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March 2012 Archives

What's on the agenda for Chicago's NATO summit

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Chicago's world stage keeps getting smaller this spring.

First, the G-8 summit left town before it even got here. The NATO summit is still coming in May, but now we're being told it won't be exactly earth-shattering when it gets here.

Instead of a major announcement, such as the missile defense agreement that came out of the last summit in Lisbon in 2010, we can expect what some people are calling "an implementation summit." At least, that's the opinion of three staff members of the Atlantic Council, a 51-year-old Washington, D.C. think tank, who were in Chicago this week ahead of the summit.

Barry Pavel (John J. Kim~Sun-Times)

"This one [will be] a little less significant and historic," said Barry Pavel, the director of the council's program on international security.

Juan Rangel sets out to redefine two words

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There are two words Juan R. Rangel thinks should be embraced rather than disparaged: "assimilation" and "Americanized."

Rangel is chief executive officer of the United Neighborhood Organization, which operates 11 charter schools and is opening up three this fall.

"I think we are trying to take back what those words mean," Rangel says. "[Some people] don't like Americanization, they don't like assimilation. But that is what has always worked for immigrants.

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Juan Rangel (Brian Jackson~Sun-Times)

"There is an element in our communities that wants to retain their ethnic identity and their language," he says. "To be Americanized is almost a bad thing. We are fighting that. ... i don't think our story is unique. It is the story of Chicago. It is the story of this country."

Agency coordinates state programs vs. foreclosures

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Mary R. Kenney wants to connect with 30,000 people in Illinois in the next year.

Kenney, the executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority, administers an array of programs to help people threatened by foreclosure. The programs are in place, and now it is time to reach out to people affected by the foreclosure crisis, she says.

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Mary R. Kenney (Brian Jackson~Sun-Times)

"The next year is going to be really critical for us," says Kenney, who will complete her first year as head of the agency on Wednesday (she was general counsel for a decade before that). "We are going to see a lot of people go through the system. It is going to be a rough year."

How D.C. gridlock might jam up traffic in Chicago

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Joseph G. Costello's focus usually extends no farther than the end of the Regional Transportation Authority's bus and train lines.

But now the RTA executive director is mostly worried about what is happening much farther away - in Washington, where Congress is battling over transportation funding that expires on Saturday.

Funding for public transportation has become a political football in the nation's capital. And Costello says the political gridlock in Washington could quickly turn into a transportation gridlock here in Chicago.

Joseph G. Costello (Rich Hein~Sun-Times)

The Senate has passed a bill called MAP-21 that would extend funding for two years. But the House hasn't passed anything and is talking about a continuing resolution that would last for maybe for 90 days. On Monday House Republican leaders canceled a vote on even that option.

"We are very much in support of the Senate bill," Costello says. "We really see the House continuing resolution idea as very problematic."

Share of Chicagoans taking GOP ballots up 150%

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We can forget about that old adage that weather determines voter turnout. This has been one of the nicest Marches on record, but the electorate in Chicago hasn't exactly been knocking down the doors to get at the early-voting machines. There are too few significant contested elections for that.

in Chicago, the percentage of Republican ballot-takers is way up, but that's no surprise. Four years ago -- when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton topped the Democratic ballot -- 93 percent of ballots in Chicago were Democratic and 6 percent were Republican. This year, with the GOP presidential race still going strong and all quiet on the Democratic presidential front, 15 percent of the ballots have been Republican so far in early voting, which ends today.

That's not necessarily because of crossover voting. The people who are turning out on the Democratic side in a comparatively low-key year like this are the hard-core voters, who may never have missed an election. They still want a Democratic ballot because they are very interested in who wins the primary race for such offices as Circuit Court clerk and Illinois Supreme Court, District One. Switching to a Republican ballot might let them vote for a presidential candidate, but depending on where they live in the city they might not see any race for state representative, state senator, county offices or openings on the bench.

