if the number of people who “disapprove” of Daley is also below a majority (47 percent, to be exact) and that same poll says 16 percent of people have “no opinion” on the question of whether Daley should be re-elected as mayor.

Yet like I wrote at the beginning of this commentary, I’m skeptical of the thought that people in this city are somehow on the verge of dumping Daley. They may joke about it, or make cynical comments at moments when something is going wrong.

BUT I BELIEVE that when all is said and done, next year a lot of people who gave a negative response to this survey will wind up making a knee-jerk reaction in the voting booth – and casting their ballot in a way that ensures Daley the younger gets to extend his time working in his father’s old office on the fifth floor of City Hall.

As far as Daley is concerned, I fully expect him to die in office just like his father (although not literally in his office, such as was the fate of former Mayor Harold Washington). My sense is that the man wouldn’t know what to do with himself it he weren’t in the political post he has held since 1989 (when he won the special election to replace interim Mayor Eugene Sawyer). In the Tribune’s story, he talks of still having the “passion” for the position.

Perhaps it is a sign of my age and that I had already reached adulthood by that time, but I can envision Chicago someday with someone other than a Daley as mayor – although I wonder if it will be a Vanecko or a Thompson, or any of the other surnames of assorted cousins who can trace their family roots back to Richard J. Daley.

What I can’t consider is Richard M. departing us now, mainly because I don’t see any significant challengers in the current political ranks.

SOME PEOPLE LIKE to toss out the name of Sandi Jackson, the alderman from the seventh ward who is married to Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., (just envision a local political dynasty tracing back to the Rev. Jesse Jackson) while others think that Ald. Joe Moore of the 49th Ward has a big enough ego to think he can challenge Daley.

Yet Moore himself has said he will run for re-election next year to his City Council seat from the far North Side. Too many names tossed about have appeal limited to specific segments of the city. While I personally could see Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart having the ego sufficient enough to think he could be mayor, even he has said he will not take on Daley in '11.

If anything, the reason that the political speculation about Rahm Emanuel giving up his post as White House chief of staff to move back to Chicago to run for mayor has been given as much credibililty as it has is because there just isn’t anyone else to consider. Yet even Emanuel says his mayoral dreams will wait until Daley voluntarily departs elective office.

At this point, I’d have to say Daley will have nothing more than token opposition in the bipartisan elections that will take Feb. 22, 2011 (with runoffs scheduled for April 5, if necessary), which would make it just like all the other mayoral elections of recent years. The website Our Campaigns predicts Daley to have a 99.68 percent chance of winning re-election.

THAT WEBSITE MIGHT be far from scientific, but I think it reflects reality a bit better than this latest poll. In fact, I can’t help but think this latest poll is merely a reflection of the mood the country is in with regard to electoral politics.

Many people these days are willing to say “no” or think “no” and are just giving a knee-jerk reaction now to an election that is almost a year away. It’s not even the next election.

I almost expect many people who are ideologically inclined to do so to take out their bashing of Democrats in the Nov. 2 elections. Which means that an election cycle that affects solely the city of Chicago in 2011 will be a whole new set of circumstances. I’d go so far as to say any poll taken now is irrelevant.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Politics are full of symbolic gestures

When evaluating the effectiveness of political people, one needs to keep in mind the fact that they often engage in actions that are purely symbolic. If they were to be honest, even they would admit they don’t expect serious action as a result.

Which is why I can’t help but snicker at the latest activities of Gov. Pat Quinn and Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill. (who remains the youngest member of Congress). Both of them are going to insist they’re engaging in the ultimate acts of good government – even though those of us with sense will see through their rhetoric.

IN THE CASE of the governor, it is his call for “furloughs” as a way of cutting significant spending from the state budget that gets me all worked up. For the youthful representative (who is seven years younger than the brand-new kid senator from West Virginia, Carte Goodwin) from Peoria, it is his belief that there is something subversive about those road signs informing us which projects were part of the federal stimulus package that makes me laugh.

Insofar as the Mighty Quinn, I must make a confession. I have never thought much of the concept of furloughs as a way for government to save money.

The theory behind furloughs is that government shuts down for a few days, scattered throughout the year. Employees get an extra day off here and there, because they don’t get paid for those days. Hence, there is a financial savings.

Now if it worked out that government remained open and people still provided the same services yet somehow did not get paid for those days, then THAT would be a financial savings. Instead, we’re talking about extra time closed, which means that certain work doesn’t get done.

WHICH INVARIABLY MEANS there is some backlog that develops that must be taken care of once the governmental unit re-opens. The work still needs to be done, which means the worker eventually gets paid.

Either that, or the work doesn’t get done. In which case, a furlough has merely caused more of a problem than whatever tiny amount of money may have been saved.

