Thursday, January 31, 2008

GOP tries to resurrect itself on far South Side

Down in that magical part of Chicago known as Beverly Hills and Mount Greenwood (although I have heard some local residents of the latter neighborhood call themselves 'West Beverly'), the Republican Party is trying to resuscitate itself.

It used to be many decades ago that the far northwest and southwest sides were the bastions of Republicanism in Chicago, where local residents who had moved along somewhat on the path toward assimilation ("lace curtain Irish," they were called by their detractors) thought the politics of the Democratic "machine" were just too sleazy to be taken seriously.

But Chicago Democrats have assimilated virtually all who live here. Now, the 41st Ward up near O'Hare International Airport is about the only place that still has local officials who call themselves Republican. Even they are more than willing to make alliances with Mayor Daley and the Democrats. They truly do fall under the slanderous RINO acronym.

So although I lean Democrat, the political junkie in me finds it refreshing to learn of attempts to bring back some competition in local politics.

This web site ( was brought to my attention. I wouldn't mind in the least if the GOP were able to get its act together sufficiently in future years to make for real general elections in the Second City, not the token brawls that take place following a bloodshedding Democratic primary.


'Obama Country' ad is nothing more than an "idiot" card

My “idiot” card arrived in my mail Wednesday.

Now I can breathe a sigh of relief, as I finally know how I am supposed to vote come Tuesday’s primary elections. At least that’s how the Cook County Democratic Party wants me to react now that I have received their mailing telling me how to cast my ballot. John Kerry's presidential campaign unsuccessfully used these palm cards in 2004 to try to distinguish themselves from President Bush. Illustration provided by Kerry/Edwards campaign.

I received a campaign mailing telling me the party’s slate of candidates running for countywide offices here in the Land of Cook.

So now I realize that Joseph Berrios is a quality public official who deserves to have yet another term on the Cook County Board of Review, the panel that oversees tax appeals. I’m sure the fact that Berrios is also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party had nothing to do with his endorsement for re-election to his government post.

Such cards are not new. The “Chicago machine” has used palm cards for decades. They are meant to be disposable and small (tiny enough to fit in the palm of one’s hand), and to provide a “friendly reminder” of which candidates have the official support of the party leadership.

They get the nickname of “idiot” cards because they allegedly are meant for people who are so absentminded/stupid that they need a blunt reminder of who the organization wants to get support – and more importantly, who it does NOT want to see anymore after Election Day.

But this palm card differs from past examples because of its quality; four pages printed on a full-color, quality posterboard stock. At first glance, it looks like a little book, at the very least a campaign brochure.

It also is larger than the traditional palm card – each page measures 6 x 9.25 inches. The only way I can fit it in the “palm” of my hand is if I hold it with my old baseball glove (a Bud Harrelson model, for those who are curious).

The card also is put together in a more sophisticated manner than usual palm cards, which typically are nothing more than a list of names.

Its cover promotes Barack Obama’s presidential campaign with a silhouette of the United States and the state of Illinois highlighted as “Obama Country.” At first glance, I thought I had received a brochure from the Obama campaign.

When I opened it up and saw pictures and quotes from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., I thought that maybe I had received a Durbin campaign brochure urging support for Obama based on the concept of party unity. But upon further inspection, it became obvious that it was just a glossy idiot card.

The card contains a “sample ballot” listing all the slated candidates in Cook County, along with the small-print legalese informing me that I can take the card into the voting booth with me when I make my visit Tuesday to the neighborhood Lutheran church (which in my neighborhood doubles as an Election Day polling place).

After scouring all four pages, I found the very tiny typeface telling me the card was, “Paid for by the Cook County Democratic Party.”

A part of me feels like I’m handling sleaze, since the party obviously spent quite a bit of money on printing up these idiot cards. One does not get this quality of paper and so much full color (including color photographs of every judicial candidate the Cook County Democratic Party wants to see retained) without spending some serious cash.

I also feel simple-minded after reading the portion telling me that Democrats stand for “good schools,” “safe neighborhoods,” “quality healthcare” and “clean environment.” Does anyone seriously oppose such vague pronouncements? I have never heard of any campaign – GOP or Dem – that said publicly it favors bad schools and wants rotten healthcare.

There must have been something more worthwhile that the money could have been spent on. A voter registration effort to get people to actually vote would have been a morally superior cause, even though I realize that political professionals actually do not want higher voter turnout unless they could be assured that ALL of the additional votes would be for their candidate.

Will anybody actually take this card with them into the polling place? I know in past years I have seen people take various voter aids into the voting booth when they mark up their ballot. Usually, it is a newspaper advertisement put together by some activist group that wants to get candidates elected who are sympathetic to their cause.

I have always wondered just why such ads and cards do not constitute electioneering. After all, there are limits on how close campaign workers can come to a polling place before their activity is officially considered illegal influence of a voter.

Back in 1988 when I was a general assignment reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, I had a police officer watching me like a hawk on Election Day. I had been assigned to talk to people as they got ready to vote, in hopes of doing some icky-sweet feature about the experience of casting a ballot in Chicago. The cop was trying to make sure that I was not telling people inside the polling place who to vote for.

I suppose the idea that one voluntarily chooses which idiot cards (if any) to take with them into a voting booth is what makes it legal. But if I were feeling malicious, I could try to influence others inside the polling place by making sure they saw the card with its “Stay True Blue” logo in my possession.

There’s only one “flaw” to this version of an idiot card. It does not tell me for whom to vote for Cook County state’s attorney. That’s because the party itself did not slate any candidate to replace retiring prosecutor Dick Devine.

Hence, the primary for that office is a free-for-all. Six candidates, each of whom have legitimate credentials on paper for the post are fighting each other for the right to challenge the Republican nominee come the Nov. 4 general election.

So for the position of state’s attorney, the publishers of the idiot card have let me down. I’m actually going to have to make up my own mind.

It’s a good thing my mail also included a full-color, glossy campaign card from state’s attorney hopeful Howard Brookins, telling me that he’s an ace (as in a deck of playing cards), compared to opponents Larry Suffredin, Tom Allen and Bob Milan who are merely kings, and future GOP candidate Tony Peraica, who is a joker and, “a right-wing zealot.”

Seeing that kind of silly campaign trash almost sways me to cast my ballot for one of the candidates he didn’t mention – Anita Alvarez, who is a deputy to departing prosecutor Devine.

Now I’m sure that some of the candidates named on the idiot card are qualified officials. I may even vote for some of them.

But I think I’m going to leave the cards at home come Tuesday. I’ll follow the Cook County Democratic Party’s lead for state’s attorney and apply it to the entire ballot.

When I walk into the voting booth (these days, it’s little more than a computer touch screen with next to nothing to provide a sense of privacy), I’ll just have to think for myself.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Cook County Democrats have a special website ( to back up the idiot card message that people should ignore Republicans come Election Day. Aside from naming the slated candidates, there’s little of significance on the site. The party’s official website ( doesn’t offer much more information.

The Vermont Democratic Party offers this template ( for putting together one’s own palm cards on any issue. What Cook County Democrats have put together is much more sophisticated graphically than this.

For those who wonder why the Chicago Argus focuses so intently on Democrats, it is because the Republican Party in Chicago is virtually extinct in local elections. Here is one of the few bits of evidence ( they even exist in the Second City.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Adlai 'successor' may be Hillary, not Obama

It has become a stock column for political pundits to grind out if they are in a pinch for some copy – Barack Obama is too intellectual to be president and is a modern-day equivalent of Adlai E. Stevenson II.

But after observing the Democratic presidential primaries to date, I’m starting to wonder if Hillary R. Clinton is the politico who ultimately will fill the Stevenson niche.

It’s not a perfect match of stories. After all, Stevenson twice won the Democratic nomination to run for president – losing both general elections to Dwight Eisenhower.

By comparison, Hillary may fail to even get her political party’s presidential nomination, as Obama is turning out to be a much more competitive campaigner than she originally anticipated.

Both Clinton and Stevenson are lawyers who come from political families. Hillary is a former first lady of both the United States and of Arkansas, and some people say she was the intellectual support system for her husband, Bill, when he held those elective posts. Stevenson is the grandson of the original Adlai E. Stevenson – who served as vice president during the second presidential term of Grover Cleveland.

Not enough people were willing to reject the ideals of Herbert Hoover to take a chance on Adlai E. Stevenson II as president.

