Friday, January 31, 2014

Paying their own way means they’ll listen to no one. Is that what we want?

Why do I sense that the Illinois Republican Party’s worst nightmare these days is for the top of their ticket for this year’s election cycle to wind up being a pair of rich white guys?

RAUNER: The multi-Million Dollar Man?
Guys so rich that they plan to essentially finance their own political desires. Which means they’re not going to be inclined to listen to anyone.

NOT EVEN THE people in their own political party who theoretically are their allies. And who most definitely are the base of voters to whom they’re going to have to rely upon if they don’t want to totally get their hats handed to them by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The man whom is supposedly beatable because of that 26 percent approval rating. Which may be accurate, but doesn’t take into account the fact that the electorate in Illinois probably doesn’t like anybody else any better!

What I’m talking about is the potential pairing of venture capitalist Bruce Rauner getting the GOP nomination for governor, with investment firm and dairy owner (and state senator) James Oberweis becoming the Republican choice to challenge Richard Durbin for his seat in the U.S. Senate.

At a time when the Republican operatives wanted to turn the attention onto Quinn by claiming that his State of the State address this week to the General Assembly was just a lot of campaign sop with no substance that covered up the state’s flaws, too many of us are focused on how much the two millionaires are relying on their own funds to buy their way into office.

THE STATE BOARD of Elections indicated that Rauner gave his campaign fund another $1 million, on top of the more than $4.5 million he has already spent in his effort to bolster his name recognition to the point where all the other, more politically experienced, opponents come across as paupers unworthy of GOP consideration.

OBERWEIS: Buying Senate seat?
It may well be that Dan Rutherford’s campaign buy of television advertising time during the Winter Olympic Games is too little, too late!

Rauner will not be outspent. Depending on how many more $1 million loans he can keep giving himself, he may well be able to match the nearly $4 million that Quinn has accumulated – but not spent – during his primary fight. Saving it all up for the general election fight.

He’ll definitely be the only Republican candidate who will be able to match Quinn – although it’s going to depend on how close to financial ruin he’s willing to drive himself.

DURBIN: Going for Term 4 in Senate
GOP OPERATIVES LIKELY would be much more comfortable with Rutherford or the state senators – Kirk Dillard and William Brady – just because the fact that they’re raising money from business interests and other contributors. Who they would be compelled to listen to after-the-fact.

The same goes for Oberweis, whom the Chicago Tribune reported has lent his campaign fund some $500,000, to go along with the $105,000 it managed to raise from donors, according to the Federal Election Commission.

He’s going to have the funds to whomp on Doug Truax come the March 18 primary cycle. Although some wonder if the characteristics that resulted in his past political failures for governor, U.S. Senate and member of Congress will crawl out of the woodwork and take him down in this latest political bid.

We’re talking about a pair of men whose egos make them think the public is dying for the chance to have them guide our government through our futures. The fact that they can fund themselves is just going to subject us to their egos-run-amok even longer than they would if they had to rely on more traditional finance methods for their campaigns.

QUINN: 'Common' guy, by default
DO WE REALLY want to rely on rich, white guys for all our government officials? Somehow, I doubt it.

And that’s going to be the reason why attacks on Quinn and Durbin in coming months as being out-of-touch with the electorate are going to be just a bit too much for the bulk of us to believe.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

“State of the …” speeches become nothing more than partisan rhetoric?

There are those people who are blasting Gov. Pat Quinn these days for having the gall to use his official State of the State speech to the General Assembly for political purposes. How dare he want to get re-elected!?!

OBAMA: Ignoring opposition?
Just as there are those who are trashing President Barack Obama for giving a State of the Union address where he basically expressed his intent to take action on select issues without the approval of Congress. So that his presidency doesn't end in two years with nothing more being accomplished.

IT IS DIFFICULT, if not impossible, for me to take these people seriously, however, because of their own political motivations.

Tuning in to the television news on Wednesday and seeing Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lambasting Obama for not being willing to work with Congress? Ted, Shut up!!!

