Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kirk’s head start will show partisanship

Illinois’ new U.S. senator is going to be one of the most watched political people, and not just because of his six-week head start over many of the other new Congress-types who got elected a month ago.
KIRK: Back to being a "freshman" in D.C.

Mark Kirk, who for the past decade was a representative from the North Shore suburbs, took his oath of office Monday, and the Republican partisans made sure to engage in symbolism by having Peter Fitzgerald at his side – showing that the GOP had seized back a political post they probably regarded as stolen from them with the 2004 election that shifted Barack Obama from the Statehouse Scene to Capitol Hill to begin with.

DESPITE THE FACT that many of the Republican officials who will be new to Washington got elected because of their conservative ideological ties, Kirk is the exception. All the rhetoric we heard throughout the campaign season indicated he was different.

“Moderate” is the word we heard over and over. Many of the political pundits have gone on to say they think Kirk will be the exception in the Senate’s Republican caucus – the official who might be willing to compromise on serious issues, while putting aside political partisanship if it means getting something done.

I’m not quite so sure, mainly because I realize how suspicious some people among the Illinois Republicans are about Kirk. They see his record as a representative as including support for the concept of abortion remaining legal and a willingness to let gay people serve openly in the military – even though he himself remains commissioned as an officer in the Naval Reserve.

Which is why I think Kirk is going to be a reliable vote for the Republican caucus, at least for his first couple of years in the Senate (he doesn’t have to worry about re-election until the 2016 election cycle).

HE’S GOING TO feel some pressure to go along with the majority of his new colleagues – unless he wants to be ostracized from Day One. He will wind up casting many votes completely in line with the Republican caucus (which won’t be as many as he would have cast had he remained in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has taken over the majority).

In short, Illinois is going to have many split votes, with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in favor of something touted by the Senate’s leadership, and Kirk being among the opposition.

The stories that have been coming up about the possible activity by the Senate in these final few days of a Congress controlled entirely by Democrats ought to give us a clue. Kirk has said that if a measure comes up in the next few days to eliminate the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that lets gay people serve in the military provided they do nothing to draw attention to themselves, he will vote against it.

Many of the people who are taking that kind of vote are doing so because they see the alternative as one where gay people could openly serve in the military without any restriction. Even though Kirk in the past has supported the general principle concerning gay people in the military, he’s not about to challenge his political party’s stance on this issue. When the issue gets debated by a Senate committee reviewing a Pentagon study on the issue, Kirk is going to go out of his way to say as little as he absolutely has to on the issue.

THE SAME GOES for the DREAM Act, that measure that may come up for a vote in the Senate to allow young people without citizenship who have lived the bulk of their lives in this country to qualify for the same benefits to attend college or serve in the military just like anyone else.

During the campaign, Kirk often cited the fact that part of his education came at the UNAM (the National Autonomous University in Mexico City – one of Latin America’s most prestigious colleges). But he also has made it clear he will support his partisan allies who don’t want a favorable vote on anything perceived as immigration-oriented, unless something comes first that can be perceived as tighter restrictions along the U.S./Mexico border.

So if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., persists with his talk of pushing for a vote on the DREAM Act this week, he’s going to do it with one less vote (now-former Sen. Roland Burris would have been a “yes,” compared to Kirk’s anticipated “no”),

Those academics who gathered Monday at the University of Illinois at Chicago to urge Kirk to vote in favor of DREAM were engaging in a token political action, as Kirk isn’t about to risk putting himself on the GOP “black list” in his first week in office on an immigration-related measure.

IN FACT, I expect him to go out of his way to say as little as he has to. Not only for this week, or this month. Perhaps it will be for the upcoming year.

2011 could go into our political history books as the period in which Illinois was represented by the ambitions of Durbin (who deep-down has dreams of someday having the label “Majority Leader” in front of his name) and a soft-spoken temperament from Kirk – whose bottom line was that he was a reliable vote for the GOP stance on any issue of significance.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Carol Moseley-Braun for mayor? It makes as much sense as anybody else’s bid

If there is one aspect of the 2011 mayoral election that I am dreading, it is the fact that we’re going to rehash the six-year time period during which Carol Moseley-Braun represented our state in the U.S. Senate.
MOSELEY-BRAUN: She's back!

For Moseley-Braun is among the 20 people currently on the ballot for the Feb. 22 election, and I am not aware of any serious effort to try to boot her from the ballot. It means that she will be among the masses who will be in the political fight to qualify for the likely runoff election to be held April 5.

WHICH MEANS ALL the other campaigns will make sure to remind us of her “baggage,” which allegedly makes her unfit to hold political office – even though her career record as an Illinois House member, Cook County recorder of deeds, U.S. senator and U.S. ambassador to New Zealand is as impressive as anything on Rahm Emanuel’s resume and more than any other candidate can offer.

