Saturday, February 28, 2009

Governor Quinn putting some thought into issues, but getting them mixed up

With Illinois government officials these days in a mode of wanting to undo just about anything associated with Rod Blagojevich, it is nice to see that Gov. Pat Quinn is not giving knee-jerk approval to everything put forth.

Quinn took a stance this week on at least two matters that were high-profile Blagojevich decisions during his six years as governor. On one, he undid Blagojevich.

BUT ON THE other, he’s inclined to agree with Milorod.

The two issues involved Blagojevich’s attempt to curry favor with senior citizens by declaring that everybody over age 65 qualifies for free rides on public transit systems across the state (my mother would qualify, if she ever got around to applying for the special permit needed to actually use the system).

But one of Blagojevich’s attempts at cutting state spending was to shut down seven of the state parks located in rural parts of the state, which also are among the few attractions that get people from around Illinois and the United States to actually consider visiting those communities.

Quinn on Wednesday signed an order that re-opened those state parks. But on Friday, he told reporter-types that he would reject any measure approved by the General Assembly to repeal the free rides for senior citizens.

HE THINKS GIVING the elderly residents of the state who may depend more heavily on mass transit if they’re no longer capable of driving an automobile a financial break is a worthy goal.

Now on the latter matter, I think the General Assembly is going overboard. It is going to be like the Legislature’s behavior back in 1997-98. Those were the two years following the two-year period in which the Republican Party’s officials controlled every single state government office of significance.

When Democrats regained control in the Illinois House of Representatives, they insisted on trying to pass bills repealing every politically partisan measure the GOP-led Legislature enacted into law.

Admittedly, the Illinois Supreme Court wound up striking down the most draconian of those measures. But it got silly watching the Legislature engage in a whole batch of actions whose purpose seemed to be to re-write history.

AFTER ALL, IF the GOP-desired “laws” were no longer on the books, perhaps we could pretend that the whole Republican Domination of Illinois government never happened.

That seems to be the same mode of thought these days for legislators – Let’s Pretend Blagojevich Never Happened!

Well, he did, and it can’t be erased, even if legislators maintain their stubbornness and refuse to let him hang his official portrait in the Statehouse’s Hall of Governors.

But this might be one area where there ought to be some sort of change. After all, it’s not like every senior citizen will use mass transit – even though in the Chicago area, the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra commuter trains and Pace suburban buses gave about 25 million rides to older people during the past year.

SOME SENIOR CITIZENS probably can use the perk. But there is some room for change. I’d hate to see Quinn react improperly just because he’d like to get the votes of elder residents (and registered voters) when he likely runs for election to his own term as governor in 2010.

At a time when mass transit in the Chicago area fears a revenue shortfall for the current year, I’d hate to think partisan politics were getting thrown into the mix on this issue.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder if Quinn should have so eagerly re-opened those state parks. That action also seems politically motivated – he wants the votes of those rural Illinois residents who believe that Blagojevich was too Chicago-oriented (foolish people) for their tastes.

That is what caused the state parks such as Illini at Marsailles, Hidden Springs State Forest in Strasburg, Moraine View in Leroy, Weldon Springs in Clinton, Wolf Creek in Windsor, and Castle Creek and Lowdon in Oregon to be re-opened – effective Thursday.

NOW I CAN understand the need to make a gesture to rural Illinois, which felt snubbed by Blagojevich in so many ways (including the non-issue of his refusal to live with his wife and two young daughters full-time in the Executive Mansion).

But I can’t help but wonder if this was an issue that should have been held off on until the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. At a time when the state is trying to figure out how to plug a $9 billion budget shortfall, every single dollar matters. Reopening these parks now will cost money from the current state budget.

This might have been an issue where action could have been held off. Those people who feel the need to venture into the rural Illinois take on Mother Nature could just as easily do so come July or August as in March or April.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Perhaps Pat Quinn should reverse his actions – allow some changes in free mass transit fares ( while letting some state parks (,0,7642727.story) remain shuttered for a few more months.

I don’t have any problem with Quinn’s decision to change state practices and NOT put his (,0,116294.story) name on every public sign in sight.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shadur name to be linked w/ Vrdolyak

To a certain generation of Chicagoans, the name of “Milton Shadur” is going to be a slur of sorts – something you call someone who does something so despicable that it defies easy explanation.

What is it that the federal judge of nearly three decades (he was appointed to a post in the U.S. District Court for Chicago by President Jimmy Carter) did that was so bad, in the minds of Chicagoans of a certain age?


Shadur is the judge who told prosecutors on Thursday that they were being “greedy” by wanting to send one-time Ald Edward R. Vrdolyak to a federal prison for at least 3 ½ years (41 months, to be exact).

During the morning portion of Vrdolyak’s sentencing hearing held in Shadur’s Dirksen Building courtroom, the judge said he could see circumstances where a sentence of more like 6 months would be appropriate.

And some legal observers took up airtime during the mid-day television newscasts to speculate that Vrdolyak could wind up getting just probation. Or at worst, home confinement – meaning he’d have to wear one of those ankle bracelet devices while lounging around his East Side neighborhood residence (which is a fenced-in mini-mansion with private tennis court, surrounded by working-class bungalows and the remains of steel mills visible in the distance).

IN THE END, Eddie got 5 years – of probation. No “Oxford education” (incarceration at the minimum-security facility at Oxford, Wis.) for Vrdolyak.

Now conservative critics of Shadur usually point to analysis written by judicial monitoring groups that contend he is an activist judge with a high rate of his rulings overturned on appeal.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers, in its evaluation written in 1991, said that Shadur upsets attorneys with his practice of, “freely criticizing attorneys in his written opinions.”

So in that sense, Shadur’s behavior on Thursday was totally in character, when he attacked prosecutors in the Vrdolyak case for what he believed was their overstating of the harm suffered by the former Chicago Medical School.

VRDOLYAK PLEADED GUILTY earlier this year to criminal charges related to the sale of a building owned by the school. Prosecutors say Vrdolyak used his connections to direct the sale to a specific group, then was to split a $1.5 million fee.

But Shadur said he did not see evidence that Vrdolyak ever got any of that money, and that he did not see how it was that drastically different from a finder’s fee typically paid to people in real estate transactions.

That might be a logical way to look at the incident. In fact, it is unusual to find instances where judges are willing to stand up to prosecutors. All too many judges in our various court systems behave as though they think they are supposed to cooperate with prosecutors – and view the defense as “the problem.”

If only everybody would just admit their guilt to whatever a prosecutor said they did, the judicial system would be a lot less clogged.

BUT WHEN IT comes to Vrdolyak, logic goes out the window. The long-time alderman from the far southeast corner of Chicago (the land where Indiana, and not Lake Michigan, lies beyond the eastern boundary) stirs up emotions in people old enough to remember the 1980s and earlier.

Vrdolyak was one of the aldermen who helped prop up former Mayor Jane Byrne when she ran against Michael Bilandic, then turned against her so much that she was virtually unelectable when she tried to go for a second term in the 1983 elections.

That, of course, was the election that saw the supposed Byrne/Richard M. Daley race turn into the coronation of Harold Washington as Chicago’s first African-American mayor.

Those first couple of years of the Washington era (1983-87) are what Vrdolyak will be remembered for. He was the alderman whose persona made him the leader of the 29 City Council members who were willing to openly defy Washington’s initiative – out of hopes that a future mayor could come along and save the city from whatever damage Washington caused.

THE OLD “COUNCIL Wars” sketches performed by comedian Aaron Freeman literally used to parody the Star Wars films by depicting “Harold Skytalker” doing battle against “Darth Vrdolyak.”

To this day, there are some people who live in the East Side and Hegewisch neighborhoods who will praise the name of Vrdolyak for creating an atmosphere that kept black people out of their respective neighborhoods.

But there is another portion of the population from those days who viewed Vrdolyak and his actions as an embarrassment for Chicago’s reputation (moreso than anything done by Rod Blagojevich these days is embarrassing).

When the Wall Street Journal published a story about Chicago politics from that era and labeled the city “Beirut by the Lake,” they were talking about Vrdolyak’s obstructionist behavior – which only ended when the courts forced a redrawing of the boundaries of certain wards to create districts capable of electing people sympathetic to Washington.

TO THOSE PEOPLE, this current case against Vrdolyak was long-overdue punishment. He was going to be carted off to prison, and some of the masses from that past era would have cheered.

It might have seemed to the Washington supporter of old like Al Capone being busted by the feds for income tax evasion rather than his criminal domination of Chicago’s public life in the 1920s, but they would have taken it just for the sight of “Fast Eddie” being led off to jail.

