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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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Monday, February 26

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The Mechanics

Crime Thu Oct 22 2015

Three Female Public Officials Going Down the Corruption Escalator

Three women public officials in Chicago in the past 10 days took rides on the corruption escalator. It's a "down" escalator, from scandal headlines, to indictment, to conviction, to prison, and then emerging at the bottom with a ruined careers and reputations in tatters.

It's a familiar ride taken by many Chicago elected and appointed officials. But this week, the headliners were all women.

Former Alderman Sandi Jackson, Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Dorothy Brown, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk are all on different stages of the corruption ride, but they are all headed in the same direction.

Continue reading this entry »

Thomas J. Gradel / Comments (1)

Environment/Sustainability Sun Jun 21 2015

Touring the Deep Tunnel and Thornton Quarry

The Thornton Reservoir
Construction equipment on the bed of the future Thornton Reservoir. Trucks on the Tri-State Tollway can be seen above the quarry.

On Saturday, I joined the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) on one of its tours of Chicago's goliath infrastructure. The tour featured the future site of the Thornton Composite Reservoir, the largest such reservoir in the world, and a Deep Tunnel pumping station 350' below ground at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. Both are part of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)'s gargantuan Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, the multi-decade, multi-billion dollar project designed to protect the Chicago region from the flooding and pollution caused by overflowing sewer and stormwater infrastructure.

Continue reading this entry »

David Schalliol

Environment/Sustainability Mon Jan 27 2014

Preckwinkle Recognized for Sustainability Efforts

Toni Preckwinkle has been recognized with the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's (MEEA) Inspiring Efficiency Leadership Award for her work in improving energy efficiency in Cook County and thus saving county taxpayers millions of dollars.

"Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County have raised the bar for other counties and municipalities across the nation," said MEEA Executive Director Doug Newman, in a press release.

Over the past several years, the Preckwinkle administration has helped create a vision for sustainability by implementing projects and creating the County's first Sustainability Advisory Council.

Through the Guaranteed Energy Performance Contracting (GEPC) project, the largest of its kind, the Administration will make energy upgrades to county hospitals and the jail, which in turn reduces energy emissions by 20 percent, creates 600 construction and technology jobs, and secures $237,000 in Illinois energy rebate revenues in 2013, with more than $1 million projected in 2014, according to Deborah Stone, chief sustainability officer for Cook County.

The County was able to undertake this project at no cost to taxpayers, by securing low-cost financing through the second largest use of Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds in the State of Illinois, said Stone.

In 2013, the County was selected as a nominee for the Chicago Innovation Awards for its sustainability efforts.

"I believe that Cook County should be a world-class model of sustainability," said Toni Preckwinkle.

MEEA presented the award to Preckwinkle at the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference last week.

Nenad Tadic

Op-Ed Wed Oct 02 2013

Chicago's Forgotten End Up at Cook County Jail

Cook County Jail has drawn attention to itself lately for collecting large amounts of Chicago's mentally ill, so much so that it has become the largest mental health facility in Illinois.

The story is particularly inflammatory given Gov. Pat Quinn's corresponding funding cuts to Illinois mental health facilities, and the closing of six Chicago mental health clinics last year.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been vocal in condemning the incarceration of Chicago's mentally ill, who he says are regularly falling through the cracks of an at-capacity (and underfunded) prison system despite his best efforts to provide therapy and medication to those in need.

"This is a population that people don't care about and so as a result of that there are not the resources out there to care for them," Dart said in an interview on CBS 60 Minutes Sunday night.

In saying this, Dart touches on an even larger issue with the U.S. criminal justice system -- it has become a place for unwanted members of society to collect. Of course, those suffering from mental illnesses are but one group who, as we regretfully phrase it, "fall through the cracks." One could easily add to this list the poor, those with drug or alcohol addictions and a heartily disproportionate number of African-Americans and Hispanics.

Continue reading this entry »

Taylor Long

TIFs Fri Jul 12 2013

County Clerk Orr Sounds Quiet Alarm on TIF Overuse

Cook County Clerk David Orr, in a half-hour July 12 press conference releasing his office's required 2012 tax increment financing ("TIF") revenue report, highlighted the enormous amount of revenue siphoned from Chicago and Cook County taxpayers into TIF districts, and called for early declaration of surpluses within Chicago to fund needs like schools. Observing that billions of dollars have flowed into the now-over-500 districts, Orr released a video (embedded below) on the Clerk's website to help taxpayers grasp how the little-understood mechanisms work.

The video's tone suggests a school science filmstrip, kind of quiet in view of the alarming numbers, but this is government, not advocacy. At 2:41, over soothing guitar arpeggios, a pleasant female narrator says, "In most cases, taxpayers outside the TIFs pay more to generate the revenue requested by [their own] taxing districts." TIF critics such as the Reader's Ben Joravsky have hammered relentlessly on this, how TIFs hike your taxes, but it's easy to miss in the video unless you pause.

Orr's press conference was both longer and stronger than the official video. Noting that Chicago's collective TIF districts pull in half as many tax dollars as the City itself, Orr expressed concern that so "many taxpayer dollars are diverted into the Loop," charged that "not enough is being done in the neighborhoods," and that there has been little transparency as to how $5.5 billion in TIF dollars has been spent. He urged Mayor Emanuel and the City Council to declare a TIF surplus this year "as soon as possible" for the benefit of Chicago Public Schools, asking, "How do you explain to the kids in many of these schools that gym, music and art classes are cancelled while profitable businesses downtown ... received 25, 30, 40, 50 million?" Good question.