Hillary is using her husband’s knowledge and experience in the ways of campaigning to boost her campaign, and much of the support she gets is from people who are hoping that a second Clinton as president will help rehabilitate the way history remembers the first Clinton.

Adlai II also had help in getting ahead politically, although he didn’t use just his grandfather’s knowledge. Living in what was then the rural community of Libertyville (it’s now ridiculously suburban in character), Stevenson was a product of the regular Democratic organization in Cook County (the dreaded “Chicago Machine” that plays a significant role in the nightmares of many a Republican).

Back in the 1940s, Stevenson was a Chicago attorney with political aspirations who ultimately got ahead in local politics because, despite his liberal convictions on many social issues, he was willing to go along with the Chicago Democratic politicos.

Machine pols supported Stevenson when he ran for Illinois governor in 1948 because his liberal talk on the electoral ticket made them look good. His credentials made it appear as though the organization cared about social issues and the welfare of the public, but he wasn’t so obnoxious as to push too hard to achieve liberal goals.

As an example, it’s not like Stevenson was willing to pressure Southern Democrats to end “Jim Crow” practices against African-American people. He took the line of many Northern Democrats (including Franklin D. Roosevelt) in accepting segregation as “the way things are” in the South.

Similar things can be said about Hillary, who talks liberal at times but is trying to downplay the liberal ties of her youth while portraying herself as the candidate of organized labor and rural Democrats who might not care much about the social issues.

Stevenson was a man with a liberal aura who was never able to translate it into electoral votes. He couldn’t win the vote majority in his home state of Illinois in either of his presidential campaigns.

Hillary is the woman who wants to be the first female president. But the liberal elements who would normally eat up such a storyline can’t get enthused about her campaign (largely because many of them are too busy chanting “Oh-bah-mah”).

Stevenson was the original politico for whom the phrase, “you’ll always be the future of the Democratic party,” was used. Hillary will be the latest.

I find it ironic that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg (Who can believe such a lovely woman can inspire such a vapid Neil Diamond pop song?) says Obama is the candidate who gives her a sense of inspiration in the same way an older generation has told her that her father, John F. Kennedy, inspired them in the early 1960s.

It was Caroline who swayed the Kennedy family (including all-powerful family head Uncle Teddy) to give the Obama campaign their support and a sense of historic aura that ’08 Obama may be the follow-up to ’60 Kennedy.

If Obama beats Clinton in the Democratic primaries, it will put to rest her dreams of being president – unless she becomes some sort of renegade candidate of the future who runs outspoken, token campaigns for the sake of slashing at front-runners.

It was also Kennedy with his inspiring aura that killed off once-and-for-all any dreams Stevenson had of someday becoming president of the United States.

In early 1960, Stevenson hedged his bets and did not actively campaign. However, he eventually changed his mind and for a time considered going to the Democratic convention in Los Angeles with hopes of swaying enough people to give him a third crack at running for president.

By then, the original Mayor Daley had given his support to fellow Irish-American Kennedy. Richard J. Daley let Stevenson know he would not get another presidential run, even though Daley was influential at getting Adlai a second crack at running for president in 1956 (Daley’s predecessors in the Chicago “machine” got Adlai his first nomination in 1952).

Should Obama manage to defeat Clinton, then go on to win the November general election, it would be wise for him to take a lesson from history and find a significant role for Hillary Clinton in his administration. I realize she will not be Obama’s nominee for vice president. But someone of her knowledge, skills and experience should be put to use.

Kennedy had enough sense to look past any previous confrontations between the two, and he made Stevenson his choice for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

It was in that role that the one-time Illinois governor had his greatest moment in public service, when he stood his ground with the Soviets and Cubans when the former tried in 1962 to install missiles on the Caribbean island nation just 120 miles from Miami and within reach of many U.S. cities.

It was because of Stevenson’s tough talk and determination that the United States gained the moral high ground among the nations of the world in what most of us now remember as the Cuban Missile Crisis – the closest our civilization to date has ever come to nuclear annihilation.

I can’t help but wonder if Hillary is destined for comparable greatness in some role of negotiating peace out of the bungled mess in the Middle East that has been exacerbated by the presidency of George Bush the younger.

There may even be one more parallel, although it will be years before we learn for sure whether there is a similarity.

Stevenson’s son, Adlai E. III, also went into politics, ultimately serving three six-year terms as a United States senator from Illinois, and coming incredibly close in 1982 to following in his father’s footsteps as governor.

Chelsea Clinton is still a bit young (she’s not yet 28) to be running for office. But she has always had a more serious demeanor that most people her age, even those who are related to political people. Can anyone seriously envision Chelsea doing anything comparable to Ron Reagan Jr. when he danced in his underwear on national television as a parody of Tom Cruise in “Risky Business?”

Chelsea in Congress some day could very well complete the political comparisons between Hillary and Adlai.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Here is just one of the 58,500 entries that turn up on Google ( when one searches for the phrase, “Barack Obama Adlai Stevenson.”

Obama is not opposed to citing the memory of his home state’s former (1949-52) governor ( when it serves his purposes.

Stevenson’s son, himself a former U.S. senator from Illinois, reminisces ( about his father’s accomplishments.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do Newspaper Endorsements Matter?

As a veteran news reporter who is familiar with the way newspapers operate, I have always believed that editorials and the op-ed pages are the news business equivalent of the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae.

The sundae’s essence is all the ice cream, bananas, nuts, whipped cream and syrup underneath. The cherry is a little perk that goes on top and makes the whole package look pretty. Likewise, editorial pages are the one place where a newspaper (actually, the corporate types who own the paper) can put objectivity aside and use its power to influence the way people think.

An editorial page is one of newspaper publishing’s perks, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. For better or worse, a worthwhile newspaper is a part of its community. A feisty editorial page is a means by which a publisher can urge people to act for the good of the community.

Newspapers with regional pretensions can go so far as to pontificate on the great issues of the day. Hence, the big papers are trying to tell us who to vote for come Feb. 5 in Illinois and on other dates across the country.

When the New York Times last week made a big production out of publicizing that it endorsed Hillary R. Clinton in the Democratic primary for president, editors there admitted they were hoping the announcement would have a national impact and sway the South Carolina Democratic primary to Clinton.

A victory in that state would have kept alive a winning streak for Clinton and likely would have reduced our own home son, Barack Obama, to the rank of a guy who gave his campaign a good try but failed. To some people, the comics truly are a more worthwhile part of the newspaper than the endorsement editorials. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

Closer to home, two of the three major metropolitan newspapers with significant circulation in Illinois – the Chicago Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch – both think voters should choose Obama over all others on the Democratic side.

Neither of the Midwestern newspapers actually circulates in South Carolina (the Times has limited circulation with its national edition), but Obama’s camp was quick to publicize the endorsements as evidence that his candidacy has a growing momentum across the country. The Clinton camp did the same with the Times endorsement.

So does Saturday’s big win for Obama mean that voters don’t care what the New York Times thinks, but that the Chicago Tribune somehow has an innate understanding of the public mindset?


This race is going to be a close one, and I do not believe the 23 elections being held next week Tuesday will decide it. This election cycle has the potential to be the first in my lifetime where the people of the United States really do not find out until the end of the nominating conventions in August just who will be the presidential candidate.

No endorsement from any one newspaper is going to sway that.

For those who complain that newspapers should not be taking a public stance on electoral campaigns (or more likely are upset that your favored candidate was NOT endorsed by your local paper), keep in mind that it is often the political campaigns that WANT the process of endorsements.

Candidates visiting the local newspapers across Illinois in state elections and across the United States in national elections is a campaign ritual, ranking up there with shaking hands, kissing babies and the notion of multiple debates that give candidates a chance to spew rehearsed answers to carefully-timed questions that rarely provide significant truth – but can result in a careless candidate putting a foot in his mouth.

If newspapers were to actually give up the concept of elections endorsement editorials (which some media watchers think they should), it would probably be the candidates who would object the loudest – aside from the editorial writer whose nice job (it’s fairly intellectual, clean and sedate newspaper work, compared to covering crime and natural disasters) would go out the window.

I remember once telling a campaign operative in an Illinois election that I did not fully understand why the campaigns themselves cared so much what the endorsement editorial said, since I am aware that many people are so intimidated by editorial pages that they skip over them to check out the horoscopes.

That operative who has worked on several statewide campaigns responded by telling me how she liked to collect endorsements from around Illinois, then use them as the substance of campaign advertising. Candidates enjoy it when they can run an ad that lists what seems like an endless roster of newspaper names.

