<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Chicago Political News and Chicago Politics]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Fri, 25 Apr 2014 01:59:48 -0500 Fri, 25 Apr 2014 01:59:48 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Rahm Emanuel's $250 Million Property Tax Hike: Got a Less Painful Proposal?]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:59:58 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rahm+emanuel+0911.jpg

Chicago aldermen are scrambling for less agonizing alternatives to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to raise property taxes by $250 million in order to cushion two underfunded pensions for city employees.

Adding to their worries: the ominous question mark of how to address the state-mandated $600 million in separate pension payments to be delivered to city firemen and police officers next year.

While Emanuel awaits aldermens' approval of his pitch, some in City Hall have proposed additional strategies to boost revenue and deal with the growing pension crisis. Among them: 

--A monthly garbage collection fee

--A city tax on high-end services from lawyers, landscapers and computer professionals, but not hairdressers

--A traffic congestion fee similar to that in London, charging motorists who drive through the Loop during peak business hours

--A suburban commuter tax

Earlier this month, Emanuel, who has indicated he will stick with his "balanced, measured and responsible" strategy, said: "Other people have ideas. One that I reject is the idea of a city income tax. I think that’s not the right way to go."

Which begs the question: What is the right way to go? A property tax hike? A tax on your next Mario Tricoci hair color appointment? A fee for commuting from the 'burbs? A casino?

Share your ideas and sound off in the comments.



Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com]]>
<![CDATA[Emanuel: CPS Students "On Track" to 82 Percent Graduate Rate]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:55:00 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/classroom-generic-1200.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday that Chicago Public Schools are on the way to achieving a graduation rate of 82 percent, a 25 percent jump from 2007.

Citing research from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (UChicago CCSR), Emanuel credited CPS' focus on keeping ninth graders "on track" academically as part of a mounted effort to curb the dropout rate.

According to the consortium, students who successfully make it through ninth grade are almost four times as likely to receive a high school diploma than their "off track" peers. Freshmen get the "on track" label if they finish at least 10 semester credits and earn no more than one "F" in key courses such as English and math.

"Chicago Public School students are continually raising the standard of academic excellence," Emanuel said in a statement. "We must remain focused on successfully transitioning students from eighth to ninth grade to ensure all students from every neighborhood in Chicago are 100 percent college ready and 100 percent college bound."

Teacher intervention methods included extra algebra tutoring and making calls to parents when students skipped class.

The Mayor's announcement comes on the heels of a tense standoff between CPS board members and supporters of three elementary schools whose staffs are required to re-apply for their positions as part of an overhaul led by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

Protests from principals, teachers and parents did nothing to sway the board from approving AUSL to step in to turn around the schools' low attendance and standardized test scores. The nonprofit, launched in 2001 to improve Chicago students' performance through introducing new principals and teachers, also oversees 29 other schools. (While CPS touts above-average test scores under AUSL management, 22 schools under the organization's purview remain on academic probation, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.)



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[CPS To Name New High School For Obama]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:09:16 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP613536462050.jpg

President Barack Obama is getting a namesake high school in Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced plans Thursday to build the Barack Obama College Preparatory High School, a selective-enrollment high school, with $60 million in tax increment financing funds.

The school is scheduled to open for the 2017-18 school year on Chicago Park District property near Skinner North Classical School on the city's North Side. It ultimately will enroll 1,200 students, starting with a freshman class of nearly 300. Emanuel's office said the new school is part of his pledge to provide more high-quality options for Chicago families.
 
"Year after year, too many of our students who have put in years of hard work are turned away because as a city we haven’t had the capacity to meet their capability," Emanuel said in a statement, "and this important investment will help us fix that."

Emanuel said about 70 percent of the school's spots will issued to students through the selective enrollment admissions process used at such schools as Jones College Prep and Westinghouse College Prep. Obama College Prep marks Chicago's eleventh selective enrollment high school.

Such schools are in high-demand, and Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett noted they are highly competitive. This year, applications for existing selective-enrollment schools grew 8 percent, with 16,440 students vying for about 3,200 seats.

“When a student has worked hard to make the grade and excel," Byrd-Bennett said, "we need to do our part to provide them with opportunities that will ensure they can live up to and achieve their full potential.”

Emanuel said the school's location was picked for its accessibility to mass transit and expressways. CPS is the nation’s third-largest school district.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Bruce Rauner's Robo-Calls Could Come Back to Haunt Him]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 11:43:38 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/bruce+rauner+getty.jpg

A lot of folks fear the wrath of famously combative Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- that's well-known -- but one of them is not Gov. Pat Quinn's Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner.

The veteran private-equity investor, who also happens to be an Emanuel vacation buddy, former business associate and sometime donor, became public political frenemy du jour on Tuesday night when the mayor issued a blistering statement in response to Camp Rauner's use of robo-calls urging Chicago voters not to support the Democratic mayor's plan to raise property taxes by $250 million and rescue two insufficiently funded pensions for city workers and retirees.

"Bruce Rauner hasn’t even gotten to Springfield, and he’s already acting like a career politician who plays politics with people’s pensions and livelihood," Emanuel's spokesperson said in the statement. "This pension reform bill currently awaiting the governor’s signature will bring financial security to 60,000 hardworking people and provides more savings through reform than a plan proposed by Mr. Rauner just a few years ago."

"The people of Chicago don’t need more rhetoric or gimmicks, they need a plan that will give our workers and retirees financial certainty and that will put our city finances in order for the long-term," the missive continued.

