Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Redistricting always a convoluted mess to try to achieve a (sort-of) noble goal

Andrew Bayley, the student at the Illinois Institute of Technology who turned Chicago into a convoluted puzzle, may have the healthiest attitude when it comes to comprehending the new ward boundaries for the City Council.
Some people now dream of having these wards back

For Bayley is the student who built a puzzle shaped like a map of the city. Each of the 50 pieces of the puzzle is shaped like one of the wards.

AND WITH THE convoluted boundaries that will exist effective the 2015 elections, those pieces, the jagged shapes of the pieces will make for a tough puzzle to put together. He might have well created one of those 1,000-piece puzzles that show nothing but light-blue sky with an occasional cloud.

But the architecture student at least had fun with the whole concept – although he likely could make himself some serious money if he were interested (according to various news reports, he isn't) in mass-producing the puzzle.

Because my guess is that enough people are disgusted by the outcome of drawing new boundaries that they would have dished out a few bucks to have something that physically depicts their dismay. I would.

Personally, my family comes out of the 10th Ward – which didn’t change drastically. The same neighborhoods at the far Southeast corner of Chicago remain grouped together in one ward – with the only real question being “Will the rising Latino population there make it more difficult for the non-Latino incumbent to keep getting re-elected?”

WHO’S TO SAY!

But the point being that part of the city may be the ONLY segment of Chicago that didn’t get drastically altered with new boundaries – splitting up certain neighborhoods that like to think they’re special enough to be kept united and pairing up certain portions of unrelated neighborhoods to try to create wards unified by certain racial or ethnic considerations.

Because ultimately, that has become the most important consideration when it comes to putting together political boundaries of any kind.

The people who complain about convoluted borders and gerrymandering and who make arguments about how all city wards (and legislative and congressional districts) ought to be perfect squares or rectangles that respect the boundaries that we, as a Chicago society, have created for ourselves often are missing the point.

TRY DRAWING BOUNDARIES according to their restrictions (or letting a computer program do so that would ignore human factors) and you likely would get political boundaries that would wind up being unconstitutional.

We get those goofy-shaped districts in part because we have to take certain factors into consideration – and sometimes have to overcome those boundaries that we have created for ourselves. There’s no way to please everybody – or perhaps anybody.

Although I was amused when I learned the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (which would have liked to have had more Latino representation in the City Council) was complaining that the attempts to maintain African-American political representation despite significant population declines could actually give white people a legitimate reason to complain about under-representation.

I don’t expect them to sue on those grounds. But it wouldn’t shock me if someone tries to make a legal battle out of this issue – counting on the fact that many Chicagoans are disgusted enough with the ward remap outcome that they would support anything that would cause the current map to be scrapped and create a “do-over” of sorts for the process.

THAT WOULD BE more of a headache than it our disgust with the current map is worth.

If it sounds like I don’t get as worked up as some people do about this issue, you’d be correct. Then again, maybe I’d be more outraged if my own family had been more heavily impacted (like I said, my relatives are all 10th Warders, and have been for many decades).

But it just seems so trivial in cases like the residents of the Beverly neighborhood, which used to be kept largely intact within a ward that had the number 19 attached to it.

Now, the 19th Ward has little to do with Beverly proper, and the bulk of the neighborhood got split up among so many wards. The people who had those red signs posted in their yards for months were definitely ignored by the powers-that-be who put together this ward map.

AND THEY’RE NOT alone. Although I’m sure the political powers-that-be are betting heavily on the fact that this map won’t really come into play until those elections three years from now, then again in 2019. Meaning, they hope we “get over it” by then.

By the time the next election cycle comes after that, we will have yet another ward boundary map. Who’s to say what kind of boundaries we’ll have by then? For all I know, we may have ward boundaries so different that we’ll reminisce fondly (well, sort-of) about the “old days” of the 2010s?

Yeah. And maybe the White Sox (on the rebounding bat of slugger Adam Dunn) will win the American League championship this year. Fat chance!

  -30-

Monday, January 30, 2012

’68 or ’96 – Did Chicago learn lesson?

We will get scenes similar to this protest at the G8/NATO summit from 2008. Photograph provided by Muji Tra.

It is with some amusement that I watch city officials get all worked up over the prospect of riots occurring as a result of protests connected to the upcoming G8/NATO summit that will be held in Chicago this spring.

