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Proviso Probe

Monday, September 28, 2009

ask the D209 Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) what's wrong with Proviso Township High Schools

Tonight, Monday, September 28, 2009, at 7 PM the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) assigned to Proviso Township High Schools, District 209 (D209) will take questions from the public at Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) at First Ave and Roosevelt. Enter from the parking lot north of the building.

I recommend asking the following questions:

Questions for District 209 Financial Oversight Panel

1. All school districts in Illinois are graded on a 4.0 scale for their financial health and compliance. Districts under 3.0 are considered troubled. The most recent scoring for District 209 is 0.0. Were there any other 0.0 districts in Illinois? What does it mean that the district scored 0.0?

2.With proper management should a school district be able to keep itself from the financial watch list? Or is it just part of the cycle that school districts have to raise taxes periodically and if they don't raise taxes a district will find itself on the watch list?

3.To what extent will a Financial Oversight Panel assigned by the Illinois State Board of Education explain to citizens that specific decisions caused the financial crisis in a school district? Is the role of the FOP to tell the citizens what specific malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance caused their school district to become financially “in extremis”? Or is the role of the FOP focused on telling a district and its citizens what will need to be cut if a tax increase is not implemented?

4.How does D209 rank in Illinois and suburban Cook County in terms of per student spending?

5.How does D209 rank in Illinois and suburban Cook County in terms of taxable real estate per student?

6.If D209 spends more than all but a few districts, what caused the district to land on the financial watch list?

7.Is D209 “underfunded”? If D209 has adequate resources, what caused the district to become a financial watchlist district? Besides the board of education, the superintendent and the assistant superintendent for business services, who else is responsible for D209 landing on the financial watchlist? What are the top three causes of D209 being on the financial watchlist?

8.In what areas is D209 spending particularly high? Does the district spend an unusual amount of money servicing debt? Is the faculty collective bargaining agreement particularly generous? Is non-faculty staff spending unusual either based on the number of staff or the compensation levels? Are costs associated with the three school buildings unusually high? Does the district spend an inordinate amount on legal bills and court settlements? Where should the district look to cut expenses?

9.Does the FOP have the expertise and authority to evaluate whether D209 legal bills and court settlements were legal, appropriate and good deals for the district?

10.D209 has a number of personal relationships that could reasonably be considered conflicts of interest. For example, a number of D209 employees (Ron Anderson, Tommie Miller and Althea Busby) serve on the board of education for District 88. The president of the D209 BOE (Emanuel “Chris” Welch) has billed hundreds of thousands of dollars as the attorney for District 88. Welch has also dated Nikita Johnson, the D209 assistant superintendent for business services for a couple years. Johnson is also the niece of D209 board member Robin Foreman. Is the FOP authorized to make judgments that the conflicts of interest at D209, either individually or as a group, contributed to the financial problems of D209?

11.D209 has experienced a high level of stability of governance of the BOE. Welch has been president for almost a decade. During this time D209 has experienced a high level of instability in the superintendent position. Is there a correlation between problem districts and stability or instability in the superintendent position or in the board of education?

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ali ElSaffar is candidate for Cook County Assessor

Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar is running for Cook County Assessor. ElSaffar is also President of the Cook County Township Assessors Association. The current assessor is Jim Houlihan. The Cook County Democratic Party has endorsed Joe Berrios who is a member of the Board of Review and Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

ElSaffar's campaign is looking for people to gather signatures. If you're interested, sign up on the campaign website.

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what happens if you wreck you car and become incapacitated?

The Illinois Secretary of State is allowing people to register two phone numbers that emergency personnel can contact in the event an Illinois driver becomes incapacitated. See the Secretary of State website.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

District 209 BOE meeting, September 21, 2009

On Monday, September 21, the Proviso Township High Schools (District 209) board of education held its regular (monthly) meeting at Proviso East High School.

This was the first meeting I've attended in a significant period of time, and to me the meeting seemed different.

There were fewer people attending, but this may have been due to no parents or students being invited for the student and staff recognition portion of the meeting. Things seemed more sedate. No members of the community asked questions. The BOE has stopped hiring a cop to intimidate people who would criticize the BOE.

Board member Theresa Kelly made the comment to me after the meeting that between the district being financially strapped and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) there is less opportunity for the D209 BOE to engage in financial shenanigans.

In the past most board meetings had relatively low participation by board members. In the extreme, board president Emanuel “Chris” Welch would dutifully proceed through the agenda and Kelly would ask questions and the rest of the board members limited their participation to making motions to implement the agenda and voting.

At times the board seemed to be holding an actual conversation. Board member Kevin McDermott grilled Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Nikita Johnson on the monthly financial report. And then Board member Brian Cross also asked a question. When Kelly asked about the Alternate School Facility, she made a point and board member Robin Foreman supported her on the point.

Targeting Achievement through Governance (TAG)

Prior to the 7 PM board meeting, the school board held a committee of the whole presentation (minus board member Dan Adams who arrived fifteen minutes late to the regular meeting, missing the committee meeting entirely) by Steve Clark of the Illinois Association of School Boards. Clark was pitching a program called Targeting Achievement through Governance (TAG) (pdf) that would train D209 board members and work with the district to make the BOE more effective.

Clark made two claims that I noted. One, he claimed that at least one district that had done TAG had moved off the financial watch list before completing TAG.

Clark also claimed that an Iowa study correlated board effectiveness and school achievement. I'm curious how one measures the effectiveness of a BOE. Communities with their act together probably have effective school boards and effective schools. Proviso does not have its act together. And maybe the dysfunctional school results from the larger community being dysfunctional. Maybe District 209 can't be substantially improved without dealing with Proviso's issues.


D209 claims to have increased the attendance rate to 88%. Credit was given the new busing program and generally making an effort to illicit better behavior in the hallways.

I have not checked with any independent sources if the discipline is better in the school.

Busing students seems to be a solid idea.

I did get annoyed at Welch's claim that, “We've all received phone calls [praising improved discipline at the schools].” There are two board members I seriously doubt get calls from any Proviso residents who aren't personally connected to them. My experience calling Foreman was that she said, “Don't call me at this number” and hung up without giving me another number to call her at. In years of watching D209 board meetings, I have yet to see any evidence Adams cares a whit about the students, taxpayers, staff or anything else.

