Chicago's Top 10 Political Stories of 2012

1.  Barack Obama re-elected president. On Nov. 6, the only president ever from Chicago was elected to a second term. Because of security concerns, this time he celebrated indoors, with 10,000 supporters at a McCormick Place exhibition hall. It was an historic victory: Obama was only the fourth president in the last 100 years to win a majority of the popular vote twice, putting him in the same company as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

2. Chicago Teachers Union strike. On Sept. 10, the 30,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, canceling classes for 350,000 students in the nation’s third-largest school district. At issue: school closings, teacher tenure, a longer school day and the school board’s cancellation of a promised 4 percent raise. CTU President Karen Lewis also complained that Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not “respect” teachers. Lasting seven days, the strike became an issue in the presidential campaign – Mitt Romney used it as an occasion to attack teachers’ unions – and resulted in the dismissal of Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

3. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s resignation. In June, 17-year Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. disappeared from Congress. His staff claimed “exhaustion,” but Jackson later turned up at the Mayo Clinic, where he was treated for bipolar disorder. The congressman, who had once aspired to be mayor or senator, was facing a federal investigation over an alleged attempt to buy Barack Obama’s Senate seat, and had been caught flying his mistress into Chicago on a contributor’s dime. Three days after his re-election, he resigned from Congress.

4. Illinois pension crisis. Illinois has a $85 billion gap between its pension obligations and its ability to pay them. It’s the most underfunded pension system in the nation, which has caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade its credit rating from A-plus to A, making it more expensive for the state to borrow money. Gov. Pat Quinn introduced a cartoon character called “Squeezy the Python” to draw attention to the problem.

5. Chicago’s murder rate. Chicago once again became the deadliest city in America, surpassing its 2011 total of 433 murders in late October. The violence was the result of small gangs fighting over turf no longer controlled by Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords or Latin Kings after their leaders went to prison. It put the city’s new police commissioner, Garry McCarthy, on the hot seat, and inspired a new genre of music called drill, making the city the new gangsta rap capital of America.

6. Rep. Joe Walsh says Tammy Duckworth is not a “true hero.” It was one of the most-watched congressional races in the nation. Walsh, the loudmouthed Tea Partier who called President Obama a liar and refused to vote for House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling deal, versus Duckworth, who lost both legs when her Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Iraq. Walsh made national news when he said “true heroes” don’t boast about their military records, as he accused Duckworth of doing. Duckworth won, with 55 percent of the vote.

7. Illinois Democrats win back four congressional seats, veto-proof majorities in legislature. According to POLITICO, House Speaker Michael Madigan “punched his ticket to the partisan hall of fame” with redistricting maps that made the already-struggling Illinois Republican even more irrelevant. As a result of Madigan’s cartography, five Republican congressmen from Illinois lost their seats, and both he and Senate President John Cullerton achieved veto-proof majorities in their houses – which will make Gov. Pat Quinn even more irrelevant.

8. The NATO summit comes to Chicago. Chicago was supposed to be the site of an unprecedented gathering of world leaders last spring: the heads of state of the G-8 and the defense secretaries of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was a gift from Barack Obama to his handpicked mayor, Rahm Emanuel. However, concerns about demonstrations by anarchists and left-wing groups, plus police complaints that they didn’t have time to prepare for the protests, led Obama to hold the G-8 summit at Camp David instead.

9. Mark Kirk’s stroke. In January, Sen. Mark Kirk suffered a stroke that has kept him away from the Senate for the entire year. Kirk showed the progress he has made in his rehabilitation by climbing the top 37 stories of the Willis Tower, and plans to return to work on Jan. 3.

10. Rod Blagojevich reports to prison. On March 15, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich reported to a federal prison in Colorado to begin serving his 14-year sentence for corruption.  After saying goodbye to his wife and daughters – “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do” – Blagojevich boarded a flight to Denver. “I keep thinking about a place, like a military thing that I am reporting to do military service,” he said before walking through the gate. “It is a little game I play with myself. The sad reality is that’s a prison.”

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