While Orr's remarks centered on Chicago, they echoed the same requests made by pressed suburban taxpayers for more transparency and accountability, better metrics, declarations of surpluses, and early retirement of no-longer-needed districts.

Overall, the video capably illustrates TIF workings and numbers, whose magnitude needs time to sink in, and Orr deserves credit for shining further light on what is now a gargantuan but opaque component of local governmental taxing and spending.

Jeff Smith

Health Care Tue Jun 18 2013

The Future of Chicago's Safety Net Hospitals

Roseland Community Hospital has been in the news recently because of its financial struggles. According to Crain's, Loretto Hospital in Austin is a possible purchaser of Roseland.

Roseland is a safety net hospital, which means it is what the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems describes as a hospital which provides "a significant level of care to low-income, uninsured, and vulnerable populations." A safety net hospital is not the same thing as a public hospital, which is operated by a government. Public hospitals can be safety net hospitals, but a safety net hospital is not a public hospital.

John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County is a public hospital that is also a safety net hospital. Mount Sinai Hospital is a safety net hospital, but it is not a public hospital.

The unfortunate thing about the news regarding Roseland is it might be a sign of what's to come for safety net hospitals. As time progresses, safety net hospitals need to come up with solutions on how to stay afloat as they could lose patients as a result of Medicaid expansion.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (4)

Chicago Tue Feb 12 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse: Geopolitics and Guns

The argument over gun control is not, as some want to frame it, primarily partisan, let alone a battle between those opposed to violence and those OK with it. It's as much a geographic and cultural divide as anything else. Understanding the different perspectives stemming from the very different homicide rates in very different areas is key to overcoming simplistic sloganeering or unfounded assumptions, and is critical to basing policy on evidence. Consider Chicago and Iowa, for starters.

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Jeff Smith

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.

Continue reading this entry »

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."

Continue reading this entry »


Election 2012 Fri Mar 30 2012

Cook County Regular Democratic Disorganization: Guzzardi and Berrios

by Caroline O'Donovan

The precinct captains, who had been preparing for election day for weeks, arrived at headquarters at 5:30am. A box of Dunkin Donuts, a campaign staple for liberals and conservatives, incumbents and challengers alike, was already waiting. Polls would open at 6 and not close for 13 hours; the day ahead would be long. Each captain was given a stack of door hangers, a list of addresses and a few volunteers while coffee brewed. The sole goal was to find as voters who had said they would support Will Guzzardi for state representative and ensure that they went to the polls.

To have informed the group of people assembled at Guzzardi headquarters that morning that voter turnout in the 39th District would be a record low this year would not have disheartened them. A low turnout rate could actually have been in their favor, because it meant that the machine operation of incumbent State Rep. Toni Berrios and her father Cook County Democratic Party chairman Joe Berrios, was underperforming.

Tellingly, it was not with voters on the street who campaign workers had the most fraught interactions last Tuesday, but with election judges at the polls. From reluctantly reported voter lists to lost tape to delayed results, many of the individuals who were voting and campaigning in the 39th district last Tuesday pointed to gross mismanagement on behalf of the Board of Elections. This claim made the final count, with Berrios leading Guzzardi by 111 votes, suspect to a number of Guzzardi supporters. The slim margin is frustrating to volunteers, some of whom have found it difficult not to want to find a connection between the strangely unprofessional behavior of the election judges and a loss that was just too close.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Event Mon Dec 05 2011

Preckwinkle and Brizard to Speak at Forum on Dropouts

On Wednesday, Dec. 7 a public policy forum will be held to discuss how to deal with dropouts. The forum is entitled "Re-Enrolling Out of School Youth: A State, County and City Blueprint," and will be held at the Union League Club from 9am until 12:30pm.

The forum will feature Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico.

At the forum a new study entitled "High School Dropouts in Chicago and Illinois: The Growing Labor Market, Income, Civic, Social and Fiscal Costs of Dropping Out of High School," authored by Dr. Andrew Sum of Northeastern University, will be released. Sum will also be one of the participants at the forum.

There is currently no more space for people to attend the forum.

Monica Reida

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Health Care Thu Sep 22 2011

To Treat Everyone, Part Two: Fantus Health Center

This is Part Two of a series examining health care in Cook County.
The Fantus Health Center provides a stark contrast to its neighbor, Stroger Hospital, making the latter seem almost a paragon of quality public healthcare with its modern design and efficient organization. The clinic, named after Dr. Bernard Fantus, who started the world's first blood bank at Cook County Hospital, is about 50 years old and shows signs of age from grime on the floors of the entryway. Immediately upon entering, you're greeted by a cacophony of conversations between people waiting to pick up their prescriptions and the numbers of people being served constantly being called out like a Department of Motor Vehicles station. Because of the size of the waiting area and possibly the dark walls and lighting, the waiting area for the pharmacy seemed to be more crowded than the ER waiting area at Stroger Hospital.

"Fantus is probably what most people think our health system is like," Sonja Vogel, Communications and Marketing Director for Stroger Hospital and the Ambulatory and Community Health Network (ACHN), said while walking to the building.

The outpatient clinic is noisy, dim, grim, busy and pharmacy area has a smell reminiscent of processed cheese in boxed macaroni and cheese. On the first floor, the pharmacy is the first thing that patients and visitors are greeted by, before turning down a hallway where The Lifestyles Center and Ambulatory Screening Clinic (ASC) are located.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (2)

Health Care Thu Sep 15 2011

To Treat Everyone, Part One: Stroger Hospital

This is Part One of a series examining health care in Cook County.

