CN June 1 2017


Here’s what Natasha Korecki said in this morning’s Illinois Playbook:

This is a day you’ll want to buy hard copies of the Sun-Times and the Tribune, sit down with a large cup of coffee, and read. There’s that much news; not just hard news, but impactful investigative pieces that warrant your attention, involving the Chicago Police Department, the Democratic primary race for governor, the future of the Dept. of Children and Family Services and the future of Illinois.

So this was a good day to have Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown and Tribune City Hall correspondent Hal Dardick at our table.

J.B. Pritzker, who’s been the favorite candidate for governor among most Democratic politicos, may have suffered some damage after yesterday’s Tribune story about his contact with disgraced Gov. Rob Blagojevich.  “I think it puts him at great risk,” says Dardick of his own paper’s revelations.

“Back during the Blagojevich investigation J. B. Pritzker had been recorded on tape talking to Blago,” Brown explains.  “He started off talking about the senate seat seemingly, and then Pritzker said, “Hey, could you make me state treasurer?” in essence. And oh Blago liked that idea, because he was trying to milk people at that time for somebody to give him some sort of parachute to get out of office, or at least to get him some big campaign contributions. Pritzker didn’t seem to play ball. I don’t know that he did anything wrong, but you know if you’re running for Governor of Illinois right now you don’t want to be, as a Democrat, you don’t want to have people spreading around tape recordings of you seemingly conspiring with Blago.”

“These were federal wiretaps that we obtained at the Tribune,” Dardick tells us. “I think what’s most interesting about these, and you can listen to them online too if you want – we have a transcript of some of it, but what I think is most interesting is that by this point you have J. B. Pritzker who has to know that Blagojevich’s administration is under investigation by the Feds. There’s already been someone indicted in the administration. There’s been a lot of talk about the campaign contributions and whether they were right or wrong during his tenure. Of course, some of that stuff brought him down, and he continues to talk to him about who would you appoint to the senate seat? He says things like, well if you appoint President Obama’s aide Valerie Jarrett the reason that that’s good Pritzker says is because then you might get an appointment.”

“He says you ought to get an appointment for that, you know,” Brown adds.

Dardick continues, “and the thing that I guess really struck me was that at one point he is asking Pritzker, “Well I need money by the way for my campaign. Can you help me out?” And Pritzker goes, “I don’t know if now would be a good time to do that.” Then he says, “Well you have people that could could contribute money don’t you?” and Pritzker says, “Well I hear you.” He didn’t say, “Rod, I just can’t do that. That wouldn’t be appropriate,” so it raises a lot of questions.”

So is this an opening for Chris Kennedy to leap-frog over Pritzker?

Dardick says Kennedy’s taken some positions that will anger the most powerful Dems in Illinois. “The interesting thing about Kennedy is he might have been able to step in at this point and say, “You know I should be the party candidate,” but he’s already come out earlier this week and criticized a number of people in the party and proposed things that would upset Michael Madigan and Joe Berrios that would affect their income directly. He’s portrayed himself as, even though he’s a Kennedy, as the outsider and the guy is going to take up and straighten out the Democratic party. So I don’t think he can step in and be the anointed one.”

“What Kennedy has done that’s different,” Dardick explains, “is he’s said that folks who are in public positions shouldn’t be able to do property tax appeals business, which would of course be what Madigan does and what Ed Burke does on the City Council. So he’s taking a shot at the honchoes of the Democratic party, and that no other candidate has done.”

And, according to Brown, it’s not too late for Pritzker to recover his public image, because he’s done good things with his wealth. “The things he hits in his commercials to my knowledge are by and large true. You know he put his money, he’s used his money well. In the early childhood education field he is by far the guy who is out there the most. He’s way ahead of…you know, he basically funds the Rauners on that kind of thing believe it or not, and all over this country, so he’s considered to be a very substantive guy in that field.”

“And,” Dardick interjects, “the tech startups.”

