Chicago Sun-Times

August 2008 Archives

Am writing this from the Excel Convention Center in St. Paul.....where delegates, reporters, and all those hotels and food service folks wonder what Hurricane Gustav will do to the next four days. Will have a report on NBC5 at 10PM and a column in the Sun-Times tomorrow.

McCain and the Base

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Here's an advance look at Sunday's column on McCain---his challenge and the challenge of Republicans in Illinois.,CST-NWS-carol31.article

On the road again....

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Am sitting in the Denver airport ready to fly home, unpack, repack, and fly to St. Paul for the Republican convention early tomorrow morning. Will begin posting again Sunday!!!

Wig vs. Bigwig

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Hey, I thought the Illinois delegation had the front row seat at this Democratic Convention.

Not so.

I was down in the delegation here at Invesco Field and saw a cordoned off area right in front of Illinois.

Who are they, I asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

"Bigwigs," she replied. Big funders, in other words.

But you're an elected official, I said. A bigwig.

"Nope," she replied, not a bigwig, "just a wig."

Oprah and Gayle....

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...are here.

The Obama Surprise

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There they were, the Illinois Democratic Women's luncheon at the Marriott this afternoon.
Congresswoman Melissa Bean told me she was a little surprised that Attorney General Lisa Madigan was going on awfully long in her remarks. Madigan was. That's because she was the only one in the room who had been told that Barack Obama was on his way but she couldn't tell anyone. The signal would be when a security guard walked towards her.
That's when she confessed she'd been blah-blah-blahing until she could say, "Here's Barack!" Obama told the women, who all knew him from way back when, that he was "coming home to all of you to practice my speech." He talked for three minutes, said Madigan, but it took about 12 minutes to get out the door.

My NBC5 colleague Mary Ann Ahern and I ran into Obama Communications Director Robert Gibbs as we were staking out Michelle Obama at Invesco Field.
"Robert," we said, "talk to us."
"Ah," joked Gibbs (or was he joking?), "it's Thelma and Louise. Which one of you is driving?"
"Both of us," cracked Ahern.
Gibbs, looking relaxed and confident, said Obama will make a real personal connection tonight.
What about criticism that this venue is "Temple Obama"?
Gibbs said it will be one giant class in how the audience can go out an organize for this election.

DENVER -- No, it wasn't the hug felt 'round the world. No, it isn't in the same category as peace in Northern Ireland.

But to see the political warlords of the Illinois Democratic Party actually hug each other Wednesday in Denver is something I wouldn't have missed for all the world.

And before you arch your eyebrow or curl your lip, let me tell which parts I thought were absolutely genuine. And which parts might be in some doubt.

Let's rewind.

Muhammad Ali, gently escorted by his wife and another woman, emerged from an SUV at 10:50PM tonight in Denver Tuesday night, and with their help, was slowly walked into Hotel Teatro.
Parkinson's disease has robbed him of voice and his physical strength but certainly not his will.  I yelled out the anthem of his fans, "Champ, you are the greatest."  His wife turned, smiled at me, said "thank you" and then continued to help walk her husband forward.
Muhammad Ali, black man in America who made history, has come to Denver to marvel at Barack Obama, black man who is making history.  Only in America.
Just got my hair blown dry at the Monaco Hotel by Laura.
Nice, nice woman who says delegates and reporters are deluging the salon where she works, the Renaissance.  As I sat there, waves of women washed upon her shore.  "I need to clone myself," she lamented.  Thank goodness Mary Ann Ahern, my NBC colleague, and I booked ahead. 

The Hillary Healing

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Hillary supporters still feeling disrespected
And Jones' remarks show more than one rift needs healing

August 26, 2008


There was a certain serenity about Michelle Obama in the Monday morning as she and her daughters walked onto the main convention stage in Denver.

Flanked by her brother and mother, Craig and Marian Robinson, and other members of her family, she calmly looked out into the vast array of empty seats of the yet-to-be-convened Democratic National Convention and took it all in.

If this is what nervous is supposed to look like, we should all be so nervous on the verge of the biggest public moment in our lives.

The folks you see

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Two great people in journalism are the most normal of people.
David Broder, the dean of Washington journalism and the Washington Post, was standing in line at the hot dog stand here in Denver.  No entourage for him.  And then sat on the grass in the shade as we talked about his Illinois roots, writing for the Bloomington Pantagraph before going to the big time.  Recently, he and Ab Mikva, Dawn Clark Netsch, John Anderson and other longtime political hands met at Adlai Stevenson's farm to talk about conventions past.  What a sight that must have been.
Harry Smith, anchor of the CBS Morning News, is a child of Lansing, Illinois.  Ran into him on the convention floor and talked about his blue collar parents teaching him the news business the old fashioned way, by reading newspapers and learning to love them at a young age.
Who knew, he said, that that preparation would lead to a career where you got to be on the front lines as the news was being made?  Who knew!

Is convention invite a sign Vallas plans renegade bid?

DENVER -- Paul Vallas got a call out of the blue last week from Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

It was an invitation.

Would Vallas like to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night?