Computer Science II

D209 has cut the computer science curriculum drastically as part of budget cuts. If I understood the situation correctly, Proviso East and Proviso West have cut all computer science classes and PMSA cut computer science II, leaving the magnet school with just one computer science class.

During her presentation to the BOE, McDermott asked Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Cheryl Pruitt if there was plans to restore computer science II. Pruitt responded, “Yes,” and there was a long pause. After it became clear that was all the response Pruitt intended to give McDermott asked what those plans were. Pruitt responded that when the budget increased computer science II will be restored.

The exchange made Pruitt look unprofessional. And Pruitt is clueless if she thinks Proviso taxpayers are going to open their wallets for a tax increase. The school district spends plenty of money and delivers horrid results. That's reality. Taxpayers who are pinched because of the tight economy aren't going to vote D209 more money.

What to do with the leftover $1.2 million for PMSA?

McDermott grilled Assistant Superintendent Johnson on $1.2 million leftover from the construction of PMSA. After some ugly attempts to deflect the issue, the district's attorney Michael DeBartolo and board president Welch threw Johnson lifelines.

Johnson was briefing the district's monthly cash flow situation when McDermott asked about transfering the $1.2 million from the construction fund to operations and maintenance. McDermott pointed out this was not allowed.

(The transfer was suspended by the FOP pending review. I surmise McDermott learned that the move was illegal at that point.)

DeBartolo informed McDermott he had made a legal ruling that excess money could be moved this way. (I surmise he reasoned the money shouldn't just sit there.)

McDermott raised the issue that using the money for something other than the construction of PMSA required D209 to provide a tax abatement to Proviso taxpayers.

Johnson explained that the abatement would be in the future (two years) and that moving the money would allow it to be used now.

McDermott told Johnson that if she was recommending the BOE move money in a way that violated Illinois law that she should have explained the ramifications of her recommendation.

Johnson said she didn't discuss the tax abatement with the BOE because it “doesn't affect the current year.”

Johnson was clearly foundering at this point. DeBartolo threw the first lifeline. DeBartolo explained that currently school districts can only increase taxes at the rate of inflation. In the future they will be able to increase taxes at 5%. So, D209 can provide an abatement in the future, but it won't hurt the district because the district will be able to raise taxes sufficiently to cover the abatement. To me it sounded like DeBartolo was advocating the district ignore the law requiring the abatement, but I'm not an attorney.

DeBartolo also mentioned that he recommended completing the audit of the PMSA construction so D209 can certify the project really is complete.

At this point McDermott asked about the audit. Johnson said there was a draft audit from 1 ½ year ago. It was incomplete and that she doesn't intend to circulate it until it's complete. To me Johnson sounded like she was hiding something. D209 has changed accounting firms. This would account for the audit being incomplete, but not Johnson's reluctance to share the incomplete audit with the board.

Welch then threw Johnson her next lifeline. Welch noted that the board had already acted to move the money to the operations and maintenance fund. The FOP tabled the issue, so it was out of the purview of the BOE.

Welch's reasoning sounded persuasive at the time. But it's flawed. Johnson asked the BOE to do something illegal so she would have an extra $1.2 million to make her budget work. The BOE voted to move the money, but did so without full information. The BOE has the power to undo the illegal decision.

I would recommend that at the next board meeting the BOE take whatever action is necessary to bring D209 into compliance with Illinois law on this matter. I would further recommend that the BOE have a conversation with Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart about Johnson. Senior staff recommending the BOE violate the law and withholding the fact that the recommended action violates the law is a bad thing. In fact, I imagine many organizations would fire a staff member for doing this.

Did Johnson make the recommendation because she doesn't know the law? Did Johnson and Collins-Hart conspire to dupe the BOE? Or was Johnson's illegal recommendation unauthorized?

Cross then asked how long D209 can go without issuing tax anticipation warrants? Apparently the Cook County Treasurer is behind on paying local taxing bodies. Johnson responded D209 has money to operate through late November, early December.

Employees terminated

Kelly asked if any of the employees terminated were asked to resign or were fired. The superintendent replied they weren't. (By tradition D209 BOE votes to approve employees that have quit. This has always seemed odd to me because the BOE has no power to “disapprove”.)

[More to be added later]

RIP Tom Dix

The meeting started with the acknowledgment that PMSA instructor Thomas Dix recently died. He was the faculty rep for the robotics team.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Stroger fires Commissioner Robert Steele's brother

Cook Count Commissioner Robert Steele voted to repeal the Todd Stroger tax increase multiple times.

Last week Steele's brother Byron Steele was fired. See Sun-Times (Carol Marin and Lisa Donovan).
Called in by his boss, James D'Amico, Byron Steele said he was told, "This is a decision from the president, it comes from on high."

There's a scene in Apollo 13 where James Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) tells Ken Mattingly (played by Gary Sinise) that he's not going to be part of the mission because he's been exposed to German Measles.

Mattingly (Sinise) asks to appeal the decision of the flight surgeon. Lovell (Hanks) says it's his call and there's no appeal.

Of course, in the previous scene Lovell (Hanks) was arguing the flight surgeon on behalf of Mattingly.

Everyone knows Lovell is lying. Lovell knows it. Mattingly knows it. And the audience knows it.

But he is preserving the notion that as the commander/boss when he makes a call, it's his call.

In a professional organization, D'Amico wouldn't blame Stroger for the firing. But--here's the rub--in a professional organization Stroger wouldn't be tinkering with hiring and firing decisions except for his immediate lieutenants.

If Stroger knew what he was doing, he'd spend his time and mental energy managing the big picture and leave the hiring and firing decisions to the actual supervisors.

Further commentary: if Stroger felt strong, he'd wait until after the February 2 election to fire people. Once he's the Democratic nominee, he can fire his enemies' friends, relatives and allies with impunity. (This is also true if he loses to another candidate.)

By firing Steele now Stroger is threatening county employees. He's telling them to support Stroger's re-election or expect to be terminated.

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Tavis Smiley gets rich making other Black folk poor

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has brought a lawsuit against Wells Fargo for marketing disadvantageous loans targeted at the Black community.

Who was helping Wells Fargo sell these crappy loans to Black folks? Tavis Smiley.

See The Washington Independent (Mary Kane).

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"Doc" Walls is running for governor

Last night I listened to WVON's "Voice of the People With State Representative La Shawn Ford" and learned that William "Doc" Walls III is running for governor in the Democratic Primary. Gov. Pat Quinn is the incumbent and was endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party. Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, the son of Tom Hynes, former chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party is also running. State Rep. Jack Franks has raised money to run, but has not officially declared.

