Monday, January 31, 2011

Some of us haven’t learned a thing

It has been nearly one-third of a century since that moment when the segment of our society that likes to believe they’re the only “Real Americans” got itself all worked up over the sound of Josè Feliciano performing the National Anthem at the baseball All-Star Game in something other than a martial manner that made you expect cannons to be firing, off in the background.

This particular tattered piece of cloth inspired the song that now causes so much anger in certain people who hear it at sporting events. Photograph provided by Smithsonian Institute.

The ideologues of the day got all upset (anecdotes of military veterans throwing their shoes at the television screen in disgust can be found all over the Internet), people claimed it was a disgrace, sounded foreign to their ears (Feliciano is Puerto Rican) and that people who had served their country in military service – particularly during a war – were somehow being disrespected.

YET TO LISTEN to Feliciano’s rendition today (recordings of his performance can be found in various places on the Internet) makes it clear that what he did was a stripped-down version of the song – just his voice and his acoustic guitar.

Compared to the over-bloated wailings that we now routinely hear at sporting events (which are less an offense to our country and patriotism than they are to the concept of music and being capable of carrying a tune), Feliciano’s version is fairly pleasant to listen to, and certainly nowhere near as radical (yet intriguing) as the take on the anthem given to us by the late Jimi Hendrix.

Most people listening today probably can’t comprehend why there was ever a controversy (which there certainly was, as it took Feliciano’s career a few years to recover after some stations tried boycotting his recordings on their airwaves).

The key to that last phrase is in the first two words; “most people.”

FOR THERE ARE some who are still stuck in the ideological ramblings of a past generation that have long been found to be absurd by the bulk of our society.

Take as evidence a recent incident in Indiana – one which ought to be sufficient evidence to anyone seriously thinking of leaving our state how silly it would be to live in a place where people willingly call themselves Hoosiers.

Bloomington North High School (which also is the home city of Indiana University’s main campus) has a teenage girl among its students who has become the person they turn to when it comes to performing the National Anthem at local sporting events.

Sometimes, she even goes on the road with her school’s teams to perform the song at their games elsewhere. That is where things get sticky.

FOR WHEN SHE performed the song prior to a game in Martinsville, Ind. (a town of just under 12,000 people – or about one-quarter the size of a single Chicago ward), the locals became upset.

The Herald-Times newspaper of Bloomington, along with the Associated Press, reported that the locals said the song was “unrecognizable,” and that people who had served in the military had been disrespected by her performance.

The only thing missing compared to Feliciano were the shoes being thrown at the teenage girl’s image on television.

Although there is a video snippet of the girl’s performance posted on YouTube. For all I know, there are ideologues who are going out of their way to log onto their computers and play her snippet, before hurling epithets at her image and trying to figure out ways to send her nasty (and anonymous) messages in return.

WHAT IS MOST pathetic about this new affair is the reaction of school officials, who instead of defending their student from abuse (they were the ones who invited her to sing) decided to go along with those people whose view of the world is warped enough that they see her as the problem

She was told she would not be allowed to sing the anthem any longer, unless she did a “traditional” approach. In all fairness to the school, officials there have since recanted and issued an apology to the girl for not offering her more support.

Now there also is the angle that the 16-year-old is of African-American lineage. Which means there may be part of the audience that had their sensibilities offended by her performance being upset more by her appearance, causing them to mentally insert elements into her performance because of their own racial hang-ups.

Then again, Feliciano all those years ago had some people screaming that he ought to be deported (even though as a Puerto Rican he is a U.S. citizen, just like any Indianan).

SO WHAT SHOULD we think of the fact that some people in our society are stuck in modes of thought that, quite frankly, were ridiculous even back in 1968 (seriously, Kennedy and King were assassinated that year and several cities were literally ablaze – yet Josè Feliciano was the subversive element?) and are just pathetic nowadays?

If anything, I wonder at times why we cling to the idea of the National Anthem before sporting events. It didn’t take place on a regular basis until World War II. For many decades, it simply wasn’t done. It would have been viewed as an event to politicize a ballgame – which I prefer to think of as a place to escape such serious matters for a few hours.

I literally find it ridiculous at times to see thousands of overweight people clad in athletic jersey replicas (as though they could take the playing field right there and then) singing along with the anthem in an even worse tone of voice than the person on the field who has the microphone.

That is what we should be offended by, not a 16-year-old girl from Bloomington, Ind.

  -30-

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Former Rahm challenger still opposes him

KASZAK: A Chico backer
Nancy Kaszak has kept herself fairly quiet during this election cycle. Until Sunday, when she joined a group of assorted political people in giving their endorsements to mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel’s most significant challenger – Gery Chico.

