PI Original Adam Doster Friday December 3rd, 2010, 5:51pm

The PI Week In Review

The week that was in Illinois politics and government (November 29 - December 3).

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In The Statehouse

It was a historic week in Illinois. By a slim margin, both chambers in the General Assembly approved legislation that allows both heterosexual and same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

The debate on the House floor Tuesday night was dramatic. "Once in every generation," said State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) (pic 1), the bill's chief sponsor, "legislatures across the country have a chance to advance the cause of liberty and justice for all." Gov. Pat Quinn was in Springfield to watch both chambers pass the historic legislation (SB 1716) and he plans to "follow his conscience" and sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk. On Thursday, we explained what rights and benefits same-sex couples will be able to obtain when the law goes into effect on June 1, 2011.

Gay rights wasn't the only issue lawmakers addressed under the capitol dome (pic 2) this week. Both chambers overwhelmingly passed a bill that will make cuts to pensions for future police officers and firefighters, a move that infuriated Chicago Mayor Richard Daley; the House rejected legislation that would have created a three-year pilot program allowing the prescription of marijuana for patients with some debilitating health conditions; a bill to abolish the death penalty cleared a House committee on a narrow vote but was held from full consideration; the State Senate approved a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois; a (troubled) plan proposed by the Chicago Cubs to fix up Wrigley Field using public dollars was met with stony silence; and Illinois House Democrats re-elected Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) to the lower chamber's top position.

After a busy week in the statehouse, legislators from both chambers returned to their districts Thursday. That doesn't mean, however, that the General Assembly's veto session is over. Far from it. Legislative leaders have already scheduled several session days for the beginning of January -- before the next batch of representatives are sworn in on January 12.

In The Municipal Races ...

This year's municipal election cycle is going to be a busy one. A Progress Illinois analysis of aldermanic races over the past three municipal election cycles shows unprecedented interest in Chicago's City Council. In dozens of wards (pic 7) across the entirety of the city, more people want a seat in the council than ever before. The uptick in candidates is remarkable.

While the hopefuls seeking all 50 aldermanic slots have now turned their nominating petitions over to city election officials, it doesn't mean the candidates are guaranteed to make it onto the February 22, 2011 ballot. Campaigns are using all sorts of techniques to boot opponents out of contention or play defense against someone else's ballot challenge. The first day of hearings is Monday.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis earned the top spot on the ballot for Chicago mayor. The coveted position was chosen Wednesday by lottery at the Chicago Board of Elections. But Rahm Emanuel got a leg up on his rivals by unveiling his second television ad of the season, titled "Tenacity." (He also found one ... interesting way to build up a voter database.)

Several of Chicago's mayoral candidates talked good government issues this week, which is a historical weakness in the city. We broke down their plans here. And Miguel del Valle took Emanuel to task, criticizing his fellow Democrat for failing to do more to move immigration reform through Capitol Hill as a congressman and during his tenure as President Obama's Chief of Staff.

State Sen. James Meeks (pic 5) is quickly becoming the most conservative candidate in Chicago's mayoral race. After voting against the civil unions bill in Springfield, Meeks' camp sent out a press release promising that he would look to reduce pension benefits for future city workers if he was elected in February.

Lastly, former U.S. Senator Roland Burris is back at his home in Chicago, and with supporters having filed petition signatures to get him on the ballot, he is still considering a run for Mayor.

In Chicago And Cook County ...

After this week, Cook County won't have Todd Stroger (pic 4) to kick around anymore. The county's Board President presided over his last meeting Wednesday, ending a four-year run infamous for patronage, corruption, ethics violations, budget shortages, and, of course, a sales tax hike. On his way out the door, he called the latter item his greatest accomplishment. (In less surprising news, an invoice dug up by the Tribune found that Stroger provided families whose homes were damaged by floods with a trip to the Brookfield Zoo in September with nearly $79,000 in federal grant money that was allocated to restore those residences.)

Speaking of turnover, several names surfaced as possible replacements on the Cook County Board of Review. (Democrat Joe Berrios will soon take over as Cook County Assessor.)

Daley jumped head-first into some of the most contentious city and statewide debates involving incarceration and crime, including the abolition of the death penalty. After several investigations found that dubious evidence, racial discrimination, and prosecutorial misconduct tainted scores of Illinois capital cases, the state placed a moratorium on its death penalty one decade ago. As a state's attorney in the 1980s, Daley himself convicted four men of murder who were later exonerated.

Education stakeholders in Chicago, meanwhile, are watching how the appointment of a publishing CEO to lead New York City's public school system plays out in Gotham and thinking through what that move might mean for CPS. And the Chicago City Council will hold a special meeting Monday to decide on three referendums that would give voters the chance to weigh in on the lease of the parking meters, the hiring of additional police officers, and a tax on financial traders.

Want to get involved in city politics? Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced that his office is now accepting applications to replace aldermen in three city wards.

In Washington ...

The economy is still scuffling along, according to the latest jobs report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Absent additional stimulus from Congress, the national unemployment rate (pic 6) crept back up to 9.8 percent last month.

Meanwhile, a deadline to extend emergency unemployment benefits for jobless Americans has come and gone. When U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) blocked a one-year reauthorization in Washington, it marked the first time ever that Congress failed to provide short-term federal relief to workers while unemployment was above 7 percent. By the end of December, an estimated 127,000 people in Illinois and 2 million nationwide will exhaust their insurance. (Our own Micah Maidenberg went on WGN Radio to discuss the politics of unemployment. Listen to the whole interview here.)

In downtown Chicago Friday, allies of Chicago Jobs With Justice rallied for more federal action to boost job growth and protect unemployed workers. Roberta Wood, who works at a community center here, called Congress' inaction "unconscionable."

Both U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (pic 3) and President Obama want to ensure that if Republicans extend tax cuts to the richest Americans, they also include funding for additional unemployment assistance. (Durbin also made headlines for agreeing to vote in favor of the controversial deficit-reduction plan put forth by President Obama's bipartisan commission, a move that frustrated progressives who thought that the plan penned by the commission's co-chairs makes the tax code more regressive and relies too heavily on spending cuts.)

On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (pic 8) was sworn in on Monday, replacing Roland Burris as the junior Senator from Illinois. How Kirk votes on ending a Senate filibuster that's stalled the DREAM Act, which could come up for consideration next week, will give voters around the state an early indication of whether he is drifting to the right or positioning himself more toward the ideological center of his party.

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