<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - Chicago Political News and Chicago Politics]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/5-Chicago-Blue.png NBC Chicago http://www.nbcchicago.com en-us Sun, 01 Feb 2015 08:51:47 -0600 Sun, 01 Feb 2015 08:51:47 -0600 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Mayoral Candidates Solidify Positions in Second Debate]]> Fri, 30 Jan 2015 21:05:45 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/232*120/chicago+sun+times+debate.jpg

The candidates for mayor returned to familiar territory in the second debate of the campaign season when they argued their positions in front of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board Friday.

The five men once again focused on budget woes, pension troubles, and crime.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered few specifics on his budget proposals, saying his plans will be highlighted in the October budget. He did, however, pledge to not raise property taxes in the operating budget.

He touted his latest pension solution, which increased employee contributions by 29 percent and trimmed benefits to shore up the underfunded Municipal Employees and Laborers pensions.

“Some people think we should just tax our way to a balanced budget I rejected that,” Emanuel said Friday.

Emanuel repeated his calls for a balanced budget that “puts money in the rainy day fund,” but offered few specifics for how he plans to handle the growing need for pension funds.

“We have a big challenge ahead of us, but I do think the past tells us where we’re going to go,” he said.

Few candidates offered solutions of their own. Alderman Bob Fioretti said he opposed an increase in property taxes and said he would look into TIF funds and possibly even a commuter tax.
“A pension is guarantee and we need to find the revenue for it,” he said. “I’m not talking about future employees I’m talking about what we owe now.”

Fioretti argued that “we need to put everything on the table,” except property tax increases.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said he would look to find revenue in the city’s ever-growing transportation departments and William “Dock Walls” said the solution may lie in allowing for more competition in contract bidding in the city.

Following pensions, the session turned to another highly debated topic in the city—the closing of 50 public schools in Chicago.
The shuttering of dozens of CPS schools is a move candidates have targeted Mayor Rahm Emanuel for.

“Nobody in their right mind would close 50 schools,” said Willie Wilson, who argued that the move hindered some of the city’s poverty-plagued neighborhoods. “Parents can’t think about education at the moment when they’re thinking about their kid getting killed.”

Several candidates agreed some schools needed to be closed, but some targeted the process rather than the decision.

“When you shutter those school buildings you snuff the life out of many of those communities,” Garcia said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t have closed but you should have done it in a collaborative manner.”

Fioretti also argued that officials recommended several of the closed schools remain open, but Emanuel stood by the decision and offered plans for what the now vacant buildings could become.

Some buildings could be housing or incubator space for technology, he said.

While many in the session criticized CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Emanuel said he’s proud of her appointment.

In another familiar talking point, the mayoral candidates discussed their positions on gun control, with nearly all of them supporting stiffer penalties for those caught in possession of a gun used in a crime.

As for where the candidates see the city of Chicago’s future heading, Emanuel and Garcia both agreed the city’s transportation industry could be a huge economic boost for the future.

They both also chose to focus on the diversity of the population in the city.

“Chicago’s diversity is its strength,” Emanuel said.

Fioretti focused more on reintroducing trade schools to city high schools.

“We still need in our high schools, trade and vocation, we keep forgetting about that,” he said. “We need to reinstitute that kids can use their hands.”

Walls said the future of the city rests in the hands of small businesses, while Wilson simply said we need to brand our city.

<![CDATA[Poll Shows Rahm Leading, in Danger of Runoff]]> Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:26:50 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rahm+tribune+poll.jpg

A new poll shows Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a comfortable lead in the mayoral race, but it appears he may not have enough votes to avoid a runoff.

The poll, conducted by the Chicago Tribune, shows the mayor with 42 percent of the vote currently. The closest contender is Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who has 18 percent. Despite his significant lead, the mayor needs 50 percent of the vote plus one in the Feb. 24 municipal election to avoid a runoff. If no candidate receives an absolute majority Feb. 24, the top two contenders will face off in a runoff election. 

Bob Fioretti is in third place, according to the poll, with 10 percent of the vote, followed by Willie Wilson at 7 percent and William "Dock" Walls at 2 percent.

About 20 percent of those polled said they were undecided with less than a month to go before the election. If Emanuel takes at least half of these votes on Election Day, it's likely he'll avoid a runoff. In past elections, the majority of the undecided voters usually end up voting for the incumbent, according to the Tribune.

A key factor for all mayoral candidates is the African-American vote, which seems to have taken a slight turn in support of Emanuel, despite the disapproval of many African-American communities following the mayor's closure of nearly 50 schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. According to the Tribune poll, about 40 percent of African-American voters now approve of Emanuel.

The poll was conducted via phone interviews with 708 registered voters who said they were certain they would vote in the election. The interviews were held from Jan. 22-27.

Other Tribune polls conducted throughout the year show a change in voters' perceptions of the mayor, which may have helped him gain his significant lead. An August poll showed that only 29 percent of voters viewed the mayor favorably, whereas the new poll shows that 43 percent view him favorably.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mayoral Candidates Vie for Endorsement]]> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 14:31:00 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/220*120/mayors+tribune.jpg

A group of mayoral challengers took aim at incumbent Rahm Emanuel Tuesday morning during an endorsement session at The Chicago Tribune.

All five of Chicago’s mayoral candidates faced off Tuesday morning, a first for the field of candidates, and the four challengers took sharp aim at Emanuel, who they say has not delivered on promises from the last election.

Emanuel and his challengers were asked to answer questions and further solidify their positions on major topics like education, violence in Chicago, economic development and law enforcement.

During the session, one of the most-discussed topics involved what questioners called a “tale of two cities.” Many challengers have questioned Emanuel’s presence in city neighborhoods, arguing that he has focused primarily on bettering downtown areas.

Emanuel argued that while he has worked to build the central business district, he has also highlighted efforts in struggling city neighborhoods.

“From day one I also made sure we invested in our neighborhoods in our city,” Emanuel said.

He repeatedly noted the building of a Whole Foods in Chicago’s poverty-stricken Englewood neighborhood and a Mariano’s Fresh Market in Bronzeville as evidence of that claim.

“You may have good intentions but you have failed miserably as the mayor of Chicago,” William “Dock” Walls, arguably the most aggressive commenter in the session, told Emanuel. “People are dying in the streets of Chicago.”

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who represents the Southwest Side on the Cook County board, also argued there is a disconnect between neighborhoods in Chicago and noted the need for more community policing.

“There really is a contrast between the central business district and the neighborhoods,” Garcia said. “Over the past four years in particular the contrast has sharpened.”

Alderman Bob Fioretti, one of Emanuel’s most outspoken critics, said the city needs to hire from within city limits and reopen mental health clinics.

“We need to hire from our city to make sure our city has jobs,” Fioretti said.

He also encouraged reopening trade and vocational schools in city high schools.

As for Chicago’s headline-making violence, many candidates supported the idea of hiring more police officers despite arguments that there’s no room in the budget to do so.

