Saturday, March 30, 2013

A bigger Sun-Times? Or diminished suburban press? All a matter of priorities

We’re at the end of the month, which means there’s been a significant change in the makeup of what passes for Chicago-area journalism these days. Whether it’s for good or bad depends so much on where one’s priorities are.

For the fate of the Chicago Sun-Times, I’m sure the moves that were made by the newspaper’s owners are a plus. They shore up what was a shrinking publication by combining all the editorial resources of the various newspapers the company publishes all at one site.

PERHAPS SOME ARE deluded into thinking it’s like the old days, with more people working out of what passes for the Sun-Times building (in my mind, the barge-like building on the Chicago River at Wabash Avenue will always be the paper’s true home) to put together a series of publications that when combined cover the entirety of the Chicago metropolitan area.

But the reality is that those suburban publications are gutted to the point where it is questionable whether they should be thought of as separate publications.

Is the SouthtownStar newspaper really now just the south suburban edition of the Sun-Times? Is the one-time Gary Post-Tribune really just an Indiana-oriented edition of The Bright One (which doesn’t look so bright to me)?

The same could be said for any of the other publications that stretch from Waukegan south down to Joliet, all of which shuttered their offices in recent days. Many editors whose duties could be done by someone else found themselves laid off of jobs.

SOME ARE NOW commuting downtown to do the work that is supposed to monitor communities such as Naperville, Aurora or Skokie.

As for reporters who are supposed to be hitting the streets, they’re now going to be among those expected to work out of their cars going from assignment to assignment.

Some will figure out ways of working from home (Will they get to wear pajamas all day?), or occasionally finding places with a wireless connection from which to actually file copy for the next day’s editions.

Along with the updates that are meant for the same day’s websites.

WHEN YOU THINK about it, where would modern-day journalism be if not for Starbucks? Those havens of free Internet connections are inadvertently going to make it possible for many publications to cut their operating expenses – which is what all of this restructuring is really about.

Now as one who has, on a few rare occasions, filed news stories for publication on deadline from a Starbucks, trust me when I say it stinks. Too many distractions. Way too many other people around. And invariably, you have to fight it out with these java-ed up junkies for a seat and table near an outlet.

Otherwise, you run the risk of your laptop computer losing power in mid-story. Why do I suspect that in the near future, some award-winning piece of journalism – perhaps even a potential Pulitzer Prize – will get lost due to electrical failure!

Although more important than that factor, there’s something about filing copy under such conditions that feels downright amateurish. You’d think that at a time when many publications are struggling to survive, the last thing they’d want to do is impose such restrictions on themselves?

THEN AGAIN, THERE are those who will view the cost-savings as impacting the bottom-line for this quarter. But what will they slash away at the next quarter so as to achieve their financial goals?
Ultimately, it’s all self-defeating. Because the lack of a home-base will wind up costing those publications stories that you pick up on by actually being there. And as for the surviving newspapers that aren’t a part of the spreading mass that comprises the Sun-Times Media Group, they may find themselves getting lazy if they’re not careful. Because it often is the presence of an aggressive competitor that motivates a newspaper to get off its collective duff and work just a bit harder.

It is why I feel like the suburban press has suffered a serious blow because many of the long-running newspapers that covered their communities are now doing nothing more than propping up the Chicago Sun-Times; enhancing the delusions of their current owners that (when all put together) they’re a bigger and more substantial newspaper than the Chicago Tribune.

One that, it seems, can’t even afford to pay its printing bills to the Tribune – whose presses now create the bulk of what passes for newspapers throughout the Chicago area. Which, when you think about it, is a sad set of circumstances all the way around!


EDITOR’S NOTE: As for the film posters, it is little more than some reminiscing on my part as to the public image of old of newspapers and reporting – the pursuit of which still has me hanging around newsrooms in search of what little romance remains. What happens if someone tries to make a “newspaper” film of the 21st Century? Somehow, I doubt that a film with characters who spend all their time hanging around Starbucks so they can file their copy about press conferences where nobody says anything interesting or relevant would seem all that intriguing to moviegoers.

Friday, March 29, 2013

How “local” are Chicago schools? How many of them are really worth saving?

I can’t help but see all those hundreds of people who protested in the downtown area this week against the closing of their neighborhood schools as being a big misguided.

I understand they feel like their neighborhoods (many of which are lower-income) are being slighted. There’s also the very real factor that the street gangs have too strong a hold on their neighborhoods, and that the shifts brought about by these closings will cause some of those students to have to venture through hostile territory just to get to school.

I SUSPECT THAT will wind up being yet another factor used by students to decide to ignore school altogether – which causes so many long-range problems that it’s not funny.

But the bottom line is that many of these schools being cited for shutdown are troubled facilities that may well be far beyond redemption.

