Friday, September 30, 2011

I doubt Blagojevich cares much these days about his eventual disbarment

We’re in the procedural part of the Blagojevich saga. While we wait for the former governor’s sentencing, there are those people who are getting all worked up about the fact that the Pepperdine University Law School graduate is about to be disbarred.
BLAGOJEVICH: Ex-atty? Or inmate?

Somehow, I suspect that Milorod is more concerned about the fact that his sentencing was delayed than he is about the fact that he soon will no longer be able to call himself an attorney.

THEN AGAIN, HE was always more interested in being a government official than he was in being an attorney. Being able to have the ability to influence public policy was more intriguing to him than fully comprehending the intricacies of “the law.”

Law school was just a ticket to public policy, rather than his intended destination. He hasn’t actually worked as an attorney since the days he represented the Lincoln Square and Ravenswood neighborhoods in the Illinois House of Representatives back in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Which is why, in some ways, I respect the political people of the old days who had their careers running taverns or funeral parlors. There was less of a hypocritical nature to their rhetoric. They weren’t about to claim that they were engaging in any high-minded business.

They were the ones who came up with the phrase “the people’s business” to mock the idea that they were concerned that much with balancing interests. Not that I approve of such attitudes, but at least we comprehend where they’re coming from.

MY POINT IN bringing this up is to take down some of the reports coming up these days about the efforts to disbar Blagojevich.

His disbarment became an inevitable outcome on the day that he was found guilty of that lone criminal charge last year. It was only enhanced when a jury in his second trial piled on all those other criminal convictions.

So learning that the state’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission has filed the paperwork with the Supreme Court of Illinois to suspend the law license of Rod Blagojevich is just a step that must happen.

It won’t matter what Blagojevich and his attorneys come up with in response (there is an Oct. 11 deadline). Unless he can eventually convince an appeals court to overturn all his convictions, then get acquitted on re-trial (you know prosecutors will try again, if they have to), his law license will be suspended.

THEN, HE WILL be disbarred. Although it seems that Blagojevich previously was willing to give up the law license voluntarily – if there could have been legal language used that would have avoided the word “disbar.” He just thinks that the term carries too much of an overtone of guilt, which he’s still not willing to admit.

The real events that people should follow if they’re that concerned about the Blagojevich saga is his sentencing – which was supposed to take place on Thursday.

We finally were going to learn whether there was any legitimacy to those people who were arguing that Blagojevich somehow qualified for a federal prison term of “30 years to life.”

But one of the other people who also faces federal charges of government corruption has his own trial beginning Monday, and U.S. District Judge James Zagel conceded a week ago that it won’t be possible to sentence the former Illinois governor if he has to devote so much attention to the trial of William Cellini.

HE’S THE SPRINGFIELD business executive who, because of his fundraising ability, has had influence with state government officials for the past few decades. He appears to be a Republican, but he’s also one of those GOP types who is more interested in getting things done and is willing to work with Democrats as well.

Even though his political ties were to long-ago Gov. Richard Ogilvie (the first secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation and also director of the state Public Works and Buildings department), he was willing to be a prominent fundraiser when Blagojevich ran for governor in 2002 and 2006.

The fact that Cellini could upstage the Blagojevich sentencing probably is the best evidence of who was really in control of things in Illinois state government.

So now, Blagojevich has to sit and stew a few more weeks (possibly a couple months longer) to learn what his fate will be. Prison for a couple of years, or some draconian sentence?

OR DOES BLAGOJEVICH somehow convince “da judge” that nobody really lost anything due to his conduct in office and he should get nothing more than probation?

I believe the additional weeks that he will have to wait for that outcome will hurt Blagojevich more than the thought of losing his law license.

And in the end, I don’t think that even Sammy Davis Jr. as “da judge” from Laugh-In would be willing to buy Blagojevich’s argument!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): He sounds so naïve, Rahm does on taxes

A part of me wants to chuckle at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s rhetoric about wanting to cut the city’s share of the sales tax.

He thinks he’s about to become a populist hero who slashed taxes to benefit the people by doing the exact opposite of Todd Stroger – who during his time as Cook County Board president actually raised the county’s share of the tax to help raise money to cover all the services they provide.

