<![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 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:36:13 -0600 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 07:36:13 -0600 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Patterson Bumped From Mayoral Ballot]]> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 05:32:26 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/200275078-001.jpg

It appears Willie Wilson has won his challenge to bump Fenton Patterson off the ballot as a candidate for mayor.

That was the word from key political sources on Wednesday evening.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's campaign argues Wilson is trying to cut the number of African American candidates from the February ballot. Other challenges are underway for potential candidates Frederick Collins and Robert Shaw.

Wilson himself is not officially on the ballot. He has a hearing next week to see if he has the needed 12,500 signatures. The mayor has challenged the validity of thousands of Wilson's nominating papers after the businessman came up with 43,000 signatures in just five days. Candidates need 12,500 valid signatures to qualify for a spot on the election ballot and Emanuel’s campaign says 35,000 of Wilson’s 43,000 signatures should be tossed out.

Wilson said he was seeking a subpoena to force Emanuel to appear at a Dec. 23 Board of Elections hearing to answer questions about his challenge to Wilson's papers.

The election is Feb. 24.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Fioretti Accuses Rahm of Taking Credit for Rat Idea]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:27:46 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/134969853.jpg

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday for allegedly attempting to take credit for his idea to partner with an Arizona company on a rat control test program in Chicago.

Fioretti, who's running against Emanuel in February's mayoral election, aired his grievances after City Hall made public its rodent-busting collaboration with SenesTech, which uses "non-lethal" methods to reduce pest population by rendering rats infertile and will set upon the vermin at Chicago Transit Authority breeding grounds in coming months.

According to the Sun-Times, Fioretti pitched SenesTech as a solution to the CTA rat problem back in March. The agency, however, said it considered hiring the biotech company for a while.

"If that's what they're saying, they are outright liars," Fioretti told the paper. "They never knew about it until I brought it to their attention, which struck me as strange that experts in the field didn't know about new initiatives."

He alleged that SenesTech was "told not to talk to me" because Team Emanuel wanted props for bringing in the firm. 

An Emanuel spokesman did not immediately respond to Ward Room's request for comment.

"It's good that, when we pose new ideas, (they're followed)," Fioretti said to the Sun-Times. "But we should work in collaboration with people not against people. It's not about getting the credit. It's about getting it done. ... If it proves successful, which I know it will, we need to bring it above ground and deal with the problems in our neighborhoods."

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Flickr RF]]>
<![CDATA[Rauner: "Famous" Act to Play at Inaugural Bash]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:28:19 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Bruce-Rauner-victory-1.jpg

Tickets for Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner's Jan. 12 inauguration are free of charge, but entry into a VIP pre-party and concert come with a price.

The Republican successor to departing Democrat Pat Quinn released details for his swearing-in celebration in an email to pro-Rauner followers on Monday, declaring: "We are planning for an open and accessible event that everyone will enjoy."

The Trib reports that Rauner will throw an $1,000-per-plate dinner reception at the Capitol on the Sunday night preceding his 11 a.m. Monday inauguration ceremony at Springfield's Prairie Capital Convention Center. After Rauner formally assumes his new job as CEO-in-Chief of Illinois, a concert will be held at the venue with tickets going for $125 a pop. (Team Rauner says someone "famous" is expected to perform in the incoming governor's honor. Kid Rock? Ted Nugent? Pal Chris Christie's favorite musician Springsteen? Not happening.)

And after the party there's an after-party: Sponsors contributing $10K and $25K will get access to a post-Sunday dinner schmoozefest as well as another private to-do following the inauguration, according to the Trib

Meanwhile, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum will open its doors Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and that evening from 9 p.m. until midnight for a grownup-geared "Celebrate Illinois" fete—no admission required.

If you're a fan of Bruce (not to be confused with The Boss), you can score tickets to the inaugural events at the link. No word on whether he'll show up in a motorcycle.

<![CDATA[Kirk Votes Against NRA on Surgeon General Vote]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:14:56 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Vivek+Murthy.jpg

When the U.S. Senate rubber-stamped President Obama's new surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, on Monday, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk was the only Republican in the chamber to lend his support amid NRA-fueled resistance over Murthy's gun control views.

The self-professed fiscal conservative and social moderate diverted from party lines to install Murthy into the top doctor post by a 51-43 vote. Murthy is the 37-year-old founder of Doctors for America, a coalition of MDs supportive of Obamacare, and an internal medicine physician and teacher at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Vivek's nomination sparked fierce backlash from the National Rifle Association and politicians from both sides of the aisle repping states where there is heavy support for gun rights. The incoming surgeon general, a proponent of stricter gun control laws, stated last February that he would not leverage the position as "a bully pulpit for gun control."

Kirk, up for re-election in 2016, is especially well regarded among Illinoisians surrounding Democratic Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently passed sweeping firearm regulations crafted to marginalize gun shops. Kirk, who previously served the 10th Congressional District on the city's North Shore before jumping to the Senate in 2011, faces a potential (and equally popular) rival in Chicago-area Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat and fellow miltary veteran.

On Monday Kirk officially retired from the Navy after more than 25 years of service including three reserve deployments in Afghanistan. He confirmed he will run to keep his senatorial seat next year and had already raised $400,000 toward that effort. 

Photo Credit: twitter.com/vivek_murthy]]>
<![CDATA[Emanuel Gets Subpoenaed in Ballot Challenge]]> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 11:48:17 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tlmd_rahm_emanuel50.jpg

Dr. Willie Wilson, a potential candidate for Chicago mayor who's had his ballot signatures challenged, wants a chance to face his accuser.

The doctor, owner of a multi-million dollar medical supply business who also produces a weekly-syndicated gospel TV show, on Tuesday morning was to hold a press conference announcing the issuance of a subpoena for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appear at a Dec. 23 Board of Elections hearing.

The mayor has challenged the validity of thousands of Wilson's nominating papers after the businessman came up with 43,000 signatures in just five days. Candidates need 12,500 valid signatures to qualify for a spot on the election ballot and Emanuel’s campaign says 35,000 of Wilson’s 43,000 signatures should be tossed out.

Wilson said Emanuel's objection to his candidacy is racially motivated and that the mayor should attend the hearing to answer questions about his objections.

Emanuel's other challengers include Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

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<![CDATA[Senator Kirk Retires from the Navy]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 17:02:04 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/kirk+retires+from+navy.JPG

A ceremony was held at the Pentagon Monday afternoon for Sen. Mark Kirk as he officially retired from his position of commander in the Navy, where he served for more than 25 years.

During those years he served in Yugoslavia, Turkey and Iraq. He also took part in three two-week reserve deployments in Afghanistan.

Kirk noted Monday that his duty "gave me a priority, a focus, a laser focus on the forward edge of freedom."

He added that he is definitely running for re-election and recently raised $400,000 towards his campaign fund.

Photo Credit: Mary Ann Ahern]]>
<![CDATA[Comptroller Appointment on Hold Until After Memorial]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:34:22 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Judy-Baar-Topinka.jpg

Don’t look for Gov. Pat Quinn to name a successor to Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka until after her memorial service on Wednesday.

Sources have told NBC Chicago that a number of people have contacted the governor’s office or the governor himself expressing interest in the job. The governor has no interest in naming himself.

"That’s ridiculous," according to one of his spokesmen.

Still, Quinn is said to be looking for someone who will "carry out Topinka’s role as a watchdog."

Topinka died last week after having a stroke. She won a second term as comptroller during last month's general election.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan earlier Monday issued a ruling about Topinka’s successor. The governor’s staff notes that while Madigan sees two appointments – one for Quinn and one for Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner – other legal experts believe that Quinn’s appointment will keep the comptroller job until there’s an election held.

A memorial service for Topinka will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Local 150, at 6200 Joliet Rd., in Countryside.

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<![CDATA[AG: After Appointees, Voters Should Pick Comptroller]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:10:23 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Lisa-Madigan4.jpg

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says the death of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka leaves essentially two vacancies that should first be filled by outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn and then Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.