Wikipedia has a summary
of the race that seems up-to-date with respect to which candidates are running.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Earlean Collins challenger has a web site

Ade Onayemi is an architect and former member of the District 97 (Oak Park elementary schools) board of education (member for eight years, three of which he was president of the BOE).

Onayemi is running in the Democratic primary for the Cook County Board in the First District. The seat is currently held by Commissioner Earlean Collins (Wikipedia).

The First District includes the following Proviso communities: Bellwood, Broadview (north of Cermak), Forest Park (north of Roosevelt) and Maywood.

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new Fred Hampton book

Chicago Review Press is publishing The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas. It's scheduled to be released in November, 2009.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

more Qs about Davis' commitment in President race

I just got off the phone with Tumia Romero. Romero is the point of contact for U.S. Representative Danny K. Davis' campaign for President of the Cook County Board.

I was calling about the picture below which shows Davis' office in Rogers Park.

I started by asking if Davis had transferred the money from his federal account to a state/local account.

Davis is circulating nominating petitions for both re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives and President of the Cook County Board. He cannot run for both. Many people, including myself, think he is bluffing about running for President and will run for re-election.

When Davis campaigns, he claims he's running for President. He is asking for people to volunteer (and presumably contribute) to his race for President.

I started by asking about transferring the money from the federal campaign account because I had both emailed and called Romero before. After telling me she would call me back, she did not respond to either my voice mail or my text.

Romero's tone was about two parts hostile and one part defensive. She repeatedly asked rhetorical questions like, "Why don't people worry about health care? Poor people? Criminal justice?"

She went on to say, "Tell La Shawn Ford if he had enough balls he should ask himself. He's a punk."

In the interest of disclosure, I have been talking to Ford about running for Congress. I have indicated a willingness to help. Ford has never asked me to contact Davis' campaign. And I haven't offered to contact Davis' campaign to push the issue. I happen to think the race for President of the Cook County Board is important. Whether Davis is in the race or not is important.

I started blogging again to cover races like President of the Cook County Board, the IL-07 race (if it's seriously contested), Cook County Board First District, Proviso Democratic Committeeman (if it's seriously contested) and some local stuff in Proviso.

Back to what I originally called about. The photograph below was forwarded to me.

The picture was forwarded to me by someone skeptical of Davis' claim that he had opened five campaign offices as he has claimed. See Davis' campaign web site.
Davis said, “There are erroneous reports in the press that I am not a candidate for President of the Cook County Board. Nothing can be more erroneous or further from the truth. The truth is I have opened 5 campaign offices in different parts of the county, hired campaign staff, traveled from South Suburban Cook County to Northern Suburbs and the Western Suburban Cook County."

Romero said that the campaign offices were being paid for with money, not in-kind contributions. These contributions will be reported in the campaign disclosure statements although she didn't know the identity of the landlords or the rent amounts.

The picture clearly shows the office is labeled a constituent service office. When I asked about this, Romero asked me to define a "constituent service office". I explained that "constituent service offices" are funded by the taxpayers. Romero indicated this office was rented by the campaign.

Since I started writing this blog entry, Romero called me and had a contrite tone. She said she'd discussed things with the Davis and he offered to grant me an interview. She also that some of the things she said, "That was Tumia speaking for Tumia, not Congressman Davis."

I will interview Davis sometime about 3 PM tomorrow afternoon. Any suggestions what I should ask?

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Davis not answering Q: has campaign money been moved from federal account to state account?

On Monday, September 7, 2009, I sent the following email to Tumia Romero. Romero is a longtime member of Congressman Danny K. Davis and Davis' campaign website (for President of the Cook County Board) lists her as the point of contact for the campaign. Davis is also circulating nominating petitions to run for re-election to Congress. He cannot run for both offices in the same election cycle.
Dear Tumia Romero,

Has Congressman Davis closed his federal campaign committee? Does he have plans to?

If he's decided to run for President of the Cook County Board, why keep a federal campaign committee active?

How much money has Congressman Davis transferred to his committee paying for his campaign for President of the Cook County Board?


Carl Nyberg

This is significant because Davis can file for either office, U.S. Representative or President of the Cook County Board. Many people speculate that Davis won't file for President of the Cook County Board. He asks people to support his candidacy for President, but he's keeping the option open of running for Congress. He discussed this at the Malcolm X College candidate forum.

Under state law, Davis can move an unlimited amount of money from his federal campaign committee to his committee for a state or local office. Under federal law he cannot transfer money in the other direction. (Many types of contributions allowed under Illinois law are not allowed under federal law.)

I made a follow-up call to Romero a little before 1 PM on Tuesday. I asked her if Davis had transferred the money from a federal campaign account to a state/local account. She said she didn't know, would check and would call me back.

I left another voicemail at 9 AM Wednesday morning.

Romero has neither responded to my email or returned my phone call.

IMO, the most reasonable inference is that Davis wants to have the option of running for re-election to Congress. I think Davis would like circumstances to clear a path for him to be the Democratic nominee for President of the Cook County Board. Davis probably wants powerful Democratic Party officials (like Michael Madigan, Richard M. Daley and Dick Durbin) and heavy hitters from the Black clergy (Rev. James Meeks, the COGIC bishops, etc.) to muscle Davis through the process.

For various reasons, the power brokers aren't going to muscle Davis through the process. Today the Cook County Democratic Committeemen (Chicago and suburbs) declined to endorse any of the five candidates (Dorothy Brown, Davis, Terry O'Brien, Toni Preckwinkle or Todd Stroger).

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Thompson not guilty of homicide by reason of insanity

Rather than being convicted of homicide, DuPage County Judge Peter Dockery ruled Hubert Thompson, formerly known as "Boo Boo", was legally insane (paranoid) when he killed James Malone. See Sun-Times (Dan Rozek).

Thompson was a star athlete at Proviso West. He played football at Michigan State University.

Personal accounts described him as being a particularly nice guy in high school. Looking back there were probably signs of his mental deterioration at MSU. In his brief time with the New Orleans Saints he got into a fight with another player over an exercise bicycle.

It would have been better for Thompson and Malone if Thompson got either effective mental health treatment or was placed in a supervised setting before he became so imbalanced that throwing his friend and neighbor off the balcony made sense to him.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

does Davis wonder, "Could I have been a contender?"

