Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This Daley run will not be like the others

Chicago is famous for its politics, especially around city election time. The election which will be held February 27, 2007, is now being projected to draw an increased number of voters than normal.

The reason?

A very heated mayoral election of course. Challengers are aspiring to take down what is “lovingly” referred to as the “Daley Machine”. Candidates like Dorothy Brown and Bill “Dock” Walls are saying that Mayor Daley is beatable but Daley says he has more to give to the City of Chicago.

This Daley run will not be like the others

By Gary Washburn and Dan Mihalopoulos.

Tribune staff reporters Mickey Ciokajlo and Todd Lighty contributed to this report

Tribune staff reporters

Published December 12, 2006

On the surface it looked a lot like past campaigns for mayor, with Richard Daley touting his record in office and declaring his passion for the job and the city. But while Daley was talking Monday about seeking a sixth term, his aides were filing nominating petitions with fewer than 25,000 signatures.

That figure was far from the political power plays of the past, when Daley's campaign filed as many as 200,000 signatures.

It was a sign that things are a little different this time around for the mayor. Since the 2003 election, the mayor's loyal political street organizations have suffered at the hands of an ongoing federal investigation into illegal hiring that rewarded campaign workers.

"All this means is that he doesn't have as many street workers this time around," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd). "Four years ago, the federal government wasn't breathing down his neck.

"Still, polls have shown that Daley's popularity is high despite City Hall scandals, and most political experts consider him the clear favorite to win re-election. Another four years would allow Daley to eclipse his father's record of almost 22 years in the job.

"With all that we have accomplished, am I satisfied?" Daley asked during his speech at the Comer Youth Center on the South Side. "Do I believe Chicago is the best it can be? ... Or do I have more to give our city?

"Today I am here to answer with all my heart and soul and compassion. And the answer is yes. I have more to give to keep Chicago moving forward.

"But Daley felt the need to mention the scandals, saying he had "accepted responsibility for the things that have gone wrong" and taken steps to address them, such as changing hiring procedures.

The mayor's former patronage chief, Robert Sorich, was sentenced to prison last month for his role in a long-running scheme to rig city hiring in favor of campaign workers for pro-Daley political groups. Witnesses in the Sorich trial said they owed their city jobs to their campaign work.

This fall, Daley's campaign required volunteers who circulated petitions to sign affidavits swearing they had not been offered public jobs or promotions for their help."There's nothing really for these guys to gain," said Ald. Brian Doherty (41st), whose campaign workers circulated petitions for the incumbent, although Doherty is a Republican. "No one will bust their tails except for the true believers.

"Another sign of the times was a memo sent Friday to all Water Management Department employees by First Deputy Commissioner William Bresnahan.

"This is a reminder that political/campaign activities ... cannot be mingled with city work or resources," said the memo, obtained by the Tribune. "No employees can be forced to participate in a political campaign, including donations of time and money."

Terry Peterson, Daley's campaign manager, made no apologies for the small number of signatures. He noted that Daley only needs 12,500 valid signatures to get on the ballot.Besides Democratic ward organizations, Daley's petitions were circulated by block club leaders, ministers and "just ordinary citizens [who] would walk into the campaign office and say, `Terry, can I get a sheet to circulate for the mayor?'" Peterson said.

Absent from the effort this time, Peterson said, were the Hispanic Democratic Organization and other pro-Daley groups that have figured into the federal investigation.One Democratic ward committeeman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wondered whether the low number could be part of a Daley campaign strategy to avoid making a splash with his petitions.

But Daley's two announced challengers predicted the mayor was vulnerable."The mayor's organization has been weakened, and he isn't the mayor he used to be," said Bill "Dock" Walls, who presented 39,000 signatures.

Dorothy Brown, clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court, did not file her petitions for mayor Monday but held a news conference to state that "Mayor Daley is beatable."

Brown said she would end "17 years of almost unprecedented graft and corruption" under the Daley administration.Filing for city clerk Monday were Miguel del Valle, appointed by Daley recently to fill a vacancy in the office, and Jose Cerda, a former mayoral aide who is running without Daley's blessing. Stephanie Neely, appointed by the mayor recently to fill the vacant city treasurer's job, was the only candidate Monday to file for that office.

The dissolution of Daley's patronage armies was widely expected to encourage more competition for City Council seats, and 120 candidates filed for alderman Monday. At least 40 of the city's 50 aldermen will face challengers.Scores of incumbents and their would-be replacements lined up at 69 W. Washington St. early Monday to file their nominating petitions. The filing deadline is 5 p.m. Monday.

