Now that everyone is pretty much back to work and we are back from our abbreviated holiday schedule, we thought we'd provide everyone with a rundown on the relevant political happenings that occurred during the last two weeks of December when most everyone was checked out. You can find out what happened earlier in the month with our Week In Reviews here, here and here. Happy New Year!
Chicago and Cook County News
Community groups remain at odds with the Chicago Public School’s proposed school closings. During a protest December 19 at City Hall, members of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization threatened a sit-in of Rahm Emanuel’s office if they failed to get word of a scheduled meeting with the mayor. The teachers union also protested December 23 outside eight schools slated for turnaround or closure.
One avenue in which the teachers union could alter CPS policy is the courts. The Illinois Supreme Court will rule soon on a CTU lawsuit that contends CPS must develop rehiring procedures for tenured teachers that they layoff, including teachers let go in school closings and turnarounds.
Progress Illinois also looked at the financial, political and institutional advantages Mayor Rahm Emanuel has in getting the City Council to go along with his policy agenda. One institutional reason that the City Council passed the budget 50-0 may be that, unlike the mayor, the council doesn’t have their own office of the budget where people would have the time and expertise to authoritatively question the mayor’s proposal.
Indeed, the City Council can’t even draw a new ward map based on 2010 Census figures. The Hispanic Caucus actually offered up a ward map December 21 that cut the city’s number of aldermen in half. The map is a response to Emanuel’s call for a non-binding referendum on cutting the City Council in half if the remap battle isn’t settled. The Hispanic caucus and Black caucus have come out with dueling maps.
We looked December 19 at the latest chapter in the ongoing labor dispute between Hyatt Hotel Corp. and hotel employees represented by Unite Here Local 1. Union members took to the picket line last week to protest the hotel chain’s threats to cut worker health benefits. Unite Here claims the hotel is engaging in scare tactics so the union accepts Hyatt’s current contract offer.
PI reported December 20 on a City Council hearing on the growing number of Chicago residents who don’t know where the next meal is coming from. Anti-hunger advocates are fighting a battle on both the local level and in Washington – Congress is expected to re-authorize the farm bill next year, a sprawling piece of legislation that funds nutrition assistance programs like food stamps.
A survey by the Cook County Clerk’s office released December 20 reveals that 26 percent of heterosexuals who enter into civil unions say they are doing so in solidarity with the gay community – the biggest reason provided for why heterosexuals enter into civil unions. Illinois permits same sex civil unions, but not marriage.
Action Now continued its aggressive pursuit of making bank’s maintain foreclosed properties – by protesting outside Fannie Mae’s regional headquarters on December 21. The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has sued to make Fannie and Freddie exempt from Chicago’s vacant property ordinance.
Hot on the heels of a $15 million tax break from Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly, Sears Holding Corp. announced last Tuesday that they will close up to 120 Sears and Kmart stores nationally due to lousy holiday sales.
Meanwhile, CME Group, Inc. – fresh off getting its own income tax break– will stop giving grants to Chicago-area charitable organizations and institutions. The financial exchange said December 19 that the change is due to the failure of MF Global Holdings, Inc., which CME Group says improperly used millions of customer dollars.
Judith Graham of Illinois Health Matters wrote a fantastic, if highly disconcerting piece, published on PI December 19 about what she calls, “The gaping chasm between policymakers deciding how to implement health reform, politicians debating the value of this groundbreaking legislation, and residents of some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods – many of whom appear to have no idea how reform might impact them.” Miller interviewed several of these residents – most whom don’t understand how the law will affect their health care coverage starting in 2014.
Pat Quinn signed off on legislation December 19 that will prevent the closing of seven state institutions including three mental health centers. Averting these shut downs – at least until the end of the fiscal year, June 30 – will save about 1,900 jobs.
A judge rejected December 20 a lawsuit by Taxpayers United of America to stop the 87.5 percent rate hike that took effect January 1 on the Illinois State Tollway.
The Illinois Association of Realtors released new data December 21 finding that home sales in Illinois rose to 7,954 homes in November 2011 compared to 6,966 in November 2010. Home prices, though, fell 11.4 percent to $128,000 during the same time span.
Last week, PI looked at the Illinois General Assembly’s accomplishments in 2011 and what it will focus on at the start of 2012. Budget issues are expected to dictate the first few months of 2012 with Republicans, and some Democrats, looking to cut pension benefits for current public employees and cut the corporate income tax. Unions, though, successfully fought against pension cuts in 2011.
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (8th), a Republican from McHenry County, focused the week before Christmas on perhaps the pressing issue of our time – allowing members of Congress to use the phrases “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah” in correspondence with constituents. Walsh noted that in 1974 Congress passed a law forcing lawmakers to stick with the phrase “Happy Holidays” in constituent correspondence.
Meanwhile, Darlene Ruscitti – expected to be Walsh’s chief competition in the 8th Congressional district Republican primary – announced December 21 that she’s leaving the race. Ruscitt cited her “role as a leader within the Illinois Republican Party and a desire to avoid a costly primary outweigh my personal political aspirations.”
A December gallup poll shows that Congress ended the year with an 11 percent approval rating – their worst approval rating in history. The overall disapproval rating is 86 percent, another record-breaking figure.