The lobby for John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County, is a clean, bright, modern space. On the left side of the lobby are a gift shop and coffee counter run by the auxiliary board, which uses the money to help buy furniture for the hospital and gifts for mothers that give birth in the hospital. In the center of the lobby is an information desk where a sign telling visitors to get in line sits at the front of a roped off area to contain the line. The windows near the elevators are large, allowing those waiting to see greenery around the Stroger campus as well as the older Fantus Health Center building while sun streams through the windows.

What is the oddest thing about Stroger Hospital is that it does not seem to fit any conception of a public hospital most people hold.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (2)

Local Elections Fri Nov 05 2010

Election Day with a Long-shot

There are some longtime rituals on Election Day that politically active American citizens repeat every election cycle. Voters gather in homes or public places on the first Tuesday of November and watch televised up-to-the-second exit poll figures and vote tallies. They arrive at these parties with some basic expectations: their party will win some, and their party will lose some. Hopefully the former will outweigh the latter. If not, they can try again in two years.

A strange atmosphere hangs in the air of such a get-together put on by a party that considers five percent of the vote a victory. No one goes to a Green Party election-watching expecting their candidates to win the majority of the electorate--no one. It's like rooting for the Cubs, except the Greens never even make it to the playoffs.

But Election Day 2010 was different. The party that accepts losing as a way of life thought that maybe they would get to win.

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (2)

Elections Wed Nov 03 2010

Berrios Wins; Most Everyone Loses

It may not have been the most high-profile race of the evening, but in many ways, the contest for Cook County Assessor between Democrat Joe Berrios and Independent Forrest Claypool may have been the most symbolic. In a victory for Machine-style patronage, Berrios cruised to a win with 48% of the vote to Claypool's nearly 32%.

Claypool HQ.JPG
Claypool Campaign HQ on Election Night

The largely white, relatively sparse, yet immensely supportive crowd at Claypool's election headquarters remained fairly subdued all evening, with expectations tempered by both the moneyed interests and the large Hispanic support Berrios was poised to receive throughout the city and county. Now, Berrios, the already clout-heavy chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, gets to openly operate as Assessor what have been his overtly tax-friendly tactics towards Loop high-rises while he served as a member of the Board of Review. If history proves to repeat itself, coupled with the political power that comes with the Assessor's office, Berrios will be looking towards the neighborhoods to make up the difference in collection.

Which leads to the inevitable question of how anyone in the neighborhoods could throw their vote behind such a candidate. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of identity politics is that it can also serve to eliminate true discussion of any possible consequences of long-term destructiveness of certain candidate's policies. The long-time congressman and 2nd Ward Alderman William Dawson is a shining example of such in Chicago's past. One of the great ironies of the long-arc of democracy as well is that the well-intentioned inclusiveness of identity politics - at least initially a way to excite and engage masses - can often lead to alienating and discouraging the most strident and most needed believers behind an honest candidate's cause. As one of Claypool's volunteers said, right before his concession, "there's something adrenalizing about getting involved in a campaign like this, and yet, it's demoralizing" knowing the outcome.

Claypool's concession speech highlighted the success of the campaign in "planting seeds" for good government. With Toni Preckwinkle's victory in the Cook County Board President race, there's room to believe that these good government seeds may slowly be taking root. Till then, here's hoping Cook County is able to cure its case of What's the Matter with Kansas-itis and we're not all taxed out of our underwater homes in the interim.

Claypool Fam.JPG
Forrest Claypool delivering his concession speech for Cook County Assessor

Ben Schulman / Comments (3)

TIFs Mon Aug 23 2010

TIF for That: Fritchey Teams Up With Teachers, Parents on Reform

State Representative John Fritchey, who will be giving up his seat in the state house representing the 11th District to replace Forrest Claypool on the Cook County Board of Commissioners (assuming he wins in November), is teaming up with the Chicago Teachers Union and the Raise Your Hand Coalition to push comprehensive reform of the tax increment financing, or TIF, program. The reforms could end the exploitation of TIFs by the Mayor's office as a cudgel, and restore significant funds to taxing bodies--particularly the schools--that have seen billions of dollars disappear over the last couple decades.

Tax increment financing was created by state statute in the 1970s as a way to provide incentives to develop blighted areas. TIF areas are designated by municipalities; within those areas, property tax assessments are frozen at the level they were at when the zone was designated. The land is still assessed and the taxes on the increase are still collected, but they are diverted into a site-specific fund rather than being paid to the various taxing bodies that typically collect them. Those bodies are, primarily, school districts, counties, the municipality itself, and sanitation and fire districts, among others. The idea is that without the incentive, that tax money would never have been raised in the first place, and so those taxing bodies are not actually losing anything.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Elections Tue Aug 17 2010

How Did Joe Berrios Fail to Buy JoeBerrios.Com?

This would be understandable in, say, 2004, when political consultants were still treating the internet like an embarrassing nerdy friend in middle school. In 2010, when it is basically the cornerstone of communication in the United States, it is mind boggling that the Joe Berrios campaign did not buy Berrios is the Chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization--the organization that was once synonymous with the Chicago political Machine. If there was any doubt that the Machine is gone--and that even Machine Lite may be faltering in the face of a new era of political communication--it is the fact that the Berrios campaign was not together enough to buy their Chairman's eponymous domain.