Kaszak, of course, is the former Park District legal counsel and state representative from the Northwest Side (although those with good memories might also remember her as one of the leaders of the ultimately unsuccessful 1980s effort to keep the Chicago Cubs from erecting lights at Wrigley Field) who twice had her dreams of serving in Congress crushed. The latter time was in 2002 when she took on Emanuel in the Democratic primary that year.

SHE GOT SIGNIFICANT financial support from women’s activists, including the EMILY’s List group, along with Polish activists, and tried making an appeal that Emanuel was an outsider, while she was just a good Polish girl from the neighborhood.

The campaign spending in that election cycle was so intense that it set records for money spent on a political post in a primary – although looking at its totals compared to the most recent political record setters is amusing in the same way we think it cute that one-time star baseball pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter was once considered a “big-money” ballplayer for having a contract totaling $3.75 million over a five-year period.

She got respectable voter support, but not enough to win. Now, the legislator who was a fairly dependable member of the progressive faction of the state Legislature when she served there in the mid-1990s is aligned with one of the most establishment-oriented officials in Chicago government.

None other than Edward Burke, the Southwest Side alderman who is one of Chico’s biggest backers and whom some people will forevermore be convinced helped to orchestrate that Illinois appellate court ruling that actually knocked Emanuel off the mayoral ballot for about 24 hours last week.

IT SEEMS KASZAK is still using the neighborhood appeal in trying to make Emanuel out to be an outsider who isn’t really a part of the Northwest Side – regardless of how his home ownership and voter registration status complies with the relevant laws on the issue.

“Gery Chico is clearly the most eminently qualified candidate to lead this city,” she said, during a campaign rally held Sunday in Eckhart Park near the Wicker Park neighborhood. “Gery never lost touch with the community and the people he served in public life.

“Every time Gery accomplished big things for Chicagoans, he always made the community part of the process,” she said. “This distinguishes him from his opponents.”

For what it’s worth, Burke himself made the trip up from his 14th Ward to the 27th Ward – where local Alderman Walter Burnett is among the officials who had an interest in having a coalition candidate to help an African-American person get elected as mayor, although the park where the Chico backers converged lies just outside of the 1st Ward, where Alderman Joe Moreno is a solid Chico backer.

I SUSPECT BURKE thought the trip up to an alien (to him, at least) part of Chicago was to see that the collection of characters put together to endorse Chico did so by sticking to the script and without saying anything that could be misconstrued as truly interesting/newsworthy.

By all accounts, Kaszak played her part in Sunday’s Burke mayoral sermon perfectly.

Which means city voters can now go forth beginning Monday and show up at the early voting centers that will be open through Feb. 17 – for those who just can’t wait until Feb. 22 to cast their ballots for the new mayor of Chicago.

And as for those suburban Chicago residents who don’t have any municipal elections three weeks from Tuesday, I wonder if they’re going to make the mistake of assuming that means there aren’t any elections at all for them. Could it further depress their voter turnout when suburban municipal elections are held April 5?

  -30-

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Somebody didn’t learn from own history

I couldn’t help but reminisce back to 1992 after seeing the formal debate between the mayoral candidates that took place just hours after Rahm Emanuel got the Illinois Supreme Court seal of approval to be on the ballot for the Feb. 22 municipal elections.
MOSELEY-BRAUN: Where has the old Carol gone?

Thursday night was the time when Carol Moseley-Braun chose to go on the attack against Rahm Emanuel, doing what she could to try to take him down in the eyes of would-be voters. She also took her share of pot-shots at Gery Chico, the guy who has headed the public schools, the city colleges and the park district – along with being an early chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

SO WHAT IS memorable about that? Aren’t political people invariably going to take pot shots at each other during an election season debate?

That is true. Yet I couldn’t help but remember when Moseley-Braun was a fresh-faced former legislator and county office holder (recorder of deeds) who was running in the ’92 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Then-Sen. Alan Dixon had managed to tick off women’s activists by joining in the efforts to denounce Anita Hill when she testified about her past contact with then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

But those women weren’t particularly organized behind any candidate. Certainly not Moseley-Braun. If anything, the Carol Moseley-Braun of 1992 was reminiscent of the Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins of today – a candidate on the ballot with some interesting ideas, but not enough campaign cash to run a credible effort.

UNTIL, THAT IS, the debates came along. For there were three major candidates wishing to run for U.S. Senate from Illinois as a Democrat. Besides Dixon and Moseley-Braun, there was also Al Hofeld, an attorney of some personal financial means who had never held elective office.
EMANUEL: As though he needed a boost

I still remember the debates that resulted between the three. Hofeld had run a negative campaign, trying to make Dixon appear to be someone old and out-of-touch. Dixon tried responding by making the political neophyte appear to be politically clueless.