SOME PEOPLE ARE determined to never forgive Stroger for that move. It will dangle from around his neck forevermore and WILL BE his political legacy. So Emanuel thinks he can get the exact opposite legacy for suggesting that the city share of the sales tax be reduced by about 0.25 percent.

If his talk were that simple, perhaps it would work. Some people are so eager to hear the words “tax cut” that they don’t pay attention to the specifics. Which in this case would mean a lot more tax increases than decreases.

For Emanuel wants to alter the list of items and services that actually get taxed.

There are certain things that people actually pay less of a tax on, and a few others for which the sales tax does not apply. Take a look at your grocery receipt sometime to figure out the different items and what gets taxed at what rate. Just think of all the services that can now be taxed.

YOU JUST KNOW that cutting the overall sales tax rate (which is higher in Chicago than in other parts of the state) will be ignored if certain items now get taxed at a higher rate.
STROGER: Learn from his lesson

He’ll be Rahm the Tax-Hiker, rather than the mad Tax-Slasher. If he seriously goes forth with this rhetoric (the Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday that he’s likely to do so), he’s going to find out how quickly he becomes even more despised than Stroger among Chicago taxpayers.

There is one potential plus in this whole mess. This is an issue that ultimately has to be decided by the Illinois General Assembly. Emanuel can’t do this on his own. So will Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, save Rahm from himself? Or will they give him what he wants, along with the rope to hang himself in the process?

What other items are of interest on the shores of the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan?

SOMEBODY NEEDS TO LEARN THE LESSONS OF HEIPLE: State Sen. Suzi Schmidt, R-Lake Villa, is new to the Legislature. So she doesn’t have the memory of watching then-Illinois Supreme Court Justice James Heiple have to explain why he thought he was exempt from speeding laws.

Heiple, as I recall from his testimony, responded to being pulled over by a traffic cop by flashing his court credentials, then got all huffy when the cop indicated he didn’t care that Heiple was a judge.

Schmidt now gives us a moment of arrogance to rival that, as the Lake County sheriff’s department this week made public the recordings of calls she made to 911, telling the police up front she was the former Lake County Board chairman, and that the police should ignore any calls for help that her husband might make. Perhaps Heiple and Schmidt would make the perfect couple when it comes to ego. Although I find it amusing that she identified herself by her old political post, rather than her current one. She figures nobody would care what a state senator thought?

Insofar as the actual contents of what are at least three calls the Lake County sheriff has had to respond to at the Schmidt residence since December, all I’ll say is that they remind me too much of an old Saturday Night Live sketch that parodied programs such as COPS – one in which police had to respond to a call at the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Ark., because “Bill” just got beat up by spouse “Hillary” after she caught him messing around with other women.

CHICAGO FOLLOWS OZZIE TO MIAMI???: Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen already has people thinking they might like to be connected to the National League team because of his presence. What is shocking is how many of them are Chicago Cubs.

Reports indicate that hard-hitting infielder Aramis Ramirez and hot-tempered pitcher Carlos Zambrano might want to become Marlins. There even are reports that if Cubs manager Mike Quade does get dumped, he could wind up as one of Guillen’s coaches – because Ozzie admires the job he did with such an awful ballclub.

That could mean more Cubs following Guillen to Florida than family members, since wife Ibis and sons reportedly have said they want to stay in Chicago.

I just worry that bringing so many Cubs brings a funk to the Marlins. After all, the old ex-Cub Factor (first publicized by the late columnist Mike Royko) says that the presence of three or more ex-Cubs brings defeat in the World Series.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Cora out before he was ever “in”

The back-door dealing and mechanics that take place at City Hall or in other government operations have got nothing on the bizarre handling of things at U.S. Cellular Field these days.

On the surface, the final outcome doesn’t seem too strange. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees, the idea that Ozzie Guillen is out as manager of the Chicago White Sox and that his buddy, Joey Cora, is out with him is something that should have been expected.

YET CORA LITERALLY becomes the guy who got fired as a major league manager before he won (or lost) a single game.