A source who had a conversation with Mayor Richard M. Daley said Daley is annoyed at Rep. Danny K. Davis. Daley claimed strings were pulled to get Davis on the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee is considered quite powerful because of the wide portfolio which includes taxation, Social Security unemployment and Medicare.

So, Davis is kinda a ungrateful schmuck if he walks away from the House Ways and Means Committee to run for President of the Cook County Board, right?

How's the situation look from Davis' perspective?

Davis is aware that he's served on committees of low import. The most important committee project Davis got was beating back Republican attempts to undercount Blacks, immigrants and poor people in the 2000 Census. And that wasn't the kind of “bring home the bacon” project that makes him a superstar with constituents.

I heard one story... and it was just a story, not an interview, so I'm a little sketchy on the details... A guy who claimed to be in the car with Davis and Dick Gephardt, who then led the House Democrats, claimed that Davis was promised improved committee assignments after the next election. Gephardt never delivered.

From the perspective of Democratic leadership, they don't like to give plum committee assignments to members who represent heavily Democratic districts. The theory is that the best committee assignments should go to members who are vulnerable to being defeated by Republicans. So, in theory, Melissa Bean, Debbie Halvorson and Bill Foster are more likely to get plum committee assignments than Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky and Dan Lipinski.

However, Lipinski did get a plum assignment from the beginning, the Transportation Committee. His father Bill Lipinski was chair of that committee.

If I may speculate, Davis probably sees the Ways and Means placement like this. Davis figures if Daley could get Davis the Ways and Means assignment now (and Dan Lipinski the Transportation Committee from the beginning), Daley was probably pulling strings to keep Davis from getting better committee assignments earlier in his career.

Now that Davis is pushing 70—and impotent to challenge Daley for Mayor—he gets a plum assignment. Gee thanks.

If Davis got a better committee assignment from the beginning, would this have elevated his profile? Could he have run for Mayor of Chicago? Did Daley make sure Davis got crap assignments to keep Davis down?

I expect every time someone reminds Davis of how good he has it on the Ways and Means Committee, he thinks about how Daley in a conspiracy aided by “White” Democrats in Congress—people Davis trusted, like Gephardt—kept Davis in shit jobs for over a decade.

From Davis' perspective he played the game by the rules and he got screwed. He was weak and ineffective in Congress because “White” people stacked the deck to keep him weak and ineffective. He trusted the Democratic leadership and they pretty much lied to him and screwed him. So he's not in the mood to be a party loyalist as one of the most junior people on an important committee.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

U.S. health insurance is crap: reform it or scrap the system

Talking Points Memo published an email from JB about her health insurance policy.

Her and her husband retired early and after shopping around they pay $1260 per month in premiums. Both husband and wife pay for the first $1,500 of medical expenses in a year and then the insurance company pays 70%, leaving them on the hook for the other 30%.

Many people get health insurance with their jobs. And the costs are onerous to employers.

But let's look at some scenarios.

Healthy year: $250 for physical, $250 for optometry, $250 for dental, plus $15,120 for insurance

$2,500 malady year would cost $15,120 (insurance) + $1,500 (base deductible) + $300 (deductible for expenses over $1,500) = $16,920 (customer share) + $700 (insurance company share)

$5,000 malady year would cost the customer $17,670 and the insurance company $2,450

$25,000 year would cost the customer $23,670 and the insurance company $16,450

$75,000 year comes to $38,670 (customer) and $41,450 (insurance)

So, you have to have a major medical condition before the insurance company is even paying as much as you are.

And here's part of the equation.

If you use an insurance company, you have to jump through their hoops before getting medical care. And you still get jerked around about the money afterward.

I went to the doctor because I was sick. He sent me for a chest x-ray because I had pneumonia. At every step along the way it said I was responsible for paying my deductible at the time of service.

A few weeks later, I got a bill telling me I still had to pay more money. I spent time on the phone trying to understand how I owed money if I was insured and paid my deductible at each step along the way. After getting explanations that didn't make sense I finally stopped trying to understand and ignored the bill.

Later, I learned on a blog that I was the victim of "balance billing". See Business Week (Chad Terhune). "Balance billing" is when health care providers have agreed to a rate for providing the medical service with the insurance company, but the health care provider would like to be paid more. So, the health care provider sends a bill to the insured patient and hopes that through trickery and scare tactics about credit scores the health care provider can get money from the patient.

How's does being uninsured work?

If you have money and don't get $25,000 sick, being uninsured is a good deal.

Say you have a problem that requires seeing a specialty physician. You don't have to waste time and energy with your primary care physician. You just make an appointment with the specialist and put your money or credit card on the table. It's rather simple.

To review how being insured works.

1. You get jerked around about getting care in the first place, especially if it's any kind of condition where the insurer can justify delaying care. For example, the insurance company gives a list of eight providers, none of whom are taking new patients.
2. There is an extra layer of bureaucracy because you have to deal with a primary care physician when you need a specialist.
3. The insurance company is making huge amounts of money from premiums and paying a sliver of that back in benefits.
4. And you get harassed about bills you have no obligation to pay.

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have agreed to allow insurance companies (who don't add value to the health care process) to continue to exist, and still they won't embrace reform that make health care universal, contains costs and allows people to have the option of buying health coverage through the government.

Why don't insurance companies want you to have the option of buying coverage through the government?

Is it because they know the policies insurance companies sell are crap? And their crappy policies that expend a big chunk of the money on overhead and profit are inefficient? And that the experience of getting health care while insured, unnecessary bureaucracy on the front end and harassing billing on the back end, sucks?

If we don't get health reform that's a good deal, I want Illinois legislature to regulate the insurance industry and the rest of the medical industrial complex so completely, they'll be begging for reform.

Fuck me? No, fuck you!

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Berrios, Houlihan, Cook County Assessor and Sun-Times self-righteousness

I saw this tut-tutting by the Sun-Times about Joe Berrios, currently chair of the Cook County Democratic Party and one of the three members of the Board of Review.

I'm not enamored with Berrios as Cook County Assessor, but the Board of Review is set-up for pay-to-play politics. The Board has the power to directly save money for property owners appealing their assessments. And Board members can ask for campaign contributions.

I have a hard time imagining a scenario where Berrios dismantles information systems installed by current Assessor James Houlihan.

