The sad news, Chicagoans, is that your town came in dead last. And it wasn’t even close.
Chicago reigns supreme when it comes to treating its citizens like children (Las Vegas topped our rankings as America’s freest city). Chicagoans pay the second-highest cigarette tax in the country, and the sixth-highest tax on alcohol.
Chicago has more traffic-light cameras than any city in America (despite studies questioning their effectiveness), restricts cell phone use while driving, and it’s quickly moving toward a creepy public surveillance system similar to London’s.
* If you could repeal any Chicago ordinance what would it be?
Federal investigators met with Gov. Rod Blagojevich “multiple” times as part of their Operation Board Games investigation, but the governor denied telling fundraisers he could reward them with government contracts, court documents unsealed this week revealed.
According to this week’s filing, a defense response to those allegations, Blagojevich sat down with prosecutors at least twice and denied ever saying any such thing.
“Governor Blagojevich was interviewed on multiple occasions and denies these conversations. Cari failed to recall his conversation with the governor until his fifth interview by government agents,” wrote Rezko attorney William P. Ziegelmueller in a Jan. 25 filing.
However, late last Friday Judge Amy St. Eve ordered those same documents to be sealed again without any specific explanation:
She acted on her own. No one requested that the document be sealed.
However, Natasha Korecki at the Sun Times speculates…
It might have been made public in error. The filing, authored by Rezko’s lawyers, also contained a brief reference to the private life of witness Stuart Levine. St. Eve previously ruled that details involving Levine’s “secret life” should not be made public. Levine testified he took part in multiple drug binges with other men at area hotels, including Lincolnwood’s Purple Hotel.
St. Eve was extremely cautious during the trial to keep parts of Levine’s life out of the record. It would make sense for her to re-seal the document if some of these references were mistakenly missed. Any other insights into why it could have been re-sealed on the same day?
* Another suburban Democratic challenger running in a traditionally safe Republican district got some significant press today.
Aurora Austriaco, who is running against Rep. Rosemary Mulligan in Illinois’ 65th Legislative District, was featured in a piece in the Sun-Times on the possibility of becoming the first Asian American elected to the Illinois General Assembly:
Aurora Austriaco is running to represent Illinois’ 65th Legislative District. She’s knocking on doors four days a week, aiming to become the first Asian American elected to the Illinois General Assembly.
To get there, she’ll need to knock off a 15-year incumbent–state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, who represents voters in a district that includes portions of Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Niles, Rosemont and Chicago’s Northwest Side.
The article adds that:
Austriaco won 10,641 votes in the Democratic contest, compared with Mulligan’s 5,358. On election night, Mulligan shrugged it off by telling the Journal, a local community newspaper, that 2008 was “a very unusual year.” Many Republicans, she speculated, took Democratic ballots to weigh in on the epic battle between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
It is no doubt that Mulligan will have a tough race. However she has been extremely careful on how she has been voting lately.
For instance, Mulligan was one 14 Republicans to break with her party and vote on a motion to table and effectively kill the gaming expansion component of the capital bill on the last night of session.
The district is a traditional Republican redoubt. That would appear to put Austriaco’s bid in Don Quixote territory, but the times, they are a-changin.’ The Illinois GOP is looking to the November election as a patient would prepare for a visit from Dr. Jack Kevorkian. A mercy killing might be the order of the day.
That, on top of exploding gas prices, a tanking economy, and the Barack Obama juggernaut, could make Austriaco a history maker.
Austriaco joins Democratic candidates like Dianne McGuire of Naperville who have been generating lots of buzz. If the Republican party can’t hold on to these two spots, then it is truly in a dire jam…
At first, I couldn’t quite see the resemblance. The flowing mane, maybe. The brown eyes, a little. The flaring nostrils, a touch.
Then, the more I got to know Blagojevich, the more I appreciated how aptly named he was — this tall, dark and handsome creature born into a political family and groomed for great things but alas, disappointing to his keepers.
At least for Blagojevich, a standard bred harness-racing horse at Balmoral Park Racetrack in Crete, his struggles are behind him after successful throat surgery. The horse’s potential for greatness remains largely unrealized.
Blagojevich’s grandmother was Would I Lie, an award-winning horse who produced another strong performer, Political Promise. When Political Promise gave birth in 2005, extending the political lineage only made sense.
