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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, December 2

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The Mechanics

Bottom of the Ballot Fri Nov 02 2012

The Bottom of the Ballot: Cook County Offices

bottom of the ballot - cook county offices - chicago electionsWhile "Dogcatcher" isn't on the ballot in Chicago, there are several positions that may leave you wondering, "What exactly do these people do?" In particular, the heads of several county-wide agencies that will be up for a vote next week. While some of these positions may seem obscure, they actually do play a major role in the day-to-day life of Chicagoans, especially when it comes to legal or property-related issues. Here's an explanation of what they do and who the candidates are.

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Mike Ewing

Cook County Board Thu Jul 05 2012

William Beavers: "I am not a criminal!"

by Rachel Angres

Wearing one of his trademark lavish, tailor-made suits as sharp as his tongue, Cook County Commissioner William Beavers, 77, spoke with conviction early this morning at 330 S. Wells St. in Chicago's South Loop. Beavers, who recently pleaded not guilty to charges of indictment on federal tax-evasion charges, has been postponing the inevitable trial (which still has yet to be announced) that could seal his fate and lips- at least for the time being.

"I'm not a criminal! I haven't stolen a dime. I have had thieves following me for the last three years that couldn't find nothing," said the irreverent commissioner.

While speaking out against federal allegations that claim Beavers is a criminal and tax evader, he simply responded without a twinge of discretion, "I don't have no regrets; I was entitled to take that money since 2009."

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Op-Ed Mon Oct 03 2011

The Battle Over the Cook County Health and Hospital System Budget

On Tuesday, the Cook County Board of Commissioners will vote on the upcoming budget for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS). Tensions have arisen In the weeks since the CCHHS Board of Directors released their budget and the Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle informed the CCHHS Board of Directors that they could not request the required county subsidy because of what is set in the planned County Budget.

As explained in a previous Gapers Block piece examining the Fantus Health Center, the CCHHS receives a county subsidy that helps with their funding. The rest of their funding comes from insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and patients paying for their treatment.

The current budget that will go before the board would ask for a $283 million subsidy; Preckwinkle has said that the maximum subsidy the CCHHS can receive is $248 million.

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Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Local Government Thu Sep 29 2011

Chicago History Museum to Host Discussion on Current Political Climate

On October 4, the Chicago History Museum will host a discussion on our current political climate entitled, "Politics Today: Red, Purple, and Blue." The discussion is part of the museum's In the K/Now series of discussions, which occur monthly. Moderating the discussions is Laura Washington, columnist for the Sun-Times.

"We will cover both [Cook County and Chicago], particularly the debate in the City Council and on the Cook County Board over budget cutting measures like furloughs, police, cuts to vital service like police, fire and health care, and tax increases," Washington said.

According to Ilana Bruton, Public Programs Coordinator for the Chicago History Museum, the different discussions for In the K/Now have various sized crowds depending on the topic.

"We try to choose hot, contemporary topics that effect Chicagoans today and include a diverse group of panelists," Bruton said.

Panelists for the October 4 discussion will be 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith, Michael Mezey, political science professor at DePaul University; and Christine Dudley, a political and public affairs consultant.

"Being 'in the know' is all about making today's history relevant," Bruton said. "Everything in the museum was at one time contemporary and it is important to continue to stay relevant and remind ourselves that history is ongoing."

For this discussion, a historical perspective for the political strife will be examined.

"We will ask the panelists to look at moments in history when the parties and political operatives were at odds," Bruton said. "We will talk about some of the frustrations with politics today and talk about solutions to stop the bickering and opportunities to forge towards bipartisanship."

The event is free and open to the public, although attendees can reserve seats on the Chicago History Museum's website. The discussion is scheduled to run from 6:30-8 pm.

Monica Reida

News Wed Sep 28 2011

Ramsin Canon on "Eight Forty-Eight"

Gapers Block politics editor Ramsin Canon appeared on WBEZ's "Eight Forty-Eight" on Tuesday to talk about the Cook County commissioners who refuse to take a furlough day, aldermanic travel and other current political news. If you missed it, you can listen to the segment online

Andrew Huff

Elections Sun Oct 31 2010

Moving America Forward Rally with President Barack Obama Photo Essay

Democrats rallied on the Midway Plaisance in Hyde Park on Saturday evening for the "Moving America Forward Rally with President Barack Obama." The estimated 35,000 attendees heard performances by Chicago rockers Dot Dot Dot and hip-hop artist Common, as well as speeches by a variety of officials and citizens, including Mayor Richard M. Daley, Senator Richard Durbin, State Treasurer and US Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias, Governor Pat Quinn, Alderman and Cook County President Candidate Toni Preckwinkle and -- of course -- President Barack Obama.

A photo essay of the event by David Schalliol is below.

David Schalliol / Comments (2)

Column Thu Mar 04 2010

How to Reform Cook County

Simpson, Dick.jpgThe epic spree of corruption exposed in Illinois in recent years have us confirmed as national laughingstock.

Who can blame television viewers for chuckling and shaking their heads when watching indicted ex-Governor Blagojevich perform on the Today Show? A New York Times columnist says our political culture is the "most awful." Expect more of the same with the stalled Blago trial begins this summer.

