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GOP appears to be cementing around Ozinga

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008

* In an announcement Monday, GOP officials said they will wait until April 30 to decide who will challenge Sen. Debbie Halvorson to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller.

Martin Ozinga III is the president of Mokena-based Ozinga Bros., one of the largest material supply companies in the Midwest. A story broke in Chicago Business yesterday that Ozinga is likely to get the spot over another wealthy business owner, Harry Bond, president of Monical’s Pizza:

Knowledgeable party sources describe Mr. Ozinga, 58, as “the consensus candidate” and say he is likely to be formally made the party’s nominee when 11th-District committeemen meet on April 30. The party’s previous nominee, New Lennox Mayor Tim Baldermann, withdrew after the February primary, creating a vacancy on the November ballot.

Will County Republican Chairman Richard Kavanagh holds the heaviest weighted vote, and apparently he’s with Ozinga. However Chairmen in Kankakee, LaSalle, Bureau and McLean counties also have a sizeable vote in the replacement, and it seems like there is still some support left for Bond.

* Ozinga has a few issues though:

The Chicago Tribune three years ago described Ozinga Bros. as a classic case of a white-owned company working the system to win minority set-asides in the city of Chicago’s contracting program. According to the story, the Ozingas forged relationships with black church leaders who then took over part of the business.

The church leaders claimed they were not included in day-to-day decisions; Ozinga told the Tribune it was a sincere effort to involve minorities in his enterprise. When it failed, he reached out to other minorities, who were able to turn a profit.

And this:

“…word of his selection already is drawing fire from some party activists, who note that he has been a major donor to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, giving the Chicago Democrat $10,000 late in 2005.”

Federal Election Commission records also show that Mr. Ozinga has given $6,000 to Rep. Weller since 2001, as well as a $1,000 donation to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. The donations to Durbin and Blagojevich will likely not sit well with many loyal republicans.

* Still, both Ozinga and Bond are attractive candidates because of their ability to self-fund, especially after Baldermann’s late implosion. Who do you think should/ will be the nominee, and if Ozinga gets the nod, are these issues enough to severly hurt his chances against a potential showdown with Sen. Halvorson?

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   20 Comments      

Question of the Day

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008

* The Senate Revenue Committee recently passed a proposal by Sen. James Clayborne to create a sales tax holiday beginning Aug. 1 and running through Aug. 10. Items included are school supplies, clothing or shoes under $200, and computers under $3,000.

Meanwhile, Illinois House Republicans also are seeking a sales tax break over the Memorial Day weekend, May 23-26, which would exempt items priced at $600 or less from the state sales tax.

The impact of lost revenue by Sen. Clayborne’s bill on the state budget is unclear, but the Republican proposal is estimated to cost the state $40 million in lost revenue.

* The question of the day is, are proposals like these worth the lost revenue to the state?

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   29 Comments      

Hate Crime Commission in state of paralysis

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008

* After Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad invited her boss, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, to speak in front of her fellow commissioners of a panel on Discrimination and Hate Crimes several of its members resigned citing disparaging remarks that were made about Jews and gays.

Lonnie Nasatir, one of the former commissioners recently said “It’s difficult for me to see how you could be eradicating hate when your primary boss is the one that spews it out.”

So after the controversy lawmakers decided to create a new version of the Governor’s Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes, designed to promote tolerance within the state’s diverse population. The problem is seven months later Gov. Blagojevich hasn’t appointed a single person to the overhauled commission, and it will fail to accomplish its first major goal, presenting a report by March 30.

* What’s even more striking is that the old version of the commission hasn’t met in two years, but its executive director, Kimberly M. White, continues to draw her $96,000 annual salary.

The administration wouldn’t explain why the governor hasn’t named anyone to the commission but did say they are reviewing candidates recommended by the state.

Spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff also said the Democratic governor is following through on his promise to hold private discussions meant to help bridge the state’s racial and religious differences, although she would provide no details.

