#184 Jun 4, 2014
Fed-up voters want a say on redistricting
June 3, 2014
I want to thank the Tribune editorial board for its consistent support for the redistricting petition drive. You have brought up excellent points about the signature examination procedure employed by the State Board of Elections.
Powerful people and groups do not want this initiative on the ballot in November, while a strong majority of Illinois citizens do.
Evidence of the effects of severely gerrymandered representation is apparent in Springfield. Important budget decisions are being kicked down the road until after the next election. Even the man who wants to "shake things up in Springfield" by becoming our next governor has yet to reveal anything specific about how he is going to do that.
People are fed up, and they deserve to vote on a way out of the current mess. Signatures that are printed and not written in cursive should not be thrown out when the intent of the voter is clear. The petition circulators who worked and volunteered for "Yes for the Independent Map" were hard-working with the purest of motives. I was one of them. We were motivated simply by the sincere desire to make Illinois a better state.
Most of these signatures were gathered during the coldest winter in 30 years and the second snowiest. Have you ever tried to write with a pen that stops flowing when the temperature is below 32 degrees?
-- Jan Goldberg,
#185 Jun 7, 2014
UNO troubles put spotlight on its powerful friends
A who’s-who of Chicago’s political elite had just enjoyed a mariachi version of “The Star Spangled Banner” when Juan Rangel stepped forward to introduce “a good friend of mine” to give the keynote speech at a banquet held by the group he then led, the United Neighborhood Organization.
“I want to applaud UNO,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the event in November 2011, months after Emanuel had won the mayor’s office with Rangel as his campaign co-chairman.
Emanuel praised the Hispanic group’s charter schools. He called UNO a “great organization with a great future.”
Now, with UNO and its former leader Rangel under fire from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as a result of a contracting scandal, Emanuel and other powerful politicians who helped the group become a potent force in politics and education aren’t talking.
Emanuel’s spokeswoman referred questions about UNO to Chicago Public Schools spokesman Joel Hood, who declined to comment because “there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know yet” about the SEC case.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, sponsored the $98 million state grant at the center of the SEC case, but his spokesman, Steve Brown, said he’s “not familiar” with the federal civil case against UNO.
Aides to Gov. Pat Quinn — who signed the grant legislation in 2009 — and longtime UNO ally Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) did not respond to requests for comment.
Last week, the SEC accused UNO and its charter-school network of defrauding investors who bought $37.5 million in bonds in 2011. UNO officials failed to disclose to bond-holders that they had given grant-funded contracts worth millions of dollars to a company owned by a brother of Rangel’s top deputy, Miguel d’Escoto.
According to the SEC, that deal and contracts with another d’Escoto brother potentially threatened UNO’s ability to repay bond-holders, if the state had demanded the return of tens of millions of dollars already spent building new schools.
After the Chicago Sun-Times revealed the insider deals in February 2013, state officials ultimately froze the remaining $15 million from the $98 million grant but didn’t demand a refund. Rangel and d’Escoto were forced out.
UNO’s new leaders have settled the SEC’s charges by agreeing to give a federal monitor oversight of contracting for a year and promising not to engage in any “conflicted transaction” ever again.
In a statement issued via a public relations firm, UNO officials said they “remain committed to building an educated, powerful and prosperous Hispanic community.”
Prompted by the Sun-Times reports, the SEC began investigating a year ago. Though the civil case was settled,“We’re not done,” says Peter K.M. Chan, the SEC’s assistant regional director for the municipal securities and public pensions unit in Chicago.“With regard to other parties that may have contributed to UNO’s securities violations, the investigation continues. So charges against others, including individuals, are possible.”
In its complaint, the SEC singles out Rangel, saying he approved the insider contracts with d’Escoto’s brothers and made false comments during a March 2013 conference call with bond investors concerned about the possible impact of the contracting scandal.
The ongoing federal investigation also brings unwelcome attention for the politicians who helped UNO become the best-connected political force in the city’s fast-growing Latino community.
