Friday, December 31, 2010

A new year, but same ol’ stories

In some respects, the point in time we’re commemorating Friday night is one of the most artificial in existence.

We may be flipping from 2010 to 2011. But it’s not like anything magically changes and some unbreakable barrier between us now and us then is erected.

IT’S LITERALLY JUST a date on the calendar. The circumstances of our society are going to remain the same. Anybody who doubts me ought to consider that some of the biggest stories that confronted our society this year were holdovers from ’09 that aren’t about to cease to exist just because it’s now 2011.

We still have Blagojevich to contend with. The trial that everybody was convinced was going to “take down” Democrats in Illinois is going to give us its sequel. Come April, federal prosecutors will take their second crack at getting criminal convictions against the one-time Illinois governor.

All they got from their last trial that cost federal taxpayers millions of dollars was one lone conviction on a “lying to FBI” charge. Which I still don’t fully understand how it can stand up without a conviction on some other charge?

I do realize that prosecutors with professional records at stake are going to keep at this case until they can find a jury willing to vote “guilty” on a sufficient number of charges that they can claim another notch on their belts.

BLAGOJEVICH GETTING AN “Oxford Education” is going to be the only result that appeases some people in our society. Anything short of him serving some time at the minimum-security correctional center in Oxford, Wis., will leave them lagging.

QUINN: Will he get a backbone?
So will we get the sight of Rahm Emanuel, the one-time chief of staff to President Barack Obama, having to take the witness stand in the weeks following the April 5 run-off election? Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel having to endure the embarrassment of justifying his behavior as pesky prosecutors persist in trying to nail Blagojevich on inconsistencies related to whether Milorod really tried to “sell” an appointment to the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder?

That kind of questioning could well cause Emanuel to have the emotional blow-up that some expected him to have in response to impertinent questioning by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners earlier this month.

But Blagojevich isn’t the only left-over news from 2010. Personally, I’m more intrigued by state government’s financial condition. Or should I say, the inability to resolve financial problems.

IT WAS EARLIER this week that state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, appeared on WTTW-TV along with conservative pundit Dan Proft to talk about possible financial solutions for the state. About the only thing the two men could agree upon is that the situation is complicated and there is no easy solution.

Yet I couldn’t help but notice that Lang seemed determined to label the possible solutions being put forth by Gov. Pat Quinn as the “governor’s proposal.” He specifically objected to them being referred to as the “Democratic proposal.”

At a time when we’re long past the point where difficult, painful and politically unpopular decisions have to be made for the good of the people of Illinois, do we have a Legislature that is determined to shove this problem off to a future year?

Last year, the logic behind not making the hard choices was that it was an Election Year. Now, it’s NOT an election year. But they still don’t want to act.

DO WE HAVE some serious cowards in the Illinois General Assembly? Or is the real coward going to turn out to be Quinn himself?

I’m hoping that at a time when the state government deficit could reach $15 billion by July 1 (the beginning of state Fiscal Year 2012) and an increasing number of businesses are struggling because they’re being paid so ridiculously late for the work or services they provide for state government that Quinn will develop the backbone to pressure his alleged political allies to do right by the people of Illinois.

OBAMA: A stronger opposition
Of course, Quinn is in the exact opposite position of Obama. The president has to deal with his political opposition, which in 2011 has made it clear they’re going to do what they can to make his professional life miserable.

The only difference is that the November elections gave them more influence by giving them a say in the House of Representatives. It will be those House GOPers who will lead the effort to repeal health care reform, push for immigration “reform” measures openly hostile to the people who need reform, and likely will continue with the cheap talk about whether Obama is a “real American.”

OF COURSE, THE Democratic majority in the Senate, along with the Obama veto pen, will keep the most heinous of measures (such as the stupid talk of repealing the 14th amendment taking citizenship away from people who were born in this country) from becoming reality.

But the nonsense level of the rhetoric tied to our federal government will continue for years to come. Tossing out the old calendar and hanging up a new one (mine this year consists of vintage photographs of CTA “el” trains) won’t change a thing.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

EXTRA: Shane, Come Back!

“Don’t retire, Mayor!”

That was the cry that came from a man attending the funeral services Thursday of Corey Ankum, one of two firefighters killed last week due to a roof collapsing underneath them.

IT WASN’T QUITE along the lines of Joey’s chant in the closing scene of the 1953 film “Shane,” but it was worth noting nonetheless.

The political cry came as Daley was stepping on stage at the Apostolic Church of God to deliver his eulogy for Ankum, whose widow, Demeka, happens to be one of Daley’s secretaries at City Hall.