Instead, it won’t happen. He got what many people will consider to be minimal punishment for his lifetime of political influence. And that will cause them to view the judge more harshly than he deserves.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jindal criticism reflects GOP split

Listening to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal respond to President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night address was uneventful, as far as I was concerned.

Jindal, a Republican, hit all the GOP talking points when it comes to trying to portray Democrats as out of touch with their vision of what our society ought to be like. And considering that his “official Republican response” came less than a half-hour after Obama finished talking, why should we expect it to be different.

HEARING THE OPPOSITION party provide a response to a presidential address of any kind always struck me as phony. The idea that this person mentally digested everything the president had to say, then came up with a coherent speech in such a short amount of time is ridiculous.

Of course, it’s going to be largely rehearsed, and probably written in advance of the president’s actual comments. At most, there might be a last-minute touchup of language to mildly reflect whatever it was that came from the president’s mouth.

All that is the reason why I found it ridiculous on Wednesday to learn that the political pundits and other observers are trashing Jindal’s response – not so much because they thought anything Obama said was all that profound. Bobby Jindal takes the oath of office as Louisiana governor, and some people like to dream that he will take a similar oath in Washington in January of 2013. Photograph provided by State of Louisiana.

But they are saying he stuck too close to the GOP ideological line in issuing a politically partisan criticism of the president.

SERIOUSLY, WHAT ELSE was he supposed to do?

To me, the significance of what Jindal had to say was to confirm that the Age of Obama has not taken over the mindset of the nation. There are people who are going to view the Obama Administration as the problem, and will spend their next four (or perhaps eight) years trying to figure out how to stymie it – if not take it down altogether.

That is the reality of partisan politics. And there is a degree to which this is a good thing. The last thing anyone should ever want is a government controlled entirely by one political party or ideological thought process.

There ought to be a strong opposition party in political matters.

THINGS WERE BAD during the two-year span (1995 and 1996) when Republicans ran all of Illinois government, and the fact that the party has so quickly become irrelevant in Illinois is truly pathetic.

Think of how much better off Illinois would be these days if the GOP had some influence. Perhaps former Gov. Rod Blagojevich would have been more compelled to try to work with his Democratic “colleagues” if there was a Republican opposition.

Instead, he took the approach that the Democrats were supposed to follow his ways. When they didn’t, it was their fault for not being properly appreciative of him.

But back to the national scene, where Jindal is being trashed for what some people would say was his “job” on Tuesday night – merely reminding us that Republicans will be an opposition, rather than puppets to go along with his bidding.

HE REMINDED US that the Republicans are not going to go along on the stimulus, and semi-secretly are hoping for something that can be construed as failure – so they can then go around telling us, “we told you so.”

It is because of moments like this that I think Obama’s call for bipartisanship throughout his campaign and in the early weeks of his presidency is a bit naïve.

Sure, it’s nice not to play partisan games with public policy. But it’s not realistic to think that other people are going to feel the same way about Obama.

It even struck me as silly that some people criticized Jindal for his verbal delivery. Some say his voice was “flat.”

ACTUALLY, IT WAS his voice that most caught my attention during his presidential response. Jindal may have an Indian ethnic background, but it became very clear that this is a person who spent the bulk of his life in the rural south.

He had the same drawl as any other political person from Dixie. And I’m sure that is one reason why there are some people in this country who are more comfortable with a Jindal than an Obama (who comes across to some people in this country as way too citified – which is also the reason why others in the country like him as much as they do) when it comes to the type of ethnic minority they are comfortable having as a political leader.

I’m sure some people see a Jindal as trying to talk and sound like “an American” whereas they think Obama has a ways to go.

What I got from listening to Bobby Jindal speak was a reminder that this nation still has its basic ideological split (the blue vs. the red, north vs. south, urban vs. rural, or however else you choose to characterize it).

SOMETIMES, I THINK Obama’s most hardcore supporters are so blinded by their ideological love for the Chicago politico-turned-president that they assume everybody else feels the way they do.

In that sense, Jindal was a jolt of reality that for some people was long overdue.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Here is Bobby Jindal’s account of his moment of national ( significance.

Nobody should have expected an “Obama-like” moment from Jindal’s televised address ( that followed the president.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is reality registering with Burris?

Illinois’ two members of the U.S. Senate had a personal discussion Tuesday, and most people are focusing on the end that came from the mouth of Richard Durbin.

Durbin told Roland Burris that he ought to resign from the Senate. If he doesn’t, Durbin will publicly support somebody else come the 2010 elections.

YET THE PART of the conversation that came from Burris’ mouth was the part that intrigued me. He told Durbin he’s not sure yet if he’s even going to run for re-election.

There’s always the chance that Burris didn’t mean it. He might have been saying whatever it was he thought Durbin wanted to hear, in order to shut him up from talking about an uncomfortable subject.

I could envision how having to hear that the guy who’s supposed to be your biggest supporter wants you to go away could be a blow to the Burris ego. And having to admit that you don’t really stand much of a chance of winning re-election to a full term of your own must hurt the mindset of the man who thinks of himself as a political trailblazer.

But learning that Burris is willing to say he might not seek election to a full term strikes me as a step forward – particularly since I have always been more tolerant than some political observers toward Roland because I always saw him as a candidate who was merely a fill-in for the remainder of the six-year Senate term to which Barack Obama was elected in 2004.

THE FACT THAT he had been around for so long would mean he’d be able to hit the ground running, and not spend the entire two years learning about the ways of government.

I preferred the thought of a fill-in, because I wouldn’t want any of the political younger set to get such a hearty heads-up as being able to claim incumbency when next year’s elections come around in Illinois.

Let Alexi Giannoulias, Dan Hynes and any other 30-something with ambitions of being a U.S. Senate member from Chicago (to balance out Durbin’s being the Senator from downstate Illinois) fight it out in the primary season, then take on whichever person the Republican Party in this state manages to nominate.

Who knows? Perhaps Chicago Urban League executive director Cheryle Jackson (who once was a spokeswoman to now impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich) could run a credible campaign for the Senate seat – thereby giving the people who want the seat to remain in the hands of an African-American politico to have someone serious to vote for.

WHEN IT COMES to Lisa Madigan, I am amazed at how often her name gets thrown into the Senate mix, even though I’m convinced that she takes after her father (Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago) in being that rare breed of Chicago person who actually finds Springfield, Ill., an interesting enough place to have a political career.

That means she’s likely to be the youthful type who takes on Pat Quinn, who earlier this week said he sees no reason why he shouldn’t run for his own term as governor in next year’s elections.

But back to Burris!

I know there are people who think it is wrong for anyone to suggest that it is proper for loyal Democrats to even consider taking on an incumbent Senator – even if his incumbency is only one month long.

BUT I’M WILLING to let Burris hang on (somehow, I still think censure in the Senate, which will forevermore portray him as a goof on the D.C. Scene, is appropriate) if it is just for a two-year period.

I’d rather not put the state of Illinois through having to have a governor pick yet another member of the Senate. And I definitely don’t want the thought of a special election, since it would be expensive and put us through the agony of a campaign season that we’re going to have to endure again in 2010.

Do we, the people of Illinois, really deserve to have to endure two seasons of electoral politics nonsense within the span of just over one year? I find that concept to be more absurd than anything that could possibly come from the mind of Roland Burris.

So what happens now?

I DON’T EVER expect Roland Burris to reach a point in his mindset where he would voluntarily walk away from Capitol Hill. What else is he going to do? Become one of thousands of attorneys trying to earn a living in Chicago? Or perhaps spend his days puttering around his Gresham neighborhood house (once owned by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson) while collecting his pensions earned from past government service?

And officials concede that the process for expelling a member from the U.S. Senate is limited to specific circumstances – none of which currently apply to Burris’ predicament. As the New York Times quoted Durbin as saying, “I can’t force him out.”

If that’s the case, then I’d just as soon have our political people move ahead with trying to find solutions to the economic troubles confronting our nation and our state.

There’s still that budget shortfall Illinois government will face. I’d hate to think of the long-term damage that could be caused to our taxpayers because our political people decided they’d rather blow off financial troubles so they could figure out ways to torture Roland Burris.


EDITOR’S NOTES: A 45-minute conversation between two longtime Illinois pols could give ( us a clue as to what the next two years ( will be like politically.

Roland, Roland, Roland will keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ ( on the D.C. Scene, for the time being.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Calumet City & Cicero to have differing Election Day outcomes on Tuesday

In one of the ironies of Campaign ’09, two suburban elections that got mired in the judicial system centered around an identical issue – yet wound up with opposite results.

Calumet City and Cicero both have incumbent mayors who wanted to run unopposed in the primary elections taking place Tuesday. In both cases, the leading opponent was a local police officer who got it into her/his head that they could challenge the incumbent.