I suppose it's possible Berrios could alter assessments within the process (it's supposed to rely on a super secret formula), but all the assessments are public. And assessments that are out-of-whack can be detected. If Berrios gets contributions that seem too large, it's possible to learn what properties that person owns and then look at the assessments for his/her properties.

It's harder to check this kind of mischief if Berrios gets the money from attorneys and then the attorneys' clients receive the benefits.

But Berrios already has this power on the Board of Review. So, I'm not getting the outrage about him going to an office where it will be harder to work the pay-to-play angle than in his current office.

(I think nominating Berrios could conceivably hurt other Democratic Party candidates by tainting the party, but that's a partisan argument against Berrios getting the nomination, not an ethical argument.)

IMO, Houlihan deserves more scorn than he's getting. Houlihan knew Berrios wanted the job. Russ Stewart:
Quite succinctly, [the Assessor's] looming problem is that property values are plummeting while government spending is increasing. Therefore, property taxes will not decrease.

"Try explaining that to property owners," observed one Northwest Side Democratic politician. "That's why Houlihan quit. Berrios was going to challenge him in the primary and blast him for not reducing property taxes. (Houlihan) would have lost. In 2014 Joe will have the same problem."

So, if Houlihan knew Berrios was going to run and Houlihan didn't want Berrios to get the job, shouldn't Houlihan have recruited a candidate to run against Berrios?

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Cook County terminating Peraica's lease

Chicago Tribune (Hal Dardick) reports that the Cook County board will cancel the lease of Commissioner Tony Peraica's district office at 10001 Roosevelt, Westchester, because Peraica's landlord made "in kind" contributions of space for political campaigns valued in excess of the $6,000 limit imposed by the ethics ordinance.

What is the significance in Proviso?

That office was the campaign office for both the outsider campaign for the Village of Melrose Park (Jesse Martinez and his slate sought to unseat village president Ron Serpico and his slate) and for Proviso Township (the slate led by Theresa Kelly opposed the establishment slate headed by Michael Corrigan).

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Monday, September 07, 2009

grasshopper on ochra plant


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Rep. Ford interviews Todd Stroger on WVON

Sunday, on his weekly WVON radio program State Rep. La Shawn Ford interviewed Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

Ford's questions were a combination of obsequious and opening the door so Stroger could make the points he's making in his campaign for re-election. Ford made a big deal of Stroger's education based on being admitted to St. Ignatius College Prepatory School (competitive admission) and getting a BA in history from Xavier University in Louisiana. At one point Ford referred to Stroger being “crucified” in the media.

(Ford is a strong proponent of Catholic Schools, so it's not surprising he started by emphasizing Stroger's Catholic school roots.)

I called and asked three questions. Two callers made points about Kiddieland. Otherwise the callers were all Stroger supporters who spent time attacking either the media or Rep. Danny Davis for running against Stroger.

Stroger mostly left me thinking less of him after the interview than before.

Stroger mentioned that he started college as an engineering major, but decided to switch when he realized engineers sit at their desks all day. Stroger wanted to move around more.

I am 95+% sure Stroger is lying. Stroger quit his engineering major because he either couldn't do the course work or wasn't willing to make the effort to do the course work. Engineering is hard; history is easy. Stroger's line about engineers spending all their time at their desks is BS. Good engineers push to spend more time with the equipment and seeing how the operators handle the equipment in real life (as opposed to how they should be handling it according to designers). Good engineers spend time in design labs. The excuse Stroger provided for quitting engineering is designed to sound reasonable to someone who is ignorant, but it's simply not true.

In my first question I asked Stroger what he did as an investment banker. Stroger likes to mention his experience as an investment banker on the campaign trail. It sounds like a serious job.

Stroger connected taxing bodies who wanted to sell bonds to bond buyers. He was paid on commission. I'm sure there was some paperwork to do, but I suspect there is very little uncertainty associated with this work. The taxing body decides to borrow money. The rating agencies rate each taxing body. And then the bonds are sold to investors. Bonds are very conservative investments, so it's not like an investor needs to be convinced to take a risk.

Which taxing bodies did Stroger make commissions from? He listed a few, including City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, State of Illinois and District 152 (Harvey elementary schools).

One of the galling things Stroger said in the interview was that he didn't expect to go into politics, he saw himself in the private sector. What is the definition of “private sector” in Stroger's mind? Using political connections to get commissions on sale of bonds? If private sector means private investors raising capital and selling private goods and services to private (not government) customers, Stroger has never held a private sector job. Or, he hasn't mentioned it on the campaign trail.

I asked if Stroger bore increased responsibility for Donna Dunning not working-out as the CFO for Cook County government. Stroger fired his cousin, Dunning, as CFO because of her role in the Tony Cole scandal. See Eric Zorn (Chicago Tribune).

Stroger claimed hiring Dunning reflected positively on him. He said Dunning was successful because Cook County government is “in the black”. Stroger keeps hammering the message that Cook County government had a deficit (although Stroger used the word “debt”) of $ ½ billion when he assumed office and now has a surplus. Stroger's critics contend Stroger's 1% sales tax increase exceeded the needs of the county and that much of the excess taxation has gone to hiring people who aren't needed for Cook County to provide services.

In my final query I asked Stroger to explain the difference between good management and bad management. I asked this question because I suspect Stroger hasn't had experiences in well run organizations and poorly run organizations. He doesn't appreciate the difference; he doesn't know when to delegate issues and when to get involved personally. For example, he dictates who should be hired for low level positions (like when Tony Cole was hired). He doesn't understand that his job as President is to set a direction for county government and keep his lieutenants moving toward the goals he sets. Everything else should be delegated.

Stroger's answer to my query was, “Good management is when things go well; bad management is when they go poorly.” There are a few ways to take Stroger's answer. 1) He's an idiot; 2) He thinks the people listening are idiots; or 3) he just wanted to be disrespectful toward me.

Arlene Jones and then Chris from Edgewater called to encourage Cook County government to do something to keep Kiddieland operating. See Arlene Jones (Austin Weekly News). Both Jones and Chris wanted the Cook County Forest Preserve District to provide land. On this point Stroger balanced acknowledging the passion of Jones and Chris with the constraints on using FPD land for non-forest preserve purposes.