Dixon and Hofeld beat up on each other. They largely ignored Moseley-Braun, who when she did speak came across as the one concerned about issues. In fact, she came across as the only logical person among the three candidates.

This time, Moseley-Braun went on the attack to the point where she appeared to be the one who was clueless. She managed to make Rahm Emanuel, the Mighty Rahm-bo with the foul mouth and crass temperament, appear to be the calm, collected, intelligent candidate.

MOSELEY-BRAUN SEEMS TO have lost touch with her inner-self, or at least the things she had going for her 19 years ago. She almost seemed to be the equivalent of a female version of Hofeld from all those years ago.

Considering that Emanuel was able to follow up his debate appearance with campaign advertisements on Friday touting the fact that he once worked for Barack Obama (and comes as close to a presidential endorsement as Obama can give Rahm), he winds up looking like the august, imperial official who will raise the level of Chicago government to new heights – compared to the other candidates who come across as local rubes who may have strong backing in their home neighborhoods, but have never ventured beyond their home block in their lives.

It’s not like Emanuel needed any more advantages than he already has – the largest campaign fund and solid backing from the corporate types who can easily help him come up with more cash if needed! But Moseley-Braun gave it to him.

Now I understand why Moseley-Braun feels the need to get aggressive.

HER CAMPAIGN IS lagging. Financially, she isn’t attracting much money. Watkins actually raised just slightly more than she did.

She also has minimal appeal to anyone outside of those activists who are so determined to have an African-American person elected as mayor that they’ll settle for Moseley-Braun.

I noticed in mid-week a poll conducted by We Ask America (and paid for by the Chicago Retail Merchants Association) that showed Carol running third with 11.04 percent IF Rahm remained on the mayoral ballot. When asked who they would support if he had been knocked off, her support only went up to 17.32 percent.

By comparison, Chico’s backing went from 14.41 percent with Emanuel on the ballot way up to 32.99 percent and the new front-runner – had the Supreme Court given Rahm the boot.

THAT SAME POLL claimed 71.53 percent of people questioned wanted Emanuel to remain on the ballot.
WATKINS: Give her Carol's slot?

All of which means that Moseley-Braun, the darling of the Democratic set who brought pride to Chicago back in ’92 with her sudden rise to national politics, is feeling the pressure brought on by the anonymity she has experienced in recent years. On a side note, I got my chuckle from a Watkins quip that she didn’t even realize until the campaign season that Moseley-Braun still lived in Chicago.

I’m sure the idea of falling back into anonymity come Feb. 23 (or April 6, if she manages to turn this into a run-off election) is enough to make her try desperation measures – which is how she came across in that first debate.

Perhaps future debates will give us glimpses of the “old Carol.” Either that, or perhaps we ought to give her slot come Valentine's Day on WTTW-TV to Watkins – who might just come up with some real ideas for the opposition candidates to ponder.

  -30-

Friday, January 28, 2011

No matter how much some may want to believe, The Law is open to interpretation

It is borderline ridiculous whenever people use the “rule of law” phrase to defend some abhorrent action, claiming that The Law is absolute in what it says and we, the people, have no business questioning it.

The reality is that law is very much open to interpretation – as evidenced by all the hoopla this week surrounding Rahm Emanuel and whether or not he is sufficiently a Chicago resident, as required by The Law, to run for mayor.

WELL, IT SEEMS The Law has its own contradictions and it depends on how a judge wants to interpret it to the specifics of a certain case. In Emanuel's case, an appeals court panel and the Illinois Supreme Court took the exact same legal briefs written by both sides to argue the case and came up with radically different interpretations about how The Law impacted Emanuel’s circumstances. Which is why "Rahm Lives!," and some in Chicago now shudder in disgust at the thought.

No matter how much election law specialist Burt Odelson likes to spin the situation to claim that Emanuel’s situation is a clear-cut case of NOT having lived in Chicago long enough to run for mayor, there is always room for interpretation.

That latter statement became all the more apparent on Thursday when a Chicago Police Department panel that oversees pensions for retired officers decided that retired Commander Jon Burge was entitled to keep his pension – which pays him just over $3,000 per month (before taxes) for his two decades of service to the people of Chicago.

This ruling came nearly one week after Burge was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison on federal criminal charges that relate to that very service. Burge was the commander of the violent crimes unit for the Far South Side.

BURGE’S BEHAVIOR TOWARD people in his unit’s custody became so notorious that it was one factor  in the restructuring of the Chicago Police districts that saw the old Pullman Area be renamed the Calumet Area (as though erasing the “Pullman” name could erase Burge’s deeds).

So Burge is a retired cop on his way to prison.

Yet in the eyes of half of the police department’s pension board, he’s not a corrupt cop. They voted 4-4 when they met Tuesday on whether Burge could keep his pension. It would have required a 5-3 vote, at least, to deprive him of the retirement benefits.

