CNOctober 17 2018

It’s a conversation about science, including recycling and municipal support for science education this week, as  Kitty Kurth steps in to host.

Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, says the Chicago Climate Charter holds promise for  future of energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, but only if the principles of the Charter are followed to fruition.

Monica Metzler of the Illinois Science Council tells us that, although Chicago does a powerful job of promoting its tech hubs, it often fails to promote the science sector, including its national labs, world-class museums, arboreta and research zoos, and five major medical centers.

They discuss recent revelations that Chicago’s recycling program is failing, and put recycling into a global perspective as fewer places in the world are accepting anything other than extremely well-sorted commodities, and only a few commodities at that.


You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen the show here.



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CN October 11 2018


The City, USA Today’s new multi-part podcast about graft, corruption, environmental racism and general municipal incompetence at the dawn of Richard M. Daley’s administration, is now in its fifth episode, with more on the way. Robin Amer is host, creator and executive producer of The City, and along with reporters Jenny Casas and Wilson Sayre. Amer says she wanted a storytelling experience not unlike The Wire, but non-fiction. And deeply researched and reported. In the first few episodes we meet many of the characters, including the outraged neighbors who watch in amazement as hundreds of giant trucks begin dumping construction debris in a multi-block empty lot at Roosevelt and Kostner.

Delores Robinson was teaching 7th and 8th grade in 1990 at Sumner Elementary School, which is directly across Fifth Avenue from the biggest of these illegal dumps.

“And she watches as they just start dumping it right across the street from the school,” Amer begins. “She is like, “What is happening? Where are these trucks coming from? What is all this stuff? Why are they putting it here?” It’s very confusing and upsetting for her and the other people who see this transpire. And immediately it’s clear to them that this is a bad situation, right. They don’t know exactly who is responsible but in a way it doesn’t matter, right. It’s like if you woke up one day, looked out your front window and saw a line of dump trucks dumping literal ton after ton of construction debris across the street from your house you wouldn’t really care who was responsible for it, you would just say, “No. No, no, no, this does not belong here.”

Amer says The City tells the story of the individuals who were directly affected by this assault, but she also wants to paint the larger picture. For decades, poorer, less politically powerful people have been neglected as newer, more stringent environmental regulations were applied to polluters. The push to include marginalized communities and to extend environmental protections to every citizen came to be called the environmental justice movement.

“You still have today, not just in Chicago but all over the country communities of color that in the environmental movement you might call frontline communities because they live right next to all of this pollution that are literally fighting for survival,” Amer tells us. “And they are having to have the same kinds of battles. They are fighting the same kinds of opposition and the same kind of really misleading rhetoric largely from corporate interests and sometimes dealing with a legal system that isn’t there to support them with a medical community that doesn’t come in and provide them with the information that they need, with a regulatory system that holds their ability to live and breathe in their own communities at the same place as a company’s ability to make money. That has not gone away.”

In fact, the past couple of years has seen a retreat from traditional environmental protection. “And those battles are in some ways even more relevant now,” she explains, “because we have a President that has decided to dismantle a lot of the regulatory structure via the EPA that have been put in place since the 1970s to try and protect communities. And so I would argue that this is in some ways a 20-year old story but it is absolutely a story of the present as well.”

The dumper, John Christopher, built the Roosevelt/Kostner dump and also a smaller one  a few blocks south, and was a denizen of what Amer calls “Chicago’s criminal underworld.” He somehow obtained a permit to crush concrete at the site, but then invited roadbuilding and construction contractors to unload there, charging tipping fees that were only a fraction of the cost to dump at a legitimate, legal facility. It appears that his biggest business expense was the $5,000 per month that federal authorities charged he was paying in bribes to the alderman, Bill Henry. (Henry died before his trial and was never convicted of the crime.)

North Lawndale, where this all happened, is a challenged community that deals every day with disinvestment, violence and unemployment. But in some ways things were worse in 1990 when Christopher was operating. The City takes the neighborhood’s history into account when telling this story.

“North Lawndale, if you are talking about the sort of early to mid-20thCentury, had been a neighborhood full of immigrants, largely what we might call white ethnic immigrants, people from Eastern Europe,” Amer explains. “A lot of Jews lived in North Lawndale. I think it had at one point the highest concentration of synagogues in the whole city. And then starting in the ‘50s the neighborhood starts to transition and by I think, 1960 the neighborhood has largely transitioned from being almost entirely white and Jewish to almost entirely black. And many of the black people who are moving to North Lawndale are coming north from the south as part of the great migration.”

“And so this is a moment of incredible transition,” she continues. “And while that transition is happening the neighborhood is also starting to deindustrialize. So it is a neighborhood that was built before zoning, so in addition to houses and churches and schools you had a lot of factories, very big factories right, Western Electric which employed something like 45,000 people. Sears & Roebuck, Zenith, Sunbeam, a lot of really iconic American brands had factories in North Lawndale. But by the time math teacher Delores Robinson had been at Sumner for two decades, she watched as the neighborhood lost something like 100,000 jobs and a third of its population, right. So the neighborhood goes through a certain kind of trauma even before our story starts and it’s that legacy of both being a segregated almost entirely black neighborhood and a neighborhood that has gone through this deindustrialization that kind of sets the stage for the story that we tell.”

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Watch our conversation by tapping the image above.

Listen to the audio of this show here.

Read a full transcript of the show here:CN Transcript Oct 11 2018


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CN October 4 2018

We’re joined this week by two political activist/ consultants with decades of experience in Chicago politics, to try to make sense of the mayor’s race and the Van Dyke trial. And while we’re at it, to kick around the Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court, too.