It may be mostly a moral victory for Forrest Claypool*--how many votes for Cook County Assessor will truly be changed by diligent googling--but it should be a humiliating lesson for Berrios and his team. What's worse, Claypool's side is not treating it as a mere moral victory, using the domain to go after Berrios' character pretty seriously--and devastatingly, by using third parties like the Better Government Association and the Trib.

There's probably a strong instinct for schadenfreude in this case, given Berrios' terrible reputation among the city's political media. But if you're of the more charitable type, take a look at his big ol' smile and imagine him sadly typing his own name into his web browser and seeing a screaming headline calling him pay to play personified.


Sittin' there all sad, hitting refresh...

*Note his campaign URL.

UPDATE, 2:15PM: According to Scott Cisek at the Cook County Democratic Party, has been owned for over two years. The Berrios team apparently believes an ally of out-going assessor James Houlihan gave the domain to the Claypool people.

Tom Bowen, spokesman for the Claypool campaign, took that wryly. "Berrios has been an elected official since 1988."

Bowen did confirm that the domain was donated to the campaign. "Someone contacted us and thought that Joe Berrios was such a bad choice for public office that he wanted to help...whatever way he could." Bowen was not able to immediately confirm or deny whether it was in fact a Houlihan ally who provided the domain.

Cisek indicated that the Berrios people are preparing an official rebuttal to what he called "libel" and misleading quotes on the microsite.

Of course, the real story is the content of the site, not the origin of the domain purchase--though for internet geeks it provides a good meme to get re-interested in history's longest campaign season. We'll await Berrios' reply for a proper evaluation.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Cook County Mon Jun 21 2010

Claypool Will Make the Ballot

I can't believe how much is ink is being spilled over the race for Cook County Assessor. While the Assessor can be an important advocate and has some policy-making flexibility, it is essentially an administrative office. Actually, maybe I can believe the ink being spilled since nowadays it's not very much ink. Maybe we need to update that cliche. I can't believe how many 1s and 0s are being coded? Too nerdy. I don't know, I'll work on that and get back to you.

Here's a modest prediction regarding that election anyway: Forrest Claypool, the independent politics darling who took on John Stroger in 2006, will make the ballot despite the onerous 25,000 signature requirement. Claypool has gathered a sufficient quantity, and, oddly enough, Scott Lee Cohen may help ensure his signatures survive.

How does bad-premise-screwball-comedy Scott Lee Cohen play into this? His oddball pursuit of an independent run for the governor's office may bring enough additional media attention to the process in the beginning to allow the Claypool people to hype any signature-challenge chicanery (or perceived chicanery) early on. The Berrios campaign is actually at a kind of disadvantage--even following the letter of the law, by challenging signatures, they may look petty or, worse, fearful of a campaign against Claypool, which will only add to his esteem among independent voters (it probably won't help that Joe Berrios is the chair of the county party). While we should probably expect Berrios' campaign to be aggressive, the public attention on the process could give Claypool a significant boost that may not be worth the electoral repercussions should he survive the challenge.

Ramsin Canon

Wage Theft Tue Apr 27 2010

Wage Theft Crime Spree: What Will Stop It?


Victor Hernendez addresses a rally in the state capital in Springfield. Hernendez was a victim of wage theft.

You work assuming you'll be paid, but too often, workers are simply denied what they're owed. It happened to Kim Kambra who worked at Jericho Products in Springwood. "They didn't pay me. I worked over 55 hours a week and they paid me for one week out of the last 10 weeks. My house went into foreclosure and I lost the legal rights to my house even though I still live there."

Kambra was one of many Jericho employees who were not paid. Computer programmer Bill Van Dusen worked for 12 years at Jericho but for three months in 2008 and another three months in 2009, Dusen was not paid. "I had to use the money we saved for our kids' education to pay our bills."

Jericho went beyond not paying their employees. The company "stole our deductions for health insurance and child support. They collected that but didn't pay it to the proper person they needed to pay it to," according to Van Dusen.

However, Jericho's owners have been paid handsomely. Kevin Lynch, one of the owners of Jericho Products would have wild venison for his dogs and chrome parts for his car delivered to the company while three employees' homes went into foreclosure.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Wage Theft Thu Apr 08 2010

More Than $7 Million Stolen From Locals Every Week

A group of researchers released a report [PDF] this week finding that local low-wage workers are the victims of wage theft to the tune of more than $350 million a year, or $7 million a week. The researchers, primarily from the Center of Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, surveyed over a thousand workers from low wage industries, including those paid "under the table," undocumented workers, and those considered "independent contractors". This shocking finding is just the most appalling; the study is rife with data demonstrating widespread criminal exploitation of employees throughout the Chicagoland area. A shocking number of workers are criminally denied vested rights in the workplace, including denial of overtime and breaks, a lack of accounting of wages owed and paid, and sleight-of-hand to avoid providing legally required vacation or paid time off. This failure to enforce these laws and protect these people is grievous, but not surprising: it is part of a pattern of coddling employers.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Democrats Thu Apr 08 2010

Forrest Claypool's Frontal Assault

Former County Board Commissioner Forrest Claypool has announced he'll take on County Democratic Party Chairman and Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Claypool in announcing his independent candidacy called Berrios a "clear threat" to Cook County taxpayers. That strikes a similar tone to his slogan when he ran for the Board Presidency in 2006, "It's YOUR Money, Vote Like It". Claypool's 2006 voters provided a base for Toni Preckwinkle's 2010 primary victory; good government Lakefront and suburban voters whose primary interaction with County government is to pay it. Preckwinkle's resounding primary victory may have provided a template for Claypool's path to an independent victory.