Voters should also get a chance to cast ballots for the office in 2016, she said.

Topinka died last week. The Republican had won a second term, which starts next month.

In a legal analysis released Monday, Madigan says Quinn should appoint someone until Jan. 12, when the current term ends and new elected officials are sworn in. Then once Rauner is in office he should appoint someone.

But Madigan says it's an elected office. She says voters should have a say in a replacement as early as possible.

"I urge Governor Quinn, Governor-Elect Rauner, the legislative leaders and the members of the General Assembly to support and move forward with a new law allowing the people of Illinois to vote, at the next regularly scheduled statewide election in 2016, to determine who will serve as Comptroller until the 2018 election," she said.

A spokesman said Quinn was reviewing the analysis.

"We are pleased that the Attorney General’s legal analysis is in line with what Governor-Elect Rauner and I’ve been saying over the past several days that there must be two appointments for comptroller," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. "Thanks to the quick response by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. We can now put this question behind us and instead honor the achievements and extraordinary life of Judy Baar Topinka."

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<![CDATA[Rahm Writes $7K Check to City for 2012 Travel Bill]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 10:52:13 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mayor+rahm+emanuel.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote a check for $7,151.89 to the City of Chicago to cover the tab from his September 2012 trip to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte after the Chicago Tribune inquired about a tax-financed move to transport city cops to the splashy political event.

The Tribune reported Monday that Emanuel submitted the four-figure sum late November possibly as a result of its probe for more information on the recruitment of three security officers to join the mayor at the election-season gathering. Emanuel took the stage there for a speech honoring President Obama, for whom he served as chief-of-staff before running for Chicago mayor.

Emanuel's check covered expenses for rental cars, airline tickets and a hotel room for an officer on his security team (all of which were paid for with taxpayer dollars), the newspaper said, noting that City Hall did not give a response to why the mayor needed several officers with him instead of his usual one.

The Tribune has been on Emanuel's case to make his travel bills transparent since last January, and he has since paid back almost $22,000 and revised travel guidelines to rule against using tax money to pay for vaguely defined non-Chicago "campaign-related business." The policy clear states, "If the trip involves only campaign-related activity, (security) detail's travel expenses shall be paid for by campaign."

In April, the paper revealed that City Hall shelled out $355,000 to pay travel fees for 56 Emanuel trips since 2011. An Emanuel rep stated back then that "the mayor, regardless of where he is, is always the mayor, which is why he has security detail with him at almost all times. The security detail is serving him in his official capacity."

<![CDATA[Rahm's Former Rivals Split on Mayoral Endorsement]]> Sun, 14 Dec 2014 18:11:20 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Gery+Chico+and+Miguel+del+Valle.jpg

They ran against him four years ago and now Mayor Rahm Emanuel's former rivals are split when it comes to who they will endorse.

Gery Chico is endorsing Emanuel. Miguel del Valle, however, is choosing Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

In 2010, Chico, a former key staffer in Mayor Daley's administration, attacked Emanuel for his plan to tax services calling it the "Rahm tax." Chico won 10 of the city's 50 wards but not enough to take the contest to a runoff.

On Sunday, Chico attended a "Latinos for Rahm" endorsement event. Dozens of Latino elected officials, business leaders and community leaders were also at the event, including Congressman Luis Gutierrez.

Del Valle will make his endorsement for Garcia in front of one of the 50 schools closed by the Emanuel administation. He served as Chicago's city clerk as well as a state senator.

Just how many candidates for mayor will be on the Feb. 24 ballot will be the focus Monday when hearings continue at the Chicago Board of Elections.

Dr. Willie Wilson, who filed more than 45,000 signatures, faces a petition challenge Monday. Wilson, a newcomer to politics, is a multi-millionaire who has moved into the city from the suburbs to challenge Emanuel.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rahm Takes Credit for Minimum Wage Hike]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 08:12:57 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/236*120/tlmd_rahm_emanuel_becas_cps_colegios.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's TV campaign ads show a trend. Rather than Emanuel making promises, he's relying on Chicagoans to offer testimonials.

The most recent ad profiled one of his cabinet members, Cheryl Hyman, the Chancellor of the Chicago City Colleges.

A new Emanuel TV ad to begin running Monday focuses on Chicago's minimum wage hike that will gradually increase to $13 an hour by 2019. Emanuel does not appear in the ad, but instead focuses on 27-year-old Sharita Wilson, a single mother who is a cashier and sales person at a downtown store. Wilson says the minimum wage hike will make a difference for her.

"Rahm's actions show he wants to appear that he's fighting for the working class in an election year, but would rather please his pals in big business who have tried to block a raise in wages at every turn," said Mike Kolenc, a spokesman for mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti's campaign.

As well, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's spokesman Monica Trevino says "raising the minimum wage was not a tough choice, as the mayor likes to say. It was an easy one that he should have made his first year in office."

"Mayor Emanuel took only two weeks to put out a TV commercial after the increase passed, and it should be clear to everyone that Mayor Emanuel only makes hard choices ... when they personally benefit him," Trevino added.

The mayoral election is Feb. 24.

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<![CDATA[Blagojevich Hits One Year of Waiting]]> Sat, 13 Dec 2014 08:38:57 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rod+blagojevich+1+year.jpg

One year and counting.

As of Saturday, that’s how long former governor Rod Blagojevich, his family and attorneys have been waiting for a decision from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This opinion is going to have far reaching effects,” said Leonard Goodman, one of Blagojevich’s attorneys. “Not just for Rod and Patti, and their two daughters, but for any politician who has to go out and raise money.”

But why the wait? Goodman says he believes it’s simply because the Blagojevich case was so complicated, unfolding during two trials, with dozens of undercover recordings and labyrinthine charges. Others aren’t so sure.

“They want to put it out when it’s going to cause the least ruckus!” said Leonard Cavise, professor emeritus of law from DePaul University. He calls the former governor’s 14-year sentence “outrageous” and is convinced the appellate court is prepared to make a change.

“I think they’re going to reduce his sentence,” Cavise said. “And if you’re going to reduce his sentence, it’s a good idea to serve a little more time.”

The appeal rests on two key pillars: that Blagojevich’s behavior did not constitute a crime and that he was not allowed to present an adequate defense.

“Your ordinary political corruption case involves a politician putting money in his pocket, whether it’s taking money from his campaign fund or cash bribes or trips … jewelry,” Goodman said. “Rod never did any of that!”

Indeed, the most famous charge -- that Blagojevich hoped to “sell” the Barack Obama Senate seat -- actually rests in the eye of the beholder. And that is key to what the court will decide.

“You know, I can’t think of another politician who has been put in the dock for purely political acts,” Goodman said.

During the oral arguments before the court last December, Judge Frank Easterbrook pushed the prosecutor to explain how a political horse trade rose to the level of a crime. Specifically, he cited the example of California Governor Earl Warren, making a deal to deliver his support to Dwight Eisenhower in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ironically, it was an argument Blagojevich himself had made during his second trial.

“Under the standard that Blagojevich was held to, Governor Warren should be in jail and so should Eisenhower,” Goodman said.

The bottom line, of course, is that many believe Blagojevich’s stiff 14-year sentence was intended as a message to other politicians not to even think about chicanery lest they join him behind bars. And now observers agree that whatever the Appellate court does, they will be sending a message as well.

“You know, this case is about politics,” Goodman said. “And every politician is going to look at what the Seventh Circuit does.”

Blagojevich himself recently moved from the low security Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado, to an adjoining camp. That minimum security facility has more freedom of movement and is generally considered to be a bit more accommodating.

But it’s still prison. And unless he gets good news from the Appellate court, Illinois’ famous former governor is not scheduled to be released until 2024.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Video Puts City Lawsuit Against Park Grill in Jeopardy]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 18:09:38 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Park_Grill.jpg

There are new developments in the ongoing lawsuit between the City of Chicago and the popular Millennium Park restaurant Park Grill: The city wants to undo the rest of a 30-year contract with the restaurant's investors.