The same goes for those people who are upset that Quinn basically used his annual address to legislators to talk about things he’d like to do – but likely won’t be able to – because his political opponents won’t want him to have government policy victories right in the heart of the current electoral cycle.

I think this makes the Republicans at both the federal and state levels look incredibly petty to engage in such rhetoric. I comprehend the concept of the opposition political party making a statement.

AND I DON’T expect the opposition to come out and say what a wonderful guy the president/governor truly is.

But the degree to which partisanship has overtaken the process of a government chief executive making a statement about where things stand and where they will go in the future has truly become appalling.

QUINN: Electioneering?
We’re at the point where I was repulsed by the congressional opposition complaining that Obama wants to exclude them – even though in both actions and statements they have made it clear they have little to no interest in working with the president on much of anything.

If anything, the reason some people are losing faith in an Obama presidency is the perception that he’s too weak to stand up to his opposition – that he’s merely willing to let himself get smacked around.

THE STATE OF the Union address may be evidence that Obama has finally come to his senses. He realizes the people (or at least the ones who aren’t determined to believe their ideologue minority is the only one that deserves to be listened to) expect some action.

CRUZ: Blasting Obama for ignoring him
A year of inaction on immigration reform? No action whatsoever on issues such as the minimum wage or long-term unemployment insurance? The people are disgusted that there has been nothing from government – we definitely do not want more of the same!

And for those people who try arguing that Obama is exaggerating the opposition he gets from Republican congressional members, I’d only remind them of the ridiculous levels of hostility that have been directed toward health care reform – an issue that truly needs to be addressed.

Except for those ideologues who are desperate to believe that people lacking in adequate health insurance are somehow unworthy of it. As though they brought that condition upon themselves.

THE SAME GOES for Republicans who even before Quinn gave his address to the General Assembly were trashing him for wanting to use a speech to make himself look good. How else to explain former Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, saying he wanted Quinn to only make "detailed and responsible" statements during the address -- as though he gets to define those terms.

In short, they don't want Quinn to use the advantages of incumbency while running against assorted Republicans and a Democrat – all of whom were present for the address.

CROSS: Define 'responsible'
State Sens. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and William Brady, R-Bloomington, along with state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, were among the officials expected to be there, while his Democratic challenger, Tio Hardiman and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner were likely sitting in the gallery watching the annual event – while fantasizing how they will be giving the same speech next year.

Quinn hinted before giving the address that he’s interested in bolstering the concerns of the middle class. Just like anyone else would say – except then they wouldn’t be so eager to pile on with the criticism.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This year, the cold chill of winter is worse than the slop of all the snowfall

I’m usually the type who complains about snowfall while also downplaying the effect of cold temperatures during the winter months.

After all, one can always put on a sweater. Or be like my brother, whose winter coat gets supplemented by a couple of sweatshirts. Snowfall, however, gets messy and creates the road conditions that causes idiots who don’t know how to slow down to skid all over the place.

WHO’S TO SAY if it was sloppy weather that caused the Monday night incident where a truck crashed into an Illinois State Toll Highway Authority worker who was trying to provide relief to the driver of another truck that was pulled alongside Interstate 88 near Aurora? The worker is dead, while an Illinois State Police trooper who tried to aid, remained in critical condition, according to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times newspapers.

But this winter is the one that has me wondering if I’ve been a bit misguided, while also introducing the weather geek term “polar vortex” into common vocabulary.

This is the winter where we’re on our second spurt of temperatures reaching low levels most commonly found in the Arctic Circle. If this is the level of cold commonly reached at the North Pole, it’s a wonder that Santa Claus hasn’t relocated his red-clad butt to a tropical island somewhere.

Perhaps that one where Gilligan and the rest of the crew (including Mary Ann with all her coconut pies) managed to go undetected for all those years!
Ditching Gilligan for Santa Claus?

IT’S COLD. AND it’s ridiculous when we were supposed to get all excited about the fact that on Tuesday, we reached a “high” temperature for the day of 1 degree. We actually had our thermometers creep to levels above zero degrees.

