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Oddities and ends

Monday, Dec 20, 2010

* When we talk about the circular firing squad in Illinois, it’s usually about the Republican Party. But the Left has its share of problems as well

In a move that will likely send shock waves through the local LGBT community, pro-LGBTQ organization Equality Illinois is no longer employing Rick Garcia as its director of public policy. […]

Garcia’s contribution to the advancement of gay rights in Illinois is undeniable. He was a key figure in the passages of both the amendment of the state’s human-rights act that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as well as the civil-unions bill that recently passed through the Illinois General Assembly.

As I told subscribers this morning, the coppers even showed up

Garcia, though, who co-founded Equality in 1992 and has been the group’s top lobbyist since then, said a few hours after being let go that he didn’t intend to go quietly and the next morning, Dec. 17, showed up to work at Equality’s offices on North Halsted Street.

When he refused to leave, Cherkasov called Chicago police and had them escort Garcia out of the offices.

An interview with Garcia is here. Some of it is not safe for work.

* Lotsa cash

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago collected about $99 million from criminal and civil debts in 2010.

The collection of more than $72.5 million in debts, coupled with an additional $26.4 million collected through asset forfeiture, means that the office’s total collections this past fiscal year amounted to more than three times its annual budget of approximately $32 million, a U.S. Attorney’s office release said.

But I do agree with the Sun-Times

In all the best movies about Prohibition, federal agents at some point raid a warehouse of illegal booze, smash the barrels of beer with axes and pose triumphantly for the press cameras.

They pretend not to know — or, worse, really are unaware — that they are on the losing side of history.

We like to watch such movies with a beer in hand.

Precisely the same story played out again Thursday in Chicago, but with marijuana instead of beer. Federal agents held a news conference to announce they had confiscated 11 tons of pot in a raid on a warehouse in Chicago Heights.

The agents showed pictures of the pot and posed for the cameras and called it a “great day for the good guys.”

As if they did not know they are on the losing side of history.

* A bit of legislative logrolling by Mark Kirk

A provision banning the Obama administration from transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States, even for trial, made its way into the National Defense Authorization Act that passed the House Friday. According to reports, it was part of a deal worked out with Illinois Republicans to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Congress hammered out a compromise last week that stripped controversial measures like DADT repeal (passed instead in a standalone bill) from the defense spending bill. But Illinois Republicans, lead by Sen. Mark Kirk, warned the negotiators not to take out the Gitmo transfer ban if they wanted the bill to pass both houses.

* Charlie Cook takes a look at what could happen to the currently crazy 17th Congressional District after reapportionment

But what might be better for Democrats than eliminating Schilling’s 17th CD altogether? They could actually make it even more Democratic than it already is. How? First, the 17th CD could give away its only heavily Republican area, Quincy (Adams County), to the safely Republican 19th CD. Then, it could combine Rock Island (Schilling’s home) and Springfield from the current 17th CD with Democratic-leaning Peoria in the 18th CD (sophomore GOP Rep. Aaron Schock’s home) to create a Democratic “supermajority” district. This might force Schilling and Schock into a primary for a seat that would be an uphill battle in a general election. And even if either Schock or Schilling were to prevail in the general, Democrats will have succeeded in “carving out” a Republican. A downstate Democratic dream scenario is depicted here:

The map…


Of course, the rest of the state might not be as easy for Democrats to navigate. If Illinois loses a seat and Democrats eliminate one district downstate, all Chicago area districts would still have to expand. One palatable option for Democrats would be to move the 11th CD represented by Kinzinger (whose home is downstate in Bloomington anyway) downstate and out of suburban Will County entirely. Then, the inner Chicago districts of Reps. Jesse Jackson (IL-02) and Dan Lipinski (IL-03) could expand into fast-growing Will County, which lacks an incumbent, without too much political consequence. If Illinois somehow manages to hold onto its 19th seat, Democrats could still merge Schock and Schilling, but Kinzinger would still probably hold onto most of Will County.

In either case, Democrats would love to strengthen their numbers in the northern Chicago suburban districts of Walsh and Dold, whom they regard as flukes. Democrats could draw more of Walsh’s GOP-leaning McHenry County precincts into GOP Rep. Don Manzullo’s 16th CD, and force Walsh to take over more Democratic precincts in Lake County. In turn, Dold’s district would gain even more heavily Democratic precincts to the south in Cook County around Evanston. Democrats could also seek to improve their numbers in GOP Rep. Judy Biggert’s 13th CD by adding heavily Democratic Aurora (Kane County) from new GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren’s 14th CD. Their hope would be to assume strong position to capture the district when Biggert, who will turn 75 in 2012, decides to retire.

* Other stuff…

* Your Apps Are Watching You - A WSJ Investigation finds that iPhone and Android apps are breaching the privacy of smartphone users

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Dec 20, 2010

* I’m not fond of super-crowded restaurants, so I don’t much care for the Walnut Room at Christmastime

This morning in Classic Chicago we’re featuring a Chicago Christmas tradition, the Walnut Room.