The people on the pension board took the logic that Burge was convicted of perjury for his testimony during a 2003 civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court, not for his actual behavior while serving as a police officer.

THEY ALSO NOTE that since he was removed from the police department in 1993, he wasn’t a police officer when he committed the act of perjury for which he is now doing prison time.

All of that is 100 percent true. So the interpretation of those four individuals may well have some basis in the law.

Yet people who view issues from a more honest perspective (instead of trying to find the loophole that allows them to run roughshod over others) can’t help but think that something is seriously out of whack here.

That lawsuit for which Burge provided false testimony WAS directly related to the behavior of he and his counterparts in the Pullman Area back in the early 1980s. Burge claimed in his testimony he did nothing illegal, which federal prosecutors said was false.

U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE Joan Lefkow, the federal judge who last week sent Burge to prison (he has until mid-March to report), said while sentencing him that she did not believe his denials under oath that he knew nothing of torture tactics being used by police under his command. But by the “harsh” standard of the “rule of law,” none of that matters.

One might argue that prosecutors should just go after Burge for the torture. The problem is that option is not possible.

Because city officials went through so much denial in the 1990s that Burge, or any other Chicago police officer, would use torture tactics, there has now been too much time that has passed between the criminal acts that took place down on 111th Street and now.

The Statute of Limitations has literally passed. Burge can never be prosecuted for the actual improper acts.

IT MEANS WE have a retired cop going to prison, yet technically he’s not a corrupt cop. I suppose anyone who implies that Burge, who is 63, is now being sent away as punishment for torture tactic use is in danger of committing libel.

But the fact that Burge has a perjury conviction means we can think of him as a convicted liar. But even though his “lies” were about his police conduct, it doesn’t affect that police conduct itself.

The end result is that Burge, if he survives his time in a federal correctional center, could wind up with some cash to live on – even though I would expect his legal bills have eaten up much of what financial resources he has had.

People who are going to scream about the “rule of law” will probably applaud this outcome. I can’t help but think some sort of change is needed, or else the phrase “rule of law” is going to start taking on the taint that “State’s Rights” took for an older generation that saw it as a legal dodge to justify segregation and other abhorrent policies.

  -30-

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Residency for mayor, but not employees?

CHICO: Easing residency for public safety?
I find it ironic that mayoral hopeful Gery Chico this week came out for easing the residency requirements for city workers, at a time when an overly strict interpretation of “the law” when it comes to mayoral candidates could work to his benefit.

There are those people who believe that Chico, the one-time head of the Public Schools board, the City Colleges of Chicago and the Park District, would become the new front-runner, should Rahm Emanuel be unsuccessful in convincing the Illinois Supreme Court to keep his name on the ballot for the Feb. 22 municipal elections.

AFTER ALL, SAY the legal critics, Emanuel can’t run for mayor because he has NOT been a Chicago resident for a long-enough period of time – in accordance with that strict reading of relevant law.

There are those who think the people pushing this view are Chico’s backers (including Alderman Edward Burke), if not quite Chico himself.

So we have a case where overly-strict residency requirements are good for Chico if they bump off his most serious Election Day opponent. Yet he’s going around getting the endorsement of the International Association of Firefighters local that represents the Chicago Fire Department employees.

The way he’s doing that is by telling them this week he’d ease the residency requirement. I’d say that the move would also get Chico the endorsement of the Chicago Police chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police – except for the fact that the cop union has already endorsed him! But to keep the cops from feeling neglected, he made pledges Wednesday to put 2,000 more officers on the streets by the end (if elected) of his four-year term.

NOW I DO see the one major difference. “Mayor” is an elected position. We don’t pick our police officers and firefighters, or their leaders, at the voting booth. So I’m not quite calling the Chico campaign hypocritical when it comes to the concept of residency and government.

But at a time when political observers watching this particular election cycle are engaging in debates over what, exactly, does Illinois law have to say about residential status for an elected official, the whole concept of demanding proper residency for a city official has risen to a new level of attention.
EMANUEL: Easing his residency?

So it seems odd that at least one of those candidates for mayor is choosing this moment in time to get a little bit lax with the residency requirements for other city personnel.

Now I realize that residency has been a long-festering issue, particularly when it comes to employees of the agencies that are supposed to ensure the public safety of city residents.

WE MAKE JOKES about those “cop enclaves” in neighborhoods such as Jefferson Park on the Northwest Side or Mount Greenwood on the Southwest Side – the latter of which bears so much resemblance to neighboring Alsip that one can’t easily tell where city ends and suburb begins. (For the record, I have two uncles who were Chicago police – one who lived in Mount Greenwood, just three blocks from the city limits, and another who lived out near Midway Airport, although upon his retirement, he found himself a literal country estate in Arkansas to escape what he had come to see as the urban zoo).

