CN Jan. 4 2018

Two accomplished, knowledgeable journalists join us today for a January 4 status-check.

What are the stories that we’ll all be following for a big chunk of 2018?

We start with Chris Kennedy’s recent assertion that Mayor Emanuel has a “Strategic Gentrification Plan” for the removal of low income people, particularly blacks and Hispanics, from Chicago.

Hal Dardick, City Hall reporter for the Tribune, isnt buying it. “I think it was an amazing accusation without any evidence that anything had been plotted,” Dardick suggests, and he offers a defense of Mayor Emanuel. “But he’s done more to try and invest money into those communities, especially Pullman which has seen something of a turnaround, and he’s trying,” he explains. “You can argue about whether it’s enough and you can say that it’s a problem that needs greater attention, but to say that the Mayor is purposely committing what I would call gentricide in the City, I don’t think that, and Kennedy’s not making any friends by doing it.”

Madeleine Doubek, Director of Policy and Civic Engagement at the Better Government Association, says Kennedy is running a kind of specialized campaign. “He’s not really running a statewide campaign and I think his two appeals are this latest bombshell accusation really. And then the notion that, he’s kind of running as the anti-establishment candidate, that Mike Madigan has a conflict of interest as a property tax appeal lawyer and that public officials shouldn’t be able to do that and serve in public positions,” she says. “I think that’s kind of where he tries to reach out to progressive voters.”

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios has come under withering scrutiny lately for his haphazard methods of assessing properties, and some clear evidence that he’s been favoring big property owners over poorer homeowners.

But Dardick says he’ll be running in a primary, where voter turnout is light, and that could make traction for his opponents difficult. “The Mayor hasn’t really spoken out against him, and he’s a close ally of Toni Preckwinkle’s,” he explains, “And those people have troops that they can get out on election day and turn out a vote, so it’s very tough to beat him…Chris Kennedy is a supporter. I don’t know how much that helps necessarily, but it’s going to be a really interesting race. I think one of the most interesting races of the year, and I think the other thing to look for is whether, because Toni Preckwinkle is seen in all these pictures with Joe Berrios, filing election petitions, whether that and the highly controversial pop tax become a couple of albatrosses around her neck.”

Two days ago, the Illinois “tax credit scholarship program” took effect. It was a measure that was added  to the budget just hours before the final vote, and was never debated by the legislature. It allows Illinoisans to “donate” up to a million dollars into a fund that supports tuition payments to private and parochial schools and receive a 75% tax credit for the “donation.” In a little more than 24 hours, the scholarship received $36 million in contributions.

“This,” laments Doubek, “would not be a case of extreme transparency and public discourse.”

“I think there are huge public policy implications here,” she asserts,  “that really are going to need to be examined, and that’s at a time when the State still has huge structural budget problems. That’s essentially $36-million that you just took away from the public’s coffers to help pay bills that are months and months overdue, so there’s that question. This was a situation and an arrangement that was worked out between the Republican Governor Rauner and some of the Republican legislative leaders that had the backing of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and the Cardinal has some sway with Democratic leadership, and so here we are.”

Bruce Rauner’s up for election in 2018, but he first has to survive a primary challenge from Jeanne Ives. Ives has almost no money to run against the billionaire Governor, but Doubek thinks that might not be a big factor.

“I think that’s a fascinating race too,” she tells us, “And one that money might not be as important in because it’s really an ideological thing, and there are a lot of people around the State who are not happy with the Governor and his performance and angry about his signing HB40, the abortion bill, which is what I think really tipped the scales and prompted Jeanne Ives to run. And so, I suspect those people were never going to vote for Bruce Rauner again anyway if they had an opportunity to vote for someone else, and they do.”

When Lisa Madigan announced that she would not run for re-election as Illinois Attorney General, she opened the floodgates for candidates seeking her job. Doubek says one of her – and the BGA’s – key concerns is that the AG’s office is the chief protector of the Freedom of Information Act, and it’s important to know where the candidates stand on maintaining a healthy FOIA process.

“There’s an office within the Attorney General’s Office called the Public Access Counselor,” she explains, “who is somewhat empowered and probably could be much more empowered to kind of intervene in cases where citizens, some of whom are journalists, are just trying to get information out of our government bodies and are being stymied along the way.”

But with at least seven candidates in the race, how is the voter to know who’d be strongest FOIA supporter?

“I think we all need to be concerned about it,” she continues.  “And I think we need to find out where all these candidates are on this, and are they even focused on it. Because so far I’ve heard a lot about how the Attorney General is going to take on President Trump and fight some of his comments and things that he said about Chicago violence and immigration and so on and so forth, which you know, are certainly also important issues. But there’s a very basic function in that office that is critically important to all of us knowing what our officeholders are doing behind the scenes.”

Dardick adds that FOIA isn’t the only critical issue the next AG will have to face.

“I think where they stand on the police consent decree and how strongly they are going to try to enforce it. Because we go back to the issue of intractable crime in the City of Chicago – a lot of it has to do with trust in the community. They can’t solve crimes because nobody in the community trusts them, and the consent decree could go a long way to rebuilding that trust and making sure that there’s strong oversight to reform in the police department,” he asserts.

In addition, Dardick tells us that the next Attorney General must be mindful of what police reform will cost. “Everyone likes to talk about how much it would cost to enforce the consent decree, because nobody really wants someone looking over their shoulder all the time,” he points out. “But if you start just to look in the last 60 days the number of multi-million-dollar settlements, because of police misconduct, and if you can stop one or two of those a year you’ve paid for the consent decree multiple times over.”

In conclusion, we ask what important trends these journalists will be monitoring in 2018. Doubek cites inspectors general. “It’s going to be interesting to see what the new legislative Inspector General in Springfield comes up with and comes out with. And certainly I think the situation with Forrest Claypool and Nicholas Schuler, the IG for CPS was a fascinating glimpse into just how powerful Inspectors General can be when they are properly staffed and budgeted and empowered. And so that will be something to watch and hopefully improve upon in 2018.”

You can listen to the audio of this show on Soundcloud here.

You can read the complete transcript of today’s show here: CN Transcript Jan 4 2018

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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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