Our guests are Sylvia Ewing and Marilyn Katz. Both have worked on mayoral, aldermanic and issues campaigns, and both have advised political leaders as  consultants and spokespeople. This seemed like a perfect time to seek their wisdom as these three major issues seem to be dominating the political discourse. As it happens, at the time of our recording the Van Dyke trial was headed to the jury and Kavanaugh was a few votes away from the Supreme Court.

Both guests say that Rahm Emanuel would have wanted a third term, but that too many issues were dragging him down, and he knew it was time to leave. Both are optimistic about Toni Preckwinkle, who they say has strong political skills, a decent record at the County and an ability to motivate younger voters.


You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can read a full transcript of the show here:CN transcript Oct 4 2018

You can listen to the show here.

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CN September 27 2018


A high-power panel around the Chicago Newsroom table this week to kick around Brett Kavanaugh; Jason Van Dyke; the upcoming elections, both mayoral and gubernatorial; and an expert look forward at the type of government Chicago may have in the coming years. It could be quite different, they say. But we’ve got to convince more Chicagoans, and more Americans, out to the polls, they tell us.

The panel:

Delmarie Cobb: Community organizer, public relations specialist and political campaign manager  founder of Ida’s Legacy.

Marj Halperin:  Public relations and political issues specialist and WGN-TV Democratic analyst

and Darcy Regan, director of Indivisible Chicago


We began our conversation by talking about Indivisible Chicago, which is pulling for a Democratic victory in November. “So more and more people are getting together,” Marj Halperin tells us, ” going out to canvas and support Democratic candidates. It is similar in a way but not in scale to what the Tea Party did. All of a sudden the Tea Party had all these activists – but we are larger in number and focused on the work.”

“I founded Ida’s Legacy,” Delmarie Cobb begins. “It’s a political action committee and it’s specifically to advance and develop African American women candidates, because African American women are the most loyal block of the Democratic Party. We turn out at higher numbers than any other identifiable group, yet not actually acknowledging our own power.”

“The failing of Democrats,” she adds, “is that Republicans vote every two years and Democrats vote every four years, and this time we are saying oh no, that’s not going to happen this time. And we have to thank this president for that because we probably would be sitting on the sidelines once again and they would be gaining more seats in every body of government across the country…We’ve got to step it up, and plus all the insults is certainly helping get people active.”

Darcie Regan adds another dimension. “And also focusing on young people. At Indivisible we’ve been doing a lot of outreach to high schoolers, early college age kids to make sure they are registered and also to set up a plan so they do vote.”

Cobb gives an example of how difficult political power can be to access in Chicago.”You had, I believe, six aldermen about a year ago who stood up and endorsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for re-election. Prior to him saying he was going to run for re-election and following Laquan McDonald. And these were black aldermen. And the fact that they could do that says that they don’t see any repercussions. They are there for life and so I can do that, and they span the age group and they span the city, the west side and south side, but they felt confident enough to do that…I mean that is a major statement…because they know people don’t come out to vote. When you have 50,000 people in a ward and you get 4,000 people who came out  to vote then no, you don’t have to worry…It matters that only 20% turnout took place immediately following Laquan McDonald. So how angry are you? Are you so angry that you are going to go out on Michigan Avenue but not angry enough to go to the polling place?”

Cobb talks with regret about the declining black population in Chicago. “African Americans 100 years ago came here because it was the land of opportunity. They are leaving in droves because of the lack of opportunity. That’s an indictment on what’s happening in the city.”

And a factor in that dissatisfaction, Cobb asserts, is  the way in which the poorest people  are often disproportionately hit in the wallet for taxes and fees. “We are always looking at other ways to make up revenue and all the other ways we are looking to make up revenue are all more regressive – you know, gambling. Who does gambling hurt? Gambling hurts poor people. You look at video gaming. The communities that made $75,000 and up were the communities that opted out. The poor communities stayed in, and so the only people who it hurts are poor people…There are other ways to bring in additional revenue without taxing people over and over and over again, and the people who can least afford it should not be the ones where you go, should not be bearing the brunt of everything. She adds, as an example, the fact that the Lottery draws $30 million from the community of Roseland. “Imagine if $30-million a year was going into Roseland instead of coming out of Roseland? she asks.

And we conclude with some analysis of the ongoing Van Dyke trial, which, as recorded Thursday morning, was coming close to a conclusion. “Our city has to come to grips with the balancing act that is about a legitimate role for police and a respect for the community,” Halperin asserts. “The Police Union is not helping. They need to be a part of that. It’s repulsive to me the statements that come out from the Union and I am a Union supporter in every sense.”

You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the show on SoundCloud here.

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CN September 20 2018

TWO segments on this week’s show. First, The Tribune’s Bill Ruthhart, followed by CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

Bill Ruthhart has been able to observe the Emanuel administration from a front-row seat.

“A couple of hours after he announced he wasn’t running I went up to talk, I sat down and had an interview with him,” he tells us. It was later the same day.

“He basically laid out two main reasons,” Ruthhart explains. “One, after a life in public service from the Clinton administration to Congress to the Obama administration to eight years as mayor there have been numerous family sacrifices. His three kids are now all off to college. He just dropped the third one off to college over Labor Day Weekend just a day before he made this announcement. So he described it as two planes about to land on the runway, his personal life and his professional life. And for once they are in sync and he can walk away from mayor and have this personal life with his wife where they can go do things that they want to do and not put them off anymore. That was one piece of it. The other piece of it was the demands of the job. And he did not say this specifically to me in the interview but he has said it to close confidantes and friends and it’s been reported that he thought he had enough in the tank for perhaps another year or two as mayor at the rate he does it, maybe not another four, and this is a guy who – criticize him for any number of things, one thing that is undisputable is the guy works seven days a week all hours of the day. If you talk to anybody who has worked for him they only last a year or two because they can’t keep up. I think he decided that he couldn’t keep that pace for another four years.”