To me, those lists are predictable. In Illinois, there are dozens of daily newspapers based in the rural downstate portion that are reliably supportive of Republican candidates. Any GOP candidate who can’t put together a longer list of newspaper endorsements than a Democrat isn’t trying.

By contrast, the Chicago-area newspapers will look favorably to Democrats, with the exception of the Tribune, which differs from other newspapers in our state in that it will attempt to make endorsements in elections across Illinois – right down to the most obscure legislative races in Southern Illinois where the locals prefer to think of themselves as being from near Kentucky, rather than near Chicago.

But the candidates themselves like to think endorsement lists make it appear their campaigns have strong support in all corners of Illinois. I would imagine national campaigns like to collect cities as well.

In this year’s Democratic presidential primary, Obama has places like Chicago, St. Louis and the San Francisco Chronicle, but Clinton has the Times in New York. But the Obama camp could counter by noting Clinton does not dominate the East Coast papers, because he has the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe (which is owned by the New York Times Co.)

Clinton can counter Obama’s Midwest support by citing her Kansas City Star endorsement, and she may be able to eat off Obama’s hometown plate when the Chicago Sun-Times (the third major metro that circulates in Illinois) gives its endorsement in the presidential primary.

Based on past campaigns, I guess they will publish their endorsement in this coming Sunday’s editions – just two days prior to the Illinois primary. I don’t have any insider knowledge as to who the newspaper’s editorial board (which lost about half its staff in the recent rounds of job layoffs at the paper) will endorse, but I will not be surprised if they back Clinton just to be different from the Tribune.

The Sun-Times wants to believe it is becoming more of a progressive voice on social issues (for a real progressive voice, one should read the editorial page of the Capital Times in Madison, Wis.), and backing the first serious campaign of a woman for president would fit in with that worldview.

Then again, maybe the newspaper’s historic focus on Chicago proper instead of the suburbs will get them to back hometown candidate Obama. They might enjoy the idea of the first U.S. president ever who had strong ties to Chicago’s Democratic organization, particularly if their City Hall sources can help them nitpick an actual Obama presidency.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The American Journalism Review ( tried a few years ago to get to the heart of the issue as to whether or not newspaper endorsements actually sway voters.

This is how political campaigns like to use ( newspaper endorsements.

The internal mechanations of the New York Times endorsement process are explained ( in greater detail.

Following are Obama’s Chicago (,0,847324.story) and St. Louis ( endorsements, while Clinton’s New York newspaper plug can be found here (

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mexican Sanctuary, the Sequel

There was a time last year when a certain segment of our society considered Elvira Arellano to be the most hated woman in the world. Somehow, I don’t see Flor Crisostomo achieving the same notoriety, even though her actions are no different. This Mexican immigrant enters the United States openly at Laredo, Texas in 1912. Back then, the U.S./Mexico border was just a line in the dirt. The concepts of "legal" and "illegal" Mexicans did not exist. Photograph provided by the Library of Congress collection.

Arellano, for those whose memories are short, was the woman who sought sanctuary in a Humboldt Park neighborhood church and managed to hole up for a full year before being deported back to her birthplace of Mexico.

The Adalberto United Methodist Church, located in the Northwest Side neighborhood that has evolved into a vibrant Puerto Rican community, seems to be becoming the place to go to try to advance the cause of immigration reform.

Crisostomo is turning to the same church, hoping that officials there will shelter her from the federal immigration officials who want the 28-year-old woman also to return to Mexico.

Crisostomo will not attract the same public attention or outrage that Arellano did – largely because her stunt is too similar. It will be like the tens of thousands of Latinos who marched through the streets of Chicago and other cities in favor of immigration, which petered down to a few hundred by the fourth and fifth times they marched those same streets.

“Been there, done that,” is likely to be the attitude of “middle America” towards Crisostomo, particularly since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials never made the public perception mistake of busting into a Methodist church and forcibly seizing Arellano.

While one should never underestimate the stupidity of government agency bureaucrats, it would be hoped that immigration officials learned last year that calmly waiting out the situation resulted in its ultimate resolution with a lack of offense on the part of real Americans, who are nowhere near as extreme on this issue as the social conservatives would like to believe.

There is a serious need to reform the immigration laws – but not the ones that the crackpots are calling for. We need to look seriously at current restrictions on how people can get into this country, because many of the people who are turning up here without the proper documentation are fully legitimate people who are making a contribution to the U.S. economy and society.

Arellano, at the time of her initial arrest by immigration officials, was a single mother trying to support her son on the meager salary of a cleaning woman at O’Hare International Airport.

There is no reason she should not have been able to get into this country legally, except for ridiculous bureaucratic procedures both in Mexico and the United States that make it virtually impossible for many people to seriously expect to get a visa.

Her “offense” in the eyes of the law was using someone else’s social security number when filling out paperwork to apply for the job. Had she been able to get a visa, she could have got a legitimate social security number. Hers was a case where “the law” as written was nothing more than a technicality designed to keep certain kinds of people out.

People who say they are only against illegal immigration and fully support the “legal” kinds are missing the point. Our country’s system is flawed, and in some ways rigged against people who can make more of a contribution to U.S. society than some people who were born here.

Eliminating those flaws is what is needed by immigration reform. Closing off borders and putting further restrictions on which kind of people can get into the United States is a waste of time.

Citizenship itself is largely an accident of birth, and the only reason that Mexicans make up such a large percentage of “illegal aliens” is because the U.S. and Mexico are intertwined. Like it or not, northern Mexico and the southwestern United States are a region with a common history and culture. The Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte to Mexicans) was never meant to be an impenetrable barrier between two distinct regions.

The city of Laredo, which dates back to 1755, is a perfect microcosm of U.S./Mexico ties. In 1847, it was a Mexican city in the state of Tamaulipas, with a river cutting through the middle of town.

That river, however, was the Rio Grande. So when the Mexican War ended with the United States shifting the Texas border about 100 miles south, half the city wound up being in a new country. Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas is part of a single, bi-national metropolitan area of nearly 600,000 people with Laredo, Texas – even though certain elements of our society would prefer to think of the river as a concrete barricade.

For people living in places like Laredo, Los Angeles, Santa Fe, N.M., or Tuscon, Ariz., the Spanish and Mexicans are the “founding fathers,” not a batch of Englishmen in fruity powdered wigs. The basic concept behind NAFTA is a sound one. The two countries are linked and ought to be cooperating along with Canada on so many economic and social issues.

Illegal immigration also should not be turned into a “Mexican” issue. Personally, the first “illegal alien” I ever met was a white Canadian citizen who did not have the papers to allow him to openly live with his U.S. citizen girlfriend in the suburbs of Detroit.

The ultimate irony? The girlfriend was of Mexican descent.

Allowing the xenophobic elements of our society to try to turn this into a debate of “too many Mexicans” coming into this country is a distraction. And I don’t want to hear the argument that the U.S. national security is at stake.

It is absurd to think of threats to the United States of America when what we’re really talking about are people like Arellano, who wielded a mop at the airport and occasionally took a vacuum cleaner to the inside of an airplane after passengers made a mess.

National security would be improved if the United States was cooperating with Mexican officials, rather than pushing for policies that antagonize them. A Mexico that feels a bond with the United States is more likely to watch our back at the border, whereas a Mexico that feels neglected will take a carefree attitude with regard to border security.

Admittedly, Crisostomo is an activist on the immigration issue. She hopes to milk her sanctuary status to gain public awareness of the uncertainty that confronts the daily lives of people without proper papers.

She has three children who are living with a grandparent in Mexico, and is in the United States to work menial jobs so she can send money back to support her family. That experience is not limited to Mexicans in the U.S. Many people regardless of ethnicity can tell of similar family stories.

Crisostomo plans to make a public statement Monday at the church in favor of immigration law reforms, and she also has attorneys who are going to fight in court to try to get her permission to openly remain in the United States. Then, we’ll have to wait and see if her situation turns into another yearlong vigil.

The reason this issue has become such a sore spot is because, like abortion, it is one that some people are unwilling to compromise on. People who insist on portraying compassion and decency as “amnesty” and are preoccupied with mass deportation may be a minority – but they are vocal.

The vocal minority has Republican politicos openly pandering, and Democrats cowering in fear, wishing there was some way to make the issue go away.

There really are only two ways the issue can be resolved.

