Thursday, June 30, 2011

EXTRA: Ticking off the schools. And quite possibly, rural Illinois as well

Gov. Pat Quinn gave his approval to a $32.9 billion budget for the state fiscal year that begins Friday, and used his amendatory veto power to slash some spending that the General Assembly had approved.
QUINN: Damned, no matter what he does

My guess is that he went after pet programs of particular legislators, who in their own budgetary negotiations didn’t even come close to providing the kind of funding that Quinn wanted for certain programs.

WHICH MAKES THIS particular budget approval nothing more than partisan politics and campaign tactics run amok. The fact that he made everyone wait until Thursday night (11:59 p.m. was the deadline) to find out exactly what he intended to do just rubs it into the wound all the more.

Yet there was one part of the budget, as it now stands, that caught my attention. It was the fact that Quinn cut the amount of money the state provides to school districts specifically for transportation costs.

We’re not talking about the general state aid that pays for the actual operation of schools and education programs. He cut by $89 million the amount of money the state will give to suburban and rural Illinois school districts to pay for providing all those school buses.

Quinn’s budget director, David Vaught, told the Chicago Sun-Times that such a cut is justified because such transportation costs should be paid locally. As he told The Bright One – “School transportation by its nature is local function for parents and local school districts. They can get their kids to school.”

WHICH MAKES ME wonder how long until someone compares that statement to the never-actually-said-by Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake.”

I have heard enough school officials in assorted districts complain that the state is already terrible when it comes to sending them their funds for transportation – such funds these days routinely show up nearly a year late.

Meaning that the money school districts will actually receive for transportation during the 2011-12 school year is the money they were promised for 2010-11.

That means this cut’s impact may not be felt for a year. But it will be felt.

PARTICULARLY IN THOSE rural school districts where it is not uncommon for a physically-large geographic area to be covered, and where school officials already struggle to pay to maintain buses just to get their kids to school. And in the GOP-leaning suburbs, it will be a complaint that the state already expects local officials to do too much to educate their kids – rather than living up to its vaguely-stated state Constitutional obligation.

I can already hear in my mind the rancid rhetoric Quinn will get for somehow not sympathizing with the parts of Illinois that are not part of Chicago metro, or for merely looking out for the city proper. It may be a nonsense issue, but someone will try to make it against him.

But at least we have a budget in place, and there is no risk that state government will be forced to shut down in coming weeks.

As one whose own experience covering the Illinois Statehouse Scene includes having to deal with early Julys where the lack of a budget meant that no money could be spent, government shutdowns are a complete pain in the tush.

  -30-

Bodyguards a relic of what we once were

Perhaps it is all too appropriate that the issue of Fourteenth Ward Alderman Edward Burke and his bodyguards lingers over us.
BURKE: A Council Wars remnant?

The fact that he has a four-person security detail full-time is a remnant of the “Council Wars” of old, when racial tensions turned our local politics into a verbal brawl that some feared could get physical.

SOME PEOPLE SEEM a little too eager to claim that this latest municipal election cycle is one where we no longer care about race – as though such considerations are irrelevant. Almost like they never mattered.

But they did.

Burke got those bodyguards for as long as he serves as finance chairman of the City Council because he was able to convince a judge back in the mid-1980s that HIS life would be at risk because of all those baaad people who would do him harm.

Not that anyone ever tried to do anything to “Flashy Eddie.” But what cracks me up about the idea of Burke needing bodyguards is that the reason there was tension back in the mid-1980s was largely BECAUSE of Burke, who along with “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak led the open revolt of a 29-member Council majority against then-Mayor Harold Washington.

THEY WERE ABLE to do so because they sensed the hostility much of Chicago felt toward the idea of an African-American person being elected mayor was so intense that many people would not object to their behavior.

If anything, the person who was the target of hostility was Washington himself, NOT Burke. Not that anyone ever went so far as to try to harm the mayor back then.
WASHINGTON: He really needed them

But if they had, it likely would have been because they felt motivated by the rancid rhetoric that used to come from the mouth of people like Burke. I’m not saying that Burke went so far as to call for bodily harm to befall Harold Washington.

But there would have been many Burke supporters back then who would not have been the least bit upset if something bad had happened to Harold.

NOW I AM not writing this commentary to engage in a two-and-a-half decades after the fact attack on Burke. I realize that time passes, and we all have to move on. I also realize that Burke himself throughout the years has made statements acknowledging how out-of-line much of his own political behavior was back in those years when Aaron Freeman turned our municipal government into a Star Wars parody that was all-too-accurate in its humor.