NBC 5 learned that a videotape of a meeting 13 years ago has suddenly surfaced. That meeting happened when the park district heard from the three finalists wanting to be chosen for the Millennium Park space.

Park Grill says this tape is a game changer that proves their case. The city disagrees.

Whether you've skated at the ice rink at its front door or dined inside the restaurant, Park Grill has become a favorite.

It's also been the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. Once Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, he hired private attorneys to terminate the rest of the 30-year contract.

Park Grill pays the city $250,000 a year in rent, plus percentage fees. It receives free garbage, water and gas. They pay no property tax. This was all part of the original agreement.

The videotape taken at the park district selection meeting on Oct. 11, 2001, has suddenly surfaced after years of Park Grill investors asking for it and being told no one could find it.

"It recorded what really happened, there's no doubt about it, and it corroborates the Park Grill story," said Stephen Novack, the Park Grill attorney.

It's a complicated story. Park Grill investors have deep ties to Mayor Daley. However, the Emanuel administration points out that one of the Park Grill investors has two children with Laura Foxgrover, a former park district employee. They allege Foxgrover steered the choice.

Park Grill attorneys have filed a new memorandum pointing out that despite testimony from two city employees, the video proves Foxgrover was not at the meeting.

"It definitely goes to credibility and it goes to the other evidence," Novack said. "She did not influence this."

The tape also answers the question about the number of years of the contract. It came up at this meeting, disputing city officials' testimony.

"The Park Grill representatives said they would need 20 or 30 years or more. In fact, all three bidders, one asked for 20 years, one asked for 40 years," Novack said.

The mayor's office believes the videotape will help their argument. The city's attorney responded, "This deal has already cost the city $8 million in past damages ... the city will incur losses up to an additional $25 million if this illegal sweetheart deal is not terminated."

The city argues it doesn't matter whether Foxgrover was in the room. Part of the Park Grill argument asks, what if the restaurant had not been as successful? Would the city have sued then? In their eyes, a deal is a deal.

<![CDATA[Madigan Squashes Request for Topinka Special Election]]> Fri, 12 Dec 2014 13:19:09 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010077402_1200x675_370161731911.jpg

House Speaker Michael Madigan seemingly tossed Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner a bone on Thursday when he blocked his colleagues' efforts to speed up the process of replacing late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

Legislators pitched the idea of calling a meeting to discuss a special election for Topinka's successor. The Republican political veteran died Wednesday after suffering a stroke, sparking speculation on who would replace her and how.

But deal-making, power-broking Democrat Madigan, the Trib reports, thinks the appointment of a new accountant-in-chief is an "executive department" job and the law-making branch should let the governor take charge of that. Indeed: The Illinois constitution gives the governor hiring power in these circumstances.

Rauner, a Republican, succeeds Democratic Pat. Quinn on Jan. 12, and confirmed Thursday that his legal people sat down with Quinn's legal people to make clear that he'd like to promote Topinka's Chief of Staff Nancy Kimme as interim comptroller, the Trib reports, citing Madigan's advice that the pair agree upon a "sensible solution."

Addressing reporters Wednesday, Rauner said he thinks it's "common sense that I would have the ability."

"I'm sure the lawyers will fight about it," he said at the time. "But my own view is that we should have continuity very quickly because the people of the state deserve service. My own view is that Nancy Kimme is her senior person who knows the system, she should step in and serve right now and then when things are clearer and settled we can talk about a permanent person to serve out Judy's four years."

Democratic Sen. President John Cullerton, among those proposing a special election, raised eyebrows over the possible long-term installment of someone who had not been elected to that office. Topinka's death came a month after she won a second term in a midterm-matchup against rival Sheila Simon.

A public memorial service for Topinka is slated for Wednesday. Her spokesman told NBC Chicago that while she "made it very clear she didn't want a funeral or wake" she had said family and friends could hold a memorial service after her cremation.

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<![CDATA[Will Cupich Ascend to Cardinal Status?]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 16:46:58 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/231*120/tlmd_tlmd_nuevo_arzobispo_blase_cupich.jpg

The Vatican announced Thursday morning that Pope Francis will name new cardinals in February. 

Speculation is strong that Archbishop Blasé Cupich may be on the list to ascend as a Cardinal.    

The Pope called for a Consistory of Cardinals in mid-February.

Francis will give the cardinals a progress report on Curia reform.    

Then he plans to elevate new cardinals formally to the College of Cardinals.    

The Vatican spokesman said up to a dozen bishops could be made cardinals.  

In past years, the list was announced a month before the consistory, or about mid-January.    

Cardinal George waited more than a year before he was elevated to the influential group.      
It would be somewhat unusual since Cardinal George, while retired, is still a voting member of the college until he is 80 years old.  
However many Vatican watchers believe that Cupich, as the first big American appointment by Francis, is on the fast track.   

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Madigan Nudges Supreme Court on Controversial Pension Case]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 13:52:18 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tlmd_gavel_shutterstock_120159574.jpg

Eager to get a decision on a significant pension reform law, Attorney General Lisa Madigan successfully nudged Illinois Supreme Court to hurry things up and hold hearings sooner rather than later.

Last month a Springfield judge declared unconstitutional the 2013 pension reform bill passed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who'll be replaced by GOP successor Bruce Rauner in mid-January. The legislation—now in the hands of the Supreme Court—would freeze cost-of-living increases for retired state employees an raise the retirement age in efforts to reduce crushing debt within 30 years. Illinois is short some $111 billion in promised payments to five underfunded pensions after decades of fiscal irresponsibility.

Madigan, a Democrat, submitted an appeal with the Supreme Court last week, also requesting it fast-track the process to deliver a ruling on what she deemed an urgent matter for which a "prompt resolution" could help the state better organize its finances. The court granted her request on Wednesday, setting a March 10 deadline to hear oral arguments amid heavy backlash from labor lawyers who want to buy more time to take on the case. 

Attorneys for current state employees and retirees said Tuesday that Madigan's motion "rests upon a false sense of urgency" and they wanted further evidence to support a sped-up Supreme Court hearing. Lawmakers are expected to pass a new budget on May 31 for the fiscal year starting July 1; Quinn's pension plan was slated to kick in June 1 until Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz ruled against it Nov. 21, thereby punting the law over to the Supreme Court for action.

Gov.-Elect Rauner softened his views on pension reform after the fact, declaring: "Don't modify or reduce anybody's pensions who has retired, or has paid into a system and they've accrued benefits. Those don't need to change."

<![CDATA[Former Hillary Finance Guru Applies for MediPot License]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:30:38 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mainPic.png

Hillary Clinton's former political finance director wants to break into Illinois' budding medical marijuana industry.

The Better Government Association reports David Rosen, a Chicago-based businessman-entrepreneur, applied for a state pot growers' license through one of his companies, Waveseer, eyeing the Rockford area as prime growing ground.

Clinton hired Rosen to oversee campaign finance when she ran for U.S. Senate in 2000; five years later, he was federally acquitted of accusations of not fully reporting the true bill for a glitzy, pro-Hillary fundraiser in LA. He was found not guilty, dodging as much as 10 years in prison.

Rosen also bundled cash for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's 2010 victorious gubernatorial showdown against Republican rival Bill Brady.

Speaking with the BGA, a tight-lipped Rosen would address neither his pot-business ambitions nor his status with a prospective Hillary-for-president campaign in 2016.

"I'm just a lay leader," he said. "I'm a businessman that supports Democrats."

Hundreds of applicants have filed to snag highly coveted licenses to dispense medical marijuana state-wide, but only 60 will be approved. The state will approve just 21 licenses for plant-cultivators, and Rosen could be among the winning bidders. The BGA said winners could be named in the coming days.

<![CDATA[Kirk Calls Democrats "Little Zombies"]]> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 12:18:16 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/205*120/Mark+Kirk+Near+Death+p1.jpg

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk publicly harangued Democrats involved with the headline-grabbing, devastatingly detailed CIA torture report on Wednesday, calling them "little zombies" out for Republican blood.