But there were also some very practical political considerations in the mix.

“So those are the two chief reasons,” Rutthart asserts. “Now, he also had a bruising election battle ahead of him. While he and his allies thought he could win, that was not going to be pretty. He would have had the Laquan McDonald verdict unfolding in the middle of that, so he would have been in these debates and forums with 11 other people slinging arrows at him and that’s a tough thing to go through too. And so I guess in the end he just decided he was done, it wasn’t worth it to him.”

In the past few days, the heavyweight political names have all been getting in line for what Ruthhart describes as “highly desirable job.” Desirable enough that at least three key politicians who are gliding to victory in the November election are willing to chuck it all in and go for Mayor.

” That’s why you see folks like Chuy Garcia or Susanna Mendoza and even Toni Preckwinkle at 71 years old and on her way to a third term as Cook County Board president and chairman of the county Democratic Party will want this job because there is so much they can affect,” Ruthhart says. “It’s one of those jobs where you can put changes in place and see immediate impact. If you want to build something like the Riverwalk you can do it. You can see it, you can cut the ribbon on it, so you can have a lot more impact in that job than say one of many in the U.S. Congress.”

In Ruthhart’s reporter’s notebook, he keeps a running list of the currently-announced candidates (and another list on Twitter). At the time of our conversation, there were fifteen names on the list. But those are only the ones who’ve formally announced.

“Then there’s another three who are at least kicking the idea around,” he continues. “Congressman Mike Quigley. I think it’s more likely than not he sticks where he is. Cook County Commissioner and soon to be likely a congressman Jesus Chuy Garcia. He seems to be considering it seriously after he finished runner-up four years ago to Emanuel after forcing him in a runoff. And then Illinois comptroller Susanna Mendoza, who can’t really say much about how she might want to run for mayor because she’s got to win her comptroller race in November first.”

So is there a path to victory that’s common to all of these varied candidates? There are some practical realities that Ruthhart says apply to pretty much everyone. “The city is a third white, a third Latino, a third black roughly. If you can patch together two-thirds of that you’re in good shape.”  But with fifteen or more competitors, it’ll be difficult for anyone to get a significant portion of any of those groups.

In recent days, it’s been reported that Mayor Emanuel has changed his position and has agreed with Attorney General Lisa Madigan that a provision should be added to the almost-completed Consent Decree for Chicago Police reform requiring that every police officer report when they point their gun at another person. Ruthhart says the reality is a little different.

“It’s not each officer,” he explains. “It’s not documented how many times they pointed their gun, it’s by beat, by district, so it doesn’t necessarily single out officers.”

“There was a deal cut there,” he continues. “It wasn’t quite just black and white whether to document gun pointing or not… Look, it’s being documented and if you know by beat and you know the date that it happened you can go find the police reports and figure out who the cop is that pointed their gun, but it’s not going to be a just straight statistical list so to speak.”

Our conversation surveys Ruthhart’s ovservations on most of the candidates who are currently getting attention, including Garry McCarthy, Bill Daley, Chuy Garcia, Toni Preckwinkle, Lori Lightfoot, Troy LaRaviere and a few others.


Segment Two: Stacy Davis Gates (beginning at 31:15)

Stacy Davis Gates was recently elevated to the position of Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union. She had most recently been political director. We begin by asking if her union will endorse in the Mayor’s race.

“Oh I’m absolutely sure that our members will push for an endorsement,” she asserts. “I was with a group of high school teachers yesterday and that was the first question, are we going to endorse?”

But she says it’s still to early to pick a candidate. In fact, she says, the political arm of the union has a higher priority right now, and that’s the November election.

“I know that Bruce Rauner was very influential in Rahm Emanuel’s administration as it related specifically to public education,” she claims. “So to get that guy out of there will mean a lot to our members moving forward, so there’s a very strong push amongst our membership to make sure that they get to the polls and that they vote Bruce Rauner out.”

Davis Gates displays great optimism about the mayoral race, though, because she believes that over the past eight years the CTU has made its case to Chicago voters, and the candidates now see the union in  a different light.

“Most of them see our platform as mattering,” she claims. “You know there’s not a mayoral candidate worth its weight in salt that won’t endorse an elected school board. That will not capitulate to lower class sizes, who will not say that we need more resources in our school communities. One of the things that Karen Lewis and Jesse Sharkey did when they were the top two dogs there is that they were able to articulate very clearly to Chicago the needs of the school community and how those needs mirrored the larger communities’ needs, the disinvestment, the lack of voice. And Chicagoans identify with that by and large and believe that students deserve those things. You know we tell people all the time that our working conditions are your children’s learning conditions and that those things have to be righted in this moment.”

“You know Rahm Emanuel came into Chicago on a white steed, the Obama aura all around him, and you know people thought wrongly that he was going to be the type of leader to unite Chicago,” she continues. “And what we have seen are the deep divisions. What we’ve seen is the inequity in resource allocation, the disrespect of voices of working people, working families in this space, so our members are looking at this opportunity as a chance to get it right.”

Davis Gates is frank about the intersection of race and gender with the economic policies of the past. “If you look at the fact that privatization has done more to destroy the very fabric of this city we would have that conversation in a very sharp way. Black people, women in particular have benefited the most from public employee spaces because they were able to obtain a reasonable standard of living. They were able to get a mortgage. They were able to retire with some dignity. The problem is not the bloated pensions. The problem is that we don’t have enough public employee jobs in this city right now. Austerity has done a number on the black community. Austerity has done a number on the wealth of women in this country.”