Paul Stewart, an 18th Ward candidate, was the first aldermanic hopeful in line. He said being there so early has symbolic value because it shows voters his "true commitment" to the race.

Standing right behind him was Mazonne "Maze" Jackson, another candidate for the 18th Ward seat left open by Thomas Murphy's election as a Cook County judge.But sources said Daley would soon appoint Lona Lane, a Murphy aide, to replace him. Lane also filed petitions Monday, as the mayor's office declined comment on the 18th Ward vacancy.

The 18th Ward campaign could become a proxy battle for several African-American leaders, with U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White expected to back candidates there.Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd), who has been on the council since 1971, filed for re-election just moments after Brendan Reilly joined the race. Reilly is a former aide to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

"I think I'll be OK," Natarus told reporters as Reilly stood a few feet away.The mayor's top ally in the council's Latino caucus, Ald. Daniel Solis (25th), has four opponents already and more appear poised to join the scrum. The hopefuls include former council members Ambrosio Medrano, who went to prison for corruption, and Juan Soliz.

Other challengers are local school council member Cuahutemoc Morfin and Aaron del Valle of the Hispanic Democratic Organization. HDO once supported Solis, but he has feuded with leaders of the once powerful pro-Daley group.Another hotly contested campaign could be in the 2nd Ward, where three challengers filed Monday against 13-year incumbent Madeline Haithcock.

Although a candidate in the ward needs only 150 signatures to get on the ballot, lawyer Robert Fioretti filed more than 8,500.

Larry Doody, another 2nd Ward candidate, filed about 2,000 signatures and downplayed Fioretti's larger total. "Petitions don't win races," Doody said.Vilma Colom, who lost her council spot four years ago to Ald. Rey Colon (35th), is seeking a rematch next year.

Former 1st Ward Ald. Jesse Granato also is attempting a comeback four years after voters dropped him from the council. This time, though, Granato is running in the 26th Ward, opposing Ald. Billy Ocasio.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Road to 2008: What is the American Muslim Community’s Role?

The Democrats in Congress have renewed hope, after taking control over the House and the Senate during the November election. They have vowed to fight excessive spending, build a more ethical congress and to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which was the subject of many political campaigns during this election year. The Republicans too have announced their plans to reform their party.

A shift in power in both the House and the Senate now means a fairly low key end to the current session, with the more controversial issues to be handled after congress reconvenes with a Democrat majority in January. Issues such as comprehensive immigration reform and certain spending bills have been put on hold until there is more time to decide on them. Some of those issues, Democrats promised, will be handled within the first 100 days of the new session, commonly referred to as the “honeymoon”.

With a president that supports comprehensive immigration reform, a divided GOP on the issue, and a Democratic congress only by a narrow margin, there is potential for gridlock where not much legislation will get passed. Given such a scenario, the American public has begun looking to the 2008 election as one that will bring about more dramatic change in politics, with a ‘sneak preview’ in 2006.

Immigrant communities and advocacy groups rallied around immigrants’ rights and had record numbers on Election Day. The American-Muslim community is certainly not exempt from these statistics. In fact, during the course of the 2006 election, CAIR-Chicago, in partnership with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), was able to increase voter registrations by 80 percent and voter turnout by 50 percent in the southwestern suburb of Bridgeview.

So, what does this all mean for American-Muslims in 2008?

As a community that has more politically aware and active in the last few years, American-Muslims can play a potentially large role in the upcoming election. With more immigrants becoming citizens and potential voters, the community has become one that has finally begun taking stances on issues that affects its members directly and indirectly.

The activism of one of the newer communities in the United States has been credited to the post 9/11 era, in light of the increase in civil rights abuses that the Muslim community has begun to face. Regardless of the cause for a more politically conscious Muslim community, there are more politically active Muslims engaging in proactive discourse and professional activism than there were ten years ago.

With the first ever American-Muslim elected to the elected to Congress, Keith Ellison is seen as a pioneer. Regardless of what policies he may push once he becomes an active member of the House, Ellison has become an individual providing American Muslims with hope that we will be able to create an agenda that is specific to the needs of our community.

However, for this vision and hope to become reality, the Muslim community must push itself to its limits the way many other immigrant communities have done to excel politically. Over the next two years, the American-Muslim community must engage itself in constructive and proactive dialogue about the role the Muslims in the political arena, not only with itself, but with mainstream Americans. If it is to lay a solid foundation in politics, it must educate itself so that each member of the community is aware of the functions of its government and the responsibilities of both elected officials and their constituents.

