<![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 Sat, 26 Jul 2014 14:41:37 -0500 Sat, 26 Jul 2014 14:41:37 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Christie's Visit to Chicago Includes Trip to Portillo's]]> Sat, 26 Jul 2014 09:47:19 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/christie+portillos.jpg

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Chicago Friday night to support Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner.

Christie joined Rauner to meet voters and enjoy a Chicago-style snack at Portillo’s at Ontario and Clark streets.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Christie acknowledged to diners that he was considering a 2016 bid for president.

Christie later headlined an evening fundraiser for Rauner and his lieutenant governor running mate, Evelyn Sanguinetti, at a Chicago hotel.

Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also delivered a $2.5 million check to Rauner, the Tribune reports.

The group sees Rauner's race against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn as one of its top two opportunities to pick up a governorship in November.

Christie has recently heightened his public profile in the wake of allegations of a political payback scandal.
 



Photo Credit: NBC Chicago]]>
<![CDATA[Failed Motel Owner's Shady Development Project Suckered Quinn, Madigan and Durbin]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:43:22 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Michael+Madigan+.jpg

Anshoo Sethi, the young owner of a failed O'Hare-area motel, managed to trick Illinois' political heavies into supporting his grand ambition to erect a massive $913 million hotel-and-convention center near the airport despite having no building permits, construction plans or legit franchise deals with Hyatt and other chains.

A compelling story in Fortune's latest issue gives the play-by-play on how Sethi, then in his 20s, smooth-talked Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and former White House adviser David Axelrod's son with an irresistible-yet-empty pitch: He would add 8,495 jobs to the state's troubled post-crash economy through a federal immigration program that issues American visas to foreign investors who contribute $500,000 toward start-up businesses in high-unemployment areas.

Sethi exploited the program, called EB-5, to lure $147 million from 300 Chinese investors but he could not access that money -- or get their visas approved -- until demonstrating proof of how he'd finance the rest of his venture, per a request from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Pressure mounting, he forged documents from Hyatt as well as a fake investor in Qatar and even arranged a high-profile champagne ceremony feting the sham project in late 2012.

He was eager to wrangle support from state government, which he saw as beneficial in securing the millions -- not to mention goodwill from hotel companies -- necessary to fund his outrageous vision.

"Sethi retained Michael Axelrod, son of David Axelrod, President Obama’s former strategist, and a consultant specializing in Latin American business, to raise EB-5 funding in Mexico," write Fortune's Peter Elkind and Marty Jones. "Axelrod also called contacts at USCIS, prodding them to approve the visas, which would release the escrowed Chinese funds. They told him the visas remained 'in review.' A second lobbyist enlisted calls from Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin’s staff. Sethi arranged another meeting with the Illinois Finance Authority for mid-February, where he hoped to make progress on winning the state financing he’d promised his investors. He also persuaded an official of the Clinton Foundation to make a high-level inquiry on his behalf."

He'd also consulted Madigan, an attorney with a private practice, to secure a 50 percent tax break on the property that housed his terribly-reviewed, delapidated motel and where the convention center would go up to replace it.

Sethi did a number on Quinn during the governor's business trip to China in fall 2011.

A guarantee of government backing "is immensely alluring for Chinese investors, who are accustomed to a government that controls everything," say Elkind and Jones, writing that Sethi scored a meeting and photo-op with Quinn after talking up a "Kodak opportunity" to tout "why the state of Illinois is great for investment."

"With help from Quinn’s commerce secretary—who taped a video endorsing the convention project—Sethi did even better. Belatedly recognizing they’d been bamboozled ('They know how to use us,' complained one aide in an email), Quinn’s staffers demanded he cease using the governor’s image and the Illinois state seal. Sethi ignored them," according to the Fortune piece.

Acting on a whistleblower's tip, the feds eventually busted Sethi in early 2013 and froze the Chinese money. A settlement was reached in March of this year that mandated he return the $147 million and pay a $3.9 million fine. The 30-year-old is now embroiled in a foreclosure lawsuit over the vacant, never-developed airport-centric property. He's neither admitted nor denied allegations of fraud.

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<![CDATA[Michelle Obama Attends Beyonce Concert After Chicago Fundraiser]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:37:31 -0500

After headlining a fundraiser at Chicago's Waldorf Astoria on Thursday, Michelle Obama stopped by River North eatery Sunda (where she posed for a photo with spotlight-chasing restaurateur Billy Dec) before joining her daughters for the Beyonce/Jay-Z concert at Soldier Field.

A fellow Beyonce fan snapped a not-so-subtle selfie featuring the First Lady, Malia and Sasha in the background. Sasha, 13, can be seen looking sideways at the citizen paparazzo while singing along to the music.

After the show, the Obama women reportedly stayed overnight at their Kenwood home and flew back to Washington D.C. on Friday morning.

Michelle's presence at Thursday's Democratic National Committee funder drew a crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of the Chicago native who slipped in and out of the Waldorf under heavy security. Inside the event, which attracted 100 guests including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, FLOTUS spoke for 20 minutes, asking supporters to "dig deep" to "help make a better future for children, including those in neighborhoods fraught by gun violence in Chicago."

She also urged donors to help Quinn across "the finish line" in his 2014 re-election campaign against Republican rival Bruce Rauner.

Tickets ranged from $500-$20,000 a person, with proceeds going to the party's fall congressional campaigns.

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<![CDATA[Aldermen Ask IG to Open Probe Into Red Light Tickets]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 17:46:02 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/209*120/b83583ccfcab4c1dbaf2e7c32ccb9fce.jpg
A group of eight aldermen—all members of the Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus—have sent a letter to Inspector General Joe Ferguson asking for an investigation into the city’s troubled red light camera program.
 
The alderman want details pertaining to the program and specific data on the system’s management, standards, revenue and other facts, including reasons why the program may have issued as many as 13,000 tickets in error.
 
A recent Chicago Tribune investigation into the city’s red light camera program found that of more than 4 million tickets issued since 2007, thousands of Chicago drivers have been tagged with $100 red light fines they did not deserve, along with clear evidence that deviations in Chicago's network of 380 cameras were caused by faulty equipment, human tinkering or both.
 
After the Tribune investigation came to light, Mayor Rahm Emanuel found himself under the spotlight for problems in the system. In response, Emanuel has pointed to plans by the city to send letters to 9,000 drivers offering 45 days to request a review of their violation by email, phone, mail or in person as a way to defuse attention and avoid a growing public relations disaster.
 
For members of the Caucus, however, the mayor’s attempts to address the problem aren't enough. At issue are key questions about how the program is run, who’s in charge, what the city is doing with the erroneously collected fines and the real reasons for the program’s malfunctions.
 
The aldermen see the letter to Ferguson as a continuation of requests for information on the program dating back to February of 2013, when PRC member and 45th Ward Alderman John Arena sent a letter to Ferguson asking for information on how the city determined where to place the cameras and who was involved in setting up the program.
 
A retired Chicago official who managed the program for almost a decade was arrested in May for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to steer city contracts to Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., the system’s original contractor. In August, 2013, the city fired Redflex and hired Xerox State & Local Solutions to manage the program.
 
Yet, according to the aldermen, very little is actually known as to who in the Emanuel administration has actual control over decisions, then or now. As a result, the aldermen are asking Ferguson for information such as a flowchart of all city staff working on the program, along with their location, titles, salaries and responsibilities.
 
The letter also asks for recommendations from the IG’s office on how to increase transparency and accountability for the troubled red light camera program.
 
The lack of transparency over how the system is run and by who is part of an ongoing pattern by the Emanuel administration to keep critical information about city programs from the public and other government entitles, such as the City Council, says 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack.
 
“This request is an attempt to expand our previous inquiries into the program, and find out who’s really involved in the decision making,” Waguespack told Ward Room. “For us as aldermen, the real goal is to look at a program that has been in practice for over ten years and find out if the program as a whole is worth keeping. The question comes down to whether red light cameras are designed to increase safety or increase revenue. We’re hoping the IG can help answer these questions.”
 
Waguespack also says this isn't he first time a controversial city program was steeped in misinformation or suffered a lack of clarity over who was in charge and how decision are made.
 
“Everyone of these alderman [who signed the letter] have been frustrated with lack of response by this administration, and we want them to be held accountable on who’s running the program,” he said. “Mayor Emanuel says he’s the most transparent mayor ever. But there’s a difference between providing useless information in the name of transparency and providing the data to truly understand understand what’s driving policy. All we’re asking for here is the appropriate info to determine of a policy or program is right for the citizens of Chicago.” 
 
The PRC members who signed the letter include Waguespack, Bob Fioretti (2), John Arena (45), Leslie Hairston (5),Ricardo Munoz (22), Toni Foulkes(15), Rod Sawyer (6) and Nicholas Sposato (36).
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<![CDATA[Concept Schools' Expansion Plans Highlight Double Standards for Charters]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 13:41:27 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/FBI3.jpg

Back in the old days, it used to be that an FBI raid on a private company meant something.

When file-sharing companies Napster and Megaupload threatened copyrights in the recorded music business, for example, the FBI moved in and put them out of business.
 
In 2013, the FBI raided the offices of Liberty Reserve, an online payment processor that was popular with cybercriminals. Within weeks, the company was shut down for good.
 
When truck stop chain Pilot Flying J was accused by the FBI of defrauding customers millions of dollars over a rebate program, truckers across the country expressed “surprise and disgust” over the company’s actions. The reputation of the company’s CEO, Jimmy Haslam, took a hit. Meanwhile, customers started looking to take their business elsewhere before the company ended up paying $85 million in settlement money.
 
In other words, once FBI agents swarmed into your offices and started taking computers, files and personnel records out by the boxful, it meant your company was in serious trouble. And it usually meant that customers, vendors, and anyone else involved in your business started thinking twice about giving you anymore of their money.
 