For the record, Daley got a bit choked up at one point while saying that Ankum was among the rare individuals who deserve to be called a “hero.”

Daley himself didn’t give any indication of hearing the shout, but it caught the attention of many of the nearly 3,000 people who crammed the church’s main chapel. Among those people was former Sen. (and mayoral hopeful herself) Carol Moseley-Braun.

NO WORD ON what reaction she had to the shout, which came in a place that I’m sure she’d like to think is one where her candidacy would be the political preference.

One other notable moment. Rev. Louis D. Jones, while presiding over the funeral service, noted the presence of Chicago Police Commissioner Jody Weis, and offered to alter the program to give him a chance to say something sympathetic about Ankum – who actually worked as a patrol officer in the South Chicago police district for just over one year before quitting to join the Fire Department.

Weis chose silence, which may have saved him from saying something that the rank-and-file cops would mock mercilessly on many future occasions.


A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Will Obama, the Sequel, be a local production?

It’s not official. It may even turn out to be a bit of bull from the rumor-mill. But when Barack Obama kicks himself into campaign mode to try to get himself re-elected as president in the 2012 election, it seems that his base of operations will be our very own Second City.

At least that’s what Politico claims.

THE PUBLICATION DOES not have any kind of hard information about how the Obama campaign will conduct itself. Other than the fact that the White House staffers who expect to leave the federal payroll in coming months to go work for the Obama re-election effort all seem to be under the belief that they will be moving from the District of Columbia back to Chicago in order to do so.

As Politico puts it, “while no decision has been made, a Chicago location is a near certainty.”

That is going to offend some of the political pundits who want to think that Washington is the place to aspire to. They also cite the fact that all sitting presidents who have run for re-election operated their campaigns from Washington – or, if they were conservative Republican types, from the D.C. suburbs of Virginia.

So if the Obama re-election effort does wind up centering around an office somewhere along Michigan Avenue, it would be a first.

THE CHICAGO SNOB in me thinks this is a wonderful idea, particularly if it does get the Obama aides out of the District of Columbia and into the rest of the country. Besides, with modern communications technology, it really doesn’t matter much where the actual campaign is based. The campaign office is usually a place for the political operatives – with the candidate crisscrossing the country in search of votes.

I know some people are going to complain that Chicago is somehow out-of-touch with their vision of what this country is going to be about. We may even get a national version of the type of rhetoric that often spurts up between Illinoisans of a Chicago persuasion and the people who are unfortunate enough to live in the rest of the state.

Then again, I think those people are ideologically inclined to complain – no matter what Obama says or does or where his people operate out of. It’s like Andy Martin, who says he’s running for president in ’12 and plans to feed off the people who are determined to believe that Obama isn’t telling us the truth about where he was born. I’d say that Martin is going to make a fool of himself. Then again, I expect the one-time “Anthony Martin Trigona” is shameless.

What other items are noteworthy as the great city along the shores of Lake Michigan approaches the end of 2010?

A CHICAGOAN TO HEAD P.D.?: Mayoral hopeful Carol Moseley-Braun wants the law enforcement vote. How else to explain the fact that she made a big issue Wednesday out of saying she will fire Jody Weis as police superintendent.

From a purely political standpoint, I expect that the one-time FBI agent whom Richard M. Daley hired to run the Chicago Police Department is going to get dumped no matter who gets elected mayor. Weis’ contract expires in March, and any new mayor is going to want his/her own pick in that prime post.

But Moseley-Braun, who has police officers in her family (so do I, if you want to be technical), is trying to appease those police types who always hated the idea of an “outsider” being given the top police post – even though one could legitimately argue that what the Chicago Police Department needs is someone who isn’t beholden to the local establishment who can shake things up.

So when Moseley-Braun tells the Chicago Tribune, “You need to get someone who knows Chicago to run the Chicago Police Department,” it is little more than cheap campaign rhetoric – no matter how sensible one might want to think it sounds.

GIMME MY NUMBER BACK: In what passes for baseball news these days, new Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Bobby Jenks (the big, tall, wide boy from the 2005 World Series-winning White Sox team) is ‘p.o.-ed’ at his old team.

It seems that when the White Sox made their major player acquisition in slugger Adam Dunn, it came out that he would wear uniform number 45. The problem is that the number still belonged to Jenks, who hadn’t gotten around to releasing him yet. Big Bobby feels seriously disrespected.