We’re going to hear a lot about Moseley-Braun having personal meetings with dictators from Uganda, and letting her campaign aide-turned-boyfriend get too involved in her political affairs (he wasn’t a U.S. citizen, which alone probably offends some people).

What about her mother’s finances when she went on Medicare and Medicaid. Did Carol concoct a scheme to cover up financial assets while her mother’s medical expenses were covered by the federal programs?

It was taking these bits of political history into account that I read the Chicago Sun-Times account of an interview Moseley-Braun gave to the newspaper, where she said she thinks she was, “being held to a different set of standards than everybody else was.”

I’M SURE SOME people are going to dismiss that sentiment as Carol being Carol, somehow thinking she is above the kind of attacks they would make on any other political person.

That is the attitude they always expressed back when she was a senator. Even before her time in the Senate, to be honest. After all, I remember a Moseley-Braun press conference held during the 1992 campaign when she first tried to resolve the controversy over her mother’s assets and receipt of Medicaid and Medicare.

She said it was ridiculous to think the federal government would want her mother to be broke before she could qualify (even though that is their exact intent). Then, she said she felt all the questioning was wrong and she felt like she personally was being assaulted.

So yes, Carol Moseley-Braun can be full of herself (she was a presidential candidate for about 10 seconds, back in 2004). She has an ego. Then again, so does every person who actually thinks they have what it takes to run for public office. Without that bit of confidence in oneself, it is unlikely that anybody would put themselves in a position where everything they do will be criticized by somebody – regardless of what actions they take.

BUT  THAT DOESN’T eliminate the fact that there were some people who had a hang-up with the fact that Moseley-Braun managed to win that 1992 election cycle to become the first (and thus far, the only) black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.

The same Rush Limbaugh who recently denounced President Barack Obama’s view of the Thanksgiving holiday as being too sympathetic to the American Indian tribes also used to refer to Sen. Moseley-Braun as “Weezie” (as in actor Isabel Sanford’s “Louise Jefferson” character from “All In The Family” and “The Jeffersons”) and use the television theme song “Movin’ On Up,” whenever he was preparing some segment to mock her for whatever petty thoughts were running through his mind on a given day.

So Moseley-Braun isn’t being ridiculous when she says she was treated a bit differently. There were people in our state who wished that the “first black woman in the U.S. Senate” had come from some other state. So they were looking to nit-pick every single thing into major controversy.

Such as any time they could mention “Uganda” or talk about Africa in disparaging terms.

THIS IS THE stuff we’re going to re-hash in coming weeks as the other mayoral campaigns will want to ensure that Carol doesn’t gain any political traction. They’ll probably take the attitude expressed throughout “The Godfather” films and insist that, “this is business, not personal.”

After all, there is now a generation of people for whom next year’s election will be their first. They weren’t even alive on that November 1992 day when Moseley-Braun got elected to the Senate (and local Republican partisans literally weeped at the damage and destruction they were convinced that Bill Clinton would wreck upon our country). They will feel like it is a public service to recite the names “Sani Abacha” and “Kgosie Matthews” – while they likely butcher their pronounciations (Kgosie is KO-see).

But it’s going to be trash-talk, just the same – which is why Moseley-Braun, in speaking to the Sun-Times, made a point of saying she has “never been cited, fined, censured, nothing.”

Even though I personally doubt I would vote for Moseley-Braun in this particular election cycle, it will be the reason I keep grabbing for the Tylenol bottle – I feel an intense political headache coming on.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nice to see state Police Department helping with holiday traffic enforcement

I remember back when I was a reporter-type person based at the Illinois Statehouse, I would often hear jokes made about the police department maintained by the Illinois secretary of state’s office.

That law enforcement agency exists primarily to enforce state laws concerning the sale of automobiles and car parts, protecting the people from fraud. But their most visible (to the general public, at least) function is that they also patrol the grounds of the Capitol building and all the other state government buildings at the capitol complex in Springfield.

IT MEANS THE jokes were along the lines of the agency being nothing more than overglorified security guards, or some sort of personal perk for the Secretary of State (George Ryan’s, and now Jesse White’s, own personal police department – to do with as he sees fit).

Which is why I was pleased to see the Secretary of State police being put to work in another function – beginning Friday and running for the next few weeks. It will be put to work throughout the Chicago area at the shopping malls to help patrol traffic and find parking cheats.

More specifically, they’re going to be scouring the parking lots of those overglorified shopping centers in suburban Schaumburg, Oak Brook and Orland Park, along with the malls located in Bloomington, Carbondale, Springfield, and Fairview Heights (an Illinois-based suburb of St. Louis).

People who think the way to cope with the overcrowded parking lots at those shopping malls is to take one of the close-in spots set aside for people with physical disabilities are going to find that their traffic tickets were written by the Secretary of State police.

 NOW I WILL be the first to admit that I understand the frustration of people who find it near to impossible to get a parking spot when they make a trip to the mall in order to do some holiday shopping.