Kirk, a Republican with a decorated military background, told WLS-AM radio hosts Mary Ann Ahern (of NBC Chicago) and John Kass (of the Trib) that he believes the Democratic-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee "pushed this because they're about to lose their jobs 'cause the American people picked a Republican majority in the last election."

"They wanted so desperately to be relevant and they reached up from the political grave, like (Secretary of State John) Kerry, to do this harm to our troops overseas," Kirk said in the interview.

Waving a finger at California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Kirk lamented: "We may lose a couple of Americans in uniform on the front line in Afghanistan because of this incredible selfish act by Feinstein's staff."

Feinstein's rep. denied the allegations, saying, "This is character assassination and as far from the truth as can be."

The 600-page Senate report released Tuesday called into question the efficacy of harsh post-Sept. 11 interrogation methods against suspected terrorists. The gritty revelations, dominating media headlines, have won Democrats' praise and polarized lawmakers inside the Republican Party.

"The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow," stated Sen. John McCain, who was tortured as a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War. "It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless."

<![CDATA[A Look Back at the Life of Judy Baar Topinka]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 17:43:28 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010077402_1200x675_370161731911.jpg Political reporter Carol Marin looks back at the colorful career of the Illinois Comptroller.]]> <![CDATA[Rauner Wants Quinn to Appoint Temp. Topinka Replacement]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 16:18:16 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tlmd_bruce_rauner_gobernador_illinois.jpg

Hours after news broke that Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka had unexpectedly passed away Wednesday, Governor-elect Bruce Rauner said he wants Gov. Pat Quinn to appoint Topinka’s Chief of Staff Nancy Kimme to step in and serve “right now.”

Rauner spoke during the afternoon hours following a meeting at the Comptroller’s office.

“[It’s a] very sad day for the people of Illinois,” he said. “Illinois has lost one of its greatest public servants. Judy was a tremendous human being. I was honored to become her friend and her ally in recent years.”

It was not immediately clear who would appoint Topinka’s replacement Wednesday morning.

Political sources tell NBC Chicago that Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been asked for her legal opinion.

But while speaking to reporters Wednesday, Rauner said he thinks it’s “common sense that I would have the ability.”

There was talk of holding a special election to replace Topinka, but Rauner said he didn’t “think right now is the time to talk about that.”

“I’m sure the lawyers will fight about it,” he said. “But my own view is that we should have continuity very quickly because the people of the state deserve service. My own view is that Nancy Kimme is her senior person who knows the system, she should step in and serve right now and then when things are clearer and settled we can talk about a permanent person to serve out Judy’s four years.”

Rauner then called on Quinn to appoint Kimme.

Topinka died early Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after having a stroke, according to her office. She was 70.

Topinka, a Republican, won a second term last month in a tough race with Democratic challenger Sheila Simon, the former lieutenant governor.

<![CDATA[Obama Library: Rahm Gives UIC a Boost in Bidding War]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 12:43:13 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/tlmd_rahm_emanuel_chicago.jpg

If you're following the intense bidding war to snap up the Barack Obama's library and museum, then you know that the University of Chicago—where the president taught constitutional law—commands the edge. Even so, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has given rival bidder University of Illinois at Chicago a big public boost by vowing to restore service on Blue Line stop at Kostner Avenue, reports Crain's Chicago Business.

The mayor, who previously wanted the city to band together in proposing concepts for the library (as New York did with a single bid from Columbia University), has written a letter calling for the Kostner station nearby UIC to run anew. According to Crain's, Emanuel stated that he and City Council would collaborate on earmarking a 23-acre area formerly owned by Sears Roebuck and now under Chicago ownership. He also said he'd pursue tax-increment funds for small businesses and beef up the property with bike lanes, sidewalks and other visitor-and-resident-friendly amenities.

The university will include the memo in its comprehensive proposal to Obama's namesake foundation, which established a Thursday deadline for submissions and will make an official decision on a site early next year.

UIC's grand vision spans its main campus (near Greektown) and the North Lawndale neighborhood, which Martin Luther King Jr. made his headquarters amid his 1966 protest against housing discrimination. The Kostner line used to serve residents there.

Michael Pagano, who oversees the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, told Crain's that the price tag for its reopening could reach at least $40 million. 

Emanuel recently gave his blessing to the University of Chicago, which is pitching its South Side campus, and in a not-quite-joking bit of advice for Bill De Blasio, advised the Big Apple boss to back off his campaign to score the tourist trap for Columbia. 

Photo Credit: Archivo Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[City Council: Taxis, PetCoke & Cardinal George]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 15:25:50 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago-city-council.jpg

Update: City Council approved the Taxi Cab Driver Fairness Ordinance and postponed until January a decision on an another bill mandating that larger gas stations provide pumps with higher levels of ethanol, an alternative fuel derived from corn. Mayor Emanuel told reporters after the meeting he thinks the measure "needs a little more time to be thought through" in order to balance small business needs and environmental concerns.


The Chicago City Council meets for the last time this year on Wednesday morning to address a range of legislation from lesser restrictions on taxi drivers to a crackdown on South Side stockpiles of petroleum coke. 

The meeting begins at 10 a.m. and is streamed live on the website of the Chicago City Clerk.

The to-do list:

*A "yes" vote to a taxicab ordinance that would enforce a web-based unified dispatch to make it easier for cabbies to keep up with Uber's big push into the city. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has personal ties to Uber, supports the legislation, which doesn't involve a fare hike but lessens drivers' bills for leases and city fines.

*An Emanuel-approved pitch by Aldermen Ed Burke and John Pope to snuff out petroleum coke reserves owned by the company KCBX Terminals and its ultra-conservative overlords Charles and David Koch. According to the Trib, "KCBX has a state permit to annually handle up to 11 million tons of the gritty material, a byproduct of oil refining that neighbors say frequently blows into surrounding areas."

*A "maybe" vote on Burke's other environmentally-focused bill calling for 110 local gas stations to install E15 gasoline pumps that have higher levels of corn-based ethanol fuel.

*The OK-ing of $13 million-plus in legal settlements including: $4.3 million toward a 2012 lawsuit from dozens of women who accused the fire department of discrimination in hiring practices, and $7.6 million to Dean Cage, who was imprisoned on a false rape conviction and exonerated in 2008 via DNA testing.

*The introduction of a tweak to the city's affordable housing guidelines mandating that developers make room in upscale communities for wallet-friendly apartments.

*As NBC 5 previously reported, the mayor will give Cardinal Francis George the Chicago Medal of Merit at Wednesday's meeting.

<![CDATA[Who Will Replace Judy Baar Topinka?]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 10:09:04 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TLMD-TOPINKA.jpg

Who will appoint Judy Baar Topinka’s replacement?

That’s the question Wednesday morning as Gov. Pat Quinn winds up his term. Political sources tell NBC Chicago that Attorney General Lisa Madigan has been asked for her legal opinion.

The question of course – because Topinka had not yet been sworn in to her next term – would Quinn make the appointment or his successor, Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner?

Here is the Illinois Constitution:


If the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller or Treasurer fails to qualify or if his office becomes vacant, the Governor shall fill the office by appointment. The appointee shall hold office until the elected officer qualifies or until a successor is elected and qualified as may be provided by law and shall not be subject to removal by the Governor. If the Lieutenant Governor fails to qualify or if his office becomes vacant, it shall remain vacant until the end of the term.

There’s speculation that Democrat Sheila Simon, who ran against Topinka, would be a natural opponent. But at the same time, perhaps in a move of bi-partisanship, there are questions about whether Quinn could appoint State Rep. Tom Cross, who ran and lost a very tight race for state Treasurer.

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<![CDATA[Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka Dies at 70]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 08:20:25 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/judy+baar+topinka+2014.jpg

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died early Wednesday, fewer than 24 hours after having a stroke, according to her office. She was 70.

Spokesman Brad Hahn told The Associated Press that Topinka reported discomfort Tuesday morning and was admitted to a hospital in Berwyn, Illinois. After undergoing tests she appeared to be doing well overnight before suddenly losing consciousness Wednesday morning, Hahn said. She was pronounced dead shortly after 2 a.m.