Now, he’s making snotty comments about the White Sox and manager Ozzie Guillen, while Guillen’s son, Oney, is using a Twitter account to make cheap-shots back at Jenks. It’s a whole lotta nonsense when one thinks about it sensibly. I’m not rooting against Jenks doing well in Boston. But he simply wasn’t the same ballplayer he was six seasons ago – which is the reason he’s not going to be in Chicago in 2011.

It also makes me realize that we’re roughly at the half-way point between the end of the 2010 World Series, and the beginning of spring training for the 2011 season in mid-February – a thought I find much more interesting than whether or not this year’s Chicago Bears team can actually make it through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

EXTRA: Moseley-Braun speaks out too

Carol Moseley-Braun ought to be a person sympathetic to the memory of former President Bill Clinton. He was, after all, the official who appointed her to be U.S. ambassador to New Zealand in 1999 after her electoral aspirations got derailed in the ’98 election cycle by Peter Fitzgerald.

Yet in a case of “What have you done for me lately?,” the former senator from Hyde Park who is among the candidates for mayor issued her own statement Wednesday joining along with Danny Davis in saying that Clinton should not get involved in the Chicago election cycle.

NOT THAT EITHER of them would have the  least bit of objection if Clinton were coming to Chicago some time next year to campaign on their own behalf. But campaigning on behalf of Rahm Emanuel?


As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, Moseley-Braun was even more vehement in her Clinton opposition than Davis was. She may have the harder time “making nice” with Bill once Election Day on Feb. 22 comes and goes.

The congressman from the West Side tried to diplomatically warn Clinton that some black people would be offended. The former senator from the South Side went out of her way to point out how Bill was not a Barack Obama backer during the 2008 presidential campaign.


Is there a Clinton backlash at stake if Bill touts Rahm for mayor of Chicago?

Hearing that Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., says Bill Clinton should butt out of the upcoming mayoral elections (the former president says he will campaign in Chicago for his one-time staffer, Rahm Emanuel) makes me wonder what the backlash could be if Clinton were to immerse himself in Chicago politicking.
CLINTON: Is coming to Chicago a mistake?

Could it be that Bill Clinton could suffer negative consequences should he decide to get himself mixed up in the Feb. 22 election for who gets to replace Richard M. Daley at City Hall?

FOR THE RECORD, Davis says that a Clinton appearance in Chicago would wind up being divisive, and could even stain his legacy among African-American voters in Chicago – who were a significant part of the reason why Clinton never had trouble taking Illinois’ electoral votes when he ran for president in 1992 and ’96.

Then again, that could just be reflected resentment over the fact that among non-black Chicago voters, former Sen.Carol Moseley-Braun’s mayoral campaign is the one most likely to be taken seriously – and not his.

Now we can argue that Bill Clinton isn’t going to run for office in the future. What does he have to lose if the various ward organizations on the South and West sides of Chicago get ticked off at him?

I am not sure what to think. Although I think the people who glibly dismiss such a possibility are being shallow.

BUT I HAVE to admit that learning of Davis’ tough talk toward Bill Clinton reminded me of an anecdote offered up by Clinton’s ’92 campaign manager, James Carville, when he and his then fiancé (now wife) Mary Matalin (herself a South Chicago neighborhood native) wrote their joint book “All’s Fair: Love, War and Running for President” about the Clinton/Bush (the elder) campaign.

DAVIS: Bill should butt out!
Carville told how Clinton campaign aides seriously considered having Bill himself come to Chicago to publicly endorse the Democratic primary opponent of then-Rep. Gus Savage.

We all remember Gus, although our perception of his persona depends heavily upon our own racial perspective. Black bigot? Or the man who told it like it is, even if white people got uncomfortable at hearing reality?

As Carville (who said Savage made “bigoted” and “anti-Semitic” statements) wrote in one of his passages of the joint book, “We kicked around this idea pretty hard inside the campaign for a day and a half, two days. I said, ‘It will show some political courage, it will lick the’Slick Willie’ problem, and in the end it ain’t gonna matter’.”

OF COURSE, IT never happened. It seems the Chicago-based Clinton staffers expressed hesitation because Savage’s backers included many of their backers, and Savage wasn’t doing anything to speak out against the idea of whether an Arkansas governor was fit to be president.

While Carville, in his book, called the lack of an endorsement, “a blown opportunity,” perhaps it was a case where fate saved Bill Clinton from future embarrassment that could have never been anticipated.

For as we remember, Savage did lose that primary election cycle. To Mel Reynolds. We all remember the one-time Far South Side and surrounding suburbs congressman who later did prison time, in part for his intimacies with a 16-year-old girl.