Guillen’s final game as field manager for the White Sox was their 4-3 victory Monday night over the Toronto Blue Jays. It was kept low-key, but team officials made it known that the final two games of the season to be played Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon would see bench coach Cora in charge.

No, that doesn’t mean he was in line to get the job permanently. Only that he’d finish out the season before joining his long-time baseball buddy Guillen in unemployment for a brief period of time.

Yet Tuesday morning, Cora received a text message telling him not to even bother showing up at the ballpark. He was fired. Regardless of what you think of him as a coach (and Guillen confidante), you have to admit that is a cold way to handle the situation.

WHILE IT APPEARS that Guillen quit Monday before anyone could get around to taking his job away from him (forcing the issue to come to a head during a half-hour-long meeting between Ozzie and team Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf), Cora doesn’t get that same privilege.

My guess (and this is only an educated guess) is that someone was disappointed that they couldn’t tell Ozzie to “go away.” So they took it out on interim manager Cora – whose ties to Guillen are so strong that it is likely he would have quit to follow Ozzie to wherever he winds up managing – most likely with the newly-rebranded Miami Marlins (which is what the team SHOULD HAVE BEEN named when they were created nearly 20 seasons ago).

So Cora, who has managed in the U.S. minor leagues and for the La Guaira Tiburones of the Venezuelan League, won’t get his Major League Baseball managerial debut in what is left of the 2011 season.

He’ll have to wait for some future season – while he and Ozzie do what they can to try to revitalize a Marlins franchise whose claim to fame is winning two World Series titles even though they have never been able to finish a regular season in first place.

AS FOR THE White Sox, pitching coach Don Cooper gets to run the ballclub for those final two games – although reports from the ballclub indicate that first base coach (and ‘80s star hitter Harold Baines) will be at his side advising him.

Which seems to mean that they're the two who are still employed in Chicago. Both learned Tuesday that they're not fired. The rest of the coaches are replaceable.

Harold seems to benefit still from those days of the mid-1980s when a chant of "Harold, Harold" on the South Side could mean either Baines or Washington.

He is, after all, one of those great athletic stars who included three stints as a White Sox player during his two-decade-long career, and who has maintained his Chicago ties even though he is a Maryland native.

HOW COULD HAROLD go back to being just a guy whose picture is included on the outfield wall as one of the White Sox franchise immortals (retired Number 3)?

And I also can’t help but wonder about Guillen’s status with the franchise.

The bulk of his career as a ballplayer was with the White Sox and his stints on the American League All-Star team were as a representative of the South Side ballclub. When combined with the fact that he was the manager of the lone Chicago ballclub to win a World Series in nearly nine decades, it makes him one of those names that means much to team history.

I doubt it would happen tomorrow, or anytime in the upcoming year.

BUT PERHAPS WE ought to accept the fact that the day will come when Guillen’s face (and uniform number 13) will also go up on that outfield wall (even though, in team history, he’s only the third-best shortstop to come out of Venezuela).

Maybe he’ll even get one of those statues someday that depict the top White Sox players throughout the years. Although it’s likely that a Guillen statue would depict him in some sort of managerial pose.

Let’s just hope it won’t be that one he assumed on that day in Cleveland at the end of the 2005 season when he started mocking the Indians mascot by choking his own neck.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do we really mourn the loss of Chad Bradford/Moneyball on the Sout’ Side?

Monday was a day of reminiscing about baseball and what “could have been,” but not in the way that might be expected.

For it was a day in which I managed to have a few spare hours and chose to catch a film – specifically, “Moneyball,” the film starring Brad Pitt and based on Michael Lewis’ book that glorifies the Oakland Athletics of the early 2000s as a ballclub that revolutionized the way people thought of baseball.

SUPPOSEDLY, ONE OF the reasons why general manager Billy Beane was successful was that he recognized the potential for greatness in pitcher Chad Bradford at a time when many baseball people thought of him as some sort of physical freak who would never amount to much.

And in the film, the Bradford character (played by actor Casey Bond) has a scene where he approaches Pitt’s Beane and thanks him for being the lone baseball person who takes him seriously as a ballplayer.

