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Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* OK, enough. This week seemed extra long for some reason. I will update this weekend if anything breaks in the 5th Congressional District, but I don’t want to. Check back if you feel like it.

* You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you…

He buzzes like a fridge, he’s like a de-tuned radio

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

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Friday, Feb 27, 2009

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Quinn won’t support limiting free senior transit rides

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* On the core populist issues, Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn are pretty close, even though I’m not so sure that Rod Blagojevich actually believed anything he ever said. Here’s a good example

Gov. Patrick Quinn said today that he would not sign legislation under consideration by the Illinois House to take away free bus and train rides from all but low-income seniors.

The governor said he thinks the free ride program, put in place last year under predecessor Rod Blagojevich, is worthy even as transit agencies face severe money woes.

“I think free rides for seniors is a good policy,” Quinn said following an appearance at a Joliet high school. “I hope they don’t pass a law ending the program. I think it’s a step forward.” […]

“I don’t think I would sign such a bill that would limit it so drastically,” [by basing the free rides on income] Quinn said. “I think we always want to keep an eye on everything, especially in tough economic times, but I’m not really interested in going to that program and slashing it. I think free rides for seniors is a basic public policy that we can support and maintain even in tough economic times.”


- Posted by Rich Miller   58 Comments      

5th CD roundup

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* My Sun-Times column today takes a look at the 5th Congressional District race. You only get 600 words in the CS-T, so it’s not as complete as I would’ve liked…

Almost nobody wants to make a prediction about the 5th Congressional District special election this coming Tuesday.

A crowded field, very high numbers of undecided voters, a lack of news coverage (particularly by the TV stations) and the fact that none of the candidates has really caught fire all add up to puzzlement for handicappers.

The guesstimates I’m getting from the campaigns have Democratic turnout at between 35,000 and 40,000 — about a quarter to a third of those who voted in the last primary. Somebody could win with as few as 10 thousand or 12 thousand votes. So you can make a case for any number of candidates.

Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley started the race way ahead in the polls, and he’s still at or near the top. That means he’ll do well with people who believe it’s their duty to vote in every election but are still vague about their final choice. He has a loyal cadre of workers, and his campaign believes they have identified more than enough supporters to win. They just have to get them to the polls.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz has spent the most money by far, both on her own and through huge independent expenditures on her behalf by the Service Employees International Union and EMILY’s List. Women often tend to vote for women, and women dominate Democratic primaries. Feigenholtz’s campaign has been almost purely targeted at female voters, so she’ll get lots of votes from undecided women. Feigenholtz also has a big field operation and enthusiastic support in the gay community.

Like Quigley and Feigenholtz, state Rep. John Fritchey’s base is in the eastern end of the district near the lake. But Fritchey also has the backing of ward and township organizations that control more than half the precincts in the district. Yeah, the Machine ain’t what it used to be, and there are still questions about how hard some of these committeemen want to work, but the reality is that if each of his precinct captains secures 30 to 50 voters, then Fritchey wins this thing.

I’m not posting the whole thing because we’ve got other stuff to post, so go read it all here.

* Let’s get back to the new Feigenholtz TV ad that set off a firestorm in comments today.

Last year, any Democratic legislative candidate who was directly tied to either Rod Blagojevich or Todd Stroger was toast. The Republicans played the Rod & Todd card in several races, but it didn’t work all that well unless there was a definable connection, like fundraising, jobs or contracts.

So, any TV ad that draws a direct line between a candidate and Stroger is potentially a deal-breaker for voters. That’s one reason why this thing has caused such an uproar.

With that in mind, let’s watch it again…

Does it work? Remember, though, that Quigley has been running a TV ad and direct mail trashing Todd Stroger, most likely in an attempt to inoculate himself from just such an attack.

The Quigley campaign estimates that Feigenholtz only has 270 ratings points behind this latest attack, spread out over last night, through the weekend and part of Tuesday. That ain’t much.

But Quigley did go all-out today in an attempt to turn the tables

QUIGLEY: This is Sara Nixon. The 11th hour, when its much harder to combat an unfair charge, that’s when you do this, because you know there’s limited ability — frankly, there’s been limited coverage of this campaign and there’s limited interest, just because it’s a special election. So that’s hard to overcome.