Which is why I must confess to getting a kick out of the campaign rhetoric used by Quinn’s Republican challenger, state Sen. William Brady, R-Bloomington. He points out that the savings from Quinn’s plan to increase the number of furlough days for non-union state employees from 12 to 24 is a savings of fourteen-hundredths of 1 percent of the $13 billion figure that we have heard for months is the shortage between what state government has and what it needs to fully fund everything it would like to do this year.

Quinn wants us to focus on a 100 percent increase (in the number of furlough days), hoping that we will hear that and think he’s seriously trying to save the state a significant amount of cash. I may not agree with Brady on much. But this time, he’s completely correct.

OF COURSE, QUINN isn’t the only person capable of exaggerating fact in hopes that it creates some nice sounding rhetoric for the upcoming campaign season. Schock wants to shock us into thinking that something corrupt is taking place out of Washington.

How else to explain the fact that Schock is denouncing as “propaganda” those signs popping up on construction projects across the country that tell us the particular “Project (is) funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

In short, it was federal money from the economic stimulus package of recent years that enabled a local entity to be able to afford to do do the particular road repair, or other infrastructure project.

Now there is some truth to the idea that some of these projects would have been done anyway – paid for with local government funds. Except that the locals took the federal money, and shifted their local dollars to something else.

EITHER WAY, IT sounds like a plus.

Except that the Republican partisans want to push the rhetorical line of a federal government that takes and takes and takes, then squeezes you dry so it can take a little more! How dare they try to show that they gave a little back?

Schock has introduced a bill in Congress (which hopefully will never again see the light of day) that would abolish the signs. We literally now have the “End the Stimulus Advertisement Act,” because Schock wants to claim that the $300 per sign is going to break the federal budget.

State officials estimate that about $665,000 was spent to erect about 950 such signs across Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune. That comes out of the $936 million Illinois received in stimulus funds. Schock claims $20 million was spent nationwide on signs, although by his own admission, that figure is his estimate, based on reports from eight states.

THERE OFTEN IS a wisecrack that goes around a newsroom whenever a reporter-type person pulls out the calculator to try to figure out a statistic for a story. “Warning, Warning, Reporter-doing-math!” Here’s the deep secret. Elected officials aren’t any better. Without their staffs to prop them up, many would be completely lost.

Except when it comes to making borderline-pompous political statements, which both Schock and Quinn showed us this week they have a knack for.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Aon has to go way out of town to find sports franchise worthy of corporate name

Am I the only one who thinks it odd that when Chicago-based Aon, a leading provider of insurance and risk management services, decides to get into the business of corporate sponsorship of athletics, they turn to another nation for an appropriate sports franchise?

It was this week that Aon officials announced their four-year deal with Manchester United, one of the premier sports franchises of the world (I don’t want to hear from fans of the Dallas Cowboys). It will now be the Aon logo that gets stretched across the front of the jerseys Man U players will wear – which essentially turns every football match the team plays worldwide into a billboard for Aon.

MEANWHILE, WE HERE in Chicago have our own professional football franchise (real football, not that silly game the Chicago Bears play) in the form of the Chicago Fire. Who do we Chicago soccer fans have to see on our team’s jerseys when they take the field – none other than Minnesota-based Best Buy.

An international conglomerate, versus a chain of stores that people go to in order to buy cheap appliances and other electronics.

That has to say something about the status of soccer in this country – perhaps we in the United States will know that our country’s professional league (the awkwardly-named Major League Soccer) has finally reached a significant level (instead of being a training ground for U.S. citizens who later get sold to European or Latin American teams) when Aon decides it would rather have a future sports sponsorship with its hometown team, or a home country franchise, rather than reach out to England for an advertising deal.

For the record, the deal between Manchester United and Aon took effect June 1. But officials waited until the team was in the Chicago-area as part of their summer U.S./Canada tour – during which they’re playing exhibitions against U.S. teams (they’re playing the Major League Soccer all-stars July 28 in Houston, among other matches).

IT IS A coup for Aon to be able to have their name across the front of the Manchester United jerseys. About the only comparable U.S. deal they could have negotiated would have been some sort of sponsorship deal with the New York Yankees (who themselves have had their own marketing partnerships throughout the years with Manchester United).

Still, a part of me can’t help but perceive this as a snub of sorts.

Not that it is necessary for corporations that decide to get into the “fun” of sports through sponsorships to be from the home cities of their respective teams. Heck, even team ownership doesn’t have to be, strictly speaking, a hometown deal.

Take the late George Steinbrenner, whom just about everybody thinks of as an honorary New Yorker, even though he preferred to live in Tampa, Fla., was a Cleveland native, and actually had more personal ties to a place like East Chicago, Ind., than he did to New York proper.