At least until your company was cleared of wrongdoing or made restitution for its crimes.
 
But that was then. And it wasn’t in Chicago.
 
Here, a federal raid on a company doesn't seem to mean much anymore, especially if that firm is a politically connected charter school operator ready to take millions of taxpayer dollars to stay in business.
 
Case in point: Concept Schools. The charter company, which is based in Des Plaines and operates schools across the Midwest—including four in Illinois—is currently under a federal investigation. Last month, FBI agents carried out raids at 19 Concept locations in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio as part of an “ongoing white-collar crime matter”.
 
The company was founded by Turkish immigrants and has ties to Turkish-American groups, as well as a long list of political connections in Illinois and Chicago. Concept officials have hosted Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other state lawmakers on trips to Turkey in recent years.
 
As well, the Chicago Sun-Times reports Concept had planned to spend more than $528,000 of public funding to rent space owned by of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, whose pastor, Charles Jenkins, gave the invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 inauguration and was part of the mayor’s transition team.
 
That’s because Concept, which operates schools on the city’s Far North Side and McKinley Park and Austin neighborhoods, is looking to expand and collect some more of the public funding that’s being doled out by the bucket load by the Chicago Board of Education.
 
In its most recent budget, Chicago Public Schools earmarked a $62 million increase to charter school budgets and a $67 million decrease in neighborhood school budgets. CPS says the reason for the funding shift is due to declining student enrollment in neighborhood schools, and the money has to follow where the students go.
 
Concept is looking to open two new schools on the city’s South Side, one of which is in the Chatham neighborhood. Despite the FBI raids and ongoing investigation, the Board of Education seemingly had no problem approving the expansion, despite previously placing a planned Concept location on hold in light of the ongoing investigations.
 
All of this expansion activity for a privately-run charter school operator is taking place despite the fact that at least three neighborhood schools—Ryder Math and Science, Mahalia Jackson Elementary and Ft. Dearborn Elementary—are within eight or nine blocks of the new Concept location.
 
Concept has a long history of controversy, and along with mega-charter operator UNO is  now one of two highly publicized scandals involving financial malfeasance by a charter school operator in Chicago.
 
Apparently, however, not even a search warrant and an FBI raid into wrongdoing is enough to place a charter schools expansion plans in Chicago in jeopardy.
 
It kind of makes you long for the old days when a federal investigation used to mean something. 
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<![CDATA[House Ethics Committee Extends Inquiry of Bobby Rush]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:25:03 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/bobby+rush+2014.jpg

Congressman Bobby Rush expressed hope today, that the House Ethics Committee “takes into account the cooperation I have shown,” in a continuing investigation which on Friday was extended for another 45 days.

The Ethics Committee says it will announce a course of action on or before Nov. 10.  The Committee received a report on Rush from the Office of Congressional Ethics June 10.  

“The Committee notes that there mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment of the Committee,” the Ethics group said in a news release.

While the Ethics Committee was not specific about why Rush is being investigated, questions were raised late last year about spending from his campaign fund, and the handling of a $1 million dollar grant.

Specifically, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association reported that Rush had little to show for the grant, secured from SBC Communications for a non-profit in Englewood.  The stories also reported that Rush used campaign funds for his Beloved Community Christian Church.

“The notice today that the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Ethics Committee have decided to extend the time for reviewing the matter transmitted by the Office of Congressional Ethics, indicates they believe in the interest of fairness that more time is needed before making any substantive determination,” Rush said in a statement. 

“I am hopeful that the Ethics Committee will approach this in a manner that takes into account the cooperation I have shown from the outset, and my willingness to adhere to any guidance that House Ethics has made, or will make, available to me.”

At the end of the 45 days, the Committee could take a variety of actions. They could choose to do nothing.  They could refer the matter for further investigation by a specially empaneled investigative subcommittee.  They could also refer the matter to the Justice Department.  

In any event, it would not be until that 45 days has expired, that they would release the OCE report they received in June. Traditionally, those reports provide the most illumination about such inquiries.

Rush has represented the First Congressional District for 21 years. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Quinn Donates $1,000 to Cover Shamiya Adams' Funeral: Report]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:47:03 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/quinn+campaign+event.jpg

Gov. Pat Quinn wrote a personal check for $1,000 to help the family of slain 11-year-old Shamiya Adams pay for her funeral this weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Shamiya was killed July 18 while attending a slumber party at a friend's home in Chicago's Garfield Park. She was in a bedroom with four friends, preparing to make S'mores, when a shooting erupted outside the house and a bullet pierced the window, striking her in the head.

Eighteen-year-old Tevin Lee was later charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm.

On Thursday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended a fundraiser at a Ukrainian Village restaurant to raise money for Shamiya's funeral as the community mourned the tragedy. "There's some closure, but to lose a baby, that's going to go in our heads forever," said her grandfather, Roger Goodloe.

A spokesperson for Quinn did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the governor's donation.

This week, the Democratic incumbent, running for re-election this year, launched a public attack on Republican rival Bruce Rauner for not supporting a state ban on assault weapons.

"My opponent thinks people should have assault weapons as they see fit," Quinn said Wednesday. "The host of a show asked him 'What is the purposes of a military style assault weapon other than to kill people?' and he just sat there silent. He said he's for the right of people to bear assault weapons. I think we should put the assault weapons down."

Striking back, Campaign Rauner invoked the messy aftermath of Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery initiative, the anti-violence program he introduced in 2010 before defeating Bill Brady in the gubernatorial election. It's now under federal and state investigation amid allegations of bureaucratic incompetence and mishandling of state grant money.

"Pat Quinn's anti-crime policies have been disastrous for Illinois," sniped Rauner's rep Mike Schrimpf. "His only answer is a non-binding election year referendum. Pat Quinn is just not serious about dealing with crime in our communities. It's tragic."

 

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<![CDATA[NJ Gov. Christie to Stump for Rauner in Chicago]]> Fri, 25 Jul 2014 06:46:09 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/chris+christie+june+2014.jpg

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be in Chicago to support Bruce Rauner's campaign for Illinois governor.

Christie and Rauner are scheduled to visit a Chicago-area business Friday afternoon. Christie will headline an evening fundraiser for Rauner and his lieutenant governor running mate, Evelyn Sanguinetti, at a Chicago hotel.

VIP tickets including photos were said to run $1,500 each. Reception tickets for individuals are $500.

Christie is chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The group sees Rauner's race against Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn as one of its top two opportunities to pick up a governorship in November. It has donated $1.5 million to Rauner's campaign.

Christie has recently heightened his public profile in the wake of allegations of a political payback scandal. He's seen as a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

His visit won't be without its detractors. Groups supporting gay marriage and other causes say they plan to protest outside the fundraiser.

Christie visited Chicago in February for a fundraising event for Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and an appearance before the Economic Club of Chicago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago Public Schools OK Controversial $6.8 Billion Budget]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:43:18 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/generic-money-new-size-040114.jpg

As expected, Chicago Public Schools pushed the button on its controversial $6.8 billion budget for 2015 amid criticism over slashing public school money, diverting more dollars into charters and falling back on another one-time fix to plug a massive $880 million deficit hole.

In a maneuver of accounting, CPS will transfer an extra $650 million in property tax revenue from fiscal 2016 through expanding its "revenue recognition period" another two months. That's a risky move since those millions won't be available to balance next year's budget.

It's also irresponsible, implied CPS board member Henry Bienen at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting. He was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying: "It's a budget which could very possibly lead to a downgrading of bonds in the future, which would mean higher cost of financing on the interest rate."

But the district maintained it had no other option, pointing fingers at the state government for stalling on pension reform and skimping on school funding. Meanwhile, spending grew three percent, an increase of $400 million, from last year's budget despite the deficit problem.

A majority expense is going to teacher salaries and benefits, including a record $634 million earmarked for pension payments.

"While there is no doubt that the State has played a significant role in creating this fiscal crisis, the District bears ultimate responsibility because it has a duty to plan for the long-term impacts of the budget decisions it makes annually," said the Civic Foundation, which monitors Illinois' fiscal sustainability (or lack thereof), slapping CPS on the wrist in a stern statement.

Over teachers' objections, CPS said declining student enrollment in neighborhood schools factored into its decision to slash funding and pour an extra $72 million into charter schools and privately-operated public institutions under contract with the district.

CPS laid off 550 teachers in May, and last summer incited outrage when it shuttered close to 50 schools, many in low-income, working-class areas.

Homeowners won't be happy, either, thanks to CPS raising property taxes to the max -- by an extra $34 -- on houses worth $250,000.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Scott Halleran]]>
<![CDATA[Opinion: Durbin’s Right on Corporations Fleeing America]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:04:05 -0500 Dick Durbin
U.S. Senate
Democrat]]>
Dick Durbin
U.S. Senate
Democrat]]>
http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dick+durbin+2014.jpg

Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: any company making billions in profit year after year is not unduly suffering from paying too much in taxes. 

This is especially true for companies with a business model that requires large payments from the U.S. government for the products it sells. Or that benefit from government-funded programs such as scientific research or defense spending.
 
Yet more and more we’re hearing about companies—including local firms such as retailer Walgreens and pharmaceutical maker AbbVie—looking to move their headquarters offshore simply for the benefits of lower taxes.
 
Known as “tax inversion,” the strategy involves moving a company’s formal headquarters address to another country via a corporate merger, particularly somewhere that has a lower corporate tax rate than the U.S. For a company like Walgreens or AbbVie, such a move can mean millions in savings from the lower tax rate, which is currently 35 percent in America.
 
Walgreens is considering moving its headquarters to Switzerland, while AbbVie is buying a company based in Ireland.
 
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin recently penned an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune that called out companies like Walgreens and AbbVie for what he calls “a decision to desert America while still expecting the same benefits as truly American companies.”
 
