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“Yes” to reforms, “No” to worker bashing

Thursday, Dec 23, 2010

* My Sun-Times column

As we’re all painfully aware, two Chicago firefighters were killed on the job Wednesday after neighbors thought there might be homeless people inside a burning building. Seventeen other firefighters were injured as they scoured the structure for survivors.

Like just about everyone else, I was deeply moved by the firefighters’ heroism. But then I got angry as my thoughts turned to all the unfair and downright misleading public employee bashing we’ve seen this year.

Firefighters, police officers and everyone else who draws a public paycheck have seemed at times to be a modern-day version of the Ronald Reagan era’s “Cadillac-driving welfare queens.”

Their salaries and benefits are far too lavish, we’ve been told time and time again. The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago is on a mission to drastically reduce public pensions, including for firefighters, so that their overall compensation is more in line with the “private sector.” This city’s “other newspaper” has all but turned its editorial page over to the committee.

The Civic Committee is chaired by a corporate CEO who made more than $15 million last year, according to Forbes.

I seriously doubt that this particular aspect of the “private sector” is what the committee is referring to, however.

Look, I don’t disagree that there are serious problems with the public pension systems.

But how many workers in the “private sector” are paid to run into burning buildings to see if there might possibly be homeless people inside?

Too often, these workers have been dismissed this year as little more than parasites. The truth is, many do the jobs that you or I would not or could not do, for any wage.

Would the four financially well-off leaders of the Illinois General Assembly who are now pushing Medicaid reforms clean up the blood spilled on a hospital emergency room floor at 3 a.m?

The leaders are also attempting to muscle through workers’ compensation reforms, but would any of them volunteer to spend a month working on a busy expressway?

They’re attempting to limit the rights of Chicago teachers to collectively bargain. Would they spend their days attempting to lift inner city youths to greater heights?

Would the editorial board members of that “other newspaper” patrol Chicago’s meanest streets?

Again, let me be clear: Reforms are most certainly needed for every topic mentioned above.

What gets me so riled up is the one-sided tone of this debate. Workers who have given their lives to public service are too often demeaned as overcompensated and unimportant. And those who speak up for the workers are immediately tagged as “shilling for the unions.”

I suppose this climate should’ve been predictable. Times are tough. Millions are out of work and millions more are worried they could be tossed out of their jobs as well. They can’t sell their homes, and even if they could, they’d end up owing money because property values have plummeted.

They’re in no mood to pay for pensions and other benefits that they don’t also receive. They’re angry as hell and this is an easy target, partly because the unions have served themselves up, partly because the people who are in a position to most influence the public debate are taking full advantage of the situation.

What we need here are compromises which recognize both the inability of society to fund everything that has been promised and the responsibility of that same society to pay for the services it too often takes for granted.

Maybe this week’s tragic events can snap us all back to reality. We shouldn’t turn each other into enemies.

* And speaking of reform gone awry

In March, the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn saved Illinois an estimated $220 billion in pension costs over the next 25 years by passing sweeping pension-benefit reductions for future public employees whose retirements are state-funded.

But by doing so, they may have shifted a big chunk of retirement costs to school districts, local governments and the taxpayers who support them.

The cut to benefits is so severe that future teachers probably will have to be put in the federal Social Security system, according to a consultant’s report for the Teachers’ Retirement System.

“It seems likely that, at some point in the future, the TRS second tier plan will no longer meet the requirements for FICA (Social Security) tax exemption,” says the report from Buck Consultants.

Oy.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Meeks drops out of mayor’s race

Thursday, Dec 23, 2010

* Rev. Sen. James Meeks dropped out of the mayor’s race today, just as the Sun-Times reported he’d do yesterday. Tribune

“It is long past time that we build on the tremendous successes of the great Harold Washington and his administration by electing another African-American to become our mayor. But as long as our community remains divided and splintered – to the specific advantage of the front-running, status quo candidates – we will never see things improve. We need to speak with one voice.

“So, even as I continue to believe that I would be both the best prepared and the most electorally viable candidate in this race, I have chosen to lead by example. I am hereby announcing my withdrawal from this race, and am urging the other African-American candidates to do likewise.

“In so doing, I am endorsing no one person; rather, I am asking all of the African-American candidates to subordinate their own candidacies to the greater good of our city and our community, and submit to a caucus of clergy, elected officials, and residents whose sole purpose shall be to winnow the remaining field down to one candidate. Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for Mayor this year; I want to be a part of this process, and there should be no question about my motives,” the statement read.

The Tribune also reported that Meeks was balking at releasing his income tax returns.

* The Sun-Times has react from the other two black candidates. Meeks urged that one of the two drop out as well

No chance, Davis and Braun told the Chicago Sun-Times.

While Meeks is dropping out, Davis says he’s “dropping in,” and is moving ahead with planned fund-raisers, endorsement sessions and town hall discussions. I’m moving ahead.”

Moseley Braun spokeswoman Renee Ferguson said the former senator also is “in the race for good.”

* AP

In November, a coalition of black clergy members, business leaders and community activists concerned about splitting the black vote selected Davis as their preferred candidate. A Chicago Tribune/WGN poll released earlier this month showed Davis was the leading black candidate in the crowded field, with support from 9 percent of registered likely voters.