I’ll be the first to concede that this event is going to bring a certain element of people wishing to make a statement in whatever visual manner is necessary, and who have little to no interest in Chicago itself.

THEY WOULDN’T EVEN think of coming here if not for the event being held here.

Yet when I say I’m amused, it means that Rahm Emanuel makes me laugh with the degree to which he seems determined to implement security measures that will give Chicago the feel for a few days of a police state.

To paraphrase the “Tommy DeVito” character played by Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas,” Rahm Emanuel is behaving like a clown, he makes me laugh.

Maybe that means Emanuel’s goons will now single me out for abuse similar to what the DeVito character did to that waiter who had the unmitigated gall to question him about a $7,000 bar tab.

MY SERIOUS POINT is that it just seems like overkill. Considering how one of the seminal events of Chicago history is the Police Department reaction to the anti-war protesters who converged on the city in 1968 when the Democratic National Convention was held here, it makes it seem as though we have learned nothing.

Which is a shame, because 1996 was supposed to be the year that we put that image to rest and showed we had learned from our mistakes. Although I have to admit that, at the time, I was never convinced of the truth of that statement.

I recall the ’96 Democratic National Convention as such an uneventful event. Democrats gathered in our city to make it official that Bill Clinton would be allowed to run for a second term as U.S. president.

It was an over-glorified pep rally for the Democrats – getting them excited about the prospect of beating up on Republican nominee Bob Dole that November. It wasn’t any real “news” made at that event.

IN FACT, MY most vivid memory was the speech given by actor Edward James Olmos. Not because of anything he said, but because he kept making this shrill whistling sound to try to get the attention of the convention delegates – who were ignoring him because many were more concerned about planning which party they were going to that night.

But that event came off without a hitch. The protester-types who insisted on coming to Chicago in 1996 were easily controlled. We didn’t have any riots. We didn’t have any of the mass arrests that would have created broadcast images similar to ’68.

We certainly didn’t have a “Chicago Seven” going on trial in U.S. District Court some time around 1998 for what they did at the Democratic National Convention similar to what happened back in the late 1960s.

Yet it seems like we’re determined to think we’ll have a conspiracy trial of sorts maybe in 2013 to punish the people who are anticipated to engage in a plot to overthrow Chicago.

WHICH IS WHY we’ve gotten the sentiment of overkill – such as the talk of police from across all the suburbs being lent to Chicago during the summit, along with cops from across the country. All we need now is the sight of a Naperville cop swinging his nightstick into someone’s skull, with perhaps a Chicago cop then swinging his club into the camera that would dare to record that image.

It’s overkill that will go a long way toward provoking certain elements to want to start up some trouble that they wouldn’t have been inclined to do had the police presence not been so intense. In short, police states generally create the mood that instigates people to want to use their own overkill in response to the police overkill.

I’m hoping we’re not on the verge of another “police riot” like we had 44 years ago – no matter how much some people will dispute the use of that phrase to describe the activity.

I couldn’t help but notice one other similarity – the concept that ridiculous rumors that are so absurd get believability.

BACK IN ’68, it was the idea that the “radicals” were going to taint the city’s drinking water supply (a.k.a., Lake Michigan) by dumping LSD in it. The whole city would wind up taking an acid trip – despite the fact that a large-enough quantity of the drug needed to really achieve such a goal would be impossible to “sneak” into Chicago.
Here's hoping we don't get an encore

To me, the same absurdity is at stake when people talk of the need to “shut down” Facebook – because all these “radicals” will use it to send secret messages to each other as far as plotting out their “takeover” of the city – as though they are really nothing more than a large-scale flash-mob.

Some aldermen are going so far as to get all outraged at the very thought of a “social media” shutdown. Although I don’t see the point. After all, I thought the whole thing about Facebook was that it was all out in the open and made obsolete the concepts of “privacy” and “secrecy.”

How secretive can a conspiracy be if anybody (including the police themselves) can “read all about it” on Facebook?

  -30-

Saturday, January 28, 2012

White guys in the Latino caucus?

It always amused me that state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, went out of his way to include himself in the Illinois House’s Latino caucus – making a point of sitting in with other Latino state legislators whenever they would meet privately to derive their stance on certain issues.

Burke said he felt that since his legislative district on the Southwest Side had such a significant Latino population, it was his obligation to try to understand his constituents.

BECAUSE NOT COMPREHENDING them would be a sure-fire way toward having them turn on him and vote someone else into office.