But to read from the court order that demanded that Burke have his own security detail, similar to that of the mayor himself, is just too bizarre if one does not have the proper historic context in their minds.

And the sad part of Richard M. Daley managing to serve as mayor for as long as he did is that there are too many otherwise-knowledgeable political people who came of age AFTER the Washington/Sawyer years.

They think the Daley way is the ONLY way that Chicago operates.

THEY HAVE FALLEN into this image of Burke as an elder statesman; the guy who likes to make long, rambling statements that manage to incorporate obscure details of Chicago history on just about every issue.

Perhaps they go along with the mentality that somehow, Burke is as important as any mayor and ought to have the same security detail. A part of me seriously wonders if the reason he wanted it back in the mid-1980s was to create the impression that he was a Washington equal – instead of just one of 50 alderman, compared to a single chief executive, for city government.

Then again, when that court order was signed that requires Burke to have the security detail so long  as he remains finance chairman, who would have thought that he’d still be going strong this deep into the 21st Century.

For that fact, who’d have thought he’d still be an elected official for many years beyond the 1980s?

THIS COURT ORDER is one of those legal documents with aftereffects that linger well beyond the period of time when they might have been necessary.

So would it be nice if Burke were to have enough decency to realize the time in which he might have been able to justify city expense to maintain his security detail has come and gone?

It would be. Not that I expect he will.

For Burke is an elected official. He has just as much of an ego as any other. I’m sure that after nearly 25 years, having four men who otherwise would be patrolling the streets as police officers on hand feels like second nature.

MAYBE THOSE OFFICERS even feel like part of the extended family to Burke and his wife, Anne, the Illinois Supreme Court justice (who, if you want to know the truth, strikes me as needing a security detail far more than any alderman does).

He’s not about to give up a “family” member any time soon. Which means we, the people of Chicago, will be stuck with this remnant of Council Wars for the immediate future.

  -30-

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

300 years for Milorod? How about 3!

I was pleased to see the various news reports this week that speculated about how much time in prison former Gov. Rod Blagojevich could get – because they all mentioned the fact that while he theoretically could get prison terms totaling 300 years, something along the line of a decade is more realistic.

With the public mindset that exists toward Blagojevich, we literally would have had people expecting his eventual sentencing to result in a prison term of so many years that it would amount to natural life.

LET’S BE HONEST.

Anybody who seriously thinks that Blagojevich is going to be locked away in a federal correctional center for the bulk of the remainder of his life is being ridiculous.

If anything, we ought to think about locking such people up in a mental institution, on the grounds that they’re going loony in the head and aren’t thinking rational enough to be in society. They may be more of a threat to us than Blagojevich is.

Because this issue is the one we ought now to be focusing on, now that Blagojevich has been found guilty by a jury of his “peers” on 17 of 20 charges he faced during his latest trial in U.S. District Court.

THERE WILL BE much speculation about what is an appropriate punishment for the one-time governor whose ego ran amok and caused him to engage in so much political trash talk that it (in the minds of federal prosecutors who convinced the jury) crossed over into criminal behavior.

Many of those people who are most eager to have Blagojevich go away to prison for some time really have politically partisan objections to him. It’s personal. The fact that criminal procedures get involved in this affair is just a lucky break for them.

If this is reading like I think some people over-react when it comes to their thoughts about Blagojevich, you’d be correct.

I happen to be of the belief that these charges against Blagojevich are questionable because they do push to the limit the idea of criminalizing political rhetoric. If talk really is “cheap,” I can’t help but think that some sort of action is necessary for something criminal to have happened. And that was something we never got in either of the Blagojevich trials.

INSOFAR AS THE fact that Blagojevich’s talk and thoughts and ego were tacky and sleazy and vile at times, you’d be correct. But I honestly believe that not every bit of bad behavior automatically translates into a criminal charge and time in prison.

If it did, we’d have 99.99999 percent of the population doing a stint in prison at some time in their lives, and the only reason the other 0.00001 percent didn’t do time was because prosecutors were too overburdened chasing down everybody else.

But I also accept the fact that the people who had the task to decide whether Blagojevich crossed the line between egomania and criminality were those 11 women and 1 man on the jury that sat through his case, then spent part of three weeks reviewing the evidence – including all those hours of conversations secretly taped by the FBI.

They heard the evidence and paid closer attention to it than I did during the past couple of months.