PERHAPS THAT IS the same thing that could happen with Aon being connected in image to Manchester United. It definitely will give Aon a more international reputation. But it could also wind up having the effect of making Manchester United a more prominent part of our own local sporting scene.

Take Thursday, which corporate types declared to be Aon United Global Day, and celebrated with events at Millenium Park. They were part of events held 120 countries meant to promote fundraising and volunteer work. Locally, theyw ere meant to promote youth programs in the Chicago Park District and Special Olympics Chicago.

Which means that these kind of corporate sponsorship deals go beyond the activity on the football pitch.

To the degree that such a connection would increase local interest in soccer, that could be a good thing. Insofar as competition for attention for the Chicago Fire, I honestly believe that a little competition for attention could be what motivates U.S. soccer franchises to improve their overall quality of play.

A BETTER MATCH on the pitch is what it will take to get people here to reduce the amount of time they spend following the professional leagues of nations such as England or Italy, or any of the Latin American leagues whose matches are readily available on Spanish-language television.

Now I know some people who are determined to think of soccer as something perpetually “too foreign” to fit into our society are going to complain about the advertising on the jersey – which hasn’t been too common in U.S. sports culture. Our sports teams traditionally have plastered advertising signage all over their stadiums so that broadcasts of the ballgames turn into virtual advertising for Coca-Cola, or whatever product is up for grabs.

We’re going to hear arguments that wearing more logos is tacky. Yet I honestly don’t think its any more annoying than some of the incredibly awkward names that sports stadiums now carry (Reliant Park in Houston, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia). It has come to the point where the once-offensive U.S. Cellular Field is one of the better sounding stadium names in existence.

If anything, the Aon logo is too simple to be tacky.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

“Open primary” not worth the hassle

We’re going to get much speculation in coming months about just how quickly the General Assembly will kill off an attempt by Gov. Pat Quinn to bring the concept of “open” primary elections to Illinois.

Quinn this week took action on a bill that technically related to Internet information and elections. But through use of his “amendatory veto” powers, he made changes that are meant to eliminate requirements that people publicly declare which political party they are affiliated with when they show up at the polling place on Primary Election days.

AS NOW PROPOSED by Quinn, people who show up to vote in primaries would now be handed ballots for every single political party that is officially on the ballot. In the privacy of the voter booth (or the video touch screens, or whatever device one uses to vote), a person would pick the ballot they want to use.

They would then be able to deposit it into the ballot box (once completed), without having to publicly tell anyone which political party they chose.

A part of me wants to joke that the Green Party should be opposed to this measure because it would have the potential to generate signficant waste paper for the ballots that a voter decides not to use. Seriously, I want to say it will be a lot of wasted effort on the part of people working in polling places, along with the voters themselves.

Personally, I have always thought that the people who get most worked up over this issue ought to have better things to worry about. Then again, ever since I created this weblog, I have made a point of writing Election Day commentaries explaining exactly who I voted for.

NOT ONLY AM I giving away a political party, I’m going farther. In part, I think it helps would-be readers better comprehend the ideological bent of these commentaries. I also don’t think it to be some incredibly sacred, top secret fact that I have generally cast ballots in Democratic primary elections, and usually (but not always) find myself more sympathetic toward Democrats come the general election.

If it seems that I’m writing here that I don’t really see the need for this action, you’d be correct. Which is why I won’t be getting too worked up when, come autumn, the General Assembly uses its fall veto session to kill this measure.

For that is what the pundits already are speculating. How quickly will Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, have the House of Representatives vote to override Quinn’s amendatory veto – thereby restoring the bill to its original form?

Or, will he find some political procedure to just kill the bill outright – thereby leaving those people whose top concern this spring was the Internet and elections out of luck until next year? (Sounds just like the Chicago Cubs).

WHAT I AM pleased about is that Quinn didn’t try to use political procedures to try to configure a new law that is usually desired by the type of people who usually push hardest on this issue – they want an open primary where they can pick and choose from candidates from all political primaries.

They obviously don’t realize the Supreme Court of the United States has already issued a ruling that rejects this very concept – an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia (so the conservative ideologues can’t claim this is “liberal claptrap,” or some other nonsense phrase).

The problem with such an idea is that we have political primaries for the specific reason that we have political parties, and the first election is meant to give those parties a chance to pick their candidates for electoral office.

Some units of government, usually the local municipalities where there just isn’t any significant split among their affected electorate, have their non-partisan elections (with the idea of a run-off if no one candidate can get a majority vote in the first election).

THAT WOULDN’T WORK for statewide elections. So the idea that all the candidates get thrown into a mess and we somehow pick people would create an even more chaotic mess than the electoral process we already have.

If anything, I worry that the kind of people who want to undermine the current electoral process are the ones whose motivation really has nothing to do with them wanting a sense of fairness on Election Day. If anything, they probably want less choice for voters.