The film doesn’t get into some of the background that the book does – in which Lewis skewers the team that had Bradford and didn’t use him on any regular basis and also treats that ballclub’s minor league director as some sort of nitwit who will forever be fleeced by smart guys like Beane.

That team, of course, is the Chicago White Sox, and their executive is the guy who now is general manager – Ken Williams.

NOW I KNOW White Sox fans get defensive about this particular view, in large part because it isn’t really all that accurate.

Bradford never did get a serious shot at sticking with the “big club” after playing in the White Sox’ minor league system in the late 1990s. Personally, I can remember seeing him pitch twice for the White Sox in games I attended.

One was a late-season blowout, and the other was a brief appearance in the playoffs (giving up two base hits in two-thirds of an inning pitched) against the Seattle Mariners, who ultimately lost the playoffs to the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees that season.

But it wasn’t until he was traded to Oakland that someone was willing to take him seriously enough to use him regularly, and in situations where he would be thought of as the team’s top relief pitcher – rather than just someone who could get a stray hitter or two out in mid-game.

YET IT’S NOT like Bradford went on to a career of Hall of Fame proportions (although he did play for playoff-bound teams in Oakland and Tampa Bay, along with those 2000 White Sox).

There also is the fact that the main ballplayer the White Sox got in a trade for Bradford was catcher Miguel Olivo – who went on to be the team’s primary catcher for a couple of seasons before he became trade bait to Seattle.

That was how the White Sox got pitcher Freddy Garcia in 2004, and who the following year became one of their reliable starting pitchers in that World Series-winning season of ’05.

There are those of us who would think that Garcia’s shutout victory over the Houston Astros that won the fourth (and final) game of the 2005 World Series was a bigger moment than anything Bradford accomplished for any ballclub (even though his Tampa Bay Rays team of 2008 also played – but lost – in the World Series).

I REALIZE THAT films have to oversimplify facts to keep the story straight and tell six months of activity in a two-hour time period. But seeing Chad Bradford portrayed as some sort of baseball savior just struck me as being a bit of a stretch.

Not that this should be interpreted as Bradford-bashing. Because the sight of Bradford’s “submarine-style” of throwing (underhand, with his knuckles at times appearing to scrape the dirt of the pitcher’s mound) is one of those things a baseball fan doesn’t forget – particularly in that late-season game where I actually got a lower deck seat right behind home plate.

It is one of those minor moments that will stand out in my mind as why baseball can be beautiful, and why it is more important than the realm of percentages that it naturally creates (and the assortment of new percentages that some fans are determined to impose on the game).

One other moment of the film cracked me up once I realized what was going on.

THOSE OAKLAND ATHLETICS teams of the early 2000s were successful in part because the traditional ways of scouting ballplayers had uncovered a star shortstop from the Dominican Republic in Miguel Tejada.

That meant that this film, in its occasional scenes of baseball being played, had to have someone at shortstop wearing a “Tejada, number 4” jersey.

He doesn’t have any lines, but the “actor” who played Tejada was none other than former White Sox shortstop Royce Clayton.

Not that any White Sox fans want to be reminded of Clayton, who hit so badly during his two-year stint in Chicago that it took something of the historic characteristics of Adam Dunn’s 2011 season to overcome it.

THEN AGAIN, I still remember sitting in the left field seats at the ballgame in which Clayton’s batting average for the season dropped to .099, when he managed to get a bloop base hit that didn’t even make it past third base – resulting in a group of fans sitting behind home plate to taunt him with their mocking chant of “M-V-P.”

It may have been rude, yet it was another of those amusing little moments that make baseball fun to watch – and which no amount of stat-geek math (I take the stolen base and defense more seriously than they do) can overwhelm.


EDITOR'S NOTE: I stand by my previously-expressed thoughts that anybody who thinks the release of Ozzie Guillen as manager of the White Sox means the team is fixed is being foolish. I can easily see 2012 being an equally-abhorrent season, only with a non-descript manager. Buddy Bell?!??

Monday, September 26, 2011

It’s too early to think of Election Day!

Remember nearly a month ago there was a straw poll in Iowa that briefly made people think that Michele Bachmann was the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination?
CAIN: Flavor of the month

Now, we have a new straw poll – this one out of Florida. This poll has Herman Cain as the leader to be the GOP nominee.