“The issues won’t be resolved overnight, but the governor is focused on maintaining dialogue and doing what he can as the chief executive of the state to foster diversity and support people who have traditionally been left behind,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Ira Silverstein, who sponsored the original legislation to establish the new commission, had the following to say:

“There’s plenty of competent people in the state of Illinois that could serve on this commission. It’s something, unfortunately, in society that we have to deal with.”

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   20 Comments      

Stroger faces criticism after pay raise to cousin

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008

* Cook County Board President Todd Stroger just can’t get a break these days. The Chicago Sun-Times led with a front page article yesterday on how Stroger’s cousin Donna Dunnings, the county’s new chief financial officer, is receiving a 12% pay increase.

Dunnings’ salary will be the largest increase of any county employee in the budget, with the average increase coming in at around 5%. She will make nearly $160,000 with the pay increase, about $5,000 more than Tom Glaser made at the job previously.

Stroger’s spokesman, Gene Mullins justified the pay increase by saying that “she’s doing twice the work she was before and has more responsibilities.”

The news has brought out many critics:

“It sends the message that taxpayers have to make sacrifices and President Stroger’s friends, family and supporters get special treatment,” said Jay Stewart, of the Better Government Association. “It is a classic example of how Cook County politicians look at the world — one set of rules for the outsiders and a different, more favorable set of rules for the insiders.”

Several Cook County Board commissioners are upset as well:

“This is a little bit over the top to go ahead and afford these kinds of raises,” said Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Bartlett Republican, on Monday.

Commissioner Forrest Claypool had the harshest criticism though:

“This underscores Todd Stroger’s arrogance,” Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) said of the pay raise for Dunnings. “Everybody seems to be doing poorly except for Todd Stroger’s family.”

* Stroger’s decision to spend more and hire more contradicts recent comments by Mayor Daley, who said his city government is tightening its belt and freezing hiring because of poor economic conditions. Discuss.

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   24 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2008

* Hugs, rolls for piano prodigy at White House

“I said, ‘Hi,’ and I gave him a hug,” Emily, 6, said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon after she’d played piano in front of about 300 people at the White House before the traditional annual Easter Egg Roll.

* City: We’ve got a way to keep cabbies from gouging

* Organic Frangos?

* Closing arguments heard in sex suit against agency

* Illinois hits record low in new TB cases

State Public Health Director Damon Arnold says everyone needs to be aware of the risks of TB, especially since the number of drug-resistant cases have been increasing.

* Residents speak out against housing plan near SIUE

* SIUC Chancellor Trevino placed on administrative leave

* Poshard: ‘I was determined to make it work

* Hookah lounge owners find options limited with new smoking law

* Hookah lounges havens for culture as well as smoking

* Impact of smoking ban: Casino Queen says it’s been devastating

* Illinois power disconnections begin in April

Ameren and ComEd plan to begin disconnecting electricity customers who are behind on their power bills beginning next month.

* Clydesdale sale taken out of state fairgrounds

* Illinois budget woes worry Q-C residents

* Taking a Closer Look At the Illinois GOP

* Terry Link Campaign Finance Disclosures a “Matter of Interest” for State Board of Elections

* Greg Blankenship: State leaders must shake ‘Groundhog Day’ mentality

* In Combine, cash is king, corruption is bipartisan

* Edward officials ‘kickstarted’ health board probe

* Jack Kevorkian formally announces run for Congress

* Something’s fishy about pork debate

You’ve got to hand it to Sen. Dick Durbin. When everyone is blasting the “earmarking” of federal funds for favored local projects, the Illinois Democrat defends the practice.

* Doing the math

The Obama campaign has relentlessly argued — for weeks now — that the delegate math makes Barack Obama the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee, even with 10 elections still ahead.

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   4 Comments      

Question of the Day

Monday, Mar 24, 2008

* The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning launches its GO TO 2040 campaign today. The agency aims to create a comprehensive plan that guides growth and development in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties for the next three decades:

It could be the last chance to get a handle on a population boom of more than 2.8 million people expected by 2040, and planners want the public to participate.