Meeks followed with 7 percent, and Braun had 6 percent.

A spokeswoman for the coalition, Tracey Alston, said Thursday that group leaders are still convinced one black unity candidate will emerge.

“Stay tuned,” Alston said. “The process is ongoing. It will remain ongoing until there is one candidate.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Reader comments closed until the new year

Thursday, Dec 23, 2010

* I will probably post a few stories before returning full-scale on January 3rd, but comments will be closed. The automated news feeds will continue operating, of course, so check back if you want to keep up on the latest doings.

* I did this last year, so I thought we’d start a new tradition. Those of us who grew up watching Chicago TV will remember this one


Though old Santa really has no need for Joe
But takes him ’cause he loves him so

* And a couple more from the vaults…

* Suzy Snowflake

* Frosty the Snowman

Have a great holiday break and we’ll talk again soon.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Question of the day

Thursday, Dec 23, 2010

* House Speaker Michael Madigan recently received a contribution solicitation from the Better Government Association. The BGA’s Andy Shaw says this was an oops. They don’t take money from politicians and Madigan has been removed from the mailing list. In the fundraising letter, Shaw says the BGA is “watching” the politicians. Madigan sent a letter in reply

Dear Andy: Concerning the enclosed solicitation where you state “we’re watching.” Andy, who is watching you. With kindest personal regards, I remain, sincerely, Mike.

Shaw’s response…

I appreciate [Madigan’s] endorsement of a transparent process that encourages a vast audience of Illinois residents to watch all of us—that’s the civic engagement we so desperately need to clean up the mess we call Illinois government. So I invite Mr. Speaker and everyone in Illinois to watch what we’re doing at the BGA, as we attack waste, fraud, patronage, cronyism, nepotism, pay-to-play and inside deals with every tool at our disposal—media partners, TV, radio, website and social media

I also encourage the speaker to mobilize his considerable power and expertise in concert with other political, business, labor and civic leaders to forge longterm solutions to the state’s budget and pension crises. The BGA is eager to join the discussion, and we hope that Illinois residents will be watching this process closely because no government challenge is more important as we turn the calendar on another year.

* The Question: What do you make of Madigan’s letter?

Snark is not discouraged.

…Adding… I posted this in comments, but then I figured I should probably put it here so nobody misses it…

People, c’mon. It’s Christmas. A little more jocularity and a little less jugular, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller   66 Comments      


*** UPDATED x5 - BOARD VOTES TO KEEP EMANUEL ON BALLOT *** Hearing officer: Rahm Emanuel should stay on the ballot

Thursday, Dec 23, 2010

* 1:52 am - Chicago elections board hearing officer Joe Morris has recommended that Rahm Emanuel should stay on the mayoral ballot. Morris’ full report can be read by clicking here.

This is a non-binding recommendation. The full board will take up the matter at 9 o’clock this morning. Check ABC7’s website for live Internet video.

* From Morris’ recommendation

The preponderance of this evidence is that [Emanuel] never formed an intention to terminate his residence in Chicago; never formed an intention to establish his residence in Washington, DC, or any place other than Chicago; and never formed an intention to change his residence. […]

The weight of this evidence shows that the Objectors failed to bear their burden of proof and persuasion that the Candidate intended, in 2009 or 2010, to effect any change in his residence or to be anything other than a resident of Chicago for electoral purposes.

Once residence has been established in Illinois, the touchstone of continued residence is the intention of the resident and not the physical fact of “having a place to sleep”. […]

It should not be lost that every citizen and resident of Illinois is also a citizen of the United States… This “dual citizenship” inheres in the very idea of a federal republic, and the business of the United States is as much the legitimate concern of a citizen of Illinois as is the business of the State or of one of its municipalities. To this end, Illinois law expressly protects the residential status and electoral rights of Illinois citizens who are called to serve the national government. Section 3-2 of the Illinois Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/3-2 thus provides, in pertinent part:

[N]o elector… shall be deemed to have lost his or her residence in any precinct or electoral district in this State by reason of his or her absence on business of the United States, or of this State.

There is no principled reason to exclude service in the Executive Office of the President or elsewhere in the executive branch from the ambit of “business of the United States” any more than to exclude service in the armed forces, the diplomatic corps, Congress, or the Federal judiciary.

The preponderance of the evidence establishes that the sole reason for the Candidate’s absence from Chicago during 2009 and 2010 was by reason of his attendance ot business of the United States.

Morris also ruled that Emanuel owed no fines to the city, as the opposition had alleged. Past-due fines are an automatic candidacy killer in Chicago. Read the whole thing and then give us your thoughts.

* Sun-Times

State law requires mayoral candidates to “have resided” in the city for the year prior to Election Day. The only exception is for active-duty members of the military.

But Morris ruled that Emanuel did not forfeit his status as a Chicago resident when he agreed to give up a seat in Congress to serve at President Obama’s side.

Even after renting out his Chicago home, Emanuel continued to pay the property tax bill, vote from that address and list it on his Illinois driver’s license and checking account. […]

Odelson is expected to appeal if, as expected, the three-member election board affirms Morris’ ruling.