IN BOTH CASES, local electoral boards bounced the law enforcement/political wannabes from the primary ballot by claiming that the law prevented police officers from becoming politicians.

In the case of Calumet City, they interpreted state law to say that only firefighters could have political aspirations, while Cicero officials said they had a local law preventing their cops from running for elective office.

Both suburbs wound up spending the bulk of the past couple of months in court, as the politically motivated police officers used the judicial system to try to force local elections officials to print their names on the ballots.

But that is where the similarity ends.

IN CICERO, ROBERTO Garcia got a Cook County judge last week to issue an order saying that the law does NOT prevent police officers from running for office – only from trying to serve as police officers and politicians simultaneously.

But in Calumet City, Pam Cap was not so lucky. Although her name appeared on ballots used at early voting centers across Cook County, an Illinois appellate court ruling last week knocked her off the ballot – and all those people who voted for Cap in early voting have the knowledge that their ballots are now considered spoiled for “mayor.”

Votes cast for Cap don’t count for anything on Tuesday.

Now it struck me as odd (as it did several law enforcement observers) that someone would claim a police officer can’t have political aspirations. After all, one of the long-time veterans of the City Council – Edward Burke – was once a police officer.

AND I CAN remember from my stint covering the Illinois Legislature the era of state Sen. Walter Dudycz, R-Chicago, who was a Chicago cop before going into politics and remained with the Chicago police department (on a permanent leave of absence) even after getting elected.

Those two are just part of a long tradition of police officers who get elected to one office or another.

But the local officials gave their interpretation of the law to apply to their own situations. So what is the difference between west suburban Cicero and south suburban Calumet City that nearly identical (at least from a legal standpoint) cases wound up with opposite results?

In the case of Cicero, a Cook County judge was forced to consider the merits of the legal argument that police should not be politicians. Attorneys for both suburban towns claim that police should have to give up their police positions before running for office – which would leave them with no income while campaigning.

BUT IN CALUMET City’s case, attorneys managed to prevent the issue from ever being considered by a court.

The same Cook County Circuit Court that produced a judge who ruled in favor of Garcia last week wound up having to focus its attention in the Cap case on whether her campaign properly notified local electoral board officials as to her intention to sue the city.

While the Chicago-based law firm of Ancel Glink was prepared to fight the merits of Cap’s case that a cop can be a pol, attorneys hired by Calumet City were able to persuade a Cook County judge that she could not hear the appeal because officials were improperly notified.

And an Illinois appellate panel in Chicago last week, in upholding the Cook County judge’s ruling, specifically said that without strict adherence to procedures in electoral law, no other issues were relevant.

SO IN ONE sense, the attorneys hired by Calumet City (including long-time election law expert Burton S. Odelson) were sharp. They outfoxed the opposition. They did their job. They “won” the case for their client – the government of the City of Calumet City.

The political observer in me almost admires them for skillful use of the law to advance politically partisan motives, which is typical of electoral boards in all towns. Every election cycle produces stories of some government entity where a serious challenger never even got to run for office.

And some people defend such measures these days by reminding us that Barack Obama won his first elective office in the Illinois Senate by getting his opponent, incumbent state Sen. Alice Palmer, D-Chicago, booted from the ballot (for insufficient valid signatures on her nominating petitions). This is an issue where the victors' viewpoint ultimately prevails.

As often came out in the court hearings involved in these two cases, electoral boards historically were supposed to be entities with great authority to make decisions. In fact, the law once said that electoral board rulings about who was, and who was not, on the ballot could not be appealed in any court.

SO PERHAPS IT is not some great legal surprise that Cap will not be on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot in Calumet City. Others would say that the only surprise would have been had Garcia failed in his goal to be an alternative to Cicero voters determined to vote against Town President Larry Dominick.

But it strikes me as ironic that Garcia will be able to garner votes for his political aspirations on Tuesday, while Cap has to focus her attention on a write-in campaign (which makes her a political long-shot) in the April 7 general election.


EDITOR’S NOTES: I get a kick out of reading Cicero President Larry Dominick’s “response” (,CST-NWS-cicero20.article) to learning that he will have a police officer opponent in Tuesday’s elections.

Calumet City voters will have a “routine” primary election Tuesday as Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush ( runs unopposed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

“Childish brawl” campaign TV spot not worthy of legitimate Congressional bid

Insofar as political minutia is concerned, the Congressional bid of state Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, has achieved something “significant” – it may have come up with the most memorable television spot for Campaign ’09.

Fritchey, who wants to replace Rahm Emanuel in representing the Northwest Side in Congress, has come up with what may be the most memorable television spot for Campaign ’09.

BUT IF THAT is the only thing one can say for Fritchey (who wants to replace Rahm Emanuel in representing the Northwest Side in Congress), that could become the reason he does not prevail in the special Democratic primary to be held next week.

For those of you who have watched Chicago-area television, you know what campaign ad I’m referring to.

It’s the one with two children yelling and screaming at each other, only to have Fritchey play the part of the responsible adult who tells the two to knock it off and quit acting like children.

Of course, those children are supposed to be portraying Fritchey’s most significant Democratic opponents – state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, and Cook County Board member Mike Quigley.

SO FRITCHEY KICKED off the broadcast portion of his congressional campaign by going on the attack against the two. He could have done something more positive, but decided it was more important to try to take his opponents down a notch or two.

Forget about emphasizing that he has some fairly significant endorsements thus far.

Although this ad ends with a graphic letting us know Fritchey is the Congressional preference of the Independent Voters of Illinois, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, it nearly gets lost in the shuffle of seeing two children scream and poke at each other.

I could understand Fritchey downplaying those endorsements if the Republican Party were strong enough to put up a serious candidate in the April 7 general election. But they’re not, so his support from factions of organized labor is not going to come back and bite him in the behind a month from now.

SERIOUSLY, IT IS bizarre to hear kids scream at each other over which one is more venal – the one who has worked with Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, or now-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

It is even more odd to see the time and trouble that someone went to in order to do up the girl in the advertising spot with a hairdo nearly identical to the way Feigenholtz wears her own mane.

But the fact that Fritchey hired people and spent significant money (roughly $175,000) to go to such detail to prepare an attack ad that will air until Monday strikes me as vapid. It makes me all the more glad I no longer live in this Congressional district (as I did for one summer about 25 years ago) so I won’t have to pick between the two dozen or so mopes who want to move politically “up and out” to Capitol Hill.

I suppose those people who specialize in running electoral campaigns will tell me that I am underestimating this television spot. After all, it is the one spot of this year’s election cycle that sticks in my mind. It inspired me enough to feel the need to write a commentary on the matter.

IT’S NOT LIKE I noted anything memorable about the Feigenholtz television spot that promotes her interest in healthcare issues, or her mother’s experience practicing medicine in the immigrant neighborhoods of 20th Century Chicago.

It has planted the name “Fritchey” in my brain as ranking (in this one category) above all the others. I suppose for some people, when they walk into that polling place on March 3, this advertisement could be the factor that causes them to decide who to vote for.

Yet I can’t help but think that this trivial campaign spot will turn off as many voters as it turns on.

How many people will think (as I do) that it is pompous of Fritchey to appear in the ad, quoting President Barack Obama of all people, in saying, “it’s time to put aside childish things.”

AS SOME POLITICAL observers have noted, the “charges” in the ad that the boy playing Quigley makes against the girl playing Feigenholtz are not allegations put forth by the real Quigley. They’re really Fritchey’s talking points for the campaign trail.

Hence, Feigenholtz becomes the woman who tried to work with Blagojevich and former Gov. George Ryan (even though any state legislator is going to have to work with an incumbent governor to some degree), and Quigley is the guy who’s too chummy with Stroger (although what kind of county board member would Quigley be if there wasn’t some connection).

Of course, things could be worse this campaign season.

We could have more candidates in this race with big-enough campaign funds to pay for television airtime. We could be inundated with spots, although some of the lesser candidates have tried to prepare video segments that can be seen only on the Internet.

OR, WE COULD have some of the other elections for municipal office believing that they wee worthy of political television. Anyone who has been watching Campaign ’09 as a whole knows that two of the nastiest electoral situations have taken place in south suburban Calumet City and west suburban Cicero.

Incumbent officials tried to use their local electoral boards to kick any potential challengers off the ballot – thereby making Tuesday a routine primary election in those two municipalities. Ballots for Tuesday’s elections wound up having to be decided by the courts, and weren’t settled until last week.

They failed in Cicero (Mayor Larry Dominick will face a challenger), but were successful in Calumet City (Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush got rid of her opposition, and will have significant advantages against them when they try to run write-in campaigns, both on Tuesday and on April 7).