The UNO charter network expanded rapidly with support from virtually all of the biggest names in Illinois Democratic politics as well as some Republicans.
As a private, not-for-profit organization, UNO couldn’t formally back political candidates. But Rangel often endorsed and helped raise campaign cash for establishment politicians with large numbers of Latino constituents, in some cases backing white candidates over Hispanic rivals.
#186 Jun 7, 2014
Rangel, who became the organization’s chief executive officer in 1996, has said he believed it made sense for Hispanics to forge close ties with the existing political leadership.
He often cited the late community organizer Saul Alinsky’s guidebook “Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals,” arguing that those on the outs need to infiltrate the circles of power, rather than try to topple those who hold it.
In a 2012 interview, Rangel said UNO had changed the long-held perceptions among Chicago’s Hispanic professional class, who believed “you couldn’t be a leader of the community unless you ran a social service agency.”
“Where does a Hispanic lawyer fit in if he’s not looking for a job in Streets and San. or not picketing a corporation downtown?” he said.“I think we have transformed what leadership in the Latino community is here in Chicago.”
Rangel watched with pride as former Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed protégés from UNO’s Metropolitan Leadership Institute program to cabinet spots.
But UNO’s finances and clout blossomed only after it became a major player in the growing business of publicly financed, privately operated charter schools, touted as an alternative to public schools. The first UNO charter opened in 1998 with financial backing from Daley and his then-schools chief, Paul Vallas.
It continued to expand with support from Vallas’ successor, Arne Duncan — who’s now President Barack Obama’s education secretary — and since Emanuel succeeded Daley.
The group’s charter network has grown from one campus in 2005 into a 16-school chain with more than 7,500 students in the city. UNO’s charters got more than $45 million from the Emanuel-run city school system to operate in the year that ended in June 2013, records show.
But UNO’s biggest single source of public financing came in 2009, when Madigan sponsored legislation that found bipartisan support for the $98 million school-construction grant. It’s believed to be the biggest government subsidy for charter schools in the country.
Madigan, Quinn, Emanuel and state Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont attended groundbreaking and grand-opening events for the new state-funded UNO schools.
Rangel has acknowledged that he leaned on companies that did business with the charter-school network to contribute the campaigns of his political allies. A long list of organization contractors — including the two d’Escoto family companies mentioned in the SEC case — contributed to Madigan at a 2012 fund-raiser sponsored by Rangel and UNO’s Springfield lobbyist.
When UNO’s deals came under scrutiny by state officials last year, Quinn talked tough but ultimately OKed the resumption of the grant payouts. That allowed work to be finished at a Southwest Side high school that was under construction. Quinn did so at the urging of a Burke, who’s been a major campaign contributor to the governor.
Payments were frozen again months later, after the SEC began investigating UNO. But the governor did not push for UNO to repay any of the state money, though the state could have done so under the terms of the grant contract.
Contractors with ties to Burke have worked on the state-funded UNO school projects, and a Burke daughter-in-law works for the organization at its headquarters in the West Loop. In 2010, Rangel helped the powerful alderman’s brother, state Rep. Daniel Burke (D-Chicago), overcome a tough primary challenge from a Hispanic rival.
Rangel and Emanuel didn’t know each other well until forming an alliance in the fall of 2010. Rangel appeared alongside Emanuel in Pilsen on the day Emanuel returned to Chicago from his stint at the White House as Obama’s chief of staff to run for mayor. Rangel then signed on as Emanuel’s mayoral campaign co-chair, despite close ties with the other main candidate to succeed Daley, former city school board president and UNO lawyer Gery Chico.
#187 Jun 11, 2014
Dem leaders let Chicago down by standing with Rep. Smith
June 10, 2014
They start small.
But they rarely stay that way.
A federal jury on Tuesday found state Rep. Derrick Smith guilty of taking a $7,000 bribe to steer a state grant to a day care center.
Seven thousand dollars isn’t much in the world of multimillion-dollar state contracts. Some say the feds wasted their time going after such a small fish.
But what if Smith, like many a politician before him, was just getting started?