” 1871 I would say it’s probably the pride and joy of Chicago right now,” adds Brown, “and 1871 is J. B. Pritzker’s vision, and knowing where to put his money. So the guy has got some good things to talk about here, so why doesn’t he be smart about stepping up and dealing with these problems? And honestly, I think he’s getting really bad advice from his people.”

So, it’s time for the obvious question. Can Pritzker, or any other Democrat, beat Bruce Rauner?

“Well, I think it’s clear almost any of them would have a shot at Rauner,” Brown asserts. “They would have to overcome his money and his ability to stay on message and run a very focused campaign that just kind of zeroes in on the anger of people towards politicians. Unfortunately for him at this point it’s pretty clear that a lot of that anger is directed at him. People don’t think he’s got anything to show. I certainly don’t. So he’s beatable, but it’s going to be tough for anybody.”

As the Legislative session ended yesterday, without a budget, it could be noted that a budget did pass. But only in the Senate. And it includes a tax increase, so now Bruce Rauner’s got something on the record he can hang around the Democrats’ necks.

“And so the Democrats in the House, you know, didn’t want to volunteer for that duty, and I kind of wish they would have and we would have had a clear okay, this is how we think we should do it,” Brown laments.

Ironically, both guests report, there are Republicans who are willing to negotiate with Democrats and might support certain tax increases, but the Governor keeps is Republicans in line.

“The bottom line is they know he’s not going to let them get out there,” Brown asserts. “I mean, there definitely are Republicans who would vote for a tax increase who believe they are going in the wrong direction, but they don’t want to get thrown out of office either.”

“It all goes back to the money that he’s got to throw around,” adds Dardick.

The Legislature also passed a bill that changes Chicago’s CPS Board to an elected body. But that body has 20 members, each from selected districts. “The version that passed the Senate late last night has 15 people, still a lot,” Dardick tells us. “The problem is those bills would have to be reconciled at some point, so that’s not a bill that can go to the Governor yet. And will it go to the Governor or are they just playing to their audiences in the byzantine ways of Springfield? I don’t know. It’s very uncertain at this point. I can’t imagine Cullerton let that get out of the Senate and would he do that if he thought it was really going somewhere considering his relationship with Rahm Emanuel? Just to say I’m skeptical.”

And Brown, who’s seen this movie before, isn’t impressed. “So that’s an old game that gets played where everybody can say they voted for it, but it still doesn’t happen.”

The Legislature also passed what could be a very important bill that re-figures the way schools are funded by the State. Could this become law in Illinois after years of debate on the inequity between schools in poor communities versus the wealthy?

“I would say that Senator Andy Manar who has worked on this is one of the bright lights in Springfield,”Brown points out. “A sharp thinker, worked really hard at it from a standpoint of trying to meet the needs of both down-state rural districts like his and the City of Chicago. So if they’ve come to an agreement, you know, it may not be a perfect agreement, but you know, I’ve got to believe that it’s a reasonable political compromise. Now, I know the Governor is making noises about it does too much for Chicago. I have not been able to analyze that in detail to figure out whether we really are pushing one over, but I’ve got to believe it must be pretty close to what would be good for… It’s just good public policy, that there really are people looking at it from that point of view. It’s not going to make the suburbs happy though.”

“As I understand it, at this point everybody is still trying to sort it out because it was such a last minute thing,” Dardick interjects. “I asked Claypool about this the other day. I said, “What would satisfy you?” He says, “If we got $500-million more we would be a parity with the rest of the State by their calculations.” We’ll have to see what those numbers actually are. The caveat is again is if the Republicans didn’t put any votes on this it’s probably DOA with the Governor.”

Up in Jefferson Park a heated battle is being fought over a proposed 100-unit apartment building very close to the CTA transit center. What’s most controversial is that 80% of the apartment would be set aside for low income people, including seniors, veterans and the disabled – along with some people using CHA-issued vouchers. Brown has written on it several times, and has heard from both sides.