Just think if these nasty brawls had worked their way onto our television screens? We’d have had to have a moratorium on television watching through early April.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): “R-word” pleas just as much a joke as Burris

It must stink to be Roland Burris these days.

Just a couple of days after the nationally-known mayor of his hometown wouldn’t endorse his continued stay on Capitol Hill, both his governor and the president (whose old job Burris is filling these days) had negative things to say. He’s getting it from all sides – even the youthful state treasurer felt the need to chip in with his thoughts.

IN THE CASE of Gov. Pat Quinn, he wants Roland to resign from office, and he’s using the excuse to say that he’d consider backing a special election – rather than using his state Constitutional authority to pick a replacement. I guess Pat wants to strengthen his own position from the people who have been eager to drag out this whole debacle for politically partisan reasons.

When it comes to President Barack Obama, there’s a little bit of positivity. Obama had his press secretary say that Burris should spend the weekend contemplating how badly he wants to be a Senator, and ought to come out with a complete account of how he came to be former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s choice for the U.S. Senate.

It seems that if Burris were to give a thorough account now, and quit citing the fact that he honestly answered the limited questions put forth by an Illinois House impeachment panel, Obama might be willing to consider letting Burris remain for the two years that remain on the Senate term to which Obama was elected in 2004, and which he abandoned last year when he was elected president.

Not that I expect Burris to be swayed by any of this. In fact, I’m still convinced that the people who are so eager to have a Burris resignation are doing it to advance their own partisan causes. Concern about the public good is the farthest thing from many of their minds.

IT MAKES THIS whole process seem like a lot of political people piling on Roland just to get their moment of attention, as though they are afraid of being the last political person left who has NOT criticized Burris. In today’s partisan mindset, that would be interpreted as supporting Roland.

Of course, Burris doesn’t help his cause when he acts like he did Friday when visiting the Veterans Administration hospital in suburban North Chicago. He snuck in through a side entrance so as to avoid the view and the shouted questions of reporter-types who were there to see him meet with aging military veterans.

I’m sure Burris thinks that the public will assume he’s just snubbing some broadcast twinkie who doesn’t have a clue what he/she is talking about. But instead of mentally applauding him for that, they’re going to assume he has something to hide. It makes the whole situation appear even more ludicrous.

What other news nuggets were worth noting on Friday?

ILLINOIS AG WANTS TO PURGE BURGE CASES FROM THEIR ROLLS: In theory, it makes sense for the Illinois attorney general’s office to try to remove cases involving the one-time Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge from their duties.

Burge is the one-time South Side commander whose station in the Pullman neighborhood developed a reputation for use of torture tactics against people who happened to be arrested there. The state got stuck overseeing the appeals of people who claim they were tortured after it was learned that former Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine’s law firm had represented Burge – thereby creating a potential conflict for his ability to handle the cases.

But now that Anita Alvarez is our county’s state’s attorney, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan argues the Cook County state’s attorney’s office ought to take the cases back.

The problem with all of this is that there are about 25 people currently in prison whose convictions potentially are tainted enough by Burge’s activity that they have a shot at a successful legal appeal. All this back-and-forth between offices is causing continued delays. This is one instance where Madigan may have to keep custody of these cases, just to ensure that “justice” (what this is all supposed to be about) gets done as promptly as possible.

A POLITICAL LITMUS TEST, OF SORTS: The University of Colorado campus at Boulder is going to have a pair of speakers next month, and it probably says a lot about your own political beliefs as to which one you consider to be more controversial.

Is it University of Illinois at Chicago education professor Bill Ayers? Or is it Ward Churchill, who was fired from his University of Colorado post due to allegations of plagiarism and comments he made about victims of the World Trade Center attack of 2001 being comparable to Nazis and Adolf Eichmann?

Comparing anyone or anything to the Nazi era in German history is going to lead to some people being grossly offended. Questioning the whole idea of Sept. 11, 2001 being less than a tragic moment in U.S. history will offend as well.

But it amazes me the way to which some people of socially conservative ideological beliefs remain miffed that the existence of the one-time Weatherman (an anti-war group of the Vietnam era that took its activism way too seriously) among Barack Obama’s acquaintances did not immediately send his campaign crashing to the ground – and give us a “President John McCain.”

WILL THE OLYMPICS FOLLOW THE WORLD CUP LEAD?: Officials who are trying to bring the 2016 summer Olympic Games to Chicago admit they are willing to share some of the activity with other cities.

When it comes to staging Olympic soccer, they are willing to have preliminary matches played in stadiums in other cities, with the medal-round matches played in Chicago. Such venues as the Rose Bowl could be used, along with stadiums in Minneapolis, Philadelphia and St. Louis, along with the suburbs of New York and Washington, could be used.

Now I’m sure that some people affiliated with the bids of Toyko, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro will argue this as evidence that Chicago is incapable of hosting the games by themselves.

But it strikes me as similar to the way they conduct the World Cup tournament held every four years to show off the top international squads for soccer. That tournament is merely awarded to a country, with matches spread throughout several cities. I remember the 1994 World Cup held in the United States – where Chicago held the opening ceremonies and first matches, then games were moved to stadiums in cities such as Dallas, Detroit and Orlando, Fla., with semi-final matches in New York and Washington and Brazil beating Italy 3-2 in the championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.


Friday, February 20, 2009

“Concealed carry” a chance for rural Illinois to speak, without doing harm

The news dispatch that emanated from the “Statehouse in Springpatch” sounded so serious – an Illinois House committee “is recommending” that the Legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn pass a new law allowing people to carry firearms concealed on their person.

Whether it be in a shoulder holster underneath a jacket or a tiny pistol packed away in a woman’s purse, proponents of such a chance in state law have long allocated the idea that allowing people to carry firearms would let them defend themselves from would-be attackers.

BUT THEN I realized that the portion of the Illinois Legislature that took action is one that many political people ignore because it seems so isolated from our daily lives.

I’m talking about the group of legislators who call themselves the “Sportsmen’s Caucus.”

Giving themselves that name allows the group to think of itself as a legitimate faction of the Illinois Legislature, just as much as the black caucus, the Latino caucus, or even the Conference of Women Legislators (a group whose existence often causes tacky jokes from certain male members of the Legislature).

The sportsmen’s caucus, simply put, consists of the legislators from rural parts of Illinois – the parts of the state where Danville or Effingham are viewed as “big cities,” and where the Chicago metropolitan area is thought of as a separate entity that is best ignored.

THE CAUCUS COMES at issues with a rural perspective. And it was those legislators who were dominant on the Illinois House committee that gave the “concealed carry” measure (the cutesy name that proponents like to use for allowing people to “pack heat” on their persons) its recommendation.

So it should not be considered some ominous change in the mentality of Illinois that this particular committee gave the firearms-related measure an 11-1 vote (the one lone vote of opposition came from the committee member from suburban Evanston, which means she is the aberration among its members).

This was about allowing the purely rural legislators a chance to express their view on the issue, which does play well to their constituents back home.

Seriously, the committee chair on Wednesday was a representative from Marion (the Southern Illinois city that houses a federal maximum-security prison). Another bill that touts the same general concept is sponsored by a representative from Harrisburg.

IT’S NOT LIKE this is an idea that is suddenly gaining support across the state. When it comes to a full vote of the Legislature, there’s a good chance that the urban and suburban legislators who comprise about two-thirds of the General Assembly will band together – putting “Democrat” and “Republican” aside to reject the idea.

In fact, even some of the idea’s supporters expect that to be the end result, even if they lambast that result as being due to “Democratic Chicago” having too much control over the state.

This was about letting those rural legislators have their moment of glory for their hometown voters. If in the process, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, can spin this as evidence he will allow his people to consider alternative points of view on issues, then he gets another benefit.

It doesn’t mean that Quinn is likely to be confronted with a decision later this summer as to whether to let people carry pistols out of the belief that they will need them to shoot a would-be mugger.

IN FACT, I couldn’t help but notice there’s a conflict between the differing versions of “concealed carry” that are pending in the General Assembly this year.

One version (the one recommended on Wednesday) would require people to apply to the Illinois State Police for a special permit that shows they are considered responsible enough to carry a firearm.

But another version was crafted by people who seem to think that the individual county sheriffs ought to have the authority to decide who within their jurisdiction gets to pack a pistol.

So it is entirely possible that this “issue” will get shot down, so to speak, by the inability of rural supporters and their legislators to figure out exactly who should oversee who gets to carry a pistol in public.

PERSONALLY, IF I had to pick, I’d say the state police (who have a statewide jurisdiction) ought to have oversight over something like this. But I’m also aware that the biggest proponents of ideas such as this are usually the ones who want oversight kept as local as possible.