Particularly on Friday, with all those people who absolutely insist on going out to the stores to take advantage of the alleged deals being offered by retailers who are desperate for the business, it is going to be a mess.

That is the exact reason why I refused on Friday to go to anything resembling a shopping mall, and wasn’t too enthused about entering a store of any type. I don’t want to deal with the crowds of people.

But I know not everyone is like me. So there were people who were swearing up a storm while looking for a parking spot that wasn’t a long haul from the malls main entrance. Some of them invariably decided their comfort was more important than someone’s use of a parking space set aside for the “handicapped.”

PERSONALLY, I DON’T feel sorry for the fact that they could get hit with a fine of up to $500, and could also wind up finding their driver’s licenses suspended for a few weeks. Which means I think this is a good use of the Illinois secretary of state police department.

I have gained that attitude in recent years, particularly since my father and step-mother managed to become one of the roughly 443,000 (according to the Chicago Tribune) motorists with a special placard they hang from their rear-view mirror of their vehicle indicating they can park legally in the “handicapped” spaces.

Not that I expected them to be among the frenzied shoppers on Friday. But I’d hate to see them having to haul themselves across a shopping mall parking lot, particularly if my step-mother’s mother was with them, just because someone else got a little bit lazy during their shopping spree.

So it will be nice to know that the secretary of state police are helping to control the traffic mess at the mall – which I intend to avoid as much as I possibly can during this holiday season. Perhaps we should think long-term when it comes to that law enforcement agency.

NOT THAT I want the secretary of state police out at the mall beyond the holiday season. Perhaps there are other places where they could be loaned out to provide needed law enforcement assistance.

Because while I realize that the Capitol building and the rest of the Statehouse Scene is in need of some sort of security, I want to believe that our legislators will still be safe next spring when they try to resolve Illinois’ serious financial problems even if there are a few fewer police officers on hand around the building.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Kustra takes on cause of smaller schools in the weird world of college football

If one thinks back a decade-and-a-half ago, the name “Bob Kustra” was prominent because of his proximity to the Illinois governor (whose health wasn’t always the best) and how close he came to becoming U.S. senator from Illinois.

KUSTRA: When he was one of us ...
Which is why I find humor in the fact that when Kustra has now reached his moment of national prominence, it is for something as trivial as college football.

KUSTRA, AFTER FIGURING out following the 1996 election cycle that his days as an Illinois politico (a one-time legislator from Park Ridge, along with lieutenant governor under Jim Edgar) were over, got himself into the world of academia.

He left Illinois to head a college in Kentucky, and has since moved on to Idaho – where these days he carries the title of president of Boise State University.

Which is why Kustra took it personally when Ohio State University President Gordon Gee said recently that Division I universities with smaller-scale football programs don’t deserve to be considered for the Bowl Championship Series – that convoluted setup by which college football tries to pick a national champion each season.

Gee actually singled out both Boise State and Texas Christian University – both of which have gone undefeated this season, but Gee claims are unworthy because they allegedly play schedules filled with weaker teams.

I SAY “ALLEGEDLY” because even the schools of the major athletic conferences, such as the Big Ten, always manage to put a few of the same smaller schools on their schedule. Or does somebody out there really believe that Eastern Michigan and Ohio universities on the Ohio State schedule are really that much better than Wyoming or San Jose State on the Boise State schedule?

... and now, in academia
So when Gee said that Boise State is playing teams from places like, “the Little Sisters of the Poor,” we got to hear Kustra respond in kind that perhaps Ohio State is playing, “the Little Brothers of the Poor.” Being willing to take on the big powers of college football and academia isn't the fate we in Illinois would have expected for Kustra.

This outburst comes from the man whom, when the Illinois GOP was at its peak in the mid-1990s, the party regulars wanted to send off to Washington to take over the seat the Paul Simon abandoned when he retired in 1996.

Of course, that seat wound up being filled by Richard Durbin, who defeated the guy who beat Bob Kustra in the GOP primary – the now-barely remembered Al Salvi. Kustra in that campaign came off as too meek and timid to appease the more conservative elements of the Illinois GOP.

WHICH IS WHAT started the trail of academia that put Kustra in the position to be capable of defending the smaller-scale colleges whose athletic programs still pretend to exist to bolster the reputation of their respective universities, rather than to exist on their own merits.

I’ll be the first to admit that my bias when it comes to college athletics is to find more interest in the smaller schools, largely because I went to a university whose athletic programs were Division III. The whole idea of dredging up young bodies to use them for a season or two on behalf of the sports teams just seems too alien to me.

I knew people in college who took their sports very seriously, but were also in school because they wanted to be there.

Now I’m not necessarily claiming that Boise State has some high-minded, idealistic football program. But I can see where their fans would come off thinking that it is ridiculous to look down on them.