“We breed a lot of horses in Illinois and generally try to come up with theme names. We didn’t do it to pick on the governor, but we try to come up with names that are fun. Aside from Blagojevich, we’ve never named one after a specific person. You never know, the governor might come through for the horse-racing industry,” Hunt said.
* Rich’s syndicated column for the Southtown Star takes a look at the budget, and some possible answers to the Governor’s reduction threats:
There are several important things to keep in mind when discussing the governor’s proposed budget cuts. The governor has threatened to slash $1.5 billion out of the state budget unless the House comes back to Springfield and passes some revenue-generating bills and approves a capital construction budget, all of which were approved by the Senate in May and blocked by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
We don’t really know what the governor actually is planning to do. Last week’s threat was just a media event to instill fear and loathing among the press and the various constituencies that would be impacted by his possible cuts. But there were no real details, just a broad brush.
Why would I ever doubt Blagojevich’s intentions? Well, the governor threatened deep cuts during the spring session to balance the supposedly out-of-whack budget and never followed through. Remember those draconian cuts to 4-H and other agricultural programs he threatened in April? The governor eventually released the money.
There is no doubt a budget hole exists, and cuts are inevitable. Let’s be very clear: There will be pain. We just don’t yet know what the governor will do when the budget bills are finally on his desk and he holds that reduction and line item veto pen in his hand.
The Senate Democrats insist the governor vastly inflated the size of fiscal year 2008’s deficit. So while everyone has focused on the governor’s claim of a $2 billion deficit for fiscal year 2009, which begins July 1, that figure could be inflated as well.
Quite a few of the announced cuts are not really “cuts” but reductions in proposed increases. Many may look horrible on paper, but they’re just expansions that won’t happen.
Education spending will actually increase by about $400 million in fiscal year 2009. The governor had little choice but to leave that increase intact because of threats of a revolt by the Senate Democrats, his only remaining allies.
If he loses them, he loses the war with Madigan. But giving education a relatively generous increase while threatening to cut back on some key social programs likely will create controversy before too long.
Quite a few of the cuts seemed designed specifically to generate media attention and threaten hardship. The entire $28 million state subsidy to Amtrak would apparently be eliminated, for instance, potentially killing off three of the five trains that run daily from Chicago to St. Louis. Two of the three trains between Chicago and Carbondale also would have to be eliminated.
The governor’s obvious intent was to shift the blame for these and other impending cuts to Madigan, which Madigan doesn’t appear too concerned about. It’s unlikely they’ll be coming back to Springfield to take any action, Madigan’s lieutenants told the media.
The House Republicans claimed they’d be willing to work out a deal but offered no solutions of their own. Their members oppose the two revenue-generating bills passed by the Senate Democrats and demanded by the governor (a huge pension obligation bond and some special fund sweeps), and now that May is over and legislative solutions require a three-fifths vote, the ball likely will be in their court to come up with an alternative if Madigan refuses to propose any of his own.
The Chicago Tribune demanded in an editorial last week that the governor veto the entire budget and bring back the General Assembly for a special session. That won’t happen because the all-important Senate Democrats oppose it. A Chicago Sun-Times editorial suggested a deal could be cut on the special funds sweeps, but there aren’t nearly enough House votes to pass it.
You’ll undoubtedly hear more “simple solutions” in the coming days, but the harsh political realities of Springfield make even the easiest solution close to impossible.
If the governor goes through with these draconian cuts, he certainly can make the case that Madigan is to blame. But in the end, the governor - any governor - always wears the jacket. It will be his veto pen doing the slashing. It is his administration.
Still, there’s no doubt the speaker has hurt the Madigan “name brand” with this horrific war. That could make any gubernatorial bid by his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, all the more difficult. Madigan doesn’t really care about what Blagojevich and the media does to him, but this mud will splash on his daughter.
“We have been forced into a legal vacuum,” said State’s Atty. Tom Finks of Christian County, one of many Downstate counties that have not prosecuted a single violator. “Legally, the legislature has not given us the proper tools of enforcement. Our job is not to fill in the blanks.”
“It was a politically motivated case from the get-go,” said McCulloch, 43, of Westmont, who had worked for at least one candidate opposing Birkett. “There should be some safeguards against going after political opponents.”
* Michael Sneed of the Sun-Times is hearing rumors of a potential replacement for Senator Obama if he wins in November…
• • Pssst! Sneed hears rumbles that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who is this/close to Sen. Barack Obama, and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel are talking up Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth as Obama’s replacement — if Obama is elected president.