SO IF THEY believe that Blagojevich’s behavior is criminal, I will accept that as fact. At least until/unless an appeals court panel rules on the inevitable appeal that will be filed on the former governor’s behalf.

Until that point, Blagojevich is going to have to focus his attention on how long a prison term he will receive – and how he will cope with serving that time; although I suspect in his deepest fantasies, he’s hoping to become the male equivalent of Miriam Santos.

Remember how the former Chicago city treasurer got her corruption conviction overturned after serving a few months in prison, then managed to get prosecutors agree to her being sentenced to time served when she pleaded guilty instead of going to a retrial?

I’m sure that thought would upset those people who want to think of Blagojevich doing the kind of time usually reserved for people who kill other human beings.

BUT THAT WAS always a part of what bugged me about the Blagojevich case – the fact that the charges with multiple counts were piled on so thick so that they’d create that image of a 300-year prison term. That’s just absurd.

Even hearing the legal pundits speculating that 10 or so years in prison is more realistic strikes me as being a bit long. Because somehow, the idea of about three years in prison seems to be proper.

I don’t mean a 3-year sentence. I mean a sentence that, once what little “good time” he qualifies for is applied, comes to about 36 months in a federal correctional center – quite possibly receiving an “Oxford education” at the prison near Oxford, Wis.

That just seems so realistic. Anything more seems like overkill. And giving in to the people who despise Blagojevich for personal reasons seems more offensive than anything Blagojevich was found guilty of doing.

ON ANOTHER POINT, there have been those who have speculated that Blagojevich could be sent to the minimum-security work camp that is part of the maximum-security prison at Terre Haute, Ind. – joining former Gov. George Ryan and one-time Tenth Ward Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak.

But it was my understanding that both of those men were sent to that prison because of their advancing age (in their 70s). Blagojevich is 54, and in much better health than either of those retired politicos.

I doubt we’ll get that "unholy" Chicago political trio anytime soon.

  -30-

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

All those “guilty” verdicts don’t alter the way many of us perceive government

Perhaps it was all too appropriate that I was dealing with Illinois state government on Monday at the exact moment I learned of the 17 “guilty” verdicts returned against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
BLAGOJEVICH: Getting an Oxford education?

In fact, my contact with government Monday afternoon was in the form that most people deal with the state of Illinois.

I WAS AT a driver testing facility renewing my license plates (which otherwise would have expired after Thursday). While I was at it, I took advantage of being there to have my driver’s license (which would have expired later this summer) renewed.

It was at a point when I learned I passed the written examination I was required to take, and was waiting to have my official photograph taken – the one that will make me look pathetic for the next four years – that I happened to check out the Blackberry I have begrudgingly started carrying in recent months.

In checking for any messages or e-mails, I discovered the report from the Associated Press (as published by Crain’s Chicago Business). The headline “Blagojevich trial: Found guilty on 17 counts” jumped out at me.

I was surrounded by state government in action. The REAL state government, since many people don’t have many dealings with the state beyond keeping their driver’s licenses current. All the ramblings from the Statehouse in Springpatch do eventually trickle down to real activity at the local level. But too many people don’t appreciate that fact.

IT CAN MAKE the constant babbling and pontificating from political pundits about Rod Blagojevich seem downright irrelevant to our daily lives. I may well have been the only person in that room who was all that intrigued by the activities taking place at the Dirksen Building.

For all around me, I saw motor vehicles bureau employees desperately trying to keep up with the lengthy lines of people who had business to do with the state. As it was, it took me nearly an hour-and-a-half to get my business done – most of which involved sitting on hard, but cracked, plastic chairs and waiting.

All for the five minutes it took me to complete the written exam that showed I do have some comprehension of the “rules of the road” and what various street signs actually mean.

I’m sure the fact that Blagojevich was once the nominal head of the government that employed them didn’t mean much, probably less than the fact that it was their very agency of government where the wrongdoing took place that resulted in another former governor, George Ryan, going down to a criminal conviction (resulting in him still being in a federal prison).

I ALSO DOUBT that many of the people waiting in various lines were getting all worked up about the Blagojevich business.

The one person I spoke to while waiting in “line” was more concerned about the amount of time she was being forced to take off work in order to take care of her business with the state.

I also overheard snippets of conversation of people around me who talked of topics ranging from the best local place to find barbecue to why ARE the Chicago Cubs so incredibly awful this year? If anyone around me knew about the jury verdict being returned, they didn't let on.