Be honest. If Bill Clinton had come to Chicago and endorsed Mel Reynolds, you just know somebody would have taken the pictures that would have resulted from such an event and rehashed them repeatedly when the president went through his own ordeals involving intimacies with a White House intern.

I CAN JUST envision the ideologues drooling at the very thought, and wishing that such an event could have occurred. Clinton and Reynolds – a “meeting of the minds” (or perhaps some other body part). Make sure no young girls are anywhere near the event.

EMANUEL: Will it help, or hurt?
Now I’m not saying that Clinton coming to Chicago to talk up Rahm Emanuel (of whom he once said at a D.C.-based Gridiron Club dinner, “I found Rahm. I created Rahm. I made him the man he is today. I am so sorry”) is going to create tawdry stories of young girls.

But it also means there is always the potential for consequences that we can’t dream of now. So is Danny Davis correct when he says that Clinton’s relations with Chicago’s black population would be “fractured” and “perhaps even broken?”


DOES IT MATTER? Who’s to say!

Bill’s political career is finished (and he made it to the top). Although there always is the possibility that wife, Hillary, has her own aspirations in public life.

Hillary R. Clinton even has an outside chance of someday running again for the Democratic nomination for president (although I’d say 2016 is her year, not ’12). Could it be that a Hillary Clinton campaign could someday have to struggle more than it ought to in order to get the support of Illinoisans and the state’s (still ample) electoral votes?

Considering how some political people are more than capable of holding a grudge for years to come, I can’t help but wonder if the after-life of a Clinton appearance in Chicago on behalf of Rahm Emanuel’s mayoral dreams is that Hillary would (once again) suffer for the “sins” of her husband.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From family ties to old grudges, some things never change about our politics

It really seems to be the Chicago Way, even for those political people who – strictly speaking – aren’t from Chicago.
DALEY: Deferring to Dad/

I’m speaking of the fact that the offspring of political people tending to get themselves elected to public office much more often than the children of business executives or academics, or just poor schlubs with no real skills.

IT IS AN old trend that famed columnist Mike Royko mocked in his biography of Richard J. Daley (Remember all the “begats” from “Boss?”), which was written some four decades ago. It is a trend continuing today, as I notice many of the people my age who are getting elected to office are the kids of the political people I covered as a reporter-type when I started in the news business some two decades ago.

And it is a trend that will continue.

What caught my attention were pieces of reporting that have appeared in recent days, giving us the views of the “younger” generation of our elected officials. Specifically, I’m talking about Richard M. Daley, Sheila Simon and Roderick Sawyer.

In the case of Daley, the younger, it was all timed for the first day of Kwanzaa – which was the day upon which “M.” officially surpassed “J.” in terms of the length of time spent in office. Yet the current Daley went out of his way to defer to his father as the man who had the more significant mayoral stint – largely because of the times during which he oversaw Chicago city government.

WHETHER ONE THINKS Richard J. was “evil” or “heroic” (Are you one of those people who quietly cheers for the police whenever old footage of the anti-war protesters at the ’68 Democratic National Convention turns up?), his unwillingness to adapt fully to the times set the character of Chicago for decades to come – and which in some ways still remains.

Now I can appreciate the fact that Richard M. gets credit for “beautification” efforts in Chicago, helping to enhance the city’s image at a time when some urban areas are in decay. It was Daley who overcame the hostility and hesitancy of many to give us Millenium Park, which is a point in his favor.
SIMON: What will be her trademark?

Yet when I think of the two, I can’t help but think of this analogy – Richard J. built O’Hare International Airport, while Richard M. tore down Meigs Field.

I’m sure there are some people who are wondering if Patrick Daley is destined to run for mayor someday, and trying to figure what his “accomplishments” would be. I’m also sure that if Patrick were to decide that he wants to hold elective office when his military career is complete, the voters of Chicago would be completely sympathetic to the idea.

YET JUST AS a younger Daley is leaving office, we’re also getting a younger Simon moving into office.

Literally. Lt. Gov-elect Sheila Simon was at the Statehouse in Springfield recently, checking out the suite of offices that her staff will use beginning Jan. 10 and she becomes the woman-in-waiting – becoming Illinois governor on the off-chance that something should happen to Gov. Pat Quinn between now and January 2015.

Paul Simon is remembered by most people for his time in Washington – being the Representative from Southern Illinois, then later the Senator from all of Illinois, who wore those old-fashioned bow-ties and horn-rimmed glasses, while also being one of the most honest political people I have ever encountered.

That is the legacy she is going to have to live up to. It is one that I doubt any newly elected official could fulfill.