Consider that water freezes into ice at 32 degrees (compared to zero degrees Celsius, because some of us would think that is somehow “foreign”). Bottom line. It’s cold.

So cold that I’ve lost track of how many days our schools have been forced to close. If this trend keeps up, we’re going to have a school year that will come close to making Independence Day a day off from class – rather than just part of the school day. We don’t know how many wintry blasts of cold we’re going to get. We can only hope this second one is the last one.
Some Hoosiers don't know how to share

Personally, I’m coping well with the weather because I’m able to remain indoors. I haven’t had to travel anywhere, so I haven’t. I did wake up Tuesday morning with a couple of toes feeling numb. But heavy socks helped deal with that.

BUT I AM starting to feel a bit stir crazy, as would – I expect – just about everyone else who has been confined indoors due to the dangerous cold temperatures we’re experiencing now.

I could have done without the personal educational experience of how cold it gets in the Arctic and on Antarctica on a common day (although, to be honest, the South Pole has its record lows at levels we can only hope we never experience in Chicago).

This has been a season that has brought out the best, and worst, in all of us. Sometimes, at the same time.

Take the tale coming out of Gary, Ind., and its neighboring community of Portage. Gary, because of its proximity to Lake Michigan, experienced significant levels of snowfall, while Portage was just far enough back that it didn’t get much.

SO PORTAGE OFFICIALS, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper, had their Public Works Department crews go into Gary to assist with snow cleanup on the streets. It was a gesture of kindness from the Portage mayor.

Except that other village officials were upset that they weren’t consulted. Some of them would have preferred that the aid not be provided to Gary. I wonder if the fact that Gary is an African-American dominant city – 84.8 percent – is a factor. Regardless, it comes across as pretty petty. A colder gesture than the temperature itself.
Trashy-weather TV?

This will be a winter we tell stories about in the future. Although I wonder how far those stories will get exaggerated. At the very least, we won’t be hearing stories 30 years from now about how people walked to school in 10-below temperatures.

They stood home and watched trashy programs on television (I just caught the end of “Robocop”). Which is all the more reason to hope that this is The End. As in, cue The Doors.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

EXTRA: Some people just stubbornly desperate for negative attention

I’m not sure who is out-of-touch with the real world these days – the Catholic bishop of Springfield, Ill., or the Indiana House of Representatives.

PAPROCKI:  The disciplinarian?
Both of them this week made it clear they’re not about to go along with anything that is about recognizing marriage as being a legitimate concept for gay couples.

THE INDIANA HOUSE gave its approval on Tuesday to a measure that puts a ban on gay marriage into the Indiana state Constitution. Although it still needs approval from the Indiana state Senate, and another round of Legislature approval in 2015 – before it can go on the ballot for Indiana voters to decide in 2016.

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Paprocki – who heads the Catholic church in Springfield and surrounding parts of central Illinois – gave an interview to a religious-oriented website in which he made it clear he’s standing by the prayer ritual he did last year on the day that Gov. Pat Quinn signed gay marriage into Illinois law.

You remember the exorcism? He tried to drive out the demons, so to speak, that caused our political people to approve the change in law!

If anything, Paprocki bothers me more, and not just because he’s actually a Chicagoan who used to be a priest in the Chicago archdiocese before he moved up in the Catholic church ranks by moving down in terms of location.

IN HIS INTERVIEW, Paprocki claimed that being opposed to gay marriage is equivalent to disciplining a misbehaving child. You do it to teach a lesson, while expressing love and caring for the child.

“You really have to understand what love is all about. Love is really to seek the best for people. By being opposed to the redefinition of marriage and being opposed to things that are sinful, that’s actually a very loving thing,” he said to the website.

They were dealt a blow Tuesday!
What a batch of bull!?!

Too many of the people who are pushing for a rejection of marriage for all are doing so because of their desire to want to look down, so to speak, upon others. For Paprocki to get so worked up in his desire to offer aid and comfort to that segment of our society is what makes others amongst us convinced that the church structure becomes the source of our problems.

HE STIRS UP more resentment, and makes it more difficult for rational thought to prevail.