Few public officials in Illinois — consider our last two governors — start out their corrupt careers with a bang.
The feds were right to go after this one-term Chicago Democrat early in his career, even if you feel sorry for the hapless guy. Smith’s lawyer claims he was entrapped, alleging the entire scheme was “the government’s plan,” not Smith’s. A government mole may have nudged Smith along, but no one forced Smith to take a bribe. It was his greedy interest that drove this crime.
Even if this turned out to be his only crime in his public career, Smith got what he deserves: a conviction and a defeat in his run for re-election. The public deserves better.
Or do they?
The public elected Smith in 2012, even after his indictment. Smith had every right to run and was, of course, presumed innocent until proven guilty. But the evidence against him was damning; he had been caught on tape taking a bribe. His colleagues in the Illinois House had taken the extreme step of expelling him from office before the general election. He was the first lawmaker tossed out of the House in more than a century.
Despite that, Smith cruised to victory in the 10th Illinois House race in 2012.
His district is solidly Democratic, a place where voters toe the party line, many blissfully unaware of the name behind the party label.
But the party bosses knew better. They failed the public by appointing Smith in the first place, let alone supported his re-election. They had their reasons, of course, but none of them noble.
The West Side Democrat was appointed in 2011 to fill a vacancy, despite being unfit for the job. The Sun-Times editorial board interviewed him before the March 2012 primary and was profoundly unimpressed. In a phone interview, his questions on state affairs were halting and shallow. There was a major pause before each answer, suggesting someone was right there, coaching him. His written answers weren’t much better.
Smith got the job for one reason: He was Secretary of State Jesse White’s guy. After Smith’s indictment (but after his March 2012 primary win), White and other Democrats began pressuring Smith to resign and supported an alternate candidate in the November 2012 general election.
Illinois House Speaker and Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan remained neutral in that race but, amazingly, supported Smith for re-election this past March.
“We support incumbents,” Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown said in February, adding,“I believe you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Isn’t that right?”
But that doesn’t translate into undying support, especially when more worthy candidates are running. Fortunately, voters finally wised up and rejected Smith in March.
Tuesday’s conviction has the same effect: booting him from office.
Prosecutors — and voters — did all of us a favor by stopping a corrupt public official before too much damage was done.
If only we could get the state’s Democratic leaders to do the same.
#188 Jun 11, 2014
His district is solidly Democratic, a place where voters toe the party line, many blissfully unaware of the name behind the party label.
But the party bosses knew better. They failed the public by appointing Smith in the first place, let alone supported his re-election. They had their reasons, of course, but none of them noble.
Recognize corruption (in progress) when ever YOU see it!
#189 Jun 16, 2014
Madigan firm got $1.7M tax break for contractor, its partners
When Mesirow Financial Services — a Chicago company that manages millions of dollars in pension funds for the state of Illinois — and its partners wanted to fight the property taxes on their new skyscraper, they called the law offices of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
Madigan’s law firm saved the Mesirow group more than $1.7 million in real estate taxes by persuading Cook County officials to slash the value of the River North building by 60 percent soon after it opened nearly five years ago.
Mesirow no longer owns the building at 353 N. Clark that still serves as its headquarters. But the law firm of Madigan & Getzendanner has continued to save Mesirow money by getting the tax bills lowered for the building’s owner.
Madigan’s firm has gotten Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios — chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party and a political ally of Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party — to slash the skyscraper’s value, arguing it hasn’t been particularly profitable, in part because of “generous rent abatements” Mesirow agreed to give its tenants, including Mesirow itself.
Over the past three years, Berrios’ assessment cuts have saved the building’s new owner, Tishman Speyer, nearly $15 million in real estate taxes that otherwise would have been passed on, which passes the tax bills on to Mesirow and other tenants, records show.
And another tax cut is on the way. Madigan got Berrios and the Cook County Board of Review to again slash the estimated value of the property early this year. The resulting tax savings won’t be determined until tax bills are calculated later this summer.