Topinka, a Republican, won a second term last month in a tough race with Democratic challenger Sheila Simon, the former lieutenant governor.

"This was not going to be an easy race, and that's the way it turned out," Topinka said after the election results came in. "We were watching right to the end. I'm just happy because I have four more years to get things done."

Topinka previously served three terms as Illinois state treasurer, was a former Illinois GOP chairwoman and ran for governor in 2006. She said the temporary income tax increase should be phased out so that the state "keeps its promise without blowing a multi-billion hole in its budget."

During the comptroller's campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a "skunk at a picnic" — a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.

Topinka and Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner were the only two Republicans to win statewide races this year after Tom Cross was narrowly defeated in the treasurer's race.

Photo Credit: Facebook
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<![CDATA[Politicians, Citizens React to Illinois Comptroller's Death]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 18:11:06 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*120/Judy+Barr+Topinka.jpg

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died early Wednesday after having a stroke a day earlier. She was 70 years old.

Reaction from elected officials and Illinois citizens:

President Barack Obama: "Michelle and I were saddened to learn of the passing of Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Judy was an institution in Illinois politics. Her public service spanned more than 30 years, including her tenure in the State Legislature and as Chair of the Illinois Republican Party. Judy was a fierce advocate for her constituents, which I got to see firsthand when she was State Treasurer – the first woman to hold that office. She was blunt, pragmatic, unfailingly cheerful and energetic, and always willing to put politics aside to find commonsense solutions that made a difference for the people of Illinois. She will be greatly missed. Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathies to Judy’s family, friends and constituents today."

Gov. Pat Quinn, via Twitter: "Today is a sad day in the state of Illinois. I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my friend, Judy Baar Topinka.

Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her leadership improved Illinois & paved the way for women in politics.

Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature. Today the entire state mourns the loss of one of the greats."

Gov-Elect Bruce Rauner: "Early this morning, Illinois lost one of its all-time greats. Comptroller Topinka’s magnetic, one-of-a-kind personality brought a smile to everyone she met, and she had a servant’s heart, always only caring about what was best for the people of our state. Judy was a tremendous friend, and Diana and I will miss her deeply. We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to her family, including son Joseph, as well as her talented and loyal team in the Comptroller’s office."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel: "I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Judy had a passion for serving the people of Illinois that equaled her passion for life. For more than three decades, she brought a relentless work ethic, a determination to attack our state’s fiscal challenges, and a sense of humor and smile that brightened the day of anyone in her path. As the first woman to serve as Illinois Treasurer, she will always have a special place in the history of our state.

The thoughts and prayers of the City of Chicago are with Judy’s son Joseph and her staff members, and her many friends during this difficult time."

Ill. Sen. Dick Durbin: "The Illinois political scene lost its Polka Queen last night and I lost a friend. Judy Barr Topinka was one of a kind,” said Durbin. “In a political world of cocker spaniels she could be a bulldog taking a bite out of both Democrats and right-wing Republicans without missing a beat. She was a blue-collar, immigrants’ kid who lit up the room with her quick wit and boundless energy."

Ill. Sen. Mark Kirk: "The sudden passing of my friend and mentor Judy Baar Topinka is a shock. Her death is a loss to all who knew her and to our great state."

Ill. Attorney General Lisa Madigan: "Today our state has suffered a great loss. Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer, a true public servant and a friend to all. Always jubilant and straight-talking, Judy spoke her mind on every issue. Even during tough political times, Judy always worked across party lines to get things done and brought humor and joy to everything she did. My thoughts and prayers are with her family."

Ill. House Speaker Michael Madigan: "Judy Baar Topinka brought a special approach to every aspect of life. Illinois is a much better place because of her efforts. Shirley and I offer our prayers that her family is comforted during these sad times."

Secretary of State Jesse White:  "I’m shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing this morning of my friend Judy Baar Topinka. Judy committed her professional life to public service. She served the citizens of Illinois honorably and with distinction for decades beginning in the Illinois General Assembly, as the Illinois Treasurer and most recently in her capacity as State Comptroller.
She was a great leader and a straight shooter who served Illinois with dignity. This is a sad day for Illinois and for me personally. She will be dearly missed."

Ill. Treasurer Dan Rutherford: "I am saddened to hear about the sudden passing of my friend State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. She was a trailblazer for women in public service in Illinois, and in general. My heart and prayers are with the Comptroller’s family and staff at this time."

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-08): ""I express my deepest sympathies to the family, friends and staff of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. For more than thirty years Judy honorably served our state as a State Representative, Senator, Treasurer and Comptroller. Judy’s courage and leadership helped pave the way for women in Illinois to serve in office. We honor her commitment to public service and our state."

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-05): "RIP Judy Baar Topinka. You will be truly missed. Thank you for your dedication & service to #IL"

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-14): "Judy Baar Topinka's leadership will be greatly missed in Illinois. She leaves a lasting legacy for good."

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-06): "Saddened by the passing of Judy Baar Topinka--a tenacious & dynamic leader who dedicated her life to public service & the ppl of Illinois"

U.S. Rep Adam Kinzinger (R-16th): "Judy was an amazing public servant and friend - she will be deeply missed. In a business where political expediency is the norm, Judy always stuck to her guns and did what she thought was right. She was a great example to so many people for so many years, and Illinois simply won’t be the same without her."

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-11th): "Saddened to hear of the loss of Judy Baar Topinka. My thoughts go out to her family and loved ones."

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd): "I am deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Judy Baar Topinka."

Ill. Rep. Tom Cross (R-Lockport): "She was a unique individual. She cared ... about Illinois and about doing the right thing. Money didn't drive her. She always enjoyed the intrigue of politics but she just was a good, true public servant. We loved her because she was also so refreshingly honest, and in this day and age of political spin, you always knew you were going to get it straight. It wasn't going to be sugar-coated, and you just -- I think we all liked that about Judy. I know we did."

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson: "She was, without question, the most colorful politician that I've ever encountered in Illinois. First of all, she was a great politician. The voters put their trust in her many times, and she rewarded them with running a great office. It'd be hard to find somebody in the history of Illinois politics who ran a better office. She was a very colorful person. She spoke plainly, bluntly. She had one style with everybody, from presidents down to voters she met on the street."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: "I was saddened to hear this morning of the passing of Judy Baar Topinka. Judy was truly one of a kind. I admired her feisty, outspoken nature and her passion for good government. She had a track record of standing up for what she believed in, regardless of party lines.  As the first woman to be elected treasurer in Illinois, she was also a pioneer and an inspiration for other women in public service. My heart goes out to her family and friends throughout the state."

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown: "I am heartbroken to have learned that Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died this morning.

She was an exceptional person, a caring and hardworking public servant, a diligent advocate for quality education for all, a role model to me, and a great friend of mine.

She was a fearless and outspoken woman who carved out an impressive career in Illinois government and politics that spanned 34 years. But it was her palpable compassion for people that defined her public service. As the first women to serve as our state treasurer, during her 13-year tenure, Judy put many innovative programs in place that truly helped people. Specifically, her ?Bridges? program taught elementary school children about money and banking, while her Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) enabled many bright young people to attend college.

My thoughts and prayers are with Judy's family at this time. We have lost a great woman who truly made a difference in our lives. I will miss her dearly."

Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery: "Judy Baar Topinka was one in a million. She was an undeterred pioneer, a friend to working families, and an advocate for all Illinoisans. Judy believed and showed that doing what’s right has no political party. She was guided instead by her principles and when she came before our Executive Board earlier this year, we laughed together as Judy told stories in her own candid, inimitable way. She loved serving the public and did so with honor, grit, and integrity. We join so many others this morning in shock and grief, and extend our sincere condolences to her family, friends, and colleagues. Judy will be deeply missed."