I WOULD THINK these two polls, in and of themselves, ought to convince us that the value of “straw polls” is nil, and that it’s way too early for us to be thinking about who is going to run for president against incumbent Barack Obama come the 2012 election cycle.

We already have many Republicans working the electorate; trying to get support for themselves and create the image that they really could be president of the United States.

That is why we’re hearing a lot of “stupid talk” and ridiculous rhetoric from various candidates. What amazes me is not so much that the political people are doing this (they’re a unique breed who often don’t know any better), it is that people are taking this seriously.

That latter straw poll out of Florida literally inspired the Chicago Tribune website headline Rick Perry’s campaign struggles to explain straw poll loss.

IF THE TEXAS governor is really squirming in his shorts at the thought that he didn’t come out on top of a straw poll, then perhaps he is showing us up front that he can’t keep things in proper perspective and that we probably shouldn’t be thinking of him as someone worthy of presidential caliber.

To me, it’s just fluff being touted by the kind of people who are so intensely interested in the electoral process and usually have their own ideological hang-ups that may be bigger than their interest in elections in general.
BACHMANN: Flavor of last month?

The kind of people who bothered to show up and participate in a Florida straw poll are nowhere near the average voter, let alone the average resident of this nation.

So the fact that Herman Cain could get the highlight of his presidential campaign (it will probably be the only time something happens that puts him on top) is not a shock at all.

WHEN REAL PEOPLE start paying attention to the election cycle, the kind of people who take seriously people such as Cain or Bachmann will be so vastly outnumbered.

The same actually applies to the opposite end of the ideological extreme. Put together an event of Democratic partisans who have nothing else going in their life but to obsess about the Nov. 6, 2012 presidential elections, and you’ll find a group of people so in love with Barack Obama that you could be deluded into thinking that the president is a shoo-in for re-election.

He’s not!

Although a part of me wonders if the types of people who get all worked up over a Cain or a Bachmann at this stage of the game will assert so much influence come Election Day that they will wind up “doing in” the chances of victory for whomever actually gets the Republican nomination?

THAT COULD BE the one legitimate lesson of the straw polls – the fact that there is a segment of the GOP so off-the-mark with the bulk of the nation. Then again, I think most of us already knew that.

More likely, this is just such an early part of the political process and anybody who’s seriously trying to pick winners now is the equivalent of the baseball fan who is convinced his team has the pennant clinched, just because they managed to win the first exhibition game of Cactus League play.

So reading about these straw polls amused me about as much as reading a Washington Post account about Obama’s re-election strategy.
OBAMA: Next year's flavor of the month?

Surprise, Surprise!!!

HE’S GOING TO be focusing on voter turnout of voters with strong ethnic ties, along with the most liberal elements of our society. In short, the people who are the base of the party these days.

Get enough of them to the polling places on Election Day, and it really doesn’t matter what the other side does.

Then again, the strategy is the same for the eventual GOP nominee. Get the conservative ideologues with their pet causes (gay marriage, abortion, too many foreigners, etc.) to the polls, and it doesn’t matter what Obama and crew do.

In short, it’s way too early for us to be thinking about who’s running for president. I think the people who are focusing on who will make it to the World Series this year are probably more logical.

THEN AGAIN, THESE two straw polls do combine to give one hilarious story line.

For the Michele Bachmann who was the favorite of the Iowa political geeks in their straw poll actually wound up coming in dead-last in the Florida version!

How the mighty can fall oh so quickly.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

White Sox readying to set foundation for a decade of on-field mediocrity

The way things are looking these days, I expect the 2010s are going to be a period of mediocrity for the Chicago White Sox.

Forget about any American League championships or World Series titles. Heck, this team will be lucky to get a lone playoff appearance – as in they’ll be the team that gets knocked out in the first round.

NOT EXACTLY WHAT White Sox fans desire, particularly since many still want another league championship to help verify the historic legitimacy of 2005. Six seasons and counting since the White Sox actually fulfilled the goal of 29 of the 30 major league teams.