AND THE FACT that this year, the Boise State Broncos have managed to go through their season thus far undefeated ought to make them worthy of some consideration for the top bowl games. It is, after all, supposed to be about Division I sports. It’s not like Boise State is a community college program (which can offer some quality play, but exist in their own athletic universe).

Anybody who tries to argue that Boise State would somehow cheapen, or taint in some way, the bowl game is being ridiculous. I can’t help but remember how much interest was created last season in college basketball when Butler University of Indianapolis managed to make it all the way to the championship game of the NCAA tournament. Are some people too blind to realize that Boise State could become the equivalent story for college football?

So when Boise State travels to Reno, Nev., on Friday to play Nevada, then takes on Utah State come Dec. 4, I’ll have to be the first to admit I probably will be rooting for them to win.

An undefeated Boise State would complicate the mix by which the NCAA tries to figure out which college football programs deserve to be in the top bowl game. If by chance the powers-that-be of college football try to keep out the smaller schools, we now know that Kustra will be more than capable of raising a stink that will be entertaining to listen to.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

An African-American for mayor? Maybe things haven’t changed as we’d like

HAROLD, HAROLD!: A faint echo
Perhaps it is appropriate that we’re at the 23rd anniversary of the day on which Harold Washington departed this planet.

His death in the very office at City Hall in which 20 people wish to work following next year’s elections brought an end to an era in which the African-American population (which is larger than any other single ethnic or racial group in Chicago) had “one of its own” in the top political post.

EUGENE SAWYER’S MAYORAL stint was engineered by the white political powerbrokers who were looking to undermine the concept of black chief executives, and we have had Richard M. Daley ever since.

So at a time when the bulk of the serious candidates likely to run for mayor are African-American, it seems that the overwhelming favorite is the dreaded Rahm-bo. Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel seems to be the runaway favorite of all the candidates in the running.

 A new poll commissioned by the Chicago Retail Merchants Association showed Emanuel taking 39 percent of the vote, if the election were held now. By comparison, the African-American candidate gets 26 percent – if one adds up all the support for former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Rev./state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, and Sen. (for four more days) Roland Burris, D-Ill.

If that poll is taken into account, the Feb. 22 municipal election will result in a runoff to be held in April between Emanuel and Moseley-Braun. It would become the emotional challenge for those people who want to rant and rage about electoral politics – since they will be inclined to complain and want to vote against both candidates.

NOW I WILL be the first to admit that I don’t take this poll all too seriously, largely because it is so early in the political process. It shows 18 percent of people being “unsure” who they want, which likely means that Emanuel leads by so much because he has been effective during the past month in pushing the concept that he is THE candidate for mayor.

It is the reason why Moseley-Braun is trying to push the concept that Emanuel’s departure in October from the White House undermined the effectiveness of President Barack Obama – resulting in his self-described “shellacking” in the elections held earlier this month. Make Obama-sympathetic voters blame Emanuel, and maybe they won’t vote for him.

MOSELEY-BRAUN: She's the frontrunner (for now)
It also is why Davis is going about these days saying Emanuel doesn’t belong on the ballot, trying to dredge up the issue of whether or not Rahm gave up his Chicago residency status when he went to Washington to work for Obama.

And it is why an attorney who is a consultant to Meeks is the leader of that legal battle to get Emanuel kicked off the ballot.

THAT IS THE point we’re at in this city when it comes to racial politics. The only way the powers-that-be think we can get an African-American candidate elected as mayor is if all the credible white people get knocked off the ballot.

Not that I think such a tactic would work.

I honestly believe that the bulk of the people who are backing Emanuel now would suddenly turn to one of the Latino candidates, most likely former Public Schools and City Colleges head Gery Chico – who earlier this week was pointing out the fact that he has Greek ethnicity in his family tree and was claiming the endorsement of his Public Schools counterpart, Paul Vallas – who had his share of supporters when he ran for Illinois governor in 2002.

So perhaps he becomes the un-Latino candidate who some people will be able to vote for, so as to avoid having to cast a vote for any of the Big Four of the African-American candidates who are in the running (I know “Dock” Walls supporters – all three of them – will claim it really is a Big Five, but I disagree). Or perhaps life-long Chicagoan M. Tricia Lee would suddenly gain significant voter support.

CHICO: The backup choice?
THE SAD FACT is that we’re not as far along the road to racial acceptance as we’d like to think we are. There will be significant numbers of voters in the municipal elections who will let race guide the way they cast their ballot.

We may have sent some African-American officials to represent us in the U.S. Senate, at the Statehouse and as president. But I think some people believe mayor is more important because that is here, not somewhere else.

I’m waiting to see what kinds of rhetoric develop once we know which of the African-American candidates will become the front-runner of the group, and the one who will wind up going head-to-head against Emanuel.