Of course, the one constant thought was to wonder why it was taking so ridiculously long to work our way through these “lines” at the motor vehicles bureau. If anything, state government at that moment seemed like an annoyance that we’re forced to put up with. Although I'm sure if someone had come up with a theory that the long lines were Blagojevich's fault, THAT thought would have gained instant sympathy.

IT DEFINITELY MAKES it harder for me to take seriously all the pundits who are going to come up with all their cockamamie theories about just what does it really mean that Blagojevich was found “guilty” of 17 of the 20 charges that he faced – including all of the charges related to his handling of the appointment of a replacement for Barack Obama as U.S. senator from Illinois bordering on criminal. There may well be some people who sighed upon hearing the verdict, then moved on with their lives.
Some already are trying to make money off the verdict

In fact, the charges for which he was acquitted involved claims that his attempts to get contributions from Illinois State Toll Highway Authority officials amount to solicitation of a bribe. But I didn’t actually find that part out until after I left the Secretary of State facility, which is when I called up the report so I could get more details.

So if anybody in coming years asks me what my initial reaction was when I learned that Blagojevich became more than a “convicted liar” (from the first trial), I’ll be able to say I was wondering “What three counts did he beat?” -- while having my picture taken.

Then, I’ll be able to whip out that driver’s license photograph and show people the moment. That weary look in my eyes probably says more about what I think of Milorod these days than anything I could ever write here today.

  -30-

Monday, June 27, 2011

We’re evolving, but not quite there yet

I can remember having a conversation about a decade ago with a fellow reporter-type person, albeit one who is about 20 years older than myself.
EMANUEL: Making the most of Pride parade

The topic of discussion was the political perception of issues that in any way involved gay people. He had noticed the change during his time as a reporter, and a part of me wondered if he was passing along this tidbit to me so I could better comprehend the evolution of the issue in future years.

FOR AS HE recalled it, his early years as a reporter in the early 1970s were a time when politicians would eagerly vote against anything that hinted at sympathy to gay people.

Political debate on such bills would be filled with raunchy rhetoric about sodomy and people who “consumed human waste.”

But by the time he told me this story in the late 1990s, such bills would come up for consideration and would be filled with debate from people who expressed concern about human rights issues. The opposition, by and large, was just as disgusted as their counterparts of two decades earlier were.

But they kept their mouths shut, because they knew any attempt to speak out would not only be perceived as homophobia – it WOULD be homophobia. One wrong word on their part, and they’d ensure the fact that their eventual obituaries would contain the word “bigot” in the lede.

AND NOW, WE’RE at a stage where such bills can actually get majority support.

It was earlier this month in Illinois that we got the concept of civil unions, making it possible for gay couples to participate in something with legal standing that recognizes their life partnership and entitles them to the same legal rights as a more traditional (as in heterosexual) married couple.

New York managed to one-up us. Their state Legislature went so far last week as to approve a bill that lets gay couples get married, just like any other couple.

Maybe they won’t be able to walk into a Catholic church and have a priest officiate at the ceremony. But they’ll be able to show up at City Hall like any other couple, and I’m not convinced that many gay couples are all that interested in the traditional church wedding.

IT’S JUST A matter of time before this happens everywhere, although I’m sure there are going to be some states that are going to persist in holding out against this issue – making themselves look ridiculous in the process.

Which state will become the “gay marriage” equivalent of the Boston Red Sox, the last major league ballclub willing to have a black ballplayer on the roster – only 12 years after the Brooklyn Dodgers became the first?

Of course, there are those who are determined to be miserable at the thought of people being treated equally regardless of orientation (and anybody who’s thinking of sending me e-mail messages about how these political acts will lead to the denigration of our society by allowing people to marry their cocker spaniels, I’d respond that you’re completely missing the point).

Then again, you’re probably the grand-son of one of those crackpots of the past who was obsessed with human waste.

YOU MAY WELL be one of the people who thinks the New York Post did something admirable on Saturday. While other New York newspapers were playing up the story big and treating it as an act of history, the Post (which likes to think it has the most dramatic newspaper front page graphics in the business) buried the story with a single line at the bottom of the page – totally obscured by their lede story.
Get out the magnifying glass

The cop who stopped a woman from committing suicide.

Cute, but not exactly earth-shattering – especially since the front-page art was largely a photograph of a brick building that could have existed anywhere.

But such news judgment did play in into the way the ideologues of the world would like to think. Some people are just determined to live in the year 1952. Ignore the issue, and maybe it will go away.