While this sort of coverage continues, let's get specific for a moment, and talk about solutions for one section of local government that doesn't get much play on the cable networks or other national outlets: Cook County.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Cook County Board Sat Feb 27 2010

Ald. Preckwinkle at the Interview Show

Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, who recently won the Democratic nomination for the Cook County Board presidency, will be appearing at the Hideout for Mark Bazer's Interview Show. Bazer's interviews are irreverent and typically hilarious, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the unperturbable Preckwinkle. Also there will be beer there. Here's Bazer's interview with local superstar chef Paul Kahan. See you all there!


Ramsin Canon

Cook County Tue Feb 09 2010

The Preckwinkle Coalition?

Mick Dumke has a piece up at the Reader about "the Preckwinkle onslaught" as compared to the so-called "Washington Coalition" that swept Harold Washington into office. As Dumke points out, despite what many Lakefront Liberals would have you believe today, there wasn't really much of a Harold "Washington coalition." Washington won because black voters came out in startling numbers and voted almost unanimously for him, and enough Latino voters did the same to overwhelm white voters of the liberal and illiberal kinds.

I was of the mind early on that Preckwinkle was the only candidate in a crowded field that could pull together enough votes from different constituencies to win. That is exactly what she did, aided by an unbelievably weak field of opponents. First, to her voting coalition: she won the lakefront wards on the South and North Sides. She won white voters and black voters, she won in the suburbs and in the city. Her campaign strategy had a lot to do with it--but so did her long history in the City Council. Preckwinkle had progressive bona fides that, combined with an ability to raise early money from her well-heeled and politically active base in Hyde Park and Kenwood, helped her lock up early support from non-aligned and progressive Party organizations in the city and suburbs. In a crowded field, that would make all the difference in any case: but given a weak field in a low-turnout election, that spells landslide. There was no nationalist loyalty on display in this election: Stroger's clumsy by-proxy appeals to black nationalism probably ended up hurting him among both white and black voters, and no "white vote" materialized for the only white candidate, despite early media efforts to create that storyline.

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Ramsin Canon

Elections Wed Feb 03 2010

What This Means

Just kidding.

The most immediately important race for Chicagoans is probably the Cook County Board President's race, with the addition of insurgent candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's win in the Southwest Side 7th District. John Fritchey, another reformer--based on his activities in Springfield--won election to replace Forrest Claypool, who retired this year.

If Cook County is truly cleaned up, a huge spigot of patronage dollars--of both the old-school and pinstripe kind--can suddenly go dry for significant portions of the Chicago machine. Contracts with the County and particularly it's hospital system are an important source of income and campaign donations for Regulars and their associates. Commissioner Moreno himself was embroiled in a scandal whereby he allegedly shook down a health care software company to hire a political ally in order to qualify as a minority-owned business.

Assuming the Board's reformers have the gumption to take that system head on, the machine system in Cook County, and particularly the city, could show the kinds of weaknesses that open up electoral fronts.

In other news, wow, Terry O'Brien. Dude spent a lot of money to do as poorly as he did. Also, Quinn versus Brady may poll close, but Quinn will have to do a lot wrong to lose the enormous Cook County advantage that Democrats enjoy. Bill Brady, among the most conservative of the GOP candidates, will have trouble bringing back those suburban Republicans-turned-Democrats. In the Senate races, lots of speculation that Hoffman is perfectly positioned to run against Mayor Daley in '11. That election happens in mid-winter 2011--a year from now. If Hoffman plans to run against the Mayor, he better start in the Spring. The Mayor raised more than $50 million dollars for the Olympic bid. What do you think he could squeeze out of people for a competitive race against a prosecutor? Hoffman of course lost to Alexi Giannoulias. Speculators as to Alexi's "baggage" forget exactly what Hoffman's three-week meteoric rise should have taught them: nine months is a long, long, long time in politics. Who knows what's going to happen by November? Nine months ago the only tea party we talked about here happened at the Drake Hotel, in white gloves.

Ramsin Canon

Elections Sun Jan 31 2010

Xavier Nogueras Hit Piece in 8th District

A nasty hit piece hit residents of the 8th Cook County Commissioner's district. Coming from the phantom "Taxpayers Coalition Initiative" which provides no return address, the piece delves into Nogueras' tenure with the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and unpaid water bills. The piece is huge--22x17--full color, glossy. The 60647 post office, from where the piece originated, did not provide information on the owner of the "Permit #1" used to send the piece out.

Nogueras' opponent, Ed Reyes, is an ally of 33rd Ward boss Dick Mell, who engineered his elevation to the seat after Roberto Maldonado was appointed by Mayor Daley to replace Billy Ocasio, who in turn was appointed to Governor Quinn's staff after he replaced Rod Blagojevich. To get that straight: Blagojevich gets impeached, Quinn taps Ocasio, Daley taps Maldonado, Maldonado pushes for Nogueras to replace him but gets outmaneuvered Mell.

The Nogueras campaign offered this comment:

We are certainly aware of the piece. It is without a doubt a last minute effort from the Reyes campaign to make up for what has been a rough couple weeks on their end. The Fox story [Cf., This] really knocked the wind out of them. This particular hatchet job should be called for what it is. We put our name out front and center in every mailer we send out.

Some scans of the piece (hard to get, given its size) after the jump.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Elections Thu Jan 28 2010

Video Thursday: Critiquing Candidate Commercials

848 film contributor Jonathan Miller analyzed campaign ads from Toni Preckwinkle and Terrence O'Brien on the WBEZ blog.

(View the original ad on YouTube.)

(View the original ad on YouTube.)