It may not be as blunt as the rhetoric (“Before it’s too late”) from Election ’83. But I’m willing to bet that the spirit will be similar to the days when Harold was still with us.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Could city Clerk campaign give us as intense an electoral battle as mayoral race?

It is unfortunate that everybody interested in Chicago’s electoral politics is going to focus their attention on the campaign for mayor, watching as the 20 candidates winnow their way down to the half-dozen or so individuals who deserve serious consideration.

MENDOZA: Return from Springfield?
Because after looking at the lists of candidates who used the past week to file their nominating petitions to try to get themselves on the ballot, I’m wondering if the city Clerk campaign is going to be the one that turns into the real political brawl.

AS THINGS TURN out, incumbent city Clerk Miguel del Valle is giving up the post in order to run a campaign for mayor. It leaves the post open, with seven individuals expressing interest in taking over the office that, for many people, IS city government.

Just about any time they have to deal with the city, they’re ultimately dealing with the clerk.

Most of the candidates waited until the final day to submit their nominating petitions. So Patricia Horton, who has served the past four years on the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, will get the top ballot spot – which in theory could get her a couple percent of the vote from people who are totally clueless about the identity of any of the candidates.

What makes this campaign intriguing are the two women who waited until the final hour of Monday to submit their petitions – Alderman Sandi Jackson (7th Ward) and state Rep. Susana Mendoza, D-Chicago.

JACKSON, OF COURSE, hedged her bets by also filing nominating petitions to run again for alderman of her South Side ward, while Mendoza will remain as a state legislator (7,210 people voted for her earlier this month in her unopposed bid for another term at the Statehouse) if she is unsuccessful on Feb. 22.

Some are pointing out the fact that Jackson (who may decide in coming weeks to focus on being alderman rather than clerk) is facing a challenge for city clerk by Mersaydes Young, who is allied with Cook County Board member William Beavers (she works on his staff). Beavers used to be the alderman of Jackson’s ward, and this could be one of those spats over whether the Beavers clan or Jackson family is the local power broker.

HORTON: The "not Jackson" vote?
But I can’t help but notice Mendoza’s presence, since she is the candidate who has del Valle’s backing to be his successor as city Clerk. Not that I think many people are going to be swayed by that fact.

But in an election cycle where the Latino candidates for mayor are likely to cancel each other out, I’m wondering if those people with an interest in increased Latino political empowerment are going to wind up focusing their attention on supporting Mendoza’s bid for clerk over her six challengers.

MENDOZA HERSELF HAS been around the political scene for about 15 years. She once was an aide to former state Rep. (and alderman) Ray Frias, before eventually being convinced to run for an Illinois House seat on her own – representing the Pilsen neighborhood in Springfield since 2001.

Now, she’s going to run for a city-wide political post. Considering how the top three posts of city government (mayor, clerk and treasurer) in recent years have taken on an ethnic balance, I’m wondering how long until we hear the rhetoric that “clerk” has become the “Latino” post, and that there should be a strong turnout for Mendoza to get her elected.

On the other hand, I can envision many African-American voters being swayed to vote for the daughter-in-law of Rev. Jesse Jackson, while maintaining the appearance of the Jacksons as a local political power couple (with husband Jesse Jr. remaining in Congress for another term).

JACKSON: Is the surname all-powerful?
Then again, there are many African-American people who have developed their own reasons for despising the Jacksons – which could make Horton their candidate of choice.

SUPPOSE THIS CAMPAIGN does wind up having a “Latino vs. African-American” factor to it. How does that impact the other campaigns? I ask that because any serious attempt by the African-American mayoral hopefuls is going to have to appeal to portions of other ethnic groups in Chicago if it is to gain enough support to win city-wide. Could the clerk’s race wind up being a factor in cutting the potential crossover support for mayor?

You’d be correct in thinking that my point is that the city Clerk campaign is going to show us to what degree the non-white ethnic voters of Chicago should be thought of as unified. It also is going to show us once and for all that women are fully capable of playing the same political hardball as the men when it comes to Chicago-style politics.

I’m not about to predict who is going to come out on top on Feb. 22 – other than to say that I doubt we will get the concept of “city Clerk Goran Davidovac.” For all I know, this campaign may provide us with the need for a runoff election that will be as spirited as anything that gets produced for Chicago mayor.

It could wind up providing political observers with the real electoral fun come next April.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

George Ryan brings out our worst side

There are some cold-hearted people inhabiting Planet Earth. Anybody who doubts that fact ought to read the running commentary that gets spewed on the Internet any time George Ryan’s name comes up.

Should 16627-424 be released?
Most recently, that was Monday, when attorneys for Ryan argued that the same legal principles that allowed one-time newspaper mogul Conrad Black to be released from prison while his criminal appeals are pending should allow Illinois’ former governor to be released from the work camp outside of the maximum-security federal  prison near Terre Haute, Ind.