Garcia, who said he would hire 1,000 new police officers if elected, said “the money is there, what hasn’t been there is the will.”

“They say we can’t afford it, I say we can’t afford 10,000 shootings,” Garcia said.

Fioretti, an advocate for “aggressive community policing,” said he would hope to hire 500 new officers.

“We have the money, we found it last time,” he said. “There is money in this budget to hire more police officers.”

Businessman Willie Wilson said he would take a different approach on community policing, instead breaking the city up into four districts with four superintendents. He would also encourage officers to take buses and public transportation instead of squad cars.

Walls said police officers in the city need to reflect the diversity seen in the city’s neighborhoods, a move that will help “tear down that wall of silence.”

Emanuel argued for more after school programs and summer jobs to keep kids employed and off the streets and advocated for stricter gun control.

“This is about addressing the issue of putting police officers on the street and getting kids guns and drugs off the street,” he said. “Fundamentally to change the course, we need gun control legislation. We need a fundamental change in Springfield.”

Candidates also argued about TIF reform and how the funds are used in the city, with Emanuel arguing that 75 percent of TIF money used goes to public goods like transportation, schools, libraries, parks, and other city services.

But several candidates argued the money isn’t being used for its intended purpose.

The Tuesday session was one of five times the candidates will debate with each other. The next event will take place Friday as they take part in the Sun-Times Editorial Board endorsement session.

<![CDATA[Mayor's Race Heats Up As Election Nears]]> Mon, 26 Jan 2015 17:45:05 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Bob_Fioretti_4-14.jpg

As voters prepare to go the polls next month for the mayoral election, candidates continue to heat up their campaigns.

With Jesus “Chuy” Garcia securing a backing from Illinois’ oldest independent political organization and Alderman Bob Fioretti targeting Mayor Rahm Emanuel for not pressing charges in an attack on his son last month, the mayoral race heated up Monday.

Fioretti said the mayor's decision to not press charges after suspects were questioned for attacking his teenage son near the family's home before Christmas "sent the wrong signal."

"The next time somebody gets shot, the next time somebody gets beat up, the time somebody's home gets invaded, you know what? It's OK," Fioretti said. "No, it's not. The Mayor sent the wrong signal to everybody."

The mayor's campaign spokesman said "it's sad that Bob Fioretti's campaign has come to this" and noted the move "doesn't warrant a response."

Garcia, speaking at a City Hall news conference, said he was “honored to have earned” the endorsement of the IVI-IPO, an independent political organization.

The Sun-Times reports that C. Betty Magness, Administrative Vice Chair of the IVI-IPO, said Emanuel didn’t get the endorsement because he didn’t apply for it, and “most of his answers would not have been progressive enough for us.”

In a new poll released Monday by Ogden & Fry, an independent polling company conducting weekly polls for the mayoral race, it appeared Garcia could force a run-off election.

The poll showed Emanuel with a clear lead and 39.5 percent of the vote, Garcia with 18 percent, Wilson with 11.1 percent and Fioretti with 7.5 percent.

“There is little question Rahm Emanuel will lead the February 24, 2015 Municipal Election. The only question is whether he can avoid an April 7, 2015 run-off against Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia,” the polling company wrote in their analysis.

The margin of error was at 3.24 percent.

Over the weekend, another independent polling company indicated Fioretti could force a run-off.

The Victory Research poll of 806 “likely Chicago voters,” showed Emanuel leading in his bid for re-election with 36.4 percent of the vote. Fioretti was in second with 18.2 percent of the vote and Garcia in third at 12 percent. Wilson and William “Dock” Walls followed in fourth and fifth place with 8.6 percent and 0.9 percent respectively, according to the poll.

There was a margin of error of 3.45 percent.

“While a slight majority currently believes that Mayor Emanuel does not deserve re-election, Chicago voters are not at the point where they are saying ‘Anybody but Emanuel, no matter what,’” Rod McCulloch, President of Victory Research, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Emanuel on Monday announced that health information services company ContextMedia plans to add an additional 200 jobs in Chicago this year and expects to add 400 additional jobs in the city next year. The company, which moved into its current Chicago headquarters in April, looks to expand in 2015, according to a release.

“ContextMedia is a great example of the tech economy we have in Chicago today and the even stronger tech economy we are building for tomorrow,” Mayor Emanuel said. “The City of Chicago used to be the flyover city for the tech community. Today we are becoming the destination city for the best tech companies and the best tech talent, as the great team at ContextMedia can attest.”

The move comes just after President Barack Obama showed support for his re-election campaign in a new radio ad.

Candidate Dock Walls said the president should have stayed out of the contest.

"He probable shouldn't have endorsed no one at all," Walls said. "He's not obligated to endorse anyone."

All of the candidates are set to appear Tuesday at the first side-by-side debate.

<![CDATA[Christie Woos Iowa Conservatives]]> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 00:46:55 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/12415chris.jpg

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to connect with Iowa conservatives by assuring them that "you'll always know who I am" if he runs for president.

While still undeclared, Christie left few doubts Saturday at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he is primed to enter the 2016 GOP race.

Christie told the Republican voters in the leadoff primary state in the nomination battle that they shouldn't let his blunt style turn them off. To those not enamored with all aspects of his record, Christie asserted "you'll always know what I believe and you'll always know where I stand."

He spoke at length about his anti-abortion views, which tends to resonate with Iowa's social conservative caucus-goers.

Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and many others turned the Iowa Freedom Forum into the unofficial launch of the next campaign for the Iowa caucuses. More than 1,000 religious conservatives met at a refurbished theater to hear their pitches.

The forum's sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, opened the event by asking the crowd, "Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you today?"

The audience erupted in applause and King responded, "As do I."

Few would pick Christie, an abortion rights and gay marriage opponent better known for his union and budget battles, to emerge as the favorite among Iowa's evangelical voters. Yet his appearance could allow him to make inroads with a group focused as much on ideological purity as defeating the Democrat nominated to follow President Barack Obama.

"He has gusto that makes him an everyman. That appeals to me," 29-year-old Steve Friend of Sioux City said of Christie. "But I think he tanked the 2012 election by praising President Obama after (superstorm) Sandy."

Christie has defended his praise of the president for visiting storm-ravaged New Jersey in the weeks before Romney lost. But it's an image that sticks in the craw of Iowa's most right-wing conservatives.

"I don't trust him," said Mary Kay Hauser, another forum attendee. "I think he's disingenuous. I think he's part of the old New Jersey party."

<![CDATA[Obama Endorses Emanuel in Radio Ad ]]> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 15:41:57 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rahm+and+obama.jpg

Rahm Emanuel has a new radio advertisement for his re-election campaign featuring an endorsement by President Obama.

The advertisement acknowledges the mayor's tough reputation, but the president credits it to Emanuel's love for Chicago.

"He loves our city, and he believes every child in every neighborhood should have a fair shot at success," Obama reportedly says in the advertisement. "(That's) why he fights as hard as he does."

