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January 2011 Archives

New Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle lately has been saying that Sheriff Thomas Dart needs to do more to control abuse of family and medical leave in his office.

In a round of visits to newspaper editorial pages last week, Preckwinkle pointed out that every day one out of every five staffers in the sheriff's office takes off work under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act, and that it would save $36 million if Dart could cut that in half.

Preckwinkle also said that the sheriff had 39 percent of the county employees on medical leave and 40 percent of the workman's comp cases, even though he has only 28 percent of the work force.

The context is Preckwinkle's efforts to present a trimmed-down budget that eliminates a $487 million deficit.

But this isn't a problem that has been a secret. It's probably worth pointing out that early last December Dart himself talked about his problem with errant employees and what he is doing about it.

"I thought I was going to be able to sweep the decks ... of some people who were chronic abusers of medical time," he said in early December. "Where it was just outrageous coincidence, every Monday they're sick. After having had Saturday and Sunday off."

As new president Toni Preckwinkle pushes forward on her effort to trim Cook County spending, the county could learn a lot from Chicago's government, says a veteran insider.

Here's a summary of that experienced hand's observations:

During Mayor Daley's tenure, the city worked consistently to train middle managers, who in turn learned how to do a better job of developing an effective work force. Former Mayor Harold Washington's administration also did that, although not to the extent that Daley has.

But nothing like that has been going on in the County Building. As a result, it has continued to have ineffective middle managers and, by extension, a work force populated with many employees for whom efficiency is not exactly Job No. 1. Many of those people wound up working where they do after outside pressure was applied by someone with political power, including some "pretty awful people" who were put in Shakman-exempt positions.

Who was the best Chicago mayor? Part II

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Is Chicago not ready for "reform"?

When Harold Washington ran for Chicago mayor, there was no doubt he was running as a reform candidate.

But James L. Merriner, author of several books about local politics and corruption, including Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833-2003, points out that no candidate is running under the reform banner in the current mayor race.

"Is anyone saying, 'I am the reform candidate?' " Merriner asks.

How a voice against the death penalty almost was silenced

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When New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009 and the Illinois Legislature voted to do so this year, former Death Row inmate Randy Steidl was there, helping to persuade lawmakers to vote against capital punishment.

Steidl, who was freed from prison in 2004 after 17 years behind bars for a 1986 Downstate double murder, exudes an aura of sincerity that makes him an effective ambassador for death penalty abolition. He's also brought his message to Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland.

But it was a close thing. Illinois was very nearly denied Steidl's voice.

Who was the best Chicago mayor? Part I

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As the Feb. 22 Chicago mayor race nears, candidates and others are being asked who they think the best Chicago mayor.

One name that doesn't seem likely to finish near the top in overall voting is William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, the last Republican mayor, who left office in 1931 after losing to Anton Cermak.

But "Big Bill" is tops in at least one category, according to former Chicago alderman and University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson.

"Thompson was the most colorful mayor we have ever had," Simpson says. "He rode a horse up on [a] stage in his second campaign, I think it was, with a cowboy hat. He had gone out West. He was a demagogue. He suggested he would punch King George [V of the United Kingdom] in the nose."

A plot twist that's hard to swallow

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To some Chicago purists, the opening sentences of Chapter 10 in David J. Walker's new novel could be quite controversial.

The latest of Walker's 10 mystery/suspense novels, Too Many Clients, has Kirsten, a former Chicago police investigator, getting up and leaving just as she was about to start a Sunday brunch at Lou Mitchell's.

Of course, she was going to meet someone she "despised - and, yes, feared." and the meeting was important to the plot, but, still - leave Lou Mitchell's without finishing brunch? The place where doughnut holes and Milk Duds are served while you wait in line, the omelets come in skillets and the orange marmalade is homemade?

There are many who would argue no one in Chicago has that kind of self-control.

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A candidate for Chicago's oddest mayor election? Try 1933

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Think the race for Chicago mayor has taken unusual twists and turns with such diversions as the battle over Rahm Emanuel's residency?

Well, so far it's nothing compared to 1933. That's when Edward Kelly became the first of five mayors from Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood.

At a Jan. 11 meeting of the Society of Midland Authors at the Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago, Ald. Edward M. Burke - the longest-serving alderman in the city's history - recalled the events that led to Kelly's ascension. (Burke, co-author of two books, was one of four authors on a panel discussing Chicago's mayoral election.)

After Anton Cermak died on March 6, 1933, after being shot by Giuseppe Zangara while Cermak was with Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami, the likely candidate to replace him seemed to be a young intelligent progressive Democrat named Bill Clark, whose son, William G. Clark, went on to be the attorney general of Illinois, a 1968 U.S. Senate candidate and a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court. (Bill Clark was chairman of the Finance Committee, the same position that Burke now holds.)

"[The] party bosses did not want Bill Clark to be mayor," Burke said. "But they were confronted with a dilemma: How do we stop Clark? Well, they hit on a scheme."

Upcoming Chicago election has some surprising twists

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Chicago's elections on Feb. 22 will have some interesting twists:

- It will be to be the first time since 1947 that an incumbent will not be on the mayoral ballot.

- The City Council may see its biggest turnover since its longest-serving member, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), arrived in 1969. Ten incumbents are not running and it's conceivable there may be up to 20 new members when the next Council is sworn in.

- It will be the first modern serious mayoral contest that won't be decided by a primary election and then a general election. In Chicago, mayoral candidates now run in a nonpartisan race, which will be held on Feb. 22. There will be a run-off if no candidate attracts 50 percent plus one of the vote. Had that system been in place when Harold Washington first ran, he would have faced Jane Byrne in a run-off instead of Republican Bernard Epton in the general election.

- Counting Michael Bilandic as an honorary Irishman (because he was from the 11th Ward), it will be the first time since 1933 - outside of a break from 1983 to 1989 - that the Irish will not control City Hall.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2010 is the previous archive.

February 2011 is the next archive.

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