THEY ARGUE THAT he has already served more than three years in prison, and that there is a good chance that the rest of his prison time would be for convictions on charges that would no longer apply under new legal standards for an “honest services” conviction.

In short, Ryan may well have already served his prison term, and should be released so he can be with wife Lura Lynn when she dies – which according to arguments heard Monday in court could come some time during 2011.

Not that many people are being swayed by any of this.

In fact, I have lost count of the number of people who think that Lura Lynn herself should either be in jail with George, or should move herself to some apartment in Terre Haute if she really feels the need to have some proximity to her husband of six decades.

THERE EVEN WERE those people who accused her of faking her appearance in the courtroom on Monday – no makeup and she was lugging around an oxygen tank to help her breathe.

Then, there are those people who want to trot out variations on what has to have become one of the lamest clichés ever to be derived from a television show.

I’m referring, of course, to, “Don’t Do the Crime, if you Can’t do the Time.” From “Baretta.” Every time I hear someone trot out that line, it makes me despise that television program from my childhood years even more than actor Robert Blake’s youthful performances in the final incarnation of the Our Gang kids.

My point in bringing all of this up is to point out how little the concept of rational thought has to do with our gut reactions to George Ryan, and whether or not the man has suffered enough for not really caring that his employees in the Illinois secretary of state’s office (particularly, the department of motor vehicles) were shaking down unqualified drivers for bribes in exchange for the licenses that allowed them to have their jobs.

AS ANYONE WHO has read my past commentary on this issue already knows, I believe this was an incident where the actual “criminality” of the act occurred at the lowest level, although it bothers me that Ryan’s initial reaction was to try to keep such behavior from tainting his political post – rather than trying to punish those workers who thought that one of the perks of their job was to be able to solicit such bribes.

So yes, I thought it was punishment enough that when all of this came to light during Ryan’s subsequent term as governor, the outcry was so severe that he was unable to seriously contemplate running for re-election.

It sent him into political retirement, and my guess is that he would have had the same visceral reaction to such status as Roland Burris has had throughout the years – continually seeking a return to public life, even though his time had passed.

I will always believe that a large part of the opposition to Ryan, including the people whom to this day still insist on as much incarceration as possible, is due to the fact that Republican Ryan didn’t behave as a blatant political partisan during his time as governor.

THEY MAY TALK about corruption, but in their minds, the corrupt act was that he was willing to listen to those death penalty opponents and take their arguments seriously enough that he eventually cleared out Illinois’ Death Row when it became apparent that the state Legislature would never approve a reform of the capital crimes statute for him to sign into law.

I’m not crediting Ryan with sainthood for that act (unlike those people who perpetually nominate Ryan for the Nobel Prize). But it is a factor for those people such as the one Internet commenter I saw who argued that Ryan should be thankful he only got a 6-year prison term, rather than 30 years or more like some other people convicted of felony offenses.

Which I will admit is part of the reason why I can support some sense of compassion for Ryan’s case. Just the thought that it would greatly offend people whose thought processes on this matter I find offensive means it probably is the right thing to do.

So while I am not under any delusion that U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer would care in the least what I think, I am hoping she comes to some ruling with regards to Monday’s legal arguments that does cut short Ryan’s time in prison.

I THINK IT is time we as a society in Illinois get past George Ryan. Letting him become a decrepit old man with a felony conviction at the family home in Kankakee is an unpleasant fate for someone who lived for so long in the public eye.

For those people who secretly dream of Ryan being attacked by fellow inmates and dying in some sort of prison brawl, all I have to say is that you have serious issues to address in your own life. With such unpleasant thoughts, you may be a bigger threat to our society than Ryan could ever be.


Monday, November 22, 2010

EXTRA: The candidates, for now

This is the “baker’s dozen-plus seven” list of people who still have delusions of becoming mayor of Chicago following the 2011 municipal elections.

Former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun
Former Public Schools/City Colleges chief Gery Chico
Rep. Danny Davis
Rev. Wilfredo DeJesus
City Clerk Miguel del Valle
Former White House Chief of Staff/Rep., Rahm Emanuel
M. Tricia Lee
Tyrone Carter
Jay Stone
Ryan Graves
Patricia Van Pelt Watkins
Fenton Patterson
Rob Halpin (a.k.a., the tenant who wouldn’t leave)
Rev./state Sen. James Meeks
Sen. (for one more week) Roland Burris
Frederick White
Tommy Hanson
John Hu
William “Dock” Walls
Howard Ray

AND THE REASON why some people want to believe that Tom Dart’s name isn’t on this list.

All I know is it will be interesting to see how aggressively the so-called “major” candidates decide to challenge the candidacies of the lesser-known names. I doubt that Jay “Mr. 280” Stone will be the only person who gets knocked off the list between now and the Feb. 22 election.