Obama also touts Emaneul's actions to expand kindergarten to a full day in Chicago schools and to raise the minimum wage.

The advertisement ends with Obama saying, "If you want a mayor who does what is right, not just what's popular, who fights night and day for the city we love, then I hope you'll join me."

The mayor aired a radio advertisement with Obama's endorsement four years ago as well, in which Obama said he insisted that Emanuel go to the White House with him because he was the best guy for the job and he could be counted on to get the job done.

"We're thrilled that the president has endorsed Rahm because he believes that Rahm is the only candidate with the record, strength and plan to continue moving our city forward," Michael Ruemmler, Emanuel's campaign manager, said in a statement. "No one knows how hard Rahm will fight better than President Obama."

Michelle Obama campaigned for Illinois democrats in the fall, including former Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Cheri Bustos.

While an endorsement from the president is a sure advantage, there's no telling if it will be enough to give Emanuel a clear victory, as Quinn would surely agree.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Willie Wilson Debuts New Radio Ad]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 18:42:51 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Willie+Wilson.jpg

Advertising is about getting someone’s attention, and that’s certainly what mayoral candidate Willie Wilson’s new radio ad does.

Wilson’s campaign ad targets the city’s red light ticket program and criticizes Emanuel’s decision to shutter dozens of Chicago schools.

“That’s what advertising is all about,” he said, “Getting people’s attention.”

Wilson, a millionaire businessman who owns a medical supply business, nearly invested in the company that won the city’s red light contract. But after two years of meetings, he said at the last minute he was dumped as the minority investor.

“They reneged on it, kicked me out and got somebody else, but I’m glad it happened that way,” he said.

Wilson is the only other candidate besides Emanuel currently running commercials ahead of the February election.

He said he’s preparing for the debates set to take place soon, but he won’t just be targeting red light tickets as he looks to score points with voters.

As for who Wilson is, the candidate wrote a tell-all autobiography detailing rough times in his life, even a physical fight with his wife years ago.

“Have you ever done something you would be ashamed of,” Wilson said. “All have done things we’re not proud of.”

The first forum with each mayoral candidate is set for next week.

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<![CDATA[Sen. Rubio Taking Steps Toward Possible 2016 Run]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 17:51:11 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/121113+marco+rubio.jpg

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio rode into Washington on a wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment in 2010. He may soon be hoping to ride a similar wave all the way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in 2016.

NBC News has confirmed that Senator Rubio is taking steps to prepare for a run for the White House in the 2016 election. The news was first reported by ABC News on Friday.

Rubio has hired Anna Rogers to be his finance director. Rogers comes from American Crossroads, a Super PAC backed by former senior Bush advisor Karl Rove. Rogers is expected to start her new job with the Rubio campaign in the first week of February.

The senator has laid out plans to visit multiple states for the next month and will skip Senate votes next week in order to attend fundraisers in California.

Rubio’s rapid rise to political stardom started in the Florida Legislature, which he led at one point. He entered the 2010 Senate race far behind then-Governor Charlie Crist and was able to outflank Crist in the Republican primary. The moves electrified Rubio’s political star and sent Crist’s political career tumbling.

Rubio won his seat in 2010 primarily based on the Tea Party wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment. He also benefitted from having a three-way race with Crist as an independent and Kendrick Meek running as a Democrat. The two effectively split the electorate opposing Rubio, opening the door to the Senate for Rubio.

The junior senator from Florida may be hoping to start and catch a similar wave to the White House that Obama followed when he ran after just two years in the Senate. However, Rubio would have filled out his entire first-term if he runs in 2016.

The path to the White House for Rubio will be much tougher. He angered many of the Tea Party voters that supported him when he helped pass a bi-partisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill a few years ago.

As the conservative backlash started, Rubio quickly backed away from support on many of the bill’s key policies and won back support from some of the voters who lifted him to the White House. He will also face a field full of big Republican names hoping to win the nomination.

While none have officially declared their pursuit of the presidency, it’s expected that Mitt Romney will make a run at the White House. He could be joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Governor Rick Perry, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

“The interesting thing here is that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are friends they look like they are both running for each other and they both live really close to each other and that is going to make for one interesting kind of awkward campaign,” said Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo.

Bush could prove to be the biggest obstacle for Rubio to make a successful presidential bid. Bush has more experience as an executive and skillfully navigated the Florida political machine for two terms as governor and is still well-liked by many of his former supporters in the Sunshine State.

“I think Jeb is going to be the one that’s going to finish the race,” said Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Marco is still a young boy. He has a lot of years left in him.”

Rubio said Bush has the political acumen to raise the amount of money necessary to mount a successful presidential campaign. The 2016 presidential campaign could end up being a multi-billion dollar campaign and will likely be the most expensive in U.S. History.

Rubio has been a fierce critic of almost every policy move made by the Obama Administration. He’s also been a leading critic of the move to normalize relations with Cuba, though polls show a national majority back the moves by the White House.

For Republicans, if Rubio follows his previous comments that he will not run for re-election to the Senate if he runs for president (which also is a Florida law); his plans may open up a new battleground in the almost evenly-divided swing state of Florida.

That could prove especially beneficial to Democrats. The 2016 electoral map is expected to tilt towards the Democrats in many swing states and voter turnout could help Democrats re-take the U.S. Senate and also keep the White House.

Rubio could also be angling for another key position in a potential Republican White House, that of vice-president. If Rubio doesn’t win the presidential nomination, he could be a leading contender to join the winner’s ticket as the vice-presidential candidate.

Still, whoever the Republicans end up choosing to run for the White House will have one of the toughest challenges ahead in the general election, a potential Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

“If Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush run against Hillary Clinton; they’re gonna lose and they’re not only going to lose the White House race, they’re even going to lose their home state of Florida,” said Caputo. “But, that is what the polling says now. And as you know and I know, in a state like Florida; don’t predict the elections too early, heck even on election day as we sometimes don’t know the winner.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[United Working Families Backs Garcia For Mayor]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 15:02:56 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/garcia-united-working-famil.jpg

A Chicago group that's adopted strategies of the national organization which helped Bill de Blasio become mayor of New York City has put its muscle behind an effort to oust Rahm Emanuel.

The progressive United Working Families on Thursday backed Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for mayor in the February 2014 election.

"We're proud to endorse Chuy Garcia for his record, for the way that he thinks about leading as an inclusive leader who really will work to unite the city in a moment when politics is divisive and hard and ugly and cynical," said United Working Families Executive Director Kristen Crowell.

Garcia, who currently represents the 7th District of Cook County, accepted the endorsement, saying the group exemplifies "the thirst for change in Chicago that is at the heart of my candidacy."

While similar in name and focus, United Working Families is not a formal affiliate of the Working Families Party that helped elect de Blasio. Still, representatives from the Chicago group said the organizations have had discussions.

And Crowell is a powerful activist. She previously served as the executive director of We Are Wisconsin, a coalition which tried to unseat Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. While that effort was unsuccessful, Crowell's efforts helped raise millions of dollars.