Andrew Huff

Cook County Board Tue Jan 26 2010

The Preckwinkle Campaign Finds the Path to Victory

On paper, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th) was likely to be the only candidate with the record, temperament, and political wit to survive a crowded field looking to replace the doomed Todd Stroger as President of the nation's second largest County organization. Her zest for picayune policy matters and her regular conscientious objections to Mayoral initiatives squared with a carefully cultivated reputation for good government progressivism, and her South Side lakefront political base offered both an early fundraising engine and added diversity to her electoral appeal. But Cook is a big and tough county with maddeningly feudal politics--it would take uninterrupted hard work to define and pursue the path to victory.

Preckwinkle's run for the Presidency was born out of frustration over a comparatively obscure policy issue: the overhaul of the County's temporary juvenile detention facilities. Todd Stroger tapped Preckwinkle, a well-regarded "progressive" South Side alderman, to serve with high-powered attorney Demetrius Carney to serve on a transition team to advise him on how to fix the system. Preckwinkle says she and Carney worked intensely to produce a report for Stroger. The result?

"He ignored it. He appointed the judge to oversee the system. I asked Demetrius why we went through all that work, and he told me that was the first he was hearing about it himself." Stroger was unresponsive and uninterested in the type of reform that Preckwinkle claims as her primary motivation: making government transparent, efficient, and a force for good.

These principles are encapsulated in one of Preckwinkle's primary campaign messages, that she is the only independent and progressive candidate running for the position.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Cook County Board Thu Jan 21 2010

Cook County Board Pres Contribution Maps, 2

Todd Stroger has still not filed his "D-2" report, detailing contributions since summer of last year. The below maps were generated with the latest D-2s, looking at contributions since last June through a couple days ago.

The Toni Preckwinkle and Terry O'Brien campaigns have been the most fervent fundraisers, with both geographic diversity (though O'Brien is notably absent on the South Side and South Suburbs) and concentrated geographic bases. O'Brien has clear pockets of strength on the Northwest Side and interior Northwest Suburbs. Preckwinkle dominates the Lakefront from the South Shore through Rogers Park. The geographic diversity of Preckwinkle's contributions are significant given her narrow base in Hyde Park and Kenwood.

One quirk: donations from the further out Northwest Suburbs such as Streamwood and Schaumburg were sparse and predominately for courts clerk Dorothy Brown and specifically from South Asian donors, based on the names of the contributors.

Click on the maps to expand them. Please note that several dozen contributions were unmappable out of a total of nearly three thousand.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Mon Jan 18 2010

Cook County Board Pres: Contributions Maps

Dorothy Brown, Todd Stroger, and Terry O'Brien all began their campaigns for Cook County Board President with previous county-wide campaigns under their belt. Brown and Stroger hold executive-level positions in County government currently and enjoy considerable name recognition advantages.

The following maps were generated using contribution searches through the Illinois State Board of Elections website and a date range of January 2009 to January 15th 2010. Note that not all campaigns (particularly O'Brien and Stroger) are fully up-to-date with contribution reporting. A few dozen contributions were unmappable, but otherwise all available contributions have been mapped.

Click on the map to see it in full size. Regional detail maps after the jump.

Red, Toni Preckwinkle;
Purple, Todd Stroger;
Blue, Dorothy Brown;
Green, Terry O'Brien


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Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Sat Jan 16 2010

Preckwinkle's First Ad

Hyde Park alderman Toni Preckwinkle has released her first ad in the Cook County Board race. See below.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Wed Jan 13 2010

Wow. That's One Nasty Flier.

Former gang member turned political consultant Wallace "Gator" Bradley is supposedly behind this nasty flier in support of Todd Stroger for Cook County Board President. The Illinois Review, the Chicago Current, and Chicagoist have covered this as well.

This flier represents some of the nastiest identity politics. I've made comments about the fact that all of the state's most powerful politicians are Irish-American, but while that fact can be said to reflect a legacy of our politics being basically dynastic, it is hardly a reason to accuse elected officials of being race traitors. Stroger formulated basically the thesis (if not the wording) of this flier (if you can say something this insane has a "thesis") in an interview with the Chicago News Co-Op:

"If none of us win," Mr. Stroger said of himself and Ms. Preckwinkle and Ms. Brown, "there will not be a single black executive in the state who deals with real money -- you know, like a billion dollars or more."

"If you break down our state," he continued, "and you look at who's the governor, who's the speaker of the House, who's the Senate president, who's the mayor of the city of Chicago, who's the water reclamation district president, who's the chairman of finance for the city and who's the chairman for finance for the county, you'll find that they're all Irish males."

So even if this flier was produced without coordination with the Stroger campaign, it can't be dismissed as the one-off act of a lone radical. There is a current of thought among some segment of the black political class that may be seeing the refusal of their traditional white allies to step up as a hostile act. The media, by typically pigeonholing "black" candidates, must feed this perception. But given the cruel and subjective nature of identity politics, this flier is actually more harmful and hurtful to Dorothy Brown, Toni Preckwinkle, and the other black politicians maligned as "sellouts" and race traitors. The outcry over Rod Blagojevich's statement equating shining shoes with blackness is offensive exactly because it places unfair expectations and roles on black men and women. Similarly with this flier, these black politicians are being told how they have to behave and who they have to support to "qualify" for blackness.