Whereas the Indiana General Assembly’s behavior was just so predictable. With other states taking on the gay marriage issue, the Republican leadership decided that not only was it NOT going to go along, it was going to take a spiteful response.

Hence the writing of the concept of a marriage ban for non-traditional couples into their state Constitution. Which makes it all the more difficult for the issue to be addressed seriously.

It becomes all too similar to many of the southern states that, in the years after the Civil War, created state constitutions that included restrictions on black people and made it near-to-impossible for future Legislatures to erase them.

THOSE POLITICAL PEOPLE were determined to maintain a segregationist mindset and prevent some foolish (to their mentality) pols of the future from doing away with it.

Just as it would seem some want to ensure that no “gay marriage nonsense” ever taints the Hoosier state!

PHILIP: Showed restraint?
When Illinois, back in 1996 when Republicans ran everything, altered state law to make it further clear that marriages between gay couples were NOT permissible, they never went so far as to go to the state Constitution amendment route.

Even the legislative era of James “Pate” Philip managed to show a little bit of restraint in its ideological maneuvers.


Are casino “promises” causing suburbs to hold off on serious development?

Every time I pass the northeast corner of Cicero Avenue and 175th Street in suburban Country Club Hills (I have family that lives nearby), I can’t help but shake my head at the vast expanse of land that exists there.

Will people gamble their way into the red at this site?
That site has a large-scale strip mall that could grow into a shopping mall to its north, and Interstate 80 to the east. It is large enough that local officials say they’re saving it for the casino they want to develop.

THE ONE THAT would be the “south suburban” casino in the grand scheme of things by which Illinois state government ups the number of casinos operating in the state from 10 to 15.

Much of the attention on this issue has gone to the fact that one of the extra casinos would be placed in Chicago, and over whether a Chicago-based casino should be controlled by a city government agency (as in one whose director is picked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) rather than the Illinois Gaming Board that oversees all other casinos in Illinois.

At times, the idea of a south suburban casino seems like an afterthought.

Yet when I think of the concept, I can’t help but notice the number of communities that are basing their economic future on the idea of something that isn’t currently permitted under state law!

IT MAKES ME wonder how many legitimate development opportunities are being passed on (or not even being contemplated) because everyone is banking their future on the idea of getting a casino.

Made worse by the fact that, at best, ONE community will get the dream. While some half-dozen proposals (at least, more may develop as time passes) are being considered.

There are going to be a lot of losers.

What happens to those communities who, years from now, have nothing to show for their casino dreams other than vacant land plots? Such as that one on Cicero Avenue?

PERSONALLY, I DON’T think much of the whole casino concept. I always thought of them as being for communities that were incapable of getting anything else to locate within their boundaries.

Which makes me wonder if places like Country Club Hills or Homewood (my father and step-mother, who enjoy the casino atmosphere and live just a few minutes from the proposed sites on Cicero Avenue or Halsted Street), or others like Ford Heights, Calumet City or Lynwood (which would like to put a casino right on the Illinois/Indiana border) have any kind of back-up plan?

I have heard from various municipal officials whose complaints about casinos focus on state government for taking so ridiculously long (how many years has it been now?) to make a decision.

Because they feel it puts them on hold. They can’t possibly contemplate real economic development – something that creates jobs better than being a coat-room clerk or a valet parking attendant.

AS FOR THOSE who want to argue the merits of being a black-jack dealer, I don’t really want to hear it. There are higher aspirations in life than dealing cards, and I always wonder about a community that is willing to settle for less.

Because that’s what the whole casino campaign amounts to – communities putting bets on their future in hopes that they’ll strike it rich. When anybody with sense knows that the “house” always wins! As in the casino itself.

Everybody else ultimately comes out the loser. Sometimes, I think these suburban mayors would be better off buying a Mega Millions lottery game ticket.

With all the technicalities and legalese and complications in the process of the state creating a casino, I wonder if the odds are better that they’ll win the big jackpot – as opposed to someday getting a casino.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Is Emanuel provoking an Obama library fight? Or averting a city civil war?