Meanwhile, Quinn -- whom Rauner, in his robo-call, said "won't say where he stands" on the property tax hike -- responded in kind, blasting the GOP gubernatorial hopeful as a hypocrite who wants to raise property taxes state-wide. (Quinn, for his part, previously asserted that the pension proposal's language be finessed to clarify that the proposed increase is Emanuel's baby, not his. And he's expressed disapproval on the plan, stating earlier this month: "Chicago has to address its own situation when it comes to pension reform, but I think they need to be a whole lot more creative than I've seen so far.")

While Emanuel has publicly endorsed Quinn for reelection, the Mayor's personal and professional ties to Rauner have prompted speculation that, privately, he would prefer his Republican friend to unseat his Democratic colleague as governor. (Some people think an Emanuel-Rauner alliance might even be good for the state.)

Rauner might have gone too far this time, putting his political ambitions at risk.

In making Quinn look like the bad guy, and undermining Emanuel in the process, he's shown a willingness to play dirty to win votes -- even if that means alienating a powerful pal. A powerful pal who fights fire with fire. 

From Springfield to City Hall to Rauner's campaign, all's fair in friendship and war.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Why Bill Daley's New Hedge Fund Gig Surprises No One]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 11:41:04 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Bill-Daley1.jpg

After flirting with a run for Illinois governor, Bill Daley -- brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley -- has announced a new gig at the new hedge fund Argentiere Capital.

Surprise?

Daley, who served as White House Chief of Staff from 2011-2012, is the latest in a revolving door of ex-Obama administration officials who are following stints in public office with cushy positions at financial firms. He trails in the footsteps of ex-Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, who recently became president of the Wall Street private-equity outfit Warburg Pincus, and Peter Orszag, who served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget before joining Citigroup in 2011.

In his new role, Daley will work to expand Argentiere's U.S. business from his Chicago home base. The nascent fund, which boasts $500 million in assets, was launched in Switzerland last year by JPMorgan trading alums. (Daley has professional ties to the bank: He was JPMorgan's Midwestern chairman from 2004 up through his Chief of Staff appointment.)

"I’ve always been with big organizations," he told Politico. "This is a bunch of young people who are starting a business. When I left the government, I said I wanted to be part of building something, and this is as entrepreneurial a business as I’ve ever been involved in. It’s exciting. It's the stage of my life where people are saying: ‘Go take it easy, and hang out.' I figure that’s a recipe for death."

Maybe so. But joining a private-sector start-up seems a heck of a lot less stressful -- and easier on the wallet -- than, say, the high-stakes, pressure-filled job of running the state of Illinois. In that respect, it makes sense that Daley, who's been blasted by detractors as entitled, "remarkably thin-skinned" and a "walking disaster," would return to a comfort zone where he commands a high level of respect yet attracts far less exposure to criticism -- not to mention more cash.

For those seeking a post-government career in the big-money finance industry, even a short-lived tenure as "Chief of Staff" can prove a golden ticket to infinite wealth.

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<![CDATA[Obama Library: 5 Developments in Debate Over $100M Grant Proposal]]> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:52:33 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Obama-eduation-speech.jpg

Debate over President Barack Obama's presidential library and museum is getting hotter by the millisecond -- or so it seems -- as Illinois politicians, media pundits and the voting public weigh in on whether taxpayers should foot the bill.

At issue: a controversial measure to earmark an $100 million grant for the library, thereby claiming it for Chicago amid competition from Obama's home state of Hawaii and New York City's Columbia University, his alma mater. While Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel endorse the bill, Republicans argue the state can't afford the nine-figure sum.

A second Springfield hearing is scheduled for April 30 amid strong GOP backlash.

1. POTUS' library search team says it didn't ask for $100 million -- but might take the money anyway. Crain's Chicago Business reports that the Barack Obama Foundation -- led by local businessman Marty Nesbitt -- has denied involvement in requesting a state subsidy, referencing Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other bill-backers as "unrelated parties" in a vaguely-worded statement. At the same time, the foundation also suggested that it would not rule out the possibility of accepting a large check as it "receives and evaluates proposals."

2. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton will do whatever it takes -- even if that means offering more cash. In an interview with Crain's, Cullerton says: "I don't know if they need money. We will work to provide them with whatever incentive they need. It might be less [than $100 million]. It might be more. ... We need to make sure they come and they stay here."

3. Madigan blasts the Tea Party for stoking controversy. The wily power broker, who maneuvered a strategy during legislators' spring break to push the $100 million measure through a House Executive Committee hearing unattended by GOP colleagues, pointed fingers at Republicans who demanded the April 30 revote, invoking the political movement via his spokesman, Scott Brown, who told the Chicago Sun-Times: "Some of our Republican friends decided to demonstrate their tea party gene because the word Obama was mentioned. So the committee will meet again on the 30th and there will be another vote on the bill. ... Prior to this little wave of tea party that flushed through Illinois since last week. I was unaware of any real opposition."

4. The Speaker, in damage control mode, cites a "misunderstanding of the rules" when no Republicans showed up to vote on the bill last Thursday. 

5. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno wants Madigan to just chill out, OK? "This is going to happen. There will be an Obama presidential library [in Chicago],” she said Tuesday, while making her case to the Sun-Times editorial board. “Which raises the question: why would you spend [the money], especially given the finances of the state?” (The newspaper agrees.)

And the bleat goes on.