Madigan says it wasn’t a conflict of interest for his law firm to win the tax breaks for Mesirow — which has been paid more than $9 million over the past five years to manage state pension funds that now total more than $300 million and another $5.2 million for financial and insurance services to the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and other state agencies.
The speaker also says he’s done nothing to help Mesirow — where his son Andrew Madigan is a company vice president — get state business. The speaker’s son started at Mesirow as an intern in 2008. Mesirow says he now works in “business development for all lines of insurance,” often involving suburbs including Blue Island, Burbank and Cicero.
Madigan’s six-lawyer firm specializes in getting property-tax cuts for Chicago skyscrapers, hotels, shopping malls, car dealers and many others. Mesirow is one of the few clients that has contracts with the state of Illinois.
Mesirow says Madigan’s firm didn’t represent the company itself but, instead, an affiliated entity, 351 Mortgage Loan Borrower LLC. That company — formed by Richard Stein, a Mesirow senior managing director, to build the skyscraper for Mesirow — has never gotten state business, Mesirow’s Deborah S. Kripes says.
Mesirow has had state contracts for more than a decade.
“Those state contracts have been obtained through a public, competitive-bidding process and approved by the appropriate procurement and agency officials,” Kripes says.
Richard Price, Mesirow’s chairman and chief executive officer, is also an investor in Wrapports LLC, parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Madigan has a longtime relationship with Stein, whose development company merged with Mesirow two decades ago. Stein’s projects have included the redevelopment of the former Glenview Naval Air Station and transforming Maxwell Street into University Village. Stein also sought for years to win state permission to develop a casino in Waukegan.
Madigan says of him:“Mr. Stein is a friend and client.”
#190 Jun 16, 2014
Stein created 351 Mortgage Loan Borrower with Albert Friedman, a developer who owned the office tower that Mesirow previously leased, which is across the street from its new skyscraper.
They got financing for the project once Mesirow and the law firm of Jenner & Block signed long-term leases to occupy 63 percent of the 1.2 million square feet of space in the 44-story tower.
Construction began in 2006. In late 2009, Mesirow and Jenner moved in under leases that included $11.2 million in rent abatements for Mesirow and $9.7 million for Jenner, according to records Madigan filed with the county.
Less than six months later, armed with an appraisal of the building, Madigan’s firm began contesting the real estate taxes. It persuaded then-Cook County Assessor James Houlihan to lower his proposed valuation of $76.8 million, arguing that the building had been largely vacant in 2009 and that, as a result, its expenses exceeded its income.
After appealing to Houlihan and the Cook County Board of Review, Madigan got the building’s market value pegged at $31.3 million. That saved Stein’s company $1.7 million in property taxes for 2010.
On Dec. 15, 2010, Stein’s company sold the building to Tishman Speyer for $385.4 million — a deal that Madigan’s firm says wiped out the equity that Mesirow and Jenner had in the skyscraper.
For each of the past four years, Madigan has filed challenges of the building’s estimated market value with Berrios, who succeeded Houlihan as county assessor in 2010.
Every year, Berrios has said the building is worth at least $330 million. And every year Madigan’s firm has gotten Berrios to slash that estimate, resulting in tax breaks that have averaged $5 million a year, county records show. Tishman Speyer passes along the tax bills to its tenants, so any cut benefits them.
The skyscraper “had essentially no rental income in 2009 and reduced rental income in subsequent years,” says Madigan’s partner, attorney Bud Getzendanner, who successfully argued for the cuts.
Getzendanner won’t say how much the firm has been paid for winning the cuts in property assessment that lowered the building’s taxes. Madigan told the Chicago Tribune four years ago that his firm charges clients an annual fee rather than take a percentage of the tax cuts.
Earlier this year, Getzendanner argued the building was worth no more than $260 million, though its net income hit $36.7 million last year, the highest since tenants first moved in. He noted that 10 percent of the building remained vacant.
Once again, Madigan’s firm got Berrios to cut the building’s estimated value, this time by 20 percent, then persuaded the Board of Review to lower it by another 2 percent.