I’m sure there are many police officers and firefighters who would have no qualms about moving those few blocks out further into a suburban town – if not for the residency requirement that has been in place for decades.

There are those people who make arguments in defense of residency requirements by claiming they are needed to keep the “middle class” living in the city. Without them, they say, Chicago would become a home address for very wealthy people who live in or near downtown, and the rest of the city would become for the very poor.

Actually, I think it is the quality of the public school system that is more important in that regard. A lot of people, if they don’t already live here, make a point of moving to the city in early adulthood. It is the belief that the local public schools are too low quality (and the parochial or other private schools too expensive) that causes too many people to leave – creating a case where roughly two-thirds of the Chicago-area’s population lives in a suburb, rather than the city itself.

MY REASON FOR thinking the residency requirement has merit is because it would be nice to have the public safety employees on hand.

I know there are suburban towns that are forced to ease up on residency requirements – or else they wouldn’t be able to hire and keep qualified public safety employees. The mode in those places seems to be requiring their workers to live within something like a 10-mile radius of the home town, or requiring them to live in town for a few years, then easing up on residency once they become veteran employees.

I’d like to think Chicago has enough to offer that it doesn’t have to ease up on residency in order to find qualified workers. People who talk about easing the requirement seem, to me, to be surrendering on a certain level. If Chico really does believe that residency for those city workers isn’t all that important, then perhaps he should make some sort of statement telling the people who are eager to boot Emanuel from the ballot based on residency technicalities to ease up.

Fat chance that will ever happen!

  -30-

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

EXTRA: Burke says "no" to recusal

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke told Crain's Chicago Business on Wednesday she has no intent of recusing herself from the high court's actions relating to Rahm Emanuel's worthiness to be on the mayoral ballot come the Feb. 22 elections.

Burke said that only does she have a mind of her own apart from her husband (implying that demands she recuse herself are sexist), I got a kick out of her comments recalling that  her husband (who is a Gery Chico backer) did not like it much when she worked for Illinois state government under then-Gov. Jim Edgar -- a Republican.

BUT SHE DID it anyway.

And now, that's one less element for the conspiracy theorists to take into account. Then again, those people are going to concoct a wild theory no matter what the state Supreme Court does with regard to the mayoral elections.

  -30-

Will she recuse herself? Anne Burke the focus of political observer attention

The Illinois Supreme Court, a legal body we’d  like to think of as august and impartial, is inherently a political animal. Now, they’re being put in a position to make a blatantly political ruling.
BURKE: What does she hear at home?

And, they’re being asked to issue it on the fly. A rush-job ruling that will impact our city for years, if not decades, to come.

THAT IS THE case with regards to the mayoral aspirations of Rahm Emanuel, who asked the state’s high court to hear his mayoral campaign's appeal that says an Illinois appellate court panel was wrong to remove him from the list of candidates running in the Feb. 22 municipal elections. The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a stay that restored him to the ballot -- at least until the high court decides what it wants to do.

The Chicago Tribune reported how two of the three judges on that panel got their original appointments due to the work of Alderman Edward Burke – who has made it clear in this election that he is a Gery Chico backer.

The implication being that those two judges repaid a political favor by issuing a ruling that supported Burke’s electoral desires. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they would have ruled the same regardless of Burke ties, but I wonder if the fact they waited five full days to issue their ruling (they heard arguments last week) was meant to reduce the amount of time that Emanuel could try to appeal.

There’s going to be an even bigger connection for Burke when the appeal goes to the state Supreme Court, where Burke’s wife, Anne, is one of the high court’s justices. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that she in the past has sat out cases involving Chicago election law, and already is hearing pleas from various legal groups that she should recuse herself – literally sit out this particular case, on the grounds that she is too biased to issue a fair ruling.

HALL: The reality of our system is ...
NOW I’M GOING to give judges some credit when it comes to court cases involving electoral politics. I do believe all except the most blatantly incompetent are capable of viewing the law above partisan political concerns. It is simple-minded to look at the letter (“D” or “R”) that follows a judge’s name and make knee-jerk predictions about how he/she will rule on Rahm Emanuel.

Except for when it happens, such as the once-a-decade ruling when maps creating political boundaries for legislative and judicial districts are reviewed by the high court. Those always seem to come down along partisan lines. 

Which is why I think it is naïve to believe the backers of Shelvin Louise Marie Hall – one of the two judges who on Monday gave Rahm Emanuel the Election Day boot – who say they couldn’t even remember if Burke, the alderman, did anything on her behalf to get her elected as a judge.

HOFFMAN: ... judges have political ties
Then again, one has to wonder what Burke has been hearing at home from her husband about this election cycle, and how much of that rhetoric comprises her thought process these days.

