PI Original Adam Doster and Micah Maidenberg Friday October 8th, 2010, 5:42pm

The PI Week In Review

The week that was in Illinois politics and government (October 2 - October 8).

In The Mayoral Race ...

Last Sunday, Rahm Emanuel (pic 3) made an official announcement that he will run for mayor of Chicago. He hit the trail the following day, touring Pilsen with a gaggle of reporters in tow. Although the media fell all over itself trying to cover the early stops on Emanuel's so-called "listening tour," the reception wasn't universally warm. Consultant Joe Trippi, who just happens to be advising potential mayoral candidate Tom Dart, pulled together a funny little video of some Chicagoans expressing their skepticism of Rahm's candidacy.

Despite the deep connections between the former White House chief of staff and Mayor Richard Daley, it's conceivable Gery Chico (pic 4) will represent the Daley Establishment next February. After all, he's had multiple and varied roles inside the Daley administration over the years.

Former State Senate President Emil Jones has decided not to enter the race. The same can't be said for Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus of the New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park, who was passed over for an open aldermanic seat last year because of his views on homosexuality. And State Sen. James Meeks says he would not give up his pulpit at the influential Salem Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side if voters elected him mayor next year.

So far, most of the column inches and television minutes devoted to the City Hall free-for-all have understandably focused on the horserace: who is in, who is out, and who is undecided. (For all that information, be sure to check out our mayoral tracker, which we updated this week.) We're just four months away from the first open mayoral contest in a generation; and the stakes for voters couldn't be higher. A new city-wide coalition of Chicago progressives is hoping to ensure the candidates don't keep quiet about the municipal issues that matter most.

In Chicago and Cook County ...

While Chicago's mayoral race is drawing attention and interest, the city itself still faces a clutch of hard decisions under the outgoing Daley administration. First and foremost is the city's $655 million budget deficit for 2011. This week, aldermen said Mayor Daley wants to fill that gap by using the city's asset lease reserves and tapping $200 million of the city's tax increment financing (TIF) pot, $40 million of which would go to the city. That will leave $500 million in the TIF fund.

Contracting has been a constant source of scandal during Daley's tenure, and this week a city councilman took a step to reign in mayoral power over contracts. Ald. Scott Waguespack (32rd Ward) introduced a bill at Wednesday's council meeting that would give aldermen oversight over large city contracts. The bill says that prior to the final award of all contracts above $500,000, the city's chief procurement officer must send the contract to the council's Committee on Finance, which then has 30 days for review. Procurement gets a chance to respond in writing to issues that come up in committee. Competitively and no-bid contracts are both covered by Waguespack's bill.

Daley reportedly didn't think too much of the contracting proposal during the city council meeting. He was also served a direct defeat on a renter protection ordinance that is designed to assist leasees facing displacement when a developer is converting their unit from rental to condo. In the face of protests from real estate interests, aldermen sent the bill back to committee, much to Daley's dismay.

One of the mayor's top managers, CPS chief Ron Huberman (pic 5), meanwhile, may leave his government post soon. Or not -- it's not quite clear when Huberman would go, if indeed he does.

A federal judge ordered Huberman's CPS to rescind the layoffs of 700 tenured teachers who were let go earlier this year. It's a win for the Chicago Teachers Union, which filed the lawsuit on grounds that the layoffs were handled improperly. CPS plans to appeal the ruling, arguing that they had a process in place to help the fired teachers find new jobs. The district estimates that rehiring all tenured teachers could cost about $30 million. On another CPS front, Huberman said this week he is very nervous about the ongoing sit-in at Whittier Elementary in the city's Pilsen neighborhood.

Lame-duck Cook County Board President Todd Stroger was back in the news this week, as Carla Oglesby, his former chief of staff, was arrested and is facing three felony charges surrounding a probe that questions whether she administered no-bid 24-9 contracts, which are named as such because they fall under the $25,000 limit that requires the Board's approval. One of the contracts in question was allegedly made out to Olgesby's public relations company.

A report published by a real estate firm found an area on the Near West Side to be the city's most violent. The Chicago Police Department denied the claim and has blasted similar studies in the past. More transparency on all sides would be useful when it comes to detailing violent crime.

Across the greater Chicagoland region, foreclosures (pic 7) remain a big problem, even aside from the snowballing foreclosure document scandal. The Chicago region is worse off in terms of home foreclosures than comparable large metropolitan areas like those in and around New York City and Los Angeles. That's according to new data released by the Center for Housing Policy (CHP). Another disturbing trend that's hitting the region's suburbs: increased poverty. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of poor suburbanites increased by 50 percent. The rise comes as non-profit service providers struggle with funding and to keep pace with the new poor living outside of the city.

More jobs would help ease the foreclosure and poverty situation, of course. But a survey of 153 Chicago businesses found that only 13 percent planned to hire more workers in the next six months, almost 10 percent lower than the national average. Local business owners surveyed were also more pessimistic than their peers elsewhere about the potential for a quick economic recovery.

The news broke this week that an attorney for convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko said his client is "ready, willing, and able" to testify at former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial. The Chicago Transit Authority will get $37.4 million in federal grants to keep its bus fleet in good shape. The money is part of a larger grant of $58.9 million that is headed to Illinois' mass transit system.

On the campaign trail ...

November 2 is getting closer, and closer, and closer. With Election Day less than a month out, the newspaper editorial boards are starting to endorse their favorites. The Sun-Times picked Gov. Pat Quinn (pic 6) for the hard-fought gubernatorial campaign, calling him "pro-business" and "pro-people."