“And we have changed Chicago for the better,” she insists. “Before red t-shirts populated the streets of Chicago it was a foregone conclusion that the mayor could impose and do whatever he wanted to do. We’ve sparked action across the country. You see West Virginia and North Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, they’re all wearing red t-shirts.”

Davis Gates also talks about the CTU’s efforts to unionize more charter schools and create an equal pay scale for all teachers, regardless of school type. and she says the union will demand that negotiations get under way for next year’s contract renewal well before Rahm Emanuel leaves office.

Screenshot 2018-09-22 12.08.51

On a sad note, education activist, newspaper publisher (and frequent Chicago Newsroom guest) George Schmidt died this week. Stacy Davis Gates offered a fond remembrance of Schmidt’s contribution to the union, and to public schools budgeting transparency in general. You can find it at 32:45 in this broadcast.

You can watch the entire two-part program by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the program on Soundcloud here.

You can read a full transcript here: CN transcript Sep 20 2018


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CN September 14 2018



We gather two journalists and an accomplished politician at the table this week for conversation about Chicago’s dramatic mayoral race, the Jason Van Dyke trial and the police reform consent decree.

We ask who among the candidates that we currently know of would be ready to assume office “on day one”, meaning that they bring to office a breadth of knowledge about the city’s problems and potential solutions, and possess an adequate managerial experience that they could take off quickly. (We didn’t include Bill Daley in the discussion because he announced his intention to run minutes after we left the studio.)

The Daily Line‘s City Hall reporter A.D.Quig leads off. “I think Toni Preckwinkle would be ready,” she tells us. “She’s run an executive office for eight years. I think Chuy Garcia, knowing what he learned after the last election. He’s also had a raised profile both on the Cook County Board and in politics nationally. I know Paul Vallas believes he’d be ready on Day One.”

Miguel Del Valle ran for mayor in 2011. He came in third, behind Chuy Garcia and Rahm Emanuel. He’s also been City Clerk for two terms and a State Senator for about twenty years. He favors his old friend and former competitor Garcia.

“Chuy Garcia is a good friend of mine,” he says. “I think he’d make a good mayor. But in the last campaign I said to to Chuy after it was over, you needed to put people in place who are going to give you really solid advice on city finances, for example. I think that was a weak spot in his past campaign. If that repeats itself he’ll have a difficult time again.  I think with the right people and the right resources he can put together a message that is clear and will win over voters and win their confidence because that right now is one of the biggest issues, besides the violence in the neighborhoods.”

“I would say ‘ready on day one’, that we would not be able to discount and count out Willie Wilson,” asserts Sun-Times Assistant Editor for Audience Engagement Kathy Chaney. “We have to think about his business acumen. He is self-made. He’s not self-made like one of the Jenner kids, but he’s actually a self-made millionaire…He may still have to have a good team around him but, business-wise, fiscally, I think he would be ready on day one to walk in.”

We ask if it’s possible that the “big three” racial camps – blacks, Latinos and whites – might be diminishing in terms of their monolithic political power. is it possible, we ask, that nobody can capture “the Latino” vote or the white of African American “vote” any more? Chaney says there’s a generational shift in the works that could change everything.

“I don’t think that we can discount the Generation Z and Millennial voters because I think they’ll be a huge factor in this – your black and your Hispanic,” She explains. “I think that they are more conscious now and they’re becoming more aware of the issues. And you’ve got high profile Millennials and Gen Z – You’ve got Chance the Rapper who’s very vocal and mobilizing his base and others that are around him. You’ve got Ja’Mal Green with his activist base and I think they will be a huge deciding factor for this mayoral race and just for voting, period.”

But Garcia says the entrenched power base isn’t going anywhere. “The folks who work downtown and live on Lake Shore Drive and who live in Wrigleyville and Streeterville, those are the folks that are voting their pocketbooks. They’re the ones who helped put Emanuel in office. He was their mayor. And they want to see continued downtown development. Yes, they’re concerned about violence, but they want a good fiscal manager in that spot because it affects their pocketbook.”

Quig brings the discussion back to media and its role in helping select our next Mayor. “Talking about the media problem of covering everyone who’s in or out, this was already a brace with fifteen people in it, which makes it very hard to talk about the issues because the horse-race aspect of it is so compelling to read that we don’t know what everyone’s plans for property axes are. We don’t know what everyone’e plans for school are, we don’t know everyone’s plans for public safety. And now, it’s only worse because of the twenty other “maybes” that we have to cover.”

We talk at some length about the police reform consent decree, and the fact that Rahm Emanuel and Lisa Madigan had been unable to come to agreement on a provision that police officers must file a report every time they point their gun at  anyone. Emanuel had opposed it, but two days after announcing he wouldn’t run, he changed his position, supporting the measure. Del Valle says not running again frees politicians to do the things that an upcoming election prevents them from doing.

“In terms of being freed up by not running for office, I’m not so sure we’d have a consent decree if Lisa Madigan was running for re-election, and if Rahm Emanuel was running for re-election. In both cases, I think they were both unleashed to do the right thing,” he asserts.

Oh, and Miguel Del Valle had a major announcement to make, and he broke the news on Chicago Newsroom.

“I want to announce today that I will not be having a press conference to announce that I am not running for mayor.”

You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to this show on SoundCloud here.