This is a swift boat attack. You attack somebody at their greatest strength and you do it at the last hour because you know its much tougher to retaliate and defend yourself.

Then again, this morning’s presser might just bring far more attention to the whole thing.

* Meanwhile, Pat O’Connor has raised a few more dollars, but he’s still close to the bottom and a mailer has gotten him into a spot of trouble

Is Mayor Daley’s “unofficial floor leader” claiming “unofficial endorsements” from Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Dick Durbin?

No, no, no, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th) is not trying to imply any endorsement by Durbin or Emanuel — the man he hopes to replace in Congress — by running their photos and testimonials in his campaign literature, a spokesman said.

According to the above article, Emanuel’s office also denies that it’s endorsing Rep. Feigenholtz, even though there’s a Feigenholtz yard sign in front of the guy’s house. Still, that certainly sends a message to the neighborhood, if nothing else.

* Related…

* Every Vote Counts in Crowded Primary for Emanuel’s House Seat

* The (Jan) Donatelli Interview

* The (John) Fritchey Interview

* Conason Backs Geoghegan, Forys Loans Himself $40K

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      

Not exactly just in…

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* 11:44 am - I told subscribers about this earlier today…

Longtime state Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, will be named to lead the Illinois Department of Transportation by Gov. Pat Quinn, fellow lawmakers say today. […]

“He’ll bring his expertise from the House,” [ Sen. Deanna Demuzio, D-Carlinville] said. “I’m very excited. He’s from downstate.”

Hannig, 56, has been in the Illinois House since 1979. He is a deputy majority leader to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and has been the leading budget expert for House Democrats for years.

“I think it’s a great appointment. He knows the budget and to pick a downstater sends all of the right signals,” said Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, whose district is next to Hannig’s. “I think it’s a great pick for the governor and it’s a big loss for the speaker.”

* The Post-Dispatch gives a hat tip in this direction and explains

Why this matters is, A., the Dept of Transportation is among the most major posts in government, B., Hannig is a downstater from the outer edge of the Metro East, which indicates that maybe Quinn is serious about being governor of the whole state and not just of Chicago, as was his predecessor, impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich; and C., Hannig is a top lieutenant of House Speaker Michael Madigan, with whom Blago warred for years, to the serious detriment of the state. Quinn’s relationship with Madigan is still an open question, but a Hannig appointment would go a long way toward answering it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   42 Comments      

Question of the day

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

Suppose, for the moment, that Illinois constructs its own Mt. Rushmore.

What would the mountain be made of and who would be on it?

Please, answer both questions, in order. Thanks. Snark encouraged, of course.

[Derived from suggestions on yesterday’s QOTD.]

- Posted by Rich Miller   62 Comments      

The trouble ahead *** UPDATED x1 ***

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* The Daily Herald editorializes in favor of mostly cosmetic budget cuts

Start with furlough days. Cut or trim former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s expansion of health-care coverage for families with six-figure incomes. End free mass transit for wealthy senior citizens. Look at raising the income qualifiers that give some senior citizens “circuit breaker” tax cuts.

Look at eliminating or combining some state agencies, like the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity which was omitted in a different form once before.

Like many suburbs have, scale back or close the state fair until we pay our debts. Edgar did that too.

While feel-good, none of these will truly amount to a hill of beans. And I’m pretty sure that Quinn will make cuts along these lines - relatively small things that will get big media coverage and positive editorials.

The editorial is entitled: “Show us you’ll make tough cuts first,” but it demonstrates how difficult it really is to actually cut our way out of this mess.

“End free mass transit for wealthy senior citizens”? So, transit agencies will have to check everyone’s IRS returns?

“Cut or trim former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s expansion of health-care coverage for families with six-figure incomes”? That’s about ten bucks.

And isn’t it a little silly to argue for tiny cuts like this in order to justify huge tax hikes?

* And what happens when small cuts are made? Furor

It never made sense for Illinois to close seven state parks, but then there were many things Rod Blagojevich did that never made sense.

Gov. Pat Quinn fulfilled a promise and undid one of his predecessor’s mistakes today when he reopened Castle Rock, Lowden and five other state parks.