BUT IT DIDN’T. Just like the annual Pride Parade in Chicago (which has been taking place for 42 years now, literally since the days of politicians who talked incessantly of “human waste”) didn’t go away on Sunday, just because someone tried slashing the tires of several of the floats that participated in the event.

I have to admire the parade organizers who managed to arrange for quickie repairs Sunday morning. The Chicago Tribune reported that they managed to have the overwhelming majority of the floats up and ready to ride in the parade by its scheduled noon time.

The parade float order may have been switched a bit – meaning that somebody was probably denied a chance to be at the head of the parade and had to ride in the middle somewhere.

But I’d argue that such a shift would be a good thing. Because this parade had at its head Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who behaved like a typical politician at such an event.

EXCESSIVE HAND-SHAKING AND waving, and even a couple of baby-kissings sighted.

Letting oneself get too close to a politician. Now that is a potentially dangerous condition. When was the last time a gay person hit you up for a campaign contribution?

  -30-

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Redistricting’s partisan political games continue, only now on the GOP side

QUINN: Stamps of approval
I will be the first to admit that the political boundaries drawn for the upcoming decade – including the Congressional districts that Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law on Friday – were put together through a process controlled by Democratic politicians for their own partisan benefit.

It was one of the perks of winning control of both chambers of the General Assembly, along with Illinois governor, during the 2010 election cycle.

BUT THAT DOES not make the fact that the Republican political critics who are now bashing the boundaries and threatening litigation to try to overturn the process are not equally partisan in their own right.

I am fully aware that what these GOP officials really want is to somehow gain control of the reapportionment process so that THEY can be the ones who put together boundaries for their own partisan benefit.

Anybody who claims to be motivated by high-minded ideals is lying. What they want are boundaries that put into check their political opposition – and nothing more.

The fact that state law put Democrat-leaning officials in control of the process this time around is just one of those quirks of fate. A few more thousand votes back in November – and we would have Gov. William Brady vetoing the Illinois Legislature’s congressional map (along with the Legislature boundaries that Quinn signed into law earlier this month).

THAT WOULD BE just as partisan an act as what happened.

If anything, what particularly disgusts me were some comments made by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who appeared on WLS-AM to lambaste those dreaded Dems who have imposed their urban will upon all of us. Or at least that’s the way he’d like us to think about this issue.
KIRK: Wants GOP to dominate

Kirk confirmed the previously-spoken rhetoric about the legal challenge that will be filed in the federal courts; likely by some group of Latinos who lean GOP and will be the front for the party on this one issue.

Kirk predicted eventual success for such a lawsuit because it, “will likely be brought before a Republican judge who picks two other judges to sit on a panel, and they will review the legality of denying Latino voters their full representation in Congress.”

HE ALSO SAID he would expect a ruling sometime in October or November, with chances of success being “pretty good.”

The latter part about “pretty good” is the rhetoric we expect him to say. Be optimistic, regardless of what one really thinks.

But it is the former part that bothers me – the part about a “Republican judge” (as in a federal judge appointed by a Republican U.S. president) picking the panel that will decide this matter.

What it really means is that he wants a process that is Republican-rigged to decide this issue. How is that not as blatantly politically-partisan as what happened in the General Assembly this spring?

THE SIMPLE FACT is that the Illinois Constitution creates a process by which state officials determine the Legislature and Congressional district boundaries. Provided that lawmakers can show they followed that process and did not deliberately try to underplay the representation of any particular group (or overplay the significance of any other), then the maps comply with the law.

There is no one version of a political map that is legal, with all others being illegal.
JOHNSON: Accepting reality?

Which is the thought that may well have gone through the head of Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., earlier this week when he told his hometown News-Gazette newspaper in Urbana, “We’re going to file a lawsuit, but it’s not going to succeed.”

The legal action is for show so that the GOP partisans can claim to have tried something. But then they can blame it on “liberal” courts that won’t perceive “common sense” in the isolationist way many of them do.

INSOFAR AS THE actual maps are concerned (particularly the congressional boundaries), I will be the first to concede that they put officials from the Chicago metropolitan area in a position to control the state. Although considering that nearly half the state's population is in Cook County and two-thirds in the metro area, it's not the most absurd concept.

Those city-based officials are going to have their districts stretch well into the suburbs. And suburban officials from Democrat-leaning areas are going to have their districts stretch well into the fringes of the Chicago area where urban and rural converge – and the rural officials will no longer be able to predominate.

If anything, Will County (the place with a 39 percent population growth during the past decade – the largest-growing county in Illinois) is typical. Instead of having a member of Congress who centers around Joliet and that county, it is now split up into several districts that will be represented by Chicago-based officials.