Mesirow and Jenner each pays about $30 a square foot. That’s about $10 below the market rate, according to Thomas Jaconetty, Berrios’ deputy assessor.
“In our view, that’s low,” Jaconetty says of the rent the two firms pay.“We think the market supports higher rents than they’re paying. The building is not generating what we say it could.”
Asked why, despite that, Berrios has raised his estimate of the building’s worth each year only to back sharply off that figure when Madigan’s firm appeals, Jaconetty says,“This is all value judgments.”
#191 Jun 16, 2014
[Over the past three years, Berrios’ assessment cuts have saved the building’s new owner, Tishman Speyer, nearly $15 million in real estate taxes that otherwise would have been passed on, which passes the tax bills on to Mesirow and other tenants, records show.]
Give backs of this kind COST the TAXPAYERS!
And CONTRIBUTE to the ILLINOIS State DEBT!
#192 Jun 16, 2014
It is always important to gather all the facts and present them in a clear well thought out manner so the public can understand exactly what is going on.
#193 Jun 17, 2014
Illinois elections board is rushing to kill a people power amendment
The State Board of Elections appears hellbent on disenfranchising disgusted Illinois citizens
Yes for Independent Maps is hoping to place a referendum question on the Nov. 4 ballot regarding the redrawing of legislative boundaries.(Alex Garcia,
June 17, 2014
Illinois voters would love the chance to grab the once-a-decade job of redrawing legislative boundaries from the politicians who have abused that process.
Year after year, in poll after poll, support for giving that power to the people has been overwhelming. Hundreds of thousands of voters signed petitions this year to put such a measure — a constitutional amendment — on the November ballot.
How about a little respect?
We're talking to you, members of the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Jesse Smart, Charles Scholz, William McGuffage, Casandra Watson, Harold Byers, Bryan Schneider, Betty Coffrin, Ernest Gowen: It took eight months for volunteers and staffers with Yes for Independent Maps to collect those signatures.
You should bend over backward to make sure the citizens of Illinois aren't disenfranchised.
Slow down. Do this right. However long it takes.
The elections board has been in a mysterious rush to crush this amendment, based on a fast review of only a small sample of the 507,467 signatures that were gathered in support of it.
That would be a terrible injustice to the people of this state. It would feed the pure disgust that the people of Illinois have for the political leaders of Illinois.
You doubt that? A Gallup poll this year found Illinois ranked dead last in the number of citizens who have trust and confidence in their state government.
A board vote on Tuesday could effectively throw out several thousand signatures that have been challenged. That could effectively kill the chance to vote on the referendum.
Yes for Independent Maps says those signatures are valid and it can prove that. It needs time, though. The elections board seems hellbent on denying the organizers that time.
Let's back up and explain.
Elections board employees examined a random sample of 5 percent of the signatures and announced that only 46 percent of them were valid. If accurate, that projects — projects — to the campaign being short of the 298,400 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
But the organizers say their own checks show a much higher validation rate.
Should we take the word of the elections board examiners as gospel? One examiner disqualified 86 percent of the signatures he or she checked. Another examiner disqualified only 17 percent. This is the first time the state elections board has tried to do such work. In the past, local elections officials did the checks.
A hearing officer hired by the board agreed to give the campaign organizers until June 13 to prove signatures were valid. But the board slapped her down and ordered that the evidence be turned in by June 6.
The campaign turned in its evidence on June 6 — and it sat there, unexamined, until June 13. Again: What was the rush? Why was that deadline so important?
The campaign filed requests under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act for voter registration materials needed to make its case. Many of those documents did not arrive by June 6. This should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody who has ever filed a FOIA request.
Yes for Independent Maps wants that material to be considered once it is received. But the elections board may decide Tuesday that it won't allow that evidence. Then those several thousand signatures the campaign believes are valid will be disqualified.
#194 Jun 17, 2014
In short: There is reason to believe that these are the valid signatures of registered voters in Illinois and those voters are about to be disenfranchised. The Illinois State Board of Elections is in a rush to get this over with. The power brokers in Illinois are watching intently. They desperately want to preserve their control over the political map process.
