Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Former Lottery chief now social secretary

While most people were paying attention to President-elect Barack Obama on Monday because of his Treasury Department appointments, the one that caught my eye was his choice of a social secretary.

The woman who will be in charge of the staff that coordinates social engagements in the Obama-run White House will be Desiree Rogers, the one-time Illinois Lottery director under former Gov. Jim Edgar.

ROGERS, IN RECENT years, was working for Allstate Financial as manager of social networking, and had also been president of Peoples Gas for several years.

But the political stint that set up her ability to draw these corporate gigs was her six years as director of the Illinois Department of the Lottery. Which is an official way of saying she ran the modern-day (and completely legal) equivalent of the old “numbers” racket.

Rogers was in charge of the state agency that managed the lottery in a way that made it seem glamorous and fun and a path toward achieving dreams, rather than just some flaky games with near-impossible odds by which people who least could afford it were throwing away their last dollar to buy a “chance” at getting rich quick.

I can remember being a reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago who covered Lottery press conferences featuring some of the tawdriest people who could be found by Central Casting, only to be staged by Rogers and her staff in ways that made their stories sound like the “American Dream” come true.

IF IT SOUNDS like I’m saying that Rogers is an expert at presenting fantasy, then perhaps she is perfectly qualified for the job of coordinating the details by which the Obama White House becomes a magical place (think JFK’s “Camelot,” only 21st Century and more urban), instead of the setting for a presidency that is getting hit with an unpopular war and devastating economic struggles on Day One.

One bit of irony strikes me in the appointment. Back in the day when Rogers was a state agency director, her husband was John Rogers, an executive with Ariel Capital Management who back then had his own political appointment with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (McCormick Place and Navy Pier). Now, he’s one of three Chicago-oriented co-chairs of the committee coordinating the inauguration festivities.

If someone had told me some 15 years ago that we would someday have an African-American couple from Chicago living in the White House, I would have guessed it would be the Rogers, with their long-time friends, Barack and Michelle, being brought along to work on their White House staff.

What else was notable about the news of the world, as perceived from the World’s Greatest City on the shores of Lake Michigan (and don’t say Milwaukee).

HOOVER ELEMENTARY WAS SLOW ON THE DRAW: So much for the suburban Calumet City school that wanted to be the first in the nation to rename itself for Obama. Ludlum Elementary School in Hempstead, N.Y., will get that “honor.”

Officials with the Hoover-Shrum School District had wanted to rename their elementary school from honoring former president Herbert Hoover to Obama. Officials in the district had implied they wanted the first “Obama School” in the nation to be an Illinois school.

But while Calumet City school officials were trying to build up support, officials with the New York-based school district just up and went and adopted the new name.

This could just be the start of a trend to rename thinks for Barack. Some reports note that officials in Antigua want to rename their Caribbean island nation’s mountain from Boggy Peak to Mount Obama.

SINCE WHEN IS A SENATE SEAT AN X-MAS GIFT?: Gov. Rod Blagojevich may be trying to insert some levity into the oh-so-serious debate about a U.S. Senate replacement for Barack Obama, but is it really appropriate for him to think of his appointment as a “Christmas gift” to some Illinois politico?

That’s how he referred to his yet-to-be-made decision about picking an Obama replacement, for which he has had some talks with political people interested in the post. And he reportedly had a telephone conversation with Illinois’ other U.S. senator – Richard Durbin – Monday afternoon.

Considering how many people around Illinois seem offended that Blagojevich has any say in the replacement (Illinois law lets him make the pick, based on whatever criteria he thinks is relevant), it is mistaken for Blagojevich to even joke about the Senate position as though it is his to grant, rather than a position of responsibility to the people of Illinois.

Of course, there’s one thing tackier. That was seeing Blagojevich and the Illinois first family taking part Monday in ceremonies at the Thompson Center state government building to light the state’s official Christmas tree. Couldn’t they wait until Friday, after Thanksgiving, rather than join the masses who are stretching the holiday season out way too long.

WE’RE NUMBER TWO?!?: I’m still trying to figure out the logic of the Chicago White Sox shelling out a few million dollars to break their lease to have spring training in Tuscon, Ariz.

The White Sox were sharing a fairly new stadium complex with the Arizona Diamondbacks for pre-season workouts and exhibition games, but now will go to Glendale, Ariz., where they will share a brand-new stadium complex with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As I comprehend it, the White Sox are moving to a suburb of Phoenix along with nearly a dozen other major league teams. Travel expenses and details will be minimal, compared to when they trained in Tuscon – about a two-hour bus ride from most other teams they would play in Cactus League activity. Either way, the White Sox wind up being the “number two team” in their own spring training park.

One bit of historic irony in the move – the Arizona Cardinals football team play their games in a stadium in Glendale. Back in the days when they were the Chicago Cardinals representing the Sout’ Side in the NFL, they played their games at the White Sox’ Comiskey Park.


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