My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

"First, ya gotta beat the bums"

Aaargh! The Cubs just left 2 men on base in the bottom of the 8th, trailing the awful Rockies 4-1. The players were on 1st and 2nd with no outs early in the inning.

Nothing teaches patience in the face of suffering like being a Cubs fan. (Well, maybe some kind of degenerative nerve disease would serve as well)

Religious folk might argue that there is an important lesson to be learned from continuing to root for these losers year after year. Myself, I look to Sisyphus for understanding.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Trib Says City Hall Discovers Clout

I'm glad I made an omelette for breakfast this morning instead of a fruit smoothie, or there would have been pink goo all over the kitchen. Today's Chicago Tribune headline read, "City Hall discovers clout." The article, by Trib staff reporters Gary Washburn and Laurie Cohen, went on to say:
The city's internal inquiry found the hiring system had been "compromised," and "specific instances" of abuse had been uncovered, Corporation Counsel Mara Georges said. But Georges and other top officials were tight-lipped about what they had found, pending the outcome of an investigation.
Like, no way. They investigated themselves and found patronage hiring? Next they're going to discover that Chicago is very flat, and that Lake Michigan contains a lot of water.
In the past, the mayor and his top aides have denied that City Hall has ever violated a long-standing federal court decree prohibiting political hiring of most employees.

The about-face comes as Daley battles in court to overturn the so-called Shakman decree, which the city contends is costly to implement and no longer needed because of federal hiring protections now in place.
So, yeah, we violated the agreement (which basically said people should be hired on the basis of competence to do the job, and not on the basis of turning out votes for the Democratic party), but it's a dumb agreement anyway, and it's not necessary because we would never do that stuff. These days we just whore for campaign cash like real politicians do. There's nothing illegal about that (unfortunately).
But critics contend that favored politicians, political organizations and union officials for years have been able to place their people on the payroll despite city rules that say hiring should be based on job qualifications rather than connections.
You've got to be kidding. Hiring your friends and neighbors is illegal? I thought it was just being polite. Seriously, though. Well connected folks can put "their people" on the payroll? Why don't I have any people? I want my own people in places of power. When do I get my own people? That's one I'll know I've arrived.
"The notion that the hiring process, a Chicago tradition, has been compromised--it's been compromised ever since I knew," declared Martin Oberman, who was a Chicago alderman from 1975 to 1987. "It strikes me as a little odd to suggest the mayor has been in office for 16 years, and he just discovered this?"

"I and most people who live in Chicago don't find it the slightest bit incredible that they found clout," said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "How could they say that with a straight face?"
Good question. I couldn't read it with a straight face. Gary and Laurie, whoever you are, you have writty a very witty piece of satire and somehow got it printed on the front page of the Tribune! Fucking brilliant.

Then the article gets interesting:
Last year, four Carpenters Union members--including the 19-year-old son of a top union official--were fired as building inspectors when it was discovered they lacked the proper credentials. And the mayor's critics have long complained that the pro-Daley Hispanic Democratic Organization has amassed power by doling out city jobs in exchange for campaign work.

A 2002 investigation by the Tribune and Exito!, a Spanish-language sister newspaper, concluded that more than 500 HDO members were on the city's payroll. Members told reporters they joined the group because they wanted a City Hall job or a promotion.

Daley has denied that members of HDO, which is run by a former top mayoral aide, receive any special consideration in hiring or promotions.

Daley's new chief of staff, brought in last week to deal with scandals that have begun to erode the mayor's popularity, declared that the hiring process won't be tainted by politics.

"It doesn't matter who you are," Ron Huberman said Monday at the news conference. "It doesn't matter who you know. We are operating as a meritocracy, period. As a meritocracy, what will define who gets a job ... is simply who is the best person for the job."

And everybody knows all the best people are Daley supporters.

Seriously, the HDO is a great idea, and a masterful effort at rebranding. Someday soon Chicago will have a Latino majority, and all the same people will still run this town, because the HDO are their biggest supporters. They're building a new machine from the ground up, using the same tactics that worked in immigrant neighborhoods three generations ago.

The HDO is also nurturing a new generation of Hispanic Democratic pols, putting them in office and building killer resumes at a young age. 26 year old State Representatives are nothing unusual in Illinois. You go from office aide to an Alderman, to law school and then straight into office in a straight district. One day some of these kid are going to be in the U.S. Senate or staffing the White House. Which come to think of it, is not such a bad thing at all.

I posted today on other political stuff, over here. Check it out.

The Great Tax Swap Controversy

One of my pet reform ideas was actually seriously considered in the Illinois Statehouse recently. The state legislature actually took up a proposal to alter the school funding system by cutting property taxes and raising income taxes. Members of the Senate's Higher Education Committee even approved the plan on an 8-1 vote, sending it to the floor for consideration. Of course, it ain't really going to happen.

I don't really know enough about this particular proposal to know whether it was a good plan or not. Apparently it raised income taxes, and then replaced about a third of each district's property tax revenue with state funds. Property owners would then receive a tax abatement. Additional funds would be redirected to poor districts from the general fund, with the result that people in wealthy areas would have their taxes hiked to fund schools in poor districts.

It sounds very progressive, although since they are replacing a proportion of property taxes, it sounds like rich areas are still going to get better schools. Even with the extra money redirected to poorer areas, it sounds like the state will inevitably be sending more money to rich kids than poor ones, which sounds unfair, although still better than the current system.

But it isn't going to happen, because Governor Rod Blagojevich says he will veto anything that looks like a tax hike. I want to be a supporter of the dashing young first Democratic Governor in 30 years. But I can't. He's being a big coward on this issue. Everyone says education is their big issue, but no one will ask for any sacrifices on the part of the population to do anything about it. G Rod (yes, out of staters, we really call him that) is in the way on this and other issues, he'd rather grandstand than pass legislation, and he doesn't seem to have the people skills to work with other leaders of his own party in a productive manner. George Ryan might have been on the take, but at least stuff got done.

To be fair, G Rod isn't the only chicken this spring. "People don't want to vote and see the bill fail, and then have an opponent use it negatively against them in a campaign," according to longtime Jesse Jackson confidant the Rev. James Meeks, an independent Senator from Chicago.