Walgreens has built a strong presence across America, where its tax-paying customers drive on taxpayer-supported highways to have their prescriptions filled by pharmacists who often rely on taxpayer-supported government loans for their educations. An estimated 23 percent of Walgreens' revenues in its last fiscal year were from, you guessed it, taxpayer-supported Medicare and Medicaid programs.
 
But now, it turns out "the Corner of Happy and Healthy" may end up somewhere in the Swiss Alps.
 
Broken down to its basics, the debate over tax inversions has two sides. On the one hand, there’s those who believe companies that for years have enjoyed the benefits of operating in the U.S and making billions in profits have a responsibility to pay their fair share in taxes that help keep the country strong.
 
On the other hand are those that argue that paying taxes is simply too much of a burden for successful corporation to bear, and any opportunity to reduce the amount paid must be taken.
 
For an example of this argument, just listen to the CEO of another local drug maker, Abbott Laboratories. In a July 17th editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Miles D. White wrote:
 
In terms of global competitiveness, the U.S. and U.S. companies are at a substantial disadvantage to foreign companies. Taxes are a business cost. Our disproportionately higher tax rate puts foreign companies at a huge advantage competitively, and their lower tax burden amounts to a subsidy that encourages them to acquire American businesses.
 
Businesses like Walgreens and CEOs like White like to argue that the real problem driving businesses out of the country is a “flawed corporate tax code.” If only corporate taxes were easier and, quite frankly, lower, there wouldn't be a problem and companies could happily remain inside our borders.
 
Yet, as Durbin points out, tax inversion isn’t really about the tax code. It’s a monetary calculation, pure and simple. “It's a decision to desert America while still expecting the same benefits as truly American companies,” he writes.
 
In 2013, Walgreens made $2.5 billion in net profits. Moving to Switzerland would mean the company would save an estimated $797 million in taxes in the first year, and $4 billion over five years.
 
Last year, AbbVie reported fourth quarter profits of $1.3 billion on $5.11 billion in sales.
 
In 2011, U.S. defense contractor Ingersoll-Rand moved to Bermuda for tax purposes. In 2009, it moved to Ireland. In the fourth quarter of 2013 alone, it made $47.6 million.
 
Since 1983, 76 U.S. corporations have shifted their tax domiciles out of the United States to other countries to avoid U.S. taxes, according to research by the U.S. Congress.
 
Forgive me if I find it a little bit difficult to shed a tear for these companies simply because they can’t make enough in profits after paying the legally-required amount in taxes. 


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Willis Siblings Advance on "America's Got Talent" ]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:05:09 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/492326759.jpg

The Willis Clan advanced to the next round on NBC's "America's Got Talent" Wednesday after mixed reviews from the judges' panel.

All were in favor except Heidi Klum, arguing that "vocally, they're not strong enough." But Howard Stern defended the Von Trapp-esque band of 12 siblings, calling them "the cutest damn act ever."

The telegenic group -- ranging in age from 3 to 22 -- performed a country rendition of Owl City's "Fireflies," and exuding enough homespun charisma to melt Stern's cynical heart, the vocals were a bit strained.

The Willises are the children of Toby Willis, who lost six brothers and sisters in the horrific 1994 van crash that that led to an Illinois investigation linking the accident to former Gov. George Ryan's licenses-for-bribes scandal.

Toby recently told NBC 5, "Life goes on. ... I wanted to make sure that people knew that we weren't just going to be just sad the rest of our life."

Ryan was released from federal prison last July after serving five years for corruption. In his first interview since his probation expired earlier this month, he said he prays for the late Willis children daily but feels no responsibility for their deaths.



Photo Credit: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank]]>
<![CDATA[Michelle Obama Makes the Chicago Rounds]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 22:49:36 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Michelle_Obama_dec.jpg

First Lady Michelle Obama is raising big bucks in Chicago Thursday, but also making time for some good fun and good food.

Obama is in the city for a Democratic National Committee event at the Waldorf Astoria in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.

The first lady entered the event through a back door shortly before 4 p.m.

Gov. Pat Quinn was also spotted entering the hotel.

According to a pool report, Obama spoke for 20 minutes before 100 people and asked the Democratic supporters to "dig deep" to "help make a better future for children, including those in neighborhoods fraught by gun violence in Chicago."

"There are kids, like the kids here in Chicago, who are confronting outrageous levels of violence," Obama said. "Kids who are losing their lives day after day. Shootings that devastate our communities and break our hearts and rob this country of so much talent and promise. Those kids deserve so much better than this."

Obama also urged the crowd to help Quinn across "the finish line."

Tickets ranged from $500-$20,000 per person for the event, which will go toward Democratic fall congressional campaigns.

The first lady's visit back to Chicago comes amid speculation about the post-administration home for the Obama family.

Reports earlier this week had the family looking at a home in Palm Springs, California and New York has also been mentioned as a possibility, but there's been no official word from the White House.

The Obamas still have their home in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood.

Mrs. Obama went to dinner at River North's Sunda restaurant at around 6 p.m.

She snapped photos with the staff and with part-owner Billy Dec, recently named to the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The first lady was then expected to attend the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert at Soldier Field with daughters Sasha and Malia.

Celebrity makeup artist Reggie Wells was among the many fans headed to the concert.

"I worked with Beyoncé a lot time ago with Destiny's Child, so I'm excited about going to the concert myself. And then to hear Michele Obama's around, then I got excited, because that used to be my client as well, so this is like ol' home week," Wells said.

The Obamas are expected to spend the night in their Kenwood home.



Photo Credit: www.twitter.com/billydec]]>
<![CDATA[Opinion: What Bruce Rauner's Uber Love Means For Illinois]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 17:45:15 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Bruce_Rauner_budget.jpg

When Bruce Rauner professed his love for Uber on Tuesday, calling for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to veto a bill that would impose heavy regulations upon the rapidly growing ride-share start-up, his gushing message signaled progress for the youthful tech-innovation crowd and potential doom for the taxi industry.

From the GOP gubernatorial hopeful-veteran venture capitalist to old-school taxicabs: You're toast. Also uncool. Step aside and make room for The New Economy.

To Uber and its quest to take over Chicago: Spread your wings and fly!

To Silicon Valley start-ups hoping to recreate Uber's success: See, Illinois isn't so bad. Forget what Rick Perry may have told you over steaks at Gibson's.

Rauner's pledge of support for Uber rips a page from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's successful appeal to San Francisco's tech elites who increasingly lean libertarian, value unrestrained capitalism where companies like Uber are concerned and boast billions to spend on political campaigns and causes.

"Today's Silicon Valley is still exceedingly liberal on social issues. But it seems more skeptical about taxes and business regulation than at any point in its recent history," writes New York Magazine's Kevin Roose. "Part of this is due to the rise of companies like Uber and Tesla Motors, blazing-hot start-ups that have been opposed at every turn by protectionist regulators and trade unions, in confrontations that are being used by small-government conservatives as case studies in government control run amok."

In other words, America's tech bros are going to eat up Rauner's "I love Uber" endorsement -- more like stunt -- hook, line, and sinker. Nevermind that the flip-flopping Winnetka businessman glosses over the nitty-gritty of the General Assembly's ride-share regulation bill: commercial insurance and background checks for drivers, which Rauner says he supports but Uber wants to prevent.

"Uber is an innovative, growing company that provides ride-share services to millions of people across the country and wants to create 425 more jobs right here in Illinois ... Illinois should encourage companies like Uber to grow here, but this bill does the opposite," said Rauner in a statement, adding: "Ride-share drivers should have insurance and background checks. But Pat Quinn shouldn’t sign this bill – it sends another signal that Illinois is closed to innovation."

As Rauner has learned with his new tax-and-jobs growth plan, which is polling well despite making absolutely no sense, it's more effective to tell potential voters what they want to hear -- innovation, efficiency, jobs, Steve Jobs! -- and sweep the other stuff under the rug.

But make no mistake: Having Rauner in Springfield and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall could be a win-win for Uber and its ilk and a massive double whammy for taxi drivers fearful of losing customers to smartphone-friendly competitors.

Back in May, Emanuel -- whose super-agent brother is among Uber's most powerful investors -- pushed through controversial legislation that bars ride-sharing apps from picking up passengers at local airports and McCormick Place. The loophole: City transportation authorities reserve the power to approve O'Hare and Midway as Uber zones, which means the provision -- taking effect later this summer -- is basically moot.

As governor, Rauner is likely to support Uber's encroachment into taxi territory and work to remove that airport ban without making Emanuel look like the bad guy.

As an elected official-in-training, Rauner apparently sees no hypocritical differences in railing against special interests in politics (like the taxi business) while at the same time supporting Uber, which employs global team of government lobbyists.

And like any good venture capitalist, Rauner cannot resist an opportunity to make money. He hasn't directly invested in the rising-star ride-share app but he does hold stock in one of its backers, Goldman Sachs. No longer a partner at GTCR -- the Chicago private equity firm he founded three decades ago -- Rauner is essentially trumpeting the San Francisco-based outfit as a good investment in his public love letter to Uber, which he says his kids use.

Uber's meteoric rise has coincided with a barrage of bad press over its hyper-capitalist biz model and surge pricing feature that has led to ridiculously overinflated fares during inclement weather and absurd rides to the bar down the street.

In Rauner's viewpoint, watching Uber's remarkable expansion must be something of a spectator sport, even though it threatens to shutter traditional cab companies and leave consumers with giant tabs.

Cue the line favored by corporate types: It's not personal. It's business.

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<![CDATA[Daley's Medical Records to Stay Private in Park Grill Case]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 13:49:23 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/daley+first.jpg

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley's medical records will remain private in Chicago's lawsuit against the Park Grill owners, a Cook County judge ruled Wednesday.

Daley's attorneys instead will give a private, on-camera deposition on his medical condition in the judge's chambers. That information will not be disclosed or presented in court.   