I can see where Mayor Rahm Emanuel is coming from in wanting to get all the interests involved with a future presidential library and museum for Barack Obama to get united behind a single site.

EMANUEL: Averting a fight? Or creating civil war?
It would be easy for the half-dozen or so interests who want to promote their specific site getting so wrapped up in themselves that one of the out-of-town interests that wants to host the Obama presidential library winds up outshining Chicago.
OBAMA: Does Rahm still have clout?
SOME MIGHT THINK that the idea of locating an Obama library as part of Columbia University in New York is too much of a stretch. Or the idea of putting it in Honolulu where Obama actually grew up (and where he appears to think of himself as a native – even though he has lived the bulk of his life in Chicago).

Some will snicker at the thought of either location topping Chicago to become the site of an Obama museum. What would it say if one-time Obama chief of staff Emanuel couldn’t bring the library/museum to his home city.

But if Chicago can’t get its act together, I could easily see this devolving into a 21st Century civil war of political proportions. An Obama tribute (which is what these presidential libraries really are – the papers and other documents related to a presidency could easily be a part of the National Archives in Washington) could wind up showing the multiple factions that exist within our city.

Which is why Emanuel in recent days has made it clear he wants the city to have a lone entry in consideration for a site for an Obama library. A Chicago united could be an overwhelming force that puts the Noo Yawkers or the Hawaiian types in their place in terms of thinking they have any claim to the Obama legacy.

Could Obama library become the equal ...
THEN AGAIN, THE reality is that the groups that lose out in terms of having THEIR preference for an Obama library site could remain bitter.

Emanuel is putting himself at risk of developing even more enemies from the groups that don’t get their way on this issue. Because this is going to trigger the egos to run amok in our city.

There are those with the University of Chicago who think that since Obama once was on the faculty of the law school and because he still owns the neighborhood home that a library/museum near the Hyde Park neighborhood campus makes all too much sense.

... of a Maroons/Lions brawl?
And yes, it is likely that the intense fund-raising efforts of the university and its allies will dry up if city officials wind up thinking that some other site is better.

I CAN’T SEE Maroon-types getting all excited about a presidential library being built near the University of Illinois-Chicago (which actually houses the collection of papers associated with long-time Mayor Richard J. Daley) or Chicago State University campuses – both of which are amongst proposals being considered.

Although the Illinois Senate’s former president, Emil Jones, who now is affiliated with Chicago State, is saying that NOT putting the library in an African-American oriented neighborhood where it might spur some tourist traffic is disrespectful to black people and to an Obama legacy.

Which might be taken more seriously, if not for the fact that some of the people who feel this way were among the same ones who back in 2007 were spewing the trash talk that Obama (because of his white mother and a life lived outside of inner-city Chicago) wasn’t really “black enough” to represent them.

There also are those who think that a library/museum on land that once was Michael Reese Hospital might be the best site, since it is the closest proposal to downtown Chicago.

OR PERHAPS BUILT somewhere in proximity to the proposed Pullman National Park – which itself could become a reality in the next couple of years. There are those Metra Electric line commuter trains that stop right at the site on 111th Street.

Does this site make too much sense for politics?
My own personal favorite involves the Chicago Lakeside proposal at the old U.S. Steel Southworks plant between the South Chicago and South Shore neighborhoods – the latter of which being the place where first lady Michelle Obama was raised.

It involves plans for building luxury housing and retail – a whole community of sorts – right on Lake Michigan. The developers have said they’re leaving the northernmost tip of the site open – so it can be offered as an Obama library site.

I once had the chance to stand on the spot being talked about. It would be literally a lakefront-based museum where people could look to the north and see the Chicago skyline from a very unique perspective.

IT HAS ITS potential – which may well be why it won’t go anywhere politically. Things that make sense rarely advance without difficulty.

This is the political brawl that Emanuel has now placed himself right in the middle of. It will be interesting to see which site his influence winds up guiding the process toward.

And how many political feelings get bruised along the way!


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hillary for president – is it inevitable?

It is inevitable! Hillary R. Clinton WILL be president of the United States. She is the future!!! At least that's what I read and hear from just about everywhere.