So why would I support this thing? A little back of the envelope calculation revealed it would cost me a couple thousand bucks. But here's the lowdown:
  • Local funding of schools creates inevitable disparities. It encourages planners to zone out young families with children (with minimum lot sizes and restrictions on multi-family and rental properties), and zone in malls and other property-tax producing dynamos. In this way it distorts the landscape, promotes sprawl, and increases segregation.
  • High property taxes forces people out of their homes and neighborhoods. Today's real estate market has not been a boon for everyone. Young families and retirees are forced to move by taxes they can't pay.
  • Cutting property taxes will reduce the upward pressures on rents and increase the availability of affordable housing.
  • Once funding disparities are addressed, we can begin focusing on school reform for real. Nobody's going to attempt anything really significant until they know the money's going to be there to pay for it long term.
    So while the idea's dead again this year, this is an idea whose time will come. And all you religious people out there, pray for a contested Democratic primary.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2005


    Found another one of these political quiz things, and this one didn't insult me! The questionnaire is from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. I especially liked it because it mentioned poverty for once, although I didn't notice any mention of racism. Most discussions completely neglect the issues that are important to me. But that's just because we're all middle class now and every American is now judged on the content of character rather than skin color since the victory of the Civil Rights Movement. Right?


    My results:


    Based on your answers to the questionnaire, you most closely resemble survey respondents within the Liberal typology group. This does not mean that you necessarily fit every group characteristic or agree with the group on all issues.

    Liberals represent 17 percent of the American public, and 19 percent of registered voters.

    Basic Description
    This group has nearly doubled in proportion since 1999, Liberals now comprise the largest share of Democrats and is the single largest of the nine Typology groups. They are the most opposed to an assertive foreign policy, the most secular, and take the most liberal views on social issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and censorship. They differ from other Democratic groups in that they are strongly pro-environment and pro-immigration, issues which are more controversial among Conservative and Disadvantaged Democrats.

    Defining Values
    Strongest preference for diplomacy over use of military force. Pro-choice, supportive of gay marriage and strongly favor environmental protection. Low participation in religious activities. Most sympathetic of any group to immigrants as well as labor unions, and most opposed to the anti-terrorism Patriot Act.

    Who They Are
    Most (62%) identify themselves as liberal. Predominantly white (83%), most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more), and youngest group after Bystanders. Least religious group in typology: 43% report they seldom or never attend religious services; nearly a quarter (22%) are seculars. More than one-third never married (36%). Largest group residing in urban areas (42%) and in the western half the country (34%). Wealthiest Democratic group (41% earn at least $75,000).

    Lifestyle Notes
    Largest group to have been born (or whose parents were born) outside of the U.S. or Canada (20%). Least likely to report having a gun at home (23%) or attending bible study or prayer group meetings (13%).

    2004 Election
    Bush 2%, Kerry 81%

    Party ID
    59% Democrat; 40% Independent/No Preference, 1% Republican (92% Dem/Lean Dem)

    Media Use
    Liberals are second only to Enterprisers in following news about government and public affairs most of the time (60%). Liberals’ use of the internet to get news is the highest among all groups (37%).

    Note: All descriptions and percentages are based on the national sample of adults surveyed by telephone in December. Based on your answers to the survey questions, you most closely resemble survey respondents within this group, even though you may differ significantly on one or more issues or traits.

    In the overall typology there is a ninth group called “Bystanders” who are defined as adults who are not registered, who do not follow news about government and public affairs, and who say they rarely or never vote.


    This is pretty close to reality. The exception in my case is that I am not among those "most opposed to an assertive foreign policy." I opposed the invasion of Iraq, but certainly not because I am some sort of pacifist. I strongly supported the military operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Somalia. My objection to Iraq had to do with the flagrant defiance of international law, as well as the obsurdity of the neocon war aims (A stable, pro-American democracy in the Arab world is an oxymoron - the people are much more hostile towards American policy than their dictators are. In Iraq, we seem to be creating a democratically elected pro-Iranian Shiite theocracy which is already persecuting religious minorities such as Assyrian Christians, as well as murdering political opponents and burying them in mass graves). If we want a real, sustainable world peace, it must be based on universal, enforcable international law. That means the US has to obey the law too. It also means that military force must be available to enforce the law.

    I'm glad to see Liberals are gaining market share. The Conservative Movement was largely a cultural reaction to the Civil Rights era. It looks like the Age of Terror is creating its own backlash.

    Take the quiz yourself. And check out the way they divide up the country, it's interesting and clarifying. Most of my liberal friends are mostly concerned about the Cultural Conservatives - personally I'm more worried about the Upbeats and the Enterprisers. It's a question of priorities - I find libertarianism more threatening than religious fascism. I do not believe that what is good for big corporations and the wealthy is necessarily good for America; I think we need to go after these people and bring them firmly under the control of the state. Without progressive taxation, labor and environmental laws, and government aid to the poor, the country will return to the Dickensian hell that it was a hundred years ago.

    For this reason I actually view Pro-Government Conservatives as potential allies on some issues:
    Pro-Government Conservatives stand out for their strong religious faith and conservative views on many moral issues. They also express broad support for a social safety net, which sets them apart from other GOP groups. Pro-Government Conservatives are skeptical about the effectiveness of the marketplace, favoring government regulation to protect the public interest and government assistance for the needy. They supported George W. Bush by roughly five-to-one.

    This is the group that came into play last year when progressive sources pointed out that half of Bush supporters were not able to correctly identify his policy positions. They believed he supported the Kyoto treaty, etc. They do not understand that the Republicans want to abandon the poor to benefit the wealthy and powerful. If they did, they would not have voted for Bush. After all, 80% of them agreed with the statement "The government should do more to help needy Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt," compared with 57% of the general public.

    I'm actually more comforable with these guys than I am with successful young white people who believe that believe that "success is in people's own hands, and that businesses make a positive contribution to society." If you honestly beleive that a five year old growing up today in Englewood has the same opportunity to make something of himself as a five year old growing up in Barrington, I want to see you look me in the eye and tell me why that is. Then I'll probably laugh in your face.