Polling about the governor's race remains all over the map, but it's clear that a key voting constituency for that race and the others come November 2 will be women voters. Earlier this week, VotingWomen.org -- an organization that utilizes new voter contact technologies to mobilize female voters here -- released a report about voter turnout in Illinois. Using data compiled by the Illinois State Board of Elections, the group found that female voters outnumbered male voters in every age group during the midterm election cycle four years ago.

On his website, GOP candidate Bill Brady (pic 2) makes a commitment to "stop the borrowing and upgrade our [bond] rating." Will he uphold that promise if elected? Not likely. Brady said this week he was open to the idea of issuing a $50 billion pension obligation bond to cover unfunded pension payments for current and retired state employees. This isn't a new position; he said the same thing during the primary campaign. It also might be preferable to cutting pension benefits of current employees. But it certainly invalidates his anti-borrowing campaign pitch. Brady told the Sun-Times this week he's open to letting school districts teach creationism, meanwhile.

Quinn's deal with AFSCME, the state public workers union, deserves more context. Perhaps he will make that case while campaigning with Vice President Joe Biden, who will come to stump for the governor, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which endorsed him this week. Quinn, like other Democrats running this year, is organizing with the Illinois Democratic Coordinated Campaign, now the main conduit for campaign tactics in election years -- and not the state Democratic Party.

Get out the vote efforts are key for all candidates, but the numbers could be down in Chicago. According to Chicago Board of Elections chair Langdon Neal, Chicago's voter registration numbers are down about 60,000 from two years ago. Suburban Cook County voter registration numbers are also down slightly since 2008, while the collar counties have seen an increase of nearly 110,000 since 2006. For both the Nov. 2 elections and the Chicago municipal races next year, the campaigns won't deal with the issues faced by public housing residents -- much of the city's traditional public housing communities are now gone.

In other endorsements, the Tribune likes Independent Forrest Claypool for Cook County Assessor and Democrat Toni Preckwinkle for Cook County Board President. Democrat Dan Seals got the nod from the Sun-Times in the 10th District race, while GOP candidate Bob Dold was endorsed by the Tribune for the seat. The Sun-Times also chose Republican Adam Kinzinger over freshman-incumbent Debbie Halvorson for the 11th Congressional District seat. There weren't any endorsements for the candidates for lieutenant governor, but both Democrat Shelia Simon (pic 1) and Republican Jason Plummer insisted they're ready for the job.

The airwaves will be flooded with political ads over the next couple of weeks. And the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, Mark Kirk, is getting a boost from American Crossroads. The a 527 group was founded in March by Karl Rove, the gorup raised $14.5 million in August. American Crossroads has already aired commercials attacking Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias. There's just one problem: nearly 75 percent of the ad buy was paid for by undisclosed donors. Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center have now filed a complaint with the IRS for allegedly violating U.S. tax laws that limit the political activities of non-profit groups.

The Daily Herald reported this week that Gov. Pat Quinn became a founding member of the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS), which aims to curtail unlimited political campaign spending by corporations and independent groups like American Crossroads.

Kirk has said he hasn't seen the ads from the group. The Senate race remains close: a Rasmussen poll put the Republican up by 4 points over his Democratic rival, who got a hand this week from President Barach Obama in Chicago.

Another federal race in Illinois remains tight. FiveThirtyEight's regression gives U.S. Rep. Phil Hare a 57 percent chance of retaining the seat. His campaign got a boost this week when he received the endorsement of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Political Action Committee. But conservative media outlets are pushing a deceptively edited video of Hare claiming he "doesn't believe the national debt is real." The clip comes from a July 27 press conference, in which the congressman said it's a "myth that this country is in debt, and you just can't [deficit] spend." A video posted to Youtube in September and linked to by several blogs, however, cuts out that second clause entirely.

And finally, don't forget to vote November 2! Grace-period voting is under way. One of the issues on the ballot, besides the candidates, by the way, is whether or not Illinoisians should have the ability to recall elected officials. Read our primer on it here.

In Springfield ...

State Comptroller Dan Hynes' (pic 8) latest quarterly report detailing Illinois' finances is a sobering, even frightening, document. It states in clear and unequivocal terms that Illinois is a deadbeat state, unable to make good on its most basic obligations.

According to his calculations, Illinois rolled over an unfathomable $6.4 billion in appropriations to schools, municipalities, and social service providers from FY 2010 to FY 2011, which began in July. And a tax amnesty program that was intended to generate cash to pay down the backlog is underperforming.

It's not just a few vendors, mind you, who are waiting anxiously at their mailboxes. A new report by the Urban Institute shows that 72 percent of non-profit organizations in Illinois reported delays in state reimbursements last year. It's one big reason Illinoisans can't stand Springfield.

Illinois' poor fiscal shape is, in part, a reflection of the fragile national economy. And employment won't grow, Washington Post economics writer Neil Irwin reported this week, until consumer demand picks up. In the meantime, Congress will have seven days to reauthorize an emergency unemployment benefits program when it returns from the fall recess. It took the U.S. Senate 50 days to pass the last extension, which is set to expire November 30.

The home foreclosure crisis was upended this week by escalating probes into banks' foreclosure paperwork. But the freezes on foreclosure proceedings and sales need to be accompanied by more principal write-downs and loan modifications by the banks, advocates say. Wells Fargo, meanwhile, has agreed to offer $39.5 million in loan modifications to Illinois homebuyers who fell victim to deceptive marking practices involved with the lender's adjustable-rate mortgages.

Elsewhere in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn told the Daily Herald editorial board this week that "the votes are there" to legalize civil unions this year in Illinois. We're optimistic but skeptical. And a new study out of New York finds that the fees criminal defendants are charged in Illinois create a modern-day "debtors' prison" for those who have been convicted of a crime.

Comments Login or register to post comments

Recent content

Tue
10.12.10
Mon
10.11.10
Sun
10.10.10
Fri
10.8.10
Thu
10.7.10