The former mayor's attorneys had filed their response earlier this month in the city’s case to end the long-standing agreement with the Millennium Park restaurant, explaining why Daley wants an “in camera” inspection – for the judge only -- of his medical records rather than release them in open court. 

One of his attorneys, Terrence Burns, cited “Mr. Daley’s medical information is privileged and confidential.”

Daley is not excused from testifying in the case, though, and Judge Moshe Jacobius still plans to argue in open court whether or not he will be forced to testify. If that happens, attorneys will have to omit details on Daley's health.

The 72-year-old Daley reportedly suffered a stroke in January but has not confirmed it. His attorneys argued his “medical information has no bearing on any claim or defense in the litigation.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to end the contract with the clout-heavy investors. Daley’s attorney says the former mayor has a medical hardship and “has offered to provide evidence by way of medical affidavits” but wants those records “reviewed in camera” because they “contain information that is private, confidential and privileged.”



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Durbin to Putin: Take Responsibility for MH17 Crash]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:10:13 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/452372430.jpg

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Tuesday called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept responsibility for downing a Malaysian Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine.

The Illinois Democrat, speaking on the floor of the United States Senate, also said Putin should do what he can to ensure unfettered access to the crash site.

Nearly 300 people aboard Flight 17 died last week due to an alleged missile attack. President Barack Obama has said evidence indicates the airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

"All signs point to Putin, the Russians and their supporters in Eastern Ukraine as being responsible," Durbin said.

He called separatists in the region "thugs," and said they've been "armed, financed and inspired by Vladimir Putin and the Russians."



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Have Rahm's Tough Choices Failed?]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:38:30 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rahm+meeting+0721.jpg

Conventional wisdom says there were two main reasons why Rahm Emanuel won the 2011 Chicago mayoral election with 55 percent of the vote in a crowded field of four candidates: star power, and a promise to fix the city’s chronic budget problems.

In the minds of many voters, those two things went together. As the last few years of the Daley administration were marked by a series of scandals and seemingly little direction in fixing some of the city’s most intractable problems, voters in Chicago were ready for someone to come in, clean a little house, and get things done.
 
And Rahm Emanuel fit the bill. Tough, wisecracking, famous—the man was President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, for crying out loud, and knew how to get things done and who to call on to do it. Who cared if he was a little arrogant, had way too many close friends in the business world and seemed like he was using the mayor’s office as a stepping stone for bigger and better things.
 
We needed someone who was going to tell us the truth, and fix the truly horrible financial mess we had gotten ourselves into.
 
“In most worlds—business, politics, personal—an arrogant person who accomplishes things is not only tolerated but celebrated,” wrote Chicago Tribune editorial columnist Kristen McQueary back in May, referring to Emanuel. “Many of us will take an ass-kicker who gets results over a cautious consensus-builder any day of the week.”
 
Rahm knew all this. That’s why, from the moment he started to run, he kept coming back to one theme over and over: he was the right man to make the “tough choices” we needed to fix our financial mess.
 
"The question in this election is who has the experience, imagination and strength to see a better future for Chicago? And who has the determination to see that vision through the end?" Emanuel said at his campaign kick-off announcement
 
“We need to confront a budget deficit that threatens our future - but not by burdening Chicago families with more taxes they cannot afford, but by reinventing how city government works,” he said in a speech at his inauguration. “We said it's time for tough choices, because denial, in the face of challenge, is no strategy for success.”
 
“The Mayor Outlines the Tough Choices He’s Proposed in New City Budget” proclaimed the headline of a 2012 editorial the mayor wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times.
 
“'We are making tough choices,'' the mayor said as he presented his $6.97 billion 2014 budget to the Chicago City Council.
 
So how’s all that toughness working out for Chicago? Judging from a report in the Chicago Sun-Times, not so well.
 
The Sun-Times reports that three years into his administration, Emanuel has “failed to make a dent in the mountain of debt piled on Chicago taxpayers.”
 
“Chicago’s general obligation debt backed by property taxes now stands at nearly $8 billion or $2,936.19 for each of the city’s 2.7 million residents. Counting ‘overlapping debt,’ the total owed is $28.3 billion.”
 
Earlier this year, the city also suffered yet another drop in it’s credit rating, with Wall Street firm Moody’s citing Chicago’s $32 billion unfunded pension liability is eight times operating revenue and the “highest of any rated U.S. local government.”
 
The bad budget news comes hard on the heels of a scathing critique of the proposed 2015 Chicago Public Schools budget by watchdog group the Civic Federation.
 
“The short-sighted budget does nothing to address the District’s grave fiscal crisis and is balanced only by an accounting maneuver that allows the District to book more than 12 months of revenue into a single fiscal year,” the group said. “This one-time and non-recurring revenue will leave a gap in future budgets, contributing to deficits of over $1.0 billion in FY2016 and FY2017.”
 
The bottom line is, Mayor Emanuel came into office promising to fix the city’s troubled finances, saying when he ran that “the choices we make in the next few years will define Chicago's future for generations.”
 
But today, we’re seemingly no closer to solving those issues than we were three years ago.
 
Throw in a citywide violence crisis, the closing of 50 public schools, continued poverty and joblessness across the city, crumbling infrastructure, ongoing problems with city programs like red light cameras and you have to ask yourself:
 
What, exactly, has all this toughness gotten for Chicago?
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<![CDATA[Quinn Signs $1 Billion Road Project Plan]]> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 14:56:35 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/160*120/illinois-tollway-generic.jpg

Gov. Pat Quinn signed an approximately $1 billion capital spending plan on Tuesday intended to create jobs and help repair and improve Illinois roads and bridges after a harsh winter.

 
The Chicago Democrat approved the bipartisan legislation that also will provide lawmakers with opportunities to attend popular ribbon-cutting ceremonies in an election year. The plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn't have enough time to study where the money would go.
 
Transportation officials said the money will go toward "shovel ready" road projects that are beginning this summer. Quinn estimated that the projects will create some 14,300 jobs. Most of the 210 projects include resurfacing portions of major roadways around Illinois and repairing bridges.
 
"It is imperative for all of us that we make investments to make sure we take good care of these roads and bridges, relieve congestions, get people to their destination as quickly as possible, as safely as possible," he said standing near a downtown Chicago interstate exchange where construction work is ongoing.
 
Some lawmakers supporting the repair program said it was necessary because the $31 billion "Illinois Jobs Now" program that Quinn signed in 2009 is set to run out of road funding sometime this year. But Transportation Department spokeswoman Paris Ervin said that $115 million will be doled out this year for various projects.
 
The winter repair plan will be paid for by selling bonds and paying back the loan with revenue from retired bonds. It was scaled back to gain Republican support amid concerns that the state couldn't afford a higher price tag. Democrats failed to gather votes to extend an income tax increase set to roll back in January, potentially creating a loss of $1.8 billion in revenue.
 
Among the projects are $48 million for replacing the bridge, lighting, surveillance and sign boards on the inbound Interstate 55 in Chicago. Other projects include resurfacing parts of Interstate 57.
 
"After the historic winter we experienced, many of our roads and bridges are in desperate need of attention," Erica Borggren, the acting head of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a statement. "This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs."
 
Some lawmakers and a transportation group had proposed paying for road construction with a fuel tax increase, and ending the practice of diverting funds earmarked for road projects to other parts of the budget. That plan was opposed by gas station owners who say the state's fuel tax is already too high.
 
Quinn is seeking a second full term with a challenge from Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.
 


Photo Credit: Brian Fitz Photography]]>
<![CDATA[Opinion: Suddenly, Rahm’s Millions May Not Be Enough]]> Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:36:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rahm_clinton.jpg
Rahm Emanuel, meet Ras Baraka.
 
For those not following New Jersey politics, Baraka is the political progressive who won the 2014 mayoral election in Newark, the state’s largest city. To win, Baraka beat Shavar Jeffries, who many political observers in Jersey saw as the candidate of the state’s political establishment. Baraka’s victory is seen by many across the country as a significant victory for a progressive candidate in a big city mayoral race.
 
For Chicagoans, the 2014 Newark election may be of some interest. While every election has its own dynamics and, more importantly, its own backstory and political intrigue, a number of key similarities exist between the 2014 Newark race and the upcoming Chicago mayoral election.
 
For one, the Newark mayor's office had for years been occupied by Cory Booker, a major player in national Democratic politics just like Rahm Emanuel.
 
For another, the 2014 election was widely seen as a referendum on Booker’s particular brand of big donor, corporate-friendly politics that dominated Newark during his reign. For many here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm is seen more as “Mayor 1%”, more focused on the welfare of the city’s elite than everyday citizens.
 
As well, Newark’s education system had been gutted by powerful political interests. In 2013, Newark schools superintendent announced plans to consolidate, relocate and re-configure more than one-quarter of the city’s schools, including transferring neighborhood schools to charter school operators. As a result, education issues dominated the 2014 race, helping to define the candidate’s profiles in the minds of many voters.
 
Just like Chicago.
 
So why does what happened in Newark, New Jersey matter to Chicagoans? It’s simple. Boiled down to its essence, the 2014 Newark race represented an important and somewhat unexpected victory for a progressive politician facing big money interests all too eager to paint him a “too radical” for the mayor’s office.
 
Baraka won by gathering together a coalition of old-school neighborhood activists, union supporters, and high name recognition as a community organizer, public school teacher and champion of the dispossessed. He also gained key support from the Working Families Party, who helped propel New York progressive mayor Bill de Blasio to victory.
 
And today, such a pathway to the mayor’s office on the fifth floor of Chicago’s City Hall suddenly doesn't seem like such a long shot as it has in the past.
 
There’s clearly a growing progressive movement taking shape in Chicago, and for the first time in a long time, it’s starting to set its sights specifically on the mayor’s office. Coupled with the current mayor’s abysmal poll numbers, a citywide violence crisis, the closing of 50 public schools, a pension debacle in the making and a mayor seen as out of touch with everyday citizens, and you’ve got a whole lot of Chicagoans ready to find an alternate to the current administration. 
 