I didn’t agree with the park closures, either, but they were exactly the sort of “tough” cuts that the DH is arguing for.

This isn’t gonna be easy at all because logic gets tossed right out the window.

*** UPDATE *** Another case in point

So you think your property taxes are too high and want to appeal? Doing so will cost you at least 25 bucks if a state agency that handles appeals gets its way.

In a formal legal notice filed Friday, the state Property Tax Appeals Board, known as PTAB, said it intends to begin charging from $25 for fairly small appeals filed by homeowners to as much as $450 for multi-million-dollar cases filed by factory and office-tower owners. […]

[PTAB Executive Director Louis Apostol said] the agency’s budget is half of what it was in 2003, when Cook County Assessor James Houlihan engineered a roughly 50% cut in the agency’s budget in an attempt to limit its jurisdiction to areas of the state outside of Cook County. […]

But Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a Chicago watchdog and tax-policy group, said PTAB needs to specifically spell out what property owners will get for their money and even then could face his opposition.

“PTAB is known as the ‘poor-person’s court’,” Mr. Msall said. “This has the potential to restrict access to PTAB.”

People are really gonna hate that move, but where the heck else is the money going to come from after PTAB’s budget was slashed?

* Related…

* Lawmakers move to launch hospital assessment program

* Quinn turns thumbs down on gas tax hike idea

* Quinn hopes to reopen Dana-Thomas House

* With parks reopened, Gov. Quinn wants to do same with historic sites

* Quinn opens parks, fixes boneheaded Blagojevich decision

* Petition-drive leaders help reopen park after Quinn’s announcement

* Illinois reopens 7 state parks

* Gov to reopen 7 state parks including Lowden

- Posted by Rich Miller   34 Comments      

The “bad guys” win one, world freaks out

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* You’d think the world was coming to an end

According to U.S. District Court Judge Milton I. Shadur, Former Chicago Alderman and judicial kingmaker Eddie Vrdolyak is not an insider.

And when Vrdolyak agreed to act as a “finder” for a crooked land deal in which he knew the fix was in and he would have to split that finder’s fee with a crooked school board member who would steer the sale to Vrdolyak’s client, that was not a “kickback,” Shadur said.

When the school board, because of the crooked board member, passed up a $15.5 million bid for its property and instead took the $15 million crooked bid, that did not represent a tangible, calculable loss to the school of $500,000, Shadur said.

After finding all of that, Judge Shadur then called Eddie Vrdolyak “a good man” and let him go free.

With no prison time, and not a penny in restitution to the school.

* More

It was supposed to be the day of reckoning for former Chicago Ald. Edward Vrdolyak, the day he at last got sent to prison for an inside deal after what some say was a career built on them.

Instead, Chicago witnessed what seemed like another “Fast Eddie” moment.

* More

If you didn’t know the federal judiciary in Chicago was considered to be on the square, if you didn’t know that Judge Milton Shadur had built a reputation of integrity over three decades on the bench, if you didn’t know both those things, then you might suspect the fix was in Thursday for the benefit of Edward R. Vrdolyak.

As it is, I guess we’ll have to come up with other explanations for Shadur’s almost indefensible decision to allow Fast Eddie to continue his charmed existence by walking out of the Dirksen Federal Building with no jail time — even if no other explanation but a fix will ring true to corruption-weary Chicagoans.

* But lots of people believed that the original indictment was a real stretch. Here’s the meat of the judge’s argument

Shadur said he drew a line between Levine’s corruption and Vrdolyak’s role in the matter. He noted Vrdolyak had worked to bump up Smithfield’s initial offer of $9.5 million and that there seemed to be no concrete offers on the table that would have made any more money.

Shadur, who has a background in real estate law, said finder’s fees are a recognized part of such transactions and few real estate deals involve truly open bidding. […]

Shadur sometimes sparred with Assistant U.S. Atty. Christopher Niewoehner and cut him off as the prosecutor noted that Vrdolyak had connections to the powerful in Chicago.

“We do not sentence stick figures,” the judge said. “We do not sentence them because of what people might think about them.”

Shadur was right to cut off the prosecutor on that last point. And I’m pretty sure he’s right on the finder’s fee point.

