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Question of the day

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Tribune

A street festival unlike any other will be held in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood this weekend: a daylong celebration of weed.

Saturday is April 20, or 4/20, a day that has evolved into a nationwide celebration of marijuana. In the cannabis community, the term 420 is a slang reference to smoking weed. The term reportedly dates back to the 1970s, when a group of Northern California high schoolers began meeting after classes at 4:20 p.m. to light up. Use of “420” gradually spread and grew into a marijuana holiday of sorts on April 20.

Corporate America has latched onto the 420 celebrations in various ways, sometimes by using April 20 as a day to promote or launch snack foods that stoners with the munchies might crave. Last year, Burger King brought back its spicy chicken nuggets on 4/20, and Lyft offered $4.20 discounts. Conagra, the Chicago-based company behind brands like Healthy Choice and Slim Jims, is launching a special flavor of its Andy Capp’s crunchy snacks for 4/20 this year called “fully baked” Hot Munchies.

In Illinois’ growing marijuana industry, 4/20 is a way to get pot brands front and center with a new set of potential consumers, while educating people on local laws and products. Marijuana is still only legal in Illinois through the state’s medical cannabis program. Local growers plan new product rollouts on Saturday, and dispensaries will be offering discounts.

* The Question: Have you ever consumed cannabis? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please…

survey solutions

- Posted by Rich Miller   81 Comments      

We could really use a capital bill

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Whew…

* From the story

Irene Ferradaz, spokesperson for the CTA, said a “small portion of the East retaining wall fell away from the viaduct structure.”

Crews arrived Thursday morning to check the area for any structural issues and they reported none.

Ferradaz said the concrete experienced “spalling,” where pieces can flake and fall off.

“This happens with older concrete,” she said. “CTA workers removed the debris and are checking the surrounding structures and have found no other issues.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      

Today’s must-read

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* The Illinois Times has a story today about DCFS

If you think DCFS workers need to develop a tough hide to do the work, you’d be right. But they also consider the job to be a calling, a career to which they feel an emotional attachment.

“I don’t think people comprehend how much we care,” said Heidi Creasy, a Peoria area investigator who has been with DCFS for 10 years. “When something goes wrong, no one is more distraught and upset than we are. I have one particular case that I will never get over. Ever.” […]

[Stephen Mittons, a 24-year DCFS child protection investigator] said there are three response codes that trigger his investigations: normal, where he has 24 hours to initiate the investigation; emergency, where he must respond within two hours; and action needed, where some type of response must be made within 15 minutes.

“At any given time my day can be interrupted by an emergency or action-needed case where I have to drop what I am doing at that point to turn my attention to that new case,” Mittons said. “In this job, you can never really rest and think it may be an easier case. You never really know what is going to be behind that door unless you knock on it.”

Investigator Creasy said she walks away from each situation hoping that she had all of the input she needed to make the right decision. But even a case where an investigator finds nothing wrong can come back to haunt DCFS, and Creasy said that’s the result of unrealistic expectations for the agency.

“Just because I had contact with a family doesn’t mean that the kid is a ward of the state,” Creasy said. “If somebody calls in a report and says a family doesn’t have food, I go out and check for food. There’s food, the refrigerator is full, there’s milk, there’s formula, there’s everything, then something happens to that kid later in the year. That goes on the list that we had involvement and failed the family.”

Go read the whole thing.

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      

“Step one is ending prohibition, undoing the harm of the war on drugs. And then, there will be revenue”

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Jaclyn Driscoll at Illinois Public Radio has a thoughtful, balanced story today about efforts to legalize cannabis

Back in Jan. when Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave his first budget address to a crowded room full of lawmakers, the first revenue-generating idea he mentioned for fiscal year 2020 was legalizing recreational cannabis. But, it wasn’t really about the money, he said.

“I have noted many times that I don’t view this issue through a purely financial lens,” Pritzker said. “I think we should take this action for our state because of the beneficial criminal and social justice implications and the jobs it will create.”

Revenue estimates for an adult-use program have ranged anywhere from $350 million to more than a billion dollars for the state. Even with those numbers, the lead sponsors of the legislation reiterate it’s still is not the reason why legalizing cannabis is important.

“Step one is ending prohibition, undoing the harm of the war on drugs,” state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) told a public forum earlier this year. “And then, there will be revenue.”

Politicians advocating for legal marijuana haven’t wavered on this point, even through the months of negotiation to craft the legislation. But, not everyone believes it.

Teresa Haley, the president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, opposes legalization efforts — although she supports expunging records and releasing people from jail or prison for minor pot crimes. But, one of Haley’s main concerns is what happens after they are released.