Some people ridiculed his gesture as nothing more than a token effort to understand Latinos, and that just because he sat in on a few meetings did not make him suddenly aware of what his constituents were thinking.

But on the whole, I always saw his gesture as being more than most political people were willing to do – since the usual reaction of a political person representing an area with a growing Latino population is to somehow cling to the declining white population in the area and try to figure out ways to maximize its political power!

In short, political denial.

SO IT IS with a feeling of amusement that I will be observing the City Council in coming months, where the head of the council’s Latino caucus (25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis) said this week that the caucus is now willing to include aldermen who represent neighborhoods with significant Latino populations.

Solis said he wants to increase the influence of Latino politicos, and figures that this is one way to boost the total numbers – which will go up after the 2015 municipal elections when new aldermen are elected under the new ward map that has 13 Latino-based wards and two more wards that are Latino-influenced.

Now whether that tactic will work is questionable. Because the real factor is whether the white aldermen will want to alter their view of the world to include their Latino constituents more thoroughly.

If they don’t want to, it won’t matter if Solis is able to include their names on his “list” of Latino-leaning aldermen. Latinos might not gain much from this move.

BUT I WILL say that if these aldermen have any sense whatsoever, they will reach out to their growing numbers of Latino constituents (29 percent of the city’s overall 2.7 million population is Latino, according to the 2010 census).

If they have any sense, they will accept this invitation as the least of gestures they can make to representing the people who live within their wards. They ought to be jumping at the chance to make this move. If they’re not willing to do so, then perhaps they deserve to get dumped come the ’15 election cycle.

So 14th Ward Alderman Edward Burke (Dan’s brother) will get the chance to show some understanding, as will 10th Ward Alderman John Pope (whose ward includes some of the oldest Spanish-speaking enclaves in Chicago and will now be 63 percent Latino).

Other aldermen who got un invitado include Marty Quinn (13th Ward), Toni Foulkes (15th Ward), Michael Zalewski (23rd Ward), Nick Sposato (36th Ward) and Richard Mell of the 33rd Ward, who was in charge of the recently-completed redistricting effort for the Chicago City Council and whose daughter, Deb Mell, serves in the Latino Caucus in her role as a state representative from the Northwest Side.

SO WHILE CANDIDATES such as Pope have been successful at defeating Latino challengers (claiming he can appeal to Latino voters) and people like Sposato had approached the Latino Caucus leadership in the past about being included (only to be rebuffed), we’re going to get a better picture of how interested they are in the growing segment of their wards.

This is one case where a politician acting in their own self-interest would also be beneficial to the people of Chicago as a whole.

  -30-

Friday, January 27, 2012

People think it’s acceptable to use the old racial imagery? That’s the problem

One summer just over two decades ago, I remember walking into a hot dog stand and – while waiting for my order – overhearing a conversation of some guys whom I had never seen before, and have never seen since.

Their topic of conversation was about crosses. Specifically, the proper way to build one so that it could be lit afire. Their plans, as I recall, were that they were going to erect the cross and burn it in the front yard of someone who had somehow managed to offend their sensibilities.

NOW BEFORE I go further, I should point out that I never heard of any incidents in the neighborhood (I lived one summer in the part of Chicago near Norridge and underneath the flight patterns of O’Hare International Airport) about cross-burnings.

For all I know, these guys were just a batch of meatheads who were all talk. Because I’ll admit that one of them looked at me briefly, then turned his attention back to the conversation.

They didn’t seem to care that I was close enough to hear what they were saying.

But that doesn’t change the fact that we seem to have some people in our society who want to accept the old symbols of racial hatred as somehow acceptable behavior, or something that can be joked about.

I SUSPECT IF I (or anyone) had confronted those knuckleheads, they would have claimed to be joking.

This memory came back to me when reading in the Chicago Tribune a report about an incident last month in the Beverly neighborhood that involved a hate crime.

In that incident, three teenage boys (all white) lured one of their black school mates (all are, or were, students of Brother Rice High School, which likes to think its students are among the civilized people living on the South Side, as opposed to those riff-raff public school kids) to a house – where they proceeded to beat him up.

It seems the black student was being friendly (if not quite dating) a female cousin of one of the boys. So it seems that in the name of racial purity, these three thugs were going to teach the student a lesson.

DURING THE BEATING (which wasn’t subtle, since the three screamed racial epithets throughout), one of the teens got a rope, created a crude noose, and put it around the student’s neck.