JUDGES ARE JUST as much creatures of the political system we have in this state as the people who are now demanding recusal. We all want a certain outcome and want the court conditions best likely to create it.

Insofar as those people who are now demanding that Burke step aside and let her six other colleagues on the state Supreme Court decide this case, I’m not sure it makes much of a difference. 

Because Rahm Emanuel is still going to have to convince four Supreme Court justices (out of seven) that the appellate court goofed on Monday. Eliminating Burke means four out of six. That may turn out to be very difficult.

The reality of the Illinois Supreme Court is that it is broken up regionally – and Chicago is dominant enough over the other regions of Illinois that we get the 4-3 Democrat/Republican partisan split.

THREE OF THE judges are from Cook County, actually all from the city proper. The other four are either from suburban areas or the other parts of the state that are probably sitting back and watching with bemusement the antics taking place in Chicago this week.

For all I know, they may well follow the whims of their own home regions that wouldn’t mind mucking things up in this electoral process. Which means I suspect the three judges from suburban DuPage, along with Danville and Nashville in Southern Illinois, aren’t going to be terribly sympathetic to the Election Day desires of the former White House chief of staff.

Now there is one Democrat on the Supreme Court from outside of Chicago. That would be Thomas Kilbride, the man who endured a serious challenge by GOP partisans in the last election cycle to dump him to shift the state Supreme Court to the Republicans.

He managed to keep his seat (for a 10-year term) in large part due to the work of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who also has attorneys allied with him filing Emanuel’s appeal to the state Supreme Court. Combine them with the other two Chicago justices (Charles Freeman and Mary Jane Theis), and we get the potential for a “nice” 3-3 split.

THAT IS IF Anne Burke decides to recuse herself.

Personally, I’d just as soon have her sit in and take part in the high court’s decision. At least then she’d be on the record.

If we’re going to start concocting conspiracy theories about how Eddie Burke used the courts to kick his political opposition off the ballot, it would be better if we had something resembling a paper trail – rather than just our political paranoia – as evidence. Then, we can complain/rant/rage all we want for years to come.

  -30-

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Should Tribune join SI cover in jinx?

It sits on newsstands across the Chicago metro area, mocking us.

I’m referring to copies of Sports Illustrated, with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and the rest of the Chicago Bears. “BRING ON THE PACKERS” is the screaming headline, along with a subhead about the Bears’ anticipated trip to the Super Bowl.

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE of Monday, we know how ludicrous this cover is. The Bears lost. They got beat by “their old rivals,” and the potential we had for a good ol’-fashioned Chicago/New York brawl (Bears versus Jets in the Super Bowl) is gone. The National Football League championship for this season will go to either Pittsburgh, or Green Bay, Wis.

It sounds like quite a letdown. Which is pretty much what I’m starting to feel about the election cycle for Chicago mayor, which on Monday gave political observers quite a body block when the mayoral aspirations of Rahm Emanuel got knocked off the ballot.

Unless Emanuel finds the Supreme courts of either Illinois or the United States willing to intervene on his behalf, he’s not going to be a candidate.

The potential of a national political figure with significant clout to the White House becoming Chicago city government’s chief executive (the equivalent of a Chicago versus New York Super Bowl) is wavering – and could soon be something that “never was.”

YES, A PART of me thinks of a purely local mayoral campaign between Carol Moseley-Braun, Gery Chico, Miguel del Valle and Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins as being a political equivalent of that Pittsburgh/Green Bay faceoff for a football championship.

It sounds so dinky by comparison.

There’s even a political equivalent to the Sports Illustrated cover. Because it was just last week Friday that the Chicago Tribune gave us the poll results claiming Emanuel’s campaign has support from 44 percent of would-be voters – with signs indicating that his support among various groups is on the rise.

“Mother Tribune” dared to put in our minds the thought that there wouldn’t be an April 5 runoff election – that Emanuel could actually win the whole thing come Feb. 22.

NOW, ON THE very next day of business, Emanuel is gone. That front page must seem like a taunt to the people who haven’t yet recycled it, similar to how that magazine cover seems like a cruel joke.

The Chicago Bears as Super Bowl champs. Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The former ain’t gonna happen any time soon, and the latter may also be just as dead.

Admittedly, there is still a bit of life in the idea of Emanuel for mayor. The sports analogy may well be to compare Emanuel to the Bears’ performance on Sunday, in that the Bears did put up a serious threat in that fourth quarter.

HAD A COUPLE of things broken just a bit differently, that game would have ended regulation time in a tie. Football fans (of which, in all honesty, I’m not one) will forever ponder as to whether the Bears could have won the game – IF it had gone into overtime.