But, actions speak louder than words.

Not only must dialogue play a central role, participating in meetings with elected officials, conducting voter education projects, and mobilizing people toward activities that identify the American-Muslim community as positive agent of political change.

The next two years will determine who will win the presidency in 2008. The new resident of the White House in 2008 will be determined by the newly activated communities. The role of the American-Muslim community in this election can potentially steer politics in a different direction but only if it makes the commitment to do so, not simply by talking about it. Rather, it is due time to be about it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chicago at its best: nepotism

Chicago certainly does do nepotism best. The Cook County Board President race was a hotly contested one between Deomcrat elect Todd Stroger and Republican candidate Tony Periaca. Beyond being a race that could potentially bring in a new face into Cook County politics, it also created public discussion on the role of nepotism in politics.

Todd Stoger, son of the previous Cook County Board president John Stroger, was named as the Democratic Party’s nominee, after John Stroger won the primary race in March and later resigned. Opponents and alienated voters spoke out and criticized the manner in which offices are “inherited” by family members, a common practice in the Chicago and Cook County political scene.

Now, after Todd Stroger has won the general election, he has promised to clean up the budget deficit left behind by his father and his board. In light of the current debate on nepotism, Bobbie Steele, the interim board president has pushed for her seat as one of the Cook County Commissioner. Following the trend and to make the situation humorous, another board member has said that she wants to maintain her seat until her 12 year-old son is ready to take over.

Indeed, Chicago does do it best. At nepotism that is.

Stroger vows big changes
Cook County Board chief says there'll be no more sacred cows

By Mickey CiokajloTribune staff reporter
Published December 5, 2006

New Cook County Board President Todd Stroger promised "dramatic change" and said there would be "no more sacred cows" as he took office Monday and immediately turned his attention toward tackling a $500 million budget deficit.

"We will transform this government into a more modern, more efficient operation," Stroger said.

"To get there, the transitions will be tough, the sacrifices painful, the dramatic change worth it."

Although the county's new budget year started Friday, Stroger said it would likely take three months to pass the 2007 spending plan as he works with board members to close the gap without raising taxes.

Stroger, 43, takes over the $3 billion government that his father, John, led for nearly 12 years until he retired in July after suffering a stroke. Interim board President Bobbie Steele finished the final four months of John Stroger's term.

While Todd Stroger acknowledged his father's legacy, he made clear in his comments that the "old time" government and its "sluggish culture" had to change. Stroger said the budget deficit was the "cumulative result of difficult decisions being too long deferred."Worse yet, we inherit a climate of public mistrust and a culture that too readily settles for good enough instead of demanding the best.

"Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), chairman of the board's Finance Committee, called Stroger's budget challenge "grueling" but reiterated that Stroger vowed not to raise taxes."It's going to be very hard," Daley said. "I think we have to give him time.

"It remained unclear on Monday whether Stroger, as president, has a right to vote with the commissioners. John Stroger had been both board president and an elected commissioner; Todd Stroger was elected president, but did not run for a commissioner's seat.

Todd Stroger said Monday that he would not try to cast votes even though Burton Odelson, his campaign lawyer, argued that state law gives him that power.

Daley, however, said Stroger is not entitled to vote, and that the board will debate rules on Wednesday that should make that clear.Serving in John Stroger's old commissioner seat representing portions of the South Side and south suburbs will be former Chicago Ald. William Beavers (7th), one of two new commissioners sworn in Monday. The other was Republican Timothy Schneider, who beat longtime board member Carl Hansen in the March Republican primary to represent the northwest suburbs.

On Tuesday, committeemen in Steele's district will meet to name her replacement following her retirement last week. Steele has recommended they appoint her son, Robert, an administrator with the Chicago Park District.Bobbie Steele, who doubled her pension by serving as president for four months, told reporters Monday that she has offered Stroger to work as a consultant for $1 in any capacity that he might need.

While some have criticized Stroger and Steele for participating in the long Chicago tradition of political nepotism, the issue provided some of Monday's lighter moments.

Republican Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman of Orland Park said she intended to keep her seat warm until her 12-year-old son, Conor, could take over.

In brief remarks, Conor said he looked forward to working with the board. Giving a thumbs-up, he concluded, "Congratulations, Mr. President. And here's to our parents."