From the information provided by Chicago police, it seems that the three didn’t actually try to commit a lynching. The idea was more along the lines of having him wear the noose while being beaten.

Which means that, once again, we have an incident where someone thinks the sleazy imagery of the past is somehow acceptable in the present. Some people just seem so determined to live in the late 19th Century at a time when we’re in the second decade of the 21st!

I won’t even be surprised if some people try to dismiss this incident as somehow being a joke, gone bad. This isn’t humorous – under any circumstances.

I’M SURE THERE will even be some people who will look at this case and put their interest in the futures of the three young people who now face charges (two of them are so young that they merely face delinquency petitions – which means this is a Juvenile Court matter).

As though the kid who got jumped was somehow of secondary importance.

I’ll also be interested in seeing what reaction, if any, the school takes. Because while this attack did not happen on campus, these private schools usually have ways of getting involved in the private lives of their students and Brother Rice officials have said they're investigating the matter to see what reaction, if any, they should take.

They’re supposed to be building their “character” for adult life. I want to see how this incident will be used as an educational “experience.”

  -30-

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Kirk wants his Blackberry! Why?

I got my big chuckle for this week from the reports coming from Northwestern Memorial Hospital – the ones that were meant to reassure us that Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has a good chance at recovering from the stroke it appears he suffered this past weekend.
KIRK: Gimme my Blackberry?!?

For it seems that one of the first things that Kirk did after undergoing surgery meant to reduce the damage that could be caused by the stroke was to ask for his Blackberry.

IT SEEMS THAT the senator from the North Shore suburbs was more than eager to get back to work – even though it will be several months (if ever) before Kirk can claim to be fully recovered.

But the idea of asking for a Blackberry?

Personally, I have been carrying a Blackberry for nearly a year – and there are times I wish I could get away with flinging the thing into the Chicago River (or maybe Lake Calumet).

If I were in recovery from a serious medical condition, I’d want to use the time to get away from constant communication with certain people.

BUT THAT’S ME. As for Kirk, the officials at Northwestern Memorial seem determined to give us optimism. On Wednesday, they were saying they were “hopeful” about the senator’s long-term prospects.

For the talk we have been hearing is that the stroke he suffered affected the side of the brain that impacts his body movement – NOT the side that impacts his mental state.

Which means that his continuance in the U.S. Senate will depend on whether he can continue to move about. It means the image he tries to project of himself as a vigorous warrior is a thing of the past. Then again, he certainly couldn’t be any worse off than some of the near-centennarians (Strom Thurmond, for example) who have served in the Senate.

What else is notable these days on the slushy shores of the southwestern corner of Lake Michigan?

WILL HOOSIER GOPers TURN SUPER BOWL SUNDAY INTO LABOR CELEBRATION?: The Indiana House of Representatives gave its approval to a measure turning the Hoosier State into the 23rd state to have “right-to-work” laws on its books.

With the state Senate expected to follow suit on this measure in the near future, there is some speculation that final approval of this measure by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (who got some national attention by giving the GOP rebuttal statement to the State of the Union address this week) could literally be timed to coincide with the Super Bowl – which this year is being played in Indianapolis.

It would figure that some ideologues would want to turn an occasion for sports celebration into an excuse to make their anti-organized labor statement even louder than it will be regardless.

Personally, I’d like to think most people will be disgusted by any attempt to turn this over-bloated sports event into a political statement. Then again, I also think many people are disgusted that the Super Bowl this year isn’t being played at some warm-weather locale.

WHITE SOX TO MAKE SUNDAYS PARTICULARLY GARISH: I never cared much for those bright-red pinstriped uniforms the Chicago White Sox wore back in the early 1970s. Yet it seems the ballclub in 2012 will resurrect them.

The White Sox said on Wednesday they plan to wear uniforms modeled after those get-ups for all 13 of their Sunday home games. Since they won’t be using road uniforms, we won’t get to see the light blue-with-red trim jerseys with a zipper up the front that the ballclub used to wear in other cities.

I couldn’t help but notice the Chicago Tribune’s write-up about this act made references to Dick Allen – the slugger who had his best season ever (American League Most Valuable Player for 1972) while wearing this jersey.

Yet I can’t help but think of two other ballplayers from that era who wore those uniforms – Bucky Dent and Rich Gossage. Both were products of the White Sox system and it was apparent that both were exceptional ballplayers while in Chicago. Yet both had their glory days later in the decade playing for the New York Yankees. To me, that inability to keep talent is what is glorified by this get-up.