They probably are too far gone to ever amount to anything that could provide an adequate education. Expecting anything in the way of reform at those facilities may well be a pipe dream.

Totally unachievable.

I CAN’T HELP but wonder if those people who are picketing to keep their decrepit local schools open ought to be fighting instead for improved facilities – even if they have to be elsewhere.

Could the desire to maintain an aging local school wind up leaving those parents and their children with nothing of substance?

Now in the interest of disclosure, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best person to be commenting on this issue. In my case, my parents moved out of Chicago just two months prior to my being old enough to begin school.

The explicit reason was that my parents did not want me in the Chicago Public Schools. And my mother, a product of the school system maintained by the Catholic Archdiocese, had her own bad memories that made her not want either my brother or I to attend a Catholic school.

WHICH MEANS MY brother and I (who moved back to the city proper later in life) were in a position where our parents could afford to move about in search of communities where the local public schools were at an adequate level that our educational opportunities were acceptable.

Unlike many of these parents who were in the streets of the Loop on Wednesday to express their opposition to what they see as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s callous disregard for their interests.

Many of them are in life circumstances where they are stuck in whatever particular neighborhood they happen to reside, and where shipping the kids off to a distant school just is not a realistic option.

Because the reality for many urban kids is that going to school is all about a sizable trip every day – off to a facility that has nothing to do with their neighborhood so that they can have the same chances that youths of upper-scale suburbs take for granted.

I HAVE A pair of cousins who are a couple of decades younger than me, which makes their experiences closer to relevant to today’s youths. I remember being amazed at the trip they would make when in high school from the Beverly neighborhood to the Whitney Young Magnet High School just west of downtown.

Such a trip is not at all unusual. Children who are circumstances where they can be choosy often elect to make a lengthy commute to avoid the problems that exist at many of the neighborhood schools that Emanuel would just as soon obliterate – as though closing the schools makes the children and their problems go away!

They won’t. While I think the parents are short-sighted if they think things should remain at the status quo, my fear is that city officials are merely trying to blotch out evidence of the problems that confront our young people without doing anything to resolve it for the long-term.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Suburban legislator’s gay marriage comments as “disordered” as her views

I’ll be the first to admit that Stephen Bona handled his situation badly.

IVES: Wrong type of attention
He’s the local resident whom prosecutors say made a harassing telephone call to a state legislator from suburban Wheaton, only to have her call the cops and have him arrested.

AFTER HIS ARREST and the filing of a misdemeanor charge, he persisted in placing another call to state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, letting her know how angry he was about his arrest.

That caused prosecutors in the land of DuPage to upgrade the charge to a felony. What likely would have been a fine now creates the possibility of a prison sentence. And I’m sure the ideologues of our world will see anything less than the maximum prison term of five years to be a great offense against our society.

Even though the part of this whole situation that really ought to be offensive are the comments made by Ives that triggered this whole situation – the ones that are tacky and offensive in their own right.

Yes, our society gives Ives the right to express her thoughts – no matter now nitwitted they are. But it also gives others the right to think she’s completely full of it.

SO EXCUSE ME for thinking that Bona, a Chicago resident, isn’t quite the demon or the bully that I’m sure the ideologues of our society will try to make him out to be.

For the record, this whole thing was provoked by a radio interview Ives gave earlier this year to a program sponsored by the Catholic Conference of Illinois. Which means she had an audience that likely was motivated to want to be all worked up at the thought that legitimate marriage for gay couples was even being considered by political people.

Ives wanted to make sure those people knew she sided with them, calling the concept of gay marriage “disordered,” while also adding that she sees gay couples as trying to use the issue to, “weasel their way into acceptability.”

As though our society wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t someone in it for people like Ives to be able to look down upon. Which is why I always viewed the opposition to this issue as being more about people trying to cover up their own insecurities rather than any legitimate gripe.

THAT, AND THE fact that I always viewed such relationships as being solely the business of those involved in them, and not really any of ours.

Yes, Bona was tacky in feeling the need to make a harassing telephone call – particularly when he brought up that one-time campaign ad used by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin that had crosshairs over states with public officials whom she wanted defeated.

Then again, I recall that the ideologues were all defensive of Palin when people criticized her for use of the crosshairs. So is this really a selective sense of taking offense?

One could try arguing that Bona was expressing his view on the issue to a person who doesn’t seem to care if their view offends someone else. Could it be only her sensibilities are untouchable in her mind?

PROSECUTORS MAY WELL push for prison time if they get a conviction in this case. But I’d argue a sense of proportion ought to be kept in mind.

Remember the Ashford House – a restaurant in southwest suburban Tinley Park where a dozen people wearing masks and wielding clubs charged in last year and attacked a dining party they believed were an organized white supremacist group conducting a meeting?