 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Madigan Re-Elected to Lead Illinois Democratic Party]]> Tue, 22 Apr 2014 17:02:03 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Madigan+Pension+Reform+Talks.jpg

House Speaker Michael Madigan has been elected to his fifth term as chairman of the Illinois Democratic party.

The Chicago Democrat received near unanimous support from the party's state central committee during a meeting in Springfield on Tuesday. The only committeeman to oppose him was state Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin.

Noland says he "respectfully" voted against Madigan but declined to detail why. He says the two have a difference of opinion and spoke by phone about the issues in recent days.

He says it's "nothing personal" and he plans to honor his commitment to Madigan to not talk about the disagreement.

Noland says "only time will tell" if there are political ramifications for his actions. Madigan has served as House speaker for all but two years since 1983.

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<![CDATA[Quigley in Ukraine: Political Climate "Very Dangerous Situation"]]> Tue, 22 Apr 2014 18:37:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/219*120/Mike-Quigley2-30307.jpg

Chicago Congressman Mike Quigley on Tuesday called the ever-changing political and military climate in Ukraine “a very dangerous situation where [a] certain type of provocation could start a major war.”

Quigley, the 5th District Congressman from Chicago’s North Side, landed in Ukraine Monday as part of a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Joe Biden.

As the clock inched toward midnight, Quigley spoke in a telephone interview from Maidan Square, the past site of independence rallies. Ukraine, he said, remains a city of despair but also great hopefulness.

“The past president left a broken economy,” he said, but also noted the country is “ironically coupled with extraordinary optimism and hope. If you walk through the streets here and other cities you know this is their turning point.”

The delegation on Tuesday traveled to the south of Ukraine.

“We were in the South today and went into a synagogue,” Quigley said, adding there were cheers for the U.S. delegation, “hundreds of American flags waiving. The sense of the American role is a very positive one couple with the optimism there is a desire that we do more."

But the political and military situation remains taut with Russian troops on the border and pro-Russian separatists occupying government buildings in eastern Ukraine.

Vice President Biden called on Russia today to honor its public commitment to peace. “These commitments made, they should be fulfilled. We need to see these kinds of concrete steps, we need to see them without delay.”

According to Quigley 89 percent of Ukrainians want  a unified country, but he also acknowledged there are no simple solutions.

But Quigley believes economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. are working.

“I think the sanctions are starting to work,” he said. “The rubble is at an all-time low. Their stock market has not about 20 percent of its value.”

Ukrainian presidential elections are slated for May 25.

“There’s no perfect solution,” Quigley said. “This is degrees of losing for a while until this country stabilizes and elects a new government and begins constitutional reforms.”
 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[17 Things That Will Happen Before Schools Get Air Conditioning]]> Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:30:45 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*120/083110+air+conditioning.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a “cool new plan in the works” to install air conditioning in all Chicago Public Schools by 2019.

On Emanuel’s orders, CPS will begin rolling out full A/C units to 206 school buildings this summer and through the next five years. While it's a  laudable goal to want to keep the kids cool during hot weather, half a decade seems a little slow. 

Here are 17 events that will likely happen before the 2019 deadline:

1. The Obama Library will have its grand opening .

2. Mayor Emanuel will make speeches and appearances via hologram.

3. Smartphones will be able to read minds.

4. President (Hillary) Clinton will throw the first pitch at the Cubs' first 2017 game at Wrigley.

5. David Axelrod will regrow his mustache, shave it off on Morning Joe, then begin the cycle anew.

6. Every pothole in the city will be smoothed over.

7. Lindsay Lohan will win an Oscar.

8. This kid will be your boss.

9. House Speaker Michael Madigan will finally step down after a gazillion years in office. (Not likely.)

10. Chicago will become a Republican stronghold. 

11. "Quinnochio" will be the states' official mascot.

12. Joakim Noah's man bun will be inducted into NBA's Hall of Best Hair.

13. A new Marriott and basketball stadium will be built in the South Loop as part of Emanuel's $55 million development plan. (Likely)

14. So will Mayor Daley's stagnant express-rail service to O'Hare.

15. "Chiraq" will replace "The Windy City" as Chicago's nickname, unless progress can be made to curb the rampant gun violence and gang warfare terrorizing blighted neighborhoods.

16. More CPS schools will be shuttered amid the increasingly loud campaign for "school choice."

17. Further installment of air conditioning units will be delayed ... to infinity.

 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Democrats Eye Chicago, 14 Other Cities for 2016 Convention]]> Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:53:57 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Rahm+Emanuel.jpg

Chicago has a shot at hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2016.

The Democratic National Committee asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the mayors of 14 other cities to make their pitch for hosting the presidential nominating convention, the group said Tuesday.

Other cities being considered include New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Columbus, Ohio.

The DNC will accept proposals through June 6. A city will be chosen by the end of this year or the beginning of 2015.

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a letter obtained by CNN that besides logistical and administrative requirements, the committee wants a city that "shares our values of equality, inclusion, diversity, respect and dignity."

"And because of the significant security and construction related issues that we will face," Schultz said, "we also look for a city with strong relationships with organized labor and those they represent. Our priority is to work with a community that will partner with us as we plan this historic event."


 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[CTA Uses Cameras, Lawsuits to Catch Vandals]]> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 08:01:12 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/cta_red_line_4-17.jpg

The Chicago Transit Authority is using its expanded security camera network to crack down on vandalism and recoup cleaning costs from the vandals themselves.