Is it inevitable?
Yet somehow, I get this gut feeling that Hillary will always be the “future” of the Democratic Party – and somehow never its present.

DESPITE ALL THE rhetoric being spewed these days about how we ought to regard the one-time Goldwater Girl from suburban Park Ridge who went on to become first lady of both Arkansas and the United States, a U.S. senator from New York AND Secretary of State as THE presidential nominee for the 2016 election cycle, I’m skeptical.

Perhaps it is because the tactics being used now to put forth Clinton’s name as the ultimate front-runner just seem too over the top. Almost as though people don’t want us to look too closely at the situation; otherwise we might go ahead and find someone else.

Hillary, of course, gave a presidential campaign of her own a serious go-around back in 2008. She caused a political brawl that resulted in us not knowing for sure that Barack Obama would win the Democratic presidential nomination until literally all of the primaries and party caucuses across the country were over.

She lost, despite going into that election cycle as the favored candidate whom no one could possibly crush.

EXCEPT THAT OBAMA did exactly that. He took an early lead in the primaries so that even when states with more socially conservative electorates started rejecting the idea of Obama en masse, HE still had the lead overall.
Perhaps had Hillary Clinton managed to jump to that early lead (instead of losing the Iowa caucuses of ’08), an Obama campaign would never have managed to gain momentum.

Would we want to lose the "Vice?"
As I see it, Clinton is trying to ensure that such a thing will not happen again in 2016 – should she decide she actually wants to run for president. The fact that Priorities USA Action is committing itself to raising campaign funds for Hillary is a significant boost!

Because, let’s be honest, she hasn’t even declared a candidacy yet. According to the typical rules of electoral politics, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to succeed Obama (whom I suspect most voters would pick again if he could legally run for a third term in office) ought to be none other than the vice-president.

EXCEPT THAT, LET’S be honest, Joe Biden is no Barack Obama. He’s a guy who slumped into a scandal some decades ago that supposedly made him damaged goods. Obama let him redeem himself to the point where his obituary will lede with the fact that he was V-P of a historic presidency!

Did she learn from '08 mistakes?
Not that he did much of anything of significance on his own, except reduce the level to which the word "plagiarize" will turn up in that future obituary.

Which may be the only reason Clinton can get away with trying to make herself the front-runner. Does anyone think Biden can beat her? Is there anyone who really wants to have the go-around of running for president?

That is why some people believe Rahm Emanuel is conniving enough to come up with a means by which he could run for president. Even though when speaking in public he always acts like a true Chicago politician – in thinking that the mayor’s office is the most important political post on Planet Earth and that getting a White House to live in would be a demotion!

What's more fun; being Prez? Or telling Prez what to do?
AFTER ALL, WHY want to be president, if all it means is that the future mayor of Chicago will be calling you up, trying to tell you what you ought to be doing.

Although I have to admit to thinking it would be intriguing how the conversation played out the first time a “President Hillary Clinton” received a phone call on her private line from a “Mayor Emanuel.”

I’m unsure which one of them would turn out to be more prickly in demeanor!

Personally, I’m not sure what to think of who will be the next president. It feels like “Hillary, by Default” more than anything.

Would we keep him, if we could, for 3rd term?
I SUSPECT I’M not alone in not being eager to have a second “President Clinton” just because I know how much the concept will trigger the ideologues into a war. How much will they be scared into nonsense at the concept of “Hide the girls, Bill Clinton’s back in the White House!!!”

Do we really want to relive the nonsense rhetoric of the 1990s? Even if some of the trash talk that Obama has generated in this decade makes that seem subdued, I can’t help but think we need to move beyond all the current political personas in our search for leadership.

And I don’t see that happening any time soon.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Some people never learn

Perhaps it’s the distortion of there being 96 counties in Illinois outside of the Chicago area that makes political people think it has more than the roughly one-third of the state’s population.

BRADY: Fixing funds? Or making enemies?
But it seems that at least one Republican gubernatorial candidate is determined to be the preference of rural Illinois, without any regard to what the urban part of the state thinks.