And yes, these Irishmen are traditional allies for the political organizations behind Stroger. That's the thing to remember: where was this flier when Governor Quinn was running for office? Or Mayor Daley? Why wasn't this flier being circulated about Todd Stroger when I took these pictures in 2006:

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Thu Jan 07 2010

Rumble in the Park

You have to care at least a tiny bit who your elected representatives are to leave home on a cold wintry night in Chicago, so naturally, the showing last night at the Wicker Park Field House for the Fritchey-Matlak debate was slight (yes, Chicago, I'm saying you don't care who gets into local office--please, prove me wrong).

Fritchey and Matlak are running for the Cook County Commissioner seat to be vacated by Forrest Claypool, representing the 12th district. Fritchey is currently a state rep and Matlak was alderman of the ward encompassing Bucktown and Wicker Park before losing the seat in 2007 to Scott Waguespack.

Steve Rhodes, a brilliant mind of political wit if there ever was one, considers Fritchey's time in Springfield impressive. The best that can be said for Matlak, on the other hand, is that he's no longer in office. He angered residents as alderman with his cozy relationship with real estate developers in the area and lack of communication with residents. When I heard Matlak was going to be there, I was excited for a good Chicago brawl, but things remained fairly civil save for one outburst at the end. A resident approached Matlak and exchanged some words, then walked out of the room shouting "you know damn well what I'm talking about!" Matlak donned a confused look that was hard to take seriously. I asked the guy what the beef was, but he responded brusquely "this is between me and Matlak."

A source familiar with the situation tells me that Matlak approved spot zoning on both sides of the man's home, which is now sandwhiched between two so-called McMansions.

The candidates began seated at a fold-out table before a crowd of forty or so residents, nudging one another and sharing some laughs and whispered words. When it came time to speak, the two danced that same old dance; one pointed out the others flaws then conceded that that's not what's important--"it's the issues that matter"--and the other followed suit.

Most residents I spoke with didn't quite share the impressions of Rhodes. They voiced disappointment with the lack of choices, a lose-lose set of options. "It's like two of the same guys up there talking," said one.

I headed back out into the winter evening and biked down the road, past the six corners, past bulging new condos and corporate retail chains.

Danny Fenster

Cook County Board Thu Jan 07 2010

Cook County Board President Candidates Debate Tonight--Catch the Extremely Specific Fever!

The Better Government Association and ABC-7 are sponsoring a debate [PDF] between the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the Cook County Board Presidency tonight at 7pm on Channel 7. The BGA, now headed by Andy Shaw, has been aggressive in pairing with local media outlets. It will be interesting to see if "camps" are created--will everybody go after nominal frontrunner Dorothy Brown? Or actual front runner Preckwinkle? Do any of the candidates have a strategy to accent some element of their campaign, or downplay something?

My read: Stroger has nothing to lose. If he's still got the fire in his belly to win, he's going to go after the person splitting his base, Dorothy Brown. That's a big IF though. Preckwinkle has the most to gain simply by increasing her name recognition. The others would have to be crazy to team up on her, particularly Stroger. Also, there's that white guy.

I don't know how honed Clerk Brown's or Water Reclamation District President Terry O'Brien's (afore mentioned white guy) debating skills are, or even whether they consider this debate as that important, get-out-the-vote wise. For both, it may just be a matter of keeping what they have and focusing on turning out their base.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue Dec 29 2009

The Decline and Fall of Richard M. Daley

Like clockwork, it happens every year. It begins with the subtle deception of the changing leaves, a cold wind blowing in from the lake. Soon comes the onslaught of the brutal Chicago winter, the Hawk stalking 'round every corner. And every year, from behind a thick wool scarf, I declare: "god damnit, this is the last year I spend in this miserable city!"

Alas, I'm still here. But I swear to god, Chicago, if you don't throw this clown out of office in 2011, I'm gone.

And there's hardly been a more likely time to see that happen.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (2)

Cook County Board Mon Dec 21 2009

The Curious Davis Endorsement

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger--whose political narrative was traced, rather unflatteringly, by Chicago Magazine not too long ago--has seen better days. The incumbent lags in third place in his reelection bid, according to recent polls, behind County Clerk Dorothy Brown and current alderwoman Toni Preckwiknle.

On top of that, and perhaps not too surprisingly, two Illinois congressmen came out last week endorsing Stroger's opposition. Rep. Danny Davis endorsed Brown, ahead in the polls at the moment, because he wants "to be with the one who's going to win." Rep. Gutierrez endorsed Preckwinkle, he reportedly said, because of her progressive values.

But let's back up a moment. The interesting thing here, I believe, is Rep. Davis's reason for endorsing Brown.

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Danny Fenster / Comments (3)

Cook County Board Fri Dec 11 2009

Tribune Poll Analysis: Cook County Board President

The Chicago Tribune's poll of Cook County voters' attitudes to the Democratic primary candidates has Dorothy Brown with a lead over three other candidates. The incumbent, Todd Stroger, is in third place, but with the highest unfavorable rating of any of the candidates by far.

The breakdown of support is Brown-Preckwinkle-Stroger-O'Brien, at 29%-20%-14%-11%, with "Other" at 2% and 24% undecided.

That doesn't tell the whole story, however. Dorothy Brown's name recognition is only slightly behind that of Stroger; where 98% of voters recognized Stroger, 91% recognized Brown.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Cook County Board Mon Nov 09 2009

Could Todd Stroger Get Knocked Off the Ballot?

Rumors are going around that Todd Stroger's petition signatures are so fraught with error that he could lose his place on the primary ballot.