But considering that the character of Will County these days is merely as an extension of the Chicago suburbs, perhaps it only makes sense that the county provides extensions of city- or inner-suburb-based districts.

AS FOR THE idea that rural legislators and Congress members are being pitted against each other, that happens every decade when new boundaries are set. Johnson, a former state legislator before heading for Washington a decade ago, may well be the most adult official by accepting his new boundaries, and getting himself an apartment to help him make day-trips during the upcoming campaign season to the parts of rural Illinois that are new to him.

If only all officials could be as mature as the “Gentleman from Urbana,” perhaps we’d get more from our government.

Then again if they were really mature, they wouldn’t be politicians.

  -30-


Friday, June 24, 2011

When is a financial gesture worthwhile?

The Illinois Legislature has voted for a cost-cutting gesture that truly is miniscule in nature – they froze their own pay at current levels and also will take 12 days off without pay.

I call it miniscule because the total money that would be saved doesn’t amount to much. Yet we’re going to have our state legislators walking around, pounding their chests and boasting about how they took a personal cut – all in the name of helping state government work its way out of the financial deficit it currently faces.

I’D WANT TO pound on the Legislature’s collective ego, smacking them about a bit and telling them how they need to accept reality and find the backbone to find the additional income needed to balance out the state’s budget.

Having our legislators give themselves 12 extra days off from their government work (which technically is a part-time, although time-consuming, job) isn’t going to fix our state’s mess. It may give them more time to play golf.

There are some cuts to be made. But it is going to take a combination of the two. People ranting and raging for budget cuts for ideological reasons aren’t going to accomplish much. A part of me wants to say that our legislators are living in a world of fantasy (you know, the one where the Chicago Cubs are a mighty, pennant-winning dynasty) and need to be woken up with a swift smack across the cheeks.

But then, I look at the activities of Chicago Public Schools officials from earlier this week and realize that the Legislature’s token gesture (which still needs approval from Gov. Pat Quinn before it can take effect) truly is better than nothing – even though it amounts to little more.

I’M NOT SURE which action offends me more – the fact that the school board decided it didn’t want to honor the contract it negotiated with the Chicago Teachers Union that called for educators to receive raises in coming years?

Or was it the pay raises that were given to assorted high-ranking positions within the Chicago schools’ administration?

Now ideologically, I’m one of those people who wants to dump all over those individuals who want to blame organized labor for all that is wrong with our society, and who look for chances to mess with labor unions whenever they come up.

Those are the people who are happy that the school board recently voted on a measure saying they would not pay out the 4 percent raises that teachers are supposed to receive during the upcoming school year.

SCHOOL OFFICIALS CONTEND that the $712 million in deficit that the Chicago Public Schools budget faces is so severe that they can’t afford the raises – even though they negotiated that contract in good faith and should be expected to honor its terms.

It’s not like anyone would be sympathetic to teachers if the school district suddenly came into wealth and the union tried demanding a share of it. When the contract expires and it is time to negotiate a new deal, that is when school officials should play political hardball and refuse to grant new raises – if not demanding something resembling a pay cut.

Times may be that financially demanding, and I have noticed many government entities approving new contracts that do not provide for any pay raises – on the theory that not laying anyone off is enough of a financial concession. So I could side with a hard-nosed approach come negotiation time.

But pulling this stunt now is just cheap. When combined with this week’s act, it comes across as venal.

THAT “ACT” WAS the same school board approving a measure that raises the salaries of five high-ranking positions. Because we’re at a point where we have a new Chicago Public Schools CEO, it means we have a lot of new high-ranking schools officials.

They’re all going to be getting anywhere from $20,000 more per year to $50,000 per year than the person who held the jobs back when Richard M. Daley was mayor.

Technically, nobody is getting a raise. But we do have a lot of new people who will be paid more money to do the same jobs as their predecessors. I don’t sense that anybody who recently got hired is THAT MUCH more significantly qualified than who they’re replacing.

It just comes across as administration thinking they’re worth more than the people who actually do the daily work of trying either to educate the students who rely on the public school system or to keep the less-motivated ones from dropping off the face of our society.

WHICH IS WHY I was sympathetic to those teachers who chose earlier this week to picket the school board meeting; even though some people tried to misdirect attention to the fact that these schools executives’ salaries were public information while the salaries of Chicago Teachers Union leadership was not.

What is the ultimate evidence that the Chicago Public Schools officials have done something that, while legal, is cheesy and improper?