The amendment campaign isn't asking for extra time to collect signatures. It met the timing requirement of the Illinois Constitution when it turned them in on May 1. It's asking — on behalf of half a million people who signed those petitions — for a perfectly legal opportunity to show that valid signatures are being disqualified.
Voters deserve that consideration. The Board of Elections, though, seems hellbent on cutting this process short.
#195 Jun 17, 2014
They submitted nearly twice the number of signatures that were required. That alone should be sufficient, since all that is asked is a place on the ballot. The voters still have to vote. Only then will we know if the registered voters approve. Everyone needs to get out and vote. I for one, will vote against every incumbent including those where I have to write in a candidate. They need to know that they are illegitimate.
#196 Jun 17, 2014
Hey! Tribune Editorial Board! How about some nice in-depth profiles of the Election board members. How they were appointed, what their voters registration is, who their wives or kids work for, how much money does the position pay and does their income match their lifestyle. In other words are these people honest or political hacks doing as they're told?
#197 Jun 18, 2014
This money needs to be returned to the taxpayers!
#198 Jun 19, 2014
SHAME ON ALL YOU
13 questions for the Illinois State Board of Elections
1) Did you decide to rush all by yourselves or did someone help you with that?
June 19, 2014
The members of the Illinois State Board of Elections are awfully thin-skinned about seeing their names in boldfaced type on this page. Too bad. These political appointees are paid $37,571 a year ($58,441 for the chairman), plus expenses, to administer the state's election laws. They answer to the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Or do they?
If several of the board members are trying instead to eliminate a threat to the Democratic power structure, they couldn't do a much better job. Their clumsy judgments on the ballot eligibility of a constitutional amendment to curb gerrymandering suggest that they're serving incumbent pols, not the people of Illinois.
If and when the election board's decisions are appealed to courts of law, we hope judges will ask why the board has behaved as if it wants to disenfranchise the more than half-million Illinoisans who signed petitions.
But as we wait for courts to take over, we have our own questions for the board members — Jesse Smart, Casandra Watson, Bryan Schneider, Betty Coffrin, Ernest Gowen, Charles Scholz, William McGuffage and Harold Byers:
From the get-go some of you have signaled that you're in a rush to be done with this measure, as if you're taking out the trash at night rather than overseeing a process by which Illinois citizens seek to amend their state constitution. Did you decide to rush all by yourselves or did someone help you with that?
•Why are you obsessed with meeting an Aug. 22 deadline — more than two months from now — for certifying the November ballot? If being fair to the petitioners delays your process and forces some judges to work overtime sorting out the inevitable disputes, so what? Judges can work weekends too.
The nature of these proceedings places you in the role of judge and jury over questions about the performance of the agency you oversee. To put it another way: It's up to you, the Board of Elections, to decide whether the Board of Elections messed up by disqualifying valid signatures. You should be bending over backward to assure the public you're not just covering your keisters. How can you be objective if you keep whining about being "blamed"?
•While we're here: Why are you so sure the fault lies with the people across Illinois who collected the signatures and not the people in your agency who counted them?
Individual state examiners' results were all over the map. One threw out 86 percent of the signatures he or she checked; another threw out a mere 16 percent. Isn't this a red flag?
Why is it so easy for the government to discard a signature and so hard for the petitioners to restore one? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
The process of qualifying this measure for the ballot is playing out under a brand new set of rules: Instead of having local elections officials check signatures and forward the results to Springfield, your board's workers examined a random sample and projected the number of valid signatures. The result, it appears, was fewer people, working faster, to evaluate signatures. Why is this an improvement? Doesn't it make you nervous?
•The changes are part of an omnibus election code bill that lawmakers passed in 2011 — the year after the League of Women Voters came close to getting a redistricting amendment on the ballot. Did you help craft that bill? Do you think these changes better facilitate the democratic process? Or should we not ask?