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Former Governor Recalls Topinka "Sewer" Tale]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 06:50:03 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010066842_1200x675_369728579543.jpg Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson said Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka once gave him a personal tour of the Berwyn sewer system.]]> <![CDATA[House Republican Leader on Topinka Death]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 06:05:51 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010065307_1200x675_369699907611.jpg Illinois State Rep. Tom Cross (R-Lockport) says Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who died early Wednesday, was "refreshingly honest" and a woman who cared "about Illinois and about doing the right thing."]]> <![CDATA[Opinion: Should Diana Rauner Step Down From Her Nonprofit Job?]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 16:55:51 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000009394522_1200x675_347547715977.jpg

As Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner prepares to assume office in mid-January, concerns are being raised over a potential conflict of interest involving his wife, Diana, and her job at a nonprofit partly dependent upon state money.

Diana Rauner heads up Ounce of Prevention, which aims to improve early childhood education especially for kids born in poverty. The incoming First Lady of Illinois has served as president since 2011 following stints on the board and as an executive director. 

According to Crain's Chicago Business, the nonprofit (annual budget: $50 million) received $14.2 million in state funding in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

"It's going to appear that it's doing well because she's pulling strings," DePaul University ethics professor Patricia Werhane tells the paper, adding: "She should give up that position."

The "should she" question is bound to continue as Diana—under growing pressure—weighs whether to remain in an unpaid role she enjoys or step down to avoid headlines such as this one in addition to a snowball effect of ethical eye-brow-raising. (Case in point: The idea that Ounce would become flush with donations from those seeking Rauner's ear in Springfield.)

For now, she's staying put and the organization is taking action to buttress its president from allegations of impropriety.

"There are no ethical issues," maintains Ounce representative Megan Meyer, telling Crain's that Diana will not directly lobby lawmakers on fundraising matters.

A Rauner rep said in a statement that the incoming administration "will ensure that the Ounce will receive no special treatment from state agencies and will, as it has for years, compete for grant funds and state contracts on the same fair and evenhanded basis as other valued social service organizations."

<![CDATA[Ward Room's Best Political Tweets of 2014]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 14:30:24 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/215*120/186107455.jpg

As 2014 comes to a close, a new Republican governor prepares to take office and a Democratic mayor launches a high-stakes re-election campaign and Twitter is more important than ever as a way to connect with younger, tech-savvy voters. It's also the place where politicos and those who watch them air grievances and upload photos of everything from congressional glamour shots (hi Aaron Shock!) to fashion faux pas (we're looking at you, Rahm). Behold, 10 of the year's most notable tweets:

1. The Rauner Chicken: After Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner brought some fowl to a press conference, a twitter handle surfaced mocking his stunt

2. The time Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, then thinking of challenging nemesis Rahm Emanuel for mayor, endorsed the Hulk over Superman.

3. Aaron Schock on a wind turbine. Are you Schocked?

4. Rauner on a motorcycle.

5. The time Axe schooled an MIT professor who criticized the "stupidity of the American voter."

6. The time Michigan congressman John Dingell schooled politicians on how to tweet.

7. The time Rahm time-traveled back to 1994 and selected this shirt to wear front row at a Blackhawks game in 2014.

8. The time Rahm wished himself a happy birthday.

9. The time Chris Rock told the truth.

10. The time Chicagoans temporarily blocked the Dan Ryan to protest a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner in a bold show of solidarity.

Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Library: University of Chicago Doesn't Want to Seem Snobby]]> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 11:29:55 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/University+of+Chicago+Campus+p1.jpg

I don't know about you, but when I think about the University of Chicago, several simple word-associations come to mind: Math! Thinktanks! Atom Bomb!

Given its reputation as a cloistered brain magnet, the esteemed private Hyde Park institution (tuition: $48,253 per year) wants to cast off the so-called snob label in its promising bid to win President Obama's library and museum. The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet reports that its official submission for the library includes proposed partnerships with more than a dozen local universities like Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola, Chicago State, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. A goal, she writes, is "to downplay its elitist image." 

The University of Illinois at Chicago did not make the cut, as the West Side-based school vies to snag the future tourist trap. Competitors such as  New York's Columbia University and the University of Hawaii were also left off the roster.

In a statement Monday, U. of C said it was also speaking with nonprofits including the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, the DuSable Museum of African-American History and the Museum of Science and Industry.

"Collaboration is at the core of our proposal," said university exec Susan Sher. "That means bringing together community groups that are tackling big social issues, and assembling scholars who will add their own creativity and intellectual energy."

Pitches involve an embedded "newsroom" at the library for students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism who'd spend spend part of the academic year reporting on surrounding South Side neighborhoods. Chicago State, which lost its library bid earlier this year, wants to partner up on STEM education, urban agriculture and aquaponics and fostering diversity in academia.

Bidders have until Thursday to submit their comprehensive visions for the site. The Barack Obama Foundation, chaired by Chicago businessman Marty Nesbitt, will make recommendations early next year to the president and first lady Michelle Obama and they will make the final decision. The foundation specifically asked for details on partnerships with other groups within the community.

<![CDATA[Local Businessman Announces Run for Chicago Mayor]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 18:20:18 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010041707_1200x675_368883779997.jpg Chicago's race for Mayor gets another candidate-- Dr. Willie Wilson. The local businessmen announced his candidacy Monday. Mary Ann Ahern reports.]]> <![CDATA[Chicago Aldermen Seek Chokehold Ban]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 14:33:54 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/459980686.jpg

Four of Chicago's aldermen want the Municipal Code crystal clear that the city's officers should never use chokeholds when subduing people.

Ald. Ed Burke (14th) presented his chokehold ban for peace officers at Monday's Finance Committee meeting.

The current Municipal Code notes all "sword personnel and security contractors must avoid sitting, kneeling or standing on a subject's chest." It also mandates police "position the subject in a manner to allow free breathing."

Burke wants these words added: "No peace officer, private security personnel shall apply a choke hold in the performance of his or her duties, unless faced with a situation in which the use of deadly force is justified under applicable law."

The measure defines a chokehold as any pressure to the throat or windpipe that may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.

The proposed Chicago prohibition would apply to all Chicago police officers, deputy sheriffs, U.S. marshals and private security guards.

Other aldermen supporting the measure were Will Burns (4th), Carrie Austin (34th), and Michelle Harris (8th).

Protests erupted nationwide, including in Chicago, after a New York City grand jury's recent decision not to indict a police officer in the videoed chokehold death of Eric Garner in July.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Roskam Lands High-Profile House Post After Losing Majority Whip]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 10:52:53 -0600 Peter Roskam
6th Congressional District
Peter Roskam
6th Congressional District

After Peter Roskam lost his campaign for majority whip, Republicans rewarded the Illinois congressman with a new, high-profile job as chair of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Roskam replaces Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany in the government watchdog gig, which reports to newly minted Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin rep and Mitt Romney's former running mate.

"I am honored to be named to this key oversight role," Roskam said Thursday in a statement on his promotion (via Greg Hinz). "My focus will be on vigilant, fact-based and fair investigations into the administration and its sprawling bureacracy."

Praising Ryan's "big vision" for America, Roskam continued: "These past few years have shown us the real dangers of agencies run amok, and frankly it's become all too common for citizens to be in the cross-hairs of their own federal government. But in this moment of both Republican House and Senate, we have an incredible opportunity to shine a light into the dark corners, and restore the checks and balances that the founders intended."

The 53-year-old Roskam, who hails from the western Chicago suburb of Wheaton, was in a prime spot to move up the congressional ladder to become House majority whip last summer following Speaker Eric Cantor's stunning, shake-up-inducing primary loss. But he was passed over for Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise. 

Photo Credit: Facebook]]>
<![CDATA[Rauner: Obama And I Share Mutual (Powerful) Pals]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 10:51:32 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/195*120/tlmd_bruce_rauner_noche_elecciones.jpg

Illinois Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner says he and President Obama run in the same social circles.

The Republican businessman, a former managing partner at the Chicago private equity firm GTCR, tells the Trib that he and Obama crossed paths when the president was a state senator on the rise. According to Rauner the two share several friends including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Dunchan, Commerce Secretary/billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and close Obama pal Marty Nesbitt, who runs the president's namesake foundation.