Still, going outside the Democratic Primary process is a cardinal sin in local politics. Taking on the Party Chairman is even more of an affront to party discipline, and making the Assessor's office an organizing focus for the good government wing of the party--as against the traditional Machine Lite elements--must be particularly galling for the party faithful. This is because party-connected attorneys have long made property tax appeals a lucrative revenue source.

If Claypool can get on the ballot, watch him gobble up the Preckwinkle voters--whether that will be enough to overcome Berrios' party line advantage is impossible to predict, but it could exacerbate a rift in the Machine Lite ruling coalition. Mayor Daley and the county party rely on a truce with the "Lakefront Liberal" good government groups on major issues; Claypool candidacy could force a public break between the party and independent organizations that would rub raw some sores.

Keep in mind that getting on the ballot is no sure thing--Claypool will need 25,000 valid signatures, and none of his petition-passers can have passed petitions during the primary. And with the Party apparatus behind him, Berrios will surely be scouring the petitions for technically invalid signatures.

Ramsin Canon

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.

Continue reading this entry »

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Elections Wed Feb 03 2010

2010 Primary Kudos

Yesterday Illinois had their primaries for such positions as Governor, Senator, and locally Cook County Board President.

First let's talk about the Governor's race.

Dan Hynes I will give him a lot of credit for making the Democratic primary more of a horse race than it was already. That was a good ad and although many people may have had a problem with it, it almost certainly made this race a close race. What Mayor Harold Washington said over 20 years ago was almost as prescient about Quinn's current situation as it was then.

Dan Proft Well I won't hold my breath over what I wish would happen. I think what he had said during the course of this campaign was spot-on. Hopefully he will continue to push for a policy revolution and the creation of unconventional coalitions to make needed changes in our state. Hopefully this race for Governor won't be his only foray as a candidate.

Mark Kirk I really never liked the term RINO. I can understand that we know that there are those who will sacrifice their principals or their party's principals for whatever. It's just that such a label can be easily used frivolously especially if say a Republican may generally agree with fellow Republicans on such and such issues. Let's say someone out there may want to call Ron Paul a RINO, although his views on the issues may bring needed energy to the Republican Party in general.

Continue reading this entry »


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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

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


Continue reading this entry »

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

Race Tue Jan 12 2010

Soldiers for Stroger Fliers


These two fliers have been lighting up the blogosphere. You see posts at Capitol Fax, Illinois Review, Newsalert, Chicago Current, and there's even one at Instapundit about these fliers.

Rich Miller mentions the flyer in terms of the news that Rep. Bobby Rush, who he says is "infamous for his race-baiting ways," will endorse Stroger. Then goes back and says that Rush would "have a tough time topping a group called 'Soldiers for Stroger,' headed by Gator Bradley, which is distributing some pretty nasty fliers on behalf of the board president."

For the County Board President's part in this story, at least he is attempting to keep himself distant from the messages on these flyers:

The Stroger campaign released a statement late last night denying any involvement.

"The Stroger for President campaign did not produce or distribute the flyers in question. The Stroger campaign does not endorse or condone this type of behavior or activity," it said.

I posted here a video about Black religious leaders attempting to drum up support for Todd Stroger. The concern there as it appears to be here is that without Stroger, blacks could lose the County Board presidency.

You know it just seems so easy to pull the race card!

Levois / Comments (2)

Chicago Mon Jan 11 2010

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The trafficking of human beings from foreign lands into the United States has caught plenty of media attention. The narrative of young women from Eastern European and South Asian countries being promised work in America, only to be forced into labor- or sexual-exploitation is familiar.

But homegrown trafficking is just as serious. Because of the illicit nature of the industry, numbers are hard to come by. The legal and academic literature on the matter is littered with phrases like "to an unknown extent" and "ambiguity in scope." But in Chicago, many women are forced into prostitution by family members and boyfriends, pimped out for money by force, or worse.

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness day, and the Chicago group Traffick Free is spreading awareness tonight by screening the film Cargo: Innocence Lost, followed by a Q&A with local experts on the matter. The event takes place at Park Community Church, 1001 N. Crosby St., at 7pm. See Traffick Free's website, linked above, for more information.

Danny Fenster

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

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 Mon Dec 21 2009

The Cook County Wars

[Ed. Note: This is an editorial by UIC professor and former alderman Dick Simpson]
Simpson, Dick.jpgWhen it comes down to voting patterns, Chicago aldermen are easily dominated by Mayor Richard Daley, who has ensured the city council serves as a rubber stamp of his policies.

The reverse happens when the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Todd Stroger, gavels a meeting into session. Members of the county board are in full-scale rebellion with Stroger at the helm, sharpening their rhetorical weapons and casting, more often than, nay votes on his priorities.

As he wades into a reelection campaign that could make or break his political career, Stroger must contend with the realities of his diminished executive power. He can't wield the bully pulpit like other politicians and he can't browbeat commissioners into sticking with him.

Take a look at the numbers my colleagues at the University of Illinois-Chicago and I recently compiled.

Since 2007, 23 of Chicago's 50 aldermen agreed 100 percent of the time with Mayor Daley's take on controversial issues that divided the council and required a roll call vote. Another seven aldermen cast their ballots with the mayor more than 90 percent of the time on such votes.