With news of Danny Davis dropping out today (assuming he would stay dropped out should the remarkable happen and Stroger actually get knocked off the ballot), that could potentially boil the race down to Hyde Park Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Courts Clerk Dorothy Brown, and Water Reclamation District Chair Terry O'Brien.

Preckwinkle got the top position on the ballot. If Stroger is knocked out, Preckwinkle would have to be the frontrunner for the job, particularly if the Mayor is in fact going to lend her outright or behind the scenes support (as has been supposed). While Brown gets elected County-wide (with little challenge) and O'Brien is the sole white dude, Alderman Preckwinkle has the "independent" credibility with none of O'Brien's contractor problems.

Should Stroger get knocked out--and really, this would be a bombshell--I think Toni Preckwinkle has to be considered the prohibitive favorite. The question would be--behind whom would the Stroger organization line up? And would Davis jump back in (that's a timing issue, as well)?

Interesting stuff--personally, I thought Preckwinkle was the favorite since the mysterious timing of the Community Benefits Agreement on the Olympics/Announcement for Board Presidency/Sneed rumor about Daley support for Preckwinkle stuff. She has the right mix of smarts, reformist appeal to contrast with Stroger with the advantage of still having connections to heavy hitter pols and appealing to parts of the South Side African-American primary electorate.

UPDATE: Thanks commenters! I can't believe its already the 9th. Indeed, today, not next Monday, was the deadline for withdrawal. Davis is out for good.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Cook County Board Mon Nov 09 2009

Danny Davis Out of County Board Pres Race

Danny Davis will announce this morning that he will seek reelection for his 7th District Congressional seat. Davis' announcement didn't come with any endorsement, but he did say that at least part of his reasoning was not wanting to split the black vote among four black challengers.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Fri Oct 02 2009

Hanania on the Cook County Video Gaming Bill

The Cook County Board stamped out video gaming in Cook County, essentially invalidating Governor Quinn's $31bn capital projects budget, to be financed by video gaming taxes.

Ray Hanania of WJJG-AM and Southwest News-Herald (and long time City Hall reporter) has an interesting piece on just what might be behind the move (Bridget Gainer replaced Mike Quigley):

The Bridget Gainer rush to reinforce Cook County's questionable ban on video gaming machines raises some real questions.

Who is really behind the effort?

Casino lobbyists -- including one Cook County board member and several who have received Casino industry related donations -- want the video gaming measure killed but buried before the public can understand the issues.

Here are some facts:

A-Local Villages should have the power to decide on their own whether or not they should be able to permit video gaming in their communities. Why should Gainer, a former executive at the politically connected insurance giant AON, and the Cook County Board decide that for them?

Video Gaming could generate, through licensing options, as much as $500,000 a year for suburban communities. Each establishment could install 5 machines, and licensing costs would be about $5,000 a year. And each village could see as many as 15-20 establishments installing the devices.

B-Right now, there are about 60,000 illegal video gaming devices being managed by organized crime and independents who are breaking the law. These machines exist but the county is incapable of cracking down on them. The way to undermine the illegal criminal activity is to put the reality under legal parameters and bring them out into the sunshine.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Fri Sep 04 2009

Deborah Sims' Reversal on the Sales Tax Rollback

Much ink has been spilled regarding the failure of the Cook County Board yet again to override a Todd Stroger veto of a County sales tax rollback. Stroger's instransigence on the rollback is being cited as a reason he can't win in the suburbs. Others have argued that it plays well with his base on the South Side. The onerous veto over-ride majority needed--fourteen votes--has allowed Stroger to repeatedly battle off efforts to get ride of the increase passed last year.

Diarist BoredNow of Prairie State Blue opines on whether Commissioner Deborah Sims, who had earlier stated she would vote to override the veto, will have trouble in her reelection bid due to her reversal and vote to uphold the veto. Sims has a considerable suburban vote in her district.

On the other hand, there's a real possibility that both Sims and Murphy could be outspent in this election cycle. Neither one had much cash on hand in the last report, and both are aware that they face an angry electorate. Conventional wisdom down in the Southland is that neither Sims nor Murphy will get the endorsements of the newspapers. While the unions are generally expected to endorse the incumbents, unless they import workers into the South Suburbs it's hard to imagine that this will have much effect. Local AFSCME members say they expect their union to support Sims and Murphy, but they say they won't vote with their union leadership. They may feel differently if the union has an actual presence down here -- especially if they have to walk by a union member to enter the polls.

Ramsin Canon

Daley Mon Jul 27 2009

Daley Replaces Ocasio With Domino Commissioner Maldonado

Outgoing Alderman Billy Ocasio, who left to work for Governor Quinn, originally wanted accused homophobe Wilfredo de Jesus to replace him; he reneged on that and then the word was he wanted his wife to replace him. Mayor Daley decided to appoint popular Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado to replace him, meaning now there will be a vacancy on the Cook County Board. Yay!

Here's an endearing little video of Roberto Maldonado, so that we can like him a little bit before he votes for the Mayor's plan to privatize Lake Michigan or smiles or whatever:

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Mon Jul 20 2009

Stroger Sued by BGA, County Board Presidency Really Up for Grabs

My sense is that Mayor Daley and his brother John, who is also the 11th Ward Committeeman, are giving up Todd Stroger. The County, exempt as it is from Shakman, is simply too valuable to the County Party. If Republicans become viable at the County level again, a vital pillar in the institutionalized party will essentially crumble out from beneath them. Stroger never really had a shot, to be fair. The nature of his ascension to the office was disapproved of by almost every neutral observer, and the dishonesty or dissimulation with which his father's illness was handled left much of the media and more tuned-in voters with a bad taste in their mouth. Since then, he has been assailed for everything, culminating in the scandal revolving around Tony Cole.