Another high-profile mutual friend is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who learned from Rauner the art of making gobs of money in a short amount of time.

Rauner is one of five incoming state governors scheduled to meet Obama in the Oval Office late Friday afternoon to discuss economic issues. Also on the invite list: Greg Abbott (Texas); Tom Wolf (Pennsylvania); Charlie Baker (Massachussetts), and Maryland's Larry Hogan.

In the first leg of his two-day DC trip, Rauner mingled Thursday with Illinois lawmakers on both sides of the aisle including Sen. Dick Durbin, a long-serving Democrat, and rising-star Republican Rep. Aaron Schock, who's on Rauner's transition team.

Will his shared history and connections to Obama ease any residual tension that may surface during Friday's meet-and-greet? The president, after all, led a big push to elect soon-to-depart Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn over Rauner in the midterms.

POTUS has bigger fish to fry. But I'm curious to view the dynamic between the two powerful Illinoisians, one leaving the White House in 2016 and the other on a hard-charging mission to "shake up Springfield" (and potentially launch a bid for the White House someday).

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rahm Targets Black Voters in 'Food Desert' Campaign Ad]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 10:42:16 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/222*120/Rahm+Whole+Foods+p1.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's re-election campaign has released a third ad aimed squarely at black voters on Chicago's South Side.

Entitled "Eliminating Food Deserts," the spot features 16th Ward. Ald. JoAnn Thompson praising Emanuel's efforts toward the construction of a Whole Foods grocery store in the struggling Englewood neighborhood. As an image of Emanuel on the phone graces the screen, a narrator intones: "To combat food deserts, Mayor Emanuel told the big grocers, 'If you're going to do business in Chicago, you're going to do business in all of Chicago.'"

Emanuel, who seeks a second term in office, recently unveiled a new slogan, "Chicago Together," as he attempts to undo his reputation as an out-of-touch plutocrat to a man-of-the-people. The mayor's very first election-season ad touted his environmental-friendliness while the second boasted of his successful City Colleges career program. Behold:

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<![CDATA[Rahm Launches Re-Election Campaign]]> Sat, 06 Dec 2014 10:24:49 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/236*120/tlmd_rahm_emanuel_becas_cps_colegios.jpg

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is making his re-election run official on Saturday with a big campaign announcement.

The announcement comes with less than three months left before Chicago voters head to the polls.

Emanuel's challengers are already calling for a series of debates before the Feb. 24 election.

Though he has nearly $10 million in the bank, City Hall sources say Emanuel is taking nothing for granted.

The announcement is expected to be made at Cinespace in the Pilsen neighborhood, where many TV shows are filmed.

Some aldermen told NBC Chicago they don't plan on attending, but others said they would show support and could perhaps use some of his campaign war chest.

"[The aldermen] are going to be there because they want his money, they are facing tough re-elections in many of the communities," said mayoral challenger Ald. Bob Fioretti.

Fioretti asked for five debates before the February election.

"I don't think the mayor of the City of Chicago should be scared of debating his rivals," Fioretti said.

Another mayoral contender, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia agreed.

"Sounds like a good number to me," he said. "Five, six, it doesn't matter."

Earlier this week, Emanuel said he wouldn't commit beyond a debate.

"We've got to make sure who the field is, starting working on that," Emanuel said. "I said I'd have a debate."

There are still petition challenges underway for various candidates, but the debates may be limited to those polling as the top three candidates.

<![CDATA[Former Rep. Pleads Guilty to Child Porn Charges]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 06:39:59 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Keith_farnham_court.jpg

Former state Rep. Keith Farnham pleaded guilty Friday to a federal charge of transporting child pornography on computers in his office and home in Elgin last year.

Farnham could have been jailed immediately after his guilty plea, but judge Edmond Chang allowed him to remain free on home confinement pending his sentencing, which is set for March.

He faces a minimum sentence of five years in prison.

Following court, Farnham’s attorney, Terry Ekl, bristled at suggestions that the public would have preferred to see the 67 year old Farnham jailed immediately.

“He is, according to his doctor, in need of a lung transplant,” Ekl said. “He cannot breathe without oxygen.”

“He’s not running from any punishment. You all heard it. He’s doing to get a minimum of five years. He’s going to go into custody. And frankly, I could care less if the public thinks he should go in today, as opposed March, or May!”

Ekl insisted that all of Farnham’s child pornography activities were “fairly recent”, and that his client, despite his boasts online, had never actually abused children.

“He’s accepted responsibility for his conduct, which I think we all agree is something we cannot understand,” Ekl said. “It’s a sickness!”

Farnham was charged last April with emailing videos of children who appeared to be as young as six months old. He resigned his post in the Illinois General Assembly, shortly after officers from U.S Immigration and Customs officers raided his home and office in Elgin March 13.

The federal complaint alleged that in one online chat, Farnham boasted that he had once sexually abused a 6 year old girl.

In March, agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations executed federal search warrants at Farnham's state office and home in Elgin, seizing computers and electronic storage devices. They found Farnham had no fewer than 2,765 images of minors engaged in sexually explicit acts, including sexual intercourse, with prepubescent children, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's office. Some of the images involved sadistic or masochistic conduct and depictions of violence, according to Farnham's guilty plea.

In a motion filed Wednesday by his attorney Terry Ekl, Farnham acknowledged that he entered into a plea of guilty, and is “prepared to serve a minimum of five years in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.” The motion notes that Farnham “accepts responsibility for his conduct which has led to this result.”

But the Federal statutes allow the government to immediately take Farnham into custody, after his guilty plea is entered. In his filing with the Federal Court Wednesday, the former legislator, who is 66 years old, notes that he suffers from a “complex set of medical problems,” including bladder cancer, Hepatitis C, and pulmonary fibrosis.

Confined to his home since his arrest, Farnham’s attorney noted that he has abided by all orders of the court, and asked that he be permitted to stay at home on electronic monitoring until a yet-to-be-determined surrender date.

“Following this Court’s sentence and the designation by the Bureau of Prisons as to the location of his confinement,” the motion states, “the Defendant, his doctors, and his attorney will have an opportunity to work together, to establish a medical treatment plan to meet the unique medical needs of this Defendant prior to entering the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his sentence.”

<![CDATA[Quinn to Madigan: Help Me Pass a 'Plain Vanilla Minimum Wage' Bill]]> Fri, 05 Dec 2014 09:30:44 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/186*120/tlmd_pat_quinn_noche_elecciones.jpg

Tick tock, tick tock.

With mere weeks left until he cedes the throne to Bruce Rauner, lame-duck Gov. Pat Quinn is facing heavy time-pressure to push a minimum wage increase through the General Assembly—but first, he needs to woo powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan to his side, let his home-stretch mission slip from his grip. 

"Before the new governor arrives, I want a $10-an-hour minimum wage passed outside Chicago," Quinn told the Chicago Sun-Times' Michael Sneed on Wednesday. "I've been waiting for Mike to get this needle threaded. I just want a plain vanilla minimum wage passed. But it has just been hurry up and wait for the Senate to act."

The chamber did just that late yesterday, stamping its approval on a state-wide hike hours after Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council greenlit a measure to boost it to $13 per hour by 2019.

The Madigan-led House adjourned before the Senate's 39-19 majority vote, leaving the door open for Quinn to summon a special session and call state reps out of hiatus. 

Meanwhile, the City Council's $13 boost on Tuesday is sparking protests from critics worried about losing business to surrounding suburbs still operating on the $8.25 hourly rate.

In a compelling column titled "How Emanuel killed a statewide hike in the minimum wage," Crain's Chicago Business' Greg Hinz reveals a missed opportunity for Madigan to hammer out a compromise between the state as a whole and the city proper, where the South Side-native speaker commands a lot of pull.

"Fearing the impact of a $13 wage in Chicago and an $8.25 wage just across the street in places such as Evanton, Berwyn, Oak Park and Orland Park, groups representing restaurateurs, retail merchants and others signaled that they could tacitly back a statewide figure of $10 or $11, just so long as that applied to Chicago as well," reports Hinz.