(BTW, I'm pretty sure the origin of making it all but impossible to shift the use of forest preserve land to non forest preserve purposes goes back to the building of Proviso East High School, which sits on land owned by the Forest Preserve District. Forest preserve advocates made the case that there wasn't a point to having a forest preserve if local politicians could raid the land for worthy projects easily.)

I was surprised that so many people called to criticize Rep. Danny Davis for running for President of the Cook County Board. Some said he's doing great in Congress and should stay there (or should have run for U.S. Senate). Others said Davis wasn't particularly productive in Congress. And some emphasized that Davis is just too old and should make way for younger voices. One caller was upset Davis got $160 million for "White folks".

At least one person, Eunice from the South Side, made the argument that Mayor Richard Daley has engaged in much mismanagement, insider deals and cronyism as Stroger. The media seems to accept Daley's misdeeds as part of the package while attacking Stroger for the same transgressions.

This is a strong enough argument that it should be discussed (as opposed to most of the arguments made by callers which were just silly). At a forum on TIFs (see (BobB) Prairie State Blue), Ben Joravsky made this argument on behalf of Stroger. Joravsky's position is not so much asking people to go easier on Stroger, but to ask, why the #%&* Chicagoans don't push to hold Daley accountable.

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Dear Rep. Danny Davis, please run for Lieutenant Governor

Dear Congressman Danny Davis,

Happy 68th birthday! I apologize that I'm not going to be able to attend your party, I have a scheduling conflict.

I'm sorry, but the only gift I have is to give you my two cents. Instead of running for either President of the Cook County Board or for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives, you should run for Lieutenant Governor.

Your first reaction is probably that the idea of running for Lt. Gov. doesn't make sense. Conventional wisdom in politics holds that being in Congress is better than Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra seriously considered resigning as Lt. Gov. to be a radio talk show host, right?

I challenge you to put aside the attitudes of other people and think back to why you got involved in politics. The late Paul Wellstone said that politics is about improving people's lives. I aspire that my activism will make a difference, and despite any differences I have with you, I believe you began in politics for all the right reasons. You wanted to leverage the power of politics to uplift the people.

I'm going to call it like I see it. I apologize if I snub your ego. I think you've gotten frustrated with Congress. You feel like there's not much difference you can make there. You feel like you aren't getting the respect you deserve.

You got to Congress at an awkward time. The old warhorses of the Black Caucus were established. A bunch of new members were elected as a result of the remap based on the 1990 census. They were all senior to you. And the younger Black Caucus members, elected since you arrive in Congress in 1997, have more energy and ambition. If Cardiss Collins would have retired ten years earlier you'd be much more in the leadership of the Black Caucus and in Congress.

Why Lt. Gov?

I'm impressed with your interest and focus on ex-offender reentry. You've been the leader in Congress on the issue. And the system does have a number of barriers to getting employment that aren't officially part of sentencing and punishment.

The ex-offender bill you passed in Congress probably is about as far as Congress is willing to go at this point.

But you've raised valid points about the various professional licenses that are arbitrarily denied to ex-felons. However, licensing is a state issue.

Picture yourself devoting your time to getting all those laws repealed or modified.

I once asked someone knowledgeable about politics what job he'd like in politics. He said Vice President of the United States because you can do what you like and aren't really responsible for any problems. Lt. Gov. is the same way. If it's useful to be in Springfield, go to Springfield and do what needs to be done. Otherwise you can work out of a Chicago office.

I'd also like you to apply sustained pressure to Attorney General Lisa Madigan on the issue of Taser stun guns. Are cops using them gratuitously? Are police disproportionately using stun guns on African-Americans and Latinos? Poor people? Are some police departments using stun guns much more aggressively than other police departments?

The issues facing Cook County suck. They're big. They're intractable. The President supervises a vast number of people. And s/he interacts with lots and lots of people, including a whole bunch of elected officials. Some of those people are petty, self-absorbed assholes who you won't be able to fire. It's a demanding job.

In 2006, you told the Democratic Committeemen of Cook County you wanted the job because you didn't want to travel to DC every week. Congressman Davis, being President of the Cook County Board isn't like holding a seat on the Board of Review. It's not a job for a person looking to be home for dinner every day.

You're 68 years old. You'll be 69 ½ when you assume office as President. Most of your first term will be after your 70th birthday. Do you want to be fighting with the State's Attorney over budget issues? Dealing with Cook County jail? Managing the county's legislative interests in Springfield and DC? It's a huge job. Will you have the energy to do it right?

Back to Lt. Gov.... If you run for Lt. Gov. it will be a move that will be remembered, because you let go of the more prestigious job so that you could accomplish something that will make a difference in people's lives.

I don't want to be snotty or disrespectful, but your career in Congress has been lackluster. (I mostly attribute this to 1997 being a horrible time to start and that you would have done better if you were younger when you were first elected.) You haven't made any huge gaffes, but you haven't passed any big bills either.

Run for Lt. Gov. Use it as a platform to advance issues and pass legislation that removes barriers to ex-offenders re-entering society. The work on ex-offenders is where you've made your mark. If you cap your career with major legislation at the state level, you will be remembered as someone who made a difference in people's lives. Running for Lt. Gov. will show that you had the self-confidence to resist conventional wisdom, run for the lower prestige office because that's where you could accomplish something important.


Carl Nyberg

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

my doubts about Quinn's reform agenda

Since I just gigged a Republican candidate for governor for peddling feel-good BS, I am going to be bi-partisan and gig Governor Pat Quinn (Democrat).

Last night I attended the Northside DFA meeting because I was interested in the endorsement decision for President of the Cook County Board. The group overcame a couple suggestions to delay the decision process for longer. It then rejected endorsing Danny K. Davis and endorsed and "adopted" Toni Preckwinkle. "Adoption" means Northside DFA will encourage its member to work for the Preckwinkle campaign. To adopt a candidate s/he must have the support of at least 90% of the members.

Disclosure: I spoke in favor of Preckwinkle and against Davis.

The first speaker was Quinn's chief of staff, Jerome Stermer.

Stermer explained that Quinn identified three priority areas when he assumed the governorship.

1. Ethics reform
2. Economic recovery
3. Providing state services while dealing with the budget crisis

I doubt there would be much disagreement with those priorities. They make sense to me.

But then Stermer spoke about how to implement these priorities.

The first thing he addressed was recall.