This iconic holiday destination has been delighting locals and tourists for generations.

If you’re looking’ for Christmas cheer look no further. There is no room any more festive, any more tradition-rich and more beloved at the holidays than the Walnut Room.

“We are in the unique position of selling holiday memories. We have customers that have been coming in 30 to40 years. Second-, third- and fourth-generations. We just feed off of that. It’s a wonderful experience and we’re very proud to be part of a Chicago tradition,” said Art Lorenz of Macy’s.

* The Question: Not to be a Grinch or anything, but what is your least favorite holiday tradition? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   49 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 *** Davis says he’s finally in the race as Burris drops out

Monday, Dec 20, 2010

*** UPDATE *** From the Sun-Times

The hearing officer in Rahm Emanuel’s residency case has tossed out a friend-of-the-court brief filed by 47 well-known attorneys who argued that Emanuel should be allowed to run for mayor.

The attorneys raised no new arguments that Emanuel’s attorneys had not already made, and four of the attorneys work at the Mayer Brown law firm, which is representing Emanuel in the case, hearing officer Joe Morris wrote.

Morris’ ruling on the friend-of-the-court brief does not necessarily signal his decision on Emanuel’s right to run for mayor, when he presents his findings to the Chicago Board of Elections on Wednesday. […]

“The hearing officer has examined the proposed brief and finds in it no argument that has not already been made,” Morris wrote.

[ *** End Of Update *** ]

* Congressman Danny Davis says he’s in the mayor’s race to stay. But he made some embarrassing admissions over the weekend

“There are some who are asking the question, ‘Where is Danny Davis?’ And still others have suggested that I may just not run. The truth is, I’m just getting in this race,” Davis said to a crowd gathered at the West Side’s Johnny L. Miller Abundant Life Center.

Rahm Emanuel has been running for mayor for months, as has Rev. Sen. James Meeks, and Gery Chico, and Carol Moseley Braun, etc. It’s pretty darned late to be just getting set up. And it’s perfectly legit to ask where he’s been all this time.

Davis’ latest FEC filing on December 1st showed he had $376,647 in the bank. He reported another $10K in his state fund this past July.

* And crowing about a poll that has you in single digits is a bit odd

Davis also cited a recent Tribune poll in which he and former Chicago Public Schools chief Gery Chico were tied for second with 9 percent. The poll showed that Davis is backed by 21 percent of black voters, more than any of the other candidates in the race.

* And then there’s this

Q. There are pictures that appear to show you placing a crown on the head of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, head of the Unification Church at a banquet. How’d that whole thing happen?

A.That’s a big lie. I was at the banquet. A fella named Michael Jenkins, whom I know, came up to me and said, “We are going to crown Rev. and Mrs. Moon ‘true parents.’ Would you do us a favor and carry one of them up to the place where they are sitting?” And I said, “Well, yeah, Michael, I think I can do that.” And so I carried the crown for Mrs. Moon. When I got to where she was, I gave it to somebody else and they then crowned her. So I didn’t put a crown on anybody, I was not even, I guess, a part of the ceremony. Why can’t the truth just be the truth?

Q. His church is very controversial. It has been called a “cult.” He’s made anti-Semitic and anti-homosexual statements. He’s a big promoter of conservative causes. How did you get to be friends with him?

A.I don’t have any friendship or relationship with Rev. Moon. I’ve seen Rev. Moon a few times in my life. He is very conservative in terms of his political philosophy. I have some difficulty with this guilt-by-association idea. The fact that Rev. Moon said some things at an event that I attended has no bearing whatsoever on my feelings. There is not a public official in the city of Chicago who has been more supportive of lesbians and gays than Danny Davis. You cannot find a single person that has been more supportive of the Jewish community of Chicago than Danny Davis.

…Adding… The photo…

Background here

As he made clear toward the end of his speech to the gathering, Moon believes himself to be “God’s ambassador, sent to Earth with his full authority.”

He said, “I am sent to accomplish his command to save the world’s 6 billion people, restoring them to heaven with the original goodness in which they were created.”

Moon went on to tell the gathering in simultaneously translated Korean that he’s been in communication with the spirits of Hitler, Stalin, Marx, Lenin and “the founders of five great religions,” and that these men and other notables have unanimously “declared to all heaven and Earth that Rev. Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s savior, messiah, returning lord and true parent.”

Rep. Davis said: “I think he was simply saying that he’s a promoter of a message and that he thinks his message of peace and world peace make sense, not that he’s a messiah in the traditional sense.”

* But he hasn’t been reelected all those times for nothing

“For too long I’ve seen two cities in Chicago. One city is prospering and vibrant; the other, poor and struggling,” he said.