  -30-

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Broadcast cameras in the courtrooms? Will they add clutter or comprehension

This may sound odd, but I am a reporter-type person who isn’t all that enthused about the decision by the Supreme Court of Illinois to let broadcasters have cameras in the courtrooms.

We'll soon get to see the inside of this bulding on our televisions.

And not just because I enjoy the sight of those sketch artists who do their quickie drawings that help illustrate for television newscasts what happened in a courtroom on any given day.

A PART OF me would like to think that those sketches would still be included in broadcast reports of courthouse activity. But I’m sure they will now be seen as a frivolous expense that can be cut.

Now, the courtrooms for the circuit courts throughout Illinois will come across as dull-looking activity with a lot of people speaking in legalese. The talking heads will wind up coming across as legal translators – letting people know just what was meant by all the gibberish they just heard.

If that means that people get a more honest view of what courtroom activity is all about, that is a good thing. And I suppose anything that encourages broadcast news reports to spend more time at the courthouse (many ignore it as much as possible BECAUSE of the fact that they can’t have their cameras inside the courtroom) is a positive.

Yet I’m still not enthused.

BECAUSE I WILL admit that during the times of my working life when I covered courthouse activity on a full-time basis (currently, I do some work for one of the suburban daily newspapers that occasionally sends me to the Cook County Criminal Courts building, the district courthouse in Markham and the Will County Circuit Court in Joliet), one of the attractions of the beat was that you didn’t have broadcast types adding to the clutter with their equipment.

The idea that we’re going to have masses of broadcast people cramming their way into what are often cramped courtroom facilities (I have seen rooms about the size of a master bedroom – minus the private toilet facilities) is going to add to the chaos factor.

For a reporter-type trying to comprehend what is happening in several courtrooms simultaneously, anything adding to the chaos is a potential drawback.

I also must admit to a selfish motivation – I always enjoyed the idea that the courts were a place where one had to turn to the written word for serious reporting.

NOT THAT I think allowing the broadcast news outlets more access to the courthouse will make their efforts more serious.

I’m well aware of the priorities of broadcasting and know that the time limits of a news story (1:30, at most; 30 seconds more common) will mean that most courthouse activity will still continue to be ignored.

It will be only the occasional trial that will draw broadcast news coverage. Most trials will continue to be newspaper (and their affiliated websites)-covered only!

I’m hoping that the circuit courts (the Supreme Court’s decision does NOT apply to the U.S. District courts in Chicago, Springfield or Marion) will follow the lead of the state appeals courts that have had limited camera access.

IN THOSE COURTROOMS, there is a lone camera set up, and television stations use the video provided by the courts themselves.

Which is a problem if the courts decide to start self-editing what they allow television stations to see. What it means is that anybody who thinks we’re getting unfettered access to the courthouse is reading way too much into all of this.

So we’re not really getting as much of a view of the courthouse as some people might think we are – and the pictures don’t mean much of anything without an intelligible reporter-type to explain what they mean. All the more reason to not get so excited about the change that the state Supreme Court announced Tuesday.
CUOCO: Believable as Stacey?

There’s one other reason I’m not enthused about this change. Because many television stations are only going to selectively send their cameras to the courthouses, it could well be that the first trial of any significance that will get broadcast coverage will be the case in Will County concerning Drew Peterson.

PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY watched that Lifetime network film about the case will get to see just how inaccurate (Kaley Cuoco as Stacey strikes me as a particularly large stretch of the imagination) it truly was. Peterson himself calls the film, “hysterical.”

Of course, I think the real Drew will turn out to be hysterical enough on his own.

And now, we’re likely to get to see him in all his glory. Which I’m sure will feed his ego even moreso.

An ego-bloated Drew Peterson might well be the perfect reason why we should question the idea of a camera recording the courtroom activity for all to see.

  -30-

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Now, we have to rely on the Chicago Tribune for candidate endorsements

In a way, I can understand the logic of the Chicago Sun-Times, which on Monday said it was going to stop doing endorsements of candidates for political office.

We won’t have the Sun-Times to tell us who they think we should vote for when it comes to Congress, or the state Legislature, or any of the political posts that are up for grabs in the March 20 primary (and, if the policy stays in place) the Nov. 6 general election.