* From the US Attorney…

“We strongly but respectfully disagree with the sentence of probation imposed on defendant Vrdolyak. As we argued in court, we believe a sentence of incarceration was appropriate for a defendant who schemed to share a $1.5 million fee with a corrupt insider involving the sale of a non-profit university’s valuable real estate asset.

“We will carefully consider appropriate options, including an appeal. We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute people who corrupt public or private boards through kickbacks and insider-dealing.”

Do you think Fitzgerald should appeal this sentence?

* Another win for Fast Eddie

* Ex-Chicago pol Vrdolyak gets $50K fine, probation

* Former Alderman Vrdolyak Avoids Prison

* Judge’s ‘respect for the law and integrity are unquestioned’

* ‘Fast Eddie’ a disgrace and a hero

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      

Daley for Senate? Brady to announce for guv

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* Bill Daley told me last year, flat-out, that he was not interested in going back to Washington, DC, whether in the Obama administration or in the US Senate. He may have changed his mind. Sneed

Sneed hears former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, a major President Obama supporter, plans to enter the U.S. Senate sweepstakes.

• • Translation: Sneed is told Daley plans to emerge as a major contestant for the controversial Senate seat once held by Barack Obama; now held by the embattled Roland Burris!

• • The stats: Daley, who will trade on his stature and experience, has already talked to potential fund-raisers and plans to make an announcement in mid-April.

• • To wit: Daley’s keen interest in the U.S. Senate seat pits him against state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, 32, a rising star in Dem politics who recently accompanied U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on a congressional trip overseas. Giannoulias, who plays basketball with Obama, plans to announce the formation Monday of an exploratory committee to run for the Senate.

* And, as I told subscribers yesterday, Sen. Bill Brady announces for governor on Monday

State Sen. Bill Brady will formally kick off his second bid for governor with a four-city fly-around Monday.

The 47-year-old Bloomington Republican, who received about 20 percent of the vote in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, is planning stops in Chicago, Springfield, Marion and Bloomington.

With his announcement, Brady becomes the first candidate to formally announce plans for the for the 2010 election.

As a conservative Republican, Brady said his campaign themes may hinge on what happens in the spring legislative session, where the Democrat-controlled House and Senate, as well as Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, are hinting at raising taxes to close a massive budget gap.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

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Friday, Feb 27, 2009

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Morning Shorts

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

* Integrys keeps dividend, cuts capital budget

Peoples Gas is cutting its capital budget by a whopping 46% this year as parent Integrys Energy Group Inc. conserves cash in large part to continue paying a dividend — one that it just raised — to investors.

* Economy Shrinks Faster Than Expected In 4Q

6.2 Percent Contraction In 4th Quarter Of 2008, Worst In 25 Years

* Foreclosure crisis: Federal aid to help Joliet and Will County fix and resell foreclosed homes

* Sidetracked by slump, realty pros eager to get back on course

* GM posts $30.9 billion loss, keeps spending billions

* Tough times drive up community college enrollment

* More students a two-edged sword

* Northwestern approaches $50,000

Facing a steep drop in its endowment, Northwestern University says its tuition, room and board will rise 3.6 percent this fall, — to nearly $50,000.

* Dire Budget Predictions for Chicago Schools

There is the perfect storm of reduced revenues, and ballooning and explosive pension payments. And the only word I can use for it is explosive, because they go up by hundreds of millions of dollars in one year.

The district will not be able to plug budget holes with an estimated $390 million from the stimulus package, since much of that money is earmarked. Huberman, who’s been on the job about four weeks, said he’ll cut central office jobs before touching schools.

* Unfiltered: Ron Huberman on the CPS Budget

* Chicago schools chief wants kids safe from crossing gang turf

Ron Huberman, the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools, said he wants to replace a piecemeal approach with a districtwide effort with police to evaluate how gangs affect school attendance boundaries, what gang boundaries students must cross to get to school and even how CTA bus routes intersect boundaries as they carry students to class.

* Low CPI has local school districts slashing expenses

Stimulus plan or no stimulus plan, many suburban school districts are hacking away at next year’s budgets because of a steep drop in the Consumer Price Index, a figure that determines how much property tax revenue schools can collect.