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CN September 6 2018

Troy LaRaviere, our guest this week, was the first contestant to enter what’s now the ridiculously crowded Chicago Mayor’s race. He announced his candidacy on May 1 of this year. He sat with us this morning for a wide-ranging conversation about his candidacy and the major issues of this suddenly very high-stakes campaign.

We talked about police and policing, affordable housing, Amazon and Lincoln Yards, the privatization of public-sphere functions and jobs – and his potential relationship with Mike Madigan.

LaRaviere said that he would replace Janice Jackson as head of the schools.

(41:03) “I’m going to bring in someone who has a record of competence and effectiveness in running educational institutions,” he explains. “And the last time I looked at the college persistence rate of the school that she ran, when you looked at schools that started with similar students – I did some analysis. And I wasn’t even looking at her stats. I was looking at the charter school college persistence rate. And I was comparing the charter school persistence rate with the public school persistence rates but only with kids who had the same starting ACT scores so they could make an apples to apples comparison. The Noble Street charter network in particular was dead last in the college persistence rate and the public schools were all at the top. But there was only one public school that was down there dead last with those charter schools. It just happened to be the public high school that was run by our current CEO. So I have to look at the evidence when making that kind of decision and that evidence does not bode well for her retaining her position.” [Jackson’s LinkedIn page lists George Westinghouse College Prep as the high school at which she was principal, 2004-2014.]

“Under this administration,” he continues, “all you have to do to get that position is be able to repeat talking points faithfully. You’re going to have to be able to do a lot more than that under my administration.”

“I would put someone in who has a record of reforming and improving educational institutions,” he says. “A team of people…and let them advise me. That’s how we made Blaine the number one neighborhood school in Chicago.”

LaRaviere doesn’t say that he’d replace Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, but he speaks with equal disdain for the performance of both Johnson and Jackson under Rahm Emanuel.

“Eddie Johnson does not run the police department any more that Janice Jackson runs our school system. And anybody who runs a department under this administration is a highly-paid spokesperson. That’s your job,” he asserts. “I don’t know who the real Eddie Johnson is. I know what the Mayor’s Office puts in  his mouth.”

Troy LaRaviere has a theory about why Rahm Emanuel isn’t running again. It’s because the wealthy power-brokers who backed him and who, in some cases, have profited from having him in office – they have decided to drop the mayor and switch horses. Why?

“Again,” he says, “This is not about Rahm. Rahm ran the city for them. They run the city. Privatization of our school system is not his idea, it’s their idea. It’s their agenda. Indebting us to banks with toxic loans – that’s not his idea, that’s their idea and they want that process. They need that process. The gravy train from our pocket to theirs has to continue. They have to get a candidate in office to make that happen. And I believe that they made the assessment that their chances of controlling the mayor’s office were no longer good. They did not have a good chance for…

Ken:       You mean for a third term?

Troy L:  Right. Their chances of running the mayor’s office through him were no longer good because his chances of being re-elected were getting slimmer and slimmer and I think they decided they needed to bail on him and find a candidate that didn’t have the baggage that he had but would institute the same policies for them that he had been instituting. And so for me and for voters I think the key right now is to look at who the real estate developers put their money behind. Who are the banks going to be putting their money behind? Because that’s going to be the candidate that is not serving our interest but is going to be serving the same interest he served. We have to make sure, that’s why I tell folk at every opportunity I don’t take campaign contributions from the banks. I don’t ask or take campaign contributions from real estate developers or any large corporation that is seeking to get city contracts, so that when I am elected mayor the only people I am going to owe are the people I’m sworn to serve, and I don’t think there are many candidates in the race who can say that.

Ken:       They haven’t been calling you then and asking you if you would like to be their pony in this race?

Troy L:  No sir. I think they’ve gotten the message that I’m not for sale.”

LaRaviere is adamant that public and private funds should be kept separate as much as possible.

“So I am not in favor of putting public money into projects that are designed to benefit and profit private enterprise,” he tells us. “I think that private enterprise has enough accumulated capital to the point where you don’t need what amounts to a public welfare subsidy from us to develop your project. I am not necessarily against private development in general. What I am against is treating Chicago taxpayers like we are supposed to be the payers or the people paying out welfare payments to these developers.

But what happened under Daley,” he continues, “and what happened under Rahm and what’s going to continue to happen if we allow them to put someone else into the mayor’s office who is going to serve their needs is that that money ends up going to them to pad their profits. We never see a return on that investment. They get a return on our investment and we end up losing not only the original amount we invested, but typically that investment involves land that is no longer, because it is owned publicly sometimes, because public money bought the land it’s no longer part of the tax base and then we end up having to pay more in property taxes and so we lose twice.”

You can watch the show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the show here.

Read the full transcript here: CN transcript Sept 6 2018





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CN Aug 30 2018

It’s a two-part program this week.

First, a conversation with writer and journalist Robert Reed about Chicago’s political, cultural and economic outlook for the next few years, including this City’s upcoming mayoral election.

An in our second segment, WBEZ’s Kristen Schorsch explains the looming financial crisis at the Cook County Health and Hospitals system, where almost a half-billion dollars’ worth of care may go “un-compensated” this year.


Robert Reed, who’s written and edited for the Tribune, Crain’s and the Better Government Association – and worked for Pat Quinn as he transitioned from Deputy Governor to Governor – has heard those quiet rumors that Rahm Emanuel may not seek re-election.  Reed says he wouldn’t have bought it back in January, but today “I’m buying it a little bit.”

“The more I’ve been out in the community I’m sort of amazed at the anger there is for Rahm Emanuel in so many different quarters,” he explains. “And when I hear it from small business people it’s fees. It’s – I’m getting all these fees and they are giving these tax breaks to the big companies and I’m picking up the tab for them, or at least that’s what they think. Obviously the situation with the police force and what’s going on in the west and south sides of the city have been hugely important, so I thought he was going in kind of really strong. I’ve been a little surprised at these areas where the anger just seems to be out now.”