YET SHEILA SIMON, who until now had an electoral office resume consisting of one term as an alderman in Carbondale, is now like Daley in that she, too, is filling an office once held by her father. Paul Simon’s first statewide office was a term from 1969 to 1973 as lieutenant governor.

At least she will have a more significant role in that post than her father did. He was the Democrat who got elected along with a Republican governor – meaning that he was given next to nothing to do by deliberate design. If Sheila winds up doing equally little, it will be because she didn’t show enough initiative, which is something I doubt will happen.

SAWYER: How long can grudges last?
Then, there is Roderick Sawyer, who used to be a DJ at campaign events held by his father, Eugene, the one-time alderman from the sixth ward who became mayor between Harold Washington and Daley, the younger.

He told the Chicago News Cooperative how he plans to run for his father’s old aldermanic post – even though the incumbent, Freddrena Lyle, is in good standing with the political establishment and isn’t particularly vulnerable in this coming election cycle.

HE SEEMS TO think that memories of his father among the old-timers of the ward will get him some votes, and he’s also turning to former Sen. Roland Burris for advice – and possibly even a campaign contribution.

His potential campaign at a time when Daley the younger is on his way out is intriguing because it brings to mind memories of the circumstances under which Washington was replaced by an African-American official acceptable to the white establishment that treated Washington similar to how the GOP establishment in Washington treats Barack Obama.

Sawyer’s 16-month stint as mayor set the stage for Richard M.’s election. Now that he’s leaving, perhaps it is time for a Sawyer to return to the Chicago political scene. Unless the kind of rhetoric being spewed by Rev./state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, these days  (“No African-American makes the runoff, that would be the worst thing that we could possibly do for our city”) stirs up enough resentment among the black voter bloc that they take down the son for the alleged sins of his father.

Which may well be the ultimate evidence that some things about our political scene just never change.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Will Hef make it to the altar?

I’m not about to mercilessly mock Hugh Hefner for getting engaged yet again, even though a part of me isn’t sure this stunt is something real.

For one thing, the founder of Playboy magazine and all its business offshoots is of an age where I seriously have to wonder if he’ll make it long enough to have a wedding. Unless the engagement that was announced on Christmas Day (via Twitter, by Hefner himself) is going to result in a quickie wedding.

NEW YEAR’S EVE in LasVegas? Hefner could be wed by an Elvis lookalike, with a Wayne Newton impersonator standing in as the “best man.”

If you think that image is a bit cheesy, I’d say it is totally in character with the event itself.

For what we have here is an 84-year-old man deciding that his current female partner in life ought to become his legal wife.

People all over the Internet have been making snide comments about the age difference (such as how he’s old enough to be her great-grandfather, or one person who wrote on their own Twitter account “Does Hugh Hefner realize that his fiancé was younger when ‘Schindler’s List’ came out than he was when Schindler’s actual list came out?”

PERSONALLY, I SAY that if Hefner can actually attract women that much younger than himself and they both want to go along with this, then why not? It’s their life.

If it turns out that Hefner’s bride-to-be (who would be his third wife, intermixed with many thousands of girlfriends, mistresses and one-night-stands throughout the decades) winds up somehow taking the company for some sort of serious financial settlement in the future, then that is Playboy Enterprises’ dumb luck.

Hugh Hefner's latest "fiance" wasn't even alive when the ultimate underage girlfriend ruled the Playboy roost.

For all we know, we could someday see a court battle right here in Chicago to try to undo such an act (Hefner daughter Christie, along with husband – and former state legislator William Marovitz – both are Chicago residents). Such a trial could very well get screwier than the legal hijinks we saw last summer in U.S. District Court when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was on trial.

The reason I’m finding this “story” so laughable is that a part of me really feels like it’s somehow a fix. A stunt, meant to draw attention to Hefner or Playboy, the company.

THE IDEA THAT Hefner feels the need to have a legal wife at this stage in his life feels almost like the time that then-Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman let it be known he would be involved in a wedding. Sure enough, at the appointed time and place, he showed up wearing a wedding gown. It was all a stunt to promote his attempt at autobiography.

Then again, Rodman was once married to the actress Carmen Electra. So I guess anything is possible.

One part of this saga amuses me – the age of the bride. Just about any account of Hefner’s life will recall his relationship back in the 1970s with aspiring actress/singer/model Barbi Benton, whom he supposedly started dating when he was in his early 40s and she was 18.

She supposedly told Hefner she had never dated anyone in her life older than 24, to which Hefner is famously said to have replied, “Neither have I.”