Actually, the “only exception” is not just for active-duty military, as Morris’ opinion clearly states.

* Tribune

Also Wednesday, Emanuel’s campaign moved quickly to correct an e-mail that went out to supporters lamenting the Chicago firefighter tragedy while also asking for campaign donations.

“As we celebrate this holiday season, we must remember how fortunate we are that we have brave men and women working out there every day to protect our homes, our communities and our families,” the e-mail from Emanuel read.

Included after those words was an electronic button marked “Donate.”

Emanuel spokesman Ben LaBolt said the gaffe resulted from the wrong template being used in sending out the e-mail. The campaign corrected the mistake, and when e-mail recipients clicked the link they got a message of apology and a link to a list of organizations taking donations for the firefighters’ families.

Oof.

* Related…

* NY Times: Hearing Officer Says Emanuel Eligible to Run for Chicago Mayor

* AP: Report: Emanuel should be in Chicago mayor’s race: “The hearing officer is sort of like an Italian traffic signal—it’s a mere suggestion. He is basically giving his opinion,” said Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

* Bloomberg: Emanuel Meets Chicago Residency Rule for Mayoral Race

* FT: Political rottweiler changes tack in mayor polls: He has now undergone a transformation. Pugnacity has been replaced by affability, aggression by geniality, and the famously quick temper has given way to seemingly endless patience.

* Meeks is wrong on contracting issue: Contrary to his personal view that only African Americans have suffered discrimination, courts throughout this nation have found otherwise; that, in fact, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Arab Americans, American Indians, women and persons with disabilities, have all suffered from discriminatory practices. Those rulings have provided the constitutional basis for the minority/women/disadvantaged business enterprise programs in Chicago as well as the state of Illinois. These programs dictate that eligible minority and women-owned businesses shall be entitled to a percentage of government contracts. We would certainly hope that whoever is elected the mayor of this great city would respect the rule of law and maintain the program that serves to provide job and business opportunities to all Chicagoans and not just a select few.

*** UPDATE 1 - 9:49 am *** Objector Burt Odelson has just finished his statement. He said that Joe Morris’ opinion is “shallow” when it talks about the residency laws. He claimed that Morris looked at statutory construction on the municipal fines issue, but ignored it on the residency issue. Odelson said the recommendation gives new “hope” to city employees who want to live outside Chicago because they could just demonstrate “intent” to reside in the city.

Tribune

“This (69-page) recommendation, I’m trying to guard my words, is shallow. It’s shallow in reciting the facts,” Odelson said.

“I was extremely disappointed we had to wait that long for such a poor product. This wasn’t a difficult case. It only became difficult because of all of the objectors.”

All of Emanuel’s actions — including applying for a homeowner’s exemption, and amending his 2009 tax returns to declare he was an Illinois resident — each came after Mayor Richard Daley announced he would not seek re-election, Odelson said.

Odelson declared Emanuel’s moves as “self-serving action(s) taken to bolster his residency.”

* Also, if you’re having trouble with ABC7’s live feed, WGN also has one.

* The Tribune editorialized in Emanuel’s favor

It would be different if he’d pulled up roots and settled elsewhere, but in fact Emanuel took steps to preserve his residency: He leased his house rather than selling it; he voted absentee from his Chicago address and listed it on his vehicle registration and driver’s license. In such cases, the law focuses on intent, and Emanuel clearly meant to come home to Chicago.

The election code is silent on marmalade. Everything else is pretty straightforward. Heck, the appeals are probably already written.

Thursday’s board decision won’t put this to rest. But it should be a pretty easy vote.

*** UPDATE 2 - 11:42 am *** We now have a motion and a second to adopt Morris’ report. That’s two out of three.

*** UPDATE 3 - 11:43 am *** Looks like it’ll be a unanimous vote because the chairman is now saying he’ll side with the other two.

*** UPDATE 4 - 11:44 am *** Unanimous.

* Sun-Times

But Burt Odelson, the main attorney for the objectors, said he always expected he would have to win the case in court.

“It was not unexpected. We will have to get into court system to prevail where there is no fear of repercussions.”

* Tribune

“It was a difficult case to manage. For me, it was not a difficult case to decide,” said Richard Cowen, an elections commissioner.

The election board, however, is not expected to have final say on the issue. The losing objectors have a week to appeal the board’s decision to the Cook County Circuit Court. The case could wind its way through the court system, including the Illinois Court of Appeals and the Illinois Supreme Court, for weeks.

“My goal is to get this through the courts as soon as possible,” said Burt Odelson, lead attorney for the objectors, to Emanuel’ attorneys after the commissioners rendered their decision.

*** UPDATE 5 *** Gery Chico’s response…

“For too long, the mayor’s race has been focused on residency, not real issues.

“From day one, my campaign has proposed and released more comprehensive policy plans to improve the City of Chicago than any other candidate.

“No matter who gets in or out of this race, I believe I am the best prepared to lead this city in a whole new direction.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   67 Comments      


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* No pension bump for Stermer, MJM still not persuaded on special session
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