Recall does nothing to address systemic corruption. In hindsight it seems like maybe Rod Blagojevich could have been recalled. However, recall takes time. The Illinois Constitution already has a tool for dealing with someone like Blagojevich, impeachment. It's just that Illinois legislators chose not to use it until the feds arrest Blagojevich.

But recall has a populist feel to it and it makes the little guy feel like he's got a tool for holding corrupt officials accountable.

And Quinn is all about tapping that populist emotion with policies that sound good, but have significant drawbacks in practice. Quinn championed the Cutback Amendment which reduced the number of members of the Illinois General Assembly, but also decreased the political and ideological diversity and consolidated power in the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate (aka "The Four Tops").

Ironically, Quinn is now advocating reforms to cut the power of the Four Tops. He wants to impose term limits on the leaders as part of his reform agenda.

1. This seems unlikely to pass, for obvious reasons.

2. If it did pass, it's not clear how it would work. What keeps a boss from relinquishing the title (say "Speaker of the House") and appointing some flunky?

Stermer did talk up the Accountability Portal, which is supposed to be one place to get information to monitor state government.

While I like the idea of reform, I'm disappointed by Quinn's agenda. Recall seems like political grandstanding. Term limits on legislative leaders seems impractical and a waste of energy.

And the real problems I see at the local level, conflict-of-interest problems, legal bills and excessive litigation aren't addressed at all.

There was one bright spot to the evening. Daniel Biss spoke to Northside DFA about running for state representative in Evanston, Glenview, that area.

Biss kept his initial pitch short but did particularly well in the Q&A. He told the story of a grandmother who invited him inside and served him root beer from a mug she kept in the freezer for her grandson, "in case he stopped by". He said that he did a poor job at differentiating himself from his Republican opponent in his campaign message.

And Biss said that he focused excessively on his campaign plan without allowing for flexibility. He quoted Stephen Colbert speaking about George W. Bush, "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday, that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday." Biss said that he implemented the plan in August and then October without taking into account what happened in September.

I've known Biss as a fellow activist for a few years. This was the first time I saw him speak to a group. I was impressed how well he connected. I think he's got a bunch of promise because he's good at campaigning, smart on policy and ambitious. (He raised $430,000 for a state rep race to challenge an incumbent without help from the Illinois Democratic Party.)

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beware of BS on property taxes

Adam Andrzejewski, Republican candidate for governor, posted the following to his Facebook page. I responded but my response quickly “disappeared”.
Adam Andrzejewski thinks that Illinois property tax is our most opaque tax. Most citizens have difficulty coming to grips with the complex terms, methods of determination, and appeals process. Furthermore, since many taxing bodies are represented on the same property ...tax bill, there is a lack of fiscal accountability. My objective is to create understanding through simplification and instill accountability through financial caps.

Property taxes weren't always so high. Forty years ago we had higher income taxes (and inheritance taxes) and low property taxes. Now the United States has lower federal income taxes, but Illinois has higher property taxes.

The Republican agenda at the national level has been to cut the federal income tax and devolve services to state and local government in the name of “local control”.

(At least part of the “local control” movement has its origins in the racist “state's rights” movement. “State's rights” was the battle cry of the segregationists who objected to the federal government using its power to enforce civil rights for African-Americans.)

In this expanded format, I will acknowledge the Democratic Party didn't resist the push to cut federal income taxes (and the inheritance tax) significantly. The Democrats now hold strong majorities in the U.S. House and Senate and aren't pushing to undue the tax policies of the Republicans.

The property tax has problems. If you buy a bicycle for $250, it's pretty clear what one should pay if the sales tax is 11%. If you make $50,000, it's pretty clear what one should pay if the income tax is 3%.

But how much tax should one pay on a piece of property? The same house could sell for a wide range of prices on any given day depending on the eagerness of the buyer and seller.

Andrzejewski is absolutely correct that the system of determining property taxes lacks precision. The Cook County Assessor has a secret formula. Based on my experience preparing hundreds of property tax appeals, the formula is pretty good. But assigning values to properties that haven't sold recently... it's a best guess.

Andrzejewski's second objection is bullshit. So what if multiple taxing bodies are on the same bill?

If Andrzejewski has concerns/objections about lack of accountability in government spending money he should advocate for laws that end the practice of paying taxes to one unit of government and then having that unit of government give grants to other units of government. This practice undermines accountability far more than having multiple line items for elementary school district, high school district, county, village, etc. on one tax bill.

Andrzejewski wants to simplify property taxes. In most tax systems simplicity is in tension with fairness. There are various programs that make property taxes more complicated: the senior exemption, the senior freeze and the homeowner exemption. Also, commercial and residential properties are taxed differently. Is Andrzejewski advocating elimination of any of the special programs? Perhaps advocating residential and commercial property get taxed the same way?

Or maybe Andrzejewski wants to have a flat tax where every homeowner in a community pays the same tax rate?

Republicans get so used to peddling bullshit that sounds good, sometimes it seems they can't have serious discussions about policy.

Capping property taxes is one of those ideas that sounds good until you get into the details.

Local government needs more money to operate from year to year. While I haven't done an analysis, I'm pretty sure this is driven by a few factors.

1.Health care costs increase faster than the rate of inflation
2.Schools are expected to do more (smaller classes, more special needs obligations)
3.TIF districts diminish the tax base forcing the remaining tax base to pay more
4.Government uses tricks to raid future revenue to delay the need to raise taxes (The City of Chicago leasing parking meters for 50 cents on the dollar is an egregious example of getting the money now while raiding the revenue stream for 99 years.)

The system isn't set-up so that local units of government can make do with the same amount of money from year to year. The system forces local units of government to raise taxes periodically.

I've met Andrzejewski. He invited me to take a trip to Kankakee with him. He's a nice guy. And sincerely concerned about reducing corruption. But just because someone's heart is in the right place doesn't mean that the policies s/he's advocating will work or are good policies.

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What would you like to see covered?

As I explained when I started blogging on Proviso Probe again, this will only continue through the February, 2010 primary.

What stuff would you like to see covered between now and then?


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Danny Davis won't buy a car from Whites, Latinos or Asians

In this entry I will discuss what I observed about the racial politics of the candidate forum for the Black Democrats running for President of the Cook County Board. (Part 1, Part 2, Progress Illinois (Adam Doster) and Laura Washington (Sun-Times & Washington Report)).