    A few tidbits from Pew research which I found interesting:

    Democrats lost the election because they lost on turnout.
    Bush's core supporters ­ Enterprisers and Social Conservatives ­ report higher rates of voter turnout than do other groups in the typology. Just 4% of Enterprisers and 6% of Social Conservatives say they did not vote last November. By contrast, 13% in each of the three Democratic groups say they did not vote in the presidential election.

    Bill Clinton is the most popular political figure in the country. 64% of Americans approve of him, including 53% of Pro-Government Conservatives. That boy could easily win a third term if he were allowed to run. Food for thought.

    Update: Read the rest of the Pew study. I am shocked to learn that America is divided on the issue of whether the use of torture against suspected terrorists can be justified. 51% say never or rarely, while 45% say often or sometimes. This is the most distressing thing I've heard in a long time. After the Abu Ghraib thing I was convinced it was more like 75% against. It should go without saying that torture is never justified. Torture is an evil just as great as terrorism. It puts an even lower value on the dignity of human life than terrorism does. Killing people for a cause can be done without malice. In most cases it is very wrong, but it is understandable how an idealistic ninny could do it. Torture reveals a contempt for everything good and decent in the world. And don't anybody write me and tell me what bad people these suspected terrorists are. Your moral judgements about the victims of torture are not even the point. Children often blame their misbehavior on siblings or friends (but he started it, mom!), adults know they are responsible for their own action. Torturing people is always wrong.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2005

    The Vanishing West Side

    One thing that has struck me living just north and west of greater downtown Chicago is that the West Side is vanishing. No, I'm not talking about the loss of population and the demolition of historic neighborhoods, although those things certainly concern me. What I mean when I say the West Side is vanishing is simply that its borders have shifted so much in the public imagination that its land area has physically shrunk so that it now consists of only a few nighborhoods due west of the Loop. If this trend continues, in fifteen years there will be nothing left of the West Side except the Austin neighborhood. Some sources don't believe in the West Side at all!

    Stranger still, the borders shift in the mass media depending on what type of story is being reported. Here in Chicago's Near Northwest, if a trendy new restaurant opens it's on the North Side, but if someone gets shot, it's on the West Side. This is true even if the shooting occurs north and east of the restaurant!

    In Chicago parlance, "West Side" means ghetto, crime, ignorance, hopelessness, decline, decay, futility. It means empty lots, shut down factories, abandoned dreams. Most of all, it means the '68 riots that broke out after Dr. King was assassinated, from which some neighborhoods have never recovered. So the phrase "shooting on the West Side" contains a lot of unspoken subtext for a Chicago audience. As a result, no one wants to say they live on the West Side. This is why developers always want to push neighborhood boundaries westward: Bucktown was once marketed as "West DePaul": now that it's "gentrified," Humboldt Park is being marketed as "West Bucktown."

    This is also why so many people west of the rivers want to defect. Take Little Village. First they didn't want to be known as South Lawndale anymore (to escape the stigma of association with North Lawndale), now many residents will tell you they live on the Southwest Side. The same goes for Logan Square, which I've heard referred to more than once as a "North Side neighborhood." Is it? Where should one draw the line? Eric Zorn tried heroically to answer this question in today's Tribune, but fell short (for one thing, but setting the West Side's southern border at 25th street, he has located the West Side's premier shopping district, West 26th Street, on the South Side!. A prime example of everything good being magically relocated out of the West Side). I will try my best to rectify the situation, and hopefully restore the West Side to its righful place on the city map.

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    A brief inspection of a city map suggests a West Side far larger than current denials would have you suggest. On most sides it is defined by clear geographical or political boundaries: City limits on the west, the Sanitary and Ship Canal on the south, the Dan Ryan and Kennedy Expressways on the east. The San is an obvious border because it's such a pain to cross, there are only a few major roads which cross the water uninterrupted, and it's often a pain to find one when you're late for an appointment on the other side. In no case does a neighborhood overlap the San. If this isn't a border, I don' know what is.

    This solves the problem of Little Village as well, placing the entire neighborhood, including West 26th Street, on the West Side where it belongs. But where should we put the northern border?

    Let me start with what I'm absolutely sure of. My part of town, what I've been calling the "Near Northwest," consists of Bucktown, Wicker Park, the Ukranian Village, and Noble Square. These four smallish neighborhoods really form a single community area, with clearly defined borders at the Kennedy Expressway to the east, Western Avenue to the West, and Chicago Avenue to the south. This area should be considered as a unit.

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    If we wish to maintain the territorial integrity of this area, then obviously you can't use either North or Armitage as the West/Northwest border. They don't make sense anyway. North Avenue is a busy but narrow neighborhood commercial street. It contains people, it doesn't divide them. Armitage isn't a border of any kind in this part of town, and cuts right through the heart of Bucktown. To argue that half the neighborhood is on each "Side" is to be painfully silly.

    So where is the border? Fullerton? This solves the problem of Bucktown, but now Logan Square is cut in two. If we follow the rule of thumb that cohesive neighborhoods shouldn't be divided between Sides, the border will have to be set either way down south at Chicago Avenue, or all the way up at Belmont.

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    Many Chicagoans, given this choice, will choose Chicago as the border. This puts the Near Northwest bloc on the Northwest Side, but also takes along Humbolt Park and North Autin, two neighborhoods which are widely accepted as part of the West Side.

    Now, some may argue that this is the case. There are many newcomers in Wicker Park and Bucktown who claim that the West Side begins at Western, a road which some refuse to cross. They themselves claim to live on the Northwest Side, or even on the North Side. Such claims defy logic and if true defeat the purpose of grouping neighborhoods into geographical regions. Western Avenue may still be a neighorhood border, and to some people a class divide, but it certainly is not a border between the Northwest and West Sides.