Davis also said he supports an elected school board and wants a professional educator to lead the public schools.

This is a race to the runoff. Davis needs to ramp up super-fast. With two other African-Americans in the race, it won’t be easy. But Toni Preckwinkle took half the vote in the February primary even though she had black opposition and was up against a guy with unified white support.

Also, keep in mind that Chicago is very tough to poll.

* Whatever his faults, Davis has certainly been more visible than Roland Burris, who dropped out of the race Friday

Former Sen. Roland Burris took himself out of the race for mayor Friday as obscurely as he entered it — with a brief press release.

From the day a few weeks ago that supporters filed nominating papers, until Friday, Burris made no public appearances and attended none of the public forums that most of the major candidates for mayor attended.

* Roundup…

* Emanuel defends missing forums, debates

* Rahm Emanuel confident he’ll survive residency fight: On another subject, Emanuel condemned as a “false choice” Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis’ upcoming plan to reallocate police resources from lower-crime districts to those that need more officers. Instead of robbing from Peter to pay Paul, Emanuel favors his own plan to use funds generated by Chicago’s 159 tax-increment-financing (TIF) districts to hire 250 more police officers to beef up Targeted Response Units that flood high-crime areas.

* Emanuel case before GOP hearing officer: From behind his reading glasses, Morris kept an even demeanor during the hearings and went out of his way to help objectors without lawyers craft questions in legalese, often to the obvious annoyance of the lawyers in the room. But Morris also was quick to try to shut things down when objectors veered off topic, such as when one man insisted on asking Emanuel about his FBI file.

* 48 legal experts say Emanuel has right to run

* Chicago’s election board takes center stage in Emanuel’s residency fight - 3 commissioners to vote Thursday on whether to bump Emanuel from ballot

* Mark Brown: Which box do you check on Rahm?

* Mayoral candidate Davis releases tax returns: Davis, 69, who has represented a West Side and suburban district since 1996, earns a salary of $174,000. The couple also reported $51,000 in pension and annuity income and $22,000 in Social Security income in 2009.

* Rep. Davis backed tax-cut compromise: It was quite literally a call from Obama that helped persuade Davis to vote for the bill.

* VIDEO: Meet Susana Mendoza

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      

Red light cams, speed traps and city stickers

Monday, Dec 20, 2010

* The Chicago Tribune ran a big story over the weekend about how suburban towns are seeing revenues fall from red light cameras

In Bellwood, which in late 2006 became the first suburb to install the cameras, photographed violations brought in $1.1 million at their peak in 2008, instead of the projected $1.5 million to $2 million. Revenues dropped almost by half last year, and officials say net revenues this year are near $250,000. […]

The number of tickets exceeded 14,000 in 2008, fell to 11,000 last year and was slightly more than 7,000 through October. But [Melrose Park] village spokesman Nathan Brown said that’s what officials were hoping.

But they buried something…

Chicago has more red-light cameras than any other U.S. city, with 189 intersections covered. The city took in $59 million in fines during 2009, officials said, and is on pace for more in 2010, after adding cameras late last year.

Violations are down at individual sites, so the city simply added more cams. Clever.

* And then there’s this

The number of accidents fell significantly last year at the first suburban intersections to be patrolled with cameras, but state officials caution that a change in reporting requirements makes a year-to-year comparison suspect.

Overall, the number of collisions at the 14 suburban intersections in 2009 dropped 36 percent from the number in 2008. Collisions decreased at 11 of the 14, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Accidents increased at two intersections and showed no change at another. But the state raised the minimum level to report a property damage accident from $500 to $1,500, reducing the number of reported crashes statewide by 28 percent and potentially skewing the results, officials said.

At the same time, the number of accidents in which someone was injured, a figure unaffected by the reporting change, fell to 30 from 39 at the same sites last year, according to IDOT statistics.

* The paper also took a look at some notorious speed trap towns, including Carol Stream

Using another tactic that has drawn fire from critics, the department this year joined an area police trend to charge an extra $500 impound fee — separate of any criminal fines — to motorists caught for specific crimes, ranging from DUI to suspended licenses. So far this year, it’s collected about $350,000 from just over 700 tows.

Civil libertarians complain that such impounds have few safeguards to ensure the innocent aren’t forced to pay up or lose their cars.

The department also helped pioneer another trend in policing that has prompted criticism — going incognito to nab violators. Officers have hidden in bushes, behind disabled vehicles and beside lampposts to conduct stings for speeding as well as seat belt and child seat violations.

Among their disguises: homeless wanderer, garbage collector, postal carrier, public works employee, landscaper and utility worker.

Go read the whole thing. There are several sidebars…

* Move to ban ticket quotas hasn’t gotten very far - Bill proposed by police union dies in Illinois House

* Graphic: Where the tickets are

* Database: Chicagoland Traffic Stops

* Questions about traffic enforcement

* How ticketing study was conducted

* And this looks like a pretty good idea

The flip-side of Chicago’s 1.25 million city stickers would carry advertising to generate $15 million-a-year — enough to hire 100 new police officers and give motorists a modest break — under a plan proposed by the frontrunner for city clerk.