THAT’S THE IMPRESSION I got after reading the reports about William Brady’s thoughts about who ought to pay for pensions for retired school teachers.

Brady told the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald newspaper he thinks that school districts ought to be responsible for any part of pensions caused by future pay hikes districts provide to their teachers.

Since salaries are going to increase in the future, it would mean a gradual shift in the funding of pension programs from state government to the local school districts – a concept that WILL tick off school superintendents all acros the state.

There already are enough officials who are prepared to symbolically strangle Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, for having suggested that perhaps one key to resolving the state’s financial problems is to have school districts take over full responsibilities for the pensions of their retirees.

I’M SURE THAT Brady, the state senator from downstate Bloomington whose bid for governor in 2010 failed because he lacked support in urban areas, thinks he has come up with the perfect compromise – since the state would continue to provide for the part of the pensions they’re already covering.

All I know is that I have dealt with enough schools officials across the state to know this is an untouchable issue to them. They say that threatening to alter Social Security funding is a “third rail” among the electorate that kills any candidate suicidal-enough to touch it?

One could probably say that this issue has the same effect amongst educators.

But in the Chicago suburbs, this will play particularly poorly. Because state funding for public education already is on the decline. The reaction of the school officials will be to turn to the shares of local property tax revenues they receive to come up with the money.

THAT MEANS THE local school districts would need more money. Which they will turn to their local residents to raise. Which means an increase in property taxes overall – it only takes one government entity in a community (whether City Council, school board, park district, sewage district, etc.) to cause a homeowner to pay more when their property tax bill is due.

And for those who rent, the landlord will think nothing of passing along the property tax increases they pay onto their tenants.

In suburban districts where local tax levels already are high, the residents will grouse and gripe about paying more. In those districts where the local economy is declining (particularly many districts in southern Cook County), there just won’t be any additional money to cover such expenses!

There already are significant discrepancies between school districts that make it impossible for all children in this state to get an equal quality level of education. Does this threaten to make it more difficult for certain school districts to obtain, and keep, quality educators?

THE WHOLE POINT to having the state cover the cost of pensions was meant to equalize that factor. Every teacher ought to have a shot at a pension they can live off of in those years after they stop working. Having the state handle this issue for everyone was meant to balance things out.

Which is why it is the quirk of the process that the Chicago Public Schools teachers do not partake in state pension programs. They opted out years ago, figuring out a way to do better by their former faculty on their own.

Which means Madigan may be on to something with his past hints that maybe the Chicago schools pensions should be shifted to the state. Of course, that’s not going to happen. The increased costs to state government would harm it even more.

Plus, the thought of having to pay more because of Chicago schools would offend rural Illinois politicos, almost as much as Brady will offend the suburban officials who think they will get hit with more costs because of his pension-shift theory.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

No more “Sears” on State Street! Will anyone in Chicago miss it in the least?

My initial reaction to learning this week that Sears plans to close its so-called “flagship” store on State Street was to wonder to myself, “Didn’t they just get here?”

Big news! Or the ultimate "ho-hum?"
It actually shocked me to realize that the return of Sears to State Street occurred in 2001. They’ve been back for nearly 13 years – with the help of funds provided by city government from Tax Increment Finance districts. It was state funding that kept the corporate headquarters in suburban Hoffman Estates a few years ago.

YET I ALSO have to confess that perhaps it is people just like myself who are responsible for Sears’ inability to maintain a major department store in the downtown Chicago area.

For in those 13 years that Sears was back on State Street, I personally never set foot in the store. From accounts I have heard and read from people who have been inside, they were the rarity.

There weren’t enough customers for Sears to make a go of it. Some of you may want to wisecrack that none of the Sears stores have enough customers to survive. But the modern-day Sears customer is someone who is using one of their suburban shopping mall customer.

Not exactly the kind of person who’s going to want to make the trip to downtown to lug around shopping bags from store to store in search of their life’s necessities and luxury items.

YES, I REALIZE that there are many millions of people who work in the Loop who could include a trip to Sears in with their routine before returning home. Although I suspect even many of them weren’t going to want to be bothered.