Which means we’re going to get to see whether or not Emanuel is any more successful in pulling off a late maneuver that restores him to the ballot. Because it is that late in the process – which may well have been the strategy all along of Burt Odelson, the Evergreen Park-based attorney who specializes in election law and has been the lead instigator of the effort to remove Rahm from the mayoral ballot.

I couldn’t help but notice that he told WBBM-AM radio that the appeals court ruling surprised him – he expected it would be the state Supreme Court that would rule in his favor; meaning he’d win at the very end and there just wouldn’t be any time left for Emanuel to put up a serious legal fight to restore himself.

As it is, this next step before the Supreme courts is going to have to be rushed through this week. For the early voting centers start letting people cast ballots next week Monday.

EVEN IF THE Supreme courts put the rush on their proceedings (which they are capable of doing), it creates a situation where ballots are prepared at the very last minute – which means a rush job. Invariably, that causes problems and confusion at the polling places.

So now we have to see how the Supreme courts rule, and whether they will be willing to give any credence to the dissenting opinion of Appellate Justice Bettina E. Lampkin – who was the one judge to rule against booting Emanuel from the ballot.

She says that the burden of proof should have been on Odelson to show that Emanuel made his Washington house his permanent residence, which she says he did not.

“The candidate never voted in Washington, D.C., never changed his driver’s license to Washington, D.C., never registered his car in Washington, D.C., never purchased property in Washington, D.C. (the house was rented), never conducted personal banking in Washington, D.C., and never demonstrated an intent to sell his Chicago home,” she wrote in her dissent.

SO WILL THE Supreme Court of Illinois (which I will predict will hold a Friday morning hearing at the high court in Springfield, with a ruling issued late that afternoon) rule for Rahm (who filed a request Monday night for an emergency hearing), giving him a last-minute victory unlike the Bears?

Or will we forevermore wonder whose defeat (the Bears or Emanuel) was the bigger shock to Chicagoans?

  -30-

Monday, January 24, 2011

Are we really moving past racial factors?

EMANUEL: The front-runner?
On the surface, the Chicago Tribune gave us positive news this weekend. The newspaper commissioned yet another poll related to the upcoming municipal elections, this time trying to get a sense of how much racial and ethnic factors will play in terms of how local voters pick whom they will vote for.

That poll gave numbers that are being interpreted as saying that people are not as hung up on racial factors as we were some three decades ago. The number of people who will vote for anybody but Carol Moseley-Braun would appear to be on the decline.

MOSELEY-BRAUN: The consensus?
YET I’M SKEPTICAL, and not just because of the reality of political polls that some people will say what they think they’re supposed to, but will act very differently.

In short, I wonder how many people who said they won’t take race into account when they cast their ballots will react very differently, either at an early voting center beginning next week, or at a polling place on Feb. 22.

Anybody who has read my other commentary published at this weblog knows I believe these Election Day results are going to tell us how much we truly have advanced when it comes to matters of race and electoral politics.

CHICO: The multi-ethnic candidate?
We may have elected a couple of African-American senators, a state attorney general and secretary of state, and sent one of our own African-American politicos to Washington to be president since the days of Harold Washington.

YET I STILL wonder how many local voters view those offices as being less important than those of city government, particularly that of mayor?

The reality of our city government in recent decades is that while there have been African-American and Latino people who have held citywide office, it has always been on a slate of candidates with a white guy, Richard M. Daley, at the top.

DEL VALLE: ¿El candidato tranquillo?
I wonder how many people are going to let this be an issue because it gets at their gut feelings about what they think our society should stand for. Some people have their hang-ups that no amount of rhetoric will overcome.

Which is why I plan to look at the voter breakdown from the Feb. 22 elections (and the April 5 run-offs, if they become necessary) to see how people have actually voted.

AS MUCH AS I want to believe the theme that we’re not as hung up on race in electoral politics as we were back in 1983 (I was a high school senior back when Washington got elected mayor, and can still remember the very real, and intense, resentment felt toward the idea that African-American people could comprise a voter bloc large enough to win an election), I’ll believe it when I see it with actual voter turnouts – not the results of a poll commissioned a month before the election!

For the record, 75 percent of people questioned for the poll commissioned by the Tribune said that a candidate’s race will have “little or no influence” on their vote. Another 70 percent said they do not think a mayoral candidate would show favoritism toward people of their racial or ethnic background.

WATKINS: Worthy of more attention?
That sounds nice. But all it may really mean is that racial and ethnic bias in the 21st Century is more subtle than back in the Days of Reagan. We won’t hear any stupid jokes about Moseley-Braun resembling “Weezie Jefferson” or many attempts to make us think Rahm Emanuel was once in the Israeli army – and therefore not a “real American.”

Part of the reason I am skeptical is that I acknowledge that our city is still significantly divided when it comes to race – with the downtown area often being the only place where one can find anything resembling co-existence on a regular basis.