* Tribune

On Wednesday morning, a handful of opponents gathered outside the district office of state Sen. Emil Jones III, a leader of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, to push back on the idea that legalizing marijuana would benefit communities like the Roseland neighborhood on the Far South Side.

“This is not about social justice,” said Abu Edwards, national director of state affairs for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonprofit organization opposing legalization. “This is about big corporations and big greed coming into communities like Chicago and opening up dispensaries in low-income African-American communities. And the African-American community is not going to benefit from it.

“If we’re going to talk about real social justice reform, then let’s separate legalization of marijuana and social justice.”

Omari Prince, field director of the Illinois chapter of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the group has been meeting with lawmakers in Springfield throughout the spring legislative session and is heartened that a majority of House members — including several members of the Black Caucus — have signed on as cosponsors of a resolution urging lawmakers to slow down on the issue.

“This is not a done deal,” Prince said.

* From the presser…

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

Chumming the sharks

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* There are a few different angles to this WCIA TV story, but let’s start with this one

A political media firm that charged Illinois Republicans more than $2.1 million in the 2018 election cycle also made payments to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin’s right hand political operative David Walsh. […]

Durkin’s spokesperson confirmed the payments were made, and that Durkin knew about them, but declined to comment on the story. The secretive transaction caught many top House Republicans off guard and aggravated existing concerns about the potential for vendors making “kickbacks,” “spiffs,” or offering other incentives to consultants.

Walsh is far and away Durkin’s highest paid political consultant. Public records show Walsh earned more than half a million dollars from the Republican House leader’s campaign committee for work dating back to 2013.

Redfield, a campaign finance expert and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield, said the payment illustrated a process that could easily be exploited as a sort of dark money loophole.

“When you get in a posture where someone can essentially engage in self-dealing, it’s not only the public trust in understanding transparency, but the people that are trying to operate and win campaigns want to make sure things are above board,” Redfield said. […]

“David Walsh is an advisor to me and helps me develop business ideas that have nothing to do with the Illinois House,” CEO Brett Buerk explained in a phone call. “To suggest that we somehow had to pay him in order to get work is offensive. We had the Illinois House as a client going back to 2011. Our business relationship with Walsh has only been for the last 18 months.” […]

According to several sources in the House Republican caucus, Representative Mike Unes of Peoria questioned why so many high priced consultants who failed to deliver results remained on the party payroll. Durkin responded by booting Unes from his leadership team. Reached by phone, Unes declined to comment on the falling out.

Rep. Unes voted for the 2017 tax hike and, despite being in leadership, contributed just $15K to the HRO campaign committee last year and ended 2018 with $642K in the bank. That may explain some things.

Walsh says he consults on non-campaign issues and adamantly denies any connections between the spending and his consulting. And Buerk was so upset about the story that he reportedly threatened to sue.

As the article also notes, Walsh didn’t include his client’s name on his economic interest disclosure form when he was a member of the MWRD board, but state ethics laws don’t require consultants (and attorneys) to disclose the names of their clients and I’m not aware of anyone who does (although some could, I suppose).

The House Republican Organization spent just $190K on Majority Strategies during the 2018 cycle. By contrast, HRO spent $389K on Majority Strategies in 2016. You’d think that number would go up after Walsh started, not down. And despite House GOP Leader Jim Durkin’s hugely expensive 2018 GOP primary against a Dan Proft/Local 150-backed candidate, Majority Strategies didn’t get a dime during the effort.

* However, the Illinois Republican Party spent $1.9 million of that $2.1 million during the same period. And the vast majority of that was spent on House Republican candidates. Legislative leaders wash money through both state parties to save on postage costs, and they control how that money is spent. The state party spent $414K with Majority Strategies in the 2016 cycle and nothing before that.

In a world like this when everybody is an automatic suspect, consulting for a campaign vendor - even if it is totally unrelated work - is gonna bring some heat. And that’s especially so considering the HRO’s losses last year. People will always look for someone to toss under the bus. Walsh, despite whatever his intentions may have been, gave his enemies a too-easy opportunity.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      

More population loss for state’s metro areas

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Illinois News Network

U.S. Census data released Thursday showed the population in every one of the state’s metropolitan areas declined in the past year for the first time.

The Chicago metropolitan area, which includes suburban cities and portions of Wisconsin and Indiana, reported the largest population decrease in the nation, shrinking by an estimated 22,068 people. That represents 0.23 percent of the area’s total population of about 9.5 million people.