State Rep. Susana Mendoza (D-Chicago) wants to turn city stickers into money makers, much the way Mayor Daley has talked about letting private companies put holiday decorations and their corporate logos on bridge houses along the Chicago River.

The front-side of Chicago city stickers bears the winning entry of a design competition among student artists. The flip-side that motorists stare at on the inside of the windshield includes a grey scale of the city seal and signatures of the mayor and city clerk.

“It really advertises me, if I’m elected. It’s a complete waste of real estate. We have an opportunity to open it up to corporate advertisers to raise $15 million,” said Mendoza, who’s running for city clerk with the backing of powerful City Council Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th).


- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      

60 Minutes: The Day of Reckoning

Monday, Dec 20, 2010

* 60 minutes aired a story last night about state budgets. It wasn’t pretty stuff

The states have been getting by on billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, but the day of reckoning is at hand. The debt crisis is already making Wall Street nervous, and some believe that it could derail the recovery, cost a million public employees their jobs and require another big bailout package that no one in Washington wants to talk about.

“The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency,” Meredith Whitney, one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street and one of the most influential women in American business, told correspondent Steve Kroft

Whitney made her reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2008 collapse. Now, she’s warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments.

“It has tentacles as wide as anything I’ve seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy,” she told Kroft.

Asked why people aren’t paying attention, Whitney said, “‘Cause they don’t pay attention until they have to.” […]

And nowhere has the reckoning been as bad as it is in Illinois, a state that spends twice much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills.

Comptroller Dan Hynes is then interviewed. His stories are familiar to readers by now.

Ms. Whitney also said she believed that while states will find a way to pay off their debts, they will likely pass the fiscal burden onto local municipalities. She predicted “50 to 100 sizable defaults” or more in the near future. Here’s the complete video

* Meanwhile, the Freeport newspaper editorialized in favor of allowing states to declare bankruptcy

Under the federal bankruptcy code, states are not allowed to file for relief under Chapter 9, like municipalities, counties and other subsidiary governmental entities can already do. States also enjoy the right of sovereign immunity, a judicial doctrine that prevents the government or its political subdivisions, departments, and agencies from being sued without its consent. That immunity prevents a vendor, or other private sector interests, from compelling payment of a debt, which might force a state to collapse its assets to meet its financial obligations.

But in the face of $80 billion in unfunded pension benefits, a state budget deficit somewhere more than $13 billion, and a six-month, $6 billion, backlog of overdue payables to state vendors, Illinois certainly fits the criteria for bankruptcy.

A study by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities revealed that 41 states were facing severe budget shortfalls in 2009. Some states were worse off than others, with California ($31.7 billion) and Illinois leading the deficit pack. In all, the 41 states were facing a $71.9 billion budget shortfall in 2009 and the projection for 2010 put that deficit at more than $200 billion.

Amending the Federal Bankruptcy Code to allow states to file for relief might present a viable solution to the financial crisis that confronts Illinois, and 40 other states in the Union.


* Related…

* 60 minutes “extra” video: The next financial meltdown

* State pension systems still selling assets to pay benefits: With Illinois government’s fiscal year nearly half over, the five state-funded pension systems have received little to no money from the state and have sold billions of dollars worth of assets to pay out benefits.

* Sale shows how bad situation is: In the wake of an executive order by Gov. Pat Quinn calling on state agencies to purge all surplus items in hopes of making a quick buck, officials with the cash-strapped state are now poised to review whether unused property around the state’s fleet of prisons might somehow bring in added revenue.

* Taxpayer group says government employees should fund their own retirements: “In Illinois, if each current state pension fund employee were required to contribute an additional 10 percent to his or her pension, taxpayers would save over $150 billion over the next 35 years,” Tobin said.

* Broken Benefits: Baby steps toward pension reform

* Tea party to protest Quinn’s tax plans

* Par-A-Dice dealing with economy, smoking ban better than most

* Broken budget awaits next Chicago mayor - Whoever seizes the crown may be left holding the bag

- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      

Remembering Tim Davlin

Monday, Dec 20, 2010

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Springfield mayors hold a unique position in Illinois. As the mayor of the state’s capital city, they have access to more state leaders more often and more intimately than just about any other local leader except for maybe Chicago’s mayor.

Tim Davlin took advantage of that position better than most mayors his city has ever had.

Davlin was a regular at state events and built surprisingly strong relationships in the General Assembly and among statewide officials far beyond what an outsider might have thought possible when Davlin was first elected without any previous governmental experience.