We talk briefly about what a race without Emanuel might feel like, and the ways in which the race would be drastically different.

“I mean all the people running against him are saying, “I’m not Rahm Emanuel,” Reed begins. “Well if Rahm Emanuel is out of the mix then who are you and what have you done? Do we have a record that we can look at and judge you upon that record? McCarthy I think is going to have to run against his record no matter what. Vallas’ record is frankly kind of ancient. We don’t really know Paul Vallas anymore. Lori Lightfoot is an attorney and an activist and has had some municipal experience, but again nowhere near running an entire city. So… it would put everybody on a completely different level to sort of explain what it is that they hope to do and how to do it.”

But keep in mind, this is a micro-rumor spiked by the front cover of today’s Sun-Times, and it’s likely that after a few days we won’t be talking about it any more.

But we may be talking for a long time about the Pension Obligation Bonds the Mayor’s proposing, Reed’s skeptical, but not necessarily opposed to the idea.

“Well it won’t hurt,” he begins, “because the pension ramp is getting bigger and bigger and the city is going to have to come up with a lot of money and it’s just this huge drain on the city finances. The Pension Obligation Bonds are intriguing. They are usually floated by municipalities that are in really bad financial shape and it’s sort of a desperation move. In this case they seem to be saying we can structure the bonds in such a way that we can ease the pressure on our cashflow and cover our expenses and so on, and maybe even make some money down the road. But again, if that money is squandered or used for things other than the pensions like it was when the state did something similar to this under Blagojevich, then I think it’s just going to redouble your problems, so it really is going to come down to the details. I would like to see a lot more sunshine on the process before anyone signs off on it. Unfortunately it looks like it’s going to just kind of zip through. If that happens we can end up paying a lot more down the road and that would be bad.”

Reed, not surprisingly, isn’t standing in line to buy a ticket for the bullet train to O’Hare. “Could this deal announcement come at a worst time?” he asks. “Because right after the city reveals it then you find out that Elon Musk is kind of going through some problems”

Musk, as we know, has rattled his investors with talk of privatizing the company, and of his own exhaustion.

“I’m sure somebody has a succession plan in a drawer in case he can’t see it through,” Reed scoffs. “So we will see if this ever really comes to reality…What those investors want are those electric cars being manufactured in a way that they don’t blow-up and are safe on the road, and that’s where their focus is. I don’t think that these other ancillary issues that he wants to get into whether they are mini submarines or doing things like this are going to be top of mind with the investors”

We talk about Reed’s recent Chicago Magazine article The Battle for the Soul of Six Corners, about the struggles to define what Six Corners should become. Should it be the next Logan Square, just a few stops up the Blue Line? Or should it remain more like it is – a quiet enclave of middle class workers in their tidy bungalows? The battle is on.

And we reserve a few minutes to talk Tronc. The company that owns Chicago’s Tribune is probably in play, and a likely buyer is the very group, led by Patrick Soon-Shiong that bought the LA Tribune from Tronc a few months ago. Now they may want to buy the rest, including the Trib. “Tronc is definitely in play,” Reed asserts. “It will be bought. It’s going to be bought by private equity, probably with some kind of big investor like him involved. Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess. Do they want to keep it? In total it’s ten newspapers. My guess is that they will spin-off a number of these papers, maybe keep the Tribune as part of whatever they call it after Tronc but maybe not. So my understanding is that there is a computer system or something that he has helped design that he would like to integrate into the newspaper world and beyond and maybe this would help him to do that. So that’s just another part of the agenda that we have to learn more about. But right now if I were a betting man I would say private equity will buy Tronc and then they will split it up in some way.”



Kristen Schorsch, who recently joined WBEZ is out with an alarming report about  the rise of  “uncompensated care” at the Cook County Health and Hospitals system, which consists of Stroger and Provident Hospitals.

In the last two years, the amount of service the hospitals provide for which the hospitals do not get reimbursed has doubled – from about a quarter of a billion dollars annually to more than a half billion.

Why? “Think about it in two different buckets,” she explains. “One is all the uninsured people that they treat and can’t afford to pay their bills, and then the other is this pile of bills that keeps rising from people who have private insurance and can’t afford it so they just don’t pay their bills. Also a bunch of claims that private insurance companies are denying. So there’s kind of like this mix of things that are happening.”

Obamacare (the ACA) has had dramatic effect in Cook County, providing hundreds of thousands of people with health insurance for the first time. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they can pay their premiums or their deductibles. And, Schorsch tells us, there’s another, completely different problem facing County.

“Governor Rauner largely privatized Medicaid, which is the government health insurance program for people who are low-income or disabled. And so what’s happened  is  the county health system  used to mainly have two types of patients – people who were uninsured and Medicaid, so they would really only bill the state. We’re going to take care of someone, send the bill to the state and get paid.”

But now that’s all changed, because, in addition to all the other problems, Obamacare expanded the number of people who qualified for Medicaid, the program the governor “largely privatized.”

“Now you have all these private insurance companies,” she explains,  “now they all cover Medicaid patients in the State of Illinois, and the county has its own Medicaid health plan called County Care. So it basically got a lot more complicated and the health system has to bill a lot more players. So that’s all these insurance companies you have to go after when they deny your claim, so essentially that’s what’s contributing to that pile of bills that they are not getting paid for as well because they just can’t get paid.”

It’s not unlike what every family faces after an urgent medical issue, with weeks of wrangling over denied claims and underpaid services, except that the County health system’s fighting over work they did for thousands and thousands of people.