Graffiti cost the CTA about $1 million last year, but in recent months the agency more than doubled the number of cameras on its system, equipping many of its trains with high-tech cameras that can see 360 degrees in all directions.

As a result, the CTA made 60 arrests of graffiti vandals in the first three months of this year, the same number they made in all of 2013.

“As the CTA continues to expand our surveillance camera network across our system," CTA President Forrest Claypool said, "we are improving the capability of CTA and Chicago Police staff to catch criminals in the act of vandalism and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

It doesn't stop there. The CTA is now going after the vandals directly, to make them reimburse the city for the cost of cleaning graffiti from trains. 

This week, four lawsuits totaling over $13,000 were filed against the parents of eight minors who were charged with misdemeanor criminal defacement to property. Another lawsuit filed against an adult seeks more than $14,000 in cleaning costs.

Last month, the CTA settled with an adult who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal defacement and will reimburse the agency for $3,536 in cleaning costs. 

Claypool says the first-of-their-kind graffiti lawsuits are the result of criminal graffiti acts caught on camera.
 
“Without security cameras, these arrests likely would not have occurred, and these individuals would still be defacing CTA property,” he said.

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<![CDATA[Rand Paul Comes for the Education, Will he Stay for the Cash?]]> Mon, 21 Apr 2014 14:50:04 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP328647657638.jpg
When U.S. Sen. Rand Paul comes to town, media hype ensues: the Kentucky Republican, who draws applause, scorn and everything in between for his Tea Party politics, is making headlines for his two-day Midwestern tour to stump for school choice, one of his pet issues.
 
In Chicago Tuesday and Milwaukee Wednesday, Paul will promote his vision for education reform as part of a larger mission to beef up the (stodgy) GOP voting bloc with fresh new recruits.
 
But let’s be real: He’s in it for the money.
 
All told, if Paul wants to court big-pocketed donors for a possible presidential run in 2016, he’s got no choice but to spend time schmoozing in the Windy City. The Democratic city is home to some of the wealthiest Republican political power players in the country.
 
Paul will need them to help. 
 
One big spending donor is Ken Griffin, the founder and CEO of the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel LLC. Griffin, a Republican and free-market champion, has given to the campaigns of candidates like Mitt Romney, and held a party for Chris Cristie. Paul would do well to cozy up. .
 
Griffin recently held a fundraiser for embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at his home and maintains a friendly – and financially lucrative – relationship with Emanuel. According to a PandoDaily report earlier this month, Griffin’s firm bought millions of shares of stock in Marriott months before the city approved Emanuel’s request to hand the company a contract to build a hotel in the South Loop, using $55 million in taxpayer funds.
 
Although Griffin’s political alliances seem strictly motivated by money, he aligns ideologically with Paul as a donor to conservative causes like the charter school movement. Last year, when Emanuel made city history by presiding over a record 53 public elementary school closings, Griffin said he should be closing 100 more.    
 
“Right now, we have a large degree of federal involvement and if we’re going to have federal involvement I see no reason why the concept of choice and competition can’t be attached to federal funds,” Paul said in a recent interview with WGN Radio.
 
“I would let it go directly to the poor kids and let them choose which school they want to take it to – public, private or otherwise – and maybe through that innovation and through competition, the schools would get better.”
 
That’s an argument for which Griffin would surely open his wallet, and after all, that's why Paul is here. 


Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago Officials React to Violent Easter Weekend]]> Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:24:29 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/garry+mccarthy+0421.jpg

Chicago's second warm weekend of the season was marked with violence: Nine people were killed and at least 35 were injured in a series of mostly gang-related incidents.

"Unfortunately a bad week," Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said. "It doesn't wipe out what's happened over the past two years, but it certainly is a wake-up call that we have a lot of work to do."

At a Monday morning police graduation ceremony at Navy Pier, new officers who soon will be assigned to Chicago's 20 impact zones where gun violence is highest were told the city is ramping up resources to make the department ready for summer.

"For a community to be safe it's not just about policing," Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the new graduates. "It's not just about summer jobs, it's not just about after school which is necessary. It's also about not living by a code of silence but living by a moral code."

Emanuel said he spent part of the holiday weekend talking with victims' families.

Among the wounded were five children who were struck in a drive-by shooting while leaving a park on a warm Easter evening. It was one of several incidents since Friday afternoon.

The shootings come despite new police department strategies in some of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods, including a deployment of officers on bicycles.

As part of an expansion of the department's "Operation Impact" strategy launched last year, officers will patrol a larger area while remaining accessible to neighborhood residents.

Custom notifications were also put in place to identify people who are most likely to be involved in a retaliatory shooting and send a district commander and social services officer to knock on their doors.

Many of the new officers could be assigned to impact zones starting this week.



Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com]]>
<![CDATA[Congressman Mike Quigley in Ukraine]]> Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:10:33 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*120/Quigley+in+uk+p11.JPG Chicago congressman Mike Quigley traveled to Ukraine this April. Here's a look at his photo diary. ]]> <![CDATA[More Cops on Bikes Will Patrol High-Crime Areas]]> Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:24:31 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago-police-bike.jpg

Chicago's police superintendent on Friday morning said bicycles are beginning to be deployed to some officers already on foot patrols in high-crime areas.

It's an expansion of the department's "Operation Impact" strategy that was launched last year. The new effort, according to Supt. Garry McCarthy, is to allow officers patrol a larger area while remaining accessible to neighborhood residents.