Five people wound up in custody and faced serious criminal charges – which can be justified by the level of violence they inflicted. Even if you think the individuals who were attacked somehow deserved it, it doesn’t justify such a reaction.

Nothing about this latest incident even comes close.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What will the chief justice do? Will ‘gay marriage’ issue set his legacy?

I’m starting to wonder about those justices of the Supreme Court of the United States who get appointed by presidents named “Bush.”

ROBERTS: Unpredictable?
Because they have the potential to be so unpredictable.

THERE WAS THE elder George Bush who gave the high court Justice David Souter (now retired). Bush was among a series of Republican presidents who were determined to load the court with conservative ideologues to ensure that certain policies were kept in place – even if the American people made the “mistake” of voting them out of office.

Souter’s interpretation of the law became one that wound up infuriating those same ideologues – who were more than willing to place blame on Bush, even if other appointments he made to the high court (Clarence Thomas, anyone?!?) were, are and always will be in line with their beliefs.

Now let’s move to the present, where we have Chief Justice John Roberts – who got his post from now-former President George Bush the younger.

Yet Roberts wound up being the justice who swung away from a predicted ideological leaning to give us the ruling that kept Barack Obama’s health care reform as federal law – and ensured that all the efforts by Congress to abolish it will be perceived as the leanings of ideological crackpots.

AND ON TUESDAY, Roberts took some actions that are being interpreted by some as ruining the desire of ideologues to have the high court knock down all this gay marriage “nonsense” – at least that’s how they perceive it.

Tuesday was the first of two days that the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning a California measure known as Proposition 8 – an attempt to cut off efforts to make marriage for gay couples legal by specifying that is most definitely illegal.

SOUTER: Predictability predecessor?
There were some attorneys arguing on behalf of those ideologues. Yet Roberts publicly questioned what legitimacy those people had in this legal proceeding. As though perhaps he thought they ought to just “pipe down” and let the real attorneys handle the legitimate issues involved in this case.

Admittedly, this is just one moment in this particular legal battle. It may not turn out to be a key point in this argument.

OR, IT MIGHT be over-interpretation on the part of some people to try to put a specific viewpoint into Roberts’ mind – and into creating a potential 5-4 vote of justices to strike down Proposition 8.

Instead of a 5-4 vote (Roberts, along with justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor) that upholds it. Although I suspect a real majority of the court wishes this issue were not before them, and they'd like to figure out a way to do as little as legally possible without appearing to be completely cowardly.

I’m not about to predict what the Supreme Court will do in ruling on this particular case – a ruling expected sometime in June. Legal issues at this level are just too unpredictable.

Although I’m pretty sure that if Roberts winds up being part of a Vote of 5 majority that enables marriage for gay couples, he will be well on his way toward demonization by the ideological right. Of course, those same ideologues will find someone else to rant about. That’s what they’re good at!

HE’LL PROBABLY BECOME more despised than Souter ever was. I wonder if he’d become despised as much as Earl Warren – the justice whose court in the 1960s that upheld much of the Civil Rights reforms wound up being the target of all those billboards throughout the South.

Will we get 21st Century take on these billboards?
“Impeach John Roberts!!!” Most likely from the very same people who absolutely want to believe that Obama wasn’t born in Honolulu back in 1961.

Some people are just determined to complain. And a part of me suspects that the reason they oppose gay marriage is because it gives legitimacy to another group of people they would prefer to rant about – thereby showing all the more how ridiculous their rants are.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Battle of the political siblings – will we soon ‘begat’ another Stroger or Sawyer?

John Stroger and Eugene Sawyer have both moved along to the Great Beyond, so to speak. Yet their names don’t seem to wither away from our political scene.

We’re talking about a couple of South Side officials who rose to top-level posts – Cook County Board president and mayor, respectively – whose sons now are seeking a vacancy in the city’s political universe to try to advance their own careers.

FOR IT SEEMS that Todd Stroger – the former legislator and alderman who served a term as county board President himself – wants a political comeback.

He doesn’t like being a political nobody – which he became following his loss in 2010 to Toni Preckwinkle. Now, he’s talking about wanting to be the replacement for William Beavers, who likely is going to have to serve some time in a federal correctional institution following the “guilty” verdict reached by jurors recently on tax-related criminal charges.

But even if the committeemen from the South Side and nearby suburbs are willing to agree to let Stroger back into the universe of Chicago politics, he’s not going to have the post handed to him on a political platter.

For one of the other people who’s letting the committeemen know he’d like the post of Cook County commissioner from Chicago’s Southeastern portion and nearby suburbs is Ken Sawyer.

HE’S A COUSIN to 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer – who is a son to the late alderman-turned-mayor upon the death of Harold Washington.