“We’re asking people to take a moment and think about what they want for their children and themselves over the next 20 to 30 years,” CMAP Executive Director Randy Blankenhorn said.

Blankenhorn then states:

Look at the metropolitan region now and you’ll see plenty of room for improvement: Housing prices at odds with low- and middle-income workers. A transportation infrastructure in serious need of repair. A water supply threatened by demand and pollution. Long commutes.

“We’re the third-most congested region in the country,” Blankenhorn said. “If you add 2 million more people in the next 20 years, how will you move them around? And how will they get to work?”

The solutions are out there, planners believe, citing the way they’re addressing traffic jams caused by freight trains traveling through northeastern Illinois.

* The question of the day is what do you want for yourself and possibly your children over the next 20 to 30 years?

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   22 Comments      

All-Star cast touted in Rezko trial

Monday, Mar 24, 2008

* A lot has been going on in the Rezko trial since last week. I’ll spare you the play-by-play, but the prosecution’s case was greatly buttressed on Friday:

One of the last things jurors heard before heading into the break was Rezko’s voice on a wiretap recording apparently discussing how to manipulate a state hospital board. Prosecutors allege he corrupted the hospital panel and another board that controlled a $30 billion pension fund to extort kickbacks from firms seeking regulatory approval or state investments.

This is important. Several witnesses have testified that they believed Rezko was pulling the strings on the two panels, but the wiretap was the first time that the jury actually got to hear it from Rezko himself.

*While the tapes themselves aren’t incriminating, they help to illustrate Levine’s ongoing tale about his Godfather. Among Levine’s most damaging testimony against Rezko was that he agreed to split a $1.5 million bribe to approve the Mercy Hospital application for a Crystal Lake site.

In a tape of Rezko and Levine made May 18, 2004, Rezko tells Levine to ignore prior direction by Kelly that Levine should be the one to instruct a new board member, Danalynn Rice, on how to vote on key issues. Rezko said when Rice called, Levine should have her call Beck.

“We’ll do it the way we have been handling it in the last few months,” Rezko says. “Tom should not know you and I are having this conversation. You and I will still do what we need to do,” assures Rezko.

* As the State Capitol Notebook says today though, Tony Rezko may be the defendant in an ongoing federal corruption trial, but an all-star cast of Illinois politicos is getting dragged into the case, too:

Star witness Stuart Levine has dropped the names of powerful Illinois political figures such as Chicago Ald. Dick Mell, the estranged father-in-law of Gov. Rod Blagojevich; William Cellini, a high-powered Republican insider; Robert Kjellander, a Statehouse lobbyist and another GOP insider; former Chicago Ald. Ed “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak, who is charged in a separate corruption case and has pleaded not guilty; and of course, the governor himself.

Levine allegedly arranged for Ald. Mell to receive a cut from a finder’s fee. However, Mell denies the charge, and says that he never received any money.

Cellini and Kjellander joined the fray when Levine testified about how he helped steer clients to the lobbyists’ firm, among other things. Kjellander has denied any wrongdoing, and neither has been charged with a crime.

Levine admitted to two bribes that involved Vrdolyak, who has spent years inside the powerful world of Chicago politics, as a middleman. Vrdolyak quickly denied any wrongdoing.

That’s a whole lot of collateral damage. Finally though, Blagojevich remains as the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. Levine told the jury this week that Blagojevich told him, “You stick with us and you’ll do very well for yourself.” Levine said to him, this meant he stood to get a lot of money if he did what the governor wanted.

The governor’s name was all over the case Wednesday, with Levine uttering it at least 30 times in under three hours and in ways that often did not appear to paint Blagojevich in a flattering light. The administration then issued its standard response:

“Stuart Levine’s assertions about the governor are wrong,” Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said later. “As we’ve said before, that’s not how the governor does business.”

In Rich’s column today, he answers the perennial question of the trial, will the governor be indicted?