• • Top tip: Sneed previously reported that Gov. Blago, who will choose Obama’s replacement, had also quietly been pushing Duckworth.
• • Top headache: Word is U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who’s angling to be Obama’s replacement, has been grabbing the Excedrin bottle lately — ever since Duckworth’s name appeared in Sneed’s column.
* Democratic candidate Colleen Callahan says she has raised close to $250,000 so far for her 18th Congressional District campaign:
The next Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports, covering the period through Monday, will be available to the public in mid-July. Callahan said she expects to have cash on hand totaling “in the neighborhood” of $130,000 to $140,000.
Other contenders for LaHood’s congressional seat are Aaron Schock of Peoria, a Republican serving in the Illinois House; Sheldon Schafer of Peoria, the Green Party nominee; and Bradley Carter of Peoria, the Constitution Party of Illinois nominee.
The Democratic comptroller, in endorsing Callahan, said she would provide “proven, mature leadership.” Hynes said later the comment was not meant as a shot at the 27-year-old Schock.
“Age is not an issue and should not be an issue,” he said.
Callahan thanked Hynes for the endorsement, saying, “I hope to add my name to his reputation of being an effective public servant.”
* Hiram Wurf has Candidate Scott Harper’s response to Congresswoman Judy Biggert’s recent vote against granting emergency benefits to the unemployed:
‘With unemployment rates climbing and with families suffering from rising gas prices and home foreclosure costs, Judy Biggert continues to be out of touch with the people of this district,’ said Harper (D-Lockport.) ‘She has been part of the problem in Washington and her latest vote against giving relief to people who’ve lost their job is simply unconscionable. Unfortunately, though, this vote is indicative of the real Judy Biggert.’
Bean, addressing the potential impact of the purchase on Metra’s proposed commuter line that would run from O’Hare to Joliet: “This deal throws STAR Line under the bus. It’s taking the tracks STAR Line passenger rail would have run on. Now they’re saying maybe they’ll give us a little easement so we can lay tracks, which is very cost prohibitive. But there’s no question that this entirely undermines the planning by all the municipal leaders who have been involved and pushing for that.”
In Illinois, the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Millionaire’s Amendment in federal campaign finance reform will have negligible impact on political contests this fall.
The amendment might have been triggered in the U.S. Senate race, in which incumbent Democrat Dick Durbin is being challenged by Republican physician Steve Sauerberg.
In the 14th Congressional district, Republican Jim Oberweis and Democratic Rep. Bill Foster each have dropped more than a $1 million of personal wealth into their campaigns, making the amendment a wash.
* I’m not sure if I agree with the Trib on this one. There was no mention of the potential for wealthy congressional candidates like Steve Greenberg, who is challenging Rep. Bean, and Marty Ozinga, who is running against state Sen. Havlorson, to have triggered the amendment.
Either one of the two could decide to pour more of their own money into the race, and that could easily have an impact on both elections.
*** UPDATE *** The Tribune is now reporting that the Supreme Court’s decision is unlikely to change Ozinga’s mind about how much money he will spend:
“He’s not planning to spend a ton of money out of his pocket. The honest answer to that question is, he has not made a decision on how much exactly he is going to spend,” said Andy Sere, Ozinga’s campaign manager, on Friday.
Ozinga told the Tribune in April that he would not spend more than $350,000 of his own money.
Ozinga seems to be doing pretty well in terms of his fundraising efforts so far, so it would make sense for him not to spend too much of his own money. However, one never knows what will happen until November creeps closer.
Michelle Obama is scheduled to headline a Monday night fundraiser that Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago) is hosting to benefit two suburban congressional candidates.
Tickets to the private event are expected to go for $1,000 a piece. Sharing the windfall are Dan Seals of Wilmette, who’s running in the North Shore’s 10th District, and state Sen. Debbie Halvorson of Crete in the southwest suburban 11th District.
My guess is that the event will bring in some serious dough…
* Last night I was able to get inside Governor Blagojevich’s highly publicized fundraiser in Chicago, and I’m pretty sure that the hottest attraction was the bar.
The room had the capacity to hold 1800 people, and I would estimate that it was about half full.
What was really striking though, were all the recognizable faces amongst the crowd. I would estimate that a good quarter of the attendees worked for the administration in some capacity, whether it be in the office or in an agency.