"I had people coming up to me and say that they felt the positive presence of our officers in these high crime areas and they felt safer as a result. I know our commanders have had similar experiences as they are out in the community every day," he said.

Operation Impact was a strategy used by the New York City Police Department while McCarthy was an official there. It saturates high-crime areas with officers.

A third of the foot-patrol officers have already been training and equipped with the bikes, he said. 

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<![CDATA[Blagojevich Campaign Account Donates Final Dollars]]> Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:20:45 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blago-crowd-P1.jpg

A federal campaign account for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now empty, two years into the Chicago Democrat's prison term.

Friends of Rod Blagojevich donated $709.85 to a Serbian Orthodox Church monastery earlier this month.

The gift to New Gracanica Monastery in Third Lake cleared out the account and was reflected in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The Lake County monastery is the seat of the church's Midwestern America diocese.

Blagojevich has Serbian roots.

The 57-year-old politician is in a Colorado prison serving a 14-year sentence for multiple corruption convictions. A court's expected to rule on his appeal soon.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mayor Assembles Task Force for George Lucas Museum]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:41:31 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/george-lucas-r2d2.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has created a task force of community leaders to decide on a potential location for George Lucas' arts museum.

The 12-member team is tasked with determining a location that is easy to get to and large enough to host a museum comparable to the city's other major cultural institutions. In addition, the site must not require taxpayer dollars to pay for it.

The task force will accept public input before making recommendations by mid-May. The chosen location will compete against proposed locations in other cities, including San Francisco, where Lucas spent most of his life.

Members of the task force include community and cultural leaders, local development practitioners and urban planners, including:

  • Ted Beattie, president and CEO of the Shedd Aquarium
  • Lee Bey, special projects manager at the University of Chicago
  • Gia Biagi, chief of staff at the Chicago Park District
  • Michelle Boone, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
  • Gillian Darlow, chief executive officer of the Polk Bros. Foundation
  • Nilda Esparza, director of youth and cultural programming at Latinos Progresando
  • Jeanne Gang, founder and principal of Studio Gang Architects
  • Walter Massey, president of the School of the Art Institute
  • Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor
  • Mary Ann Smith, former alderman of the 48th ward
  • Jackie Samuel, director of the New Communities Program at Claretian Associates
  • Kurt Summers, senior vice president of Grosvenor Capital Management

Star Wars creator George Lucas wants to create the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum to display his collection of Norman Rockwell paintings and Star Wars memorabilia. Lucas had his eye on Chicago to host the museum after discussions with leaders in San Francisco fell through.

The museum would feature an exhibit with props, costumes and designs from Lucas' films. Other exhibits would feature digital art and pieces from Lucas's private art collection, which includes modern masterpieces created by the likes of Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth.

Lucas would pay the $300 million price tag for this museum out of his own pocket and would endow another $400 million to keep it running.

Lucas, 69, already has ties to Chicago. He and his wife, Mellody Hobson, in February donated $25 million to the University of Chicago. Hobson is the president of the Chicago firm Ariel Investments. The filmmaker last year donated another $25 million to After School Matters, the charity created by former Chicago first lady Maggie Daley.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Emanuel Urges State to Pitch in $100M for Obama Library]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:15:56 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rahm+obama.jpg

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is urging Illinois lawmakers to devote $100 million in state funds to help bring President Barack Obama's presidential museum and library to the city.

 
Emanuel spoke Thursday before the Illinois House's Executive Committee.
 
He says the money would make Chicago's bid for the library more competitive and that the investment would return dividends "well beyond" $100 million.
Emanuel also says the funding would be a fitting way to welcome Obama back to his hometown after his term is up.
 
Several sites — most on Chicago's South Side — want to become home to the library and museum. Hawaii and New York also are vying for it.
 
The $100 million for construction costs would be part of a new capital construction plan, which the Legislature must approve.

 



Photo Credit: flickr.com//whitehouse]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago Casino Plan Draws Support at Hearing]]> Thu, 17 Apr 2014 05:23:17 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/%5BNECN%5DCasino.jpg

A proposal for a state-owned Chicago casino won praise Wednesday from business groups and a warmer reception from a state regulatory board than past attempts to expand gambling, but the plan also drew criticism from downstate officials and the horse racing industry who said it would cheat them out of needed revenues and jobs.

The hearing in Chicago, which wasn't heated like public exchanges in other parts of Illinois, was the latest attempt to bolster gambling, but questions were also raised about support for the legislation in an election year where other major fiscal issues are pending. Previous bills approved by legislators were twice rejected by Gov. Pat Quinn largely over ethical concerns about corruption, and last year's bill calling for five casinos fizzled out after the Illinois Gaming Board scrutinized plans that would have allowed Chicago to have authority over a casino.

State Rep. Bob Rita, a Blue Island Democrat sponsoring the plans, said he wanted to gauge interest in a Chicago-only plan and give lawmakers options. Two proposals are on the table: One adds five casinos, including in Chicago, plus slots at racetracks. The other calls for a mega-casino in Chicago. In both plans, the Chicago casino would be state run, which Rita said was in response to past criticism.

Though neither Quinn nor Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have weighed in recently, the board that regulates Illinois' 10 existing casinos highlighted the changes.
 
"There are certainly improvements," gaming board attorney Caleb Melamed told lawmakers. "This is a significantly different piece of legislation than previous years."
 
He voiced other concerns about the potential of saturating the market with other Chicago area casinos. He also questioned a state-run casino, a model that's unusual among other states. The Chicago Crime Commission objected to the structure, calling for an operator-owned model like other casinos and more protections against corruption. Chicago area pastors and anti-gambling groups also warned lawmakers of possible social costs on either plan, such as more people hooked on gambling.
 