United Working Families is affiliated with SEIU Healthcare, the Chicago Teachers Union, Action Now and Grassroots Illinois Action.

Photo Credit: Telemundo Chicago
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<![CDATA[Top NY Lawmaker Arrested on Corruption Charges: Source]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 21:21:24 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/silver7.jpg

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested Thursday on federal corruption charges and is accused of using his position in the state legislature to collect millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, according to a criminal complaint.

Silver, who has held office in the State Assembly since 1976 and been speaker of the legislative body since 1994, turned himself into the FBI at its field office near Foley Square Thursday morning.

The embattled legislator told reporters after his court appearance that he did not plan to resign.

"I will be vindicated," he said. 

His attorneys, Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, released a joint statement calling the allegations baseless.

"We’re disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges," the attorneys' statement said. "That said, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them -- in court -- and ultimately his full exoneration.”

At a news briefing shortly after Silver's arrest, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused the longtime politician of duping taxpayers through a series of secretive schemes and backroom dealings to line his own pockets, and "cleverly" seeking ways to monetize his public office in violation of federal law.

Silver allegedly collected around $4 million in bribes and kickbacks and used his law license and lax New York disclosure laws to disguise the profits as referral fees, Bharara said.

Those alleged ill-gotten gains accounted for two-thirds of the speaker's outside income since 2002, the prosecutor added. Bharara said a judge issued warrants allowing authorities to seize $3.8 million Silver had dispersed in eight bank accounts at six different banks in alleged fraud proceeds.

"For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, 'How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly service his constituents?'" Bharara said. "Today, we provide the answer. He didn't."

The five-count criminal complaint unsealed Thursday focuses on two alleged schemes by which Silver acquired millions -- attorney referral payments and alleged real estate kickbacks. One firm, identified by sources familiar with the investigation as Goldberg & Iryami, allegedly paid Silver about $700,000 over the course of about a decade in "undisclosed bribes and kickbacks" to get real estate developers in the state to do their business with the firm.

One of the real estate developers, described in the court papers as "Developer 1," is Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management, according to the sources. The sources said Litwin cooperated with investigators, as did law firm partner Jay Goldberg.

The firm Weitz and Luxemberg also allegedly paid Silver about $5.3 million since 2002. About $1.4 million came from an annual salary, which the complaint alleges Silver received "based on his official position rather than any work he was expected to perform."

"For many years New Yorkers have also asked the question, 'What exactly does Speaker Silver do to earn his substantial outside income?'" Bharara said. "Well, the head-scratching can come to an end on that score, too, because we answer that question today as well. He does nothing."

The rest of the money came from attorney referral fees, with about $3 million coming by way of a scheme where Silver allegedly passed on asbestos cases from a New York doctor, identified by sources as Dr. Robert Taub, in exchange for secretly providing Taub access to $500,000 in state grants and research funds. Taub is the director of the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center. 

Investigators said Silver referred about 100 clients to the firm, but none of the asbestos clients or their family had ever had any contact with Silver at all, court papers said.

Taub cooperated with investigators, sources said.

Messages left with Goldberg, Litwin and Taub were not immediately returned. 

Despite making assurances that he represents "plain ordinary and simple people," investigators found no court records indicating that Silver ever made a single appearance in state or federal court.

"The problem for Sheldon Silver was that he was neither a doctor nor an asbestos lawyer, so Silver did not have relevant legal or medical expertise, but what he did have was extraordinary power over state money that he had the ability to dole out quietly, even secretly," Bharara said.

Bharara had been focusing on how state representatives earned and reported income after the Moreland Commission was shut down in Albany before completing its own examination of alleged wrongdoing in Albany. Bharara says that too was Silver's doing.

"A deal was cut that cut off the commission's work to the great relief of Sheldon Silver, who furiously fought its subpoenas and urged the commission's early shutdown," he said. "Moreland was made to close its doors after only nine months, its work barely begun, and while litigation over those subpoenas about Sheldon Silver's outside income was still pending before a state judge."

If convicted of all five counts in the complaint, Silver faces up to 100 years in prison. He did not enter a plea during a brief court appearance Thursday and was released on $200,000 bond. Silver surrendered his passport and was told he needs permission to travel anywhere outside New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.  

Mayor de Blasio said New York should let the judicial process play out. 

"Although the charges announced today are very serious I want to note that I have always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity and he certainly has due process rights and I think it’s important that we let the judicial process play out here," the mayor said.

Questions in the past have been raised about Silver’s outside income that supplement his part-time assembly work and he has always denied wrongdoing.

In a statement Thursday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Frankel said Silver took advantage of his "political pulpit" to reap unlawful rewards.

"We hold our elected representatives to the highest standards and expect them to act in the best interest of their constituents," Frankel said. "In good faith, we trust they will do so while defending the fundamental tenets of the legal system. But as we are reminded today, those who make the laws don’t have the right to break the laws."

Albany has had its fair share of corruption scandals over the years. The last legislative leader to be charged was former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Bruno, a Republican, was acquitted last year after fighting two federal corruption counts for much of the last decade.

Bharara’s office is prosecuting Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith in an alleged scheme to bribe his way to run for mayor as a Republican, and has charged numerous other current and former state and local politicians including State Sens. Vincent Leibell, Hiram Monserrate and Carl Kruger and New York City councilman Larry Seabrook.

-- Pete Williams and Richard Esposito contributed to this report.  

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA["Pivotal": LGBT Groups Praise Obama's "Historic" SOTU]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:38:42 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/obama+state+of+union.JPG

LGBT rights activists and organizations across the country are applauding President Barack Obama for becoming the first U.S. president to use the words "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" in a State of the Union Address.

In the nearly hour-long address in front of Congress Tuesday, Obama condemned persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, while declaring that same-sex marriage is a “civil right.” His remarks come on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court agreement last week to rule on whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," Obama in his sixth State of the Union address. "That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California, said the mention made the speech “especially historic for transgender and bisexual people.” The first-of-its-kind nature of the reference was widely reported following the Tuesday night address and confirmed by NBC Owned Television Stations.

“We’ve never heard a president address their needs during a State of the Union Address,” Davis said. “That was just historic. By simply saying the word 'transgender' in a speech, it represents the progress for transgender people and the United State’s broader movement for equality for all.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington D.C-based National Center for Transgender Equality said that the “mention of us” is a way that “empower trans people to stand taller and work harder.”

“The president of the United States condemning persecution against transgender people is pivotal,” the transgender rights activist said in a statement.

Former NFL player Wade Davis II, executive director for You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization that is working to eradicate homophobia in sports, said the inclusion shows that society is starting to recognize that "gay" is not a universal term for those in the LGBT community.

“It’s not an inclusive term for someone who is bisexual or transgender, and we hope people would realize that,” said Davis, who came out as gay in 2012. “The struggle of someone being gay is not a representative of the struggles of someone who is bisexual or transgender. Gay is not this universal term that stands for lesbians, bisexual and transgender. And transgender has zero to do with sexual orientation.”