So this is probably another concept over which we will disagree.

I say “another” because this is just one of several issues that illustrates the drastic difference in perception about life between Illinois’ urban and rural residents. This is a state where the same 2008 Election Day that saw the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House also saw voters in 10 rural counties give their support to “concealed carry.”

Most of those counties were in Southern Illinois (closer physically and in spirit to Kentucky than to Chicago). But voters in four other rural counties rejected the idea last November – including those of Winnebago, LaSalle and Kendall counties, which are located just beyond the urban sprawl of the Chicago metro area.

IT SEEMS THE closer one gets to Chicago (or in the case of Winnebago, has a city like Rockford in its midst), the less popular the idea of holstered pistols among the general public seems.

Rural residents may think they’re defending themselves, but us urban folk can’t help but believe that having so many people carry a pistol tucked away in their waistband is asking for trouble, particularly if someone who isn’t all that stable gets trigger-happy after getting it into his head that he is being threatened.

I’m sure there are a lot of would-be criminals who justify their currently illegal carrying of firearms as a self-protective measure, even though it just means more guns in the hands of people who might subconsciously be looking for a threat so that they can justify using them.

After all, why pack a pistol if you don’t seriously want to have a reason to use it?


Thursday, February 19, 2009

EXTRA: Roland Burris has no shame

That is the reason he won’t resign anytime soon.

But I guess the Chicago Sun-Times saw all the attention other newspapers got in calling for the “r” word and just felt the need to go along (, even though they previously published the admission that they don’t expect Roland to go along with their editorial request.

AS FOR THOSE people who have dreams of the Senate kicking Burris out of their ranks, I’m skeptical. The requirements involved in doing such a thing (,0,7680491.story) are so complex and case-specific that I doubt Roland has done anything bad enough to qualify.

Being egotistical and bordering on buffoonish may be bad, but it only means that Burris fits in with the bulk of his Senate colleagues.

Somehow, I think a “censure” some time this summer is Burris’ likely fate – along with having to accept the reality that he won’t be able to credibly run for re-election in the 2010 elections.

Of course, even without the recent activity, Burris would have had to face that fact sometime this year. Somebody in the form of state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias or state Comptroller Dan Hynes (if not state Attorney General Lisa Madigan herself) would have made Roland realize that 2010 is the time to retire for good.


Should Roland, Roland, Roland roll his way out of the Capitol Hill scene?

I’m reluctant to get too worked up over the Roland Burris saga these days because it seems that everybody who is willing to come out and demand a piece of Burris’ political scalp is doing so to promote his or her own self-interest.

The reporter-type person in me gets repulsed at being used to promote anyone’s personal agenda. It seems to me like saying “Roland Must Go!” would do little more than give someone a jolt of self-gratification as they use the predicament of the incumbent junior senator from Illinois to score political points for themselves.

SO WHILE I’LL be the first to admit that Burris didn’t tell “the whole truth” when he testified last month before an Illinois House panel that eventually recommended impeachment for now-former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, I still don’t believe he committed the offense of perjury.

He answered what he was asked, and too much of the rhetoric being spewed this week is coming from political types who want to obscure the fact that the Illinois House panel didn’t do as effective a job as it could have in grilling the one-time state attorney general for how much contact he had with Blagojevich and his aides before getting the Senate appointment.

That hasn’t stopped political people from trying to get attention for themselves by taking a potshot at Roland Burris.

Take Sara Feigenholtz, the state legislator from the Lakeview neighborhood who wants to replace Rahm Emanuel in Congress. I woke up Wednesday morning to an e-mail-ed press release telling me that even the “lady from Cook” wants Roland to go away.

THAT STATEMENT SEEMED to me to be little more than an attempt to distinguish herself from the couple dozen people running in the special election to replace Rahm as the Northwest Side’s member of Congress. Except that congressional opponent Mike Quigley made the same demand.

And when I learned that Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., also was calling for a Burris resignation from the Senate, I couldn’t help but remember that the Evanston resident was one of the people who once dreamed of getting an appointment to the Senate seat abandoned by Barack Obama when he won the 2008 presidential election.

Does Schakowsky think that she can persuade Gov. Pat Quinn to give her the appointment, should the Senate seat from Illinois manage to open up again with a Burris resignation?

It even came across as trite when William Daley, brother of the current mayor and son of the legendary one, said that Burris needs to do “serious reflection” about whether he truly wants to endure the ridicule to which he will be subjected for the next two years if he remains in the U.S. Senate.

DALEY HIMSELF HAS been the subject of speculation that he wants to have a political post that would make him something of an equivalent to his mayoral brother, Rich.

While most people usually mention Illinois governor as the post of choice for the one-time Commerce secretary (whose highlight of his stint was when he passed out from the hot lights used at his introductory press conference), perhaps Bill thinks “Sen. William Daley, D-Ill.,” would be an acceptable title for him to have.

In short, Democrats are showing that they are just as capable of using the Burris predicament to promote their own causes as are Republican political people.

These are the ones who are constantly throwing out the word “perjury” to make it appear that Roland Burris is just a few seconds away from being hauled off to the minimum-security prison camp at Oxford, Wis.

NOT THAT THEY really expect Burris to receive an “Oxford education” in his aging years. They just want an outraged electorate consisting of people who will vote for anyone except a Democrat come the 2010 statewide elections.

This idea of self-interest even extends to the newspaper editorials that are now starting to appear.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune, the Times of Northwest Indiana and the State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., all ran editorials demanding that Burris step down from the Senate.

I don’t think those newspapers seriously expect Roland Burris’ ego to allow him to contemplate resignation. But those newspapers got significant attention outside of their circulation areas. The Tribune in particular got a free plug on just about every national newscast Wednesday as being the hometown paper that had the nerve to use the “r” word in connection with Burris.

ONE NEWSPAPER THAT did NOT call for resignation was the Chicago Sun-Times. As the newspaper wrote about its editorial board process earlier this week, “we knew it would be useless to call on Burris to resign – he won’t.”

Yet even they managed to turn a Burris editorial into a self-serving promotion for itself. They used an editorial to tout the fact that it was the Sun-Times that originally published stories that showed discrepancies between what Burris told the Illinois House impeachment panel and what he now concedes to be fact about the process by which he became a U.S. senator.

They turned it into an editorial explaining why newspapers continue to be relevant in our society, saying it was possible that we wouldn’t know anything about this situation if not for the one-time “Bright One.”

I don’t quite know if I believe that. That supplemental paperwork sent by Burris to Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, would have become public eventually.

BUT I WILL give the newspaper some credit in realizing that adding to the echoes caused by repeated pleas for resignation will do little good.

Anybody who doubts me ought to listen to Burris’ own words when he addressed the Chicago City Club on Wednesday.

Burris made it clear he believes he has done nothing wrong, saying, “if I had done the things I am accused of, I’d be embarrassed to stand up here because I consider you my friends.”


EDITOR’S NOTES: Newspapers from both Chicagoland (,0,6946762.story) and downstate ( feel the need to speak out against Roland Burris in the U.S. Senate. Even a Hoosier-based newspaper, albeit one whose circulation area spills over into Illinois and Chicago, felt ( a need to take an editorial stance.

Roland won’t resign, but aren’t newspapers (,CST-EDT-edit17.article) wonderful?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are the White Sox putting themselves on the verge of Obama overkill?

I’m curious to see what happens Wednesday in Glendale, Ariz.

This is the day at which the Chicago White Sox are hoping to have a “special guest” visit them at their new spring training facility in the suburbs of Phoenix. The team is trying to take advantage of the fact that all the political people of any significance in Chicago root for them (compared to the Cubs, whose biggest political fan is now-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich).

AMONG THOSE PEOPLE who root for the White Sox is the guy who lives in the White House.

Yes, Barack Obama is doing his tour of the U.S. to tout the benefits of the now-approved stimulus package that Republican politicos will be all too quick to demonize if it doesn’t work 100 percent perfectly.

And with that tour bringing him to the Southwestern U.S. on Wednesday, White Sox officials figured perhaps they could get the president to show up.

Considering that Obama these days is behaving as though he’s still on the campaign trail rather than serving as the Leader of the Free World, perhaps it would only be natural for him to show up at a ballpark and let himself be seen with the White Sox pitchers and catchers who are required to show up early.

THE BIG GUNS of the White Sox lineup (including Jim Thome, whose home-run in that tie-breaking end-of-season game last October gave the Sox the division title over the Minnesota Twins) won’t be on hand for another couple of weeks.

Yet I really want to believe that an executive of any type (except for the chairman of the White Sox, Jerry Reinsdorf) is too busy these days to be spending a leisurely day (or even just an hour or so) at the ballpark.