By comparison, they make the Illinois General Assembly look ethical and morally superior.

  -30-

Thursday, June 23, 2011

EXTRA: What will the world’s leaders think of the Near West Side of Chicago?

It seems that the University of Illinois at Chicago could be the actual site of the NATO and/or G-8 gatherings that will take place next May in Chicago.

Crain’s Chicago Business used its website to report Thursday how city officials think hosting the events at the city’s major public university will erase any potential conflicts with the National Restaurant Show – which is scheduled to take place at the same time.

THAT CONVENTION, BY the way, already has the McCormick Place convention center. So we won’t get the sight of world leaders navigating the streets of the South Side.

Instead, we may get the sight of those leaders hanging around the UI-C Pavilion, among other buildings, as they try to resolve the world’s problems.

I’m just wondering what they’ll think (and how much explanation it will take) of meeting in a place that hosts sports teams that go by the nickname of “Flames.”

  -30-

Chicago gets shot at foreign diplomacy

We didn’t get the Olympic Games. But we likely will get NATO and the G-8.
The Rahm-bo who turned Congress Democrat ...

President Barack Obama let it be known this week that both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Group of Eight nations will be having meetings simultaneously next spring, and that the site of both meetings with be our very own sweet home, Chicago.

NOW I KNOW some people are going to yawn. A few are going to start into some rant about crime running rampant in our city, creating the chance for international embarrassment for Chicago’s public image.

There will even be a nit-picker who will complain about my mental association of the Olympic games with the G-8.

Yet so much of the rhetoric I read and heard Wednesday about having these two international gatherings held in Chicago sounded so much like all the talk we heard in past years when the city was trying to become the host of the 2016 Olympic summer games.

Changing the mayoral name of who is spewing such talk from “Daley” to “Emanuel” is about the only significant difference between the two.

SERIOUSLY, MAYOR RAHM Emanuel talked of how he wanted business interests in Chicago to help pick up some of the costs of staging the two international political meetings here. All about how doing something significant to the world in Chicago would help those businesses based here by erasing the images of crime that critics of these two events want to dwell on.
... will now get businesses to back these gatherings

“I’ll be working on raising the private resources necessary to supplement what we (city government) have to do,” Emanuel told the Chicago Tribune. “While there will no doubt be security needs, this is also an opportunity for the city that is unprecedented from an economic standpoint, a job creation standpoint.”

It sounds to me like Emanuel will be using those same strong-arm organizing and fund-raising skills that he used to turn the House of Representatives to a Democratic majority in ’06 and to help get Obama elected as president in ’08 on the business community – which had better cough up the dough if they ever want to have sympathetic relations with city government in the future.

Now to me, having these gatherings in Chicago makes as much sense as anywhere else one might consider staging them. We are a city with an incredibly intense ethnic character. One can find  just about any ethnicity here.

WE ARE AN international city whether one wants to admit it or not. So why not invite the world here to talk about international issues? It will make for a more interesting discussion scene for a few days than trying to figure out why the Chicago Cubs can’t ever get their act together.

So yes, count me in among those individuals who are intrigued by the thought of a collection of world leaders converging on our city, and perhaps even wandering our streets.

People with international influence who have the power we like to think that people like Edward Burke or Michael Madigan have (they do, but on a much smaller sphere of influence). It will be interesting to see such things happening here, and perhaps creating some real world history.

We may even have people figuring out the exit strategy to Afghanistan in one of our downtown hotel conference rooms, or at McCormick Place, or wherever else they wind up figuring where to stage these events – which will take place in May of next year.

IT DEFINITELY WILL give Obama a chance to show off amongst the world leaders, giving the international aspect of his political character a boost (just like his wife and daughter meeting with former South Africa President Nelson Mandela this week achieves the same goal).
OBAMA: A profile boost?

Only these two gatherings will come during a U.S. election cycle, which will help reinforce his support among people already willing to back him. As for his critics, they’re looking for any reason to bash him.

They probably are the people going about the Internet and posting anonymous comments about world leaders getting mugged in Chicago because of inadequate policing – which allows them to take a pot shot at both Obama and Emanuel.

But looking beyond those people, this event will be of historic significance to us, because it makes Chicago only the second U.S. city to host a NATO gathering. This also becomes the first time in 34 years that one city has hosted both groups simultaneously – London last had the honors in the year of the “South Side Hit Men.”