He was also quite popular among his fellow Illinois mayors. Active for years in the Illinois Municipal League, Davlin was eventually elected its president. By chance, I happened to be staying at the same Chicago hotel as the Illinois Municipal League meeting the day Davlin was elected the group’s president. He was fully in his element, and his new position made it even more plausible that he might succeed one day at fulfilling his dream of higher office.

Davlin’s greatest challenge leading the Municipal League was pushing an initially reluctant General Assembly to reform the pension systems for police and firefighters during the recent fall veto session. The Legislature refused to touch pensions for first responders during the spring session partly because police and firefighters are so well-respected and because everyone knew that they couldn’t impose the same retirement ages and other restrictions on them. Nobody wants a 67 year-old firefighter showing up at their door when their house is ablaze.

It was a very difficult and controversial issue, but Davlin insisted that it be tackled. The unions representing the first-responders weren’t happy with being forced to give back hard-won gains, and they initially fought hard. Davlin kept his cool, never let the discussions turn personal, and firmly insisted on a fair outcome for everyone.

What resulted was something of a surprising rarity for Statehouse politics. Unlike the state employee and teacher pension bill, which was quickly jammed through the General Assembly last spring while enraged state worker and teachers’ unions were cut out of the process entirely, the first responders bill wasn’t really hated by anyone. Davlin even attended a function for a police union a few weeks after the bill passed. He was warmly received.

That’s just the way he was. The man actually persuaded the Sierra Club to sign off on a so-called “clean coal” electricity generation plant for his city. That was no simple feat. The Sierra Club hates coal, clean or not. The group has even locked arms this year with Exelon, which produces tons of pollution at its decades old coal-fired plants, to stop construction of a new clean coal plant near downstate Taylorville.

Davlin certainly wasn’t a saint. He made his share of governmental mistakes and he had his share of enemies in the city of Springfield, like any mayor would. But I do not know of a single enemy that Tim Davlin ever made at the Statehouse. In an environment where you are defined as much by your enemies as by your friends, Davlin literally had no enemies.

Some serious personal financial problems helped derail Mayor Davlin’s political career this fall. Davlin abruptly announced that he wasn’t running for reelection after the news stories broke. We’re still not sure how extensive his problems were, but he assured all who would listen that he would get everything back on track. He had such an easygoing manner and such a long record of success that it was difficult not to believe him. Davlin stopped by an annual holiday celebration of Statehouse lobbyists in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. Friends said he was as upbeat as always and genuinely relieved that he would no longer have to struggle with his city’s tough budget problems.

Sadly, that all ended when Mayor Davlin apparently took his own life last week. Some have speculated that maybe his troubles were worse than everyone thought. But, in reality, nobody really knows why he did it. Actually, it’s impossible to ever know why almost anyone would commit suicide, even if they leave a note. Suicide is an irrational act. Rational minds can never even begin to comprehend what a suicide victim is thinking.

I, for one, will choose to remember Tim Davlin for how he lived. His successor truly has gigantic shoes to fill, not only in Springfield, but throughout Illinois.

* Meanwhile, new details have emerged about former Chicago School Board President Michael Scott’s financial situation before he committed suicide

† About two weeks before Scott’s suicide, a development company that had been paying him $10,000 a month “for consultation in regards to future projects involving the possible Olympic Games in Chicago” canceled his contract, according to new details from the Chicago Police Department that officials previously had refused to release. Scott lost that lucrative part-time job because the city failed to land the 2016 Games, according to an unredacted police report on his suicide obtained by the Better Government Association.

† Two downtown fast-food restaurants Scott co-owned — part of a franchise called Salad Creations — had gone out of business shortly before his death, and a third closed shortly thereafter, according to Phil Gershman, Scott’s partner in those eateries. Scott had been negotiating to build a fourth Salad Creations, this one at Midway Airport, but that deal didn’t materialize, Gershman says.

† Lenders are now seeking a total of about $1.2 million from Scott’s estate, probate records show. Nearly $1 million of that stems from a pair of loans that Scott and Gershman obtained for their restaurants in 2007 from First Chicago Bank & Trust. First Chicago also wants $182,025 from the estate to pay off a loan it gave Scott in 2005. American Express also has gone to probate court seeking $46,633 — the apparent unpaid balance on a Scott credit card.

Is that the “reason” he killed himself? We’ll never really know. As I wrote above, suicide is not a rational act. Rational minds simply cannot understand it.

* Related…

* A final farewell for Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin

* Springfield residents say goodbye to mayor

* Our community needs time to mourn

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      

Morning shorts

Monday, Dec 20, 2010

* State medical society a roadblock to legislation barring dangerous doctors, critics say - Lobbying group has spent more than $6 million in campaign donations over the last 10 years

* Q&A on the census and redistricting: Which states may gain or lose?: The states with the biggest anticipated changes are Texas, which could gain as many as five seats, and Ohio, which could lose two. Nine states — Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — could each lose one.