They probably envision a system in which the partisan candidates who support their ideological beliefs will completely squash out the other side’s candidates. The fact that we have a state with significant numbers of people of various ideas means we need to have their primaries kept separate.

Besides, if the good government types really want to nit-pick, do they believe Chicago city elections that are non-partisan are somehow more fair or equitable because the parties aren’t recognized (because there just isn’t enough of a Chicago GOP to warrant its own primary equal to that of the Democrats)?

I DOUBT IT.

Which is why while Quinn may be well-intentioned with his amendatory veto on this issue, this will be one time that I won’t find it the least bit objectionable to see Mike Madigan play power politics and send this idea to its governmental grave.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Too speedy a trial for Blagojevich?

Prosecutors who are trying to get a conviction against now-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich have indicated they may be done presenting their case sometime this week – a fact that has many people shocked.

This was, after all, the trial that was supposed to run from early June until some time into October – maybe even late into October. Now, it’s looking like the case that could be done by Labor Day.

EVEN BLAGOJEVICH HIMSELF seems to be concerned. His attorneys filed a motion Tuesday, asking U.S. District Judge James Zagel to impose about a week-long delay in the trial once the prosecution completes its portion. The judge ultimately granted the motion, when prosecutors completed presenting their case Tuesday afternoon.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the attorneys themselves said they did not expect to be presenting their defense of Milorod until some time late in August. Instead, we’re now in mid-July. In short, they’re not ready.

The political people they plan to drag into court to harass and humiliate (then try to claim their behavior as evidence that Blagojevich didn’t do anything illegal) may not be available if they are rushed into action beginning the end of this week.

It was because of that factor that Zagel continued the Blagojevich trial until Monday. Not that those few days of delay will matter much. This is a trial that will end long before it was originally anticipated to.

YET BLAGOJEVICH CAN’T be the only person concerned about this faster schedule. Like I noted earlier, this was supposed to be the case that ran through the summer and fall. It was supposed to bury us with so much detail that we couldn’t help but think that Blagojevich was guilty of something.

Instead, we have some legal observers who seriously speculate that all the prosecution has proven is that Blagojevich himself is little more than a cretin. Some argue that the actual behavior of Blagojevich isn’t criminal.

Others, however, argue that it is – and that ultimately is something for the jurors to decide.

The people who might be most concerned, however, are the Republican partisans. They were the ones who were supposed to gain the most from all the mass of detail coming from the Dirksen Building courthouse. They were the ones hoping/wishing/praying for a “guilty” verdict just a couple of days from Election Day.

THE REALITY OF political campaigns is that while they start the day after the February primary elections, most people don’t pay much attention. If they listen at all to the campaign rhetoric taking place now, many dismiss it as the release of hot air by a batch of political gas-bags.

Labor Day is the time of the year when people whose ideological beliefs aren’t so intense that they have an automatic reaction that causes them to vote the way they do, actually start to pay attention and try to process the rhetoric and facts coming forth – and try to make a decision about who to cast a ballot for come Nov. 2.

Republican partisans were counting on the fact that the months of September and October would be filled with news reports giving us the latest “dirty dish from the Dirksen” about what kind of scummy person Rod Blagojevich supposedly is.

They were also hoping that, because the case would have been in the defense stage by then, Blagojevich would make good on his pre-trial promises to drag many of his Democratic allies into court and make them look guilty by association, or just downright ridiculous, with their behavior on the stand.

REPUBLICANS WOULD HAVE given us the argument that it is guilt for Illinois’ political establishment, and that it warrants a change.

I fully expect they will still make that argument. But if this trial really does go into a defense mode this week, Blagojevich could be finished with presenting his case by early August. That would mean jurors spending a portion of that summer month locked away in a jury room, before reaching their decision.

I could easily envision those jurors using the Labor Day holiday weekend (or, if you live in Naperville, the Last Fling) to celebrate the end of their public service that entailed having to learn way more about Rod Blagojevich than they ever would have wanted to know.

Did the prosecutors do the Democratic Party establishment in this state an inadvertent favor by being so efficient timewise in presenting their case?

BECAUSE IF THIS trial really is over by the time the serious hard-core campaigning takes place, it won’t be fresh material popping up in the news reports, free of charge to the Republican candidates, that they can just sit back and react to.

Not that I expect people to have forgotten about Blagojevich and his criminal trial completely by autumn. But it will take on a sense in many peoples’ minds of being ancient history, something that we need to move on from.

Would that make Republican candidates look cheap and tacky for appearing to be anxious to dredge in the muck of something that is over and done with?

It might just cost Republican candidates a few votes come November. And with this election cycle being as off-beat as it has become, those few votes could wind up saving the political hide of at least a few Democratic officials.

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