In other words, for the past two years, the mayor has been able to count on two-thirds of aldermen agreeing with his positions on the most contentious issues that come before city council the vast majority of the time. Stroger's hard-core supporters on the 17-member county board are few, however. Just four commissioners supported Stroger on divided roll call votes more that 75 percent of the time. They are William Beavers (100 percent), Jerry Butler (93 percent), Deborah Sims (92 percent) and Joseph Moreno (93 percent).

The trend is particularly evident in the battles to pass and then repeal an increase in the county share of retail sales taxes.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

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.

Continue reading this entry »

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.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Cook County Tue Dec 08 2009

Rich Miller on Todd Stroger

From The Capitol Fax blog:

The elder Stroger stuck his neck out for Daley time and time again. I agree that there's a serious debt there that can never be fully repaid, but John Stroger was county board president for quite a while and the son was dragged across the finish line and given every chance to prove himself. He screwed up. Debts only last so long, particularly political debts to somebody who had nothing to do with the original debt and who has so thoroughly screwed up his family's formerly solid name.

Heh! This was in response to a recent Mary Mitchell column that was critical of Mayor Daley in not backing the incumbent Cook County board president.

Can I just say that if I was to ever write a novel, I would write one based on the story of the Stroger family. Both father and son.

The father will be portrayed as a great man, although I know there are many who may not have cared for him as Cook County board president. Then I write about the son with the idea that sometimes greatness can skip a generation.

Levois / Comments (2)

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

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Nov 04 2009

Contract Negotiations Update

Some updates on union contract negotiations around town:

[CTA Tattler]: CTA bus drivers union weighs strike to protest layoffs

The union president, Darrell Jefferson, goes on to insist the CTA's budget deficit is actually $500 million, not the $300 million cited by the CTA. But the union will continue to resist any givebacks, including furlough days.

[Chicago Tribune]: Hotel workers authorize strike at downtown Starwood hotels

Chicago hotel workers voted Wednesday evening to authorize a strike at five downtown Starwood hotels.

A union spokesman said if contract negotiations drag on, similar votes could occur at downtown Hyatt and Hilton hotels. Union contracts covering 6,000 workers at 31 hotels in downtown Chicago expired Aug. 31, and the union has said a settlement is far from sight.

[AFSCME Local 3486]: Contract Negotiations Update: Running in Place

With a federal mediator in place at the end of the table, the Union and Management traded barbs as the contract stalemate continues. AFSCME continues to demand that management provide us with an updated wages proposal, which the county will not as the tax issue continues to drag on before the county board.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Cook County Wed Oct 14 2009

State House Action on Cook County Board, in Tweet Form

John Fritchey tweet from the state house--the House votes to remove the impossible 4/5ths bar needed to override a Presidential veto (Will Burns tweets that several black members of the House rose in opposition) and that a measure to reduce the sales tax in Cook County fails.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Wed Oct 14 2009

Todd Stroger endorsed by a group of Black ministers

We all have our feelings about Todd Stroger and the job he's doing since he became county board president in 2006. Today we find out that the state House has voted in favor of a bill to reduce the threshold for overriding a veto from fourth/fifths of county commissioners to three/fifths but also were unable to roll back the seemingly unpopular penny on the dollar sales tax.

This video from ABC7 is really old news from yesterday. Stroger got one out of two today, but seemingly got a decent boost with this endorsement yesterday. In endorsing Stroger for re-election to the county board president slot, they called for Rep. Danny Davis, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, and circuit court Clerk Dorothy Brown to remain in their current position.

Even with this boost Todd Stroger has a long way up. Watch this video interview Stroger did in Springfield with Rich Miller at the CapFax, it's indicated here by Miller. Check out this report from Mike Flannery, it's indicated there as well. Danny Davis says he has polling that has him leading Todd Stroger in an election in both videos from ABC7 and Mike Flannery.

Either way in making this endorsement the ministers know that most of the people in their congregation may well listen to them. Indeed in wanting to clear the field of the black challengers, they want to be sure that a black will remain in the position of county board president. There is a white challenger in Terrence O'Brien who currently sits on the Water Reclamation District.

Well, there is a question in my mind. Were these ministers wise in endorsing Stroger in this race? Couldn't they have endorsed any of the challengers?


Chicago Fri Oct 09 2009

Tom Dart For Mayor? Unlikely

Kevin Robinson of Chicagoist and Don Rose of the batshit crazy Chicago Daily Observer Chicago Daily Observer think Sheriff Tom Dart could run for mayor and win. Since Dart turned down the possibility to run for senate (and probably win) I doubt he'd go for the mayoral job. It's not as prestigious as the senate ,rife with corruption --as we all know-- and just much murkier. If I had to bet money I'd say he's happy being sheriff and plans to stay sheriff for quite a while.


Daniel Strauss / Comments (1)

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 Mon Sep 28 2009

Truth about the Cook County Sales Tax

This leaflet was handed out at the recently held Chicago Football Classic on Saturday. In fact they had children hand these leaflets out before game where two HBCU (Historically Black College/University) football teams Mississippi Valley State University had defeated Alabama State University 10-3 at Soldier Field. Of course this wasn't the only political activity there on that day as Congressman Danny Davis, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, and a woman named Kari K. Steele (from Chicago's Sixth Ward) were seeking petition signatures respective for County Board President and Commissioner on the Water Reclamation District.

Anyway, here's the flier explaining the purpose of the Cook County sales tax it doesn't seem to advocate for a reduction of it. In fact it seems to want to qwell some of the bellyaching over the fact that Cook County has the highest sales tax in the county.