While the wait may have been long for a U.S president to make such move at the annual joint session of Congress, Obama’s calls for LGBT rights and protections are not entirely new. He was the country's first sitting leader to support same-sex marriage, an announcement he made in 2012.

Obama made a more robust move in 2013, when he reportedly became the first president to use the word “gay” during an inaugural address ─ at his second inauguration in 2013. Last year, the president signed an executive order extending protection against discrimination in the workplace for gay and transgender workers in the federal government.

Masen Davis said more work need to be done, and he urged Congress to pass laws to help LGBT individuals get more access to the services they need, including protections against housing discrimination.

Wade Davis, the NFL player, echoed those remarks, saying he hopes Obama’s message Tuesday night “will start some serious conversations about the discrimination” people in the LGBT community faces, particularly transgender individuals.

“It’s unfortunate for this to be the first time a president talks about it, but it speaks to some come change that is happening,” Wade Davis said. “I hope that the outcome of those conversations will be a policy. Talking without having a policy to back it up is just empty.”

Photo Credit: ap]]>
<![CDATA[New Md. Gov: What to Expect]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 15:02:30 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/20141104+Hogan.jpg

Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland governor Wednesday, becoming just the second Republican to hold the post in more than 45 years. He'll face a $750 million budget deficit, a legislature controlled by Democrats and an electorate awaiting the tax cuts he promised on the campaign trail.

But what he will try to do in office remains something of a mystery, political observers say.

"He was not at all specific about policies during the campaign," said Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "He basically ran against the outgoing governor for being a tax-and-spend liberal and claimed that we were not only overtaxed but over-regulated."

Hogan, 58, defeated Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown last fall, in what was described as an astonishing upset and a rebuke to two-term Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and the tax increases he implemented. Hogan, a commercial real estate broker, is the son of a former congressman and county executive for Prince George's County in Maryland. He is the state's second Republican governor since former Vice President Spiro Agnew held the role.

Hogan has promised better fiscal management, but now must contend with spending formulas that control some of the budget's largest expenses.

"I can't see him imposing new taxes so really he's left with cuts and that's where he begins to engage real battle with the legislature," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report.

Mandated appropriations account for 81 percent of the state's portion of spending proposed for the 2015 fiscal year beginning in July, according to a November report from the Department of Legislative Services' Office of Policy Analysis. The two-year budget shortfall has grown to nearly $1.2 billion.

"Beyond what's in his initial budget, I think you'll see him trying to change some of those mandatory spending patterns to give the state a little bit more flexibility and an ability to avoid ongoing structural deficits," said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science and chairman of Political Science Department at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Hogan vowed during the campaign that he would work with the state legislature, and observers will be watching carefully to see how long bipartisanship will last in a state with a 2-to-1 Democratic registration.

"I would say the two presiding officers in the state legislature are moderate to conservative Democrats but their rank and file, particularly in the House, are very liberal so that's going to be a pressure point for all of these four years," said Josh Kurtz, a political blogger for Center Maryland.

Kurtz and others noted that the previous Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, similarly pledged compromise but instead fought with the legislature through much of his single four-year term.

"So if Hogan chooses to fight with the Democrats, it's going to be an ugly four years," Norris said. "He won't get anything accomplished. If he can find ground for compromise and cooperation, then I think things will work out pretty well for both sides. We just have to wait and see."

Hogan, who won 54 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Brown, has said he wants to appeal two environmental measures: a storm water remediation fee, otherwise known as the rain tax, and regulations governing how much nitrogen can be released into the Chesapeake Bay, particularly from chicken farmers on the Eastern Shore, Norris said.

Hogan also has questioned the expense of two large public transit projects on the boards: the Baltimore Red Line, a 14-mile light rail transit line linking the city's east and west sides to the downtown that would cost $2.9 billion, and the Greater Washington Purple Line, a 16-mile east-west transit line connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton that would cost $2.45 billion. Both would gotten $100 million in federal funding, and could get up to $900 million each if Maryland signs funding agreements.

In recent days, Hogan refused to discuss the projects until after he took office, but during the campaign, he said he would spend money on roads rather than on expanding public transportation.
Observers noted that he was elected by predominantly suburban and rural voters.

Others programs that could prompt objections from voters if Hogan tries to cut them: school construction and prekindergarten.

"Nobody really knows what Hogan is going to be like when things don't go his way because he's never held elective office before," Kurtz said. "So in that respect, he's a big mystery."

<![CDATA[GOP Congressman Slams Obama for "Deportable" SOTU Guest]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:52:56 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP060731031104.jpg

A Republican congressman took a social media swipe at the White House over one of its young State of the Union guests Tuesday, tweeting that the first lady would have a "deportable" joining her.

Iowa Rep. Steve King said the president "perverts 'prosecutorial discretion'" by inviting Ana Zamora, a 20-year-old student from Dallas, to sit "in a place of honor" with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday's address.

Zamora, who was brought to the United States illegally as a young child, was granted temporary work authorization under Obama's executive order seeking to protect undocumented children living in the U.S. under such circumstances, often referred to as "DREAMers." The White House has said that Zamora's parents, a small business owner and a construction worker, are expected to benefit from more recent actions meant to shield millions from deportation.

When asked about the tweet by NBC News' Luke Russert, King, a vocal critic of Obama's immigration policies and actions, said to  "shake it off and have a sense of humor." The conservative congressman, who is hosting a gathering of potential GOP presidential candidates in this home state this weekend, said he didn't think the comment would hurt his party's possible 2016 contenders.

Zamora is one of nearly two dozen guests invited to watch the State of the Union along with the first lady. Others include a teen from Chicago's South Side who wrote a letter asking Santa for safety for Christmas, an astronaut set to spend a year aboard the International Space Station and Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen recently released after five years in Cuban prison.

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<![CDATA[Rahm Delivers Public Safety Address]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:00:59 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mayor+rahm+emanuel.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday promised to hire more police officers and announced plans to begin a pilot program where some officers will wear body cameras as he detailed his plans to fight crime.

It was the third policy address for the mayor’s re-election campaign and it took place at a neighborhood center on the city’s South Side.

“If our children are growing up and too many of our kids are growing up with a sense where violence becomes a norm and a familiarity rather than a sense of optimism that is experiencing by all the other statistics, we have not done our job,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel promised to bring safety to every neighborhood, revealing plans to hire 350 new Chicago police officers this year and begin a pilot program using body cameras this week in the 14th District. He said he hopes to work to expand the program over the next few years throughout the department.

Among those in attendance at the speech, a small crowd compared to previous addresses from the mayor, were Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Father Michael Pfleger and roughly 20 neighborhood leaders or public safety advocates.

The mayor’s opponents remain divided over whether McCarthy should keep his job.

“The Emanuel McCarthy leadership and crime in our city has just, it’s just a complete failure,” said mayoral candidate Ald. Bob Fioretti.