First, I'm baffled that the media outlets that seem to relish in finding fault with current President Todd Stroger (Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times) didn't cover the event as news. Washington's coverage was an opinion piece. As far as I can tell, Chicago Defender and the other media outlets didn't cover it either. Cook County Board President is a first-tier race. It's a bunch of money, jobs and power. Why wouldn't media outlets send reporters? Seriously. According to Google Maps it's 4.3 miles by car, about eight minutes from the Tribune Building. Do the major media outlets think Malcolm X College has a “no White people allowed” rule?

Stroger's appeals for support because he's a Black man were the most in-your face.
In his concluding remarks Stroger said, “We let the major papers tear our leaders down.” He then told of shaking the hand of a Black boy at the Bud Billiken Day parade. Stroger said the boy could see, “This Black man is doing something powerful!... This is about Black people and how we are perceived.”

Stroger never called the Sun-Times or the Chicago Tribune the “White” media, but it seemed pretty strongly implied.

Dorothy Brown and Toni Preckwinkle both made appeals that on substance that would have been substantially the same in front of non-Black audiences. Brown emphasized her credentials and her success in getting $187 million out of the Illinois General Assembly. Preckwinkle emphasized her plan and generally being organized in how she presented her ideas. Preckwinkle explained what she has accomplished as alderman, but didn't come back to it. If Preckwinkle did emphasize one thing about her history it was her recognition by groups like IVI-IPO for her independence.

Stylistically, Brown and Preckwinkle differed. Brown's supporters were quite vocal. They were both loud partisans for her and willing to heckle Stroger. Brown's speaking style was also loud, indignant and in-your-face.

One of Laura Washington's commenters wrote the following of Preckwinkle.
Toni’s style definitely puts her at a disadvantage in this race. She’s trying to be the Barack Obama of Cook County. Obama’s style is why he lost to Bobby Rush in the congressional race in which they squared off. Back then, urban blacks could not relate to him, and this is part of Toni’s problem. In using “urban” I’m being polite, as there is another term that better describes the types of blacks who cheered on their candidates at Malcom X. To a lot of urban blacks Toni and Barack are “bougie.” Though, very few urban blacks would say this about barack today openly for fear of reprisals. Toni plays better with certain types of black people—they tend to be college educated and professional and want the blacks who represent them to be of the Harold Washington style.

And, instead of channeling Barack Obama, Toni needs to channel Harold Washington–before it’s too late (LOL!)!!!!!!!!!!

I disagree that Preckwinkle is trying to be Obama. I think her performance at Malcolm X was a natural continuation of her speaking style going back 20 years. (Perhaps as a new politician Obama imitated Preckwinkle. If you were an educated, light-skinned Black person looking to imitate someone successful in the Hyde Park area, who would you imitate?)

The issue of Black candidates splitting the Black vote was hammered home over and over. Cliff Kelley, the moderator, told the audience that Martin Luther King III (in Chicago to promote Olympics) said that Atlanta might elect a White mayor because four Black candidates were running. Davis referred to the split between Eugene Sawyer and Tim Evans. Davis mentioned that seven COGIC bishops were negotiating behind the scenes to get support for one Black candidate.

Danny K. Davis made one remark that I considered a bombshell. Cliff Kelley, the WVON moderator, asked about affirmative action in contracting. (Somebody from the audience shouted about companies fraudulently getting business because they have bogus owners to make them eligible for women and minority set asides. This issue wasn't addressed by any candidates.)

Kelley complained that government work in his neighborhood isn't being done by people who look like him and then asked, “How will you assure minority contracting?”

Preckwinkle gave a detailed answer of how she, aligned with other alderman including “Ike” Carothers, pushed to get set asides for minority and women owned businesses, as part of the negotiations with the International Olympic Committee.

Stroger told of the minority expo that occurred while he's been President and cited an increase from 25-34% of county contracts with minority owned businesses and an increase of from 10-16% of county contracts with women owned businesses. Stroger also attacked unnamed county officials trying to bypass minority contracting requirements by claiming “emergencies”.

Davis began with a general statement about affirmative action. Then Davis said, “If you ain't African-American don't expect to sell me no car.”

I ran this by some people who are neither Black nor White, people who like Davis, and they were taken aback.

Is Danny Davis really saying he wouldn't buy a car from an Asian or a Latino who lived in his district under any circumstances? Davis has gotten a bunch of votes in his life from people who aren't Black, and raised money from people who aren't Black. Presumably he wants to get voters from non-Blacks for whatever office he's seeking in 2010 (he's preparing for two mutually exclusive races).

What's the message Davis wanted the audience to take away from that statement? I think the message is that Black county employees will get promoted ahead of other county employees. And to the extent Davis influences who gets hired for county jobs, Blacks will get jobs ahead of others to the maximum extent allowed by the law.

There are a number of ways to talk about affirmative action and increasing opportunity for women and people who have historically been excluded. Normally liberals talk about diversity and fairness being for the benefit of everyone. The greater good of opening doors of opportunity justifies the relatively small inconvenience to people who have to wait for another opportunity.

Davis has been in in politics for decades. Even when Davis was an alderman, he didn't represent an all Black ward. There was the Island and the tres chic neighborhood on Race and Midway Park near West Suburban Hospital (where Davis lives). Since getting elected to the Cook County Board in 1990, Davis has had to appeal to a substantial number of voters who were not Black.

Davis knows how to discuss affirmative action delicately. But when asked about affirmative action, Davis reframed the discussion as one where only one salesman is going to get a commission. And Davis is going to give the commission to a Black salesman no matter how good the Latino, Asian, White or Arab salesman performs.

Is Davis losing his mental acuity? Has he always felt this way? Or was he making a cynical pitch for Black votes?

Davis boasted on his high approval ratings in suburban Cook County. It's not going to take a political whiz to take Davis saying he wouldn't buy from someone who isn't Black and create a TV ad that drives Davis' favorables down across Cook County.

Davis lamented the fracture of the Harold Washington coalition (Blacks and progressives). But Davis did his part to fracture the coalition. Progressives participate in the coalition because they want to see quality government services delivered to people who need them without a bunch of money skimmed for patronage and machine politics. What Davis seems to want is for Blacks to get the lion's share of the jobs and then Davis will float a plan to expand government services. If it passes that means more jobs for the Black political class. If it doesn't, Blacks got the jobs that were available. Poor people will just have to wait. After all, Jesus said, we'll always have poor folk.

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