* Ill. treasurer-elect names chief of staff: Kyle Ham was mayor of Toulon for four years and most recently served as president and COO of Peoria NEXT.

* Quinn headed to Germany to visit injured U.S. troops

* Jesse White delivers turkeys, hams to needy

* Homeless Shelters Receive Much-Needed Grant Money: The state is distributing nearly three million dollars in grants; twelve area shelters are getting some of that money.

* Menard chief among 60 who’ve gotten state money for injuries

* Dead dogs found in Lake County animal shelter

* Parks orders probe into spiked pensions with lawsuits possible: Park District of Highland Park commissioners authorized an official investigation and possible lawsuits against two of its former executives Thursday night in an attempt to recapture previously approved salaries and bonuses.

* Harvey firefighters pension fund sues suburb

* Rockford School District spending restricted because of discipline disparity

* Metra to debut ‘quiet cars‘ in January

* Could airport cuts save deputies jobs? MidAmerica will cost almost $900,000 in 2011

* After helping at Ground Zero, 2 ill firefighters left out of settlement

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      

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Friday, Dec 17, 2010

* Tara Davlin, the daughter of the late mayor, posted this on her Facebook page today…

For all of those that asked what they can do for us: Hug your loved ones tighter tonight for me. When we were down, my father always spoke the words, “This too shall pass.” Please remember that it will. Life is too short.

Words to live by.

* Timmy was a great Irishman, and many of us will never forget our good times with him at some tavern or another. So the Pogues will play us out. Raise your glasses and turn it up

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

Question of the day

Friday, Dec 17, 2010

* The setup

UBS, the Swiss banking giant, has issued a new dress code for its workers — and it features some patented Swiss precision.

The 43-page edict is being tested at five Swiss branches. It notes that: “Our body odor cannot be changed. However, we can ensure that it produces only pleasant scents. Strong breath (garlic, onions, cigarettes) can have a significant impact on communication.”

It also includes, according to NBC:

For women:

♦ “Light makeup consisting of a foundation, mascara and discreet lipstick will enhance your personality.”

♦ “Women should not wear shoes that are too tight-fitting as there is nothing worse than a strained smile.”

♦ “A flawless appearance can bring inner peace and a sense of security.”

♦ “The ideal time to apply perfume is directly after you take a hot shower, when your pores are still open.”

They have equally weird suggestions for men.

* The Question: What should be the dress code for Illinois government?

- Posted by Rich Miller   48 Comments      

Unemployment rate falls again, foreclosure rate drops, and a different way to look at tax burdens

Friday, Dec 17, 2010

* Not exactly great news, but it’s still better than the alternative

The unemployment rate in Illinois fell to 9.6 percent in November from 9.8 percent in October, the eighth straight decline, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said today. But the state lost 2,600 jobs.

The jobless rate is down from 10.9 percent in November 2009 and fell below the national rate for the first time since January 2007. The national rate is 9.8 percent. […]

The biggest job gains over the year were in professional and business services, up 15,400; educational and health services, up 13,900; and trade , transportation and utilities, up 10,100.

The biggest job declines over the year were in construction, down 7,800; financial activities, down 5,300; and leisure and hospitality, down 3,800.

* Progress Illinois’ chart shows that the state’s rate is now below the national average, which is kinda good news, of sorts…

* And the foreclosure rate dropped as well, but we’re still in a heap of trouble here

The number of foreclosures in Illinois fell by 24 percent from October to November. A report from Realty-Trac shows 12,941 people filed for foreclosures in November. The number includes default notices, auction sale notices, and bank repossessions.

The rate is 21 percent lower than November of 2009. But it’s still an ominously high number; Illinois ranks 9th in the nation in foreclosures.

* Meanwhile, the Illinois Policy Institute takes a different look at tax burden rankings, which traditionally rate Illinois as a low-tax state. The per capita ranking is far higher

Illinois’s state and local tax burden per capita ranked 14th-highest in 2008, at $4,346. The “tax burden” measure focuses on the total amount residents pay in state and local taxes, as opposed to how much money state and local governments collect. As citizens will pay taxes to bodies both within and outside of their state of residency, this measurement provides a better understanding of which states’ residents are most burdened by state and local taxes by tallying tax payments in taxpayers’ home states.

All neighboring states, including Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana, had lower per-capita tax burdens than Illinois in 2008.

The usual way of measuring is tax revenues as a percentage of personal income. This is why IPI claims that measurement skews the results…

…it’s important to note that income levels can skew rankings. High-income states will show lower collections as a percentage of income than low-income states even if the actual tax bill is exactly the same.