We conduct mass deportations of people who are hard working and are making a worthwhile contribution to our country. That would incur the wrath of followers of Democracy, who would rightfully call such actions “un-American.” Of course, it didn’t stop the U.S. from engaging in a similar policy (officially known by the code name “Operation Wetback”) in the 1930s.

Or, we accept the fact that the bulk of these people should be allowed to remain legally. Government officials will have to devise a means by which the millions of people now here can be integrated into the national consciousness.

That might not be the popular idea for a segment of our society. But similar to how Lyndon Johnson incurred the wrath of a segment of the American people when he signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1965, history will remember it as the right thing to do.


EDITOR’S NOTES: How heated did the rhetoric become last year with regards to Arellano? Here are a couple of memorable blasts ( from the past ( to let you know how the two extremes viewed the issue.

A part of me will always be a United Press International reporter at heart. So it repulses me to have to acknowledge it was the Associated Press that reported the story (,0,1659557.story) about Crisostomo.

Laredo, Texas ( in many ways represents the ideal of what U.S./Mexican relations should be.

Despite all the talk of Aztlan and reconquest, Mexican people do not seriously expect the return of California, Texas and the Arizona territory. All they'd really like is some acknowledgement that the Mexican/American war (re-enacted as a musical show in this 1890 production) was not the finest hour in U.S. history. Illustration provided by Library of Congress collection.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My baseball focus is on the Dominican Republic, not the Hilton

Venezuelan baseball fans show their support for their league's champion at last year's Caribbean Series, held in Puerto Rico. Photograph provided by

Thoughts of baseball are part of what enable me to cope with the winter cold of recent days.

But it wasn’t the idea that Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams got raked over the coals Friday by frustrated Sox fans that give me my baseball kicks these days. I have no desire to be at the Palmer House Hilton today or Sunday for Sox Fest.

My baseball attention span these days is spread among various Latin American cities, and will center this coming week on the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean island nation is going to be the host of this year’s Caribbean Series – the event now in its 50th year that allows the professional baseball leagues of Latin America to determine a regional champion from among their ranks.

All through this month, teams in the Dominican and Venezuelan leagues, along with the Pacific League in Mexico, have been engaged in rounds of playoffs that followed their 70-game seasons from mid-October through December. Those playoffs are scheduled to end by mid-week.

Then, the champions of each league (along with the second-best Dominican League team) will all venture to Santiago, where they will engage in a 12-games-in-six-days tournament that will result in one league champion winning the rights to boast that they are the best team in all of Latin American baseball.

One of the good aspects of the growing media universe is that it is now much easier to actually follow winter league baseball. ESPN’s Spanish-language channel carries broadcasts of the games – almost like a “Game of the Week” for the Spanish-speaking world.

When it comes to the Caribbean Series itself, some of the games are likely to make it onto the English-language ESPN channels.

And for those of us who are comfortable perching ourselves in front of a computer to watch a sports event, this year offers a new treat. A new business partnership will offer live video streaming of the games.

If I were devoted enough, I could now watch all the games of the tournament (that’s two per day for six days).

I doubt I’ll watch every inning, but I probably will try to catch some of the games, particularly those in which Mexico’s Pacific League champions play. Aside from the ethnic ties of having three grandparents who were born in Mexico, I must admit to feeling some sympathy for the teams that over the years have represented Mexico in the tournament.
The sight of baseball being played this week at the Estadio Cibao in Santiago, D.R., means (among other things) that the U.S. baseball spring training is less than two weeks away. Photographs provided by the Aguilas Cibaenas.
Since the Pacific League began sending its champion to the Caribbean Series in 1971, Mexico has had its teams win the fewest championships (only 5) of any Latin American nation. The most recent of those teams was the Mazatlan Deer in 2005 – also the most recent year that Mexico hosted the series.

The Dominican Republic has come to dominate the Caribbean Series. If one of their two teams wins the tourney this year, it will be the 17th time that a Dominican League team wound up being Latin American champions.

The Dominican League got two teams into the tournament this year largely because of that superiority. Normally, only their champion would have gotten into the tournament, and the champion of the Puerto Rican League would have been the fourth team.

But economic problems caused the Puerto Rican league this season to have to cut itself short. They did not send a team to the series.

Sadly, this is not uncommon. Three years ago, the Puerto Rican League sent two teams to the Caribbean Series when political strife made things too problematic for the Venezuelan League to finish its season and declare a champion to send to the series.

Insofar as politics is concerned, Cuba’s situation is the most severe. The old Cuban League champions used to dominate the Caribbean Series. But when Fidel Castro rose to control of the island nation, the political climate in Latin America became so intense that the entire tournament was cancelled – it did not take place between 1962 and 1970.

To this day, Cuba is excluded from the tournament on the grounds that the current Cuban League is an amateur operation, compared to the professional leagues that exist in the other countries.

But when Caribbean Series officials talk about future expansion of the tournament to include national champions from places like Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia, they admit that Cuba would beat them all for admission – once the Castro regime loosens its grip on athletics in that country.

It ought to make us appreciative that we live in a country where the political situation does not interfere with baseball. Our own professional baseball World Series tournament has only been disrupted twice in its 105-year history – and both times (1904, 1994) it was due to the pigheadedness of baseball officials rather than any outside forces shutting the game down.

Now I know that some U.S. baseball fans like to denigrate the quality of “beisbol” as played in Latin American countries, even though watching the U.S. national team of major leaguers who played in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 convinced me that the only reason Major League Baseball remains the top-ranked professional leagues in the world (as opposed to the Central and Pacific leagues in Japan or the Mexican League) is because of the influx of Latin American citizens who choose to spend their summers playing professionally “en los Estados Unidos.”

Some of those players like to return to their native countries during the winter months and play ball for their hometown teams for fun and athletic pride. Other young Latin American ballplayers use the winter leagues as a way of honing their talents while they are still low-paid minor leaguers waiting for a chance to establish themselves with a Major League team.

U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame members Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal (along with another player who should be there – Fernando Valenzuela) have played in the Caribbean Series throughout the years, along with current major league stars such as Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran and Robinson Cano.

Another example of how the Caribbean Series is becoming a big deal is that it is starting to get U.S. corporate sponsorship. Heineken USA will be one of the underwriters of this year’s event. Not Dos Equis or Corona or some Latin American brand of “cerveza,” but the U.S. version of a German beer.

How interested am I in following the Caribbean Series?

Put it this way. There are some baseball fans in this country who hope to some day vacation in upstate New York so they can justify a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

My dorky baseball dream vacation consists of someday taking a trip to the Dominican Republic or Venezuela in early February so I can watch a few Caribbean Series games. Somehow, I sense if I ever do go to the tournament, it will be in one of the years the series is staged in Mexico (at least I’d still be on the North American continent).

So come next weekend, I’ll be watching baseball – provided that my Internet connection does not go haywire during the games. It will be the first extended bit of high-quality baseball I will have seen since the end of October when the Boston Red Sox managed to come from behind and beat the Cleveland Indians to win the American League championship. (The World Series was a disappointment).

I’ll even be watching baseball on Super Bowl Sunday. While the rest of you will be watching suburban New York take on suburban Boston in a game that’s bound to fall short of all the hype it will get this coming week, I’ll be watching true championship quality sports being played.

I’ll probably be tearing my hair out watching the Pacific League champions get beat around by the teams from the Dominican and Venezuela. I’m just hoping the Mexican champions manage to do better than last year’s performance – when the Hermosillo Orange Growers only managed to win one game the entire series.

And unlike you, I won’t have to put up with countless ridiculous, overhyped television commercials. So who really has it better?


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Caribbean Series has a lengthy history and its own baseball traditions ( independent of Major League Baseball in the United States.

Fernando Valenzuela should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame (, and I remain convinced the BBWAA blew it in 2004 when they gave Valenzuela so little support that he fell off their ballot for future years' consideration.

Anybody wishing to join me in watching the cream of the crop of Latin America’s professional baseball leagues can watch here ( at the following times, all of which are converted to the Central Standard Time zone – the only one that really matters because it is Chicago time.

SATURDAY, February 2
Dominican Republic 2 vs. Venezuela – 2 p.m.
Mexico vs. Dominican Republic 1 – 6 p.m.

SUNDAY, February 3
Dominican Republic 2 vs. Mexico – 2 p.m.
Dominican Republic 1 vs. Venezuela – 6 p.m.

MONDAY, February 4
Venezuela vs. Mexico – 2 p.m.
Dominican Republic 1 vs. 2 – 6 p.m.