"Casino gambling is really nothing more than an increased tax on those who can't afford it," said Matt Fitzgerald, senior pastor at St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago.
Noticeably absent from Wednesday's hearing were Chicago city officials, even while chamber of commerce groups said a downtown Chicago casino — in either plan — would create jobs and benefit the economy with estimated revenues between $450 million to $950 million. The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and urban planners envisioned a Chicago casino as a draw for tourists and locals, with shopping and live shows. They said possible locations included the Congress Plaza Hotel, the top floors of a downtown Macy's department store or the James R. Thompson Center, which a state building.
 
"Chicago is an incredible prize for the gaming industry," said Kim Goluska, president of Chicago Consultants Studio Inc. "The revenues are going to be huge no matter what they are."
 
Still, Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the mayor wouldn't address expanded gambling until the city solved its pension problem. State lawmakers have approved a partial fix to Chicago's pension problem, but Quinn hasn't indicated if he'll sign it. Quinn's spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the Chicago Democrat hadn't seen the two gambling expansion plans.
 
Rita said he hadn't spoken to either Quinn or Emanuel about the proposals, but wanted to call his legislation for a vote before the end of May. He's said that the political climate in Springfield could be more favorable than last year when lawmakers were considering plans to address the pension system, which is the worst-funded in the nation. Quinn has since signed a pension law. Lawmakers are also looking for additional revenue sources in this election year as the temporary income tax increase rolls back next year and creates the potential for major budget cuts.
 
One of his current plans calls for a Chicago casino with up to 10,000 terminals that'll share revenues; Half would go to Chicago and the other half statewide for education and capital construction spending. The other plan would call for a 4,000 to 6,000-spot Chicago casino and smaller, 1,200-position ones in a suburb south of Chicago and the counties of Lake, Winnebago and Vermilion. It would also allow for slot machines at most horse racetracks. The second plan would also allow for revenue sharing.
 
The idea to separate out the Chicago casino has already drawn opposition from the Illinois' horse racing industry and mayors elsewhere, particularly in economically-depressed areas. They've argued for job creation with the five-casino proposal. The Illinois Casino Gaming Association, which represents most of the state's casinos, said it opposed both plans citing revenue drops over the years and market saturation.
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<![CDATA[Chicago Congressman Heads to Ukraine]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:20:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/219*120/Mike-Quigley2-30307.jpg

Congressman Mike Quigley is headed to the chaos of Ukraine. The North Side congressman will be part of a delegation that leaves in the next few days.

Quigley's district is home to a large number of Ukrainian-Americans.

“It’s always been the role of the U.S to help,” Quigley said during an interview on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight that will air at 7 p.m.

Quigley said it is in the interest of the United States to become involved because the United Nations is stymied.

He cited economic sanctions employed by the U.S. against Russia in an attempt to make the government of Vladimir Putin cease further aggression into Ukraine. 

“I think the sanctions are starting to work,” Quigley said, “I think we let sanctions work as much as possible.”

Calling Putin an opportunist who will go as far as he can, Quigley said, “I think he’s [Putin] beginning to understand conflict is bad for business.”

However, critics of the Obama administration argue that harsh rhetoric and even sanctions will not alter Russia's course.
 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Quinn Leads Rauner in Campaign Cash]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 13:04:32 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Quinn_Rauner_4_11.jpg

Get ready for a pricey Illinois governor's race.

Gov. Pat Quinn's campaign fund is flush with nearly $8.8 million, Crain's Chicago Business reports. While his Republican opponent, Bruce Rauner, managed to raise about $9 million this year, he spent most of it to win the GOP primary in March.

As of March 31, Crain's reports Rauner's camp has about $1.4 million left, giving Quinn a clear edge in money.

Money drove Rauner's political identity early on, and his primary election challengers took notice, criticizing his cash and connections. This year he managed to break a record for personal funding in a campaign for Illinois governor.

Rauner is gaining in other ways. An early Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday showed him grabbing 43 percent of votes from likely Illinois voters, while Quinn took 40 percent and 10 percent were undecided.

Quinn and Rauner met for the first time in the 2014 campaign for Illinois governor last week at a meeting with the Illinois Education Association in Chicago.

Quinn called Rauner "the biggest threat to public education in the state of Illinois." Rauner has called Quinn the worst governor in America.

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<![CDATA[Rutherford Asks for Dismissal of Sex Harassment Lawsuit]]> Wed, 16 Apr 2014 10:19:06 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Dan_Rutherford_2-10.jpg

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford wants a federal judge to dismiss a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former staffer.

The motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago seeks to end the lawsuit by Edmund Michalowski, who worked for the former Republican candidate for governor for three years. He left in January and filed the lawsuit just weeks before Rutherford finished last in a four-way GOP primary.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Thursday. Michalowski's lawyer did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Michalowski, who was deputy director of community affairs in Rutherford's office, claims he was denied promised raises and a promotion and was berated for not performing political work. He contends he was sexually harassed by unwanted touching and comments from Rutherford on several occasions, including a night in April 2011 at Rutherford's home when Michalowski claims the treasurer "grabbed at" his genitals.

The motion to dismiss, filed by private lawyers acting as special assistant attorneys general, says Michalowski's free speech rights were not violated because he doesn't allege he complained about the work, only that he was criticized for not doing it well.