It certainly looks that way. It’s more than obvious the prosecution is working its way up the ladder toward him. Rezko is an extremely high rung on that ladder. If U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald convicts Rezko with evidence that shows the governor’s office was corrupted by money and influence, Blagojevich’s goose could be cooked.

* Everything hinges on Levine’s credibility. The defense can argue that Levine was a weasel who made his career by lying and scamming others. Oh, and did I mention that he was in a constant drug induced state that purportedly cost him $25,000 a month and included Special K? No, not the cereal, but a drug that can be enough to sedate a horse.

However, it may be hard to sway a jury against Levine’s testimony when Rezko does such a good job of filling in the gaps himself on those tapes.

More Rezko stuff

* Suit says Rezko, doctor stole man’s mansion
* Rezko trial: Listen to Tony Rezko
* Jurors hear recordings of Tony Rezko talking to Stuart Levine
* Phone tapes give Levine testimony added credibility
* Jury hears Rezko calls
* Sometimes, throwing mud is a dirty game

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   27 Comments      

No Coke. Pepsi.

Monday, Mar 24, 2008

No Coke

* Lawmakers have asked Auditor General William Holland to look into allegations made by Pepsi rival, Coca-Cola, that the contract was tainted because the administration accepted Pepsi before hearing Coke’s best offer.

Earlier this month the Illinois House of Representatives voted 104-0 to probe the $130 million deal between the state and the soft drink company.

Rep. Susanna Mendoza, who sponsored the resolution, said Coke’s arguments seem compelling. “It makes you ask questions,” she said. “If there’s nothing wrong, we will know that at the end of the audit.”

Last July the state awarded Pepsi the contract. It includes four universities and 2,300 vending machines. Eight months later, Coca-Cola officials are still salty over what they consider an unfair deal.

They say they submitted an initial pop (cheesy pun intended) of about $43 million but could not provide a competitive proposal because the state did not answer certain questions about the contract before awarding the deal to Pepsi.

Rep. Jack Franks, who doesn’t exactly have the fondest memory of the administration after they dumped the Mercy Hospital mess on him and who has recently offered a proposal for a recall amendment, said:

“We have an obligation to make sure this state is getting the best deal and to make sure we’re getting the most income for the residents of the state,”

* However, the administration is defending the deal, and even claiming that it was good for taxpayers:

“We believe that we have followed all the guidelines and done everything above ground,” said Katie Ridgeway, a state Revenue Department spokeswoman. “We’ve gone back and looked at it again. There’s no fuzziness here.”

So the question remains, is this more of their recurring theme of “incompetence not corruption,” is there something deeper, or is the administration in the right?

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   28 Comments      

University of Illinois to consider raising tuition

Monday, Mar 24, 2008

* This week Trustees at the University of Illinois will be considering a proposal that would bump tuition at its Champaign and Chicago campuses by 8 percent next school year:

The proposal to be taken up next week would push the costs for new undergraduates in Champaign above $20,000 for the first time. The plan would set tuition, fees, room and board at the flagship campus at $20,034. Students paid $18,550 last year.

New undergraduates at the Chicago campus would also see an 8 percent increase, to $18,670.

* All I can say is that I am thankful for the state’s tuition freeze. Four years ago my tuition was no where even close to that proposal. A recently released study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found of the 95 percent of Chicago Public School students who planned to go on to post-secondary education in 2005, only 59 percent applied to a four-year college. Only 41 percent of students ultimately enrolled the fall after graduation.

Jenny Nagaoka, a co-author of the study and researcher at the consortium, had the following to say:

“There’s a huge gap between students accepted to school and those who actually enroll. The primary reason why is because they did not fill out their financial aid forms.”

* The study can be applied to almost any district, including those in suburban Chicago, where immigrants and their children made up 33 percent of the population in 2005.

The majority of those individuals are Latinos living in the Northwest and Western suburbs, and the study concluded that they fared the worst with 46 percent applying to four-year colleges, yet only 30 percent actually enrolling in the fall.