Population in the Danville area shrank by 1.26 percent, representing an estimated 970 people. Nationally, only three other communities saw a bigger percentage decline. It also marked Danville’s largest decrease in population in recent years, the next highest being a loss of 778 in 2014. […]

Other metropolitan areas that saw population losses included Decatur (821), Springfield, (1,539), Carbondale (590), Kankakee (520), Rockford (594) and the Bloomington-Normal area (157).

* Tribune

From 2001 to 2007, downstate metro areas added 144,089 residents, mostly driven by gains in migration. But in the last seven years, those areas have lost a third of that gain, about 43,000 people.

As for the state’s rural counties, they have been losing population since 1997 as residents’ deaths outpace births and more people move out than come in. […]

While many experts bemoan the drops in population, Chicago demographer Rob Paral examined Cook County’s most recent numbers and found “neither cause for joy nor cause for alarm.”

Because Cook is such a large county, the number of residents lost is less important than the percent change, he said. Cook County’s population increased for several years after 2010, Paral said, and while it’s been falling since 2015, the percent decrease has been minimal. […]

“There’s not some mass exodus going on,” he said. “I think this is important, because for many years there was a worry that somehow the county was just going to have accelerated loss, but that’s not what we see. People were using the loss of population here … as a hook to hang their favorite issue on. They would say it was because of taxes, or because of this and that. But the numbers don’t really support the idea that we have some kind of dire problem.”

Since 2010, Cook County’s population has dropped by 14,533 people. That’s a decline of 0.28 percent. You obviously want to see growth, and the problem did worsen starting in 2015, but you’d think the numbers were much more dire by reading the headlines.

The more problematic numbers are in rural Downstate areas. But, that’s been a national issue for a very long time.

- Posted by Rich Miller   53 Comments      

Chicagoland Chamber comes out hard for megadevelopment near Soldier Field

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Tribune

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce is throwing its support behind the massive transit center and megadevelopment proposed over train tracks near Soldier Field, which it says could create $120 billion worth of new jobs, taxes and other economic benefits over the next four decades.

The nonprofit business organization, which represents more than 1,000 companies in the Chicago area, on Wednesday unveiled a report outlining the potential impact of the proposed One Central project on the local economy, tourism and regional transportation. […]

One Central would create a massive transit center that would bring together CTA, Metra and Amtrak trains, as well as bus station and a bus or tram route on an existing access road along train tracks between the McCormick Place convention center and the Loop.

One Central will need all the help it can get as it tries to coordinate plans with transit agency leaders, handle the concerns expressed by neighbors and alderman and deal with a new mayor. Landmark will need all of them on board before it can break ground.

It’s unclear how the developer plans to finance the complex project, and whether it might include state or federal funds. Landmark has previously said it does not intend to seek tax-increment financing from the city.

The Chicagoland Chamber’s report is here.

* Sun-Times

The “deck” or “table top,” as Chicagoland Chamber CEO Jack Lavin likes to call it, would transform a 34-acre site that is now a “barrier between neighborhoods and lakefront attractions” into a transit center unlike any Chicago has seen.

Metra rail lines, Amtrak, the CTA Orange Line and a so-called “Chi-Line” along an under-used dedicated busway would all come together in one location. With trams or buses, Chicago would finally have its elusive downtown “circulator” linking McCormick Place, the Museum Campus, Navy Pier, Millennium Park and downtown hotels. […]

It shows an unsightly plot of land that now generates just $23,000 in annual property tax revenue could become a $120 billion cash cow over the next 40 years.

Even if the $3.8 billion “Civic Build” that includes the “table top and transit center” requires a significant contribution from Chicago taxpayers, it would be worth the investment, Lavin said.

It would dramatically increase the number of people living within a 45-minute commute of downtown, and could support 42 million CTA and Metra riders by year 40. That translates into $3.6 billion in “cumulative farebox revenue,” the study shows.

* Curbed

Despite the chamber’s glowing endorsement and Landmark Development’s claim that One Central won’t seek controversial tax increment financing (TIF), the project will need to overcome some political obstacles before it becomes a reality.

It will need to win over incoming Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a growing City Council contingent that has vowed to be less friendly to large developer interests, and—perhaps most importantly—local 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell who already said she will push for significant reductions to One Central’s height and density.

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      

“Prosecutorial discretion”

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Tribune

Effingham County State’s Attorney Bryan Kibler last month told a raucous crowd the origin story behind the “Second Amendment sanctuary county” movement, which began in Effingham a year ago and now includes 64 of the state’s 102 counties, counties in three other states, and nine more states in which counties are eyeing similar nonbinding measures. And as Illinois legislators, emboldened by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, look at more gun-control measures, counties are looking at more ways to resist them. […]

Kibler has said state’s attorneys are able to weigh decisions on a case-by-case basis and that will continue. When explaining discretion, he often uses the example of a man from Mississippi who was passing through Effingham County on his way to visit relatives in Chicago. The man had a small revolver visible inside a driver’s-side door compartment when he was pulled over. He originally was arrested by a state trooper for having a loaded weapon in the car.