It contends that Michalowski has not shown that Rutherford had a reason to discriminate against him because of his gender, that he was treated differently than other employees, or any pattern of discrimination in the one-term treasurer's office.

And it says that Michalowski was not subject to a hostile work environment because if the alleged harassment occurred, the incidents were fairly isolated and not sufficient to support the claim.

Finally, it claims Rutherford should be covered by limited immunity afforded government officials when "the unlawfulness of an official's conduct is not clearly established."

Rutherford alerted the media to a brewing firestorm in late January without disclosing the substance of the allegations and suggested rival candidate Bruce Rauner was behind it, a claim Rauner denies.

Rauner went on to win the GOP nomination for governor.
 

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<![CDATA[Congressional Report Presses for E-Cigarette Rules]]> Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:05:36 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/E-Cig-I-Team.jpg

A new congressional report says concerns about electronic cigarettes underscore the need to regulate the fast-growing industry.

The report released Monday highlights several issues including an array of flavors and marketing that could appeal to young people, the lack of age restrictions and no uniform warning labels.

It was written by the staff of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, California Rep. Henry Waxman and others.

"From candy flavors to rock concert sponsorships, every single company surveyed in this report has employed a marketing strategy that appears to target youth," said Durbin. "For years, federal regulations prohibiting tobacco companies from targeting young people have helped to protect a new generation of smokers from getting hooked on nicotine. Now, we must close this new gateway to addiction to protect our children."

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat a nicotine solution and create vapor that's inhaled.

A 2009 law gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products. The agency first said it planned to assert authority over e-cigarettes in 2011 but has yet to do so.

The proposed FDA regulation was submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review in October.

The City of Chicago in January passed a measure treating e-cigarettes like many other tobacco products, limiting how the devices can be sold and where they can be used.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
 

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<![CDATA[Illinois Senate Approves Ban on Ticket Quotas]]> Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:37:05 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/traffic_ticket_court_report.jpg

A bill preventing the use of police ticket quotas passed in the Illinois Senate Thursday in a 57-1 vote.

The legislation would prevent ticket quotas at any state, county and municipal police departments. It also states that departments would not be allowed to evaluate an officer's performance based on the number of citations they issue.

The bill had the support of 19 sponsors in the Senate, including Sen. Kirk Dillard. The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, however, fought the measures.

"While law enforcement executives strongly agree with eliminating the imposition of arbitrary traffic ticket quotas, the bill would also eliminate vital data-driven performance measures used to assist in the performance appraisal of police officers," John H. Kennedy, the executive director of the association, said in an April 4 statement.

"Under the provisions of this bill, Illinois would stand to lose millions of dollars in federal highway traffic safety funding for DUI saturation patrols, restraint enforcement details and speed reduction campaigns."

The one "no" vote for the legislation came from Sen. Tim Bivins of the 45th District.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Bill Amending State's GPS Monitoring Law Advances]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 12:43:53 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/anklemonitor.jpg

A bill that would let law enforcement officials use GPS tracking on people with a restraining order passed the Illinois House this week to advance to the Senate.

The proposal would let authorities monitor someone as soon as protective order is issued. Current state law only lets a judge order GPS monitoring after a suspect has violated an order of protection.

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican. She said she drafted the measure after the slaying of an Antioch woman who was killed by her ex-boyfriend even though she'd taken out an order of protection against the man.

"By strengthening tracking laws for those charged with violent crimes, we may be able to prevent murders like Diane's in the future," Wheeler said, according to the Daily Herald.

The bill is HB3744.



Photo Credit: Associated Press]]>
<![CDATA[Quinn, Rauner Square Off on Friday]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 13:12:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/quinn-3-26.jpg

Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Challenger Bruce Rauner will have their first joint public appearance since becoming opponents on Friday when they appear together at an event for the Illinois Education Association. 

It's not a debate, but the two men have agreed to sit down together and answer questions in front of more than 1,200 teachers about their policy proposals. 

The IEA represents 130,000 Illinois teachers. 

It could be a tough day for both politicians. 

The IEA is among a group of unions that are fighting in court Quinn's pension plan in court. 

They're the same organization that endorsed Rauner's primary opponent Kirk Dillard. 

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<![CDATA[Illinois Voters Favor Term Limits]]> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 13:11:31 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/illinois-statehouse-night.jpg

Illinoisans would like to see term limits set for lawmakers in Springfield, according to new polling data released this week.

"If organizers are able to get the measure on the ballot -- and it’s not clear the courts will allow that -- it should be easy for them to win approval," said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute of Southern Illinois University, which conducted the poll.

The poll of 1001 registered voters, conducted Feb. 12 through Feb. 25, asked two questions:

  • "Would you favor or oppose a proposal to limit state legislators to a total of eight years of service, whether in the House of Representatives , the State Senate, or a combination of the two?"

Most respondents -- 61.7 percent -- said they would strongly favor such a move. Another 17.8 percent said they would strongly favor. Just 8.5 percent and 8.6 percent said they would somewhat oppose or strongly oppose a move to institute term limits. Another 3.4 percent of respondents said they didn't know.

  • "Would you favor or oppose a proposal to limit how long state legislators could serve in leadership roles – such as Speaker of the House or President of the Senate – before they stepped down to let other legislators lead?"

On that question, a 65.1 percent of those surveyed said they would strongly favor the move. Another 17.6 percent they would somewhat favor term limits. Against the proposal were 8.3 percent who said they were somewhat opposed and 6.3 percent who said they were strongly opposed. Another 2.7 percent said they didn't know.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, the institute said.