    Which leaves us with Belmont. This border puts the Near Northwest on the West Side, along with Humboldt Park. The geographic layout of the city becomes clear and easy to understand, and no major borders cut through cohesive neighborhoods. The major argument against this border will be that the Belmont-Craigin and Montclare neighborhoods are "nice", therefore they can't be West Side. But that was my whole point - our expanding definition of the West Side defines an area as diverse and interesting as any of the other regions of the city, and allows us to look at troubled West Side neighorhoods in their proper context, with the people who, in many cases, live right across the street from them.

    Welcome to the West Side, neighbors.

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    The restored West Side

    Sunday, May 15, 2005

    The Other Ball Club

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    I almost took the El down to 35th Street this afternoon to catch the White Sox play the Orioles, the two best teams in baseball right now. In the end, it was a little to chilly and gloomy for May baseball, and I'm glad I didn't go - the Sox finally ended their 37-game streak in which they held a lead at some point (43 going back to last season), trailing throughout and losing 6-2. A damn shame, it was a beautiful streak. At 27-11, they still have the best record in baseball. I've watched them play the past few days - they're a great team.

    Now I'm a Cubs fan, and in Chicago you can't really be both. Which doesn't mean I root against the Sox, except of course when they play the Cubs, like they will this coming weekend (the series will likely end the (16-20) Cubs' hopes of making the postseason, short of a miracle).

    I like to see them win. I like to go down to U.S. Cellular Field and catch a game. Sure, it's ugly and lacks character, but the food is great (especially the Bratwurst, something they just haven't gotten the hang of on the North Side), and the game is well played. I'd love to see any team bring a title home to Chicago. I have no problem with the team at all.

    It's the fans who bug me. Rather than blather about it myself and risk offending people, I'll just quote the ueber-Sox-Fan himself, John Kass from today's Tribune:
    If they keep winning, we Sox fans will be at risk of losing something important, losing that which has sustained South Side fans for years:

    Our bitterness.

    How can we live without our refuge if they win it all?

    We've been bitter at so much for so long. Bitter about the team, about the strike year when the Sox dominated the league, bitter about the excuses for not stuffing the payroll with stars.

    It's our nature to have some bitterness in us. Not the romantic bitterness of Boston Red Sox fans that was lost to them with the World Series win last year. That's a literary bitterness.

    And not the cheesy bitterness of Cubs fans, whose team has betrayed them, yet they're nauseatingly optimistic always, protected by poetry, soothed by folk songs, isolated from reality by their goat curses.

    They're so happy and childlike, stuffing Wrigley Field, shrieking at foul balls, even when the team is terrible, knowing when they step on the sidewalk there's more fun, music, spirits and dancing to be had.

    Sox fans aren't dancers. There is no romantic baseball ethos on the South Side. There's nothing noble about our ache; it is pathology and it is complicated, bound up in history, in guilt, in the tribalism of childhood.

    We're bitter about being born on the wrong side of town, because whether it's the city or the suburbs, the South Side is a state of mind. We're bitter about fleeing our neighborhoods or not being welcomed into ones we moved into. We're guilty about fleeing, or resentful about being welcomed with a finger and a sneer.

    He said it, not me. We're "happy and childlike." They're bitter. In fact the idea that we have a "cheesy bitterness" ourselves is ludicrous. How can you be happy and bitter at the same time? Kass is projecting. Just being a loser doesn't make you bitter. Blaming someone else for your problems can.

    How do I love the Cubs? Let me count the ways:

    1. Wrigley Field. It's old school, which is how we like to see ourselves, even though we're not. I like the ivy, the pillars, the way you can look over the outfield bleachers and see into peoples' living rooms. I like that there's no Jumbotron, no cheesy rock musing blaring, very little in the way of advertising. It's a pure monument to sport. It reminds me of the crumbling open-air Roman theaters you find when you backpack around Europe.

    2. Wrigleyville. The best thing about Wrigley is it's right in a city neighborhood. There's no parking lot, no dedicated highway exit, no vast expanse of concrete, no attached football stadium or concert venue. It's just a ballpark. Step outside and there are people's homes across the street. Also bars and restaurants. Walk a few blocks east and you're in Boys' Town, Chicago's biggest gay enclave. Walk north past the cemetary and you're in the multicultural funkiness of Uptown. Yeah, Wrigleyville's loud, drunken, fratboy-infested and you can't park there. So what? Since driving drunk is illegal, bars shouldn't come with parking. Take a cab, idiot.

    By being in the midst of us, Wrigley is a part of us. When we pull for the team, we're pulling for our communities and asking them to validate our way of life. Which they do whether they win or not, just by pulling us all together.

    We like our neighborhoods. Unlike some people. How can you have "South Side Pride" when you left the neighborhood because a black family moved next door and you ran away in fear? I realize this is sort of unfair, since there are lots of non-white Sox fans and lots of white fans in Bridgeport, Beverly, Mt. Greenwood, Clearing, Brighton Park, Archer Heights, etc. But most people attending the games, or not attending the games, are former South Siders. A few years back they even tried to move the team to the burbs - if that ever happens, I will hate them, just as I hate the Anaheim Angels. But hey, I'm not the one who's bitter about it, so why should I care at all?

    3. The other fans. Hope springs eternal at Wrigley. Every time a batter steps to the plate, we could win. Every time we win, we could go all the way. And we know it's a game. Wrigley's packed not because the team is great, but because it's fun there. It's a giant singles bar. It's friendly. People are having a good time. If Sox fans think it's silly that we're not miserable, well, what's the point in being miserable about a game?

    And that's the difference, I guess. To Sox fans, this is a serious rivalry. They want us to give them respect or something like that. But Cubs fans don't really care what Sox fans think one way or the other. So it's a one-sided rivalry, which is a game the bitter party can never win. It's like a romantic breakup - whoever cares less, wins.

    Look, neither team has won a championship in ages. The Cubs did it in 1908. The Sox did it as recently as 1917. They could have gone all the way in 1919, but they threw the series. On purpose. For money. They've never won it since. Talk about a curse.

    4. Pitching. At last, something about the actual game. These past few years the Cubs have assembled quite a cast of characters. Pitchers are the gunslingers of sport, and it's fun to watch these guys size up one opponent after another. Even Farnsworth could be fun to watch, although he drove up my blood pressure single-handedly a couple years back. Now if they could only get a closer.

