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Trading favors

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* Trading a vote for a job or a project isn’t exactly new, but when you’re under the microscope, everything looks bigger than it is…

The legislative aide to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich suggested in a 2003 e-mail he could win a senator’s vote if the administration hired the lawmaker’s secretary.

The e-mail from Joseph Handley was obtained by The Associated Press. It seeks confirmation from Blagojevich patronage staffers that they planned to hire Rhonda Wood. She was at the time secretary to Senator Larry Walsh.

Handley wrote: “If this can be confirmed, it helps me with Walsh on important vote.” […]

Walsh is now Will County executive. He says he tried to help Wood but there was no discussion of votes on legislation. Wood wasn’t hired.

Quid that may or may not have been suggested, no real pro and the quo never went through. Not a huge story, but not a good way to start off the week, either.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      


Brady says he’s in

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* No surprise here, but it’s now at least semi-official

State Senator Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, told a roomful of people in Macomb Saturday that he will seek his party’s nomination for governor in 2010.

Brady was guest speaker at the McDonough County Republican Central Committee Lincoln Day Dinner, held on the campus of Western Illinois University and including guests from four surrounding counties. […]

“This state is in debt to the tune of $8,800 for every man, woman, and child who lives here,” said Brady. “Illinois is, unfortunately, broke. We are the highest debtor state in the nation…and it’s all because the Democrats don’t get it.”

Brady was critical of House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones as well as the governor. He said all three are driving voters into the arms of the GOP if the party can offer the right candidates.

“The people of Illinois are with us, just as they were with Jim Edgar when he ran for governor,” he said.

- Posted by Rich Miller   53 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* The setup

Tuesday, April 1 is “Cheap Trick Day” in Illinois, a special day set aside to honor one of the most prolific rock groups to come from the Land of Lincoln.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a resolution making every April 1 “Cheap Trick Day” in Illinois.

* The question: Come up with another name for April Fools Day in Illinois.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


The motivation behind Zell’s moves

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* The New York Times had this unsurprising quote about Tribune owner Sam Zell yesterday…

“He actually dislikes baseball,” Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of Chicago’s crosstown White Sox, said matter-of-factly. “He never would have bought the Cubs if they didn’t come with the Tribune. It’s just another asset to him.”

Reinsdorf’s claim was essentially confirmed by team chairman Crane Kenney.

* This brings us to the uproar over the sale of the Cubs, Wrigley Field and the park’s naming rights. Crain’s has the story behind the story…

[The Tribune Co.] has about $12 billion in debt, most of it the result of Mr. Zell’s leveraged buyout in December. A first payment of $650 million comes due Dec. 4.

* Selling the team, the park and the naming rights would more than cover that first payment. And that was the initial plan. Zell doesn’t care about baseball. The team is just another asset to be dumped. But the stadium deal is taking longer than expected, to say the least. So Zell - who is facing a depressed advertising market - is now looking to sell other assets to cover his nut.

But that doesn’t take the heat off the Wrigley deal.,,

Tribune will quickly face another deadline: July 2009, when a $750-million principal payment comes due. That’s on top of an estimated $1 billion in yearly interest payments.

Zell is sitting on top of a shakey house of cards, so expect the pressure to intensify on the proposed state buyout of Wrigley Field, regardless of any interim asset sales.

* More…

* Cubs play hardball with rooftop owner

* Wrigley Field looking at changes as Cubs start season

* There was an old ballpark in Chicago . . .

- Posted by Rich Miller   7 Comments      


Nightmare ahead

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* Illinois isn’t alone in its budget mess

At least half of the nation’s states are facing budget shortfalls, some of them severe, and policymakers in most of the affected states are proposing and passing often-painful measures to trim costs and close the gaps. Spending on schools is being slashed, after-school programs are being curtailed and teachers are being notified of potential layoffs. Health-care assistance is being cut for the elderly, the disabled and the poor. Some government offices, such as motor vehicle department locations, will start closing on weekends, and some state workers are receiving pink slips.

* Things are really bad out in California…

California is facing the worst budget crisis, with a $16 billion shortfall, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $4.8 billion cut in education services. About 20,000 teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses and other support staff members have received notice of potential layoffs, according to the state’s Education Department.

* What makes Illinois different from all other states is the ongoing feud between Democratic leaders and the Tony Rezko corruption trial. Last year was bad, but this year could be much, much worse

[House GOP Leader Tom Cross] called Blagojevich “toxic” in a taping of WMAQ-TV’s “City Desk” program.