* Lake County Journals Honors Congressman Mark Kirk and Sheriff Mark Curran, Jr. with ForeFronts Award

* Democrat Bean votes against spending plan

U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean was one of 20 Democrats to vote against this fiscal year’s federal appropriations plan Wednesday, putting the Barrington resident on the side of Republicans in the suburbs.

* Southland reps bring home projects

Local members of Congress used their clout on Capitol Hill to include millions of dollars for Southland projects in a $410 billion spending bill that passed the House on Wednesday.

* County Budget Axe Spares Jobs at Health Bureau

Cook County health officials say they can absorb the latest budget cuts without trimming more jobs or services. But one heavy-hitter in county government says he’s not so sure.

* Whose side is he on?

Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis thinks it’s a bad idea to release the names of officers who have multiple citizen complaints against them—such a bad idea that he’s defying a federal judge’s order to do so.

* Aviation, CTA get new chiefs

* New CTA President Will Face Serious Challenges

When he takes over as the new president of the CTA on Thursday, Richard Rodriguez will face a bevy of challenges and a $242 million budget gap.

* Mayor Richard Daley names new CTA, aviation bosses

Richard Rodriguez had barely enough time to learn his way around Chicago’s airports before he was reassigned Thursday to the CTA, the nation’s second-largest transit system.

* A look inside Illinois’ only super=max prison

* Tollway directors push for high-tech violation process

- Posted by Mike Murray   7 Comments      

Feigenholtz goes negative *** UPDATED x1 ***

Friday, Feb 27, 2009

[Bumped up to Friday for visibility and updated.]

* Rep. Sara Feigenholtz’s campaign has launched a TV attack on Mike Quigley. Feigenholtz has swapped out her entire ad buy with this ad, so she’s now 100 percent negative, but there’s still the positive SEIU ads…


In the race for Congress, who’ll deliver for us? Mike Quigley? He talks a good game, but he endorsed Todd Stroger. Even sending his county staff to help Stroger’s campaign. And Quigley voted for Stroger’s budget, cutting nurses and hospital workers to keep Stroger friends on the payroll.

The better choice? Sara Feigenholtz passed healthcare for kids. More mammogram coverage. This Tuesday, let’s end the games. Choose the candidate who always stands with us.

* This tongue in cheek copy of the Feigenholtz ad was posted to YouTube by Quigley’s campaign. There’s some biting commentary before, during and after the ad. There’s even a Blagojevich/Feigenholtz smooch tacked onto the end…

*** UPDATE *** From a press release…

Cook County commissioner Mike Quigley, candidate for Congress, will be joined by Cook County commissioner Forrest Claypool on Friday morning to respond to a new negative and misleading television ad from a rival campaign.

On Thursday, Sara Feigenholtz’s campaign began airing a new attack ad that includes several falsehoods which Quigley and Claypool will refute.

Quigley and Claypool will speak outside the Cook County building, 118 N. Clark, at 10:00 A..M.

Quigley has been endorsed by the city’s two major newspapers. In endorsing Quigley, both the Tribune and the Sun-Times cited Quigley’s record fighting for reform and opposing Todd Stroger.

- Posted by Rich Miller   77 Comments      

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Friday, Feb 27, 2009

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* Happy Thanksgiving!
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* *** UPDATED x1 *** Question of the day
* Caption contest!
* Crossing the line
* Moody's warns Illinois
* The Credit Union Difference
* *** UPDATED x1 - Franks responds *** Uh-oh
* Then and now
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* Fairness.
* It brings out the rats.
* If we are to get Goldman Sachs out of ESEA, we will have to be the ones to do it.
* Black Friday on North Michigan Avenue.
* Does America need a "council of elders"?

* Emergency Management Officials, National Weather Service Encourage Winter Preparedness - November is Winter Weather Preparedness Month in Illinois
* Keep Your Family Safe This Winter - November through February are leading months for carbon monoxide related incidents
* Governor Takes Bill Action
* Illinois Department of Labor Director Hugo Chaviano Awards Governor’s Award for Contributions in Health and Safety to the Illinois Refining Division of Marathon Petroleum Company LP
* State Regulator Elected Treasurer of Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

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