The study concluded that Chicago high schools must be more proactive in structuring the application process during junior and senior years, and commit to a fostering a better college bound environment:

“Tracking (financial aid form) completion is a significant improvement, but it won’t dramatically change outcomes unless schools work earlier to help families and students understand what financial aid is and how funding is available,” Nagaoka said.

* This task will undoubtedly become harder for these schools with ever increasing state tuitions. Discuss.

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   17 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Monday, Mar 24, 2008

* Stroger’s cousin gets 12% hike

* CTA to expand bus tracking system

Using the system, anyone with Internet access via a computer or hand-held personal digital assistant can determine the real-time location of buses on a route and also the expected arrival time at a specific bus stop.

* Chicago Children’s Museum ramps up effort to move to Grant Park

* Virginia sisters sell Illinois-shaped corn flake for $1,350 on eBay

* Fawell moved to halfway house

* Aurora crime at 22-year low

* Old State Capitol celebrates anniversary

Taking the building down, then reassembling the exterior around a modern framework while building a new interior wouldn’t be cheap. Kerner challenged Springfield to come up with $250,000. If citizens did that, he promised, he would ask the legislature for $1.6 million to finish the job. The fundraising started on June 4, 1964. The money was in the bank by the end of September.

* State mulls smoothies for 6th-graders

* Cyber bullies could face penalties

* The buzz over alcoholic energy drinks

* Law makes city unions easier

* Ryan, Blagojevich added to book on state governors

“It was more challenging writing about Blagojevich than Ryan,” Pensoneau added. “Ryan had full closure. With Blagojevich, we’ve got a long way to go.”

* Madigan’s office doesn’t back down from student’s FOIA request

* Lisa Madigan: ‘Sunshine laws’ work, but they must be strengthened

* Bernard Schoenburg: Dem county chairmen don’t want governor meddling

But one chairman who has heard the rumor that Blagojevich or his folks are trying to influence the selection of the new leader is JAY BRINEY of Havana, who heads Mason County Democrats.

* Hastert takes consulting post at Naperville firm

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has been hired as a consultant and strategic adviser for a Naperville-based firm that contributed to some of his congressional campaigns.

* For Weller’s seat, it’s sauce or cement

* County Democrats see hope in Foster’s victory

* Speculation about who might fill Obama’s Senate shoes

* Can a senator really fix our financial mess?

As the California real estate market sinks into the Pacific Ocean and the New York financial markets slip into the Hudson River, the American electorate is asking one crucial question: Which presidential candidate — John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton — is best equipped to float America’s economic boat?

* Former Romney campaign co-chair endorses Obama

- Posted by Kevin Fanning   23 Comments      

* More shenanigans!
* Saturday campaign money report
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Shenanigans!
* Tribune drops bombshell on Biss running mate
* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Rauner: "Madigan has rigged the Democratic primary for Pritzker"
* New Ives radio ad claims Democrats are trying to help Rauner, while Brady does Rauner robocall
* *** UPDATED x1 - DGA responds *** Elections board says DGA should file disclosure for Ives ad
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Jones; IEA/IFT; Reis; Mitchell; Edgar
* ISRA, Drury both try to claim Raoul inserted "poison pill" into gun bill
* Pro-life group launches GOTV effort for Lipinski
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Rauner opens new online track against Ives
* Erika Harold still can't remember comments, but says "I was wrong"
* Rauner calls Madigan "a unified force of bad, of evil"
* Sen. Duckworth gets involved in another state central committee race
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Has Pritzker gone to ground?
* Illinois House Bill HB 4900 Wastes Government Resources
* McCann, barred from SGOP caucus meeting, claims Rauner threatened to "destroy you and your family"
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Caption contest!
* Obama mailer kerfuffle in Lipinski district
* Rauner attended Quincy campaign event after Quincy veterans' home presser
* After spending millions in Dem primary, Rauner accuses "Washington liberals" of "hijacking" the GOP primary
* Yesterday's stories

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