Consider Illinois and Indiana. Looking at state revenue collections per capita, Illinois and Indiana are ranked 27th and 26th, respectively. Illinois collected $2,267 per person in 2009, while next-door Indiana collected $2,320 per person—just $53 more. Yet in the measurement of state tax revenues as a percentage of personal income, Indiana ranked twenty slots higher (17th highest) than Illinois (37th highest). This is largely attributable to income levels: Illinois ranks 13th highest for per capita income, at $46,693, while Indiana ranks 40th highest, at $37,279. Illinois is a higher-income state than Indiana. Chicago’s status as a world financial center drives up income figures, and this in turn affects the rankings.


- Posted by Rich Miller   45 Comments      

Crime and punishment

Friday, Dec 17, 2010

* Progress report

Two laws aimed at limiting the use of cell phones while driving have resulted in nearly 7,800 motorists being pulled over by the Illinois State Police this year.

In January, Illinois banned the use of cell phones in construction and school zones, as well as took aim at texting while driving. […]

Through Dec. 16, the construction and school zone ban netted 4,236 citations and 2,629 warnings from the state police.

The texting ban has resulted in a total of 929 citations and warnings over the same time period.

Those figures don’t count citations or warnings issued by county or municipal police agencies.

That’s about 132 a week for cell phones and about 18 a week for texting. Not a whole lot, particularly the texting ban, which is pretty tough to enforce.

* Nice move by the governor

To those who know her, it’s no surprise that Hannah Perryman would keep working for stalking victims, though her own ordeal is over.

But the rapid pace of happenings since she came forward to tell her story several weeks ago is daunting even to the teen who specializes in slinging fastballs for Elgin High’s softball team.

After being contacted by 17-year-old Hannah, who, after years of being stalked by a neighborhood teen pushed for a change in state law, Gov. Pat Quinn has issued a proclamation declaring January Stalking Awareness Month in Illinois.

Hannah said she recently e-mailed Quinn at his state of Illinois e-mail address, with links to the Daily Herald’s three-day series of articles telling her story. […]

In less than a week, Hannah said, Quinn wrote back with the news, sending her an official proclamation.

* Unclear on the concept

A Tinley Park couple was out of jail and cleaning up their home Thursday evening after being arrested and charged with running a $1 million marijuana lab from their suburban home.

John Gecan, 52, and his wife Darlene, 52, didn’t deny growing the plant, but said they weren’t distributing and seemed most upset about the raid on their 7,000 square foot home, located in the 5300 block of West 175th Street.

“You can’t come into somebody’s home and do that,” said John Gecan as he stood among the belongings strewn about the room. “It doesn’t matter what they found.”

Apparently, these people never anticipated that the coppers might ransack their alleged grow-house, which was pretty sophisticated…

Police showed off the mechanics of the basement operation, illustrating how the family hid a ventilation system in the walls and up four floors into a vent through the attic to get rid of the smell. There was another intake vent to let fresh air in, they said.

And the reason they grew the pot?…

“The real estate taxes went up four grand. My sons are unemployed, they can’t find jobs,” she explained.


* The infestation of Asian carp isn’t actually a crime, but we’ve declared war on the little buggers. And that little war might actually help a lonely little Metro East airport

With invasive Asian carp teeming in Illinois rivers and growing exports of the fish back to Asia, St. Clair County leaders hope that booming trade may help their underused airport.

The county Public Building Commission approved the framework Thursday of a plan to turn MidAmerica St. Louis Airport into a center for the export of the carp to China.

The 12-year-old airport in Mascoutah has never turned a profit.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports that under the plan, carp caught by commercial fishermen in Iowa and Illinois will be trucked to MidAmerica and shipped fresh aboard air cargo planes.

* On a far more serious note, the Tribune editorializes today about a bizarre loophole in Illinois law which may be closed soon

In California, a doctor convicted of a sex crime automatically loses his license to practice medicine. It is automatic and permanent.

That’s not what happens in Illinois. A doctor convicted of a sex crime here sometimes escapes discipline — even when his victims are patients, as the Tribune’s Megan Twohey has reported. When a doctor is punished, the discipline can be as tepid as a short suspension of his medical license.

A Chicago-area doctor convicted in 2001 of sexually abusing a Villa Park woman who had sought a bikini-line laser treatment at his Oak Brook office can still practice medicine in Illinois.

So can a Downers Grove doctor convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse and battery of a Lisle woman who came to his clinic seeking treatment for a severe headache.


- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      

Poll: Plurality of Chicago voters favor casino, about half oppose Wrigley Field deal

Friday, Dec 17, 2010

* The Tribune is still trickling out its poll results

The survey found 47 percent of Chicago voters now back a city-owned casino while 41 percent oppose it. Those numbers are almost the exact opposite of voters’ views in a similar Tribune survey taken in 2003.

The new poll of 721 registered and likely voters in the Feb. 22 mayoral contest found support for a city-owned casino greatest among voters younger than 50. Fully 56 percent of voters ages 18 to 35 favored a city gambling emporium, the same view held by 51 percent of voters 36 to 49. […]

The survey also found a sharp gender gap on the issue. Among men, 56 percent backed a city casino while only 34 percent opposed it. But 46 percent of female voters opposed a casino while 39 percent supported it.