If that isn’t enough people with ties to the Sawyer family, it also seems that the current alderman’s chief of staff, Brian Sleet, also has some thoughts dancing about his head of being able to call himself commissioner, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Which may be lower-ranking than alderman or congressman, but sure beats the heck out of being a hired staffer to an elected official.

Are we literally going to get factions of the Sawyer and Stroger families engaged in a civil war of sorts – with all the committeemen of the sixth and seventh wards trying to negotiate the best deals for themselves in exchange for their support from the special committee created by Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios to screen candidates for the post to which Beavers still had just over another year-and-a-half to serve?


Personally, I’d get a kick out of it if someone else came into the mix – and neither a Sawyer nor a Stroger wound up getting the position.

But let’s not forget the Book of Royko and all those “begats.” The mere existence of a familiar surname is bound to sway many of those who will have a say in this decision.

And for those whose distaste for Todd Stroger is just too intense for them to consider backing him for the post, I can’t help but think that someone whose ties to Sawyer ought to be considered the frontrunner.

ALTHOUGH I WONDER if the idea of having a Sawyer as alderman and as county commissioner will scare some people into thinking that too much political power will lie in one family. Then again, when the name was “Daley” and there were simultaneous sittings on the county board AND the mayor’s office, few were bothered.

Then again, that “Daley” name contains a certain appeal to a certain type of Chicagoan to the point that I’m convinced it will crop up again in a third generation – yet another “begat” for us to beget.

There’s also the fact that I’m certain there are some people who take all the Stroger trashing that Todd endures as some sort of bias. They’d be willing to disagree with it – particularly if they still have some sort of debts (not necessarily financial) owed to the family.

There also would be one way in which bringing Todd Stroger onto the county board would be all too appropriate.

FOR BEAVERS WAS usually the one county commissioner who was willing to defend Todd in some way. He’d usually mock talk of financial problems by saying they were created by the eagerness of some county officials to do away with the hike in the county’s portion of the sales tax that Stroger pushed through during his term in office.

Now that Beavers is gone, we’d lose what public opposition we could have to county board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Unless we have Todd Stroger sitting in that front row seat within easy eyeshot of
“Madame President” herself.

At the very least, it could make county board sessions for the next year or so all the more interesting – unless you get excited by the repeated efforts of commissioners to get their government colleague, Jerry “the Iceman” Butler to sing!


Monday, March 25, 2013

Those random moments of life

I read stories such as the Sunday morning account of a shooting incident in the Marquette Park neighborhood caused by a driver who double-parked his car and left other vehicles trapped and I wonder when it will be my turn to be impacted by one of life’s random moments.
A stupid incident nearby results in gunfire

Because it is at times like this that I feel lucky in life. None of the stupid, trivial incidents that could have encountered me turned into anyone’s overly-violent temper tantrum!

IT IS THESE moments that ought to remind us how much we should enjoy our lives while we have them. Because something absurd could always happen.

There doesn’t have to be a legitimate reason why someone gets hurt. It literally can be “just because.”

Take the incident that occurred around 71st Street and Maplewood Avenue early Sunday. According to the Chicago Tribune, the incident involved a car with two men inside who were upset that another car had parked alongside it.

Witnesses told the newspaper that there was some room and the driver who felt trapped probably could have driven alongside it, then out into the street. Words were exchanged, and after the car managed to get by, the driver felt the need to get out of the car and walk back a few feet.

AT WHICH POINT the handgun came out and the shot was fired.

The man who was shot was “walking, talking, breathing, living,” police told the Tribune. He was eventually taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in suburban Oak Lawn.

As for the person who was shot, he was from DeKalb, and was in the Marquette Park neighborhood to attend a birthday celebration of a relative who lived on the block.

Now if I wanted, I could turn this into a diatribe about concealed carry. The problem I have with the idea of more people packing pistols on their person is the potential for someone with a temper (particularly someone who thinks they need that weapon to defend themselves at all times) to get stupid amongst the rest of us.

BUT THAT’S ACTUALLY a lesser point.

I’m more bothered by the randomness of the event – since I suspect no one who was in the neighborhood was “out to get” anyone. This really was a matter of tempers flaring, and someone getting hurt as a result.

Any one variance in this event, and perhaps that pistol wouldn’t have been reached for at all.

It reminds me of an incident a quarter of a century ago, back when I worked at the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. There was a year when I was on the overnight shift (you should see the Medical Examiner’s office at 5 a.m.), and on this particular day I was finishing my shift.

IT WAS ABOUT 9 a.m., and I had my car parked on lower Wacker Drive near the old City News offices at Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue.

I got into my car, started the ignition and wanted to back out of the space I was parked in. At that moment, another car had just passed me. The driver saw I was pulling out, and she decided she wanted to back up a bit so she could take the parking spot once I vacated it.

