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Friday, April 12

Gapers Block

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There are some new pundits in town, and they are doing a remarkable job untangling the latticework that is Illinois' wild frontier politics.

Illinois is uniquely well-served by a core group of 15 to 20 political webloggers who both comment and report on the goings-on of Illinois politics at all levels: municipal, county and state-wide, as well as Illinois' role in the national political scene.

From what I can ascertain, no other state has quite the breadth or depth of local political blogging, especially with the sort of laser-like focus and deep knowledge of the political system, its players, and its history. Many of these weblogs have sprung up only in the last year or two, gaining notoriety and readership thanks to the contentious and fascinating open-seat Senate primaries and subsequent circus of Jack Ryan and Alan Keyes.

The result is that Illinois voters have (or at least have available to them) a network of pundits, commentators and in some cases "journalists" (that'll chap some hides, won't it?) that can deliver a running commentary on all the goings-on of the political sphere. This goes for both ends of the political spectrum.

The Godfather (although not, strictly speaking, the oldest) of the group is Archpundit, so-named not because he considers himself an arch-pundit, but rather because he actually lives in St. Louis (of Arch fame) and also follows Missouri politics on a separate site. Archpundit started a few years ago with a rather difficult and unfriendly design but underwent a major facelift in time for the primary season, where it became the clearinghouse for everybody and their mother's opinions. Archpundit covers all facets of statewide politics as well as Chicago's local workings -- he was also involved in fundraising for congressional elections. Like so much of the blogging world, Archpundit is a sort of touchstone for the myriad of less-objective, more specific and more sporadic sites. Mr. Archpundit (or "Archie" as many commenters refer to him) is an active Democrat and progressive, but he has not been afraid to hold Governor Blagojevich (or "Blagorgeous" as he's known) and the state Democrats accountable for their foibles.

There is the "so-called" Austin Mayor, a reference I do not understand. Austin Mayor is well-regarded for his sarcasm and bite, another progressive who isn't afraid (and may, in fact, enjoy) criticizing the state's newly empowered Democrats. Austin Mayor is generally more geared towards commentary than news, with longer think pieces. Like all of the Illinois political bloggers, Austin Mayor was a gleeful participant in the quite heated debates during the Democratic Senate primaries, and has since been superbly consistent and bright, though occasionally a bit caustic.

One Man's Thoughts, maintained by "OneMan," is a conservative weblog that bites eagerly at the Democrats now running the show. OneMan provides a useful foil to the slew of progressive Democratic sites, although he suffers from a propensity towards typos and misspellings. Like many of the other Illinois blogs, OneMan picked up a lot of readership with the primary season and, outside of the more ideological and professional Illinois Leader, is one of the strongest online voices for Illinois' conservatives. OneMan has been especially useful in providing counterpoints (however repellent to me, personally) to the spending proposals of Springfield's Democrats.

One of the more enjoyable and useful blogs is Dan Johnson-Weinberger's DJW Info. Johnson-Weinberger is a lawyer and lobbyist based out of Chicago who works on introducing and gaining support for some pretty impressive progressive legislation, focused especially on voters' rights, tax reform and public transportation. On the latter issue, Johnson-Weinberger and I have had some especially interesting and enlightening conversations -- ending with the depressing conclusion, "Republicans hate trains." DJW was also one of the bloggers given press credentials for the Democratic National Convention, although they later rescinded. DJWInfo is valuable for insider knowledge and tidbits and is heavy on the State Legislature, an aspect of local politics that, up here in Chicago, often flies under the radar. DJWInfo had the honor of coming under assault by Little Green Footballs, the odious Neocon blog that helped lead the charge in "Rathergate."

Chillinois has had a short, sporadic but highly entertaining life and gained notoriety when it helped to break the story of Alan Keyes daughter, Maya, who supposedly maintained a webjournal in which she openly discussed her (alleged) homosexuality. The story never quite made it into the mainstream press, although they did touch on "internet rumors." Another progressive blogger.

Truth Girl is a relative newcomer and crowd favorite who started off by tailing and commenting on Alan Keyes' marginally-to-clinically insane Senate candidacy. Originally she had pledged only to blog until Keyes left Illinois alone; so his recent purchase of a downtown condominium may have been a blessing. Truth Girl focuses her attention on the radical religious right in Illinois and across the country.

Modern Vertebrate in its original form produced well-written and thoughtful longer essays on national, Illinois and Chicago politics -- with a heavy focus on electoral politics -- and is great for the vast reservoir or historical knowledge. Modern Vertebrate originally broke the story about Alan Keyes' daughter.

Again crossing the aisle, The Chicago Report is a conservative weblog that once had an advertising relationship with Gapers Block. The Chicago Report is link-heavy and has a format similar to Archpundit, focusing more on aggregating news with a conservative slant. As political weblogs go, the Chicago Report has one of the best designs and interfaces and is professional and tempered.

As William Safire said, every anthologer is entitled to one of his own -- so there is also Chicago: Howtown On The Make, which focuses on Chicago municipal politics although often annoyingly

ventures into national Democratic party issues. A blatant partisan, I started the site, originally at a different URL, to handicap professional football and write about social issues (yes, the irony is delicious). Around the time of the 2003 municipal races I shifted the focus to the City Council and local scandals (including obsessive coverage of organized crime and the Betty Lorne-Maltese Cicero indictment). The coverage of the Wal-Mart vote caused a bit of a hullabaloo when some aldermen got their hands on it and used it to embarrass officers of the Chicago Federation of Labor at a Council hearing. The site started in November of 2001. It also has the lowest readership and ugliest color scheme of any of these.

Polis-Chicago popped up during the primaries, going to bat early for Barack Obama. Originally a product of a graduate student at the University of Chicago, it has since been expanded to other writers; in fact, the original blogger rarely writes on it any longer. As the name would indicate, Polis originally focused more on Chicago's role in Illinois politics, but has trended towards more national progressive/Democratic issues.

To round things out, the aptly (though I guess only by accident) titled Random Act of Kindness is a Libertarian blog, although the ideological slant is overshadowed by a sincere desire to hold Illinois pols accountable. RAoC is a nice, cold shower for warring Republicans and Democrats because equal joy is taken in criticizing both. The site is also one of the older in existence, and according to the writer was conceived of and titled in a kindler, gentler time before he decided to blog about how stupid and inept so many politicians are. The owner of the site, Jeff Trigg, also has probably the most extensive "About Me" sections of any blog I've ever seen.

The Daily Southtown's political columnist Rich Miller, a professional journalist who, since Steve Neal's death, is the premier writer along with Eric Zorn on the Illinois political scene, maintains a weblog at CapitolFax Blog, a site which was once more "professional," offering a service that insiders, lobbyists and junkies could subscribe to for around $300 a year. Miller's reputation is unimpeachable, but his blog is somewhat tainted since he is, after all, a professional journalist and therefore not really one of us. Not that he would -- or should -- care.

And then there is Eric Zorn, a young pup to blogging but a seasoned columnist for the Tribune. His Notebook shook the Illinois political blogging community up, and showed Zorn's agility as a writer and commentator. He took to the medium very well and although he is the often the target of attacks by his compatriots, he is also an excellent touchstone and sounding board, lending an air of legitimacy to the community and helping to increase everybody's readership. But, again, he's a professional, so whaddya expect?

This is of course only a very partial inventory. Visit Archpundit's blogroll for a more expansive list; but a visit to only a handful of these weblogs can give any voter a comprehensive cross section of low-flying news and informed commentary -- you know, the stuff democracy's made of.

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About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon covers and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at .

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