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GOP House candidate: I've been accurate about war record

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Jeanne Ives, who is running for the Illinois House in a four-way Republican primary, has this to say to those who accuse her of overstating her military record: "Shame on people who didn't serve and don't understand that anybody who served is supporting the mission of the combat unit."

Ives, 47, of Wheaton is running in the west suburban 42nd Representative District. The other candidates are Dave Carlin, 36, of Naperville; Laura M. Pollastrini, 44, of Carol Stream; and Chris Hage, 39, of Wheaton.

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Jeanne Ives

Ives' website describes her war record this way: "As an officer in the United States Army, she served overseas during the first Gulf War and her last assignment was as an ROTC instructor at Wheaton College."

Hidden surprise: A potential new state agency

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One of the surprises buried in the 10,000 or so bills floating around Springfield is a proposal to create Illinois' very own government insurance company to sell workers compensation insurance.

Last year, workers comp reform was one of the big issues in the General Assembly, and a reform package eventually was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. New cases have only begun working their way through the system, so it's too soon to tot up actual savings from the reform legislation.

Gov. Pat Quinn (Seth Perlman~AP)

But here's an indication: The National Council on Compensation Insurance has analyzed the law and concluded employer premiums for workers comp insurance should go down 8.8 percent. That makes the law sound like a big success.

And here's the catch. Private insurance companies don't have to adopt the NCCI's recommended rate. They could reduce their premiums by less than that or even raise them. (About 200 of the largest employers in the state -- think Ford, United and Caterpillar -- are self-insured, but everyone else depends on private insurers.)

Why your Illinois legislator is grumpy

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Be nice to your Illinois state legislator this week.

Bills are due out of committee on Friday, which makes this one of the busiest weeks of the session. Lawmakers are rushing around to committee meetings, presenting bills, sitting through sessions on the floor and wishing they'd gone into more uneventful lines of work.

One harried representative on Monday morning called the schedule this week "ridiculous." (At least they're not in the Cook County Building today, where the heat has been turned off for Casimir Pulaski Day.)

The Illinois state capitol

State representatives have introduced about 6,000 bills and state senators have put about 4,000 into the hopper, which raises the question: Are there really 10,000 things wrong with Illinois?

Oh, sorry. We're supposed to be nice this week.

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Statehouse pulls plug on secret subpoenas

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Sometimes there IS good news from Springfield: Legislators, at least for this session, are said to be pulling the plug on a bill that critics say would have authorized modern Star Chambers in state's attorney's offices around the state.

The original 14th and 15th century Star Chamber was a secret English court with no juries, no witnesses -- and no appeals -- that eventually turned into an effective political weapon.

The Illinois bill would have allowed a state's attorney to get an "administrative subpoena" requiring anyone -- not just a criminal suspect -- to come into the prosecutor's office and answer questions under oath. And the people who were called in would not be allowed to disclose to anyone, not even a spouse, that they had been subpoenaed (they could only tell their lawyer).

Anyone who did, say, tell a friend at the bar later on about what happened "shall be punished as a contempt of court," the bill says.

Effort to trim Cook County government falls by 1 vote

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The Cook County Board of Commissioners today turned down by one vote a proposal to merge the recorder of deeds and county clerk offices.

Commissioner John Fritchey had amended the proposal to delay implementation until Dec. 5, 2016, but that didn't get him all the votes he needed. The measure failed by a 9-8 vote.

The idea has been floating around for decades, but making it happen is another matter.

Fritchey had estimated the savings at $1 million a year. By coincidence, the board's vote came on the same day that the semiannual installment of Cook County property taxes was due.

County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said Thursday afternoon he thought the change to a four-year phase-in made the proposal virtually irrelevant. He said at the next board meeting, March 13, he will introduce a proposal to merge all of the property tax responsibilities of the treasurer, assessor, clerk and a tiny piece of the recorder's office (recording tax liens) into a single office called tax administrator.

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