Cross said it was hard for the governor to advance his agenda because of the allegations coming of out of the federal trial of political fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

“He has an inability right now to get that message out because he’s playing defense on the other issue. Right or wrong, that’s what’s happening. … It makes for an ineffective governor,” Cross said on “City Desk.”

* Because of Rezko and the feud, stuff like this will be all the rage at the Statehouse this spring…

State Rep. Jack Franks says his first priority when the General Assembly reconvenes Tuesday will be to get his constitutional amendment to recall state elected officials passed in the House. […]

House Speaker Michael Madigan also supports the recall amendment.

* Combine all that nastiness with a serious revenue shortfall, and you get a very negative session

State Rep. George Scully, D-Flossmoor, said it could be a rough year for anyone looking for new money as lawmakers focus on paying outstanding bills and getting a construction plan off the ground.

“I think this would be a bad year to bring up new topics,” he said.

* Throw in demands from Republicans for tax cuts, and it gets even more toxic…

Anyone purchasing motor fuels in Illinois could realize savings at the pump if Illinois legislators would pass House Bill 6318, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville. […]

Black said the majority of Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly are opposed to his current bill, saying the state cannot afford it, even though last year’s budget predictions on income from the sales tax were based on gas prices of about $2 per gallon.

* More budget stuff, compiled by Kevin…

* McQueary: Go ahead - give your input

* Kane County to lobby for share of capital bill

* Illinois must have capital funding bill

* EDITORIAL: State is left with gambling to fund capital plan

* Sen. proposes chance to recall Ill. officials

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Blagojevich pleads the 5th

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* The governor made a fool of himself in front of NBC 5’s Phil Rogers and several other Chicago reporters last week. Carol Marin has part of the play-by play

Rogers kicked off the questioning: Governor, did that conversation [regarding Stu Levine’s claim that Blagojevich allegedly told him, “Stick with us and you’ll do very well for yourself”] happen?

Blago: “Let me answer that question with an answer. I’m not a party in that [Tony Rezko] trial. I’m not following the trial. It would be inappropriate of me to comment on a trial I’m not a part in.” […]

Rich Samuels of WTTW: Did Blagojevich have a conversation on an airplane with Stuart Levine?

Blago: “You know it’s a good question. I’m not a party in that trial. I’m not in a place where I think it’s appropriate to comment on a trial I’m not involved in.”

Then Carlos Hernandez-Gomez of CLTV: Was the governor’s chief of staff Lon Monk clearing decisions through Tony Rezko as Levine has testified?

Blago (taking a noisy sip of water): “Let me answer that question. I’m not a party to that trial.”

Then Phil Rogers once again: What was the governor’s relationship to Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine?

Blago (another noisy sip of water, his eyes peering over the paper cup):

“Look I’ve asked and answered that a million times. You just ought to go back and take a look at your clippings.”

* Eventually, the governor did talk a little about the trial, contradicting his earlier statements that he couldn’t comment. When he did, Blagojevich tried, as his his wont, to pass the buck

“One of the ironies here is you’re talking about one person here, Mr. Levine, who gave $790,000 to Jim Ryan, my opponent for governor in 2002,” Blagojevich said. “If you want to ask about relationships, you ought to ask him about that.”

When it was noted that Levine has never suggested that he did anything illegal with Jim Ryan, which he maintains he did do with those close to the governor, Blagojevich responded, “You know that is not true.”

“You know that is not true, and the way you ask that question is dishonest,” Blagojevich said.

The question, Rogers reported, was asked a couple of more times in various forms, but the answer was always the same.

“I have said again, I am not a party to that case,” Blagojevich said. “It is a full-time job being governor, getting things done for people. It’s inappropriate for me to comment on that, and you know the answer.”

* To sum up: “I’m not gonna answer. I’m not gonna answer. I’m not gonna answer. But, look over there at those evil Republicans!!! OK, so you didn’t take the bait, therefore, I’m not gonna answer. Next question?”

Expect more of the same for the next three months.

* Meanwhile

Tony Rezko’s lawyers are trying to keep out of his trial portions of a secretly recorded phone call in which Republican power broker William Cellini talks of pay-to-play tactics in Gov. Blagojevich’s administration.

“Tony and Chris . . . are . . . essentially hammerin’ people . . . with contracts for fund-raising.” Cellini says on tape, according to a defense filing. “I’m a nervous wreck over it myself.”

Cellini is referring to Rezko and fellow Blagojevich fund-raiser Chris Kelly in a converstion with Stuart Levine, the government’s star witness.

All reporters have heard pretty much the same thing over the years. If you got a state contract, you got a follow-up call from a fundraiser. And the tactics were reportedly on the hardball side.