“In all fairness, when elected I hope to meet with Superintendent McCarthy to talk about what his vision and his philosophy of policing is,” said challenger Jesus Chuy Garcia.

There was no mention made of police overtime, but this year the major projected spending close to $100 million. Emanuel took no questions after his event, instead letting his speech be the final word.

“No child should not be allowed to walk to school because of fear,” he said.

<![CDATA[Rauner, Emanuel: A New-Found Bipartisan Partnership?]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 17:42:55 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010648767_1200x675_386333251690.jpg Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner have shared the stage 3 times in the short time Rauner has taken office. NBC 5's political reporter Mary Ann Ahern reports on the appearance of partnership.]]> <![CDATA[Rauner, Rahm Team Up for MLK Day]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 17:23:57 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/220*120/rahm+rauner+mlk.jpg

Governor Bruce Rauner spent his first week in office in Springfield, but made his way back to Chicago this week for Martin Luther King Day where he participated in service projects alongside Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

From all appearances, the mayor and the governor seem to be bi-partisan partners, possibly boasting a relationship better than one shared between former Gov. Pat Quinn and Emanuel.

The two have known each other for more than 20 years, even vacationing together at Rauner’s Montana ranch.

In the first week since Rauner took office, he and Emanuel have shared the same stage three times. That wasn’t the case with former Gov. Pat Quinn.

And this is just one of many changes supporters hope to see with the new governor.

“It’s not going to be the same as usual,” said Pastor Corey Brooks, an early Rauner supporter.

The new governor signed an executive order forcing state agencies and contractors to report how many veterans and minorities are hired, but he did not set any quotas or guidelines.

“In many circumstances, when we see the facts, we are all going to be troubled and we should come together as a community to discuss what actions we should take further to make sure the government reflects our entire community,” Rauner said.

Rauner and his wife Diana participated in a service project at Gage Park High School Monday. Emanuel, paint brush in hand, also joined the many volunteers using the MLK holiday as a day of service.

The governor says he’s had many surprises in his first week, and while he will spend this week in Chicago, he says when the legislature is working in Springfield, he will be there too.

<![CDATA[Va. Gov. Suffers 7 Broken Ribs in Fall From Horse]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 17:09:49 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/0115-mcauliffe.jpg

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is recovering from injuries he received after being thrown from a horse while on a family trip to Africa, several media outlets are reporting.

McAuliffe is being treated for seven broken ribs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Spokesman Brian Coy says the governor was with his family in Tanzania over the Christmas holidays when the riding accident occurred.

The governor had been working since his return from Africa and expected the injury to heal on its own, but Coy said doctors identified increased fluid around his lungs that required treatment.

The governor is expected to spend two to three days recovering.

"My husband is resting comfortably after a successful procedure this afternoon. He and I want to thank the outstanding medical team at VCU Medical Center who just informed us that he is expected to recover well and get back to his full schedule within the next few days," Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe said Monday. "We would also like to thank the many well-wishers from all across Virginia who expressed concern and support for Terry as he continues to recover."

Coy stressed that the injury is not a "dire thing'' and the governor has been on the job since the accident. That includes delivering the State of the Commonwealth last week.


<![CDATA[State of the Union: What To Expect]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 10:31:05 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/NC_sotupreview0119001_1500x845.jpg President Obama's upcoming State of The Union address is already being met by Republican criticism.]]> <![CDATA[Rep. Duckworth Invites College Student to State of Union Address]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 10:17:03 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tammy+duckworth+2014.jpg

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is bringing an Illinois community college student as her guest to the State of the Union address to show her support of the president's recent proposal to provide two years of community college for free to all students.

Rep. Duckworth invited Elgin resident and Harper College student Homira Wardak, who is 19 years old, to the event on Tuesday. The congresswoman is connected to Wardak through her involvement in One Million Degrees, a Chicago nonprofit that empowers low-income, highly motivated community college students.

"Homira's strong work ethic and dedication to her academic studies is inspiring, and I am honored to have her as my State of the Union guest," Duckworth said in a statement. "She represents students from across the country who can achieve so much more when they attend outstanding institutions of higher education, like Harper College."

Wardak's mother is a single parent of three children who took a job with the U.S. military to support her family and was deployed to Afghanistan. Wardak and her siblings subsequently took care of themselves and their education.

Wardak enrolled in Harper College last year and is studying pre-medicine. She hopes to transfer to a four-year college or university and pursue a degree in emergency medicine, according the statement from Rep. Duckworth's office.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[First Lady Invites Chicago Teen to SOTU Address]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:54:02 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/217*120/letter+to+santa+safety.jpg

A South Side Chicago teen who wrote a letter to Santa asking for safety and received a reply from President Barack Obama has now earned an invitation from the first lady.

Michelle Obama invited 13-year-old Malik Bryant to be one of her guests for the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

It is customary for the first lady to invite guests to the speech, and the guests are often mentioned in the president's address.

Malik, who lives in Englewood, wrote a letter as part of a charitable Letters to Santa program in Chicago in December that said, "All I ask for is for safety. I just want to be safe." The letter made its way to the president, who wrote Malik a response.

"I want to offer you a few words of encouragement," the president wrote, according to the Sun-Times. "Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow. Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President. If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I'm confident you can achieve anything you imagine. I wish you and your family the very best for the coming year, and I will be rooting for you."

Malik will be seated with the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden and Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor to the president, along with Michelle Obama's other guests from across the country.

<![CDATA[Sierra Club Endorses Rahm Emanuel for Re-Election]]> Sun, 18 Jan 2015 14:13:23 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Rahm-Emanuel-Sierra-Club.jpg

The Sierra Club announced Sunday that they are endorsing Rahm Emanuel for re-election in the upcoming mayoral race.

The Chicago chapter of the environmental organization made their endorsement at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum where they touted the mayor's "Sustainable Chicago" plan, which includes a commitment to sustainable jobs, public health protection and green space across the city.

"Sierra Club's Chicago Group has one goal -- to make Chicago the cleanest, most sustainable city in America," Christine Williamson, the chair of the Chicago group, said in a statement. "We are proud to recommend Rahm Emanuel to every Chicagoan who wants a healthier environment and the economic opportunities that clean energy and clean water can bring to our communities."

The Sierra Club also endorsed Emanuel in the 2011 mayoral race. The mayor pledged to continue work on sustainability iniatives if re-elected in February.

"In my next term, we'll keeping working together to make every neighborhood a healthy and vibrant place to raise a child," the mayor said.

<![CDATA[Romney Hints at Presidential Run]]> Sat, 17 Jan 2015 18:15:09 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mitt+romney+rnc+011615.JPG

Mitt Romney is addressing the GOP's winter meeting delegates aboard the USS Midway Museum on the Embarcadero Friday evening, a week after he told donors he would consider another presidential run in 2016.

The early meeting of party leaders looking ahead to the 2016 Republican presidential primary season has been creating nationwide buzz in Coronado this week. But a big question is whether La Jolla's high-profile homeowner could become the party's nominee again.