“And hospitals across the country have struggled with this,” Schorsch continues. “And think about all these other hospitals having a lot more experience, but they are used to billing a lot of private insurance companies – and the county health system is not. Like literally over the last few years they’ve had to build a whole billing system to deal with this, so they’ve been trying to adapt quickly.”

There’s a separate, but equally alarming trend that’s also affecting County. There are 66 other hospitals just in Cook County, and they, too, are supposed to offer a certain amount of charity care. But they seem to be “referring” a lot more of their non-paying patients to the County system. Schorsch says she talked to the head of the County health system. “And he was like, ‘I can’t prove which hospitals are sending me their uninsured patients, but I can tell you why I think there are just more and more uninsured people coming our way.’ So I looked at about five years’ worth of this data that hospitals have to report each year to the Department of Public Health for the state. And basically what it shows is that back in 2012 the county health system provided 40% of all the free care in the county. Fast-forward five years to 2016, which is the most recent available data, and now it’s close to 50%.”

So 66 hospitals, including some very big and wealthy ones, are providing the other 50%.

And here’s one more statistic: although Obamacare helped hundreds of thousands of people, there are still more than 400,000 people in our County who have no health insurance at all, including an unknown number of undocumented residents. And the Cook County Health and Hospitals System is their only option.

You can read and listen to Kristen’s WBEZ story here.

Watch this double episode by tapping the image above.

Listen to the audio of this program here.

Read a full transcript of this program here: CN transcript Aug 30 2018



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CN August 23 2018


The Tribune’s Hal Dardick tells us about a routine conference the City holds for investors who buy their debt. There was one of these a couple of weeks ago and it was pretty uneventful. But then, he says, there was a roundtable discussion and one of the participants was Michael Sacks, a senior Rahm Emanuel advisor, and a heavy investor in his campaigns. It’s about 5:00 on a Friday afternoon.

“And Michael Sacks sort of drops a bombshell,” Dardick reports, “because the big concern in the room and the big concern for taxpayers is how do we handle spiking pension debt after the mayor or the next mayor gets elected. So, it’s going to spike by over $900-million between next year and 2023, so everyone is concerned well you’re going to raise taxes. Michael Sacks says, “Well I’ve got an idea. Let’s borrow $10-billion, pay down $10-billion of the $28-billion debt in the pension funds with that money.”

Ralph Martire (Center for Tax and Budget Accountability) interjects. “They are calling it borrowing,” he explains. “You’re not borrowing one nickel of new debt. You are not incurring one nickel of new debt. This is money they already owe. It’s debt they already owe to the pension systems. What they are saying is rather than owe this $10-billion to the pension system we would like to owe it to bond-holders. The reason for that is we should get a lower interest rate which benefits taxpayers.”  Another big bond issuance, he points out, just got an interest rate of 3.6%, so if the city could get its hands on ten billion dollars at that low rate and drop it all into the pension systems, it could make huge dent in the pension deficit.

“It’s like refinancing your home mortgage,” he insists. “You’re not incurring new debt, you’re just taking advantage of a lower interest rate. And that could benefit taxpayers in a couple of ways. Way #1 is it puts $10-billion immediately into the pension systems, which will move their funded ratios up to just north of 50% across the board. They are now in the high 20s. This would be a good thing and not a bad thing. You’re not considered healthy at a pension system until you are at least 80% funded according to the Congressional Budget Office.” In addition, he says, the plan could lower the overall costs over time.

But Dardick argues that these so-called “Pension Obligation Bonds” have been tried in many other places over the past couple of decades, with not-so wonderful results. He says they might work in Chicago, because they can project earnings around 7% most years – as long as the economy is strong, “But if they don’t,” he cautions, “what you are doing is you are paying interest on the debt, the 3½ or whatever it is and then if that loses money, if there is a great recession or something then you’ve got to make up that money plus you’re still paying the interest on the debt. You could come out behind if it doesn’t work out well.”

And it hasn’t worked out well in various parts of California, in Detroit and in Puerto Rico. Martire, though, insists that there are structural safeguards that can be put in place to protect the taxpayers from heavy losses.

That’s where “securitization” come in. Dardick says a recent bond issue ws securitized by linking the payments to tax receipts, so the bind buyers felt confident that they’d get paid. “And whenever you have a dedicated revenue source it always helps you with your bond,” Martiere adds.

But Dardick says that the City of Chicago probably doesn’t generate enough sales tax revenue to make this happen. “They may have to go to the legislature and get further authorization to dedicate some other revenue stream in this case,” he cautions. “But here’s where some people criticize that and that is if you do that you are putting those bondholders first in line. As I understand it Detroit when they defaulted the securitized bondholders got their payment and the others basic general debt from general obligation got shafted.”

And Martre counters that it’s almost irrelevant because pension payments in Illinois are guaranteed by the Constitution. “So the fact that it would not be guaranteed debt payable to bondholders rather than the pension systems doesn’t change the characterization of it. It would be first up.”

We point out (using some stats that Hal Dardick has gathered) that Mayor Emanuel has aggressively raised taxes in his second term. The overall taxes and fees being collected in 2018 by the city and by Chicago public schools are nearly 2.2-billion more than when Rahm Emanuel took office, according to the Tribune. All told the average family will pay $1,813 more this year in taxes and fees than it would have in 2011. So you can’t say he didn’t step up and do what had to be done to try to raise the revenue needed to fund the pensions. But that, of course, that will work against him with many voters.