THERE IS ONE other interesting aspect to having the leaders of the United States and Canada, along with France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United Kingdom, along with Japan, in our city for one gathering, along with the leaders of the 28 nations that belong to NATO for another.

Both groups have their detractors. Those people will protest in our city streets – even though most of them will merely view Chicago as the site of their international activism and NOT a place that they have any grudge against personally.

Which means we’re finally going to learn IF we have put the demons of 1968 behind us and figured out rational ways to handle thousands of activist types without letting the disagreement devolve into a police riot.

  -30-

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sox vs. Cubs – the Box Score Series?

I can’t say that I bothered to watch much of the baseball played this week at U.S. Cellular Field.
Photograph provided by State of Illinois

While I fully appreciate the idea of Chicago White Sox versus the Cubs and the way that the tensions between the two ballclubs’ fans have worked their way into the very character of the city, the actual games just weren’t that big a deal to me.

PART OF IT was work on Tuesday night. Earning some money was more important to me than watching television, so I only caught the last couple of innings because of the nearly two-hour rain delay. While on Monday, I just didn’t feel like giving up some hours to watch the White Sox blow a three-run lead in their loss to Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs.

Watching baseball on television these days feels too much like watching television rather than watching baseball. I probably will get out to U.S. Cellular Field at some point this season – perhaps the beginning of August when the New York Yankees return to Chicago to play a series against the White Sox that won’t feel phony like their recently-completed series against the Cubs always does.

As far as the White Sox/Cubs, I am interested in the outcome of the games, but more out of interest in seeing if the White Sox can finally quit being a team with a losing record. In short, I would just want them to win. The fact that it’s the Cubs they’re playing doesn’t matter.

We all know the Cubs stink. Nobody disputes that fact. If the Sout’ Side ballclub is truly a pennant contender, they ought to be beating up on weak teams like the one that plays in “the dump” at Clark and Addison streets.

AND IF THEY can’t, then maybe they deserve the ridicule they will receive.

There is evidence that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Reports made much of the fact that the smallest crowd ever for a White Sox/Cubs game was achieved on Monday (36,005 tickets sold), unless Tuesday’s or Wednesday’s games manage to go lower.

As though we’re supposed to be embarrassed that 4,000 more people didn’t show up to fill the stadium to capacity.

Personally, I think a weekday game crowd of 36,000 people is very good. Then again, I have always thought it absurd to think that sports teams believe they ought to have capacity crowds for every single game.

OF COURSE, I am not enthused about going out to the ballpark itself. Not for this series.

For it always seems that these six games bring out the stupid and trivial in some people – usually those who don’t really care much for baseball proper, but want to turn it into a spectacle that they can participate in.

Some times, they also bring out the stupid and trivial (manager Ozzie Guillen kicking a catcher’s mask after being ejected from Monday’s game?) in the on-field participants.

Definitely not something I feel the need to catch on television. Nor do I feel the need to venture to the Armour Square neighborhood (even though many White Sox fans prefer to think of the stadium being in Bridgeport) to see for real.

ONLY ONCE IN my life did I attend a White Sox/Cubs game live – and that was back in 1999. That one game (the Cubs managed to blow their lead late in the game) gave me enough of a feel of how superficial some of the “hostilities” between the two teams’ fans could become.

If anything, my vivid memory of that night was the after-game celebration at Schaller’s Pump, the long-time Halsted Street tavern that attracts the life-long South Siders who root for the Sox out of a sense of geographic obligation.

Hearing a spontaneous outburst of  “South Side Irish” was amusing, although one of my former co-workers with whom I attended that game quickly labeled it the “Stuck on Band-Aids” song – which got the chuckle from the Cubbie crowd.

Somehow, I doubt that any weekday evening game is going to create similar spontaneous reactions. People have to go to work in the morning. And if they don’t, they’re probably getting so liquored-up that their outbursts will be more gibberish than anything else.

IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, I probably won’t watch baseball on television Wednesday either – although I will be curious enough to check the box scores afterward to see just how effective Jake Peavy was as a pitcher in what has become yet another of his attempts to come back from injury.

Even then, I just want a sign that he might be capable of pitching in more ballgames this season, rather than demanding some overpowering appearance against the Cubs. Looking to the near future, rather than worrying about this week and who "wins" this portion of the city series.

Which means that for many people, this latest version of the White Sox versus Cubs may well have gone from being the “Cross Town Classic” to the “Box Score Series.”

It’s the one whose results we look up either in the newspaper or on the website, but don’t feel the need to sit through because it’s just three of the 81 home games to be played this year.

  -30-