The Chicago Cubs seem more interested in promoting ivy and cheap beer, but that’s a commentary for a different day – and an issue upon which I sympathize for legitimate baseball fans who happen to be deluded enough to pay attention to activity north of Roosevelt Road.

What’s causing me to be in this depressive funk?

It is the fact that everybody seems to be counting down the days until the season’s end – which is Wednesday when they play their final game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

I’M SURE THERE are many people who are eagerly anticipating an announcement by the ballclub that field manager Ozzie Guillen (who, like it or not, has been one of the most successful in team history) has been let go.

As in fired! Dismissed! Terminated! Canned! Stuffed in the toilet bowl of life and flushed into the Chicago River!!!!!!!

Which is an act that I think would be a mistake.

Yes, I’m one of the few people who’d like to see Guillen remain with the ballclub for another season – and for much longer if there are signs that the funk of 2011 can be overcome.

THIS WAS AN annoying season for White Sox fans – who at times rooted for a team that showed signs of why it was a legitimate contender for a championship this season. With the way the players played, I can't envision how Guillen could have done better?

With that depressing season start back in April, the only reason the White Sox remained serious contenders until early September was because everybody else in the American League’s central division was mediocre to bad.

Put Justin Verlander and his 24 victories on the New York Yankees (which may happen someday, regardless), and the Detroit Tigers without the league’s real MVP become depressingly mediocre.

Everybody wants to blame it on Ozzie, even though one could say he did the best he could with a roster provided to him by General Manager Ken Williams that had as its big bat a ballplayer who had one of the worst seasons ever in major league history.

WHAT WHITE SOX fans ought to be desiring is a serious assessment by their favorite team as to whether Adam Dunn is worth retaining – even though I realize his multi-million dollar contract would make him difficult to unload without taking a serious loss.

Had Dunn ever started hitting this year at the rate he had throughout his career (38 or more home runs per season for seven straight seasons), this would have been a radically different season.

What needs to be determined is if 2011 was truly an aberration? Or are the Chicago White Sox such a funk hanging around Dunn’s neck that there is no way he will ever amount to anything as a ballplayer here?

Does he need a change of scenery in order to regain his hitting stroke? If so, then the White Sox ought to unload him for whatever little they can get – even though they will then get forever mocked for trading him away to see him hit hard and heavy for another team.

INSTEAD, TOO MANY people are focusing on the quickie fix that really doesn’t fix anything (that, and wondering if Tuesday’s game against Toronto will be the last for pitcher Mark Buehrle with the White Sox). They want to say that Guillen is such an emotional drag with his outspoken temperament that the team needs a character change.

They’re willing to believe the speculation that Guillen and Williams (who have known each other since those 1980s days when both played for the White Sox) just hate each other too much to continue working together.

It makes me wonder how many of these people are the ones who didn’t like it back when Guillen was hired for the 2004 season. I recall a few who wanted former White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk to be considered as a manager (who fits their idea of a U.S. baseball manager closer than an outspoken Venezolano, and I couldn’t help but notice one newspaper columnist who proposed the idea of Fisk as manager, with Frank Thomas as some sort of hitting coach.

Of course, I have never got the sense that Fisk wanted to do the work of being a baseball manager, and have always sensed that Thomas merely wanted to be the former star who hangs around the team while also engaging in his own life out-of-baseball.

SO I DON’T know why people would seriously want that alternative, particularly since so much of the White Sox’ public image is tied up in Guillen.

Dump Ozzie and replace him with some conventional baseball man, and you’re going to see the White Sox become just another generic team. They’d be completely ignorable.

And you just know that would sway into the local perception and attendance – where the Cubs this season managed to sell just over 3 million tickets while the White Sox are going to have to have one heck of a late-season surge to surpass 2 million.

We all know that attendance surge ain’t gonna happen.

NOW BEFORE YOU complain to me about those attendance figures, I realize that many of those 3 million Cubs tickets were part of season-ticket packages that wound up going unused. There’s no way 3 million fans packed their way into Wrigley Field this year.

But unless serious thought is put into the on-field product by the White Sox, that 1 million-plus attendance gap will grow larger and larger in coming years, and the amount of attention paid to the team will drop back to the early Jerry Manuel years.