TUESDAY, February 5
Venezuela vs. Dominican Republic 2 – 2 p.m.
Dominican Republic 1 vs. Mexico – 6 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, February 6
Mexico vs. Dominican Republic 2 – 2 p.m.
Venezuela vs. Dominican Republic 1 – 6 p.m.

THURSDAY, February 7
Mexico vs. Venezuela – 2 p.m.
Dominican Republic 1 vs. 2 – 6 p.m.

If a tie-breaking game between the top two teams is required, it will be played on Feb. 8.

The Mazatlan Deer are the last Pacific League champions to manage to win the Serie del Caribe. Photo illustration provided by los Venados del Mazatlan.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Fishing in the Chicago River may be enough to get my vote

The other day while paying a visit to my father’s house, I happened to be near the telephone when it rang. Out of courtesy, I answered.

The next thing I know, I was hearing the nasally tone of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s voice. No, it wasn’t my “political dream girl” calling me up for a personal chat.

It wasn’t even Madigan herself.

I was listening to a recorded message she did on behalf of the Democrat who has the party’s blessing to run for an Illinois House seat in Chicago’s southern suburbs.

I got to hear the attorney general tell me just how wonderful a public official the candidate in question would be, just before hearing a gravelly male voice (think “Fat Tony” from 'The Simpsons') tell me that the AFL-CIO sponsored the telephone call.

Sure enough, it is the “silly season.”

We have only 12 days to go – a perfect dozen – until we residents of Illinois can trudge to our neighborhood polling places (Mine is in a Lutheran church rec room. Where’s yours?) to cast ballots for presidential primary candidates and a whole host of lower electoral offices.

It seems like forever, largely because the campaign focus is on the presidential dreamers who are still days/eons away from paying much attention to Illinois. Democrats today are readying themselves for the South Carolina primary, while Republicans are focused on Florida.

Even with the Illinois primary elections approaching, we’re not going to get a lot of face time with the presidential candidates, as they also are going to have to cope with elections taking place in 21 other states. Chicago, New York and Los Angeles residents all will be casting ballots Feb. 5. They’re going to be spread out. Most of us won’t have a chance to see Barack or Hillary or Rudy or Mitt.

So we’re going to have to focus on the lower level races if we want to see actual campaign activity here. My mailbox is starting to fill with the glossy leaflets and flyers meant to promote the notion that a person I’ve never really paid much attention to is worthy of my vote.

I’m sure some people throw the flyers away without much of a glance. But it must be worth the printing costs if a few people bother to remember a name.

I’ll have to admit that Dean Maragos’ campaign for a seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District caught my attention. Depending on my whim come Election Day, he may even get my vote.

It’s not like I can tell you much about anyone else running for the sanitary district. What is particularly shameful is that I used to cover the agency when I was a reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. Moreso than anybody else, I should know something about it.

But much of that agency's trivial information is buried deep in the recesses of my brain. So the sight of someone trying to fish in the Chicago River is probably as legitimate a reason to cast a ballot as anybody else’s reason for voting for someone on the water reclamation district.

Maragos’ four-page flyer includes a full-page color photograph of Dean along the shore of what looks to be the north branch of the river where the city turns into northern suburb, using a net to try to scoop a fish out of the water.

It’s not quite the vision that Mayor Daley the elder had of people some day bringing fishing poles with them to work downtown, and catching their lunch out of the Chicago River while on a break. But I’ll take it.

I like looking at the literature to see what kind of gaffes candidates will make. Thus far, the closest I have come to personally seeing one this electoral season is a glossy card telling me to vote for Sharon Johnson Coleman for a seat on an Illinois Appellate court.

Her card includes a photograph of her standing beside U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. The only problem is that where I live, the congressman is Bobby Rush. Jesse Jr. doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, or my neighbors.

It strikes me as interesting to see what trite tricks the campaigns will use in their mailings to try to get my attention. After all, for a candidate running for a Chicago-area seat in the Illinois House of Representatives or state Senate, or for a judicial post, these mailings are the campaign’s activity IN ITS ENTIRETY.

It’s not like this is central Illinois, where candidates for the General Assembly and lower offices run vicious television commercials that smear their opponents just as viciously as any Chicago mayoral or Illinois gubernatorial candidate does in the Second City.

For the most part, candidates for these lower profile positions are counting on local political party organizations in each city ward and suburban township to get potential voters to blindly support candidates of specific parties or slates.

I doubt that anyone beyond Dean Maragos’ mother, and maybe his wife, will actually vote for him because they think he’s best qualified for a seat on the government board that oversees the Chicago area’s sewage treatment plants.

I once had an editor whose political observations as a reporter went back to the days of the 1968 convention in Chicago (mine go back to the days of Harold Washington) who said he believed that anyone could run for a seat in the state Legislature or on a low-profile county government panel – if they could get about 200 people (no more) who sincerely believed in their ability to be a public official.

His theory was that the bulk of the few thousand people who cast votes for any particular candidate were doing so out of habit of being told who to vote for by someone else. Most voters, he believed, did not really know anything about anyone they were voting for – outside of the top two positions up for grabs in each election.

As far as the political party hacks who set the agenda by strongly hinting to people who they should vote for, most of them would be seriously impressed if a couple hundred people sincerely showed interest in a person as a candidate.

There’s also the political theory that people like to vote for candidates with “Irish-sounding” last names. Something about the Scottish-Irish sound of MacDougal or Kenney sounds like it should belong to a Chicago politico. Maybe it did 50 years ago. But times have changed.

Personally, I will often vote for someone WITHOUT an Irish sounding name if I don’t know anything about either candidate in a lower-level electoral race. I figure that if it is true that most people will vote for the Irish-sounding name, then someone should vote for the other guy.

And if it sounds like I’m biased against the Irish, well, that’s no more ridiculous than those people who push the theory because they’re biased in favor of the Irish.

My action is my personal little protest against those people who would just as soon turn Election Day into a civics class version of St. Patrick’s Day, complete with kegs filled with green-dyed beer served to people as they left their polling place.

Then again, a glass of green beer would serve one useful purpose. We could fling it at any would-be exit pollsters who are trying to make it possible to know who won the election before any votes are actually counted.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Want to learn more about my new second-favorite expert on sewage and sludge? Check here ( As far as I’m concerned, Ed Norton will always rank Number 1.

In case Lisa Madigan’s recorded voice is too busy to give you a call, here’s a list ( of whom the AFL-CIO wants you to vote for.

A quickie summary of the history of Chicago’s electoral politics can be found here (

Pate was right -- nothing wrong with registration deadlines

It’s not everyday that I think this, but former Illinois Senate President James “Pate” Philip was right – when it came to voter registration.

Specifically, Pate used to complain whenever the Illinois Senate was forced to consider a measure meant to make it easier for people to register to vote.

I lost count of the number of times the Republican lawmaker from suburban Wood Dale would vote against the registration reforms on the grounds that he thought it already was easy enough to register to vote.

One can go to their village hall, a county clerk’s office or Illinois secretary of state facilities to fill out the brief paperwork needed to legally get oneself on the voter rolls. There also are countless occasions where officials will set up temporary stands in places with high people traffic, in hopes that passersby will take a few minutes to bother to fill out a card and register.

So I have a hard time getting upset at the notion that the absolute, last-minute, drop-dead time limit with no more extensions possible passed on Tuesday.

Some of my brethren who write on the Internet are using their weblogs to rant and rage that the government is engaging in a criminal conspiracy by refusing to let anyone vote on Feb. 5, if they have not bothered to register by now.

Perhaps it is because I worked in the news business for two decades, but I can appreciate the concept of a deadline. There is a certain amount of time needed by clerks to prepare for an election. Everything has a point at which it becomes too late to do anything further.

Why should casting a ballot on Election Day be any different?

People were given ample chances to register locally by Jan. 8, and could still register at the county clerk’s office in downtown Chicago up until Tuesday – provided they were willing to immediately cast their ballot for the Feb. 5 elections.

Pate Philip’s response would have been to say something along the lines of, “with as many ways as there are to register, do we really want these people voting if they can’t get their act together and take the time and initiative to fill out a registration card?”

Then, he would have taken a drag on his cigar, and probably blown the smoke in your angered face.

And I would be sitting on the sidelines, holding back a chuckle at your predicament.


EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to read about a calamity of historic proportions as “tens of thousands of people” will be disenfranchised at the polls, read here ( If you’d rather read something logical, then take pride in realizing you’ve already found it at the Chicago Argus.