IT SEEMS THAT some things don’t change. For the “bride-to-be” is, depending on which source one wants to check, either 23 or 24. Perhaps Hefner is maturing in his old age? Just a few years ago, any woman trying to gain the magazine publisher’s attention would likely have been about 19.

If Hefner really wanted to scandalize us, he’d get himself engaged to an 18-year-old. Then, we’d find out in the days after the wedding that she had lied about her age and was perhaps only 17.

Just picture the image of the police being called out to the Playboy Mansion. Underage girls! Hef taken away for possible prosecution! Let’s not forget that Cook County officials once tried to prosecute Hefner and Playboy when one of its girls turned out to have fudged her age upward a few months to appear to be 18. It could be a case of, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

So what should we truly think about the fact that Chicago native (who hasn’t actually lived among us since before the Days of Disco) feels the need to take on another wife – one who happens to be six decades younger than himself? I haven’t named her in this commentary, mainly because I can’t tell any of the Hefner women of recent decades apart – they all fit that generic bleached blonde look. The only one that had any real personality of her own was the one who later married a football player now with the Indianapolis Colts.

IT STRIKES ME as being more trivia that got attention beyond its significance because it became known on a slow (the Christmas holiday weekend) news day. I’m sure there are people who give it extra credence because it was initially learned about through Tweeter – although I consider that to be a source of trivial blather (Did we really need to know that the Sunday night movie shown at the Playboy Mansion is “The Fighter”)?

If anything, what shocks me the most about this whole thing is that it makes me realize how long the whole Hefner persona has been with us. After all, the original ultimate underage Hef girlfriend was Benton herself, who next month will turn 61.

Now, the two would be the perfect pair age-wise. The only scandal would be that Hef was messing with a married woman. Then again, that would fit the Playboy image of old just as well.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hands behind your head, step away from the computer. Now, celebrate the holiday

.That’s what I want to say to anyone who seriously is sitting at their computer screen (or any other device) to read this copy on Saturday. I'm taking this holiday off from any commentary about Chicago. Come back on Monday.

While I realize that some people are not celebrating Christmas (and I do respect them for being able to stand by that belief in the over-commercialized mess our society is these days), I can’t help but think this is the one day of the year when people ought to log off whatever device their lives have become too attached to.

SPEND THE DAY with family or friends. Interact with humanity. You will have a much more worthwhile experience with those people than you will have on the Internet, no matter what you happen to stumble across.

But for those of you who are absolutely desperate to check something out, the Museum of Broadcast Communications has a site worth looking at. They have a lot of television clips on their site, including all those traditional Chicago holiday cartoons (Hardrock, Coco & Joe, Frosty the Snowman and Suzy Snowflake) that WGN-TV used to give us every December season, along with certain Christmas-themed episodes of old television shows.

I could have done without seeing the Sony & Cher Comedy Hour Christmas episode (youthful Chastity sings “Jingle Bells”), but Jack Benny, Carol Burnett and Jerry Seinfeld (yes, that ridiculous “Festivus” episode) are all worth seeing.

And for those who want a little pop touch to the holidays, there’s always this classic Christmas tune.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Is Chicago Christmas still special?

Who remembers Uncle Mistletoe?
Going downtown to check out the department store window displays for the Christmas holiday season is supposed to be one of those quintessential experiences that defines the character of Chicago. Yet I can’t remember the last time I actually did that.

It may well have been back when I was still legally a child. Considering that I’m now into middle-age, that means it has been a long, long time.

NOW I KNOW some people are going to argue that the unique character of those department store displays was lost when places like Marshal Field’s and Carson, Pirie, Scott ceased to be locally-owned entities. The fact that Field’s is now Macys and Carson’s on State Street is nothing, although it may someday become a Target only further adds to any loss of distinct character.

What we get now are some sort of generic displays that I must admit to paying no attention to.

In fact, this time of year, I go out of my way to avoid State Street and Michigan Avenue whenever I can, along with anything resembling crowded shopping malls. Too many people creating congestion for the mess of commercialized holiday shopping.

(Yes, I’m probably in need of “Linus” coming in about now to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas, but that is a commentary for another day).

MAYBE IT IS just age coming on for me. But where is the sense of holiday spectacle that used to make a trip to our city’s downtown business district worth making? I can’t help but think that the children of today (such as my nephews and nieces) have lost out on something by never getting the chance to see a mass spectacle of people showing up along State Street (even if their parents had no intention of buying anything that day) to guess at what wonderments they would get to see along, “that Great Street.”