Throw in two potentially strong, deeply progressive candidates—Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti—and you’ve got a significantly different playing field than even a few months ago.
 
Not to mention a newfound sense of optimism among the city’s progressives and activists that is starting to turn from “what if” to “why not now”?
 
In response, it appears Rahm Emanuel is doing the one thing he knows how to do better than anything else: raise money.
 
The Chicago Tribune reports that Emanuel is “fighting sagging Chicago polls with [a] fundraising blitz.” And there’s little doubt Rahm will have the ability to flood the campaign with millions of dollars in donations.
 
But it may not be enough. After all, Baraka’s opponent Jeffries spent as much as three times the amount of his opponent, much of it coming from corporate donors and charter school advocates.
 
Chicago may be seeing for the first time in a long time—at least since the election of Harold Washington in 1983—a real battle between grassroots activism and big-money campaign donations.
 
If I were Rahm, maybe I’d want to ask Ras Baraka how that turned out for him.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Are the Obamas Moving to California?]]> Wed, 23 Jul 2014 15:33:21 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/JASON_WU1.jpg

President Obama and First Lady Michelle may be the buyers of a $4.25 million home in California's Rancho Mirage, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Though the White House denied the rumors, the L.A. Times cites unnamed real estate agents as confirming that the Obamas are in escrow on a 3.29- acre, James Bond-esque estate in a swanky gated community where Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope once kept properties.

Former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty, resided in the desert city, the headquarters of the Betty Ford Center for addiction and rehabilition.

The Obamas visited the area for the Father's Day holiday and, in February, the president played golf with Larry Ellison, another high-profile Rancho Mirage resident, on the software billionaire's private course.

The First Couple's reported new house was built in 1993 and includes four bedrooms and a gym as well as a pool with a 20-foot waterfall, two spas and a rock lagoon, according to the L.A. Times. Next door to the property: a "bighorn sheep preserve" and the interior decorater Michael S. Smith, an Obama pal.

As previously reported, Michelle Obama -- said to be a fan of California -- had been considering a move to the Palm Springs area after leaving the White House. The president likes New York City, another post-Washington option. Neither wants to move back to Chicago, according to reports.

 

 

 

 

 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Emanuel Gets Labor Union Love]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 21:40:04 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Taste+of+Chicago+Rahm+7-9-2014.jpg

Not every Chicago labor union is coalescing behind prospective mayoral candidate Karen Lewis.

When Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to herald the ground-breaking of Wolf Point West Tower -- a 48-story, $160 million development on the Chicago River -- Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, and Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, took the stage to sing the mayor's praises.

"Thank you to Rahm Emanuel for all that you've done to bring good middle class construction jobs to the city of Chicago," declared the burly Trades Council boss Villanova on Friday, adding: "And I will let you know, as far as labor's concerned, Congressman Rahm Emanuel had a 95 percent lifetime labor voting record and we appreciate that. ... His vision and leadership has brought projects that were dreams or blueprints lying on some architect's desk into a reality. He's made it possible for our members to go to work, pay their bills and support their families."

The lovefest continued as Ramirez praised Emanuel's attention to less visible, below-ground infrastructure projects that he said contribute as much to the Chicago economy as flashier developments like Wolf Point.

Emanuel's relationship with the building trades has remained intact amid opposition from the Lewis-fronted Chicago Teachers Union and local progressive organizations. Of course his pro-business, pro-economic agenda would attract support from elected labor leaders whose interests align with City Hall. As head of the powerful CTU, Lewis has been an Eva Peron-style champion for teachers facing layoffs, school closures and the loss of their pensions (along with police and fire unions).

This past Wednesday, Emanuel collected a $50,000 check from Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and $10,000 from Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562. And last month Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union quietly donated $25,000 to Emanuel's re-election campaign in what some believed to be an unspoken political endorsement of the mayor despite a rocky history of mutual mud-slinging. (The chapter reps aviation workers, crossing guards and other laborers across the city and state.)

Earlier this month, Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU's Local 1, penned an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times commending Emanuel's proposal increase the minimum wage from $8.25 to $13 per hour by 2018. Wrote Balanof: "Chicago needs a strong economy that works for all — not just the wealthy few. We must find a way to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour or too many workers will remain trapped in poverty-wage jobs that burden taxpayers with employers’ responsibilities."



Photo Credit: Tatiana Walk-Morris]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago Summit Addresses Gang Violence]]> Thu, 24 Jul 2014 09:28:24 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rahm+meeting+0721.jpg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Chicago's police superintendent and community leaders Monday for a closed-door meeting to solve the city's crime epidemic.

This weekend alone at least 44 people were shot, and an innocent 11-year-old girl was killed when a stray bullet went through a bedroom window while she was at a sleepover.

Shamiya Adams was sitting around a pretend campfire eating s'mores with friends when the bullet pierced the window and struck the girl in the head.

"It just leaves a hole in your soul," Rev. George Daniels said. "You can't find words to explain such a tragedy."

Several law enforcement agencies, along with education and community leaders, joined the mayor at Monday's meeting to discuss a problem Emanuel said needs to be solved.

"It's about where the guns are coming from," Emanuel said, "where the law enforcement is, where our neighborhood and communities are, where our parents are, where our investments are and what we're doing to make sure our kids start their education early and right and have the values so they can get all the way through, not only to graduation, but the jobs that are coming to the city of Chicago."

The group hoped to leave the meeting with concrete next steps to provide a solution to the violence.

"Violence cannot be tolerated and it's not condoned," David Pope, a minister in the area, said this weekend. "We are praying this traffic circumstance will turn into a triumphant one."



Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com]]>
<![CDATA[Opinion: Rauner’s Irresponsible Tax Plan Polls Well Among Voters]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 10:56:28 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Bruce-rauner-campaign.jpg
If there’s one trick Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner knows well, it’s telling people what they want to hear.
 
Whether it’s flip-flopping on the state’s minimum wage, waffling on whether Illinois should allow same-sex marriages or simply telling voters the multi-millionaire is really just a down-home regular guy, Rauner has proven himself the master of molding himself into what he thinks voters want him to be.
 
His most recent trick? Presenting a tax and jobs-growth strategy that doesn't make any sense and still getting voters to believe it makes him a better candidate.
 
On July 17, the Rauner campaign released an economic plan called the “Bring Back Blueprint”. The plan calls for rolling back the 2010 tax increase, along with new taxes on services such as advertising, legal services, and mini-storage centers. It also calls for a property tax freeze, and predicts massive, unprecedented economic growth in future years to make up for any budgetary shortfalls.
 
At the center piece of the plan is the proposal to roll back Illinois’ temporary tax increase, signed into law in 2011 to deal with the state’s massive budget shortfall. Rauner says he'll phase out that tax hike over four years, and says he’ll fill the gap in state revenue with economic growth.
 
There’s only one problem: it ain’t gonna happen. According to the state's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, income tax revenue growth averaged just 6.8 percent between 1998 and 2013 in Illinois. But in order to make up for any gaps in his budget plan, Mr. Rauner expects those revenues to jump by almost 67 percent over just four years.
 
In other words, like so many Republican budget proposals, Rauner’s plan guts state revenue collection from one set of taxes and expects that miracle economic growth will make up the difference.
 
Read the plan, and you’ll discover there’s a bunch of other budget shenanigans in there, too, such as an expectation that he can freeze property taxes and not raise income taxes without gutting the way education is paid for in Illinois.
 
Still, whether Rauner’s budget plan makes sense or not doesn't really matter for his campaign. A recent poll, taken the day the budget plan was released, shows voters are ready to believe what Bruce is selling.
 
As detailed by Rich Miller in Crain’s Chicago Business, the blueprint polled very well, with 53 percent saying they'd be more likely to vote for Mr. Rauner as a result of his plan and just 32 percent said they'd be less likely to vote for him.
 
Which just goes to show: if you want voters to like you, tell them what they want to hear.
 
Especially if you’re promising them a tax cut without saying how you’ll make up the difference.
 
It’s one of the oldest political tricks in the book. 

It’s also no surprise Bruce Rauner believes it’s going to work.  

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<![CDATA[Rauner Mistakenly Vows to Tax "Trailer Parks" If Elected Governor]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:44:24 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Bruce_Rauner_budget.jpg

Bruce Rauner handed Pat Quinn yet another opening to attack his one-percenter lifestyle when the Republican gubernatorial candidate mistakenly pitched a plan to tax trailer parks.

"Only someone with nine homes would propose taxing trailer parks," said Quinn rep Brooke Anderson, issuing a rebuttal to the detailed new budget proposal Rauner released Thursday.

But wait! The Illinois venture capitalist happened to botch the wording in the section of his 22-page "Bring Back Blueprint" where he outlines a proposal to raise $600 million and broaden the sales tax for stuff he considers "non-essential and more luxury": golf memberships, charter flights and "trailer parks - overnight."

Say what?

As noted by Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, "Those aren't 'trailer parks,' they're RV campgrounds. So Brooke's attack is half valid, and the Rauner campaign brought it on themselves."

With November's election just four months away, Gov. Quinn has ramped up efforts to cast Rauner as an out-of-touch mega-millionaire and the recent revelation that the Winnetka businessman used a corporate tax loophole was like a gift to Quinn and other Democrats embroiled in tough re-election battles. But the unpopular Quinn remains a liability within his own party and he's trailing Rauner in the polls.

Responding to Rauner's "Blueprint," the governor sniped that it hurts working people and small businesses, declaring: "I'm not for the Rauner tax. This is a tax on business and everyday people as they go about their daily lives. I think it's a terrible idea."

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<![CDATA[Kirk Calls For Stronger Sanctions Against Russia]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 16:45:01 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mark+kirk+malaysia.jpg

Sen. Mark Kirk called Friday for stronger sanctions on Russia, saying he felt "horror" when he heard about the "totally unnecessary shoot-down" of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine.