WE ALL GO to work together during the day, 9-5, Monday through Friday. Afterward, we go back to our home neighborhoods, which may well be shifting in terms of ethnic and racial breakdowns in recent years, but still remain heavily separated.
WALLS: The perennial dreamer

That same Tribune-commissioned poll said that 57 percent of white people surveyed thought their neighborhoods were safer than the rest of the city, compared to only 42 percent of Latinos who thought that or 26 percent of African-American people – who by the way also had 70 percent say the neighborhoods they live in are NOT very diverse.

Which means that even in the new century, we have certain people living in certain sections, and certain non-Anglo individuals living in places where they’re not all that exposed to other people. It’s like they’re living in an alternate Chicago – one that other people would prefer not to have to think much about.

That is why I think some voters will have that gut feeling come Election Day, no matter what they say now or what they know on an intellectual level is the “proper” thing to do.

WE’RE NOT GOING to get the ugly bluntness of the past. But anybody who thinks we have put this factor behind us for good is being delusional.

Then again, they’re probably the same kind of people who can’t comprehend how the Chicago Cubs have gone so many years without a championship.

  -30-


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bears vs. Packers? Eh!

They say it wasn't, but was 'Chicaco' intentional?
All around me, I have seen the signs of excitement this past week as people get all worked up over the thought of the Chicago Bears playing the Green Bay Packers for the right to play  in the Super Bowl come Feb. 6.

Yet I have to make a confession – one that may cause the more rabid among us to suggest that I can’t be a true Chicagoan. I could care less.

I’M NOT GOING to be among the people anxiously parked in front of a television set on Sunday so that I can see the game that some people are trying to claim is the biggest event in the history of Chicago sports. I’m definitely not going to be among the people who will feel it to be a significant blow to the Chicago psyche if that dinky town in Wisconsin manages to play for this year’s NFL championship against the winner of Pittsburgh Steelers/New York Jets.

Now it’s not that I have some problem with the Chicago Bears. I realize they are a long-standing, tradition-rich professional football franchise. I also appreciate that this conference championship game involves two long-standing teams with a real rivalry, and the fact that the Packers are a holdover from the days when pro football had teams in places like Canton, Ohio, and Decatur, Ill.

In short, I get why some people want to think this is the biggest Chicago sports event ever, although I personally think it’s not even the biggest Chicago sports happening of the weekend. The White Sox declaring that Ozzie Guillen will return as manager in 2012, instead of leaving him twisting in uncertainty, is more significant.

My thing is that I personally have never thought much of the game of football (the fact that I consider “soccer” to be the REAL football is a separate issue). I have twice been to games at Soldier Field. Maybe it was because I had crummy seats, but I wasn’t awed by the experience. The constant start-stop of action during a game leaves me cold.

IN FACT MY lasting memory of my first Bears game (’79 preseason against the Jets) wasn’t the score. It was the sight of the Honey Bears on the sidelines, being very appealing to my then-14-year-old warped sensibilities (along with my modern-day, 45-year-old mind).

We don’t even have the Honey Bears in Chicago any longer. So I definitely can’t see the point of paying thousands of dollars per sear to see the game (don’t even bring up the winter weather conditions that spectators will have to cope with).

Even the Chicago Sun-Times felt the need all week to get itself into "Bears-mode."

Insofar as football on television is concerned, I have a hard time concentrating on any sports broadcast – even a game in which I have a legitimate interest. Constant commercial interruptions distract me too much (I really don't understand those people who say they watch the Super Bowl for the commercials), along with all the repetitive crowd shots and close-ups meant to show us the facial pores of every single athlete on the playing field.

So I’m not eager to spend an afternoon watching television. Even if I were, I’d want to watch something more interesting than a football game that could wind up being a badly-played one.

IN FACT, I’D have to say my biggest problem is the fact that all the hype is being put on this game. The idea that this is the biggest sports event ever for a Chicago team is nonsense. We won’t know how the game ranks (or if it even comes close to qualifying) until after the game is over.

Some people are too determined to hype Sunday’s happenings, which is why I fully expect someone to get their butt whomped and the game to turn out to be a complete disappointment (I’m not saying who will be disappointed).

In fact, if there was a sports event I would have liked to have seen this weekend, it would have been my alma mater’s basketball teams from Illinois Wesleyan University, who were in Chicago Saturday night to play North Park University, that school at Foster and Kedzie avenues that a couple of decades ago was among the elite of small college basketball (three straight national championships back in 1978-80, along with two more back in ’85 and ’87 when I was a student in Bloomington).

But freelance writing commitments (a.k.a., paying work) kept me from seeing the IWU 65-57 loss to the Vikings (although the women's team beat North Park 74-54), which in my mind is much more intriguing than any overhyped NFL television broadcast.

  -30-