Romney hinted at another run as he addressed the party’s winter meeting delegates aboard the USS Midway Museum Friday evening, saying he is "giving some serious consideration to the future." 

“In the last few days, the most frequently asked question I get is, ‘What does Ann think about all this?’" Romney joked. "She believes people get better with experience, and heaven knows I have experience running for president.”

His chances of making a third time running for president a success have been the subject of recent poor-mouthing in media outlets and among prospective rivals.

But former California GOP chairman Ron Nehring said the former Massachusetts governor’s doubters shouldn't overlook this: "He has universal name ID across the country. He has a large existing political enterprise of donors, supporters, volunteers, activists. Everybody knows who he is. So obviously he would go into a race with a tremendous number of advantages."

Still, Republican leaders are encouraging a large field of prospects — from household names such as Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Chris Christie to others less known outside the party, but highly regarded within it.

While the heavy hitters are a ways off from declaring candidacy, nearly two dozen possibilities have been mentioned as prospects, and it can't be said that Romney's considered the front-runner at this stage.

In any case, GOP leadership is risk-averse in considering the sharp downside posed by a third straight loss in presidential sweepstakes.

"We have to elect a Republican president,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told an audience of several hundred party delegates at Hotel del Coronado Friday. "As we move forward in this election cycle, don't ever lose sight of that. It's not about me. It's not about you. It's not about us … 2016 could be a do-or-die moment for our party."

The GOP has seized control of both the House and Senate since Romney lost his 2012 challenge to President Obama.

And party bosses want to make it a clean sweep by taking the White House in 2016, vigorously talking up their chances at the gathering in Coronado.

"The candidates are all speaking at the public events,” said Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County. “But the real excitement happens behind the scenes where there are private meetings, and people get to kick the tires — if you will — of the candidates and the hopefuls."

So what's the pressure that would be left in "the tires" of a Mitt Romney candidacy for the White House, after he finished 4 points behind President Obama in the 2012 popular vote and 23 percent behind in the Electoral College numbers?

It's something that figures to give party leaders pause.

"This is why those people who want to do away with the primaries and just kind of anoint a candidate — they're wrong,” Nehring told NBC 7. “Because in the course of that primary contest, we get to decide: do we want to have a fresh face? Or do we want to go with a candidate who almost won last time?"

Meantime, a prominent local Democrat who's served as press secretary to congressmen and senators including Robert Kennedy cautions that Romney's credentials shouldn't be discounted.

"I think too many people, in judging him, judge him in just a solely political context,” said George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego. “Which means they don't like his politics. I don't think you can do that. I would not dismiss him as being the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016."

In an interview Friday, Mitrovich pointed to Richard Nixon's being elected president after losing eight years earlier: "So why are we so quick to think that Romney doesn't matter? Romney matters!"

Nonetheless, fresh online postings Friday raised continued raising concerns about Romney's viability as a prospective nominee.

Reports from Mother Jones magazine cited a former 2012 Romney policy adviser wishing that Romney wouldn’t run again, and a “huge new conflict of interest program” stemming from Romney family business ventures.

There have been earlier references to Romney as “a retread … recycled … yesterday’s news” – some speculating that he might meet the fate of the late Gov. Thomas Dewey (R-NJ), who lost presidential elections twice in the 1940s.

<![CDATA[Rauner Rescinds Quinn's Executive Orders]]> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 17:12:22 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tlmd-bruce-rauner2014-Resumen-2014.jpg

Newly minted Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner took action to eliminate the last minute moves of his predecessor. 

Rauner signed executive order 15-11 and rescinded a number of executive orders signed by Pat Quinn during his final weeks in office. 

“It is clear that too many of Pat Quinn’s actions during his final weeks in office were in an effort to settle political scores and not wholly aimed at serving the public’s interest,” said Lance Trover, spokesman for the governor. “The Rauner Administration will decide on a case-by-case basis if any Executive Orders should be re-implemented.”

<![CDATA[Illinois Congressional Delegation's Millionare Club Members Revealed]]> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 11:52:23 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/458348868.jpg

Gov. Bruce Rauner isn't Illinois' only elected official with major cash in the bank. 

Six of Illinois' seats in the U.S. House and Senate are filled by members of the millionaire's club, a new report from the Center for Responsive Politics estimates, representing about a third of the state's delegation in D.C. The full count could actually be as high as 10 according to the analysis, which is based on asset ranges reported on financial disclosure forms.

The findings were part of a new report that identified 271 millionaires elected to federal office— about half the total membership of the House and the  Senate. That's up slightly from the year before, when the group counted at least 268 millionaires.

The median congressional net worth of nearly $1.03 million, which was up slightly from the previous year, is about 18 times one estimate cited for the median net worth of everyday American households.

Illinois' 20-member delegation was less well off than Congress as a whole, with a median estimated net worth of $622,000, based on the individual averages calculated using the asset ranges in the financial disclosures.

And even Illinois' flushest representative — projected $18 million man Democratic Rep. Bill Foster — comes in far behind some of his rich Capitol colleagues. GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California led both houses with an estimated net worth of $448.4 million. At $254 million, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was the wealthiest senator, the group found.

Rauner, meanwhile, has them all beat. The newly elected Republican governor boasts a net worth of close to $1 billion.

Click here for the full report or see the estimated ranges in net worth for Illinois' representatives at the top. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Opinion: Pair of Longtime Aldermen Face Ethics Questions Before Election Day]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 11:31:50 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chicago-city-council.jpg

Editor's note: The previous version of this story incorrectly identified the real estate property in question as located at 5978 N. Lincoln, within a TIF District in the 40th Ward. The property is actually located at 5321 N. Lincoln, outside of the TIF district. Ward Room regrets the error. 


Every election season is filled with charges and countercharges that fly between sitting incumbents and their political challengers. But sometimes, political figures seeking to hold on to elected offices find themselves in trouble even without anyone’s help.

So it is with two veteran Chicago City Council members who are facing questions over potential ethics violations in the run up to the February 24th city-wide elections.

Perhaps the more public—and likely more embarrassing—is the case of Ald. Danny Solis (25) and the missing $140,000. It seems Solis, who was appointed by Mayor Daley way back in 1996, earmarked the dollars for a series of arts and culture initiatives, to be paid for out of the $1.3 million in “menu money” every alderman receives to spend as he or she sees fit in their ward, along with dollars from a TIF, or tax incremental financing district, in the ward. The funds were supposed to reimburse a local artists group for a new mural installation and a project at Benito Juarez Community Academy, money the artists group initially fronted out of pocket.

News of the missing money broke in October of last year, even though it was budgeted for the arts initiatives in 2013. Since then, no one has come up with a viable explanation for where the money has gone. A spokesperson for Solis has said the money is tied up in the “bureaucratic process of the city,” while for his part, Solis has refused to comment to other media outlets on the matter.