Friday, September 23, 2011

The Fantastic(??!?) Five too good for cost-savings Cook County furloughs

From what I have heard and read, this seems to be an effort led by Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, with support from commissioners Earlean Collins, Joan Patricia Murphy, Deborah Sims and Robert Steele.

They are the five county commissioners (out of 17 total) who are pushing forward with an effort to be reimbursed money from their county salaries that was part of a plan to cut the county budget – but which they say is an illegal attempt to cut their pay.

COMMISSIONERS SENT LETTERS to the county demanding to be reimbursed for the 10 “furlough” days they were supposed to use to take time off. Since they officially weren’t working, they weren’t paid for those days.

This is a move being asked of every single person on the Cook County payroll. All the people who do the actual work in the assessor’s office or the recorder of deeds or in the other agencies are being asked to do the same thing.

Yet in letters sent this summer that came to a head when the county board met this week, these five commissioners contend that since they’re elected officials, this cost-cutting move cannot be done to them.

We’re hearing a lot of rhetoric about how it is “against the law” to cut an elected official’s salary during their current term. Which would imply they would accept the idea of a furlough if its implementation were postponed until county board members begin their new terms in 2015.

I MUST ADMIT that I don’t get what is going through the minds of these five county commissioners. This is a cut that everybody in the county, and even many people in city government, has been taking in recent years.

To suddenly come up with this objection now makes them look absurd.

Besides, it becomes quite apparent upon listening to the commissioners that I’m not sure they truly comprehend exactly what state law says on this subject.

What the law says is that an elected official’s salary cannot be changed during their current term. Whenever a government body approves pay raises for themselves, those pay hikes must be delayed so that they don’t take effect until a new term.

WHICH MEANS IF government officials want to approve pay raises for their future successors (or themselves if they manage to get re-elected), that is acceptable.

It is the law that is meant to prevent county board members from approving big fat raises for themselves up front, knowing there would be at least four years before the next election cycle.

The law itself makes sense. Officials know going into a political post what (if anything) it pays. If it is insufficient, then perhaps they should reconsider their desire to hold an elective government office.
But no matter how many times I hear Beavers say the words “pay cut” and “illegal” (as he did Wednesday night on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” program), I’m not sure how this current situation applies to the law that says a salary cannot be changed.

BECAUSE AS I see it (maybe Beavers and crew can convince a judge to see it differently if this ever winds up in court), the base salary being paid to these people – along with all the county employees who also are taking the furlough – remains the same.

The reason why a few of their paychecks were smaller is because they were asked to work fewer days. They’re being paid at the same rate, but for less work. Where’s the pay cut?

Now I realize that a county board member, in a sense, is on call at all times. If some business had come up on one of the days that they were officially “off-duty” and not being paid, they likely would have tended to it anyway.

But that, in a sense, is the drawback of doing a job that one enjoys (and I don’t doubt they enjoy carrying the title of “government official” with all its perks). If you don’t like it, go find one of the declining numbers of assembly line jobs – where management will likely laugh at you before firing you if you were to pull this kind of rhetoric on them.

I’M SURE SOME people are going to argue that less money in the check constitutes a pay cut, and that trying to view the issue any other way is wrong. Actually, trying to view the issue that way is simplistic – and misses the whole point.

That point being that the county government, along with city and state governments, businesses and just about everybody, are enduring tight economic conditions.

County government employees and officials are far from the only people who are enduring the possibility of working fewer hours in order to help their companies maintain the same number of jobs.

Considering that the county furlough amounts to less than one day per month, it is not the most intense pay loss one could suffer. I’m sure someone who got whacked from full-time to perhaps 30 hours per week feels the loss more intensely.

SO NO MATTER how much Beavers tried spinning the issue on Wednesday as one where he agreed to a furlough only as part of a since-ignored deal to keep Provident and Oak Forest hospitals open, it just doesn’t play.

I have no doubt that the public is going to see this issue as a matter of five government officials who are even more lacking in public perception of themselves than the typical politician.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

What is the Tea Party worth? Or, you get what you pay for at fundraisers

I couldn’t help but note the juxtaposition of a pair of political fundraisers we’re going to endure in October.
BUFFETT: The president's financier?

