Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top story; new mayor, or old gov?

It’s coming up on that time of year when newsgathering organizations are going to feel compelled to give us the “Top stories” of 2011.
EMANUEL: Does Rahm rule?

A “year in review” story, if done properly, can offer up a punchily-written take that tries to put a complete calendar year in perspective. If done hastily or dull-ly, it is nothing more than a waste of space surrounding all the girdle ads.

YET I CAN’T help but notice a bit of spin being placed on these lists as they come up this year.

For I watched the “Chicago Tonight” program that aired last Friday, and saw a panel of reporter- and broadcast-types make it clear that the BIG STORY for ’11 was the departure of the Daley family from City Hall – resulting in the arrival of Rahm Emanuel from the White House to be our mayor for the next four years.

He has used his influence in subtle ways to impact public policy from both Washington and Springfield – as well as in brash ways to affect people locally.

Yet the Associated Press came out with its own take on the Top Ten stories for the year, and made it clear that Rahm Emanuel at City Hall is ONLY Number Two.

FOR THE TOP story in Illinois (the “near-unanimous choice” according to that wire service) was the whole second trial of Rod Blagojevich – the former governor who now faces the prospect of going to prison some time in March to serve a 14-year sentence (which could translate to 11 years, 10 ½ months if Milorod behaves himself while enduring incarceration).

Now in the interest of personal disclosure, I should remind you that I am a former United Press International reporter – having worked both at the Statehouse in Springfield and in Chicago for the wire service. Which means I have no personal qualms about writing something that says the Associated Press is full of it.
BLAGOJEVICH: Who's to blame?

And I also realize that “year in review” stories are basically space-filler for the week when there is real little news.

Yet the idea of elevating Blagojevich to the top slot is just absurd. I really suspect that the kind of people who compiled this list are probably the same ones who think that Reps. Bill Mitchell and Adam Brown have a clue with their ridiculous resolution to break the rest of Illinois away from Cook County.

MAYBE THEY THINK that making Blagojevich the BIG story somehow brings a sense of shame to Chicago politics.

It doesn’t – in part because Chicago political people have no sense of shame. It doesn’t factor into the equation.

Although whenever I hear the people from rural Illinois talk about Blagojevich and a legacy, it astounds me how they have forgotten how much of a role they themselves played in his becoming governor.

Remember that Blagojevich was the guy who won the 2002 primary BECAUSE of the fact that he got downstate Illinois voter support. The other candidates were too Chicago-centric to those voters, so they picked Milorod in overwhelming numbers.

IF THE WILL of Chicago, the city proper, had prevailed in that 2002 Democratic primary, we in Illinois would have experienced the concept of a “Gov. Roland Burris,” whose campaign was dominant enough in the African-American wards that he won the overall city vote.

If it had been the people of Chicago and its suburbs prevailing, we would have got a “Gov. Paul Vallas,” who truly was the one who appealed to the suburbs that comprise about 45 percent of the state’s overall population. It is likely that the only “Bridgeport” in his life would be the Sout’ Side neighborhood – not the Connecticut city whose school system he recently was hired by state officials to operate.

“Rod R. Blagojevich” is NOT some entity imposed by Chicago on the rest of the state. Which is what I think that surveys such as this AP thing try to reinforce.

Perhaps I’d take the idea of the federal government’s legal proceedings against Blagojevich more seriously if it could be argued that what is really being done is a crackdown on government corruption. Yet I couldn’t help but notice that the AP listings didn’t even include the trial of political operative William Cellini in their Top 10.

ANYBODY WHO KNOWS anything realizes that the Cellini trial – in the long-term – is more important than anything done to Blagojevich, who during his government service distinguished himself as a loud-mouth more than anything else.

Not that I’m necessarily arguing for Emanuel to get top billing – he can be just as much a blowhard as Blagojevich was.

Because I actually think the “Top story” for the year is the Illinois General Assembly – which gave us civil unions and the abolition of the death penalty. Those are two issues where a part of me believed our legislators would never have the nerve to do what was proper.

But they did, and they made major changes in the way Illinois will operate for the foreseeable future – while also ensuring that we advance further into the 21st Century, rather than lag backwards into the 19th.

And the silly resolutions that some downstate legislators concoct in response can serve a legitimate purpose -- they giver us all comic relief.


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