The support for term limits revealed in the latest poll aren't surprising. Similar questions asked in previous polls by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute have had similar results. The institute said the wording of the latest poll reflected a proposal pushed by a group known as Term Limits and Reform, which is backed by Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner.

Rauner wants the questions put to voters on the same November ballot where his name will  appear.

"This is about uniting all voters to transform Springfield, stop that culture of corruption," Rauner said in September after he rolled out the proposal. "If eight years was good enough for George Washington, it should be good enough for the politicians in Springfield."

Rauner's organization said in November it had half the signatures necessary.

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<![CDATA[Chicago to Add 20 More Miles of Protected Bike Lanes]]> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 16:20:49 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chi-bike-lane.jpg

Chicago cyclists will soon have an extra 20 miles of bike lanes to ride.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Monday that the Chicago Department of Transportation plans to install the extra miles of buffered and protected bike lanes this spring and summer. An additional 30 miles of bike lanes are in the works for late this year and early next year.

By early 2015, the mayor’s goal of installing 100 miles of protected bike lanes will be achieved as long as this year’s installation plans pan out.

Protected bike lanes are technically only those lanes with physical barriers between cyclists and cars. The 100 miles of protected bike lanes in the mayor's plan, however, include buffered lanes as well. The buffered lanes provide additional space between cars and cyclists, but no physical barrier.

Five miles of barrier-protected bike lanes will be installed on the following streets this spring and summer:

•    Broadway, from Montrose to Foster Avenues
•    Harrison Street, from Desplaines Street to Wabash Avenue
•    Lake Street, from Austin Boulevard to Central Park Avenue

The other 15 miles of lanes to be installed this year will have slightly less protection with buffers instead of barriers. These lanes will be installed on the following streets:

•    California Avenue, from Augusta Boulevard to North Avenue
•    Halsted Street, from 31st to 26th Streets
•    Stony Island Avenue, from 63rd to 56th Streets

With more than 207 miles of bikeways, Chicago has made a name for itself as a bike-friendly city, perhaps to the dismay of regular drivers. In 2012, Bicycling Magazine ranked Chicago as the fifth best U.S. city for cycling.

While there is no official number on the cost of previous bike-lane construction, a spokesman for CDOT said the installation of new bike lanes will piggyback off of street resurfacing projects to minimize the cost.

To further the plan to make Chicago a more bike-friendly city, the mayor and the Chicago Department of Transportation unveiled the popular bike-share program Divvy last summer. The city has also made plans for another Chicago Bike Week this year, which will be held June 13-20.

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<![CDATA[IG Audit Finds Chicago Police Underreported Assaults]]> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 23:46:47 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago+police+car+generic+2.jpg

A new report from Chicago's Inspector General claims "significant" reporting errors led to city police undercounting assault-related crimes in 2012.
 
In an audit of the Chicago Police Department’s compliance with its reporting infrastructure for crime stats, Inspector General Joe Ferguson found police "failed to count each victim in multiple victim crimes as a separate offense."

In the sample examined by the IG, that discrepancy resulted in a 24 percent undercount in victim offenses. The errors were found in the police department’s reports to the Illinois Uniform Crime Reporting program, which feeds into the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system.

The police department also "erroneously excluded certain crimes committed against protected persons," the report notes, which led to under-reporting aggravated assaults by 5.7 percent and batteries by 3.2 percent.

“Data analysis is central to CPD’s pursuit of its critical public safety mission,” Ferguson said, noting the "integrity and reliability of crime statistics hinges on" accurate incident reporting from the field and accurately classifying and reporting the information once entered into the system.

In a test of the latter, Ferguson said his office observed some flaws in the data system but noted the system largely accounted for documented assault-related crimes.

Ferguson said the police department agreed with the findings and offered a "robust response" to the report. The department plans to review all aggravated assaults and batteries from 2012 and 2013 to ensure the accuracy of its reports to the reporting system and provide clearer guidance on multi-victim crime reporting in its Field Reporting Manual.

Ferguson called the department's response to the audit "an encouraging sign of an organization seeking to improve."

"We caution, however, that what is reported out is only as reliable as what is fed into the system from the field," he said. "Public confidence in crime statistics therefore also depends on the accuracy of field reporting, which we did not test.”



Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com]]>
<![CDATA[Bishop Upholds Decision to Deny Durbin Holy Communion]]> Sat, 05 Apr 2014 15:10:36 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dick+durbin+2014.jpg

Springfield Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki has reportedly decided to uphold a decision from Blessed Sacrament Parish denying communion to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin because of his “pro-choice position.”

“Senator Durbin was informed several years ago by his pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish here in Springfield that he was not permitted to receive Holy Communion per canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law,” Bishop Paprocki reportedly wrote in response to a pro-life activist's query, the Illinois Review reported. “My predecessor upheld that decision and it remains in effect. It is my understanding that the senator is complying with that decision here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.”

Canon 915 states that those who have been "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion."

The response comes after a report that the pastor of the parish, Monsignor Kevin Vann, made a “difficult decision” when he said he would not give Durbin holy communion due to his “pro-choice position.”

The Quincy Journal reports that Vann said he would instead give the senator a blessing.

Durbin began his career as a pro-life congressman and ended up as a senator who voted against banning partial birth abortion.

Durbin has not responded to NBC Chicago’s request for comment.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>