Kirk told Ward Room that "immediate, effective, painful financial sanctions" are needed against those politically close to Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as special federal air regulations from the FAA prohibiting civil aircraft over Ukraine.

President Barack Obama said Friday the missile that downed the commercial jet with 298 people on board was fired from a separatist-held location in Ukraine, but it was too early to determine exactly who ordered the strike and why.

Kirk said the crash shows Putin issued advanced, front-line air defense missiles, and his allies should be punished.

"We should now mandate a study of an active defense system on major civil aircraft," Kirk said, "which I would say is any airliner with two aisles on it."

He also wants to look into active defense measures to make sure international travelers are less vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles.

As for Obama's response to the crash, Kirk said, "I wish I had seen a more empathetic and more specific response from the president today."



Photo Credit: NBCChicago.com]]>
<![CDATA[Michelle Obama Wants Place in Palm Springs: Report]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 15:10:23 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/michelle+obama9.jpg

Forget the breathless speculation over which city will host Barack Obama's much-coveted presidential library and museum. The bigger mystery: Will the president and first lady choose Chicago as their permanent post-White House residence?

Alas, all signs point to "no."

Native South Sider Michelle Obama loves California and is interested in getting a place in Palm Springs when the family leaves DC, reports the Sun-Times' Michael Sneed.

Meanwhile, echoing the most popular prediction, a veteran Obama campaign operative tells Ward Room that the Obamas will likely establish a home base in New York City rather than the Windy City, where the president first made his name. The political power couple, who own a home in Chicago, are "not coming back," said our source.

Last month, Politico reported that the president was telling friends he'd like to live in the Big Apple. At a 2012 fundraiser in Manhattan, he reportedly said: "I just desperately want to take a walk through Central Park again, and just remember what that feels like."

Michelle Obama returns to Chicago next week for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Waldorf-Astoria. She has said first daughter Sasha, 13, will have a big say in deciding where they move after her husband closes out his second term in 2017. Both Sasha and older sister, Malia, 16, attend Sidwell Friends School in Washington.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Emanuel Spends $10K on Cheesecake Deliveries]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:19:25 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Rahm+Emanuel+DNC+Speech.jpg

If you donate cash to Rahm Emanuel's re-election campaign, expect to find a gift-wrapped cheesecake on your doorstep.

The Chicago mayor doled out really big money -- about $10,000 in total -- on cheesecake thank-you's to campaign contributors over nine days in April, the Tribune reports. It's an Emanuel election cycle strategy-turned-tradition: Since October 2010, when he first made a play for City Hall's highest office, he invested upwards of $51,000 on decadent dessert deliveries from Eli's Cheesecake Company, and his targets aren't just political donors.

"He's wagered cheesecakes. He's paid off debts with cheesecakes. He sends cheesecakes to corporate CEOs he's trying to romance to come to Chicago,” says Emanuel rep Pete Giangreco, an apparent soundbite machine, adding: "Cheesecakes are the currency of Rahm.”

The cheesecake delivery has been the mayor's modus operandi stretching back to his six-year stint as U.S. Rep for the 5th Congressional District, where Eli's was headquartered. All told, he's given the bakery over $83,000 throughout his political career, adding up to around 2,800 cheesecakes. (Gym membership not included.)

Eli's now bills the Emanuel campaign on a quarterly basis, says owner Marc Shulman, observing: "We were the flip side to the dead fish. He wanted to send something from the district, and the cake became very popular and it became ... his signature item."

Emanuel, whose 2015 campaign war chest has ballooned to $8.9 million, mails the calorie-packed cakes only to donors who've offered the maximum $5,300 permitted under state law, according to the Trib. Quoth Giangreco: "If you max out, you get a cheesecake. It's the most expensive cheesecake you'll ever buy."

No word on whether Rahm's richest funders -- the ones who contribute far more than $5,300 -- score special limited-edition cheesecakes sprinkled with diamonds, real gold flakes and caviar dreams.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Prosecutors Fire Back at Blago Appeals Court Letter]]> Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:14:59 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/206*120/jjjpolitics005.jpg

Federal prosecutors fired back at Rod Blagojevich’s attorneys Friday, saying a recent court decision on campaign finance does not mean they have to prove that Blagojevich explicitly asked for something in return for campaign cash. 

Earlier this week, the former governor’s lawyers filed a last-minute letter with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that his jury was mis-instructed on the issue of campaign contributions, in light of a recent decision before the United States Supreme Court.

“Blagojevich’s conviction is based in large part on his attempts to solicit campaign contributions,” they wrote. “In this appeal, he argues that the lower court’s instructions to the jury on this issue, ‘omitted the quid pro quo requirement that the government prove that Blagojevich’s requests for campaign contributions were made in return for an “explicit promise or undertaking” to perform or not perform an official act.’”

Instead, they argue, the Blagojevich jury was told to convict on a lower standard that he attempted to obtain a campaign contribution, only “knowing or believing that it would be given to him in return for taking some kind of official action.

Attorney Leonard Goodman cited a recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Comm., which established that political contributions are protected speech under the First Amendment.

“The McCutcheon decision supports Blagojevich’s position that, where a criminal prosecution is based upon attempts to solicit campaign contributions, the government must prove a quid pro quo, or a promise,” Goodman wrote.

On Friday, federal prosecutors insisted the McCutcheon decision meant nothing of the kind, and that there was nothing wrong with the way the jury was instructed.

“Where campaign contributions were involved, the instructions (like the instructions related to bribery and fraud) correctly conditioned a finding of guilt on proof that defendant attempted to exchange a specific requested exercise of his official power (including the Senate appointment, signing of the Racetrack bill, and implementation of Medicaid reimbursement increase) for money or property in the form of such contributions,” wrote prosecutor Debra Riggs Bonamici.

“Nothing in the decision suggests that an exchange of contributions for specific acts is quid pro quo corruption only if the arrangement is stated explicitly or expressly.”

Blagojevich is serving 14 years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Timothy Cullerton Retirement Ends Family's 38th Ward Dominance]]> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 15:12:33 -0500 Timothy Cullerton | 38th Ward
After retiring from the city for nine years, Cullerton never expected to be working for Chicago again, but he's certainly happy he decided to. It's in his blood, after all. For 107 of the past 139 years, a Cullerton family member has held this seat. Read Full Profile. ]]>
Timothy Cullerton | 38th Ward
After retiring from the city for nine years, Cullerton never expected to be working for Chicago again, but he's certainly happy he decided to. It's in his blood, after all. For 107 of the past 139 years, a Cullerton family member has held this seat. Read Full Profile. ]]>
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It's the end of an era.

After a reign stretching back decades, the Cullerton clan -- one of Chicago's oldest and most powerful political families -- has loosened its grip on the 38th Ward. On Wednesday, Ald. Timothy Cullerton announced he wouldn't run for re-election next year, thereby paving the way for new blood to take over the Northwest Side zone.

"At the end of this term, I'm going to be 66, and it's time to spend some time with the grandkids and all that," Cullerton tells the Trib. "I don’t know if I want to be alderman when I’m 70 years old at the end of a second term."

Cullerton's looming retirement will mark the first time in years that a member of his storied family won't be in charge of the 38th Ward -- so far, no relative has stepped up to keep the tradition going. The ex-deputy city buildings commissioner became alderman in 2011, replacing brother-in-law Thomas Allen, who ended an 18-year tenure for a new gig as a Cook County judge. Prior to Allen, Thomas Cullerton -- Timothy's father -- served in the post for 20 years until his 1993 death.

The Cullertons have been involved in Chicago politics almost consistently since the the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the year saloon keeper Edward "Foxy Ed" Cullerton was elected to City Council.

Foxy Ed descendants in Illinois politics include Timothy Cullerton's cousins, Senate President John Cullerton and Democratic state Sen. Thomas Cullerton, and his sister, P.J. Cullerton, the 38th Ward Democratic committeeman.

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings: 36th Ward Ald. Nicholas Sposato, who's considering jumping over to the 38th after his ward was redrawn to encompass a greater number of Latino voters.

"In a sense, I was an accidental alderman," says Cullerton, who reliably backed legislation by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and current boss Rahm Emanuel. "I really enjoy the work, but don’t enjoy the politics."

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<![CDATA[Bobby Rush Dings Emanuel, Urges Lewis to Run for Mayor]]> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:14:09 -0500 Bobby Rush
1st Congressional District
Democrat]]>
Bobby Rush
1st Congressional District
Democrat]]>
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Stopping short of an official endorsement, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush encouraged Karen Lewis to challenge Rahm Emanuel in Chicago's upcoming mayoral election.

"Anytime you have healthy opposition, it is healthy for the city," Rush tells the Sun-Times, adding: "If she is serious about running, then I would encourage her to run."

(My esteemed Ward Room colleague Mark W. Anderson agrees, saying "nothing could be worse politically for the City of Chicago than for the current mayor to waltz back into office with out any serious electoral opposition.")

The fiery Chicago Teachers Union boss is deciding whether to throw her hat into the ring for February 2015 amid heavy pressure. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle publicly ruled out a run for Chicago's highest office this week, redirecting the spotlight on Lewis as the next-best candidate. With the frontrunner out of the picture, and few viable substitutes willing to step up, it's looking more and more likely that Lewis will eventually cave to supporters' pleas and add herself to the ballot.

In the event, her campaign could get some get-out-the-vote assistance from South Side stalwart Rush and fellow Democratic congressman Danny Davis, who reps the city's West Side. The two hit the House floor on Wednesday to lament the violent outbreaks and racial discrimination plaguing the Windy City.

"When the leaders of my city, when the mayor stands proudly and takes credit for closing 54 public schools that are mostly on the South and West Sides of the City of Chicago, there is nothing but a continuation of the decades-long disinvestment in good-quality schools," said Rush.