Billionaire Warren Buffett, who received a Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama earlier this year, is working with friends he has in the North Shore suburbs to arrange for an Oct. 27 cocktail party.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE reports that Obama himself is not likely to attend. So there’s no chance of any personal access to the president – just a chance to have your name turn up on a list so that the president knows who his friends are, and more importantly, aren’t.

Want to show up at this cocktail party for Obama? Get out the checkbook and make sure you have a large-enough balance to cover a check for just over $35,000 per person.

Otherwise, stay away. And if you have dreams of bouncing a check to the president’s people, you’re dooming yourself.

Now compare that to a gathering that will take place Monday at a banquet hall in southwest suburban Homer Glen. The community that didn’t even exist 20 years ago and still has a fresh-scrubbed newness to everything is the place where a group calling itself the Tea Party’s Will County Alliance will gather.

WHICH MEANS A whole lot of white people from around Joliet and Lockport will convene to complain about “Crook County” and Chicago and how they need to fight to keep the city in its place – and will probably eagerly share horror stories with you about how they fled. Why else would Will County have had a nearly 40 percent population boost in the past decade?

Want to join this party? It’s only $20 a person. Much more affordable.
BACHMANN: What will she think of Will?

Yet I’d argue that the company you’d be keeping would be to the point where it’s not even worth the price of an Andrew Jackson portrait, particularly since long-shot ideologue presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann has said she’s coming to the Tea Party-style party.

She really is the candidate of choice for those people who can’t accept the fact that the whole wide world isn’t filled only with people just like themselves, and who have their hang-ups with the 21st Century.

SO AS MUCH as we might want to make wisecracks about the idea of a North Shore wine and cheese affair that charges ridiculous sums to get in, I can’t help but find it more hilarious to speculate about the goings on with the Tea Party-types – who are going to learn that nickel-and-diming it at fundraising events just isn’t going to produce a candidate who can take on the challenges of serious governance.

Rancid rhetoric is nothing but talk, and as the cliché goes, “Talk is Cheap.”

Just like “You get what you pay for.” The less-expensive option isn’t always the preferable one.

Yet the gathering next week in Will County isn’t the only one we’re going to have to deal with. Come Sept. 30-Oct. 1, there’s going to be a much-larger scale event in northwest suburban Schaumburg.

THAT WILL BE the Midwest Tea Party Convention, with ideologue broadcaster Glenn Beck to be their speaker.

Yet I can’t help but notice that at least one Democrat has dreams of getting himself some attention from this event.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is a Democratic candidate for what will be a vacant seat in Illinois’ congressional delegation, said he plans to hold his own rally outside the hotel where the Tea Party types are gathering.

He thinks he can be the voice of reason who speaks in defense of Obama while the president’s reputation is being slandered beyond belief inside the hotel.

“THE TEA PARTY is a dangerous vision for our country that would stifle job creation, hurt the middle class and force major cuts for seniors, students, people looking for work and veterans,” Krishnamoorthi said, in a prepared statement.

I’m sure that last part privately stings Tea Party types, since just about every conservative ideologue I have ever met insists on believing that they’re the ones who speak up for military veterans, and that all people affiliated with the Democratic Party are anti-military.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Needs to be careful

I’ll wish Krishnamoorthi luck that day with his event. Yet I’m not convinced that it will do anything except make him look like a boob desperately in need of some public attention.

For he’s the one who is likely running against Tammy Duckworth’s political aspirations in the Democratic primary next year. As of yet, there is no serious GOP candidate (Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., made it known this week he will run for a different district, challenging Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., in the Illinois 14th Congressional district).

THE FACT THAT Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is hosting a fundraiser for Raja on Oct. 12 and that Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., will do the same on Sept. 30 hasn’t erased the perception that Duckworth is the serious candidate in that district.

For his sake, I hope Krishnamoorthi doesn’t come across as Don Quixote. Because the Tea Party types have the potential to be a serious threat to too many people in our society.

They’re definitely not the political equivalent of a windmill.