If your memory is too short to remember Pate Philip, check here (

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The 1960s will end some time around 2050

One of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign themes is that his election will bring an end to the infighting between the factions of U.S. society who lived through the social turmoil of the late 1960s.

He thinks that choosing a president who did not come of age during the “Summer of Love” or the My Lai Massacre will allow the nation as a whole to move forward, rather than getting caught up in the continuing battles of the culture war between so-called liberals and conservatives.
Critics of the Vietnam War march along Michigan Avenue in conjunction with the 1968 Democratic Convention. These placards (below) were distributed to Chicagoans who approved of the brutal police treatment towards the protesters, which the Walker Commission labeled a "police riot." Photographs provided by Chicago History Museum.
But the degree to which the spirit of the ‘60s is embedded in the mindsets of the people (both “dove” and “hawk”) who lived through the era ensures that not even Obama in the White House could bring an end to the social squabbles that had their roots planted 40-something years ago.

The latest outburst of ’60s tensions came earlier this week when 58-year-old Joseph Pannell said he would not fight extradition to face criminal charges related to the 1969 shooting of a Chicago police officer.

Understandably, the officer who was shot, Terrance Knox, remains upset, particularly because Pannell has managed to live the bulk of his life in freedom in Canada without having to face criminal charges.

At the time of the shooting, Pannell was 19 and a sympathizer of the Black Panther Party, which saw itself as a revolutionary group willing to use force to defend the civil rights of black people. Many African-American people who lived during the times remember the Panther party as being a group offering social programs such as free breakfasts to help impoverished West and South side neighborhoods.

Knox is firmly on the other side of the culture clash, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that Parnell of the Black Panther Party, “is what I would consider in today’s terms a terrorist.”

I know Knox is not alone in that belief. When the City Council seriously considered a proposal two years ago to rename a one-block strip of Monroe Street to honor Fred Hampton (the Black Panther leader in Chicago who was killed during a Dec. 4, 1969, police raid), the Fraternal Order of Police used its clout with white aldermen to squash the measure.

Some black activists to this day insist the police raid was an assassination of a budding black leader, although prosecutors never did bring criminal charges against anyone in connection with the incident.

Law enforcement officials prefer to remember Hampton and the Panthers as a criminal element not worthy of praise. They definitely do not want to be reminded that the reason Panthers felt the need to arm themselves was because they believed African-American people back then were being harassed – rather than protected – by the police.

The presence of the Oakland, Calif.-based Black Panthers in Chicago will always be controversial, even though many of the group’s survivors have moved well into mainstream society.

Bobby Rush – who now laughingly tells the story of becoming a founding member of the party’s Illinois chapter after national Panther leaders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton were arrested in Chicago and knew of no one else in the city who could bail them out of jail – is possibly the biggest success story.

He has served in Congress since 1993, and currently represents the South Side and inner southwest suburbs. To some, even that is controversial.

The majority African-American city neighborhoods in his district view him as an old warrior from the ‘60s who is looking out for their interests, while some in the white suburban communities are wary of him.

In one case, former Crestwood Mayor Chester Stranczek tried to use his political influence to get his town drawn into another congressional district, saying he did not believe someone with Rush’s background could adequately represent the ideas of the white ethnics who live there.

Perhaps Obama’s presence on the political scene is a sign that, to quote Sam Cooke, “A Change is Gonna Come.”

After all, Pannell told reporters this week the reason he is now willing to return to Chicago after decades of living a peaceful life in the suburbs of Toronto is that he sees the presence of Obama and the way he is perceived by people in the United States as evidence that he might get a fair hearing in the judicial system.

But let’s be honest. While some of us like to mock Hillary Clinton’s claim many years ago that a “vast, right-wing conspiracy” was targeting her husband’s presidency, she wasn’t exactly being paranoid.

There WERE social conservatives with ample funding from sympathetic foundations who were anxiously awaiting, readying themselves to pounce on Bill Clinton the moment he dropped his pants at an inopportune moment.

The choice of Hillary Clinton as president will merely stoke the raw emotions of those people (thereby ensuring that the 2010s will be a repeat of the 1990s), their embers of anger will not die out just because of Barack Obama.

For some, the presence of a non-white man as Leader of the Free World may even cause more of an outburst than the presence of Hillary. The split caused by the ‘60s is not going to end anytime soon.

Who is winning the split is determined largely by the perceptions of the individual. Recently on MSNBC, a panel of professional political pontificators was talking about the presidential campaigns when conservative commentator Pat Buchanan said the situation in this country remained largely a battle between John Wayne and Jane Fonda, “and John Wayne is winning.”

To his mindset, I’m sure he likes the idea of the tough-talking cowboy actor beating up on the 60s generation star of such films as “9 to 5” and “Barbarella” (my favorite for pure cheesiness is “Cat Ballou”) whose opposition to the Vietnam War was so intense that she is still remembered for the North Vietnamese propaganda photographs she posed for alongside an anti-aircraft gun.

But would a country where “John Wayne is winning” seriously be banning cigarette smoking in public – the way Illinois and 21 other states have? I can’t help but think that Jane has ol’ John in a headlock and has the potential to drop him for good.

Whenever I think about it philosophically, I realize the 1960s will not end until some time between the years 2050 and 2060.

Think about it. Every generation manages to produce a few members who, through good health and the luck of the draw, live past 100. So someone in the United States who was a teenager or college-age person back in the 1960s and manages to live long enough will become a centenarian at about the middle of the 21st century – similar to how the last veteran of the Civil War didn’t die until 1959.

Only when all of the children of the ‘60s are gone will the unrest that sprang up in the decade come to an end.

Of course, that leaves one question. Will the last ‘60s child be a “hawk” or a “dove?” Are we destined for the sight about 40 years from now of the last ‘60s child wearing a tie-dyed shirt and proclaiming the virtues of the flower children over a racist society?

Or is it going to be someone who supported the idea of the U.S. military in Vietnam, proclaims him or herself to be a “real American,” and thinks that his survival longer than any other of his generation is the ultimate proof that, “the hippie freaks lost.”


EDITOR’S NOTES: I love the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Here are entries concerning the Black Panther Party ( and civil rights protests in Chicago (

Here’s a Panther perspective ( about the organization denounced by then-FBI leader J. Edgar Hoover as, “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chicago, rural surroundings all comprise the Midwestern package

Commuter trains like this one could someday connect downtown Chicago to rural Midwest towns such as LaSalle, Ill., and Valparaiso, Ind. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

Sometimes, I wish people who live in the rural Midwest communities that surround Chicago would make up their mind as to whether they love or hate the Second City.

I understand that people who live in these small burgs think differently because, for them, a drive to the edge of town reveals the sight of endless miles of cornfield with nothing else in sight. It can be easy for them to think of their locales as the entire world, and to fear what might be on the other side of that cornfield.

That was actually the biggest adjustment I had to make when I moved for seven years to Springfield, Ill. Looking at the endless farm fields that surround the capital city can be intimidating. For Chicagoans, a trip to the edge of a city neighborhood or suburban town merely reveals yet another town. We’re all part of a big picture that I find comforting.

I’ll also admit Chicagoans can be just as isolationist at times, often preferring not to acknowledge that anything exists outside of Chicago. There are those who think of 119th Street as some magical barrier that keeps the rural, unwashed masses out of our fair city – even though parts of Chicago actually go as far south as 138th Street.

But there are times when rural Midwesterners annoy me by wanting to have it both ways.

They want easy access to Chicago and all its economic and cultural perks, realizing that a place like Bloomington, Ill., is a superior place to live than Bloomington, Ind., largely because the Illinois version can feed off the economy of Chicago, whereas the Hoosier version has to settle for a place like Indianapolis (which I think of as comparable to Peoria) as its big-city role model.

Officials in Streator and LaSalle, central Illinois towns located just north of the old maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center, are using a $250,000 federal grant to put together a study that is trying to convince transit officials that their region is not that far away from Chicago.

Currently, the Metra commuter railroad has two train lines running from downtown to Joliet. Municipal officials in the central Illinois communities would like it if the trains kept traveling south from Joliet and made their towns the end of the line.

Not to disrespect the desires of either Streator or LaSalle (I’ve been to both places, they’re fine insofar as central Illinois towns are concerned), but that seems like a long haul from downtown Chicago.

Trains on the Rock Island commuter line already take 1.5 hours to get from Chicago to Joliet, while trains on the Metra Heritage Corridor aren’t much faster. I also know that driving a car from Joliet west on Interstate 80 to LaSalle or south on Interstate 55 to Streator takes just over an hour.

