CN June 5, 2014


Mike Sneed got the ball rolling by publishing a couple of thoughtful pieces about the forgotten legacy of Jane Byrne. It seemed unfair, she said, that this pioneering mayor – Chicago’s first and only female chief executive – should be almost purged from our history 35 years after her election. So the search is on for a suitable commemoration.

“Governor Pat Quinn came out this week saying the Circle Interchange would be good,” Says WBEZ political reporter Alex Keefe. “As a  driver I have zero fondness for the Circle Interchange – there’s just no upside to Circle Interchange. It’s a terrible place.”

There have been serious proposals to rename a portion of Navy Pier in her honor, since she got the ball rolling for its eventual revitalization. But WGN-TV’s Randi Belisomo says there’s another community where Byrne’s legacy could be celebrated.

“Look at the same-sex marriage movement, the movement for gay equality, and how she was the first Mayor to recognize Pride Week and to march in the parade,” she explains. “I think some sort of monument to her would be welcomed in the north-side Lakeview area because she was the first and she was dealing with a population that was struggling for equal rights.”

So what’s the report from Springfield, where major issues of taxes pensions and deficits continue to dominate the agenda?

“Right now we’re still feeling the fallout of all the things that did not happen in Springfield last week when the General Assembly adjourned for the summer,” Keefe says.

And Governor Quinn got pretty much nothing he wanted.

“They did pass a budget, but they did not pass Governor Quinn’s  income tax plan,” he explains. “Right now the personal income tax rate is at five percent, but it’s supposed to go down to 3.75. He wanted to keep it at five, he said there could be a few billion dollars of deficit. So right now the deficit’s there. The General Assembly did not pass that. He didn’t get his $10 minimum wage. He didn’t get the $500 real-estate property tax rebates, which has been a pillar of his campaign, and we haven’t seen any action on Chicago pensions yet.

Keefe says that Quinn must sign a bill allowing the City to raise property taxes by Monday, or it becomes law automatically. It’s possible, Keefe says, that the Governor might do an mandatory veto, authorizing a phased-in tax increase.

Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel told WTTW last night that he’s going to keep trying to convince the City Council to pass a property tax hike to fund the deficit in the Municipal workers pensions. He said he is open to other ideas, but has rejected proposals by the CTU and others for  transaction tax on financial institutions or a “commuter tax” on people who work in, but live outside of, Chicago.

“It’s unclear what ideas he’s open to,” says Keefe. “And aldermen are skeptical of passing a property tax increase months before they have to go up for re-election. It’s the least popular thing they can do aside from taxing dogs or candy or babies or something.”

And, Keefe reminds us, what’s being debated right now covers only a small piece of the pension hole. “This bill that may or may not get the Governor’s signature on Monday only affects the pension funds for Chicago laborers and municipal workers. Police and fire pensions in Chicago have gigantic problems. Those are still unsolved. Chicago teachers’ pension fund has a gigantic problem that is still unsolved, and they still have to find revenue to deal with all this stuff.”

The Mayor has empaneled a Minimum Wage Task Force to evaluate the need for an increase in Chicago’s pay structure. Why a Task Force? Why not just pass something?

“This doesn’t happen a lot with big pieces of legislation,” says Keefe. “Usually we kind of see it at the last minute and then it gets crammed through the City Council. So it indicates that he’s trying to be more democratic or taking this more seriously. It’s not just something he’s going to bury.”

“The minimum wage is going up,” Belisomo states. “It’s just a matter of how much. Because if you look at the members of the Minimum Wage Task Force, it’s very heavily populated by people who’d be very much in favor of a hike in the minimum wage – liberal aldermen, union leaders, and even the members who represent commercial interests who you’d think weren’t favorable on this issue (including Therese Mintle, the Mayor’s former Chief of Staff and Sam Toia of the Illinois Restaurant Association). So I think the minimum wage will be going up – probably a phase-in program over the next 5-7 years like we saw in Seattle this week.”

The Cubs are leaving WGN radio. Probably a sound business decision, but one that rattles our sense of the essential Chicago. “It’s one more sign of the changing Tribune Company,” says Tribune employee Belisomo. “We no longer carry many newscasts nationally and we may not be affiliated with the Cubs in the television realm as well. We’re no longer carrying sports nationally, the Bulls and the Blackhawks. I think this says a lot about the Tribune Company, and I think the implications will be huge for the Cubs.”

The link between Chicago and the Cubs is personal for Belisomo. “I grew up in Memphis, watching the Cubs and Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux and I became a fan. And I was 5-600 miles away. (Losing coverage on the WGN Superstation) could be huge for the team. ”

Belisomo covered the first day of legal same-gender marriage in DuPage County. She says although the 400 couples there who already had official domestic partnerships could have been married earlier in Cook County, some told her they waited for this day. “I wanted to do this at home,”  they stressed to her.” I wanted DuPage County to recognize my marriage. This is where we live, work, have our neighbors…they were so proud that their community now recognizes what they have been all along.”

Keefe was also in DuPage for the first-day ceremonies. “As one person put it to me, it was extraordinary how ordinary it was.”

And finally, the Lucas Museum. Belisomo  is generally supportive. “It would be a real boon to the city, and that’s not an area that people go to right now, the parking lots at Soldier Field. It’s a wasteland. But it could be put to good use and expand the lakefront.”

But there’s serious concern about whether such a museum, based on a single benefactor’s collection, can remain vital and relevant over the decades. Will a Lucas Museum, for example, take its place as a worthy companion to, say the Adler Planetarium?  Keefe is philosophical. “Are you putting the Star Wars legacy up against the legacy of the actual universe?” he asks. “As a Star Wars fan I’d advocate for the Star Wars Legacy.”


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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