The problem was that another car was right behind her, and THAT driver saw me wanting to leave. He decided (rightfully so, as far as I’m concerned) that the spot would be his.

Soon enough, I had these two people shouting at each other. Verbal violence being spewed all over the place. And I was potentially right in the crossfire.

BECAUSE OF THE way their vehicles were positioned, I was trapped. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t leave.

It wound up taking a couple of officers in a squad car that just happened to pass by to get these people calm enough for one of them (I don’t remember which one) to move their car just enough so that I could get out.
It could have ended not far from here!

What would have happened if one of them had lost their temper? I would hate to think my life would have ended on lower Wacker Drive at age 22 with a tiny, long-forgotten story on the City News “wire.”

Then again, my fellow reporters probably would have seen how stupid the incident inherently was, and would have “cheaped” me out – as in not worth writing much about.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

EXTRA: Chicago-area’s true best team?

Suburban Naperville-based North Central College lost out Saturday on its chance to win a national title in men’s basketball, losing 52-44 to Amherst University – which now plays for the national title April 7 in Atlanta against Mary-Hardin Baylor College from Texas alongside the Division I tourney that will get all the public attention.

Although it should be noted that the Cardinals’ defense on Saturday managed to hold the Amherst defense to about 50 points – just one day after the Lord Jeffs managed to score 101 points in their victory over Cabrini College in Pennsylvania.

IT ALSO DOESN’T take away from the fact that North Central made it to the “Final Four” of the NCAA Division III tournament – which likely will make them the best-achieving college basketball program from Illinois for 2012-13.

I really doubt the Fighting Illini will make it much farther than their game Sunday against the University of Miami Hurricanes.

When was the last time any Chicago-area college did so well in a basketball tourney? There’s always that DePaul squad from 1979 that made it to the Final Four.

Or those North Park University basketball teams that between 1978 and 1987 won five national titles – including three in a row between 1978, 1979 and 1980. Which as far as I’m concerned is all the more reason to pay attention to the Division III athletic scene when considering college-level sports.

FOR THOSE OF you who are thinking I’m getting too worked up over small-college sports, think of it this way.

Would you really rather I get worked up over the thought of whether or not we should take Todd Stroger’s desires to serve as a commissioner on the Cook County Board that seriously?


Ought to be more to sports fandom than guessing when doing basketball brackets

I’ll be the first to admit that much of the appeal of filling out brackets for the NCAA Division I tournament for men’s basketball is lost on me.

The baseball fan in me thinks it’s ridiculous that college basketball now drags well into the baseball season (which begins April 1, compared to the April 8 date on which we’ll finally be done with what is supposed to be “March” Madness).

THEN, THERE’S THE fact that I attended a college that played Division III athletics. Which means as far as I’m concerned, the men’s basketball tourney began weeks ago.

Friday wasn’t the day that many schools (including the University of Illinois, the closest to a local rooting interest unless you count Valparaiso University in Indiana – which already has lost) began play. It was actually the day that we got to see which schools made it to the Final Four.

Including the prospects of Naperville-based North Central College, which Friday night took on Vermont-based Middlebury College. A part of me thinks we ought to be paying just as much attention to the Cardinals’ basketball program which, we must admit, is likely to advance farther in the Division III tourney than the Fighting Illini will make it at the Division I level.

Realize how painful it was for me to write that last sentence. Because I’m an alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, whose team got beat a week ago by those same Cardinals 83-73.

I’M STILL SHUDDERING in disgust at the beating my alma mater’s team took in the first half, putting them too far behind to catch up in the second half (although they did come close at times). A “Sweet Sixteen” appearance sounds nice. But an “Elite Eight” one would have been more soothing. Nothing that happens in the Division I tourney is going to mean as much to me.

Now for those people who are about to start sending me all kinds of e-mail messages telling me that the Division I programs are just so much superior and involve schools that people have actually heard of, I’d say that’s nonsense.

I really doubt that most of the people now so eagerly filling out tournament brackets had any clue who the Iona Gaels were – prior to their taking on Ohio State University Friday night.

Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say I’ll root for Iona College based in New Rochelle, N.Y. (a community many people probably only think of as the home of the fictional Petrie family – remember the Dick Van Dyke show?). Solidarity amongst small schools.

BUT SOMEHOW, I suspect that Harvard University’s victory over New Mexico earlier this week was the major upset for this first round. A Buckeyes loss would truly be the evidence that life as we know it is over.

Not that I’m all that interested.

Like I already wrote, MY school is already out of the running. And I just don’t get people who pretend to be interested in college athletics when they don’t have any rooting interest for the particular school – either by having attending it or living in a nearby community.