It’s hard to think of the State Street Sears store as the company “flagship” when it most likely was an afterthought to any kind of person who was still inclined to think “Sears” when they had shopping to do!

The Chicago White Sox' "real" home....
Which is why the idea of Sears on State Street (at State and Madison streets, to be exact) will be no more once we get into spring. In fact, the whole idea of Sears as a Chicago entity is really no more. The corporate headquarters is in suburban Hoffman Estates – and even that has threatened to leave our area altogether in recent years.

Sears, it seems, has become an element of Chicago history – not its present. Just like Marshall Field’s, that little tugboat-like building on the Chicago River that once housed the Chicago Sun-Times, and Comiskey Park.

... just like this is the "real" Sears
IN FACT, MY own thought process thinks that the Sears store on State Street is comparable to U.S. Cellular Field – the stadium used by the Chicago White Sox.

We go to it, we sit in its seats and watch a ballgame. Yet we can’t help but remember that old whitewashed brick building that used to be to the north of 35th Street and think the current structure is somehow lacking.

As though it’s not the real ballpark.

Just as Sears used to be one of the anchors of the shopping district on State Street, until they gave in to contemporary retail trends (the ones that favor a cut rate-type marketer like Wal-mart) and closed their long-time flagship a couple of blocks further south near Congress and Van Buren streets, the current Sears store somehow felt like it was an imitator.

TO THE POINT where I never felt compelled to spend money there – even though the history buff in me fully comprehends the significance of a business flagship on State.

So what happens now? Other than the fact that the Chicago Public Schools has expressed interest in moving their main offices from Clark Street over to State – taking over at least part of the store

Will we someday wonder why it was called Sears?
The company has said the closeout sale will begin soon and will carry on until mid-April. Maybe somebody has dreams of people who file their tax returns early, and spend their return in one last shopping spree on State Street.

Wouldn’t it be just Sears’ luck of late that they mark everything down significantly in price – only to find out that still, nobody wants to make the trip to buy.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

EXTRA: He’s a Yankee! Surprised?

Money wasn't enough to become a Cub
Masahiro Tanaka, the star professional baseball pitcher from Japan who triggered a bidding war amongst U.S. ball clubs for his services, will be a New York Yankee.

It got announced Wednesday that the 25-year-old Tanaka will accept a seven-year contract from the Yankees for some $155 million (although he can walk away after four seasons, if he thinks he can negotiate a better deal at that time elsewhere).

WHICH MEANS THAT we here in Chicago will get to experience the Tanaka Express, so to speak, the third week of May. That’s the week that the Yankees will make their lone trip to the Second City. Although we’ll have to wait and see which side of town he pitches on (as in, who gets the potential for an attendance boost).

Due to the quirks of inter-league play, the Chicago Cubs will get a pair of games at Wrigley Field with the Yankees, in addition to the four-game series they will play against the White Sox.

And as it turns out, the Yankees will be at Wrigley on May 20-21, then travel to U.S. Cellular for May 22-25. It’s all going to come down to where in the Yankees’ pitching rotation Tanaka winds up – insofar as where he pitches while here.

I did get a kick out of one tidbit I picked up from the New York Daily News.

THEY REPORTED THAT Tanaka ultimately chose between the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers (totally predictable). Even though it was supposedly the Cubs who offered the most money (eight seasons at about $25 million per year).

So for those who thought Tanaka was merely looking for money in coming here, it seems that’s not quite true. He wants to win a World Series.

He is, after all, a member of ball clubs that won the Japan Series, and last season had a record of 24-0 with a 1.27 earned run average while pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Chicago Cubs standards were just too low to take seriously, no matter how much the cash came to.

No changes anytime soon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: It certainly was not a good day for the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. Aside from learning that no amount of money was going to get them a talented pitcher, it also seems that talks with the Lake View neighborhood residents fell through. So all the talk of a remodeled Wrigley Field will have to go on hold, and may even turn into an ugly court fight. Although I suspect the on-field play of the Cubs this coming season will be even uglier.