    5. WGN Radio. Nobody calls a game like Ron Santo. It's not always coherent, but it's always fun.

    So Cubs culture is one I feel comfortable with. Sox culture is alien to me and it's just not something I'd want to buy into. The Sox are great right now. With no argument I'll admit they're a much better team than the Cubs. And if they go all the way, I'll be right there, eating a sausage and cheering. But don't snarl at me, call me names ("wine drinker!") and then beg me to love and accept you. Last time I checked that was called Borderline Personality Disorder. It's the reason I don't work with clients anymore and the reason you won't see me donning a White Sox cap anytime soon.

    Life After Daley?

    [It's not like I mean to take 10 days off from blogging, things just happen. This is the post I meant to put up a week ago.]

    With corruption scandals swirling closer to the Fifth Floor of City Hall, Chicagoans are starting to realize that Daley may not be mayor forever. Personally, I think he'll stick around until at least 2011, but that's not such a long time in the grand scheme of things. Just as an intellectual exercise, I thought I'd take a look at what it might be like if we had a contested election in 2007.
    The Voters

    After 16 years of near-unanimous support for Daley, are the old voting blocks still present in Chicago? The city voters used to be so fragmented and hostile it was called "Beirut on the Lake." The parties were:

    African Americans. Once a reliable part of the machine vote (delivering Richard J. Daley's margin of victory in 1971, even after the '68 riots), Chicago's black voters developed a political identity of their own in the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the movement that elected Harold Washington to the Mayor's office in 1983 in spite of overwhelming hostility from the "Bungalow Belt." The issues that propelled the revolt - systematic exclusion from public jobs controlled by the machine, sub-standard city services in black neighborhoods - were largely resolved during Washington's tenure. Black voters have supported Daley just like everybody else, even in old middle class reformist strongholds like Chatham and Hyde Park.

    The Bungalow Belt. The Urban White Ethnics of yesteryear. Nixon-voting Daley supporters who feared black expansion into their neighborhoods. Most of these people left the city after Washington was elected. Their neighborhoods on the Northwest and Southwest Sides are being incorporated into the developing Latino majority. Those who remain are fairly liberal by national standards and have made some sort of peace with ethnic diversity. Mostly they want less crime and better schools. They feel that Daley is delivering, although they wish things would change faster.

    Lakefront Liberals. You know, the tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show. Their issues are different. Gay rights, opposition to the war, free speech, abortion rights, you know, fluffy stuff that doesn't really cost anything. Daley can support these issues without spending money or delivering jobs, so he's won these people over. They used to be a thorn in his father's side and line up with Goo-Goos, but no longer. Lakefront Liberals are also interested in good schools, but less likely to have children and more likely to have them in elite, selected schools like Northside College Prep, Lane Tech, etc if they do.

    The Machine. Old-school pols and public employees, residents of Bridgeport and Beverly who seem to get all the city's contracts for privatized services, ward bosses etc. Right now they all back Daley. Frankly they are too divided among themselves to do anything else. In the races for Governor and Senate over the past few years, machine support was all over the map, with different factions backing different candidates. Don't expect them to be real effective this time out.

    Latinos. Solid Daley. If there's a "new machine" out there, it's roored in the Hispanic Democratic Organization. The HDO and its leader, Victor Reyes, turn out the vote for Daley like nobody else. But many non-citizens can't vote, making this group much weaker than their share of the population if there is a high-turnout election.

    Goo-Goos. "Good Government" Types who are appalled by the corruption swirling around the Hired Truck program, Millennium Park, etc. They tend to be congregate around Hyde Park, which is why the neighborhood is now split between the 4th and 5th Wards, to deny them a power base. 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle actually voted against a Daley budget, though. A small but vocal group, they are only important when they can motivate Lakefront Liberals and middle class African Americans to join a Reform bloc. Most Chicagoans don't give a crap about corruption as long as things get done, but that could change in an era of belt-tightening and obnoxious property taxes.

    The Candidates

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    The Incumbent. Richard M Daley won over 83% of the vote in 2003. It seemed like a monumental victory at the time, but John Kerry won 82% of the vote in Chicago, and he had an actual opponent. Daley, on the other hand, faced only token opposition from the remnants of the Harold Washington Movement. With no money and an unknown preacher for a candidate, they didn't even win the black middle class areas which were Washington's base. A race-based opposition doesn't stand much chance right now, unless it can better articulate a reason why Daley must go. They must also have a candidate who can convince voters he can do a better job than Daley, which could be tough going.

    Opposition weakness isn't the only thing Daley has going for him. He has neutralized the threat of Lakefront Liberals by supporting the concept of gay marriage, legal abortion, other cost-free non-economic issues. City council's vote opposing intervention in Iraq and Daley's leading the opposition to cuts in Federal grants like the CDBGs gives Liberals the impression that he's on their side. They tend to blame Washington, suburbanites, and Governor Blagojevich if things aren't going well. Daley also enjoys overwhelming support in the Latino community - he works them like his father worked other groups of Roman Catholic immigrants.

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    The Challenger. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. is very likely to run, according to local political gossip. Another son of a famous politician, it seems like Jesse Jr has been buiding a political resume since Kindergarten. He has black activists longtime support for his father in his corner, as well as the reputation of a successful Congressman who seem a little more, um, well read than Daley does. In fact, he shares his father's gift for rhetoric - although I'm not sure eloquence is always such a plus in Chicago politics. Neighborhood people like a plainspoken guy who stands up for them. It's widely believed here that Bush learned his schtick from studying Daley.

    Jackson has a big liability, however. His district encompasses parts of the South Side and South Suburbs, and he has been a vocal supporter of building a third, South Suburban airport at Peotone. While this has been popular in his district, it could just be the kiss of death in a race for citywide office. As it stands now, airline traffic to and from Chicago comes through the city and is controlled by the city Department of Aviation. An airport beyond city limits means the tranfer of some flights, some tax money, and some jobs that would otherwise stay in the city out to the suburbs. This is a wildly unpopular idea among working class residents who make their living at O'Hare or Midway, including many black South and West Siders who would otherwise be supporters. Daley has led the effort to keep these jobs in the city. This is a losing issue for Jackson, and if he wants to run he'd better change his mind about Peotone first.