I look at the brackets that say James Madison is playing Indiana, and some people get worked up over the possibility that the Hoosiers are potentially the best in the nation. I just see nothing, whether the Hoosiers whomp on the Dukes of Harrisonburg, Va., or not leaves me cold.

LIKE I WROTE before, maybe I’m just a bit too eager for baseball to begin.

I got a kick out of learning that we’re far enough into spring that the Mexican League season actually began Friday with the Tabasco Olmecas playing the Red Eagles of Veracruz – with the rest of the league’s seasons opening Saturday.

Not that I’m all that intrigued by Mexican League baseball. But it means we’re moving closer and closer to that date when those Arizona and Florida training camps shutter themselves for the year, and the regular season gets underway.

April 1, with the Kansas City Royals in Chicago and the Cubs taking a trip to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates – it sounds more intriguing to me than a tourney involving out-of-state schools that will still be a week away from completion.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Beavers jury got a free lunch out of it

Let’s be honest. Now-guilty Cook County Commissioner William Beavers is 100 percent accurate when he says all the gambling he did at area casinos isn’t a crime.
BEAVERS: Ray Charles?!?

“There’s no law against what I did. There’s no law against gambling with campaign funds,” Beavers told reporter-types at the Dirksen Building right after a jury spent as little time as possible in reaching a “guilty” verdict against him on the various counts of tax evasion that he faced.

SERIOUSLY, THAT JURY was fed lunch and didn’t start deliberating until about 1:30 p.m., with a verdict coming in plenty of time for the evening newscasts.

But back to Beavers, who is true enough in what he said.

But the law does require that political people who convert their campaign cash into personal use acknowledge it as income, which means letting the Internal Revenue Service have a share of the proceeds as well.

That is the offense for which Beavers was found guilty, and likely will have to serve a bit of prison time. Although at age 78, it can be argued that any prison sentence has the potential to be a life sentence.

NOT THAT I think many people care about that fact these days. Because the prosecutorial tactic was to dirty Beavers up to the point where a jury would want to put him away, and would use whatever charge it was presented with in order to do so.

Hence, we get the image of a guy who is a degenerate gambler. Although his defense attorneys on Thursday tried presenting the image of a guy with a gambling problem.

As though he ought to be sent to sessions of Gamblers Anonymous, rather than some time at the Oxford Correctional Center in Wisconsin, or whichever facility in the Bureau of Prisons system they wind up deciding to use to incarcerate the one-time cop and alderman-turned-county commissioner from the city’s Southeast Side and surrounding suburbs.

If it reads like I’m not convinced that Bill Beavers is anything resembling Public Enemy Number One, you’d be correct.

PERSONALLY, I FIND much about casino gambling to be absurd, and I don’t get the appeal of playing games of chance that strike me as being nothing more than tossing one’s money into the equivalent of a trash can for someone else to empty out and get rich off of.

But it seems Beavers was a regular at the Horseshoe Casino just over the state line in Hammond, Ind. Because he was a regular who lost a lot of money (all regulars invariably do), he got the VIP treatment that entitled him to the free meals and tickets to entertainment – all so that he’d go back to the slot machines and lose even more money.

Evidence presented during the trial indicated that Beavers lost $477,000 playing slot machines during a three-year period.

Excuse me for thinking that the real “crime” against society is being perpetrated by the casino operators who can sucker someone into their facilities to be able to lose that much money.

I’D HATE TO see what happens to the people who don’t have a campaign fund to tap into who let their losses get above their means.

Not that I’m implying that we all should get a campaign fund for such use. Beavers is guilty of a bookkeeping offense. For that, his political reputation is besmirched permanently.
Although at his age, I can’t help but have the same feeling I had when one-time 10th Ward Alderman Edward R. Vrdolyak faced the possibility of prison – his political accomplishments were in the past. What more did anyone seriously expect him to do?
A political vacancy, if you live in the grey blotch

Beavers will move on, and soon we’ll have to go through the process of replacing him on the Cook County Board.

NOT THAT I have a clue who’s going to get the post. But it has me wondering if it could somehow be a consolation prize for some of the Democratic Party losers of the special primary election for a replacement for Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Beavers’ district is entirely within the Congressional district. Yet another vacancy for a political aspirant in need of a post.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Castrating “the Hog?”

Looking at the Cook County Board when they met Wednesday was almost like watching a kid with a missing tooth – the gap in his or her smile is notable.

Commissioner William Beavers' empty seat and desk at the County Building. Not that he was any more vocal at the Federal Building. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

Because that front-row seat where Commissioner William Beavers usually sits was empty – creating a gap both in appearance and in volume. He wasn’t on hand to badger his colleagues every time they did something he thought was wrong.