#199 Jun 19, 2014
How is the public interest served by cutting short the appeals process? First you overruled your hearing officer's decision to give Yes for Independent Maps another week to collect documents to support its petitions. Then you refused to approve subpoenas to expedite the collection of those materials, forcing the campaign to rely on the Freedom of Information Act to get them. Naturally, many of them haven't yet arrived. How can you justify disqualifying the evidence that was delayed by your action?
If you're so sure the amendment sponsors won't be able to prove their signatures are valid, why have you taken so many steps to limit the evidence they can present?
Board member Bryan Schneider has more than once suggested that you stop second-guessing your hearing officer and let her do her job. That's a fine idea. Why don't you do it?
Public attendance at Tuesday's board meeting showed the high level of interest in this amendment. How about a microphone in a hearing room that seats 150?
We note that the attorney leading the charge to keep this amendment off the ballot is thick as thieves with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. That's fine. But why do you jump every time Michael Kasper says "frog"?
#200 Jun 22, 2014
Doing Michael Madigan's dirty work
Meet the attorney who's fighting to protect the speaker's stranglehold on Illinois
June 22, 2014
The House speaker's henchman had a busy week, fighting to protect the Illinois Constitution from the people of Illinois:
On Tuesday, attorney Michael Kasper appeared before the State Board of Elections, doing his best to disqualify the signatures of thousands of voters who signed petitions demanding a fair redistricting process.
On Wednesday he was in a Cook County courtroom, trying to convince a judge that the framers of the constitution had mapped out a process by which citizens could amend the document but booby-trapped it with language that bars every imaginable change.
Kasper is leading the assault on two citizen-driven amendments vying for space on the November ballot. One would limit the terms of members of the General Assembly. The other would take the once-a-decade job of redrawing legislative maps out of the hands of lawmakers.
In court, Kasper's the lead attorney on a lawsuit billed as a "taxpayer action," which is pretty funny, since his clients were rounded up at the behest of House Speaker Michael Madigan.(If you missed Tribune reporter Rick Pearson's story on that, see chicagotribune.com/kasper .)
Before the Board of Elections, Kasper represents something called the Coalition to Protect the Illinois Constitution, which is even more disingenuous. Trying to keep citizens from voting on whether to amend their constitution is no way to defend it.
We've said it before: This is all a cover for the real battle, which is Madigan vs. the People.
Kasper has served as general counsel for the speaker and for the Illinois Democratic Party, headed by Madigan. He specializes in getting Madigan's enemies thrown off the ballot.
The last thing the state's most powerful politician wants is an up-or-down vote on either of these amendments.
That's why Kasper's lawsuit, which seeks to have both measures declared unconstitutional, was filed even before the petitions had been submitted. It's why he's been lobbying the Board of Elections to throw up barrier after barrier to keep the redistricting campaign from proving it has earned its place on the ballot.
Madigan's stranglehold on state government depends on his ability to control who gets (or stays) elected. He's worked those levers so long and so well that he's now chairman of a party with supermajorities in both houses, an advantage that permitted him to gerrymander the latest set of legislative maps to favor himself even more.
The redistricting amendment would take away that power. It would create an independent panel to draw the maps — in the open, with public input. The boundaries would preserve geographic, racial and social communities instead of sorting voters into predictable Republican or Democratic districts. The addresses of incumbents would not be a factor.
Voters would have a fighting chance of electing the candidate of their choice instead of the one Madigan picked for them.
The other amendment would limit lawmakers to eight years in office. Far too many mediocre legislators have enjoyed long careers as back-benchers, rewarded and protected for voting as they're told. Throw the bums out? It would take dynamite to get them out of the nice safe districts they drew for themselves.
The delegates to the 1970 constitutional convention saw this coming. They didn't give citizens free rein to amend the constitution by initiative; most changes must originate through the General Assembly or another convention. But the delegates specifically authorized citizens to amend Article IV, which deals with the legislative branch, because they knew lawmakers would resist curbs to their own power.
#201 Jun 22, 2014
Term limits and redistricting are both right in that wheelhouse. So it's maddening to listen to opponents argue, for example, that the remap amendment is unconstitutional because it would infringe on the executive branch by depriving the governor of the power to sign the maps into law. Or that term limits can't be imposed via citizen initiative, period.