For what it’s worth, the first seven names on the list were the people who were on hand when the Chicago Board of Elections offices opened at 9 a.m. Nov. 15 to file their petitions. So they will be eligible for the lottery Dec. 1 to figure out who gets the top spot on the ballot’s laundry list of mayoral hopefuls.

Personally, I’m hoping Lee (whose YouTube video proclaims her to be a Bridgeport native and the quintessential Chicagoan) makes a mess of the well-laid-out strategies of experienced politicos by winning that ballot slot.


92 days, and counting, until Election Day

To me, the final day of the time period for filing nominating petitions is always more interesting than the first day.

Admittedly, that first day always sees a mad rush of potential candidates or their aides (the would-be politicos wouldn’t want to risk catching a cold) waiting at the Elections Board office when it first opens that Monday morning – all in hopes of getting that first spot on the ballot.

THE DAYS IN between (which this time consisted of all of last week) usually attract the fringe candidates who didn’t get their nominating petitions in order by Monday morning.

So the fact that fringe mayoral candidates Tyrone Carter and Jay Stone filed on Tuesday and Thursday of last week ought to be reason enough to discount their chances (that, and the fact that Stone's petitions didn't even come close to the minimal support required to survive an electoral challenge). Even fringe candidate M. Tricia Lee managed to be ready to file for her spot on the Feb. 22 ballot by first thing Monday morning.

But it is that last day, which this year occurs today, that has the potential for intrigue.

Because there is always a serious candidate who decides to play the game of wanting to have his name appear last on the list of candidates running for a particular office. This year, it is the mayoral bid of Rev./state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, who is trying that gambit.

THE REVEREND COULD make a big splash IF he were to show up just before the Chicago Board of Elections offices were to close, and file his nominating petitions at the last possible second. But what if someone were to get stuck in traffic, and the reverend’s people were to show up just seconds after the office door were locked?

The death of a credible campaign on a fluke? It could happen.

Monday is the final day to file the nominating petitions that let someone run for the right to be the Big Man (or Woman) who walks these halls.

Or what if the reverend’s people show up late in the day and file, only to have someone else manage to slip in at the (literal) last minute to file their own nominating petitions for a ballot slot to run for mayor?

When I look at the list of nine people who as of the weekend had filed their nominating petitions to get on the mayoral ballot, I first notice the absence of the name Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins. She’s the woman who caught my Election Night attention earlier this month by having her radio campaign spots run over and over and over again on WBBM-AM radio, making themselves prominent among all the reports of Mark Kirk’s narrow victory for U.S. Senate, or Pat Quinn’s even closer win for Illinois governor.

I DON’T KNOW definitively what Van Pelt-Watkins is planning to do. Maybe she has given up. Or she may file those petitions and get herself a ballot slot. Could this be a race between the CEO and the pastor to see who can come in last?

And what about that guy who’s living in mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel’s house, is refusing to move out, and a couple of weeks ago tossed out hints that he may run his own campaign for mayor?

If he’s serious about that notion, he has to get those petitions in today – or else he’s as full of hot air as any other political dreamer.

I’m sure some people will be doing a body-watch for him to show up with nominating petitions, although I have to admit to not having too much interest in whether or not he runs.

IF HE DOES manage to get on the ballot, it would be just another fringe candidate on the mayoral ballot. We have enough of those (I’m sorry that I can’t take Stone’s mayoral bid more seriously, because not even his alderman father plans to support him), and I don’t think we need many more.

If there is a real story to that guy’s presence (I’m deliberately not naming him because I don’t want to publicize his ego any more than necessary), it would be to find out who put the idea of a mayoral bid into his head to begin with.

Just as I believe one story we reporter-types should be pursuing related to this mayoral campaign is to find out who is paying the bills that are accumulating related to the attempt to get the courts to knock Emanuel off the ballot on the grounds that he has not (according to the letter of the law) been a Chicago resident for a current-enough period to qualify for a political campaign this election cycle.

Thus far, we have heard about how attorney Burt Odelson and his legal colleague James Nally are handling this particular effort (claiming Emanuel gave up his Chicago residency when he went off to Washington to be President Barack Obama’s chief of staff for 20 months).

PROFESSIONALLY, I RESPECT the legal skills and the work of Odelson – who I have watched for just over two decades. He is an expert at election law, and he is good at getting things done for his clients.

But whose client is he in handling this particular case? I can’t envision he’s taking on this case pro bono just for his own curiosity, although I have heard him identified in recent weeks as being an “adviser” to Meeks’ campaign.

Who is paying the legal expenses for Odelson to work his hardest to knock off Emanuel, and what are the partisan leanings of those particular individuals?

In my mind, I can’t figure if it is just some conservative partisan who dreads the idea of Rahm-bo continuing to be politically relevant (the ideologues would want Emanuel to be unemployed and living on food stamps, so they could then label him a welfare cheat)?