BEAVERS, OF COURSE, was missing because he had to be at the Dirksen Building – the U.S. District courthouse in Chicago where he is on trial these days on charges that he cheated the federal government of income tax revenue.

It was long expected, largely because he kept shooting his mouth off, that Beavers would eventually take the witness stand and testify on his own behalf and go on the attack against everybody he thinks is out to get him these days.

Yet in the end, it didn’t happen!

Beavers let it be known Wednesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Zagel that he would not testify in his own case.


This particular criminal trial that purports to be the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Chicago political corruption is really so deadly dull. The only thing that was going to make it interesting was the sight and sound of Beavers trying to stir things up.

Let’s not forget that this was the guy who proclaimed his prosecutors to be “capons” (a castrated male chicken, for those of who you didn’t know). He’s also the guy who once described himself as the “hog with the big nuts” – as a way of proclaiming himself to be all-powerful.

Yet on Wednesday, it would appear the hog is the one who has been castrated. He piped down. He didn’t do or say anything that would have dug himself into a deeper hole.

THIS MOMENT WILL be an important one to remember, because I don’t doubt that Beavers will insist on recalling his story as having stood up to the “G-men” with their “Gestapo-like tactics” (his words, not mine) and taken the toughest shot they could dish out.

He’ll try to forget how when he had the chance to fight back and throw a couple of verbal and legal punches, he became meek. I suspect Pepe LePew could have whomped the “Hog” on this day.

The problem is that there really isn’t a defense that can be offered in this particular case. Beavers’ attorneys (who probably deserve combat pay for the struggle they had to go through to get their client to shut up!) wound up having only one person testify on his behalf – a financial expert who talked about how open to interpretation the federal tax laws truly are.

Meaning that anyone who claims that it’s a mere “yes” or “no” answer that Beavers is a tax cheat is someone who is taking a hardline approach that likely is being influenced by a personal dislike for the county commissioner, former alderman and one-time Chicago cop.

WAY TOO MUCH of the testimony in this particular case centered around the amount of time that Beavers spent gambling at casinos. Prosecutors tried to build up the image of a politico literally gambling away the peoples’ money when he used cash from his personal campaign fund to cover his financial losses.

Although if he had acknowledged the use of the cash and reported it as income early on, instead of amending his tax returns at a later date, it could have been construed as legitimate.

Yet most people are glossing over that element of the case. They just want to think of Beavers as a degenerate gambler of sorts – and put him away accordingly.

So when you think about it, what could Beavers really say? He gambled. He lost. That’s all most people are going to want to hear before they proclaim him “guilty.”


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

EXTRA: Legalese vs. English

PRECKWINKLE: Legalese translator?
The Cook County Board gave its approval Wednesday to a measure that will have county government spend just over $3 million to have access to Lexis/Nexis for the next three years – with options to renew for two more years.

Lexis/Nexis, of course, is the computer database that provides so much detailed information. For those of you wiseacres who are going to claim the county could use the Internet for free, keep in mind that Lexis/Nexis provides access to credible information – rather than the babble that pollutes too many websites.

IN DESCRIBING THE need for the access by the court system, the state’s attorney, the public defender’s office and the county sheriff, county Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, described the need for “legal research” by those entities.

To which county board President Toni Preckwinkle retorted, “You mean a substitution for law books?!?”


A tradeoff: Blue Demons for Cubs? That might be Rosemont’s unreal dream

DePaul University is back in the sports news these days, and not because the Blue Demons basketball program is anywhere near good enough to play in the NCAA tourney.
ALLSTATE ARENA: May soon be history

For it seems that the university informed the people at the United Center this week that they’re not interested in playing the men’s basketball games in the arena used by the Chicago Bulls, or any kind of auxiliary facility that would double as a training facility for the NBA franchise.

THE BLUE DEMONS, it seems, want to focus their attention on building an arena near the McCormick Place convention center – which would put them on the South Side right on the lakefront.

Which would also make some sort of deal with city government officials necessary as to how to fit an arena into the convention hall-and-hotel complex without making a complete mess of things.

That adds to the sports-related negotations taking place these days for city officials – who these days are devoting some time to trying to figure out how to do a renovation of the nearly century-old ballpark at Clark and Addison streets used by the Chicago Cubs.

A wrench was tossed into those negotiations by suburban Rosemont officials, where Comcast Sports News reported that village President Brad Stephens is willing to offer the Cubs a 25-acre parcel of land within his municipality.

TWENTY FIVE ACRES is much larger than the square block that contains the grandstand and playing field that the Cubs now use for their ballgames.