That isn’t good enough for at least one of Solis’ challengers. Byron Sigcho, an activist with the Pilsen Alliance and one of Solis’ four opponents, has filed a formal complaint with the Office of Legislative Inspector General asking for an investigation into Solis and where the money went.

Up in the 40th Ward on the city’s Northwest Side, the issue isn’t missing money as much as it is a missing attorney. The alderman for the 40th Ward is Patrick O’Connor, who was first elected in 1983—making him the longest serving alderman save 14th Ward powerhouse Ed Burke. His longevity and loyalty to both mayors Daley and Emanuel has led him to be named Emanuel’s floor leader, with extraordinary say over what does and doesn't get passed by City Council.

O’Connor has been investigated for potential ethics wrongdoing before, most recently in July when the OLIG revealed it had opened an investigation into potential campaign finance violations.

After running unopposed for several elections in recent years, O’Connor was surprisingly hit with a challenge to his candidacy petitions this year. However, instead of the usual push back over the validity or number of the signatures collected, the challenge centered on two key issues: O’Connor’s failure to file a Statement of Economic Interests with the Cook County Clerk as required by law, and the alderman’s debt to the City for building code violations associated with a real estate investment.

Worse, the indebtedness O’Connor faced was in relation to a controversial condominium project built in 2005 in part with $625,000 in TIF funds, a move the alderman backed. And it’s here that the story gets complicated.

In short order, the project’s developers were represented by the law firm of Neal & Leroy, whose principal, Langdon Neal, is also chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections. Neal and Leroy were paid $230,000 in lobbying fees for the project, and have donated numerous times to the alderman’s re-election campaigns. The main subcontractor on the project was also sent to federal prison in 2005. 

The charges represented the biggest challenge to O’Connor’s incumbency in years as either allegation—or both—if proven true would make him ineligible for reelection and cause his name to be removed from the ballot. Yet, in true Chicago political fashion, O’Connor skated by with the help of Neal, who scheduled the January 5 Chicago Board of Election hearing to rule on the challenge only to only to fail to show up to his own meeting—before the Board threw out the case without further debate.

At the same time, O’Connor is also facing one of his toughest re-election fights in recent years from Dianne Daleiden, a public school teacher who’s been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union. Of course, whether or not veteran alderman like O’Connor and Solis will be toppled by their challengers come February 24th remains to be seen.

But managing to become entangled in such potentially damaging ethical issues are unlikely to help their reelection chances any.  

<![CDATA[Millionaires Make Up Half of Congress: Report]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 15:32:59 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/capitol+generic+federal+government+generic.jpg

Congress is getting richer and seeing its number of millionaire members grow, as average Americans continue to struggle to recover from years of economic distress, according to a new report.

The median net worth of a member of Congress hit nearly $1.03 million by the end of 2013, an analysis of financial disclosure forms by the Center for Responsive Politics found. That figure, up 2.5 percent fron the previous year, makes the body's average elected representative 18 times richer than the average American household, which one recent study found was worth about $56,000 the same year.

In all, Center for Responsive Politics identified 271 millionaires elected to federal office— about half the total membership of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. That's up slighly from the year before, when the group counted  at least 268 millionaires.

 “At a time when income inequality is much debated, the representatives we choose are overwhelmingly affluent,” CRP’s Executive Director Sheila Krumholz said in a statement. “Whether voters elect them because they are successful or because people of modest means do not run, or for other reasons, is unclear, but struggling Americans should not assume that their elected officials understand their circumstances.“

The Senate is the wealthier of the two bodies, with a median net worth of $2.97 million compared to the House of Representatives' $843,000.

GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California led both houses with an estimated net worth of $448.4 million. At $254 million, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was the wealthiest senator, the group found.

Not all members boast anywhere close to those nine-figure sums, though. About two dozen members, including Rep. David Valadao, a Republican from California who was named Congress' least wealthy member, reported being in the red.

Click here to read the full report.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lewis Laments She Can't Run for Mayor]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 18:40:09 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/karen-lewis5.jpg

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis on Thursday said she's disappointed that a medical issue sidelined her hopes to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the upcoming mayor election.

"I really wanted to do this. I mean, it was something that I thought about, that I had worked it out with my family," she said in her first public comments since surgery for brain cancer late last year. "Yeah, it's very disappointing."

In her remarks at the Kroc Center for a fourth annual breakfast to honor the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis spoke of "good days and not-so-good days," but added "I don't really have bad days" in battling the disease. She returned to work on a part-time basis in December.

The 61-year-old said she's been keeping busy making phone calls in support of Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, whom she first endorsed in October.

"I hope it'll make a difference," she said. "I mean, we need a change. I've been saying that for some time, and it couldn't be me."

She also said she's "not surprised" by Gov. Bruce Rauner's recent appointment of Rev. James Meeks as chairman of the Board of Education.

"Rev. Meeks has said things that Gov. Rauner has pushed for years," Lewis said.

<![CDATA[Rahm Talks Economic Development in Chicago]]> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:47:50 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WMAQ_000000010583039_1200x675_384418883943.jpg Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel dicussed economic development in the city Wednesday ahead of the February mayoral election. Mary Ann Ahern reports.]]> <![CDATA[Rahm Talks Economic Agenda]]> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:50:16 -0600 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/228*120/rahm+method+plant.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has turned his re-election campaign’s focus to jobs and the city’s economic growth.

Emanuel delivered his state of the economy speech Wednesday at the Method manufacturing plant in the Pullman neighbrohood.

The address comes on the same day Emanuel announced that Prescient Edge LLC, a global security and technology company, will move its headquarters to a new, state-of-the-art facility in Chicago.

The company will be creating at least 60 full-time jobs in Chicago initially and expects significant growth with the addition of hundreds of jobs in the coming years.

“From the education of our workforce, to the quality of our transportation, to the diversity of our economy, more companies like Prescient Edge want to relocate to Chicago for the city we are today and the growth opportunities we offer them for tomorrow,” Emanuel said in a statement. “We are starting to see the results of having the right strategy and making the right investments. I look forward to building on this progress to give more companies the confidence to invest in Chicago’s future and create more jobs for more of our residents.”

The mayor’s economic address shifted the focus not just to the attraction 30 company headquarters to the downtown area during his time as mayor, but also to the expansion of what he hopes will become a new business plaza in the Pullman neighborhood.

“We want all part of the city to grow, all parts have strengths you have to invest in,” Emanuel said.

Those who also want to be mayor see the city’s economic agenda differently, arguing the city's neighborhoods aren't feeling the economic impact.

“He talks about Pullman he talks about Englewood, what has he really done there?” said mayoral candidate Ald. Bob Fioretti.

"While Mayor Emanuel might say he’s trying to make Chicago work for all our communities, his actions in the past four years have created a divided Chicago – one for the rich, and one for everyone else," Fioretti said in a statement.

“The neighborhoods haven’t seen much job growth,” said candidate Jesus Chuy Garcia, who also said in a statement that "Chicago cannot afford four more year's of Emanuel's failed economic policies."