One of the more notable faces that I saw was Sen. Noland. You may recall a recent post about his defense of his recall vote in an open letter to the Daily Herald. It was interesting to see him in the crowd so soon after defending his nay vote on recall.
* The Gov shook a few hands and then approached the podium to the tune of Elvis’ “a little less conversation, a little more action.” Out of all the Elvis songs, I was really hoping that it was going to be that one.
He opened with a joke about St. Patrick’s Day:
” During the St. Patrick’s Day parade I had the opportunity to walk down Columbus street with Mayor Daley by my side.
I stopped along the street to greet an elderly woman who told me how much she appreciated the great job that I was doing, and how she thought my father did a fine job too. I hesitated, and thought about not telling her who I was.
Finally, I informed her that I wasn’t Mayor Daley, but Governor Blagojevich. She smiled and said, ‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day’.”
“We can’t just rely on all this good press we’ve been getting these days,” Blagojevich said sarcastically to an audience of several hundred supporters who laughed. Campaign dollars were needed to counter media criticism and to “be in a strong position to tell it the way it is.”
After the “icebreaker” he rolled through his quest to give kids in Illinois health care, and trotted a young boy up onto the stage to help him showcase his agenda:
Blagojevich maintained that donors to his campaign were “not helping me be the governor or stay the governor” but instead were helping children and the elderly by allowing him to push an agenda of increased education and health care.
The governor went on to say that he asks himself: “Are you going to squander that opportunity and ruffle a few feathers…or roll up your sleeves and try to change things for people?”
Blagojevich did not use the name of his chief legislative nemesis, House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago, who also is the state Democratic chairman. But he again inferred that Madigan was planning a secret, post-November state tax increase.
“We’ve been fighting those who want to raise taxes on people,” Blagojevich said as he again pushed a massive public works plan that would be funded through a sizable expansion of gambling in the state.
The crowd gave a mild response, and a woman behind me shouted out “Go Governor” and “All Kids”, and then I remembered that she worked for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
A few people were smirking, and several others were just shaking their heads as Blagojevich rattled off a few Spanish words like “oportunidad.” Afterwards the Governor took a few photos, and then was quickly whisked away.
* The Governor has been taking a lot of heat over his fundraising appetite lately, and Treasurer Giannoulias didn’t spare him any grief in an interview last night:
The governor raised two-and-a-half million dollars last year. But nearly a third of the money - $965,000 - went to the law firm representing him in the corruption probe. And that’s pathetic, according to state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who takes no campaign contributions from people who do business with his office.
“Pay to play needs to end immediately, and the perception that Rod Blagojevich and their administration has put out there is that government is for sale,” said Giannoulias.
All in all I’m sure that the Governor thought it was an up night.
Blagojevich claims correctly that there is no law against taking campaign cash from contractors or others doing business with the state. And his allies say he’s got to do it to protect himself from political enemies, such as house speaker and party chairman Mike Madigan, who also takes contributions from anyone who wants to give.
“He doesn’t like Rod Blagojevich. So Rod is left to raise money on his own and doing what he has to do,” said State Senator Rickey Hendon, (D) Chicago.
* Senator Hendon always has the best quotes, doesn’t he?
* Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on Washington’s ban on handguns struck a nerve in Chicago. In fact, Justice Stephen Breyer even wrote that “Chicago has a law very similar to the District’s” in his dissenting opinion.
“I think we’re very disappointed in the Supreme Court decision. Why? If you really live in the real world and you see what handguns are doing to America, it doesn’t matter what age of the moment, young people and all ages are being killed in serious danger.
Hours after the Supreme Court ruling came down, two groups sued Chicago over its handgun ban, which is similar to the District of Columbia law the high court struck down. In addition, the NRA said it would file a lawsuit against Chicago today and would also sue surrounding cities that ban handguns.
“We are currently going over statutes at the local, state and federal level,” NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said. “I am certain there will be challenges to all sorts of statutes as we move forward.”
You can read the Illinois State Rifle Asscociation’s complaint here.
Benna Solomon, deputy corporation counsel, asserted that the Supreme Court decision applies only to the federal government—which Washington is part of, but not Chicago.
“The court notes that it [was] not required to consider whether the 2nd Amendment also applies to state and local government, and therefore it does not consider that question,” Solomon said.