Emanuel is on shaky turf with black voters whose antipathy toward the mayor has grown dramatically since he took the helm at City Hall three years ago. Among the criticisms: He's more invested in transforming this midwestern metropolis into a global tourist destination than in fixing its broken school system.

Lewis, meanwhile, is polling nine points ahead of Emanuel in a newly published Sun-Times poll that reveals overwhelming support from black voters surveyed. On Thursday, the social media-savvy union leader retweeted a link to the paper's pro-Lewis interviews with Rush and Davis.

All the same, anyone who enters a showdown with Emanuel will have to match the threat of his vast storehouse of campaign cash -- $8.3 million and counting -- not to mention his splashy network of all-star connections including Bill, Hillary and President Obama. (Emanuel might not be able to buy Chicago's unconditional love with his money, but his money is scaring off the most worthy of challengers who feel they couldn't compete. Copy that for those brave souls who tried, and failed, to knock gazillionaire ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg off the ballot.)

And, as Anderson observes, an Emanuel-Lewis contest wouldn't be pretty. For one, Emanuel's war chest would fund a brutal attack on Lewis' character and experience, casting her as a "dangerous radical out of touch with the needs of everyday Chicagoans."

That said, Lewis seems up for it. And the sharp-witted activist has no shortage of Rahm-related insults to hurl back his direction.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Opinion: Watch Out, Karen. The Knives Will be Long and Sharp.]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 12:35:00 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/karen+lewis+0619.jpg
From the start, let me just say this: I want Karen Lewis to run for mayor.
 
Heck, I want anyone of substance to oppose Rahm Emanuel in 2015. I think nothing could be worse politically for the City of Chicago than for the current mayor to waltz back into office with out any serious electoral opposition.
 
And there’s more than one candidate who could give Emanuel a run for his money. I’m looking at you, Alderman Fioretti.
 
For her part, though, I think Chicago Teachers Union President Lewis would make a great candidate. She’s an outstanding labor leader and an an effective voice for Chicagoans on issues around race, poverty and politics. She also understands education and pension issues like few others, and commands an energized 30,000 member union ready and willing to wade into electoral politics in Chicago.
 
So, yeah: Run, Karen, run.
 
But the thought of Karen Lewis running for mayor also fills me with a certain kind of dread. Not for anything Lewis may or may not do. But because of the kinds of things that will be done to her and her potential campaign. And who, exactly, will be doing it.
 
A Lewis campaign will stand at the center of a number of political issues and dynamics currently running loose in this country. Such as education reform and the battle over charter schools. Such as issues around poverty and immigration. And the ongoing, well-financed attack on unions and labor.
 
And, since this is Chicago, questions around race and who really has the right to occupy fifth floor of City Hall.
 
As a good political progressive who wants what’s best for the city I love, I welcome those debates. But I’d feel a whole lot happier if I thought for a moment that they would be conducted fairly and on an even playing field, and wouldn't devolve into personal attacks and smears.
 
But I’m not sure that will be the case. This is Chicago, after all, where’s its been famously said that “politics ain’t beanbag.”
 
Which means, in short, that the political spoils in Chicago are too important to be left to chance.
 
I can't say exactly how a Lewis-Emanuel matchup would play out on the campaign trail. But if I know anything about Chicago politics, I can take a couple of educated guesses.
 
First off, there’s going to be $8 million or $10 million or $12 million in the Rahm Emanuel campaign fund, ready to paint Lewis as a political neophyte who’s not ready to run a big city. Or worse, a dangerous radical out of touch with the needs of everyday Chicagoans.
 
Expect a whole lot of campaign commercials with Emanuel surrounded by smiling kids, wearing a hard hat at construction projects or smiling with appreciative senior citizens, followed by a blurry, black-and white image of Lewis riling up a crowd with a deep male voice suggesting she’s wrong for Chicago.
 
Then there’s the outside money, ready to pour whatever it takes into a Chicago mayor’s race on the chance that a staunch opponent to so-called education reform and charter schools might be publicly humiliated and taken down on Election Day.
 
Next come the political operators and ideologues who find the idea of a powerful black woman completely unacceptable, ready to call Lewis a communist, race-baiter, un-American or worse.
 
In fact, in that regard, it’s already started.
 
Finally, there’s the Chicagoans who like the city exactly the way it is, thank you very much. From downtown financiers to bungalow belt voters to anyone afraid of change in a town notorious for it’s slavish devotion to political incumbency, Lewis could be a hard sell to those who prefer to shut their eyes to the real problems their city faces.
 
So, watch out, Karen. While I hope you run and think you’d be a great candidate, I know the knives will be out from the day you announce.
 
The good news is: I know you know it, too. And you’ll be ready for it when it comes.
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<![CDATA[Obama Library Foundation Unmasks Identities of Deep-Pocketed Donors]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 12:14:23 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP116168739397.jpg

Since launching earlier this year, the Barack Obama Foundation has raised as much as $1.75 million from deep-pocketed donors like Chicago investor Michael Sacks for the construction of a presidential library and museum.

The foundation named names on Tuesday, voluntarily unmasking contributors' identities on its website. They are: Sacks and his wife, Cari; Jim and Marilyn Simons, and Tim Collins, each offering between $250,001 and $500,000. Two others, Lise Strickler and Mark Gallogly, together donated somewhere in the ballpark of $100,001 and $250,000.

The precise amounts were not disclosed, so the collective first-quarter fundraising tally lies within the range of $850,000 and $1.75 million. The foundation -- headed up by Obama's best friend, Marty Nesbitt -- has said it would regularly reveal contributions of more than $200. The Obamas won't start raising money for the library until leaving the White House in 2016.

Michael Sacks is the CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, a funder of hedge funds based in Chicago, and a veteran Obama campaign bundler as well as a confidante of Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who's itching to snag the tourist trap for this city.) Cari Sacks is an active patron of the arts here in the Windy City and recently served on the president's advisory committee on the arts for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

New York-based hedge fund manager and math whiz Jim Simons donated some $2 million to Democratic super PACS in the run-up to 2012's presidential election. Collins sits on the board of directors at Citigroup.

Gallogly, an investor from New York, is another Obama bundler and member of the president's economic recovery advisory board. He also serves on the business-school board at the president's alma mater, Columbia University, which is vying for the library alongside a host of Chicago universities and the University of Hawaii.

Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, an education activist in Honolulu, and his ex-senior adviser David Plouffe recently joined the library group's board. Nesbitt said a decision on the location will be made in early 2015.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Blago Lawyers File Letter with Appeals Court]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 14:03:17 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/206*120/jjjpolitics005.jpg

Attorneys for former governor Rod Blagojevich have filed a last-minute letter with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, arguing that his jury was mis-instructed on the issue of campaign contributions.

“Blagojevich’s conviction is based in large part on his attempts to solicit campaign contributions,” they wrote.  “In this appeal, he argues that the lower court’s instructions to the jury on this issue, ‘omitted the quid pro quo requirement that the government prove that Blagojevich’s requests for campaign contributions were made in return for an “explicit promise or undertaking” to perform or not perform an official act.’”
 
Instead, they argue, the Blagojevich jury was told to convict on a lower standard that he tried to obtain a campaign contribution, only “knowing or believing that it would be given to him in return for taking some kind of official action."
 
In Wednesday's filing, attorney Leonard Goodman cites the recent decision in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, which established that political contributions are protected speech under the First Amendment.
 
“The McCutcheon decision supports Blagojevich’s position that, where a criminal prosecution is based upon attempts to solicit campaign contributions, the government must prove a quid pro quo, or a promise,” Goodman wrote.
 
The Blagojevich appeal was argued before the Seventh Circuit last December, and a decision from the court is expected any day. It isn’t clear why the lawyers felt the need to file this last-minute clarification.
 
Blagojevich is serving a 14-year term at the Federal Correctional Center in Englewood, Colorado.
 


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cardinal George Hopes to Help Border Children]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 10:11:19 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Cardinal_George_4-8.jpg

Cardinal Francis George is reportedly taking a stance on the immigration crisis facing the nation.

George told the Chicago Sun-Times he plans to ask the federal government for permission to feed and house unaccompanied children being brought to the United States from Central American countries.

George said the children are “in danger and without adequate shelter” and noted there needs to be “a compassionate and merciful response.”

The report states the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Maryville Academy would provide the services for more than 400 children currently housed in nine Heartland Alliance locations.

A spokeswoman for the cardinal said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department will make a decision on whether or not they can aid the children after Aug. 6.

The announcement comes after Pope Francis said he wants tens of thousands of Central American children crossing the border into the United States to be “welcomed and protected.”

The pontiff said that immigration has been a hallmark of modern society.

"Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically," Francis said. "Many of their rights are violated. They are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes."

He highlighted the crisis at the U.S. border and said the world must promote development in the home countries from where the children emigrate.

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<![CDATA[Rauner Invests $750K Into Illinois Republican Party]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 16:01:39 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/rauner_5_19.jpg

Once a venture capitalist, always a venture capitalist.

Bruce Rauner, Illinois' Republican candidate for governor, received $853,450 in campaign donations between July 3-9. He turned around and invested $750,000 into the state's GOP -- the largest-ever contribution to the party by a single candidate, the Chicago Tribune reports.

With November's midterm elections four months away, Rauner is plowing ahead in his efforts to out-spend Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn. So far, the wealthy Winnetka businessman -- who leads Quinn 51-39 in a new poll -- has raised almost $25.2 million since announcing his candidacy last year. A portion of that includes $6.6 million from Rauner's own pocket and $2.5 million from Chicago hedge fund mogul Ken Griffin.

Rauner's early July checks come courtesy of the Illinois Manufacturing Association, shelling out $250,000 and Thomas Siebel, offering $100,000. Siebel is the CEO of C3, a software company headquartered in Redwood City, Calif.