Continue reading this entry »

Levois / Comments (1)

Cook County Tue Sep 22 2009

To Judge How To Be A Judge

Sun-Times reporter Abdon Pallasch has a beautifully written and deeply researched piece on the slating of Cook County Judges. The slating process--or "ballot management"--is a practice sacred to the County political bosses. The authority of slating is where they generate much of their political capital. Not only from the people they choose, but from the legions of people who serve the Party loyally in hopes of one day being slated--or of having a big enough name to get somebody else slated. Pallasch mentions a judge named William Haddad--Haddad's experiences gave me the idea to write the piece on ballot management I posted in 2004. It was an off the record conversation with Haddad about his endorsement by the Party that gave me some of the background ideas. That piece of course was based on casual hearsay conversations with various political hacks and precinct workers I would never call "journalism". Pallasch's piece refers to that 2004 Haddad campaign and really gets into how slating looks and works.

There is something to be said for this process--for all the horse-trading and political hackery involved, a society where the courts harden into a clubbish aristocracy is not what we want, either. There is a middle road in there somewhere.

My favorite bit, but, really, read the whole thing:

Here's who wins judicial elections in Cook County: Women with Irish names. For whatever reason in this county where roughly half the residents are women and 17 percent claim Irish ancestry, women lawyers with Irish names win more than 50 percent of all countywide judicial elections.

That's why lawyers of Jewish or other ancestry often legally adopt Irish names to run for judge here. That's why when party leaders slate men without Irish names, such as William Haddad, who would have been the first Arab-American full-circuit judge in Cook County, the party must recruit Irish women lawyers to run as "ringers" or "stalking horses" to flood the ballot and fracture the Irish-woman vote.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Tue Sep 15 2009

Chicago Justice Project On the Cook County State's Attorney Sinkhole

CJP wonders why there's no real data coming from that office.

Some pieces of information that we do not know about CCSAO:

How many prosecutors does the office employ?

What are the demographics of the prosecutors throughout the office?

What percentage of cases brought to the Office by the Chicago Police Department in violent crime cases result in charges being pursued?

Who are the prosecutors that are making decisions regarding whether or not to pursue charges in violent crimes?

What are the demographics of the prosecutors making these decisions?

What are the demographics of the individuals involved in the cases that are being turned down and the cases the Office pursues?

How do the rates vary for pursuing charges by location of the crime and the class, race, and ethnicity of the victims and offenders?

Very good questions.

Ramsin Canon

Cook County Fri Sep 11 2009

WBEZ On the Slating Meeting

WBEZ has a great report from inside the Cook County Democratic Party Slating Committee meeting this week. The full meeting happens today. Here are some interesting facts* that WBEZ didn't report on:

  • Alderman Dick Mell asked candidate for County Board Terry O'Brien, "I'm interested to know, in terms of the veto override provisions that are ultimately determined by the state legislature, Irishdingussayswhat?" To which O'Brien responded, "What?"
  • County Recorder of Deeds Eugene "Gene" Moore actually introduces himself by saying, "Hello, I'm Eugene 'Gene' Moore" while making air quotes.
  • Karen Yarborough, Commiteeman for Proviso Township, travels around with an aide who announces, "Proviso Township, Entering!" when she enters a room, and "Proviso Township, Retiring!" when she leaves.
  • Ald. Toni Preckwinkle yawned loudly during one of Committeeman Ira Silverstein's questions, and then interrupted him and said, "Man, Silverstein, you're so boring you make P.J. Cullerton (38th) sound like Randy Barnette (39th)!" She actually said the parentheticals.
  • Committeeman John Fritchey head-butted Steve Landek, but it was a "friend head butt".
  • When hotel staff wheeled in refreshments, Secretary of State Jesse White asked for a "tumbler" of Diet Pepsi. Nobody laughed.
  • Mike Madigan peeled an entire apple without breaking the skin, then revealed that it was actually a human heart.
  • In a spirit of unity, Secretary of State Jesse White pledged that the Party would unite behind any candidate it endorsed. "We'll tumble for you," he added. Some people laughed.
  • Committeeman Bob Rita took Committeeman Wilbert Crowley's hand and slapped him across the face with it, then asked him why he was hitting himself.
  • Howard Brookins asked John Daley if he liked Harry Potter more than Twilight. Daley rolled his eyes and said, "Is John A. Pope (10th) Catholic?"
*None of these are actually facts. Although I do think John A. Pope is Catholic.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

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

Cook County Thu Aug 06 2009

Cook's Stimulus

Pro Publica has the breakdown of stimulus money that has come into Cook County. By number, it looks like higher education and housing are the big recipients--in the form of Section 8 and Pell grants.

Although, here are some big ones that warmed my heart a bit:




Ramsin Canon

Cook County Thu Jul 09 2009

Burris Out, What About Dart?

Well thank god. Roland Burris isn't going to run for reelection. It's not such big news since his polling indicated he had a steep climb to retain the senate seat. That leaves Mark Kirk as the probably Republican contender and who knows for the Democrats. Maybe Chris Kennedy? We'll see.

I actually had a crazy thought today: What about Illinois Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart? You may recall Dart as that Sheriff from around Chicago who got fed up with evicting people from their houses. Yup, that's the guy I'm talking about. In the process he also stood up to banks who had been critical of him for not enforcing the law. In short, Dart disagreed.