This 1909 postcard of the old Siegel-Cooper department storeon State Street (later, Sears Roebuck & Co.) includes the holiday-decorated windows. Image provided by Chuckman Chicago Nostalgia

I’m not normally of the type who thinks that everything was better back some 30 or 40 years ago (even though, in many cases, it was). But I’m feeling particularly nostalgic these days for the Christmases of my youth, and wishing that some of those traits could have been retained.

Part of this may very well be due to the loss of my mother just over a month ago. So much of my Christmas holiday routine in recent years had centered around trying to bring her some joy. Now, I have to figure out new ways to occupy my time at this holiday season (or else risk becoming one of those hermits who spend the day locked away).

That certainly is not my intention. But it does seem to have me reminiscing for those December days back when I was 7 or 8 (and my brother, Chris, was about 2 or 3) and our parents took us to State Street.

I CAN REMEMBER the anticipation of checking out each store, going from window to window to watch whatever respective story line was being told build to its conclusion. Even with that hideous mall-like configuration that kept traffic off State Street, the area seemed to have more character then than it does now.

Simple stuff, but more mentally intoxicating than any of the video games that I see my nephew who is roughly that age play these days. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m becoming a tad grouchy in my old age.

It almost seems like when it comes to a public holiday display in Chicago these days, we have to focus our attention away from State Street and its generically-decorated windows and focus on Daley Plaza.

In the shadow of the Picasso statue, we get the official city holiday tree (which was lit back on Nov. 24) and the official city Hanukkah menorah (whose time has passed since the Jewish holiday came early this year at the beginning of December).

PERHAPS THAT IS part of my dismay with public holiday displays – they come so ridiculously early. I know that in my immediate neighborhood, wreaths with red bows were hung from all the public lamp-posts and some colorful Christmas lights were set up – back at the end of October.

I hadn’t even seen the kids come scavenging through my neighborhood in search of Halloween candy when the first municipal Christmas decorations were erected.

Although I’m sure to some people, the more tragic act of Chicago-style Christmas is the restrictions in the downtown high rises against live Christmas trees in the residential units (officials fear the potential of a fire – one nitwit with a dried-out tree can cause an ignition that leaves many pricey units uninhabitable).

Personally, the idea of an artificial tree doesn’t bother me too much. In certain circumstances, they can be more practical. I could even see in cases of the high-rises, where there might be risk of branches or bristles falling hundreds of feet to the streets below, creating more of a mess.

SO THIS IS what has become of Christmas in Chicago – generic window displays, public decorations erected a couple of holiday seasons too early, and some people griping about too-tough restrictions.

How many children of a century ago were scared off by this 1902 incarnation of Santa Claus on State Street?

But perhaps I’m coming off a bit too grouchy. It is, after all, a holiday to celebrate the spirit of life and joy, which is why I always find it a downer that some people are determined to put a negative spin on this holiday by making a stink over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?”

Either works in my mind. Or how about, “Feliz Navidad” (except that will leave the nativist crowd p-o’ed these days).


Thursday, December 23, 2010

EXTRA: Oh, be quiet!

EMANUEL: He's in!
On the day before Christmas, Rahm Emanuel got the present of learning from the Board of Election Commissioners that he is an official candidate for mayor of Chicago in next year’s elections. Just a few hours later, opponent James Meeks made it known to the board that he was out.

Yet Meeks, the minister who presides over a significant South Side congregation and is following the Jason Plummer School of Politics when it comes to disclosing his income, seems to think he still has a say-so in terms of who replaces Richard M. Daley.

MEEKS, ALSO A state senator from the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs, said he isn’t endorsing anyone. Yet he expects all the other African-American candidates to submit to a caucus of clergy, political people and black residents that will pick a single black candidate to run against Emanuel, Gery Chico, Miguel del Valle and all the other mayoral hopefuls.

Excuse me, but didn’t we just go through a process by which African-American religious and political people tried to anoint someone from among their ranks as the official black candidate for the Chicago mayoral campaign?

That process already rejected Meeks, and now that it seems his appeal is limited solely to the African-American population of the South Side, he has the nerve to think everybody has to submit to him so he can “pick” the new mayor?

With that kind of talk, Meeks is more delusional than those Chicago Cubs fans who think their favorite ballclub is a contender every season. This talk is more ridiculous than his statements that only black people should be considered as “minorities” when it comes to government hiring and contracts.

I HOPE REP. Danny Davis, D-Ill. (the mayoral hopeful who WAS chosen as the preferred black candidate) and former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun stick by their guns and don’t drop out. Heck, I hope that William “Dock” Walls stands firm and tells the reverend from Roseland where to shove it.