Also wanting Chicago commuter train service is the area near Lowell and Valparaiso, Ind., which is roughly the far southeastern-most corner of the Chicago area. Commuter trains that for decades have connected downtown to South Bend, Ind., run along the southern tip of Lake Michigan and pass just a few miles north of the area.

Some of those residents want a spur of tracks that would allow them to catch a train in their hometowns and walk off on Michigan Avenue one hour later, instead of having to make up to a half-hour drive to a train station near the Indiana Dunes to catch a Chicago-bound train.

The Indiana Legislature is reviewing bills to boost state sales taxes to raise about one-third of the total cost of the project, which is upsetting to the anti-tax types who don’t want to do anything. There also is vocal opposition from an element of Porter County, Ind., who want to keep a rural isolation from Chicago.

I don’t hate these people for feeling this way. There ought to be limits as to how far out one can be and still think of themselves as being in the Chicago area. I can’t imagine wanting to take a 2.5-hour train ride from LaSalle to Chicago. I’d go stir crazy.

But maybe the late Col. Robert R. McCormick had the right idea with his talk of “Chicagoland.” The Chicago Tribune’s longtime publisher whose isolationist viewpoint dominates the newspaper’s history, saw Chicago as a region where the city proper was the capital of a great Midwestern empire that extended from Detroit to Kansas City and swallowed whole such places as St. Louis, Milwaukee and the aforementioned Indianapolis.

I once heard someone (from St. Louis) try to bad-mouth Chicagoans by saying we were nothing more than “hicks with nicer suits.” I couldn’t get too offended, because there is an element of truth.

Chicagoans are more Midwestern than we’d like to admit. We have more in common with Peoria than with San Francisco, and I don’t know of anyone who’d want to have anything in common with a New Yorker – other than some jamoke from Queens who doesn’t know any better.

That’s why I get upset when I read complaints about rural lawmakers who supported the recent measure to provide an emergency financial boost to the Chicago Transit Authority – thereby keeping buses and elevated trains running.

The Southern Illinoisan, a daily newspaper based in Carbondale, hinted recently that people should vote against any legislator come the Feb. 5 elections who cast a vote for the Chicago measure.

“We had leverage as long as the bailout and capital bills were inseparable, and the Southern Illinois lawmakers who refused to consider one proposal without the other should be thanked for their determination and perhaps remember favorably on Election Day,” the newspaper wrote, in an editorial.

Does this mean Chicagoans should have bought off the support of these lawmakers from Little Egypt by extending a Metra commuter rail line from University Park down to Carbondale? That’s ridiculous.

The problem is that some rural lawmakers do not comprehend just how much larger Chicago is than their communities. Officially, Illinois consists of 13 distinct metropolitan areas. Chicago is one area, and I know of some state lawmakers who seriously want to treat Chicago as merely 1/13th of the state – not as 25 percent of Illinois’ population (45 percent if you count the Cook County suburbs, 65 percent for the entire six-county Chicago area).

The next time I hear a rural official complain about having his local tax dollars sucked up by Chicago, I’m tempted to respond by saying I’m tired of having tax dollars used to maintain the roads and studies of train service connecting rural communities to Chicago.

Either comment is equally silly. Chicago is in a marriage with the Midwest. For better or worse, we’re linked. There’s no divorce coming anytime soon.

Places such as Bloomington and Springfield (I have lived in both towns and have pleasant memories) along with Champaign and South Bend have amenities (several quality universities and Caterpillar tractors) that actually compliment the city of Chicago.

To my mind, they boost the Chicago area’s standing as a superior place to live.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Officials in LaSalle and Peru, a pair of central Illinois towns near Pontiac, would be ever so enthused if they were to get a commuter train stop on a Metra line to downtown Chicago.

Residents around Valparaiso, Ind., are split on whether they want direct commuter train service to Chicago, as evidenced here ( and here (

Carbondale’s Southern Illinoisan newspaper is miffed, to say the least, with local legislators who supported the recent Chicago mass transit bill.

Chicago's commuter train setup already connects Chicagoans to places ranging from Kenosha, Wis., South Bend, Ind. and Manhattan (the one in Illinois, not New York). Illustration provided by Metra.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I was once a Rebel, Chicago-style

The Confederate battle flag is shown here in an historically accurate, if somewhat gruesome, setting. Illustration provided by

It was an autumn Friday afternoon in 1979 and several hundred high school students sat in the stands of their school’s football stadium – attending a pep rally that supposedly was getting them all worked up for the Big Game scheduled for that coming Saturday.

Then-Principal Robert Maxeiner provided what was supposed to be the rally’s “dramatic moment” when he walked out on the field to the 50-yard line and opened up his jacket, thereby exposing his special school-spirit vest – one that depicted the Confederate battle flag across his chest.

Off to one end of the stadium, an identical Confederate flag flew – albeit on the same pole underneath a U.S. flag. The school’s athletic teams were known as the Rebels.

Sports teams wore gray uniforms with red trim, as did the short-skirted cheerleaders. Marching band members wore a similar color scheme, although their uniforms were designed to resemble those of Confederate infantry, complete down to gray forage caps with a crossed-sword insignia. The band’s leader dressed in a pompous get-up meant to resemble an officer’s uniform.

The mascot? Ritchie Rebel, a saber-waving Southern soldier, who was prepared to die to keep his homeland free from the Yankee scourge.

Had one gone inside the school building, they would have seen gray and red everywhere, along with Ritchie Rebel logos, lots of rhetoric about the Confederacy and “the South will rise again” and even a Confederate battle flag painted on the floor at the basketball arena’s center court.

I can cite all of this because I was there.

No, I did not do any time in high school in Mississippi, Alabama or any place that was once a part of the failed concept of the Confederate States of America. I wasn’t even in a place like Cairo, Ill., where locals sympathized with the South but never tried secession.

I was right here in Cook County, Ill. The 1979-80 academic year was my first year of high school, and I was a student that year at T.F. South High School in Lansing, Ill.

Yes, I was a Rebel, although I’m sure a real Dixie-style rebel would think I’m nothing more than a damnyankee.

For what it’s worth, T.F. South that year lost the Big Game 13-0 to arch rival T.F. North (the Meteors, not the Yankees). The star for the Rebels that year was Mark Butkus, nephew of football great Dick Butkus. They were overcome by North’s star quarterback – a guy by the name of Mike Tomczak.

All that Confederate imagery overcomes in my mind a high school football game that saw so many of its participants go on to play for the Chicago Bears (Mark Butkus did one year on special teams, while Tomczak was the team’s quarterback at one point). It was ridiculous.

I thought so then, and I think of it every time I hear that people in the South still cling to the old battle flag as a symbol of their heritage – without caring that the same imagery brings to mind the days of segregation and second-class citizenship for African-American people.

With the Democratic presidential primaries now shifting to South Carolina, we’re going to hear lots of debate this week about the Confederate flag and its ideals.

On Monday alone, there were dueling rallies outside the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. One was to honor the memory of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., while the other was meant to pay tribute to Southern heritage, which is what the flag’s supporters claim their banner is all about.

In a sense, the “Southern heritage” people won the battle on Monday. The Confederate battle flag could be seen flying from a nearby soldiers’ memorial by those people who were present to honor King. That is just a gross juxtaposition of images.

How seriously is the battle flag taken as a political issue?

Polls taken recently in South Carolina indicate that some of the state’s voters took it personally that both John McCain and Mitt Romney refused to support the concept of the flag, and chose to give their votes to other candidates in the weekend’s Republican primary. Also, GOP candidate Mike Huckabee is getting criticized in some quarters for crudely coming out in support of people who like the flag.

On the other side, many African American voters who make up a significant share of the Democratic Party’s base in South Carolina are looking for their candidates to take a stand against the banner and its ideals for which people like President Abraham Lincoln ultimately died to oppose.

I always thought the flag’s supporters were people from areas that were just too isolated from the rest of the world to understand the negative connotations carried by the Confederacy and its symbols.

For those Southerners who say of the flag, “it’s heritage, not hate,” I’d have to argue that there are aspects of the Confederacy’s heritage that are just downright hateful.

Not that such isolation is limited to the rural South.

The willingness of my high school colleagues to accept the whole Confederate imagery was due to a racial isolation that was in place in those southern suburbs back then.