"And with them on board, the possibility arose that Madigan could pick up a few key votes from Republicans and Democrats whose districts cover the inner circle," he continues, "In other words, the deal was there to be done. ... But that would deprive Emanuel of a big win he could claim for his own, even if the city won't hit the $13 figure until 2019."

If Quinn can't muster enough support, then the legislation will go to the desk of Gov.-Elect Bruce Rauner, who begins his first term mid-January. Rauner, a Republican, said he supports a bump in the wage but only with pro-business concessions.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Alderman's Former Staffer Pleads Guilty to Bribe]]> Thu, 04 Dec 2014 12:37:26 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/generic+bribe+bribery+generic+money+changing+hands.jpg

The former chief of staff for a Chicago alderman pleaded guilty Thursday to accepting a $7,500 cash bribe in exchange for obtaining the alderman's letters of support for a license to sell alcohol in their ward.

Curtis V. Thompson, Jr., former chief of staff for Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), accepted 75 $100 bills in a Christmas card from an individual he believed wanted to open a convenience store. The individual was actually a witness in an FBI undercover investigation.

Thompson, 63, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Thompson was arrested in February after a complaint was filed in a federal investigation that began in 2012. On Oct. 9, 2013, the FBI informant handed Thompson a note offering the $7,500 bribe in return for a letter of support for his liquor license form the alderman, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. After seeing the note, Thompson nodded his head and said, "Okay. I understand."

Two more meetings followed in October and November 2013, during which the informant offered a $12,000 bribe, officials said. After the third meeting, Thompson prepared two letters of support on the alderman's letterhead and signed the alderman's name.

After the informant agreed to pay the bribes, he was handed a letter from the alderman which read, "Please allow this letter to serve as my full support for a 7-Eleven convenience store ... This store will be a welcomed addition to [my] community and those that patronize the area for shopping and convenience needs. As well as wine and spirits (alcohol)."

Photo Credit: Ronen Boidek, Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Senate Passes Minimum Wage Increase for Illinois]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 19:49:15 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/minimum-wage-cash.jpg

Just one day after the Chicago City Council approved a minimum wage of $13 per hour by 2019, the Illinois Senate approved a plan to raise the minimum wage across the state.

The approval came after the Illinois House had adjourned, which means Gov. Pat Quinn could call a special session and bring the House back for a vote.

The Senate approve the minimum wage hike with a majority vote of 39-18.

"There is a moral argument to be made that anyone who works 40 hours a week should not have to live in poverty," said State Senator Jacqueline Collins. "Last month, two-thirds of Illinois voters told us they agree with that principle, and today, the Senate responded by taking action to raise the state’s minimum wage."

Quinn said in a statement the Senate "deserves praise" for passing the bill and he plans to work with members of the House to raise the wage.

Meanwhile, A Chicago restaurant that borders the south suburbs says it's leaving and the alderman believes that decision is tied to Chicago's new wage hike.

One day after the Chicago vote, the Panera restaurant along West 95th Street announced it would be closing.

"Our suburban neighbors are more than willing to give whatever incentives they can to attract our quality business," said Alderman Matt O'Shea. "Here's one of them walking away."

Officials in the city say the issue of minimum wage could deter businesses from the city.

"It just makes it very difficult to attract businesses when we're steps away from Evergreen Park and they don't have this minimum wage issue," said Erin Ross with the 95th Street Business Association.

Panera said in a statement, "Unfortunately, in some locations, it is difficult to achieve the standards we believe will meet customer expectations.” They denied the closure is connected to the minimum wage hike.

<![CDATA[Opinion: Unions Shun Emanuel’s Progressive Challengers]]> Wed, 03 Dec 2014 14:58:50 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*120/SEIU-8.jpg

A bit of a dust-up is brewing inside one of the city’s biggest unions over a $250,000 donation to Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, one of Rahm Emanuel’s strongest challengers in the upcoming mayoral election.

It seems the donation from SEIU Healthcare, one of a number of Service Employees International Union locals that represents nursing home and medical workers, oposes a recent internal union decision to remain “neutral” in the mayoral contest. As a result, SEIU Healthcare’s backing of Garcia has placed it in “direct violation” of the constitution and bylaws of the state council, according to SEIU state president Tom Balanoff, and will be “addressed through SEIU's official internal processes.”

Some political observers believe the larger organization’s decision to remain neutral is a veiled attempt to support Emanuel, or at least not antagonize him politically. However, the conflict has gone so far as to raise questions over whether the SEIU state council should be disbanded, a move that would likely weaken the effectiveness of the union over the long term.

While a power struggle inside one union over a relatively small political donation may not seem to matter much in the big picture, the SEIU conflict opens a window into the role unions currently play in the race between Emanuel and his progressive challengers, including Garcia and 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti.

Simply put, by refusing to offer anything less than clear and public support for a progressive challenger—including providing the funding necessary for any challenger to mount a serious political campaign—unions such as SEIU and others are effectively banking that both Emanuel will be re-elected and the potential for millions of dollars in city contracts will stay on the table.

For decades, unions in big northern industrial cities like Chicago could be counted on to support Democratic politicians and their election campaigns, both with their dollars and their votes.

Beyond fighting for a bigger slice of corporate profits when contracts were negotiated, the reason for such support was simple, and more strategic: Democrats, more than Republicans, told voters they supported progressive policies and programs that benefited working class families and communities.

Whether or not Democrats fulfilled those promises is beside the point. For the most part, unions supported Democrats because that’s what they believed in. And saw in Democrats the best chance to turn those beliefs into reality.

Today, however, the battle over who supports progressive policies in cities like Chicago isn’t between Democrats and Republicans, but instead between elected Democratic officeholders and ad hoc coalitions of more politically left, “progressive” politicians and activist groups operating mostly outside the existing power structures.

That fight plays out politically in Chicago as Emanuel supports polices seen as benefitting wealthier and more elite constituencies while at the same time shutting down public schools, closing mental health clinics and failing to effectively address chronic crime—all issues near and dear to those Chicagoans still struggling to get ahead.

At the same time, challengers such as Fioretti and Garcia have been vocal in their opposition, often standing on the front lines at events and protests designed to call attention to how Emanuel’s actions hurt working class and more disadvantaged communities.

So, what are unions as a whole in Chicago doing as the mayor’s race heats up? By and large, what they’re not doing is supporting Emanuel’s progressive challengers.

Outside of SEIU Healthcare’s commitment to go against the grain and support Garcia, along with a few other token sums brought in by both campaigns, unions so far have either shrugged their shoulders, stayed on the sidelines or openly supported Emanuel with large campaign donations.

The Chicago Tribune reports that last week alone, Emanuel received $400,000 from three donors, with $300,000 of that coming from a pair of unions. Back in July, Emanuel got $25,000 from SEIU Local 73, and regularly receives checks totaling tens of thousands of dollars from plumbers, electrical workers and other union groups.

Before SEIU Healthcare stepped in, Garcia had raised roughly $227,000 since he got into the race—hardly enough to counter Emanuel’s $10 million campaign war chest. For his part, Fioretti is focusing on collecting $25, $50 and $100 contributions from regular citizens, while raising roughly $300,000 since he announced in September.

For as long as anyone can remember, Chicago has been painted as both a hard-working, blue collar sort of place as well as a liberal, even progressive stronghold. And, for the most part, unions at least publicly said they supported candidates ready to fight for not only better jobs and a living wage, but also build strong communities, protect working families and ensure a more equitable distribution of economic resources.

While Rahm has moved left politically in recent weeks in an effort to shore up his reelection chances—including hijacking a grassroots movement for a higher minimum wage—from a traditional working class and union perspective there should be little doubt over which candidates represent at least the promise of change, and which represent the status quo.

However, judging by who they’re opening their checkbooks for, it appears most of the big name unions in Chicago have already made a decision in the 2015 Chicago mayor’s race.

And that decision is they like things exactly as they are.