So basically, this sheriff stands up to banks, he's a Democrat, he's popular, and he's a law abiding citizen. That's a pretty rare combination in Chicago and Illinois and a pretty appealing resume these days.

Daniel Strauss

Cook County Thu Jun 25 2009

To Protect and Serve (Themselves)

The information surrounding the horrendous verdict on the Anthony Abbate case keeps getting more interesting. A group called the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL), which usually endorses liberal and progressive causes, gave two separate endorsements of the judge responsible for this travesty of justice - Judge John J. Fleming.

In the first evaluation of Judge Fleming, for his primary election, the CCL maintained in a memo dated March 1996 that:

We have received significant reports that Mr. Fleming lacks a responsible attitude and good judgment in his work. The Council finds him Not Qualified.

In November of 2002, when he was up for retention, the Council switched him to "qualified":

As a floater, Judge Fleming temporarily substitutes for judges who - by reason of illness, vacation or schedule conflicts - cannot hear their regularly assigned matters. In this position, Judge Fleming typically handles a large volume of cases on a daily basis, but has little continuity of contact with any of them. Perhaps because of this lack of continuity, the Council has received very few reports from lawyers who regularly appear before Judge Fleming. The available information suggests that Judge Fleming handles his assignment efficiently, that he has good legal ability and temperament, and that he is fair and unbiased. We therefore find him Qualified for retention.

First he was lacking in judgment and responsibility, and now he's "fair and unbiased". Interesting how things change after someone gets elected. In a more recent memo from October 3rd, 2008, Fleming was endorsed again by the CCL:

Judge Fleming is reported to have good legal ability and handles his assignment efficiently. He has good temperament and is considered to be fair and unbiased. Some lawyers complain that he is not punctual in taking the bench, but Judge Fleming explained during this evaluation process that he is working in chambers when not hearing cases. The Council finds him Qualified for retention.

The CCL bills itself as "the public interest bar association that promotes a fair and effective legal system, using judicial evaluations, amicus curiae briefs, publications, seminars and investigations of agencies and courts".

Interestingly enough, this judge was also found to be qualified by numerous other groups in the most recent election, including the Women's Bar Association of Illinois and the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precent Organization (IVI-IPO).

Looks like these (seemingly helpful) organizations need to do a better vetting job before qualifying judges who are intent on continuing the Chicago tradition of covering up for the cops. This kind of behavior from elected officials should add to the rancor that is fueling tomorrow's protest of the boys in blue who sparked the 1968 "police riot".

Timothy Morin / Comments (1)

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 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.


Special Election IL05 Thu Feb 26 2009

Geoghegan Files Suit for Special Senate Election

Today, IL-05 Congressional candidate Tom Geoghegan filed a lawsuit against Governor Pat Quinn, claiming Quinn has failed to uphold the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. I could parse the suit and bore you to tears, or you can check out the complaint yourself here (PDF).

It's an interesting strategy for Geoghegan to go after Quinn on reform. It's debatable whether Quinn should lose his street cred as a reformer just yet. The newly sworn in Quinn has only just started to make heads or tails of the mess left by everyone's favorite impeached, potty-mouthed Elvis fan. Should Quinn really be spending his time and political capital throwing out Burris and forcing a special election when the primary is just under fourteen months away? Should this be a top priority while our state is basically on the verge of shutting down?

Certainly, if Geoghegan is successful in forcing special elections for appointments permanently, the people of Illinois are better off. But I wonder if this leaves Geoghegan better off politically? Will voters in IL-05 see this as an attack on Quinn? Will the five billion other IL-05 candidates jump in on this issue and accuse Geoghegan of attacking Quinn?

And the biggest question of all: Do voters in IL-05 even care? I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Charlotte Lynn / Comments (1)

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 Sun Dec 21 2008

Tom Dart's Ruse

Via the AP. Good work, Sheriff Dart!

Chicago sheriff baits fugitives with holiday ruse

CHICAGO (AP) -- The sheriff's office in Chicago has arrested more than 60 fugitives with a net of holiday cheer. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Sunday that the suspects were invited to take a retailers' survey for holiday shoppers at a hotel earlier this month.

The article is really short -- go read the whole thing.

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

State Politics Fri Dec 12 2008

Crook County - A Quick Conversation about Chicago Politics

From's Michael C. Moynihan talks about the long history of corruption in Chicago politics and the current troubles of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich with Terry Michael, former press spokesman for the Illinois House Democrats and former press secretary for Sen. Paul Simon, and Mike Flynn, Director of Government Affairs at the Reason Foundation.


Chicago Tue Dec 02 2008

What is Good Government?

Last month I posted a blog that spring-boarded off an article from this website I like to read, The main thesis of this article is that the government by its nature isn't "liberal" and it doesn't do what it is supposed to do.

Well, needless to say, LewRockwell is a libertarian website that would say that there are some functions that government assumes but these functions are better served by the market. Well, the reason why I write this post isn't at this moment to argue about what offers the best services: private entities or the government.

I wanted to somehow relate that article with the state of government -- well, mostly in the city, since city government is delivering most of the services we rely on. We could expand this topic to talk about county government or state government. But let's focus on city government for now.

It has often been said that the residents of the city of Chicago will tolerate a certain amount of corruption as long as city services are delivered and government is well run. Never mind what the U.S. attorneys or anyone else might discover as far as something illegal in city government.

But perhaps someone should ask the question: What does good government entail to those of you who live in the city? Or indeed I could ask about any aspect of government in Illinois. What is good government?

A better question: What do you expect from your government?


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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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