Dardick credits the Mayor with the institution of many improvements to the budgetary process. “He has stopped using one-time revenues, the infamous sale of the parking meter system to pay operating costs. He has gotten rid of other high risk elements in the city’s debt portfolio, so he has taken a lot of steps,” he tells us.  And that money, he adds, is not only going to the pensions, but “also to upgrade a very out of date water and sewer system in the city.”

Ralph Matiere gets the final word: “One of my least favorite political canards that’s out there from a rhetorical standpoint is the phrase tax and spend liberal. If you tax to spend on police are you liberal? No. Tax and spend is responsible. What you’re saying to taxpayers is these are core services and we need to fund them with current revenue. Borrowing to spend on current services is highly irresponsible, and that’s what the City of Chicago did for generations. It’s what the State of Illinois did for generations, and their lender was a captive lender that lent against its will. It was their pension systems.”

You can watch the entire program by clicking the image above.

You can listen to the audio-only version here.

You can read a full transcript of this show here: CN transcript August 23 2018






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CN August 16 2018


Ja’Mal Green is the youngest candidate in the February Mayoral election.  “Because it’s time,” he says, for younger people to lead. “I don’t believe we need another career politician or someone who has been a part of the establishment. We need something new, something refreshing, someone who thinks different, someone who is a decision-maker.”

Green joins us as this week’s guest, as we attempt to have hour-long conversations with all ten of the announced mayoral candidates.

(Here are Paul Vallas, Garry McCarthy and Willie Wilson.)

Green is “From Chicago, born and raised in Englewood as well as in Gresham.” And he’s not unfamiliar with the violence that plagues those neighborhoods. “I saw a lot of things in front of me with people being shot, being scared. I was hiding behind bushes being scared that the gunman was going to shoot me.”

He’s personally witnessed shootings and gunfire. “Definitely, with my own eyes,” he says. “Even times at my house in Englewood and looking outside my window because I hear gunshots and a guy right in front of my house is shooting at a car you know. These are things I saw going on.”

Green says he supports most of the provisions outlined yesterday by the ACLU and Back Lives Matter that would, from their perspective, strengthen the provisions in a draft consent decree for police reform that was unveiled last week. He says that he supports, for example, a proposal that the officers must report every time they unholster their weapon. That’s because “we need to know how trigger happy our cops are. We need to know if there is some gap in training and we have to train officers better… If we find out that we’ve got 1,000 officers on the street a day who unholster their weapon we have to figure out what made you feel like that situation needed to escalate so quickly.”

And he says he’s proposing that police officers be required to carry liability insurance. Officers with few or no complaints will have very low premiums, but the costs escalate with the number of complaints, putting insurance more out of reach.

“And once you’re uninsurable and you are dropped from your policy you are automatically reassigned to desk duties,” he explains. “That would save us billions of dollars in police misconduct settlements as well as the interest that we’re paying on the bonds to take out to pay for these settlements.”

Green does not believe that adding more police officers to an already volatile situation, such as last weekend’s large numbers of shootings and murders, is a solution. And he laments the family and domestic circumstances from which many of the shooters and their victims, come.

“They come out of a broken household then where do they go?” he asks. “They go to school, right? But then they’ve got a school with 40 kids in the classroom, a lack of clinical staff members, no after school programs, lack of resources, and they go in there and act up or display some behavior that’s really from the home that they got from the home then they get put out or expelled, or they just say, “Forget school, I’m dropping out because no one in this school care about me.” Then they go where? They go to the streets. Now you’re in these communities without a mental health facility if they have mental health problems, without a job because of the lack of job opportunities without anyone to grab them and put them back on the right path.

“Nor are they in school. And so what happens to them? They go out and say they commit a crime or they are hanging with their friends, they get arrested and they go down to 26th and California. They get a $10,000 – forget $10,000 – a $5,000 bond that bond is $500, but their family is poor and they don’t have the money to bond out for $500. So what do they do? They take the plea, which overwhelmingly, 98% of cases end in plea deals, so now they’ve got a record now. Back on the streets. They get probation or a few months of jail, now they are back on the streets with a record. Now that really prevents them from getting a job or any opportunity, so this is a never-ending cycle.

“What I’m saying is that we are not only failing them in the home, right, we have a parenting problem in this generation, yes, but then when they come out the home we are failing them in these communities.”

Ja’Mal Green believes that Rahm Emanuel can’t get re-elected. In fact, he believes that if Pat Quinn’s initiative is able to get on the November ballot – the one that asks Chicagoans if they favor a two-term limit on Chicago Mayors – Emanuel won’t survive that vote and will be kicked off the February municipal ballot. “If he gets it on the ballot Rahm is done, yes…hands down,” he asserts.

But Green’s ambivalent about the term-limit measure. He wants to confront Emanuel directly at the ballot box. “I would like to run against him,” he assures us. “I would like to debate him and I want to embarrass him for what he’s done in his two terms. I don’t think we should just let him off the hook.”

Turning to taxes, Green reveals that he’s for taxing the rich. “We need a LaSalle Street tax. We need to tax the rich. They are making trillions of dollars down here and that tax won’t do anything to them…So when you talk about pensions and how we’re going to balance this budget, we’ve got to start talking about new progressive sources of revenue, and that’s not going to happen with borrowing a bunch of money.”

Green favors rent control, says that gentrification’s a bad thing, and he’s willing to confront Barack Obama to assure that hisWhen Presidential Center is more connected to the community. “When it is time for us to take our administration I think our main thing will be making sure that people can stay where they are in those communities and they sign a community benefits agreement.” he tells us.

You can watch this show by tapping the image above.

You can listen to the audio of this show here.

You can read a transcript of the entire show here:CN transcript August 16 2018


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