Whatever Stroger's position is with the Daleys (and the word on the street is very much that he won't receive any meaningful support), this lawsuit by the Better Government Association can't b good news, as it keeps the Cole story in the news just as other candidates are lining up to challenge him. "Cell phone records" has got to be a scary phrase for a politician to hear, particularly after former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's disastrous text messages were revealed.

From STNG:

Andy Shaw, the BGA's executive director, said questions about the scandal have largely gone unanswered, making him question whether the Cole scandal unfolded during business hours and at taxpayers expense. The cellphone records could be a window in to that.

"This was one of the most tawdry embarrassing and scandalous episodes of the Stroger administration -- the hiring of an ex-convict, promotions twice to different jobs in the county -- even after he's bailed out of jail by the CFO," Shaw said.

But those requests have been denied by the Stroger administration.

"We asked the Stroger administration to give us the cell phone numbers, just to see how much taxpayer time is being spent on this embarrassment. We don't know what we're going to find. We're not a judge and jury. But we wanted to find out what's going on," Shaw said. "Transparency demands we have access to the activity of government," he said.

With Alderman Toni Preckwinkle firmly in the race and Congressman Danny Davis coming ever closer to announcing his own bid, Stroger is definitely getting crowded out.

By the way, in this interview with Jeff Berkowitz, Stroger laments that you can't find "Hindu food" on the South Side.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Thu Jun 18 2009

Preckwinkle Launches Website, Internet Makes Things Real

Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (Hyde Park) has launched a website in support of her campaign for Cook County Board President. A primary poll done by SEIU back in April--before, it should be noted, the sales tax veto issue--had current Commissioner Forrest Claypool leading incumbent Todd Stroger and Preckwinkle 28-23-18. "Preckwinkle" isn't the most voter-friendly name; I wonder if they'll come up with some kind of witty slogan to help people remember it. (Or do something like they did for Blagojevich's campaign, have people mangling it in a commercial to make light of it). "Preck for Prez" doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Looking at that SEIU poll, it should worry Stroger that Preckwinkle performs nearly as well among black voters as he does. Claypool, though he cleaned up in many of the North Side wards east of the river, couldn't handle the enormous disparities in black-majority wards. Without those huge majorities, Stroger is done for. He will have trouble collecting votes in many of the north, west, and south west suburban townships, and if Preckwinkle performs this well among black voters, it's curtains.

The questions is--can Alderman Preckwinkle take enough votes in the lakefront liberal and inner-ring suburban townships (where she is better known and where her relationship to the city's "progressive" establishment will play) to keep Claypool from sailing in on his existing support on the North and Northwest Sides? I'm sure Russ Stewart will have a hyper-specific breakdown of this at some point, if he hasn't already.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Cook County Board Fri Apr 10 2009

Trib and Sun-Times Endorse Kim Walz for Quigley Seat

Progress Illinois has a good piece about the potential replacement for Mike Quigley on the County Board, and promise to report on the meeting, which will take place tomorrow morning.

Walz is apparently a "policy wonk" and "detail person"--but did they know she was also "Benefit Posie Gal 1"? Remember, Committeemen, poise counts!

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Fri Apr 10 2009

Stroger on Secession Vote

Three suburban towns want to secede from Cook County and Todd Stroger County Board President seeks to dispell notions that are cited as reasons they want to leave Cook County. Of course he said in this segment on FOX 32 that he wouldn't oppose them if they'd leave although they would miss out on certain services provided by Cook County.

You know, I've seen clips or heard audio of Stroger on the stump and the attempts were less than impressive, but I'll have to admit that I'd rather see him in action or sitting down in interviews like he does here. It's better that than being out of your element giving a stump speech. Of course he might have to give some as he says he's running for re-election. He really should invest in an oratory coach or something.

WOW! The anchors here were incredulous when he even said that he doesn't know how much money he has raised. Although at least he covered himself by saying that he's raising money all the time.


Cook County Mon Feb 02 2009

Low-Bid Contracts, Hope, Change

County Board President Todd Stroger's campaign committee recently sent out a fundraising email that had a bit of a mixed message:

John Stroger strongly believed that "A voteless people is a hopeless people." His son Todd needs your help to fight political opportunism, preserve vital services and continue his father's legacy of service for all residents. Please support Todd by contributing to "A New Generation of Leadership."

While Todd is technically a new generation of leadership in comparison to his father's generation, it is hard to see how Todd Stroger's board presidency is anything but a continuation of his father's political organization and governing philosophy. Now, you may like that or dislike it, but to send a fundraising letter that both dons the aura of John Stroger's political prowess and proclaims a "new generation" of political leadership at the County level shows a serious problem for Todd Stroger: in a period where voters are demanding to flush the political system of old blood and bring in serious, if not radical, change, how do you make a pitch for a guy named Stroger?

Particularly when stories like this are constantly appearing, like a sepsis that can't be controlled:

The Cook County Health and Hospital Board Friday approved an $868,000 security contract, even though it was roughly $30,000 more than the lowest bid.