MY GUESS WOULD be that they’re tired of dealing with the letters (both on paper and through e-mail) they receive from people who are pissed that their preferred candidate did not get the paper’s backing.

They want to think they’re appealing to “all” people by doing some reporting on the campaigns (let’s hope they do) and by publishing the questionnaires they normally send to campaigns that many of the lower-level endorsements are entirely based upon.

Supposedly, we can count on the Chicago Sun-Times to give us a lot of raw data to sort through so we can make up our own minds.

Of course, that presumes the “raw data” is, in and of itself, complete and wasn’t compiled by someone with a bias determined to give us a skewed picture of the political people we get to pick from. In short, that it doesn’t make a mockery of the concept like Fox News’ “Fair and Balanced” and “We Report, You Decide” slogans do.

BECAUSE I MUST admit I will miss the endorsements, in large part because they gave us a clue as to just how skewed the newspaper’s perspective might truly be.

Reading through the collections of endorsements to find trends might give us a better clue as to what is going through the mindsets of the people gathering the news. In fact, many of those lesser posts get heavily influenced by which little coverage they get.

One not-so-negative piece of reporting for one candidate could result in his getting the endorsement. Would Napoleon Harris, a former professional football player and Beggars Pizza franchise owner (in suburban Harvey and Orland Park) have got the Sun-Times endorsement for his bid to replace state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, in the Illinois Senate – because the Sun-Times did a lengthy profile about him in their sports section that ran just over a week ago, while the other candidates are likely to receive nothing?

It won’t happen now.

I ALWAYS GOT my kick from reading all the state Legislature endorsements as a whole, and then trying to figure out what kind of General Assembly the paper thinks we ought to have.

Then , we can start evaluating their coverage somewhat to see if “reporting” is trying somehow to back that view, or is somehow trying to report facts. And are they straight facts, or facts that back a certain viewpoint?

To me, the endorsements are more about helping to judge the honesty of a newspaper’s overall report, or letting us know that the newspaper has its own agenda that we ought to keep in mind (such as the Union-Leader of Manchester, N.H., which endorsed Newt Gingrich for president even though that is one place where Mitt Romney truly was the local favorite) whenever we read their dispatches.

It’s less about trying to get people to vote the way you want them to, and more about stating who you are. Which makes me wonder if the signed editorial that appeared in the Sun-Times on Monday ought to be taken as a sign that the Sun-Times would prefer not to do that.

OR MAYBE THEY’RE not eager to deal with the hostile e-mails (inevitably anonymous) that will come from the crackpots who think that everybody who doesn’t believe exactly what they do should be locked away from society.

While I don’t exactly enjoy those people, I figure they come with the territory of expressing an opinion. Because no matter what one thinks, there will always be someone else who completely disagrees with them.

Which is why sometime in a couple of months, most likely the morning of Election Day, I will do my very own “endorsements” on this weblog. Although since this is a one-person operation, what I really will be doing is telling you who I cast my vote for – just as I have done in all the election cycles that have been held since I began publishing this site in late 2007 some 1,503 posts ago.

I view it as a way of letting you know my overall perspective on candidates and how it translates to a perspective on issues. Then, you can take the rest of the commentary published here, and figure it for yourself. I don’t expect anyone to be swayed by who I “endorse.”

I MUST ADMIT one other point. I’m going to miss the idea of an endorsement for the Illinois Second Congressional district Democratic campaign. I was eager to see who the Sun-Times would decide should represent the Far South Side and surrounding suburbs on Capitol Hill.

Would they decide that the “scandals” that have attached themselves to the name “Jesse Jackson, Jr.” (many of which they had a heavy hand in reporting) be so intense that we should send Debbie Halvorson to Congress in his place?

Or would they find a certain verbosity that would allow them to decide that Jesse, Jr. is worth a 10th term in Congress?

It seems we’ll never know.

  -30-

Monday, January 23, 2012

EXTRA: Kirk to get character test in coming days on health issues

I must confess – I gained a significant amount of respect for soon-to-be former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in recent days.
GIFFORDS: Soon-to-be former

The Congresswoman who was shot in an incident a year ago says she’s giving up her seat on Capitol Hill. She wants to focus her attention on long-term recovery from the gunshot wounds she suffered.

NOW IT’S NOT that I never had objections to Giffords. But it’s just that many political people I have encountered would have gone out of their way to hold onto their political position for as long as humanly possible.