Those reforms are precisely the sort of checks on legislative power that the constitution's authors meant to allow.
As Circuit Judge Mary Mikva asked at Wednesday's hearing: "What is left? What else is there?"
Of course, the General Assembly could put those amendments on the ballot itself. But lawmakers ignore poll after poll after poll after poll showing broad support for both term limits and a fair map. Why? Because Madigan owns the lawmakers.
Here's how the November ballot is shaping up: In Madigan's House, 66 of 118 races are currently uncontested. Eight more candidates could end up unopposed, thanks to pending challenges against their opponents. In the Senate, 10 of 19 races are uncontested, and four others have challenges pending.
In well over half of legislative races, in other words, voters will have no choice. Blame it on those maps, which are rigged to avoid competitive elections.
Michael Kasper is fighting to keep it that way. The amendments he's trying to defeat are not a threat to the Illinois Constitution. They're a threat to the Democratic power structure. They're a threat to Mike Madigan.
#202 Jun 24, 2014
State lawmaker says he was unfairly targeted for fraud prosecution
By Jason Meisner
June 24, 2014
Lawyers for state Rep. LaShawn Ford have accused federal authorities of indicting the West Side legislator on bank fraud charges because of his status as an African-American politician.
In a motion filed last week asking U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to dismiss the charges, Ford’s attorneys said authorities singled him out for prosecution for political reasons. The filing cited an internal FBI report from May 2011 — more than a year before Ford was charged — that was labeled as a political corruption investigation targeting Ford, even though there were no allegations Ford used his office as part of the fraud.
The filing also alleged prosecutors decided not to charge anyone else involved with the 2010 collapse of ShoreBank — a longtime inner-city lender where prosecutors say Ford obtained loans fraudulently — even though the only difference between him and other customers was the fact that he had been elected to serve in Springfield.
“But for (Ford’s) status as an elected official — and perhaps more specifically as an African American Illinois state politician — the grand jury would never have been asked to return this indictment in the first instance,” Ford’s attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, wrote.
In a response this week, prosecutors called the allegations “meritless,” arguing it’s legitimate to consider a person’s status as a public official when deciding whether to charge a case.
“Were the defendant’s legal theory embraced, public officials charged with crimes could challenge the government’s motives and conceivably immunize themselves from prosecution if the government gave any consideration to their status in deciding whether to prosecute,” the filing stated.
Prosecutors also said that unlike with Ford, there was no evidence any of the other ShoreBank customers had “participated in an equivalent scheme to defraud that the government could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Ford, a Democrat serving a fourth term in the 8th House District, was charged in 2012 with fraudulently obtaining $373,500 in advances from a line of credit at ShoreBank to rehabilitate six depressed real estate properties on the West Side. The indictment alleged Ford used some of that money to pay off personal expenses, including car loans, credit cards, mortgages, campaign costs and payments to a Hammond casino. His trial is scheduled for August.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, Ford said the charges were simply “a misjudgment of character.”
“I’m disappointed to learn that there is evidence I was targeted,” Ford said.“It’s really clear to me that if I wasn’t an elected official, I probably wouldn’t have been in any trouble.”
#203 Jul 13, 2014
The power of untouchable Madigan
Regarding your editorial "How Madigan browbeats Illinois," kudos to the Tribune for your relentlessness in getting the story out about the evil of House Speaker Michael Madigan and the destruction that he has wrought upon the state of Illinois. I have been plunged into despair (along with many other Illinoisans, I fear) over the power that Madigan wields across the state, and the fact that he seems untouchable.
Per your suggestion, I must call out my state representative, Elaine Nekritz, who was Madigan's point-person on pension "reform," with her name and photo splashed across the media on several occasions. This toadyism exhibited by Nekritz, and too many other politicians and agency officials, must end, and must end now.
Whatever happened to the responsibility of our legislators that they are duty-bound to be representatives of their constituents? The only responsibility that they feel is toward their own re-election.
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