Whitfield Security Service was chosen over the lowest bidder, Moore Security Service, administrators said, because Moore did not meet prevailing wage requirements. However, administrators have yet to specify exactly how Moore failed, even though the Daily Herald has been asking for details on the disqualification since at least Wednesday. Earlier, administrators had disqualified Moore on the allegation that the company did not meet minority business requirements, even though Moore is owned by a black woman. The county later admitted its error, but still maintains the company doesn't meet prevailing wage requirements, even though it was initially reviewed for that category and found to meet standards.

Ouch, right?


For the second time in two months, Cook County government today is poised to pass up the lowest bid on a security contract.

In both cases, the contract was given or is being given to Whitfield Security System over Moore Security, under allegations that Moore is not meeting bidding requirements.

However, in a separate contract, county administrators recommended that Moore, the exact same bidder it said was unqualified in the other two contracts, receive the award. Administrators abruptly pulled that item before the Dec. 3 county board meeting, but not before some commissioners noticed the inconsistency and began asking questions.

I'm all for prevailing wage and minority- and women-owned business requirements for county bidding, properly supervised (Cf., "Remedial Environmental Manpower") -- but if President Stroger truly wants to represent a "new generation" of leadership for the county, he needs to make a concerted, sincere effort to stop the last generation's practices.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Cook County Board Fri Jan 23 2009

Preckwinkle Definitely In

You can add Toni Preckwinkle to the list of Democrats who want to end the Stroger dynasty. Preckwinkle would likely join Commissioner Forrest Claypool to make this at least a three-way primary. Sam Cholke at the Hyde Park Herald has the scoop.

I suspect that the County Democratic Party recognizes the liability the Stroger administration has become. It will be interesting to see how the County party aligns on this race. It will also be interesting to see how the Mayor plays it; obviously the Daleys and Strogers go way back and presumably the Mayor's considerable resources (not to mention his brother's, who runs the County's finance committee) would be devoted to Stroger or at least stay neutral, particularly considering his past relationship with Claypool (not that that turned out to be particularly helpful in 2006). Still, the city is on an all-out offensive for the Olympics, and having a friendly, predictable alderman in the 4th Ward must be awful tempting.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Cook County Board Wed Jan 14 2009

Preckwinkle for Cook County Board

Hat tip to Josh's coverage at Progress Illinois on the report in Crain's that 4th Ward (Hyde Park, Kenwood) Alderman Toni Preckwinkle is going to challenge Todd Stroger for the Cook County Board Presidency in the Democratic Primary in 2010.

Hmm. This is curious, no? Forrest Claypool says he will make a decision this summer, but I would put the odds at ten to one that he runs. Certainly the fact that he has engaged the President in public debate recently would tend to indicate that. A three-way primary between these guys would have an interesting dynamic. Preckwinkle appeals to lakefront liberal types, representing as she does the uber-liberal Hyde Park, and also good government types all over the city. She also has deep ties to the black community, though obviously the Stroger name is an institution for vast parts of the black neighborhoods of the South Side in particular. Preckwinkle, were she to receive any level of organizational support -- or if, say, Stroger were to lose his -- could pull from enough constituencies to eke out a victory in the primary.

To put it mildly, Todd Stroger has had a disappointing tenure. We may grant the assertion that that's because he's been manhandled by the local editorial boards, but given his controversial ascension to the seat and the suspicion that comes with nepotism, he should have gone to great pains to be transparent and efficient. Stroger's candidacy threatens the Democratic Party's control of Cook County government, which over time could wear away at its resurgence in the suburbs and subsequent domination of statewide office, too. That is certainly on the mind of people like our mayor and many of the more active ward organizations.

But why is Preckwinkle looking to leave the 4th Ward just as the Olympic Games threaten to tear the community apart? Why, just when the ward would need a strong voice to defend its community and extract assurances from the Mayor, is she pursuing a different set of priorities?

Of course, if she wins, her seat would be filled by mayoral fiat. Mayor Daley would handpick the alderman representing the community most threatened by the Olympic hurricane.

It's curious, that's all.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Wed Jan 07 2009

A Reinvigorated Cook County GOP?

When the GOP lost any real influence over the patronage-heavy Cook County Board, it became a necessity for them to hold on to political power in the suburbs that ring the edge of the County if they wanted to stay at a fighting weight statewide. Beginning with the fall of George Ryan, though, their grip on the suburbs has weakened, allowing Democratic candidates to swamp them with votes from the city and inner-ring suburbs.

With the growing unpopularity of the Stroger administration and this vague scandal involving the Governor's office (maybe you heard about it), the GOP is regrouping to take a run at asserting themselves at the county level in Cook. Building a voter base in Cook County could be the key to revitalizing the party statewide. CBS political correspondent Mike Flannery has the scoop:

In just 10 months from now, Republican State Sen. Matt Murphy says he will likely file nominating petitions to run against Democrat Todd Stroger for Cook County Board president. An FBI raid and ongoing investigation at the County Building that may soon produce new criminal charges would be one centerpiece of Murphy's campaign.

Read the whole thing.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Cook County Board Tue Jan 06 2009

Stroger Defends Borrowing

Last week we followed up on County Commissioner Forrest Claypool's claim that the County could sustain services and spending without the heavy borrowing Board President Todd Stroger said would be necessary.

Stroger has responded to Claypool (from the Clout Street blog):

Without the bond issues, nearly half of which would be used for operating expenses, "there's an instant effect that will be felt by people," Stroger countered. "You are going to see something major happen. Court cases will last long. You won't be able to hire a state's attorney or public defenders. The hospital won't be able to hire the doctors and nurses that they need."

