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Here's what happened in 2nd congressional race this week

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In a race where most of the attacks were playing out quietly over direct mail, it's been a busy week in the 2nd congressional district with surprise endorsements, snubs, big money and a drop-out.

All the good stuff that goes into politics.

Here's a rundown:

Bloomberg Super-PAC jumps in the race

Michael Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC pumps money into a TV ad attacking Debbie Halvorson for her NRA rating. Halvorson defends the A rating and calls her opponents desperate because she is the frontrunner in the race.

Preckwinkle snubs Kelly, backs Hutchinson
"I've thought long and hard and frankly struggled with this decision because Robin Kelly is a former employee of mine and friend," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. But she also said this was about being pragmatic: "It's not necessarily about the person you know best or you've known the longest, but the person you think is the strongest candidate and will win -- and that's Sen. Hutchinson."

Robin Kelly gets the backing of Napoleon Harris
Napoleon Harris gave his support to Kelly as he dropped out of the race. Just weeks earlier, Harris had been blanketing the 2nd congressional district with direct mail ads. Harris, 33, a former NFL player and newly-minted state senator has some name recognition as well as deep pockets. In his race for state senate last year, Harris loaned himself $220,000, a debt he still carried on his latest campaign finance report.

Meanwhile, a consultant who worked on Harris' campaign was cited in a state ethics probe.

Hutchinson campaign hits Kelly over Harris.
"While pretending to be an advocate for gun safety reform, Robin Kelly yesterday accepted the endorsement of someone facing a felony gun charge. And today, after claiming to be a progressive supporter of women's rights, she accepted the endorsement of Senator Napoleon Harris, one of the Democratic Party's most deeply conservative voices. Senator Harris is on record as anti-choice, anti-marriage equality, against the Equal Rights Amendment, and in favor of voter ID laws. Anyone who values these rights needs to question whether Robin Kelly can be trusted to stand up for them in Washington."

Hutchinson wins backing of 48 pastors
"There is no question in our mind that Toi Hutchinson is the candidate who will take our voices with us to Congress," Bishop Simon Gordon of Triedstone Full Grace Baptist Church says in a statement. "She has the kind of commitment to anti-violence, education, and job creation that we need so desperately right now. I'm excited to have her fighting for us in Washington."

Gun issue front and center at forum
A major topic was gun violence, and the killing this week of a 15-year-old Chicago girl, Hadiya Pendleton, who had attended President Barack Obama's inauguration with her school band, was cited by the candidates who back stricter gun control.


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XXI by

brothers emanuel cover.jpeg

My post on Ezekiel Emanuel's memoir about growing up in Chicago and Wilmette with his brothers Rahm and Ari is HERE.

Zeke will be on a book tour for his book and hits Chicago on April 5 at the Union League Club, 65 W Jackson Blvd.

reagan_jan31.jpg Art by Jason Heuser

As previously reported, the Hyde Park apartment building that once was the childhood home of Ronald Reagan, was quietly slated for demolition by the University of Chicago. But a report by The Daily Mail alleges to shed light on what it's being torn down for, something that will surely cause a political war that will tear asunder space and time: the parking lot to the eventual Barack Obama Presidential Library. But before any holy wars flare up over preserving the home of the patron saint of the GOP, the White House has already nipped the rumor in the bud.

Of course, this won't stop the Tea Party Fearmonger Monster™ from quickly spreading the alarm through conservative cyber space that now not only is Obama coming for your guns, but he's coming for The Gipper, too. This despite the fact that - as of a month ago - we still don't know where the Obama Library will be built.

But what we do know is this: there will be a Presidential Library for Barack Obama, just as every president has had one dedicated to him since Herbert Hoover. (Yes, even George W. Bush.) And Chicago is the likely eventual home of the Obama Library because one does not cross Rahm Emanuel (though Obama's former childhood home of Honolulu is also apparently in the running but, come on. Rahm.). Meanwhile, conservatives smarting from the razing of the apartment building will use the Necronomicon to summon Reagan's ghost which will satiate its bloodlust with a terrible vengeance upon the nonbelievers.

UPDATE: So it looks like the Daily Mail got their information from this story over at the hilariously partisan Washington Times.

What makes a man great? And what makes a great president? Historians pen large tomes about that. Every man is the sum of his experiences - his loves, his losses, his achievements, and failures. How he sees the world and how the world sees him.