“I said, ‘get him out of here and give him his gun back.’ The state of Illinois should not be making a felon out of this man,” Kibler said.

Kibler also said the central and southern parts of the state are dealing with high rates of methamphetamine use and police and the state’s attorney’s office don’t have time to pursue minor gun cases.

“We don’t have the luxury of trying to enforce the laws that come on down from high from liberal jurisdictions while we’re making record numbers of arrests in a meth epidemic,” he said.

* New Yorker

[Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx] runs the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the country, responsible for prosecuting crimes in Chicago and a hundred and thirty-four municipalities. Her staff sees almost half a million cases every year. Prosecutorial discretion is one of the pillars of our justice system, and it is her job to discern what deserves her staff’s attention, as opposed to what has grabbed the most public attention. “I cannot run an office that is driven by anger and public sentiment,” Foxx said on Saturday.

The onslaught of criticism against Foxx exposes an uncomfortable truth about the depth of America’s attachment to mass incarceration. In theory, criminal-justice reform is more popular than ever. A majority of Americans support reducing punishment, especially for nonviolent offenders. Across the political spectrum, voters want law enforcement to focus more resources on the most serious crimes. But there’s no way to reconcile what we claim to believe and what commands our outrage. There are currently two million incarcerated people in this country. Another four and a half million are under some other form of correctional control. Yet, with the Smollett case, it is leniency that gets the attention. There’s a common belief that criminal-justice reform is one of the few bipartisan issues left in politics. But our thirst for punishment is equally politically salient.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chicago. In 2014, the Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, an African-American teen-ager, sixteen times. Dash-cam footage shows that McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when the officer began shooting, and that he continued shooting for thirteen seconds after McDonald fell to the ground. The video is deeply distressing, and makes it impossible to characterize McDonald’s death as anything less than the execution of a child. But, for thirteen months, the former state’s attorney Anita Alvarez chose not to charge Van Dyke with murder. In the end, she only brought charges against him when the video was going to be made public, in November, 2015. (In January, Van Dyke, who was convicted of second-degree murder, received a sentence of nearly seven years in prison.)

For eight years, Alvarez had aligned herself with law enforcement, aggressively prosecuting even minor crimes. In 2010, Cook County Jail, the largest single-site jail in America, was so crowded that federal authorities stepped in, requiring that the county reduce the population. But, by 2013, the inmate count had only increased, and Alvarez continued to file unnecessary charges, including prosecuting people for misdemeanor marijuana possession three years after the state decriminalized it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      

House in, Proctor out

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* In

Former Rock Island County Democratic Chairman Doug House has been hired by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker as deputy secretary of transportation. […]

House said his main responsibilities will be dealing with state and federal legislation and communications. […]

“I’ll be overseeing any legislation dealing with transportation issues,” House said. “And I’ll work to gain support for important legislation, including a capital bill. It’s a really exciting and important time to be coming on in that capacity.

House chaired the Democratic county chairs’ organization until shortly after the election. He played a significant role in Gov. Pritzker’s campaign, and helped build up local party operations. Doing legislation and communications means he’ll have more of a political role at IDOT, so he should be fine.

* Out

Springfield Ward 5 Ald. ANDREW PROCTOR won a second four-year term on the City Council on April 2, but eight days later, he lost his state job as chief legislative liaison for the Illinois Department of Labor.

The $80,000-a-year position is at-will, Proctor is a Republican and new Gov. J.B. PRITZKER is a Democrat.

“It was somewhat expected,” Proctor said. “But then, being held on for so long, almost three months, it was kind of a surprise.”

In his position lobbying for the agency, Proctor had worked for passage of a bill the governor has now signed to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

“I think it was needed,” Proctor said. “And I’m glad there were some tax breaks for businesses.” He said he was “happy to work on it,” and he and others at the department also have been working on other things for the governor’s office.

Proctor is a former advocacy director for the Illinois Chamber (that TrackBill program I’m involved with is a direct result of his time at the Chamber), and he had some labor support during his aldermanic reelection campaign.

By all accounts he did fine at IDOL under Pritzker, but having Bruce Rauner’s Labor liaison on staff rubbed some folks the wrong way. It wasn’t an ideal look.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      

MLB open thread

Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Bat-tossing: Harmless fun, harm to the game or no big deal either way?

- Posted by Rich Miller   58 Comments      


Thursday, Apr 18, 2019

* Follow along with ScribbleLive

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      

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