    There's no way I'd vote for this guy unless he could convince me that he understands why shifting investment from the city to the burbs is a Very Bad Thing.

    The Dream Candidate.

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    I know she's not running, but I just might write her in. This from a recent e-mail exchange with Mr. Wells of the once and future Tally Ho:
    Shes got bigger fish to fry. I was hoping she was going to challenge Blago in the primary, but I doubt the establishment would allow that especially when Rove or no Rove she will get reelected. He will probably attack her on overreaching or being activist - as his mo is to attack the strengths, not weaknesses of his opponents. Spitz is going to easily get in the 60s for Guv, and will surely swing through IL for Madigan b/c he won't have much to do in NYC. They can't even recruit a wingnut to challenge HRC - and had nothing against Schumer. Perhaps my point is that Bush/Rove is the problem in NYC, and may be just as much as a liability in IL since they have been creamed in the last 3 elections in IL. Gov. Richardson used his DNC radio address this week on Dem governors and what they are doing and highlighted Blago's prescription drug plans. I really think Dems need to really focus on the AGs as a way to counter the conservative take over of everything. Dems can investigate them and their cronies endlessly...

    Bush is a liability here. The problem is, so is G-Rod. Only 35% of Illinoisans want him re-elected, and I am not one of them. He's not doing shit about the CTA and is threatening to veto a bill that changes education funding by raising income taxes and cutting property taxes - a pet issue of mine. So he's pro-choice - he's a Governor for Pete's sake, not a Senator or Supreme Court justice, he's grandstanding on Plan B (in a good way) but it's not enough to get my vote. Topinka's a pro-choice Republican and gets my vote head to head with G Rod if the vote was today. I'd support Lisa Madigan if she challenged Rod, but I'd rather have a stellar Mayor than a stellar Governor if I had to pick one. The Mayor is not just a political office-holder, remember, he's also my boss.

    And Mayor Madigan has a great ring to it, don't you think?

    She, of course, is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. Yes, all three of my candidates are 2nd Gen pols. Welcome to Illinois.

    Why Madigan? No, it's not just because she's an attractive woman and she talks like a street tough, (as hot as that is). It's because she's a Liberal at heart but one with machine roots, who also has a lot of credibility among African Americans. After graduating from college and working as a legislative aide to Senator Paul Simon, Madigan moved to KwaZulu, South Africa to work as a volunteer high school teacher during the declining days of apartheid in the late 1980's. She has described her work in South Africa as "helping girls and young women overcome racism and oppression and develop and prepare them for the future."

    After returning to Chicago to earn a law degree, she began practicing labor and employment law as a trial attorney. In her spare time, she volunteered with anti-gang and community policing efforts in the troubled Austin neighorhood on the city's West Side. Austin is Chicago's most populous neighborhood a former suburb annexed to the city and bordering Oak Park. A working class black neighborhood struggling with poverty and crime, but definitely a step above the hollowed-out despair of neighboring Lawndale and Garfield Park, Austin's a good place to start if you aim to build support among black voters.

    Madigan first ran for office in 1998, winning a State Senate seat at the age of 31. Four years later she was elected Attorney General. Her investigation of the state government's Gaming Commission and its abortive decision to award a casino license to the Mob-infested suburb of Rosemont may have convinced Goo-Goos that she's one of their own (though I doubt it).

    There's just one problem. Getting her to run. Although her father is a lifelong rival of Daley (the Beverly wing of the Machine has always competed for power with Daley's Bridgeport wing), Daley endorsed Madigan early in the primary for Attorney General. Running against him would be a betrayal. She's more likely to run again for Attorney General or take on G-Rod in a Gubernatorial primary, on her way to an eventual Senate Seat. But if Daley should not run again for some reason, count her as a serious contender.

    I mean, I'm sorry, but who wants to live in Springfield?

    Friday, May 06, 2005

    MIT Time Travelers Convention

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    Student Organizes Time Traveler Conference
    Associated Press Writer
    46 minutes ago

    BOSTON - Attention, time travelers: Amal Dorai hopes you enjoyed the party he's throwing this weekend. Dorai, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is hosting a Time Traveler Convention on campus this Saturday. Make plans now, because it's the last such party.

    "You only need one," he said.

    HR: Dude, I totally went to that party.
    EG: It hasn't happened yet.
    HR: It's a time travel party, y'idiot. And it was lame.
    EG: Sounds kinda cool.
    HR: No. No one intersting showed up. Just a bunch of MIT geeks with laptops and pocket protectors talking about Dirk Gently.
    EG: No time travelers?
    HR: No, just geeks. I heard it was lame, but I went anyway, just to see. They just kept going on and on about their little wine opener things. "Only at MIT" my ass. I saw one at Bistro Margot last year.
    EG: Where did you hear it would be lame?
    HR: Probably from myself. I mean, I am the only one who went.
    EG: So if you'd kept your mouth shut, more people might have showed up? That's what you get for having such a negative attitude.
    HR: It was too late by then! I'd already said what I was gonna say!
    EG: Face it. You have a bad attitude. Maybe in the future if you had a better attitude, you'd have more fun.
    HR: Nah, I've been to the future,man. It stinks. If you want a good time, visit the Seventies.
    EG: I just came from there.
    HR: Dude, you missed out.

    Thursday, May 05, 2005

    Magic and Loss

    I noticed today that the city parking garage in the East Village - Parking Facility #69 at 824 N. Marshfield, opened 1959 says the plack, "Richard J. Daley, Mayor." Nothing terribly tragic about that, it's 1950s ugly and it cost $9 to park there, silly considering there is metered parking along Chicago Ave for $.25 an hour, and ample, though dwindling, side street parking. It was put there to help the merhants up and down Chicago keep their customers in the age of the automobile, the Chicago and Ashland low-rent shopping district seems to be doing fine, specializing in off-brand clothing, tasty junk food, and an increasing number of bank branches multiplying like Starbucks. Without the Goldblatts that once anchored the corner, there seems little need for a public garage. Maybe they'll let the city workers who work in the neighborhood use the lot now? Nah, it's gotta be condos.