Not that this is the only opportunity Obama is being offered to help tout the ball club that represents Chicago’s South Side.

The White Sox also have offered to have him be present to do “first pitch” honors at their opening game of the 2009 season against the Kansas City Royals. Considering that the president usually gets the first pitch duties at the opening game of the entire season, it would serve to put the White Sox in a prominent point of the Major League Baseball schedule if it were to happen.

BUT SHOULD IT turn out to be impossible for Obama to be back in Chicago to attend a game at U.S. Cellular Field in early April, there’s also another chance for the president to do some sort of White Sox-related duty.

The Charlotte Knights, a professional baseball club in the International League, also wants Obama to do the “first pitch” honors at one of their games.

I have never heard of U.S. presidents doing first pitch duties at minor league ball games.

But the fact that the Charlotte team is the top-level minor league affiliate of the White Sox could give Obama a chance to show off that ratty old cap he persists in wearing. Perhaps he can even figure out a way to do some politicking in North Carolina in conjunction with the ball game.

MY POINT IN engaging in this diatribe is to wonder if the White Sox are getting a tad ridiculous in their promoting the fact that when Obama was a South Side resident, he was inclined to go along with his neighborhood ties and attend games at 35th Street and Bill Veeck Drive (a.k.a., Shields Avenue).

It borders on tacky behavior for the White Sox (who even have a portion of their team website devoted to the fact that Obama does not wear the baby-blue and red cap of the Chicago Cubs) to continually tout his presence.

It is more obnoxious than those television spots the team used a few years ago that gave us reasons why the White Sox were superior that included as their ultimate reason, “The Mayor Likes Us Better.”

True sports fandom is something that can’t be forced, although it can be cheapened with such repetitive (and ridiculous) stunts as constantly trying to remind us whose cap Obama chooses to wear when he goes jogging, or shopping, or engages in any casual activity.

IT MAY GET to the point where some people try to dump on the White Sox because Obama is aligned with them.

I couldn’t help but notice that Topps Chewing Gum (the people who for decades have done baseball cards) came out with a 90-card set that depicts the political life of Obama. One card uses the photograph of Obama in a jersey and cap throwing out the first pitch prior to one of the American League playoff games from 2005 (what a wonderful year).

But in that photo, the Old English Script “Sox” logo has been airbrushed off the jersey and cap. The end result looks generic, and some people might see the dark pinstripes on the jersey and presume he’s wearing a New York Yankees outfit.

I’m sure the very thought makes many a South Sider shudder almost as much as the sight of that Obama-themed White Sox cap that is now for sale.

BUT IF THE White Sox had much in the way of sense (I wonder at times), they’d ease up on trying to ram down our throats at every opportunity the fact that Obama is not among the people who dance with glee every time they get within a half-mile of Clark and Addison streets.

We’ve all seen him in the “Sox” cap. We get it. Quit behaving in ways that make being a “Sox” fan seem as tacky as the sight of Blagojevich in that Cubs jersey with his name sewn on his back shoulders.


Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Lipinski wouldn’t back Obama on stimulus

There are some political observers who will be amazed that a member of the Democratic congressional delegation from Chicago did not vote in support of the stimulus package touted by our hometown president, Barack Obama.

But I would have been surprised if Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., had not thrown up some sort of stink, or protest, or other comment of concern. For Lipinski truly takes after his father, former Chicago alderman and Rep. Bill Lipinski, D-Ill., when it comes to going along with the Democratic caucus on partisan issues.

THEY’RE BOTH THE kind of Democrats inclined to think it sad that the “liberals” have taken over the party. But both have too much sympathy to organized labor and people who have to do physical labor to earn a living to ever seriously entertain the notion of becoming a Republican.

Lipinski the elder was a Southwest Side guy, while his son has taken to living in the surrounding (Western Springs, to be exact) suburbs – even though he takes after his father politically. Somewhat conservative on social issues, he’s willing to fight for federal funding for mass transit programs.

Bill Lipinski considered mass transit to be his pet issue, and Dan Lipinski made it clear with his stimulus vote that he thinks of himself the same as his father did. Anybody who has ever heard Dan Lipinski speak about abortion would realize he is capable of voting differently than his Democratic Party colleagues in the House of Representatives. Photograph provided by Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill.

For the record, Lipinski the younger did not vote for the stimulus package. But he did not go along with Republicans in Congress who largely voted “no” on the matter.

LIPINSKI USED THAT old standby of voting “present.”

He was the lone “present” vote when the issue came up for its final bit of Congressional action. The measure now merely needs Obama’s signature of approval to take effect, and he is expected to do that on Tuesday.

For his part, Lipinski told Crain's Chicago Business he does not oppose the idea of a stimulus package. He’s not playing the ideological game that many Republican legislators are – refusing to participate, then hoping that the measure fails to accomplish much of anything so they can later tell the public, “I told you so.”

He’s upset with the last-minute cuts that were made to the package, of which he thinks too much was taken out of mass transit funding. Most of those projects were for repairs to existing bus and train lines, and to a few expansions that could have improved service.

THAT ULTIMATELY IS a key to mass transit – the more one cuts the service available, the less people will want to use it because it just doesn’t take them to the places they want/need to go to.

Mass transit programs are truly the perfect example of something where one needs to spend money in order to make money.

Lipinski was the guy who tried to get an additional $3 billion for mass transit programs added to the package (that’s for the entire country, not just for Chicago and the CTA). But all of the money he tried to add was ultimately whacked from the plan when Senate and House of Representatives negotiators reached the compromise plan that ultimately was approved by both legislative chambers.

In the end, the stimulus is expected to add roughly $8.4 billion for mass transit programs across the nation, along with the funding for highway and bridge repairs (for those areas that consider buses and subways to be unseemly), and other projects that are intended to create work and give the nation’s economy a jolt from its current recessionary status.

OF COURSE, ONE should keep in mind that the $789 billion spending plan finally agreed upon (earlier versions could have run as high as $835 billion) WILL provide additional federal funding for mass transit.

About $450 million of the total $8.4 billion will wind up coming to the Chicago area, with the Regional Transportation Authority getting that funding to split up amongst the Chicago Transit Authority, and in lesser amounts, to the Metra suburban commuter railroad and the Pace suburban bus system.

So what should we think of Lipinski’s “present” vote?

It is fitting of his political character that he’s not going to be the most reliable supporter of the president’s desires when it comes to the Democratic caucuses in Congress. Anybody who questions that statement should look at Lipinski’s voting record whenever the issue of abortion comes up.

BUT THIS WASN’T some ideological snit fit such as what the Republicans were playing, such as the “no” vote cast by freshman Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill. The kid Congressman from Peoria (he’s only 27) was the beneficiary of much Obama attention in recent days to try to get a few GOP supporters.

Schock stood in lock/step with the Republican caucus in refusing to consider a measure to give the economy a desperately needed jolt.

This was more about trying to get a little more to help upgrade our city’s (some estimate Lipinski’s preferred funding level nationally would have translated into an additional $200 million for Chicago) mass transit. It could have helped.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Most of the political people who opposed the stimulus package had a problem how much spending was included in the plan. But Dan Lipinski had a problem with not enough ( being included for his top issue of concern.

After spending a weekend of relaxation in the Hyde Park neighborhood, Barack Obama plans to sign the ( stimulus package into law during an appearance in Denver – the city where he officially got the Democratic nomination for president.

Lipinski is not alone in thinking that mass transit programs were not among the favored ( programs when it comes to funding from the stimulus package.

Obama tried to appeal to Aaron Schock on grounds that the two Washington-based politicos ( were veterans of the Illinois Statehouse Scene. It didn’t work.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Burris bashing is politically partisan

I have covered enough courtroom proceedings and government hearings where people were forced to testify as though they were in a courtroom to know that when someone is “under oath” on the witness stand, they have to answer the precise questions put to them.

They are not supposed to go off on tangents, nor are they allowed to elaborate by providing additional information that could give people a broader (some might say, more truthful) perspective about what truly happened.

IN FACT, THERE are cases where a person’s refusal to merely answer “yes” or “no” to a certain question can be seen as contempt of court. How dare the person on the witness stand think that he (or she) knows what is truly relevant for the public to know.

Those people are always instructed to just give the precise answer to the question put forth to them, and count on their attorney during cross-examination to ask the questions that allow for a more thorough perspective to come out.

I spew forth with that little ditty because I think it an interesting perspective to keep in mind when we hear Republican political people these days imply that Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., committed perjury of some type when he testified before the Illinois House panel that ultimately impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Burris in recent days has submitted an affidavit that includes details about the amount of contact he had with Blagojevich allies during the time period earlier this year when Blagojevich was considering his “drop dead” gesture to the world of appointing a U.S. senator, despite facing a criminal complaint and the perception of the world that he was a piece of political dog poo with a really bad hairdo.