“There are tempers and there are people from all over the northwest side who have gotten involved in this on the anti-side, including Alderman Napolitano of the neighboring ward, 41st Ward, and there are people from all over the City that have gotten involved on the side of the pro-forces who are accusing the anti-forces of being racist.” Brown tells us. “And in my opinion there certainly is a racial element that has crept into this, although people argue it’s a matter of density, and a lot of people would argue that affordable housing, they see the problem of affordable housing as not as racial, but economics or what’s going to happen. It’s all the old fights, and it just kind of roared up out of nowhere to me. Now actually, somebody tried to build this building in another ward and it had gotten shut down, which is why everybody was geared up when they went into Arena’s ward.”

Why, we ask, would a lone Alderman want to take on such a divisive fight in his own Ward, setting his constituents into such a toxic battle?  “Well, John Arena is one of the leaders of the progressive reform caucus and I think he does see this as the right thing to do,” Dardick explains. “And I think he’s a smart alderman and knows what he’s doing, but …John can…he’s got a little bit of a temper that shows up sometimes and he’s very certain about himself, and so he hasn’t done what some politicians would do to assuage the opponents, you know, compromise and say ‘this is right, I’m going to do it.’ So I think that’s gotten him into a little trouble.”

And he’s drawn the Mayor into the battle, too. Emanuel criticized Arena, saying he didn’t do proper community process, and now the Mayor is being criticized by the building’s supporters, implying that he’s fostering stereotypes about the community. This story will be with us for a while.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson opened a large can of worms this week when he reported that  a lot of contracts with City workers are expiring in a few weeks. They were negotiated as ten-year deals by Mayor Daley to assure the there wouldn’t be any labor disputes during the Chicago 2016 Olympics. Remember the Olympics?

“So all these contracts,” Dardick explains, “44 of them, either came due last June or are coming due all but one this June and then one in December, 44 contracts representing more than 90% of a workforce of 32,000-plus people.”

So that’s a lot of negotiating the City has do do. And coincidentally, police and fire contracts are a part of this. “But it’s interesting,’ Dardick adds, “Because those contracts you are referring to, which are most of these 44 contracts that Daley approved in ’07 and last through June of this year had really nice raises, at a time when maybe he thought the City could afford it. It was at the end of the boom, before the housing bubble burst and everything came crashing down, and since that time the consumer price index has increased 11-point – something percent the cost of living, and the salary increases they got came in at about 27 or 28% over that ten years, so they did very well.

So, Dardick says, Joe Ferguson sees this as a great time for the City to negotiate ways to save some serious money.

“Maybe instead of paying prevailing wages to all the workers,” he explains, “In other words what people get paid in the open market, maybe they don’t need that because they have secure 40-hour a week 52 weeks a year employment whereas people in the private sector can’t be assured of that. But he takes on all of these sort of sacred cows of the union…You’re going to see a lot of this talk and it could save the City tens of millions of dollars, if not more, if they did take on some of these sort of cherished perks.”

But prevailing wage seems pretty safe. As Brown says, “The Democrats are trying to fight that one with Rauner.”

The concerns over wages and work rules seem almost insignificant, though, when compared with reforms in the police contract. As Dardick explains: “Efforts are made to reform the department to give the public confidence that misconduct allegations are thoroughly investigated, and that when wrongdoing is found that people are actually appropriately disciplined. The Justice Department, the Mayor’s Task Force all talked about how these rules sort of give police 24 hours, which some people allege give police time to collude and get their stories straight, and there’s a whole bunch of other things that they think impedes the proper investigation of these things and reduces confidence in the Police Department. And I think it’s something that the Mayor politically if he wants to run again has to address.”

And none of this takes into account the fact that the police force just elected a new leader who’s far less willing to compromise, says Brown.

“So, one of the problems is that at some point the previous FOP Union President had said well if you want any of that you’re going to buy it. In other words, you’re going to have to give us more money. I think the current FOP President is of the opinion that you’ve got to give them the money and those rules or you can’t touch them. [Laughs] So there could be some issues there.”

You can read a full transcript of the show here:CN transcript June 1 2017

And if you can find the time, get outside on a beautiful June day and take the show with you as an audio download at SoundCloud right here.


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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