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Board Mon Dec 29 2008

Claypool's Office: County Has the Money

Last week County Commissioner Forrest Claypool's office released a memo arguing that Cook County was looking at a significant operating surplus, and that therefore borrowing money for several classes of county expenses, as Stroger has proposed to do a lot of, will only saddle future budgets with considerable debt service. Claypool asserted that the borrowing was unnecessary and dangerous, so we pressed his office for details on what alternative the County had.

Claypool Chief of Staff Doug Kucia spoke to me about Claypool's assertion that borrowing was unnecessary, and that the money from the operating surplus could be used to cover the FY2009 budget shortfalls.

"We've gotten two -- now three -- sets of numbers. We've had to try to make sense of the numbers," Kucia told GB. "The [sales tax] projections they have suggest the downturn will be much much worse. The economy is in trouble, but we're not standing in soup lines." Kucia is referring to the fact that Stroger's budget team has projected an apocalyptic decline in sales tax revenue due to the sagging retail economy. He's not alone in doubting the Stroger figures; speaking to Progess Illinois, Commissioner Larry Suffredin called the President's budget numbers "a political document rather than an accounting document." Claypool's memo claims that the downturn projected by Stroger's office would be the first of its size since the Depression days of the early 1930s.

While typically, conservative estimates of things like sales tax -- particularly in the midst of a serious recession -- are a good idea, the enormous decline Stroger is predicting doesn't seem to be based on anything but a guess.

Claypool uses as his baseline Illinois state Comptroller Dan Hynes' figure for expected sales tax decline -- a modest 1.4%. Compare this to President Stroger's latest estimate, released Dec. 15, of nearly 23%. Given the state generally collects sales taxes, and Comptroller Hynes' sterling reputation as a civil servant, Kucia told me, Claypool feels comfortable using his numbers.

"Even if the one point four is too low, and it went as high as six, that's still not even close," to President Stroger's numbers.

Fitch Ratings, a credit rating agency, issued a relatively positive report about the county's credit situation in July, despite revising its Rating Outlook on the county from Stable to Negative, saying:

The Outlook revision to Negative reflects financial weakening, an increasingly high-tax environment for retail sales in a down economy,and the need for structural reform within the county's massive health system, where widening operating losses require an increasing amount of operating fund subsidy. Along with the steps the county has already taken to reform billing and administration of its health care system,expenditure savings and enhanced patient fee recovery will be necessary to curtail rising operating deficits. With the highest sales tax rate in the nation, the county faces political and economic pressure to provide tax relief for county residents. The long-term sustainability of fiscal decisions, and the charge for structural reform and revenue enhancement, will be key future challenges....The county's strong economic growth has reduced the relative dependence on residential property taxes and modestly increased the county's financial flexibility.

Note that the revision downward was based at least in part on the recent sales tax increase. (For an explanation of Fitch's ratings, see here.)

Bonds issued to pay for operating expenses such as "Self Insurance" (legal fees and payouts, etc.) and pension obligations are taxable, whereas capital bonds are not. Issuing the taxable bonds along with the tax-exempt bonds could lead, according to Claypool, to as much $55m a year in debt service, a serious built-in burden for an annually tight budget.

When pressed as to why Stroger's office would create such a dire forecast for sales tax revenue, Kucia declined to speculate.

One possible explanation is that publicly dedicating surplus sales tax revenue to self insurance or pension costs pins the administration down, reducing flexibility in more discretionary spending. Whatever the reason, the Board has an obligation to Cook County residents -- who are, we should remember, the actual "borrowers" whenever the County issues debt -- to err on the side of less borrowing particularly when it comes to operating expenses.

Jump the jump to see Claypool's comparison chart.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Fri Dec 19 2008

Just a Little Matter of a Giant Budget...

Between the striking workers, the impeachment-ripe governor, and the CPS honcho being named President-elect Obama's Education Secretary, the news that Cook County intends to borrow millions in order to finance daily operations has sort of clung on to the end of news broadcasts and under newspaper folds -- but it's not nothing. Borrowing money -- in this case, $360m or so -- to pay for operating expenses is typically a terrible idea, but worse, when it's necessary it means you're in serious trouble.

Consider if you were forced to use a credit card to pay for your El rides, your lunch at work, your dinner, and your bills. The mere fact of your existence is pushing you further into debt. What can you do? You can either shrink your expenses or find new streams of income.

The Cook County Board passed a 1 percent sales tax increase earlier this year, making Cook County among the most expensive counties in the country -- so there's your new income stream. But that increase apparently wasn't enough, and Board President Todd Stroger is painting a dire picture of what will happen if we don't borrow this enormous sum: basic operations will cease. (Some of you may be wondering, "What exactly does the County do anyway?" They do stuff, trust me.)

Reform-minded Commissioner and regular Stroger gadfly Forrest Claypool, who represents much of the city's north side, sprang out of his seat and into the local press howling about the borrowing and how it represented not only terrible public policy (probably true) but also indicated the basic mismanagement by an administration that passes gigantic tax increases and then has to borrow money (definitely true). Let's also not forget that the first two budgets Stroger issued were filled with basic accounting errors. But what is Claypool's solution? According to the Chicago Tribune,

Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), a Stroger foe, contends the budget can be balanced and services maintained at current levels without borrowing.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

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