THE AFFIDAVIT GIVES hints that Blagojevich allies (including his brother) hinted to Burris that some future assistance with political fundraising would be expected, although it does not seem to imply anything specific, or an agreement on Burris’ part to provide such aid.

Strictly speaking, that differs from the testimony that Burris gave to the Illinois House panel that impeached Blagojevich, when Burris said he talked to some people about his interest in becoming a U.S. senator at an age when most people (except Strom Thurmond) are retiring.

“I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes,” Burris said back then.

But is his lack of detail about who those friends were truly worthy of the offense of perjury – which in theory could put him in a legal jam and cause him to have to resign the seat on Capitol Hill because he himself would be facing criminal charges.

I’M SURE A part of Gov. Pat Quinn would love to have the authority to pick his own version of a junior senator from Illinois. And I’m really sure the Republican officials who dream of being able to put one of their own in the post when the next statewide election comes around in 2010 are wetting their pants with glee.

As state Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, told reporter-types in saying he wants Burris to resign the Senate seat immediately, “I can’t believe anything that’s coming from Mr. Burris, at this point.”

But who else benefits?

The problem with Durkin making such a claim is that it comes off as petty and absurd, in large part because Durkin was one of the people on that Illinois House impeachment panel.

HE WAS ONE of the people who questioned Burris. And it would appear that Burris did what a person is supposed to do when he is before a panel where he swears an oath to tell “the truth, so help him God.” He answered precisely what he was asked.

Quite frankly, the politically partisan accusations being made by Republican officials these days comes across more as petty whining that they didn’t think to ask the precise questions that would have generated this information at an earlier date.

Or, if it didn’t because Burris provided incorrect information, then it truly would be perjury. They’d have something legitimate against him. But they don’t.

One of the rules of being a prosecutor in a courtroom is that one does not ask a question if they don’t know the answer. In short, courtroom testimony is all about playing a game of “gotcha.” They didn’t “get” Burris back then, and now they’re upset enough to make these partisan charges.

OF COURSE, NO one really expects Burris to resign, or the Legislature to do anything to penalize him. I’m even skeptical that the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office (which historically has ignored state government activity, leaving it to federal prosecutors in Chicago to monitor) will do anything.

What all this rhetoric is truly about is trying to keep “the issue” of Blagojevich and the fact that he has a tie to Burris alive in the public mindset.

Most people don’t obsess over political minutia. There’s a good chance that if Blagojevich truly “went away” from public view that the bulk of people would forget about it. They’d probably keep some vague memory of a guy with a really funky hairdo who did something bad, but they wouldn’t care enough to keep the details in their memory.

That is exactly what the Republican Party in Illinois does not want to happen. Because the reality of the situation is that the likely Democratic candidates for Senate and Governor in the 2010 elections have the name recognition, political organization and finances to overcome whoever the Republicans put up in opposition.

THE GOP NEEDS to rely on the Illinois public being so worked up against the Democratic Party of this state that they’ll vote for anyone who chooses to align himself with the elephant logo.

So the answer is “yes,” Roland Burris did make a bit of a fool of himself on Sunday.

His press conference in Chicago where he made a statement, then tried to stand aside while attorneys provided non-denial denial-type answers to reporter-type questions made him look like he had something to hide.

It will make his cheap attempt at a sound bite (how else to describe the statement, “I conducted myself with honor”) sound less than honest.

BUT IF ILLINOIS is to truly advance beyond the Blagojevich era, it is going to have to get away from cheap allegations such as this one.

The Illinois Republican Party would best serve the people of this state by coming up with candidates who can give us solid reasons why they would better serve us. Relying on the partisan rhetoric about why “my opponent stinks” is just the type of nonsense that turns people off on Election Day.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Newspapers committing suicide if they think people will buy “shopper” papers

On the one hand, it was oddly relevant to look at the “front” page of the Chicago Tribune (I’m talking about the tabloid version that was purchased Friday at a drug store).

Half of the front cover was taken up by an advertisement – one for Darvin Furniture, which is having a sale on mattresses to get people to come in this weekend for President’s Day (and I don’t want to hear any bad jokes about Bill Clinton).

WE’RE NOT TALKING about those little one-line agate type “ads” that appear at the bottom of columns on Page One of the New York Times. We’re not even talking about the strips that take up the bottom inch or two of the front page of many newspapers these days, including the Chicago Sun-Times.

We’re talking about a full-fledged display advertisement telling us of “Super Values!” if we need to buy mattresses (which my mother does these days, that is what made it relevant).

The rest of that front cover literally seemed like an advertisement for the newspaper itself, showing us a miniature version of the “Front Page” and telling us that the “complete Tribune” was inside. The impact of this "dog bites man, and nobody cares" story was muted in the tabloid version of the Chicago Tribune by mattress sale advertisements.

Now that is how Tribune newspaper types are going to justify this blatant bit of commercialism on the front of a publication that likes to believe it is one of the elite newspapers of the world (it isn’t, but that’s a different story).

TECHNICALLY, THE “FRONT” cover was NOT the “front page.” The first two and last two “pages” of what was a thick newspaper on Friday were actually a Darvin advertisement, with that little touch of the front cover informing us that an actual newspaper lay inside the ad.

That bothers me.

It makes me feel like I read the Tribune shopper, rather than the publication put together by a newsgathering organization that used to bill itself as the “World’s Greatest Newspaper” and now brags that it has the “Largest Reporting Staff in the Midwest.”

I don’t care if what on the surface appears as Page Three is the real “Page One,” giving us the same graphic as appeared on the broadsheet paper about the teenager who was turned away from the University of Chicago hospitals even though he had been mauled by a dog.

TO THE PEOPLE who are making an impulse purchase of a paper, this is the publication whose BIG STORY on Friday was the “MATTRESS SALE” by Darvin. The kid and the dog, along with all the other news and features published in the paper, were just a sideline.

I guess that means the recent loss of a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the closing of bureaus in Jerusalem and Rome earlier this week aren’t as important to the product as ensuring that people know where to get a good mattress – which means the “Hero of the Day” at Tribune Tower on Friday likely was the display advertising salesperson who snagged Darvin into buying such a prominent advertisement.

I guess I was always absurd in thinking that the purpose of selling advertisements in a newspaper is to raise the money needed to support the newsgathering operation, and that selling those advertising inserts that come with coupons is to further entice people to buy the paper so they can read all about the significant and interesting happenings of the world – as perceived from Chicago.

Now perhaps part of this is because the Chicago Tribune is, inherently, a broadsheet format newspaper (which is the version that all the subscribers still get).

THERE ARE PROBABLY people who think that the smaller page size gives them some license to do tackier things that they would never dream of doing on the full-sized (which themselves are smaller than they used to be) pages.

That Darvin ad spread out over a half-page of a broadsheet Tribune would be downright tacky – and we’d have the pundits and other pompous people pontificating about crass commercialism.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Take the Chicago Sun-Times, which on Friday was the publication that looked staid, serious and respectable by comparison.

THE SUN-TIMES GAVE us a newspaper with an advertising decal that peeled off – promoting the ongoing Chicago Auto Show ($5 off the regular admission price of $10 for adults).

That ad was unobtrusive, actually helps to provide a bit of information about a public event that has become a Chicago tradition, and ultimately was removable, thereby letting me see the graphics for the main story of the day – which was an attempt to dump on Chicago city officials for raising the fees for parking meters by showing us exactly how many quarters it would now take to “feed the meter.”

Now I know some people are going to want to dismiss this commentary as the rant of a crank. They’re going to say that newspapers need every bit of income they can get these days to support the ever-shrinking staffs to keep them from dwindling to even smaller numbers.

But there reaches a point when newspapers alter their product to the point where it becomes shallow. This kind of blatant commercialism in letting the ads take over to where they overwhelm the news product is close to that point. Why should I pay $0.75 for a “shopper” when I can pick one up for free in my neighborhood?

AS MY LITTLE act of protest, all I can say is that when my mother does go ahead and get herself a new mattress, I’m going to make sure she buys it from anywhere EXCEPT Darvin.

Besides, their prices don’t look all that “super.” I’ve seen a couple places advertise mattresses for less.


Friday, February 13, 2009

New Cook Co. road markers force people to change way they think of streets

Perhaps it is just evidence of the differing ways urban vs. rural residents perceive certain things. But the new road markers erected by Cook County to designate which streets it maintains strike me as something more befitting Tazewell County.

Not that I’m taking a dig at the central Illinois county whose major municipality is Pekin (not far from East Peoria, where President Barack Obama will visit the Caterpillar plant to tout the benefits of the potential stimulus package).