News of his record-breaking, six-figure investment into Illinois Republican Party comes amid public mea culpas for financing companies that engaged in bad business while he was chairman of the Chicago-based venture capital firm GTCR, which he founded 30-some years ago.

Most damning is GTCR's history of backing American Habilitation Services, a Florida nursing home chain being blamed for the deaths and mistreatment of residents. Its business model was based on turning a profit from residents' Medicare coverage. (Ironically, Rauner's most recent tax returns reveal he used a corporate tax loophole to avoid Medicare payments.)

"All I could say is I wish we were perfect, I wish we always picked the right management team that alwys did the right thing and accomplished the right results," Rauner said Monday, showing a humbler, more vulnerable side than we've previously seen. "That management team failed. It was a bad investment for us. We’re not perfect. What we are proud of is our track record. We’ve generally backed great management teams, we’ve invested in companies that did the right thing, got great results."

Earlier this week, Rauner expressed further regret over investing in a troubled VC firm tied to the son of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

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<![CDATA[Political Attack Ads Target 'Drama'-Craving Crime Show Viewers ]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:48:47 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Law_And_Order_SVU_cast_722x406_1909547587.jpg

There's a reason why your primetime "Law & Order: SVU" binges are being interrupted with an increasing number of negative political commercials.

As it happens, politicians' campaigns and the special interests that back them are intentionally programming their gloomiest, most attack-y ads during gritty procedural crime dramas that air in primetime, according to new research from The Cook Political Report's Elizabeth Wilner.

Almost 77 percent of political spots that aired during police, mystery and suspense series were negative in tone, followed by 71 percent of entertainment magazine programs.

Political media buyers know that "if you are watching between the hours of 7 and 11, you already are tuning in for some sort of violence or character assassination," Wilner told USA Today in an interview, adding: "You are primed … for drama anyway."

The study focused on 2014 general election ads that aired Jan.1 through June 30 in Senate, House and governor races dubbed toss-ups by the Cook Political Report.

One of those is the contentious battle between Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, for which there's been a majority of positive TV messaging despite months of mutual mud-slinging. The pendulum could soon swing the other direction now that Rauner has gone negative with his full-scale "Broken Promises" assault on Quinn last week.

The No. 1 issue in the Quinn-Rauner small-screen showdown? The state budget and government spending, thanks to an aggressive push by Team Rauner, which is also churning out the lion's share of spots related to taxes, jobs, unions and education. Camp Quinn, meanwhile, owns a plurality of messages devoted to minimum wage, healthcare and Rauner's ongoing nursing home scandal.

Positive ads were on the decline for another hotly contested Illinois race pitting U.S. Rep Brad Schneider, a Democrat, against GOP rival Bob Dold, in Chicago's northern suburbs.

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<![CDATA[Opinion: Kirk Should be Ashamed on Refugee Children Call]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 14:58:52 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/205*120/Mark+Kirk+Near+Death+p1.jpg
Apparently, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk has never heard the phrase “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
 
Or, perhaps he’s heard it, and just doesn't believe it. Maybe that’s the most charitable explanation for his recent suggestion that unaccompanied minor children fleeing chaos and gang violence in places like Guatemala and Honduras are really just criminals looking to exploit U.S. citizens.
 
Since October, 2013, more than 52,000 children, most from Central America and many unaccompanied by adults, have been caught coming into the United States by border authorities.
 
Many, if not all, of the children are fleeing horrible conditions in their home countries. A 2014 report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found 58 percent of the unaccompanied children are motivated by safety concerns, fearing conditions back home.
 
And for good reason. Conditions in places like Guatemala have moved from a country with a gang and drug problem to more like a failed nation-state, with a complete breakdown of civil authority and law enforcement. It makes sense families and children living a life of murder, rape and ongoing violence would seek the means to flee to a better, more prosperous country.
 
But that doesn't seem to matter to Senator Kirk. On July 10, he sent a letter to the U.S. ambassadors to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador asking whether their Embassies have performed criminal background checks on the unaccompanied children entering the United States. 
 
In short, Kirk called refugee kids fleeing horrific conditions for a better life “criminals”, saying they represent a “serious threat to our country and communities.”
 
Imagine what it must be like to be a seven, 10 or 12 year old boy or girl that has to flee a home town filled with violence and murder, only to travel alone across an entire continent to an unfamiliar land. To place your life and well-being in the hands of strangers who may say they’ll transport you safely, but are just as likely to hurt or kill you on the way.
 
The truth is, no one flees a hellhole like that simply for a better chance to be a criminal someplace else. Not as a child.
 
Yet, that doesn't matter to Kirk. Instead, he’s too busy scoring political points with fellow Republicans and Tea party members who see any immigration activity as a sign America is about to run over by an illegal alien horde. For proof, just look at the fact that Kirk later attempted to blame President Obama, calling the administration “incompetent” and “Obama’s Katrina” for it’s response to the current crisis.
 
Naturally, those on the far right of the political spectrum now think Kirk is right on the money, and doing an excellent job of speaking truth to power.
 
But Kirk couldn't be more wrong. It goes without saying, after all, that America was founded by taking in those fleeing intolerable conditions back home, and has always had a special place for the children of refugees seeking a better life.
 
As Emma Lazarus said back in 1883:
 
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
 
Please take note, Senator Kirk. Nowhere in that famous poem does it ay anything about treating children like criminals simply because the want to be Americans.    
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<![CDATA[Toni Preckwinkle Rules Out Run for Chicago Mayor]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 17:32:35 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Toni+Preckwinkle1.jpg

Toni Preckwinkle has decided not to run against Rahm Emanuel for Chicago mayor, the Cook County Board president announced Tuesday.

She released the following statement on her decision:

"I have decided to rule out a run for Mayor of Chicago in 2015 because I made a commitment to reform Cook County's criminal justice system, transform our healthcare system, and ensure the viability of our pension system. We are making progress, but we still have work to do. I'm proud that we have balanced the budget every year while cutting the sales tax, holding the line on property taxes, and cutting a billion dollars of fat out of our budget.

"I am equally proud that our economic development initiatives have helped position our region to create new jobs in the near future. I promised to clean up Cook county government and we are changing the culture of how we do business. In many instances we have vastly improved the delivery of services to county residents, but we have a lot of unfinished business that I intend to address wholeheartedly. I am passionate about making Cook County a more fair and efficient place to live and work.

"I appreciate all of those who have expressed confidence in me by urging me to run for Mayor, and I hope you will continue to support me going forward."

In response, Emanuel called Preckwinkle "a strong partner in tackling many of the challenges facing Chicago neighborhoods, and an outspoken voice for criminal justice and pension reform."

He praised the cooperation between Chicago and Cook County for producing more than $65 million in taxpayer savings.

"I agree that we have more work to do together on these and other issues so that we can find ways to improve Chicago and Cook County for everybody," he said.

As recently as last month, Preckwinkle hadn't said whether she planned to run against Emanuel next year.

When asked during a news conference in June, she only said she's running for re-election as board president, noting a "big to-do list" lies ahead for that job.

Meanwhile, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is mulling a bid. Those close to Lewis say she has been “seriously considering” running for mayor and it appears she has some voters on her side.

A recent poll conducted by We Ask America found that if the mayoral election were held now, Lewis would beat Emanuel by 9 percentage points in a head-to-head contest.

In response to Preckwinkle's announcement, Lewis spokeswomwn Stephanie Gadlin said, "Things just got a little bit realer for Karen Lewis."

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<![CDATA[Daley Wants Health Records Private in Park Grill Suit]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:03:45 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/daley+first.jpg

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley wants only the judge in Chicago's lawsuit against the Park Grill owners to see his medical records.

Daley's attorneys have filed their response in the city’s case to end the long-standing agreement with the Millennium Park restaurant, explaining why Daley wants an “in camera” inspection – for the judge only -- of his medical records rather than release them in open court.  

One of his attorneys, Terrence Burns, cites “Mr. Daley’s medical information is privileged and confidential.”

No medical records have yet been filed. Daley’s attorneys are waiting for the judge to rule next week on their request.

The 72-year-old Daley reportedly suffered a stroke in January but has not confirmed it. The recent response filed late Monday notes his “medical information has no bearing on any claim or defense in the litigation.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to end the contract with the clout-heavy investors. Daley’s attorney says the former mayor has a medical hardship and “has offered to provide evidence by way of medical affidavits” but wants those records “reviewed in camera” because they “contain information that is private, confidential and privileged.” 

He notes “medical information is protected under federal law by HIPAA.” He also cites an appellate court case that an “in camera review is an appropriate procedure and is routinely used when a judicial decision concerns information claimed to be covered by some rule of confidentiality or privilege.”

The attorneys for the Park Grill have until Friday, July 18, to file a response.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Study Determines Cost of Corruption in Illinois]]> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 09:24:48 -0500 http://media.nbcchicago.com/images/212*120/Money_generic.jpg

How much does corruption in Illinois cost taxpayers? According to a new study, more than $1,300 per person.

According to the Northwest Indiana Times, a recent study conducted by Indiana University professor John Mikesell and Assistance Professor of Pubilc Policy at City University of Hong Kong found that crimes committed by elected officials in the most corrupt states in the U.S. – including Illinois—take a toll on residents.

The study determined that if states with higher than normal corruption had the average amount of corruption, they would have spent 5.2 percent less from 1997 to 2008—which comes to an average of $1,308 per person.

The professors dubbed that price a “corruption tax.”

"The empirical results show that states with higher levels of corruption tend to spend more on items on which corrupt officials may levy larger bribes at the expense of others," they said. "Policy makers should pay close attention that public resources are not used for private gains of the few but rather distributed effectively and fairly for various purposes."

According to the report, Illinois in 2013 spent $932.47 per person more than Indiana. Indiana also reportedly spent more than twice as much from its general fund on education than Illinois.

The complete study is published in the May/June issue of Public Administration Review.

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