- Posted by Rich Miller   38 Comments      


Hurckes attracts national heat

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* There’s little doubt that Jerry Hurckes - Congressman Dan Lipinski’s chief of staff - is a self-important buffoon. But now he has become a Republican target for allegedly violating House ethics rules.

The alleged violation surfaced after Hurckes objected to an Oak Lawn proposal to hire a federal lobbyist. Hurckes, who is an Oak Lawn trustee, had claimed that the proposal was a deliberate slap in his face because he uses his position to take care of the village…

[Hurckes] has, according to Roll Call, “used his employment with the House to help win local races, repeatedly claiming in campaign literature and public meetings that he is responsible for securing millions in federal ear- marks for the Village of Oak Lawn, while also racking up thousands in campaign contributions from companies with business before Lipinski’s congressional committees.”

* That Roll Call article quoted the House ethics manual…

“In dealing with the public, staff who serve as local officials should always make clear in which capacity they are acting. They should discourage any suggestion that their local constituents will receive special treatment from the congressional office, beyond that received by other residents of the congressional district… No local elective service may be performed in the congressional office or in a manner that utilizes any official resources, including the telephones”

* So, rather than “discouraging” suggestions that Hurckes was helping his village more than another, he promoted his federal position to his constituents. And that could mean that when Hurckes was advocating for Oak Lawn’s projects, he was helping his campaign, which is also prohibited. Oops.

* Hurckes responds

“(Oak Lawn doesn’t) get anything special, and they don’t get put on the bottom either,” he said. He admitted, however, that it can be “a very fine line” to walk.

That’s an awful thin line, particularly since Hurckes is currently running for mayor of Oak Lawn. Turns out, he’s been taking campaign contributions from companies which lobby Congressman Lipinski’s committee

Hurckes’ campaign finance reports also show that he has taken in thousands in campaign contributions from national entities with business before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on which both Lipinskis have been members, and in many cases have also donated to one or both of the Congressmen. Donors to Hurckes include UPS, CSX, BNSF and DMJM Harris Inc., a transportation consulting firm.

Interestingly enough, there are no ethics rules regarding this particular situation, probably since it hasn’t ever really come up before now. The reporter who broke the story told Ray Hanania the other day that he can’t find another instance of a congressional staffer who held local office.

* Hurckes was Bill Lipinski’s chief of staff before he worked for the son. He’s getting paid a congressional salary plus cash from both Lipinskis’ campaign funds for consulting work. Hurckes’ congressional salary, according to Roll Call, is just under the federal limit which allows him to have outside income. Convenient.

* The Roll Call article which disclosed the alleged violations was all the talk of DC last week, and the Republicans, who are facing setback after setback, including loads of members under dark clouds of federal investigations, are looking to make some national hay

Congress goes back into session next Tuesday, and when it does, Republicans may gleefully head for the House Ethics Committee to ask for an inquiry into Hurckes’ activities in Lipinski’s office.

Bet on it. And i’m sure they’ll dredge up the accusations of election fraud from his past, including this one recalled by Carol Marin

I once followed Hurckes out of the Bohica Bar on the Southwest Side, where he was “registering voters” who, perhaps confused by whatever they were drinking, listed the bar as their legal residence.

What a guy.

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Monday, Mar 31, 2008

* Diminishing state support for colleges cause for concern

* Global surge at the University of Illinois

For the first time, the state’s flagship public school is home to more international students than any other public university in the country. In fact, the number of foreign students at the Downstate Urbana-Champaign campus — well over 5,000 — is more than had ever attended any public university in U.S. history.

* ‘They just eat, sleep, breathe mathematics and science

* Koreans comprise largest foreign contingent

* State representative robbed in her home

* February primary post-election report from Cook County

* Rezko lawyers ask judge to bar call

* Youth prisons suffer teacher shortage

* The Challenge to Chicago Schools and other leaders

* Schools’ aim: Getting smaller to get better

* State releases school financial report card

* Several Springfield people linked to Rezko trial

* Once-vibrant Evening Republican Club disbands

* New life sought for work camp

It’s all evidence of life the Hanna City Work Camp once had. In its heyday, the facility - about 10 miles west of Peoria on Illinois Route 116 - housed about 230 inmates and employed 80 to 90 people.

* Three for three: Bad decisions, response and wiring

* Gov. Blagojevich announces partnership with Center for Economic Progress to help seniors, veterans

* Gov’t official says HUD chief leaving

* Get moving on staffing hate crime panel

* Foster delivers party response

* You can squeeze blood from a turnip

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   12 Comments      


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