Even if they weren’t capable of fulfilling the duties, they would have wanted to keep the post – which in Giffords’ case would have run through the end of this year and early into January of 2013.

Even if they decided not to run for re-election (which Giffords would have had to do in the Nov. 6 general elections), they wouldn’t have wanted to resign.

Yet that is what Giffords is doing. By the end of Monday, she is to have completed her last duties as a member of Congress from the Tuscon, Ariz., area. She is expected to submit her letter of resignation later this week to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (a Republican) and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

I’M SURE THERE are Democrats who would have wanted her to stay in office – even though she would be an absentee member – just to keep the congressional seat within the party – instead of boosting by one the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

It has me wondering how we, in Illinois, would handle the same situation. Which could very well happen if circumstances take a turn for the worse.
KIRK: On road to recovery

Yes, I’m referring to the situation involving Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who checked himself into suburban Lake Forest Hospital during the weekend and was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital – where on Monday he underwent surgery to relieve swelling around his brain.

He has been diagnosed as having suffered a stroke.

NOW I DON’T have any evidence that this is a life-threatening situation. For all I know, the statement from Kirk’s office that he is expected to recover in full is completely true.

A part of me certainly hopes that he’s being truthful, and can claim to being as noble as Giffords has been in recent days.

But if it turns out for the worst, I’d like to think that Kirk could contemplate making the same high-ground stance as Giffords did. Even if I can already hear the rantings of the Republicans about Pat Quinn “stealing” away a seat from them.

Avoiding that kind of rhetoric may well be the best reason to hope for a full Kirk recovery.

  -30-

Paterno death brings back memories

Former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno is dead. It appears to be so. We certainly hope so.
PATERNO: What a diff'rence a day makes

For having a pair of screw-ups with relation to his health would just be too much to bear.

IT SEEMS THAT this particular incident started with a website that covers the Penn State scene. They reported Saturday that Paterno – who had been hospitalized for eight days – had died.

Actually, he was dying. He wasn’t actually pronounced dead until Sunday morning.

But in the desire to be on top of things, the website got a premature tip and went with it – one that turned out to be wrong. Several other websites helped spread the word by also writing about Paterno’s demise hours before it actually happened.

They based their reports on the Penn State student website, and all wound up having to take it back. Of course, they were quick to blame the student website, and my understanding is that someone officially gave up his editorial post with the website on Sunday – expressing shame at what went wrong.

OF COURSE, BY the time this happened, Paterno was actually dead. So it’s not like the report was all that far off the mark.

Now I’m not justifying the reporting of anything that was off the mark. If someone reports the death of a prominent person, the last thing one wants is that person being able to call up the reporter-type who wrote the story and say, “I’m not dead!!!”
DeANGELIS: Caught the error

But I also comprehend how such things can happen. Some times in the confusion of circumstances, people spread bad information and reporter-types get caught up in it.

One of the most-famed of these incidents involved one-time 26th Ward Alderman Vito Marzullo, who got to read his obituary on the front page of the Chicago Tribune some two decades ago – about a decade before he actually died.

BUT IN MY own time as a reporter-type person, there have been a couple of moments I experienced with this same circumstance.

One was back in the early 1990s when I was working for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. One day, my editors got a call informing them that one of the leaders of the Republican caucus of the Illinois state Senate – Aldo DeAngelis of Olympia Fields – had died that morning.

Supposedly, the person who spoke to us had got the information directly from a hospital official who “recognized” the man’s name as an important official when she saw the paperwork indicating he had been pronounced dead.

Unfortunately, the man who died that day was someone who had a name similar to that of the state Senate member. It wasn’t the senator, even though a hospital official had said it was.

SO WHEN I started making calls to try to piece together, I quickly found out from the senator’s staff that their boss had been in the office earlier in the day, and – unlike Generalissimo Francisco Franco – most definitely was NOT dead.

Of course, my editor initially didn’t believe me, and persisted with talk that I needed to write an obituary. It was only when I personally interviewed the senator later in the day and got his reaction (he thought it was humorous) that my editor became persuaded that the senator was not dead – and an obituary was not warranted.

I only wish I had been that fortunate a few years later – by which time I was working for United Press International in their Springfield, Ill., office. One day, I got a call informing me that state Sen. Kenneth Hall, D-East St. Louis, had been hospitalized – most likely in St. Louis.

I started making calls, both to St. Louis hospitals (none of which had him) and then to his district office on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Nobody knew nothing.