Before I tell you Vallas' answer, let's think about why that call might have come when it did
DENVER -- Expectations in Denver convention country are a mile high but worry is a mile wide. The national polling gap between Barack Obama and John McCain is no gap at all.

Why does a star like Obama -- who can draw 200,000 Germans to the Brandenburg gate and 73,000 wildly enthusiastic supporters who will gather at Invesco Field for his acceptance speech Thursday night -- have a problem?

A state senator who served with Obama in the Illinois Legislature and supports him strongly confided one nagging concern many months ago.

"He and I agreed on a lot of bills, but I never saw him care so deeply about an issue that he was wiling to go down in flames for it," the legislator said.

It's the passion thing.

Denver Traffic

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We're on the ground in Denver.  A helicopter might have been a better choice of vehicle.
Met a guy who hasn't been to a convention in 40 years.  Yup.  That one.  He was in the National Guard.  This time around, he's an Obama volunteer.  Back to traffic!

Nepotitis. No cure.

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State politics smitten with incurable plague

August 20, 2008

Nepotitis. Unlike erectile dysfunction, the heartbreak of psoriasis or restless leg syndrome, there's no treatment for this one.

No vaccine to prevent it.

No antibodies to battle it.

Nepotitis is that rabid contagion of the Illinois political persuasion that infects whole families -- irrespective of race, color or creed. We witnessed another case of it just this week when state Senate President Emil Jones announced his sudden, post-primary retirement together with his plan to plant his son, Emil Jones III, on the November ballot so young Emil can, come January, sit in old Emil's 14th District South Side Chicago seat.

Oh, right, there will be an election. But the primary has conveniently come and gone when other candidates, had they known of President Jones' pending retirement, might have jumped in but didn't. And since the Republican opponent in the general election is none other than Ray "Spanky the Clown" Wardingley, a pitiable perennial, why bother with the general election? Let's just plop young Emil in his dad's seat now.

Nepotitis is a plague that never dies.

At the very same moment Barack Obama, an alumnus of the Illinois State Senate and a mentee of President Jones, is campaigning across America in behalf of change we can believe in and a new kind of politics. Here on the homefront we have his mentor playing the same old, cynical game that treats public office like a family entitlement. And the public payroll like a bequest.

You don't need me to remind you of our long and embarrassing history, but recent blasts from the past make the pattern clear.

Congressman Bill Lipinski was the picture of health through his primary race in the spring of 2004 only to be stricken with nepotitis mid-summer. The onset of the disease coincided with the deadline for ward committeemen to slip his out-of-state professor son, Dan, onto the November ballot where his opposition was a ringer the Lipinski forces had already planted on the Republican side of the ballot.

Nepotitis leaves nothing to chance.

Then, of course, we had the double-header over at the Cook County Board in 2006.

President John Stroger, felled by a stroke, stayed on the primary ballot until, once again, summer rolled around and with it, the deadline for ward bosses to install his son, Todd, on to the November ballot. Meanwhile, interim County Board President Bobbie Steele, whose pension was about to skyrocket with her momentary occupation of the president's post, had her own bout of nepotitis resulting in another quick resignation and installation of her own son, Robert, in his mother's commissioner seat.

I could go on and on, but really, why bother?

Now President Jones is pretty angry with us at the Sun-Times and at NBC5. Furious that we have dared to ask questions about how young Emil, lacking a college degree, got an administrator-level state job paying almost $60,000 a year; how his stepson, John Sterling, has been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in state subcontracts at the same time his stepfather was fighting the mandatory disclosure of subcontractors; and how Jones himself has regularly taken out no-interest loans from his million-dollar-plus campaign fund, more than half a million of which he can pull out in personal income thanks to a grandfathered-in campaign provision.

Again, I could go on because there's so much more to fuel the outrage.

What does Emil Jones III have to say about his candidacy for his dad's seat?


He has not returned Sun-Times' phone calls or e-mails. Why? President Jones' spokeswoman, Cindy Davidsmeyer, said Tuesday by phone from Springfield that Emil III is "still a private citizen, not on the ballot yet. That's the way he's conducting himself."

I understand. We all understand.

Nepotitis is not just incurable, it's all but invincible.

Finally, for John McCain, a week to smile about. "Obama fatigue," a virus that's afflicted the GOP presidential candidate for sometime now, was discovered in a new Pew survey to have spread to 48 percent of the populace.

And recent national polls now place McCain and Barack Obama in a statistical dead heat. Gallup's numbers have Obama 46, McCain 43.

Remember Dudley Do-Right? The jut-jawed Canadian Mountie cartoon character on "Rocky and His Friends" and later, the subject of a 1999 Sarah Jessica Parker movie?

Dudley Do-Right had lots of hair and always got his man despite the cunning Snidely Whiplash's efforts to do him in.

Political mystery No. 1: Is Bill Daley, mega-banker brother of Mayor Daley, ramping up to run for governor in 2010?

Political mystery No. 2: Is Paul Vallas, former head of Chicago schools who's now school chief in New Orleans not running for governor as rumored but instead considering a run for Cook County Board president? As a Republican?

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