    What I'll miss, though, was the little mystery that will never be solved. The whold time I've been in the neighborhood, forgotten in a corner on the Paulina St side of the garage has been an old, dust-covered car. A swoopy old thing from the 30s or 40s, curved like a VW bug but big, like a car from a gangster movie. Except instead of black, this appeared to be red and white under the gray dust.

    Funny how even after seeing it nearly every day for two and a half years, the memory fades quickly. I couldn't tell you what make it was, nor which parts were red and which parts were white. I peered through the chain link fence at the car most afternoons, wondering whose it had been and how long it had been abandoned in an out of the way corner of a forgotten garage. The tires were flat and the car was so filthy you couldn't see through the windows. Had it been there since the day the garage opened? "There's a body in the trunk. Some mobster. They parked him here 40 years ago and nobody's found him yet," I said to a co-worker. "Jimmy Hoffa," he replied.

    It's gone now. The garage closed May 2, and they towed everything that was left behind. There are strange smudges on the cement from where the flat tires sat for so long. A little magic and mystery gone out of my world.

    Speaking of junk food merchants, I bought a sandwich from a new place, Hank's Deli, today. "Hank" turns out to be an Indian guy looking for an American-style name for his convenience store. Really nice guy, a little older than my father, going a bit overboard with the customer service thing. "Is this enough Mayo? Would you like a little more?" etc. It takes a long time to make a sammich that way. It was pretty good. Cappacola. Just what the doctor ordered, or would if she weren't so mean.

    After work I walked by the empty garage and found I had left my car's headlights on. Again. And the car wouldn't start. Again. I tried to call Trope but couldn't reach her, so I took the El home. An hour later she drove me back down to Paulina to give me a jump on her way to a knitting thing. It didn't work, scary clicking sound. I got back on the El and made the same ridiculous two-stop trip. At Western, the El lets off right accross the street from Margie's Candies. As I often do when I'm in a funk, I got a milkshake. At the counter was a crazy old guy, eighty-five years old if he was a day. Wearing a yellow shirt and an orange tie. Margie's kid? She'd probably be a hundred if she was still around. So maybe.

    So Margie's Kid wanted to talk about the latest Bulls disaster, their loss by a buzzer-beating shot to the Washington Wizards, 112 to 110. Just another day in the life of a Chicago sports fan, really. Margie's Kid tells me he sat and watched them come back from twenty-five points down in the last 20 minutes. Then he left the room and missed the final shot, he told me. Matter of fact. Not implying at all that he shouldn't have left the room, or any of that superstitious sports crap. He complimented Angelo's shooting and the sportsmanship of both teams. A class act.

    Most people don't realize that the Bulls still have fans that have been them since their first game. My grandfather is one of those. A few years ago he had half his pancreas removed. He was scheduled to have surgery at seven thirty in the morning, but he sat and waited five or six hours before they took him in. Consequently he missed the start of the Bulls game. Legend has it when he woke up, he waved for the doctor immediately. "What's the score, Doc?" He asked. The doctor started talking about his pancreas and such. "No, young man, the Bulls," says my grandfather. "What's the score."

    I'm always going to prefer crazy old man hot dogs and diner food to mass produced Subway/Starbucks slop. If fast food is dietary pornography, Chicago's independent junk food is good old fashioned burlesque, with screaming yellow mustard pasties and a neon green relish feathered boa. I want to go back in time with these guys to the dawn of the hotdog stand, to the days when the Cubs actually got to the series before they lost.

    The crazy old neighborhood guys and the vanishing old buildings and the car that hasn't run for forty years. They're all of a piece to me. These guys are vanishing from the world. I'd hoped that when they were gone the streets would remain to tell the tale, mile after mile of monuments to the people who made this place, however briefly, one of the great world cities. But I'm not going to get my wish. The neighborhoods are coming down now, even while some of the people who saw them go up in the 1920s are still around. When they leave us, the may leave without a trace, and it will be like all of it - the Jazz Age, Bronzeville, Riverview, Yiddish as a spoken language - never happened. I'm glad I bought ice cream from them while I still could.

    FDA Bans Gay Sperm

    Another great headline in today's Trib:
    FDA to Implement Gay Sperm Donor Rules

    AP National Writer
    Published May 5, 2005, 1:49 PM CDT

    NEW YORK -- To the dismay of gay-rights activists, the Food and Drug Administration is about to implement new rules recommending that any man who has engaged in homosexual sex in the previous five years be barred from serving as an anonymous sperm donor.

    The FDA has rejected calls to scrap the provision, insisting that gay men collectively pose a higher-than-average risk of carrying the AIDS virus. Critics accuse the FDA of stigmatizing all gay men rather than adopting a screening process that focuses on high-risk sexual behavior by any would-be donor, gay or straight.

    "Under these rules, a heterosexual man who had unprotected sex with HIV-positive prostitutes would be OK as a donor one year later, but a gay man in a monogamous, safe-sex relationship is not OK unless he's been celibate for five years," said Leland Traiman, director of a clinic in Alameda, Calif., that seeks gay sperm donors.

    Here's what I think: the right has been arguing in bad faith and these guys know very well that the bunk they (and some on the left) have been spewing about homosexuality being a choice is bullshit. They're betting it has a genetic basis and trying to reduce the number of children who inherit the elusive "gay gene." This is not mere discrimination, it's an attempt to prevent gay people from reproducing. I can think of no other reasonable explanation.

    I mean, if there have been any reported cases of someone getting HIV from a sperm bank, please let me know. Trope? Anyone?

    Daley in Trouble? WTF?

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    Could it be true? Could Mayor for Life, Lion of the Midway, the Honorable Richard M. Daley be in trouble? Today's Tribune suggests that the growing stain of corruption associated with the City's Hired Truck program may have begun to tarnish City Hall:

    Though 15 months have passed since the first arrests in City Hall's Hired Truck scandal, Mayor Richard Daley said Wednesday he still doesn't know who in his administration installed the corrupt Angelo Torres as head of the trucking program.