OR ARE WE talking about someone who wants to clear the path for another of the mayoral hopefuls? Does the reverend want Emanuel out of the way so that this becomes the all-African-American political battle?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. I must admit to being more curious about learning those facts, rather than listening to the rhetorical nonsense that we’re going to hear in coming weeks from all the candidates as they try to convince us they deserve the chance to be the person who has to take the blame for being unable to resolve the fiscal mess that confronts city government these days.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Preoccupied with my mother

My mother, Juanita Tejeda (nee Vargas) died Saturday night. She was 66, and had been undergoing treatment related to diabetes for the past decade.

All of which means I will be preoccupied for the next few days, and will be too busy to be posting regular commentary at this weblog. I hope to resume soon, once my life and that of my brother, Christopher, get back to normal.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

The campaign that died before it could begin – Alexi Giannoulias for Mayor

Alexi for mayor? Not this time
Perhaps it was a working vacation. Alexi Giannoulias left town for a few days following his loss to Mark Kirk for U.S. Senate from Illinois, and didn’t come back until Thursday.

Which means that for him to say decisively Friday afternoon that he is NOT a candidate for Chicago mayor in the Feb. 22 elections, he must have been making calls trying to drum up support while enjoying his time on a beach somewhere.

TO ME, THAT seems like a self-defeating way to recover from the frenzy of a campaign – by trying to build support for another campaign in just over three months.

Unless we want to believe that Giannoulias got back from vacation, immediately started calling up political people, and came to the realization within a few hours that getting involved in a political campaign so soon after his loss would make him look flakey.

I would hope Giannoulias would realize that just by thinking about it, and not having to contact anyone.

The bottom line is that Giannoulias is not going to be trying this weekend to gain 12,500 valid signatures of support on nominating petitions to get himself a spot on the mayoral ballot during the 2011 municipal elections.

THAT DOESN’T MEAN we won’t ever see Giannoulias in public office again. I fully expect him  to run again, and win, a future campaign for office.

It’s not like an Election Day loss means the end of a career doing “the people’s business.” Just look at Pat Quinn, who between serving a term as state treasurer and becoming the state’s lieutenant governor (which because of the erratic behavior of Rod Blagojevich resulted in the Mighty Quinn ascending to governor) lost bids for Illinois secretary of state, U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor.

Will Giannoulias go the Tammy Duckworth route?
There’s even Giannoulias’ one-time basketball buddy, Barack Obama, whose career recovered from that loss to Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. (although, in all fairness, one must concede that Obama had his Illinois Senate seat to fall back on, he didn’t have to give up the legislative post when he ran for Congress).

In short, anybody who wants to think that Giannoulias is somehow damaged goods is being naïve.

IT’S JUST THAT the timing of a mayoral campaign was just way too soon. 2012 or 2014 are the best bets for thinking of Giannoulias as a candidate for higher office – not next year.

If anything, I wonder if some sort of government appointment is in Giannoulias’ future – to help tide over the time between now and the next election. He might wind up taking over the niche that Tammy Duckworth once had. She lost her 2006 bid for Congress from the western suburbs, yet got an Illinois Veterans Affairs Department appointment, only to turn it into a federal VA appointment as assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs – which seems to interest her more than actually running for office, considering how many times she has turned down chances to run again for political office.

Could it be Alexi who now gets considered whenever there is a vacancy?

I have to confess that in the couple of days after Giannoulias lost to Kirk, my mind concocted the scenario in which Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan were to actually decide she wanted to be a part of the Chicago mayoral mess.

IN WHICH CASE, her eventual resignation would create an appointment for the governor to fill. Quinn picking Giannoulias to be the attorney for state government?

Illinois Attorney General Alexi Giannoulias? It makes as much sense as any scenario, since Giannoulias is a law school graduate and a former state constitutional official.

Madigan, of course, has since indicated she is not going for mayor, which has some people thinking that an administrative position of sorts is bound to open up in the federal government – giving Obama a chance to put Giannoulias into a slot where he could bide his time until he makes up his mind what the next political office will be that he will seek.

Because while Giannoulias said in a statement declaring his non-candidacy for mayor that he, “didn’t get into public service just to run for office,” I can’t help but think that any guy with the kind of ambition that started his political career with a bid for Illinois treasurer, then tried to move up after only one term to be the U.S. Senate member from Illinois isn’t going to suddenly give up now.

IF ANYTHING, PERHAPS a little bit of humbling from his loss to Kirk (which – for those Republicans who want to gloat – wasn’t by that much of a victory margin) would help him with a political future.

The key will be to see if Giannoulias can follow the example of Obama – who lost in 2000 to Rush for the right to represent the South Side in Congress. Obama has since come to say that Rush “spanked me” in that campaign, and that he had to think seriously about why he was involved in public service positions.

If Giannoulias thinks in those terms, instead of obsessing about how he could have closed a roughly 75,000-vote gap, he probably will find himself taking an oath of office sometime in the near future.