Not exactly resounding support, but not a terribly large opposition, either.

* The numbers against the Wrigley Field renovation plan were stronger, but not as overwhelming as one might’ve thought

More than half of Chicago voters don’t like the idea of spending future gains in city and county ticket taxes on renovating Wrigley Field, a new Tribune/WGN poll shows. […]

Fully 51 percent said they opposed such a plan, while only 36 percent supported it. Another 13 percent said they had no opinion of the proposal. The opposition was steady across gender, racial, age and income lines.


- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      

Meeks claims Emanuel kept black leaders out of the White House - Attempts backtrack on affirmative action blowup

Friday, Dec 17, 2010

* This week’s WVON mayoral debate appearance by Sen. James Meeks is something of a racially charged goldmine.

For instance, Meeks claimed during the debate that mayoral opponent Rahm Emanuel kept African-American leaders “out of the White House,” and said of Emanuel, “He’s never done anything for African-Americans.”

There’s more, so watch

I asked the Meeks campaign twice yesterday to explain the White House allegation, but did not hear back.

* Also, early in the debate, WVON went to a commercial break and left the video microphones on. It’s a bit tough to hear at first, but Meeks privately explains to Carol Moseley Braun about how “When white people were in the [school] system, resources, you name them. Art, music, all of that stuff was going on. When black and brown people are just in the system, they took out everything.” Watch

It’s not that he’s necessarily wrong. It’s just that the clip may show how much he sees things as a racial issue.

* And a day after saying that women, Asians and Hispanics are “not people who have been discriminated against,” and aren’t “people of color” and therefore should not receive affirmative action benefits, Rev. Sen. James Meeks tried to calm things down a bit yesterday. It didn’t really work.

His first attempt at backtracking was to say that only white women should be excluded from affirmative action programs. But his comment just fanned the flames

Hedy Ratner, co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center, was already “furious” at Meeks. She argued Thursday that, if anything, the 5 percent set-aside for women “should be higher.”

“Is he saying that this should be an African-American city with policies only for African Americans? I’m surprised that a candidate for mayor who wants to represent the entire city would exclude a majority of its citizens,” she said.

Paul Cerpa, executive director of the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), said the federal government has made it clear that the “presumptive group” of those historically discriminated against includes blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and “women, regardless of ethnicity.”

“To draw the line in the sand and say, ‘This is only mine — not yours’ doesn’t allow everyone to play in the sandbox,” Cerpa said.

* Meeks tried to backtrack again yesterday and didn’t really succeed

In a somewhat ambiguous statement issued Thursday afternoon, he said “all minority- and women-owned businesses deserve their fair share of city contract opportunities.”

However, it immediately adds, “Chicago has a history of systemic corruption in its minority- and women-owned business program and (a history that) that African-American-owned businesses are the most underrepresented among city contractors.”

* Meeks then attempted an apology of sorts on ABC7

“People are making much ado about nothing,” said Senator Meeks.

Meeks apologized for–as he put it–”a bad choice of words”. The point he says is that African Americans receive only 70 percent of city contracts and have been criminally shortchanged by minority front companies.

“The federal government has deemed that this program is a corrupt one and we need to fix this program,” said Sen. Meeks.

Whatever you think about affirmative action programs and the very real problems with fraud, you can’t argue with the fact that Sen. Meeks has done a terrible job of communicating.

A couple of years ago, Meeks and I sat down to talk after he’d said something or another about some racial thing. I scolded him pretty good, saying he’d been a black preacher for so long and a black legislator for so long that he apparently never bothered to learn how to talk to white people (and, I should’ve added, “everyone else”). I told him that he needed to learn some basic communication skills. Obviously, he never did.

* Zorn thinks the initial flap over affirmative action will force Meeks out of the race

And that’ll about do it, folks, for the mayoral aspirations of Mr. Meeks, which were already a bit of a long-shot due to his social conservatism and the presence on the ballot of three other prominent African American candidates (two if you don’t count Roland Burris, which, come to think of it, you probably shouldn’t).

The question now is whether he’ll drop his increasingly unlikely bid before the election on Feb. 22 and try to gain some political leverage by offering his support to another candidate, or whether he’ll carry on to the bitter end.

My prediction is he’ll drop out.

On the other hand, Meeks could be hoping for a black backlash. We’ll see.


- Posted by Rich Miller   47 Comments      

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* One more day
* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Sign of the times?
* Question of the day
* Exelon Just Received A $1.7 Billion Rate Increase Through The Market-Based Capacity Auction
* Today's number: 60
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* Two racetracks will likely close
* "How many babies have to die?"
* Report: "A billion-dollar giveaway rife with failure"
* Frerichs warns of impasse consequences
* Quinn touring the state
* Yesterday's blog posts

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