    Describing himself as "hurt, embarrassed, disappointed" by broadening allegations of wrongdoing uncovered by federal prosecutors, Daley said as many as seven names of possible Torres sponsors have been floated around City Hall and the mayor's aides are seeking to identify if any of those--or someone else--is responsible

    A little background. You used to get a job for the city the old fashioned way: turning out votes for the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization. A city worker was a sort of permanent "temporary worker," and had to pull in maybe 10 votes from family and friends to keep his job. Higher city officials had to coordinate political activities in their precincts, distributing election materials, put together GOTV efforts to make sure people got to the polls, etc. This had the effect of making sure city jobs were distributed widely across the city, to people in most of Chicago's neighborhoods, to ensure satisfactory turnout everywhere. Some working class white ethnic areas, including the Mayor's own Bridgeport neighorhood, did tend to benefit disproportionally, however.

    All of this changed with the Shankman consent decree eliminating political hiring for most city jobs, and the unionization of the city work force under Mayor Harold Washington. These changes have meant that Cook County Democrats have to build support more like the rest of the country does: by raising large amounts of cash.

    Since city workers don't get paid enough to be huge campaign contributers, some people claim the Daleys have turned largely to contractors - private businesses who do business with the city. In this view, the city has been drifting away from public employment and towards outsourcing more and more work to contractors in part because contractors can give large campaign contributions, and their activities are not regulated by Shankman.

    After the scandals started to break, Mayor Daley of course said he will no longer accept contributions from people who do business with the city, and urged other officials to do the same. This however, was pretty easy for him to do, since he's already raised enough money for his next, presumably last, campaign.

    Even with Shankman in place, Daley has built up a power base in the city like no other. There is his growing political base in the Latino community, embodied by the Hispanic Democratic Organization. There are deals he's cut with black religious leaders, neutralizing a traditional base of opposition. And among the white and Asia populations, falling crime, (gradually) improving schools, neighborhood beautification and rising property values have gone a long way in building a remarkable amount of tolerance and goodwill among voters.

    Could that change? Probably not right away. Nobody's accusing the Mayor himself of wrongdoing. Well, almost nobody. And city residents, myself included, care a lot more about public safety and education than we do about a little corruption here and there, especially if it greases the wheels and Gets Things Done. But in light of Chicago's structural relationship with its suburbs and the rest of the state, a relationship I've compared to a 50-year seige, the Mayor has to be able to retrieve resources from Springfield and Washington if he hopes to keep the city running. And this is where the corruption scandals matter.

    From the Tribune editorial:

    - Federal corruption probers have all but opened a satellite office in Chicago's City Hall. On Monday, Gerald Wesolowski, a former Water Department official, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy--a coup for a government probe that so far has led to charges against 27 people.

    - Why is that a coup? Because Wesolowski admitted he solicited trucking companies seeking city business to give money to the mayor's re-election campaign, and to the 11th Ward Democratic Organization of his brother John Daley, who chairs the Finance Committee of the Cook County Board. Wesolowski also said city workers won promotions and raises by campaigning for Daley, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel and others.

    - The cliffhanger: Wesolowski says unnamed officials told Donald Tomczak, his boss at City Hall, which campaigns were to get help from his political army. If Wesolowski is telling the truth, Tomczak can put those mysterious officials in a world of hurt if he ever talks to the feds. Finally: Tomczak's attorney has said he is negotiating a possible plea deal with ... federal prosecutors.

    The editorial implies that people in Springfield may be less willing to trust Daley with additional money and resources as a result of the spreading taint of corruption in City Government. Which is maddening to me, because they're our resources.

    Take transportation. Much of the state is so underpopulated that there is as much as a mile of road per resident, compared with the thousands of residents per mile found in the city. So while infrastructure spending is higher per square mile in the city than elswhere, it is much lower per capita. While this situation is somewhat addressed by paying for some infrastructure with gasoline taxes - we drive less and use less gas - it's still a fact that our tax money is being used to build new roads in the middle of nowhere, while our own streets and public transit ifrastructure crumble. The big culprit here is the Federal tax system - because city residents are less likely to own a home, they are paying far higher Federal taxes than are suburbanites, who are writing off their mortgages. New York City pays $11 billion a year more in Federal taxes than it receives in services. Chicago's number, if someone bothered to do the math, wouldn't be nearly so high. But it would be high enough to close the CTA budget gap many times over.

    At the same time, the city is forced to pay a disproportionate share for services to the poor, since the exclusionary zoning laws in force in most suburbs don't allow for the construction of much low-income housing. Chicago has about a quarter of the state's population but half of its poor residents - the middle class has fled, largely to get away from poor people and the responsibility of paying for their upkeep, but there is nowhere else for poor resients to go - the rest of the region is very short on affordable apartments with public transit access. So the suburban middle class is largely escaping from the responsibility of helping the poor, and non-poor city residents are paying for the infrastructure that helps them do it.

    In this context, getting cash from the State and Federal governments is a big part of what a mayoral administration needs to do. Voters who are awake are less concerned about a little theft by city officials than by a lot of theft by suburbanites and downstaters. If we don't keep finding ways to beat back the leaches, we'll be sunk - another has been like Detroit or Cleveland.

    So if the scandals interfere with Da Mare's ability to get cold hard cash, the public may turn on him, unthinkable as it seems today. On the other hand, if he gets the CTA funding and the Community Development Block Grant reauthorization he's looking for, then who cares? It's not like there's no corruption at any other level of government.

    But what if he's not immortal? What if there's [gasp] a contested election? More on this later.

    Note: for some reason Photobucket is down today. I am very disturbed by this. What if all my pretty pictures get wiped out?

    Edited to post photo, once it became possible - EG

    Monday, May 02, 2005

    Are You a Republican?

    I took the "Are You A Republican?" test after reading about it at Stephanieb's Blog. This was my result:

    I am:
    "You're a damn Commie! Where's Tailgunner Joe when we need him?"

    Are You A Republican?

    In case anybody wondered where I stand on these things. And I didn't even check "Smash the Rich," although I really, really wanted to.