Stephens also indicates a certain flexibility to pretty much let the Cubs have control of what gets built on those 25 acres – compared to the negotations in Chicago where city officials are determined to prevent an expanded Wrigley Field from devastating the character of the few blocks of the Lake View neighborhood known as “Wrigleyville.”
Cubs want to make this decades-old postcard obsolete

Rosemont, of course, is the home of the arena once known as the Horizon that has been the home of Blue Demons basketball for the past three decades. Which makes some people wonder if this is merely an attention-grabbing stunt by Rosemont to try to stay in the sports game, should the Blue Demons really return to Chicago.

Somehow, I just don’t see either option under consideration as being in the best interests of the athletic teams/programs involved.

I COMPREHEND WHY the Blue Demons basketball would want to return to the city – DePaul University is a Lincoln Park neighborhood-based school. The theory is that playing in a city-based arena would bolster interest amongst the student body and make it easier for them to actually attend games.

But the area around McCormick Place isn’t exactly convenient to the DePaul campus. I could just as easily see students ignore the Blue Demons games played there just as much as they ignore the ones being played in Rosemont.

There might not turn out to be any real benefit whatsoever for DePaul – except to remind us of how far Blue Demons basketball has declined, to the point that nobody even thinks of them when it comes time for the NCAA Division I tournament that began this week.

As for the Cubs, the thought of playing in a suburban-based stadium merely reminds people of the thoughts of late Mayor Richard J. Daley when the Chicago Bears seriously thought of moving to the northwest suburbs back in the early 1970s.

DALEY, THE ELDER, said they’d lose the city name, and would have to become the “Arlington Heights Bears.” No matter how unrealistic that thought was, it would be felt by many, and would be a blow to the ball club’s image.

The “Rosemont Cubs” probably won’t ever happen. Too much of what makes the Cubs financially viable despite their pitiful record and lack of accomplishments over so many decades is tied into the building and the way it fits into Lake View.

Which may be the key factor for the Cubs to keep in mind as they negotiate with city officials and those dreaded rooftop owners on Waveland and Sheffield avenues.

The team may well need them more than the local residents need all those suburban crowds flooding into the neighborhood 81 days a year.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One more time!

Wolf Lake on the city's far Southeast corner will not be as drab and dreary as it did earlier this month once springtime weather arrives. Photograph by Gregory Tejeda

It’s the last day of winter, and perhaps we should reflect a bit on what could be the weirdest weather spiel I can recall.

We went for so long without any notable snowfall that it was likely we would set some sort of record that would NEVER be topped. Or should I say reduced?

YET I COULDN’T help but notice a Weather Channel broadcast recently that did a special segment about the Chicago winter, which when all is said and done will come in at about average in terms of the amount of snow we got.

Because once it started snowing in late January, it started coming down at heavier-than-usual rates. We even got the heaviest snowfall in two years with that last storm we were hit with just over a week ago – the one that dumped just over 9 inches officially, but gave certain parts of the metropolitan area more than a foot in one shot.

It seems that our snowfall total for this winter is about 1 ½ inches less than the average for a Chicago winter, according to the Weather Channel (yes, I’m inclined to watch those national weather forecasts in the early morning hours when I’m still trying to wrest myself from sleep).

A typical Chicago winter usually has one intense storm, and some steady snowfall all throughout the season so that we’re perpetually aware of the fact that we live in the Midwestern U.S.

IT’S AT THE point where I know that winter is over and spring has arrived when the landscape around me is no longer a slushy, muddy off-white of snow that has been driven through so many times and is instead the drab brown of dead grass that has yet to return to life.

That bright green is the real sign that winter is over – not the mere fact that the calendar on Wednesday will tell us that spring has officially arrived.

So what should we think on this final official day of winter (although I won’t be the least bit surprised if we get one last snow-fall along the shores of southwestern Lake Michigan)?

Personally, the cold temperatures of winter don’t bother me. It’s the slop of the snow and its potential for creating hazards (due to some people who persist in trying to whiz right through it while driving) that gets to me – and makes me grateful that we’re at least at the offend end-point of winter.

BUT I’M THANKFUL to realize that we really didn’t have it all that bad. Like I already wrote, we got hit with that one 9-inch storm – which I remember as the day I was lucky enough to be able to do some work from home.

It was one of those times that I experienced the “joys” of a freelance writer – being able to set work hours to my convenience.

By the next day, public works crews all across the Chicago area by-and-large had the streets cleared. Life resumed.

We didn’t get anything close to resembling the storm of Feb. 2, 2011 – the one that dumped nearly two feet of snow in one shot and actually turned Lake Shore Drive into a parking lot.

A LOT THAT people eventually had to return to with a shovel in order to dig out their cars.

But it is the split in the winter season that will be memorable – the fact that we went through December and the bulk of January with hardly any snow, and a February and early March in which the entity that is Mother Nature (no Chiffon jokes, please) seemed determined to make up for her early-season slacking off.