CN Oct. 3, 2013

The federal government (partial) shut-down continues, but it seems accurate to point out that there are relatively few obvious manifestations here in Chicago.  But as NPR’s David Schaper tells us, it’ll happen soon. “OK, there’s not a meat inspection this week,” he explains. “well,  when does it really start affecting the chain of food getting to the grocery store? It’ll probably take several weeks for a bigger, broader impact to be felt,” he says.

Schaper says it isn’t easy to figure out how this all gets resolved, but Speaker Boehner is in a position to break the deadlock. “All he has to do is call the bill that the Senate passed, for a vote, and see if the votes are there,” he says. “If his caucus is truly united, they will defeat it. His caucus clearly isn’t united, so he won’t call that bill. I think his position would be a lot stronger if they actually called that bill and shot it down because then I think both sides would have to say…we’re in a deadlock here. You killed our bill, we killed yours. We gotta find some middle ground.”

Mayor Emanuel made some news this week with his proposal to remove red-light cameras from 14 intersections where he said the cameras had done their job, since accidents and red-light violations had dropped. But planning goes ahead at full-tilt to install up to 300 speed cameras around schools and parks. BGA’s Alden Loury says it can still be difficult to justify the cameras. “If there’s an argument to make about safety and  excessive speed, and I think there certainly is in some parts of the city,” he says, “there are ways to do it other than installing speed cameras. The other thing is that there will always be a cloud over these kind of things in my mind, because the inspector general came out with a report regarding red light cameras saying that the city’s argument around safety with regard to those cameras – they hadn’t really backed it up with data. So the City’s cash-strapped. We hear annually about the troubles with the budget. So any time there’s an idea for a new revenue stream, people are going to be somewhat skeptical.”

The Mayor also announced this week that he’s bringing in a group of experts to evaluate and hopefully improve the effectiveness of 311. But if they make it really good, will it further reduce aldermanic prerogatives? “In the old system, aldermen did have control over a lot of city services,” says Schaper. “Ward Superintendents are often in the same office building, right next to the aldermen, and they work hand-in-hand.”

But gerrymandering of the City’s ward boundaries has become so exaggerated that picking up garbage and delivering other services became more and more difficult to justify on a ward-by-ward basis. So the introduction of the grid system and a 311 system that tracks results right to the constituent’s smart-phone are combining to make the alderman more of a middle-man.

“Mayor Daley introduced this concept of trying to take away some of that aldermanic control for some services, but sort of backed away from it,” Schaper explains. “But this is just one of those things, where, OK, it’s time, we can do this more efficiently, we can save some money, maybe it’s time to move forward.” And by the way, these reforms also add fuel to the argument for reducing the City Council to 25 aldermen.

There’s a series of investigations at the BGA Web site that reveal some interesting connections between between public figures and the former leader of the Gangster Disciples.  Loury co-authored the stories. “We were hunting Larry Huggins (formerly a Metra Board member) down for a story we’d done about him inviting a top Metra executive, one who’d been considered as a replacement for Alex Clifford, inviting him to a fundraiser. And in trying to get Mr. Huggins to comment on that we called his office a number of times and stopped by there. And we came across a woman named Wendy Jenkins working in his office. When we discovered who Ms. Jenkins was, we had another whole set of questions. Ms Jenkins is the common-law wife of Larry Hoover. As we learned in the federal case that sent Larry Hoover from state prison to federal prison in the mid-90s, Ms. Jenkins was actually a very integral part of the Gangster Disciples operation. I’m not saying that she sold drugs or did anything illegal, but she was a conduit, as the feds uncovered, between Hoover in prison and many of his Gangster Disciples leaders on the outside.”

There’s also a separate investigation that raises questions about whether CTA Chairman Terry Peterson once wrote a letter advocating for Hoover’s parole. Peterson denies that he wrote the letter.

It’s a complicated story and well worth a read.  It’s all a part of the BGA’s focus on on-line investigative journalism.

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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