Many of my classmates had parents who were raised in neighborhoods on the South Side, but then fled when African-American people started moving into nearby neighborhoods in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was a white ethnic atmosphere (one generation removed) at T.F. South back then. My memory recalls there being six African-American students out of about 1,000 in the school the year I was there, although my search through the school’s yearbook only shows two – and none of them were in the graduating class of 1980.

I don’t think I was surrounded by a batch of segregationist-wannabes. It was just ignorance about history and what the Confederate imagery actually represented that allowed a batch of Yankees from the Land of Lincoln to use a comic-book version of the South.

How ignorant were my fellow students? I remember one who was convinced that the Confederacy must have won the Civil War, because Lansing would not have named a high school for a losing side.

Ignorance sometimes went too far.

I remember one event used by the Student Council to try to raise some money for school activities. Students purchased a series of tickets, then gave them to Student Council members – for which the council members had to perform tasks (such as carrying one’s books to class) for the student.

The event was billed as Slave Day. The very memory makes me cringe now. I can’t remember anyone getting bent out of shape back then.

I haven’t been back to T.F. South since I transferred to another high school district in 1980, although I understand they have toned down the Confederacy imagery considerably, particularly after members of the General Assembly’s black caucus threatened in the early 1990s to start playing politics with the school’s state funding.

Sports teams are still called the Rebels (Lady Rebels for the girls, just like the sports teams at Ole’ Miss) and wear red and gray. But everything else is gone. Underneath the U.S. flag at the football stadium these days is a red banner with the word “Rebels” in gray.

Modern-day students, I am told, look at our old yearbooks, see our pictures and think we were ridiculous – and not just because of the gaudy ‘70s-era clothes we wore to school. For that, I am glad.

Perhaps someday, a similar epiphany will be experienced across the land of Dixie.

My dream is that the day comes when our Southern brethren who also are an important part of the culture of the United States of America will see the nastiness in their continuing use of the Confederate battle flag and countless statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee – which only stir up the unpleasant memories of Jim Crow.


EDITOR’S NOTE: If anyone thinks I am exaggerating about what the school’s atmosphere was like, this website ( put together by T.F. South alumni from just two years prior to my time as a student there shows some samples of the old imagery.

Here’s a British take ( on the Confederate flag situation.

Generations of suburban Chicago pseudo-Confederates showed their school spirit by slathering layer upon layer of paint on this 'spirit rock.' Photograph provided by

Monday, January 21, 2008

Who gets to say they're Latino?

Rich Bradley (left) is challenging Iris Martinez in the Feb. 5 elections for her seat in Springfield. Photographs provided by Illinois General Assembly

On the surface, it is just a Chicago neighborhood election for a seat in the Illinois Senate.

But the candidates wishing to go to Springfield to represent a set of Northwest Side neighborhoods have managed to touch on an issue that impacts Hispanic people across the United States. Namely, who exactly gets to use the label “Latino?”

Illinois state Rep. Rich Bradley, D-Chicago, a 12-year veteran of the Illinois House of Representatives, says he has decided to try to move up politically to a higher-ranking office. He has decided to run for a seat in the Illinois state Senate.

What is really happening here is that the daughter of Chicago Alderman Dick Mell has decided she wants to run for political office, and she has decided to run for the post now held by Bradley. To avert a political brawl with the family of a high-ranking Chicago alderman, Bradley decided it would be easier to knock off the incumbent state senator from his home neighborhood.

That would be state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, who understandably has no desire to be dumped from electoral politics just because Bradley is being squeezed out of his incumbent position.

Martinez is appealing to the growing Spanish-speaking population in the neighborhoods represented by the legislative district, hoping to get them to comprehend that some “Anglo” guy is trying to knock one of their own out of a political post.

There’s only problem with this strategy.

It turns out Bradley has just as much right to claim the Hispanic/Latino label as Martinez. His mother’s side of the family comes from Mexico. His grandparents on his mother’s side of the family come from the Mexican state of Guanajuato (which also happens to be the state where my paternal grandfather was born).

If Bradley had been named in the Castilian Spanish tradition, he would be Ricardo Bradley Cerda.

His mother went so far last week as to have her son’s campaign distribute a prepared statement on her behalf demanding an apology from Martinez about her claims that Bradley is just another political white boy.

“As a woman proud of her 100 percent Mexican background, I was shocked and appalled to… read that Iris Martinez’ campaign had called my son the ‘non-Latino’ candidate,” Margaret Cerda said. “This is an insult to our family, who always took pride in their Latino heritage after moving to the United States from Mexico.”

For what it’s worth, Bradley has not kept his ethnic ties a secret. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund – which wants to elect as many Hispanic/Latino lawmakers as possible – made a special effort to ensure that political people who prepared the legislative district boundaries in 2001 were aware of Bradley’s Mexican ethnicity so that he would be given a “safe” district to run for office in.

Now I don’t expect Martinez -- who in 2003 became the first Latina/Hispanic woman elected to serve in the Illinois Senate – to get all concerned about hurting Rich Bradley’s feelings. I don’t expect her to issue an apology anytime soon to Margaret Cerda.

It doesn’t even surprise me to learn that candidates are taking verbal cheap shots against their political opponents. Electoral politics played by “Chicago rules” almost mandates such accusations – particularly in the lower level legislative races where about the only way to gain any attention from potential voters is to stir up some sort of trouble.

But dragging ethnicity issues into this political debate stinks.

I would hate to think that Hispanic/Latino people are going to have to start providing detailed genealogical studies in order to justify their use of the ethnic label. I wonder if, to people like Martinez, I need to start identifying myself as “Gregorio Tejeda Vargas,” just to reiterate that grandparents on both sides of my family came from Mexico.

I’m not comfortable bringing up degrees of ethnicity and trying to set standards about who qualifies and who does not. To my mindset, it reeks too much of the old racial standards by which people in this country were judged based on what percentage of “white” versus “black” blood they allegedly had coursing through their veins.

Bradley actually wouldn’t be the most prominent political victim of Hispanic confusion.

Aides to former Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson said their efforts to gain support among Latino/Hispanic voters would have been so much easier had their candidate had a Spanish last name.
Photograph provided by New Mexico governor's office

Would candidate Guillermo Richardson Lopez (that’s what his name would have been, had his Irish-American father and Mexican mother named him in the Castilian Spanish tradition) be running even with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in this year’s presidential race?

Who’s to say?

With his droll campaign style and lack of decent funding, Richardson might still be on his way back to Santa Fe to fulfill his duties as New Mexico governor. But there wouldn’t be so much confusion about his ethnic roots, even though to me one look at Richardson’s face makes me see his “mestizo” roots and realize that he is a “Mexicano” at heart.

Then, there’s my all-time favorite Hispanic/Latino guy who got stuck going through life with an Anglo name – the late actor Anthony Quinn.

He was born Antonio Quinn Oaxaca in Mexico, and the Irish Quinn portion of his name originated with his paternal grandfather, who married into a Mexican family and went native.

Be honest.

How many of you assumed after watching “Zorba the Greek” and seeing his skin tone, that Hollywood went out and got a real Greek guy to play a Greek part? They didn’t, although Quinn’s appearance there is not as ridiculous as the notion of Natalie Wood playing the female lead role of a Puerto Rican girl in the film version of “West Side Story.”

In Quinn’s case, he got the chance to play Mexican roles when he was more established in his career – particularly in the 1978 film “Children of Sanchez,” based on a 1950s sociological study of life in a Mexico City slum neighborhood, and 1995’s “A Walk in the Clouds.”

Getting back to Bradley, he is just as much a Mexican as an Irish guy. His half-Anglo roots should not be held against him. Nobody’s perfect.

Having the ethnicity issue brought up is just too low a blow, even in a city where a liberal Jewish guy once campaigned for mayor against a black man by urging voters to cast their ballots for him, “before it’s too late.” Besides, there are enough other issues for the two to run on. It’s not like Bradley and Martinez ought to be natural allies.

Bradley is a long-time supporter of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, whereas Martinez is allied with state Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, and has said publicly she sides with Gov. Rod Blagojevich in his political differences against Madigan.

I have no problem if the two of them want to turn their legislative campaigns into a surrogate brawl between the forces of Madigan and Blagojevich. That’s fair play. As writer Finley Peter Dunne’s ever-quotable Chicago bartender character Mr. Dooley often told us, “politics ain’t beanbag.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the full letter Bradley’s campaign sent out on behalf of his mother, read here.

Here are the official legislative biographies for state Rep. Rich Bradley ( and state Sen. Iris Martinez (