UNTIL …

A call was made by me to the office of the Illinois Senate’s Democratic leaders. I asked an aide what he knew about Hall’s health, and that aide informed me that Hall had been pronounced dead that very morning. He also informed me that he was preparing an obituary for the Senate Democratic leadership to release – and would I like to see a copy when he was done, so as to help me put together my own obituary of Hall for the wire service.
HALL: Too early

At that point, I wrote something that UPI called a “spotlight” – a two-sentence blurb that said Hall (at that point, the longest-serving member of the state Senate) had died. It was transmitted to the wire service’s clients.

I then started piecing together what information I had in the file cabinets about Hall so as to write a basic obituary that could back up the “spotlight.” It was during my preparation of that basic obituary that I learned Hall had not died. He was admitted to a hospital, and as it turned out he died two weeks later. Yes, I got an apology from that legislative aide – who admitted it was his error.

I WAS SPARED the sight of an obituary for Hall with my name attached. The wire service straightened out the mess, and that basic obit turned into a story about how long-time state Sen. Ken Hall had been hospitalized.

But I’m still the guy who “killed” Kenny Hall a couple of weeks prematurely. (And when Hall eventually died, the competition wire service managed to report that before we did; that really hurt!)

So I can appreciate how someone trying to be diligent managed to get too diligent in their efforts to report a tidbit that would catch national attention (unlike the death of Hall, which wasn’t noted outside of Illinois).

Just like what seems to have happened with Paterno this past weekend.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

She’s not just a Beyonce clone

In some ways, Etta James was my favorite singer who came out of the old Chess Records scene on the South Side.

But that doesn’t mean I had “At Last” running through my brain on Friday, upon learning that James died in the morning hours in a hospital in California.

IF ANYTHING, MY favorite song of hers was “Don’t Cry Baby.” Although what I also liked about James was that she was capable of so many styles of song. One never knew exactly what to expect when she would sing.

Just listen to her cover of the raunchy old blues number, “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” and you learn that she wasn’t just about sweet, sickly, saccharine ballads. Then again, James’ life was filled with raunch, pain and suffering – some self-imposed by narcotics abuse.

Which is why I think it kind of sad that James’ career at the end got defined because of “At Last,” which was the song that got played up in that film Cadillac Records, a semi-fictional take on Chess Records where actress Beyonce Knowles portrayed James.

Remember how offended she got when Knowles was invited to perform at one of the 2009 presidential inauguration balls to sing “At Last” instead of her?

TOO MANY PEOPLE preferred the fictional take of that song, rather than the real thing (which in my mind is even more depressing than some two decades ago when some people took to Los Lobos’ cover of the song “La Bamba” over that version by Ritchie Valens – the one that was actually a late-1950s pop music hit).

Which is why I chuckled all those years ago when James threatened to “whip” Beyonce’s booty for singing what she considered to be HER song, and couldn’t help but remember that moment on Friday.

James was joking, sort of, even though I’m sure she wouldn’t have objected to being a part of The Scene that swore in Barack Obama to be president.

In all, it has me wondering how many people are thinking of the news of James’ death merely in terms of the woman that Beyonce portrayed in a movie. Or worse yet, maybe they think somehow it is Beyonce who has passed on.

UNLESS THEY MERELY think of James as the “Opening Act” for the Rolling Stones back in the 1980s – which strikes me as the still-worthwhile performer opening for the over-the-hill has-beens (I’m one of those people who thinks the “Stones” ceased being interesting after, about 1969, and who also thinks the Beatles were more interesting – a debate for another date).

Then again, too many performers from the Chess Records scene had careers that were overshadowed by white imitators.

In my mind, any woman whose performing career lasted for more than a half-century and was a significant part of the scene that emanated from 2120 S. Michigan Ave. deserves to be thought of with more respect than being confused with a performer who (in 50 years) may not even be remembered.

Which is why I have spent some time in recent weeks wondering what I should write when the moment came that Etta James departed this existence. For she was hospitalized right around Christmas and doctors made it clear that she was not expected to recover from her conditions – which primarily consisted of Leukemia but also included dementia.

THAT IS A sad and depressing way for anyone to go. But those musical fans who realize that there is material worth listening to that was recorded prior to, say, September had their chance to brace themselves for her demise.

Etta James, who even at 73 years of life, somehow seems like she died too soon. Rest In Peace.

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