The sad aspect about this whole issue is that there is legitimacy to the idea of increased African-American political empowerment. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with wanting to work toward electing a black person as mayor of Chicago.
MEEKS: He's out!

It’s just too bad that the political people who were working toward this goal seem too inept when it comes to trying to build up a coalition of support behind a single candidate.

If the Chicago mayoral election of Feb. 22 turns into a runoff election on April 5 between Emanuel and former Chicago Public Schools executive Gery Chico, I’m sure that Meeks will claim some sort of racial wrongdoing has taken place. It’s just too bad that his first act in terms of trying to figure out why black candidates didn’t do better wasn’t to look in the mirror.


How will the African-American vote react if it turns out to be not relevant?

DAVIS: Is he the front-runner?
I have been wondering in recent weeks what the reaction will be among African-American voters if the outcome of the Feb. 22 mayoral elections is that none of their preferred candidates turns out to be relevant.

What if it becomes reality that Rahm Emanuel finishes first, but falls short of a majority of voters, and someone like Gery Chico turns out to be the second-place finisher – allowing him to go head-to-head against Emanuel in a runoff election to be held April 5?

THERE ARE THOSE people who think that such a scenario is the best bet for producing a Latino mayor for Chicago – with Chico getting the growing Latino voter bloc along with all those voters who can’t stand the thought of Emanuel as mayor and are prepared to vote ABR.

The conventional logic is that a lot of those ‘Anybody But Rahm”-type voters might not feel so strongly if the choice becomes Emanuel and an African-American candidate (although I could see a lot of them letting their hang-ups become so intense that they just sit out the April 5 runoff).

But seriously, what happens to the black voter bloc of Chicago if former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and Rev./state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, all finish third or worse?

Considering that this was the electoral cycle that many of these voters started out thinking that the time for another African-American official in the mayor’s office had finally arrived, I could envision many pissed-off people if the whole concept of African-American mayors became the ultimate afterthought.

I’M NOT THE least bit surprised to hear that Meeks’ staffers are saying the candidate has received nothing but "encouragement" because of his recent comments about minority hiring and to what degree women and non-black people should be considered minorities.

He probably has limited his public exposure to crowds of people who want to believe what he had to say. Much of his campaign strategy was always based upon being the dominant voice among African-American voters so that they would be a significant-enough number for second place.

That desire is what was behind the Wednesday meeting between Davis, Meeks and Moseley-Braun to talk about the polls, some of which show Davis in second place, with others putting Moseley-Braun in that spot and a few saying it’s Chico.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that some people at that meeting discussed whether Meeks should drop out, so as to increase the chance that African-American votes for Davis or Moseley-Braun could be significant enough to qualify for a runoff election.

MEEKS IS DENYING any such intent, and a part of me hopes he sticks to his principles and stays in this campaign.

I must admit a part of me is offended to learn that the three candidates held a private meeting amongst themselves to discuss the Election Day dynamic. It strikes me as being only a notch or two above trying to ensure a certain voter outcome.

Do we really have the three major black candidates for mayor trying to rig this election? I certainly hope not.

But then again, I’m sure certain circumstances will cause some people to over-react.

WHAT I WONDER is how depressed (as in size, not psychological condition) the voter turnout would be among African-American voters on April 5 if there are no black candidates in the race? How eventful would that circumstance make this particular campaign?

Considering how significant the African-American population is to Chicago, I couldn’t envision having a campaign where they just sat out in large numbers. Yet a part of me wonders if that is the direction we’re headed in.

MEEKS: Senses "encouragement"
Unless …

By chance if Emanuel were to get kicked off the ballot when the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners meets Thursday to issue its ruling about his status. Going into the day, we had no clue how the board was leaning.

JOE MORRIS, THE rare example of a Chicago Republican who presided over Emanuel’s election board hearings, was supposed to make his recommendation Tuesday, but still hadn’t done so as of the final hours of Wednesday.

This is going to be a case where the commissioners will follow the leader and act, then worry about justifying their actions. Or perhaps they’ve already made up their minds to keep Emanuel on the ballot and let a judge somewhere come up with a reason to give him the boot?

There may well be some people with an interest in African-American political empowerment who are banking on a ballot without Emanuel, which would then make this campaign a free-for-all in which any of the three black candidates could quickly become the front-runner.

In fact, it’s too bad that Roland, Roland Roland rolled himself out of contention last week. A ballot without Rahm would be so wide-open that it could have turned former Sen. Roland Burris into a serious candidate.