BUT THE SIGNS that I first noticed a couple of weeks ago (and which have certain people so worked up that they felt the need to call the Chicago Tribune to complain) seem like something that would fit perfectly in the downstate Illinois counties where there are strips of road that are not a part of any such municipality.

After all, in many of these rural-minded places, not every patch of asphalt upon which cars drive has some proper name. Not every place feels the need to dredge up the memory of even the most forgotten of its past political people by designating a street for them.

There are places in Illinois (even in the outer fringes of the Chicago area) where roads go merely by a set of numbers that only make sense if you look at the respective county as a whole.

So when I happened to be running an errand recently for my mother that took me to the part of the Chicago area where Tinley Park becomes Frankfort (and Cook County morphs into Will County), I first saw the blue with gold trim signs that tell you the road’s number and give you an indication of what direction (north/south or east/west) that road travels in.

I LITERALLY THOUGHT I had somehow lost track of where I was and had stumbled into Will County when I saw I was at W3207 and B6424, until I took a second look at saw that the signs were labeled “Cook County.” I was at 80th Avenue, near 183rd Street.

Now as reported by the Tribune, the signs have some people upset – largely because they don’t get the number/letter combinations that are the official labels for their local streets, rather than the (often) politically inspired names that many people commonly use.


That’s the official label by which county officials refer to Crawford Avenue (which those people who live in Chicago proper think of as Pulaski Road).

AS IT TURNS out, the letters “W” or “V” are used on roads that run north/south, while “A,” “B” or “C” are used on roads that run east/west. Each street then has its own number.

But these aren’t letter/number combinations that have ever been in common use by the general public. So they have some people freaked out, although I would guess that motorists who are used to driving on rural roads would see the signs, give them a quick glance, then promptly forget it.

The sight just wouldn’t be that unusual to them.

As county officials explain it, the Highway Department is erecting the signs to make people more aware of just which streets they maintain.

THEY SAY THAT in the event of an auto accident or other incident where someone is stranded, having the county road marker will make it easier for people to tell police or other authorities just where they are, since with the advent of so many street names (and some streets having multiple names), the street number designation might become the one county-wide constant.

In theory, that idea makes sense. Street numbers are easier to remember in an emergency rather than names. It's part of the reason I always thought there was a certain sense to the South Side's street labeling system, as opposed to having to memorize so many obscure names for the North Side.

But in daily use, it’s just so rural that people get irrationally worked up over it. It would require a significant mind shift to get people to quit trying to use the street names in their neighborhood that they have come to know as second nature.

There’s also the possibility that people in the Chicago area don’t particularly care who maintains which road.

FOR THE MAJOR streets in the metropolitan area are maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation, while some are supported by federal authorities.

Those local side streets (the ones that are always the last to get plowed clear of snow during the winter storms) are maintained by Chicago or the relevant suburban municipality.

The county gets the more significant roads that aren’t quite significant enough to be included in the state portion of Chicago-area streets.

Yet this is all bureaucratic bunk to many Chicago-area people, who just want to think of their local road as a road, and don’t want to have to realize that it is very possible to have within a four-block radius of their home streets maintained by all four (city, county, state and federal) government entities.

I HAVE OFTEN seen people who show up at local government meetings to complain about potholes in the streets near their property, only to become frustrated at learning they’re complaining to the wrong entity. It helps enhance the conspiracy mentality that some people have of government engaging in some sort of double-talk. I’m sure some people view these new street signs with their “never heard of it” letter/number combinations for their streets.

Excuse me if I think this is a silly issue for people to get worked up over. But it appears some have, and they’re even managing to persuade the Cook County Board to rethink the 1,300 signs erected at a cost of $120,000.

This is one of those “issues” that will go away, once people become used to the signs on the landscape. They may even help some police agency more easily find an accident by avoiding confusion over some obscure politician’s name and where his street is located.

At the very least, why waste even more money by feeling the need to remove these signs – which already are paid for? Do we really need them gathering dust in some county warehouse?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Were the new road markers erected around Cook County some sort of (,0,6103114.story) plot to slip some wasteful spending into the county budget?

Cook County’s highway department has jurisdiction over 1,474 miles of lane pavement ( throughout the county, and these maps can help decipher which streets are which road numbers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln birth Bicentennial is low-key

Perhaps we political observers are fortunate that no one in the Illinois Legislature thought about Abraham Lincoln when they were putting together the list of charges upon which former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.

If they had, it is likely that Blagojevich would have had added to the list of allegations against him that he was disrespecting the memory of the most Illinois-affiliated president in U.S. history (although Barack Obama could equal him in due time).

AFTER ALL, THE past year was supposed to be a series of local celebrations allowing communities to tout their connections to the 16th U.S. president, leading up to the big day on Thursday – the Bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday in 1809.

But Blagojevich, among his many actions as governor, tried to keep the government budget under control by slashing away at the funding the state should have provided to support festivities paying tribute to Lincoln.

Just over $5 million was what Blagojevich took from the Lincoln Bicentennial festivities. That might not sound like much in the overall scheme of the state budget (which can exceed $50 billion).

But it could have helped create a bigger perception that people in Illinois remember the memory of Lincoln. There literally were moments when it seemed like the historic preservation officials in Kentucky (where Lincoln was born) and Indiana (where he lived much of his childhood) cared more about Thursday than anyone in Illinois did.

NOW THOSE OF us who pay attention to political minutia have heard the stories about how Blagojevich was jealous about Barack Obama, what with all the attention his national campaign for president got him during 2008.

With everybody thinking that Obama was the model for the ideal Illinois politico, Blagojevich became an afterthought.

We literally get the impression that Obama (who went out of his way to create Lincoln allusions during his presidential campaign whenever appropriate) cared more about the memory of Honest Abe than Blagojevich ever did.

Which is why it likely is appropriate that Obama is making his first Illinois appearance since taking the oath of office as president in Springfield, Lincoln’s hometown and the place where his remains are buried at the city’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.

SPRINGFIELD HAS ITS annual Lincoln’s Birthday ritual at the tomb, but this Bicentennial year will be the one that sees a president show up to partake in the event.

For those who happen to be anywhere near the Illinois capital city on Thursday, there’s another unique event.

The Old State Capitol (the building that Lincoln would have known as the Statehouse – the current one dates to 1877) will host a naturalization ceremony, allowing central Illinois residents who have become U.S. citizens to take the oath of office in the same building where Lincoln once delivered his “House Divided” speech (although a younger generation is bound to think of it primarily as the place where Obama kicked off his presidential campaign).

What would be truly nice is if this Lincoln Bicentennial were to create a dialogue as to what Lincoln and his presidency truly was about.

TOO MANY PEOPLE want to twist the Lincoln legacy to fit their ideological perspective about life.

Too many hardcore GOP people (which used to boast that it was the “Party of Lincoln”) want to believe that Lincoln was some sort of hypocritical racist, while too many Democrats want to believe he’d be one of them – if he were alive today.

I can’t help but think that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

What intrigues me the most about the Lincoln legacy is that he is the government official who got stuck having to cope with the basic ideological split that appears to define the United States, and he came along at the moment when the split became so intense that we began shooting at each other.

BE REAL. NO matter how much modern day politics seem to have reached a new low when it comes to partisan hostility, I always put it into perspective by noting that no one is talking about secession, or taking up arms against their neighbor.

Instead, too many people who bother to partake in Lincoln events on Thursday will get hung up on the image of log cabins or stove pipe hats for one day. Then, they’ll move on to something else.

That’s a shame.

It is the reason why I am inclined to take advantage of the Chicago History Museum’s Lincoln Bicentennial offer. Instead of the usual $14 admission fee – all it will cost to get into the facility at the south end of Lincoln Park will be $0.01.

THE MUSEUM THAT likes to say it has Lincoln’s death bed in its collection of Chicago and Midwestern U.S. artifacts plans to kick off a special Lincoln exhibit to run for the next year.

Think about it. Not only will you get a chance to overdose on Lincoln memorabilia (and some other cool stuff related to Chicago), all it will cost you is one of those “Lincoln head” pennies that take up too much space among your pocket change. What else is a penny worth these days?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Illinois ought to be the focal point of all the Abraham Lincoln festivities ( taking place across the nation.

It could ( have been bigger and better. Thanks Rod.

Will there be some people to whom the extent of their Lincoln festivities on Thursday ( will be to watch the PBS special about his life? Probably.

The 1865 railroad tour that took Abraham Lincoln's remains from Washington to Springfield, Ill., included this stop in Chicago at what was then City Hall. Lincoln posed for the above photograph just prior to getting the 1860 nomination for president at the Republican National Convention in Chicago. Both illustrations provided by the Library of Congress collection.