But such confidence may ultimately be tempered by the court’s affirmative embrace of an expansive view of the 2nd Amendment, which suggested without equivocation that any attempt to deny individuals access to a working handgun in a home would be unlawful.
* How exactly will this decision affect Illinois? Many state lawmakers said Thursday that the Supreme Court opinion on gun control is likely to prompt a slew of legislation in Springfield, but at the same time will make it more difficult for any new restrictions to pass:
“It’s not going to persuade me one way or the other not to push forward with a ban on assault weapons, but… it’s going to be a tougher sell,” said Rep., Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago).
“There’s going to be a lot of rethinking of state and local gun-control laws and ordinances,” predicted Lawrence Solum of the University of Illinois School of Law. “One thing that seems likely is that some of the more extreme ordinances like Chicago and San Francisco may well be modified without litigation. They may come up with a less-restrictive version that they could successfully defend.”
* Some are even saying that Chicago’s ordinance is merely symbolic, and hasn’t done much in the way of preventing crime:
The Chicago Police Department seized more than 13,000 guns last year, but only a handful of people were arrested for violating the city’s handgun ban, records show.
Chicago Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said 74 people were arrested in 2007 and 83 people in 2006 for failing to register their handguns, an ordinance violation.
Thousands of people were arrested on more serious charges of unlawful use of a weapon — a state offense that is not jeopardized by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to overturn Washington D.C.’s handgun ban.
* Honestly, I think that the law is even more vague now after this ruling. There were lots of discussions about the constitutional merits of the ruling and as well as other general debates over the Second Amendment on the blog yesterday. Lets try to keep comments focused around the ruling’s potential impact for Illinois.
The telephone survey found that 73 percent of the respondents think the state’s ban on smoking has been beneficial. The percentage increased by nearly 10 percent since the same company conducted a similar poll a year ago, when the issue was debated statewide.
“Clearly, the public understands that cigarette smoke in the workplace is a serious health hazard,” said Joel Africk, president of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. “Public opinion is key behind smoke-free Illinois.”
The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. They polled 606 Illinois residents from May 28 to June 1, and the poll had a margin of error of +/- 4%.
It was paid for by the American Lung Association of Illinois, the American Cancer Society-Illinois, and the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.
* The poll means increased trouble for casinos who have been pushing for an exemption to the ban. After news of the poll hit, they stuck to their main argument:
Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, said casino revenue shortfalls translates to less money the state can spend on other projects.
“I suspect that we will continue to try to get some waiver for the casinos,” said Swoik.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been interviewed multiple times by federal investigators looking into allegations that he and key members of his administration offered contracts and state work in exchange for campaign fundraising help, according to documents unsealed Thursday [by Tony Rezko’s judge]. […]
Included in the newly released material was a defense filing answering government allegations leveled by key witnesses against Rezko. Veteran Democratic fundraiser Joseph Cari testified at the trial that on a flight to New York in 2003 with Blagojevich, the governor offered to give Cari his pick of contracts and state business in exchange for assistance in developing a national fundraising operation.
* But that last part is far more important than the story’s lede about how the governor was interviewed by the feds. We already know he was interviewed because he admitted it a couple of years ago. The only discrepancy is that the feds say he was interviewed “multiple times” and the governor’s office claims he was interviewed just twice, two years ago.
Newly unsealed court files in the Tony Rezko corruption case show that… the governor denied [to investigators] having conversations described in court by two key prosecution witnesses.
That raises the possibility that either the witnesses lied under oath or that Blagojevich lied to federal agents about statements he was said to have made, tying state business to support for his campaign.
[The feds] may well be exploring false-statement allegations against [Blagojevich]. Former Gov. George Ryan is serving a 6½-year sentence, in part because of making false statements to federal agents, which is a felony.
* But here is a point to keep in mind about the documents …
The newly unsealed defense document challenged Cari’s truthfulness, also noting that “Cari failed to recall his conversation with the governor until his fifth interview by government agents.”
[Stu] Levine was the government’s star witness against Rezko, but a newly unsealed defense filing alleges that Levine only agreed to cooperate after realizing that the government had learned that he frequented male prostitutes.
The judge said that fact would simply be too explosive to discuss at trial. It’s out now, though.
McAsey has acknowledged that her position was developed after she received an infamous “talking points” memo from House Speaker Michael Madigan, the man she will have to answer to in Springfield, and the current chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.