And this place - this place was a part of Reagan's formative years - what he discovered and experienced here in Chicago helped him on the way to greatness.

Reagan lived in Chicago from 1915 until 1916. If learning how to do simple arithmetic and spelling puts someone on their way to greatness, sure, I guess. I don't know what part of learning to wear big boy pants helped develop trickle down economics.

In 2012, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks denied Reagan's home landmark status. The University of Chicago set demolition for January and the bulldozers quickly moved in. The wrecking balls are ready.
A "plaque" could mark the historic spot instead, say university representatives.

Besides being melodramatic, the sarcastic quotation marks around plaque are a nice touch.

It is safe to say that Democrats don't want any reminders of a Republican president named Reagan and his glory days a stone's throw from a future Obama Presidential Library. Better to raze the building now, than later. But do they have the right to erase Ronald Reagan from Chicago history?

To be fair, Democrats do seem to shudder at the name as much as Republicans fall to their knees in tears at its mention. That said, I doubt anyone connected with Obama, the University, or the Library are that concerned with a "plaque" being close to the Library. It's not as if all these Republicans are wearing ruts in the concrete to go visits an apartment building where a guy lived for four years, either. This is Chicago, Mayor Daley's Chicago where tearing down historical buildings is a past time, landmark association be damned. Don't take it personally, guys.

SPRINGFIELD-Scolding his union allies, House Speaker Michael Madigan Wednesday rejected a push by organized labor for a "summit" to talk about pension reform, saying the unions' request was "not timely."

The biting, two-page letter to Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan carried a stern tone and accused labor of offering "no cooperation" on the pension front or on other financial pressures facing the state.

The timing of the Madigan letter coincides with last week's downgrade of the state's credit rating so Illinois now is considered by Standard & Poor's to be the least credit-worthy state in the country. That action factored into Gov. Pat Quinn's decision Wednesday to pull the plug on a $500 million bond issue.

In his open letter, Madigan jabbed Carrigan and the labor leader's call for a Feb. 11 pension summit with Quinn and legislative leaders and took particular umbrage at the unions' notion that "pension reforms faltered because the concerns of labor were not considered."

"In my view, the positions of organized labor were taken into account during the 2012 legislative session. I recall no fewer than eight high-level meetings that took place with labor, legislative leaders and the governor," wrote Madigan, who also is chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

"At that time, I felt there was little willingness from representatives of labor to draft a comprehensive, common-sense solution," he said.

Madigan went on to point out that government workers in Illinois have the fourth highest state worker pay among the 12 most populous states, and that public employees here pay "significantly less for their insurance premiums than those in the private sector."

"It is time for labor to come to the table with an honest proposal that recognizes the state's serious fiscal condition and puts government employees on par with those in the private sector relative to a benefits package," Madigan wrote.

In an understated rebuttal to the speaker, Carrigan expressed "regrets" at Madigan's unwillingness to participate in a pension summit and pointed to a union plan already on the table that would hike employee pension contributions, cut corporate tax breaks and guarantee no future shortchanging by the state in required contributions to the pension systems. That plan also had the potential to avert a protracted legal battle, he said.

Carrigan's harshest language for the speaker was directed at his assault on the salaries and benefits Illinois' public workers now get.

"We were particularly surprised and disappointed that the speaker singled out state employees from our coalition--which includes teachers, police, fire fighters, nurses, caregivers and many others--and decried their efforts to maintain decent wages and affordable health care," Carrigan said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday steered clear of the political controversy surrounding New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to target Democrat Debbie Halvorson in the race to succeed Jesse Jackson Jr.

Rahm takes Durbin letter on Midway in stride

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday took in stride U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's demand that the federal government somehow be repaid the $378 million in federal funds used to rebuild Midway Airport if and when the airport is privatized.

SPRINGFIELD-The state's top ethics watchdog Wednesday accused a campaign consultant for state Sen. Napoleon Harris of misusing family leave time from his state job so he could do legislative campaign work.

State Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza recommended that University Park resident Curtis Thompson be barred from future state employment because of his alleged actions.

"Mr. Thompson sought [family] leave on a fraudulent basis, submitted a false [family leave] form and attempted to cover up his fraudulent activity by stating that he had resigned," Meza's report said.

Thompson, a one-time $66,612-a-year administrator at the Department of Central Management Services, obtained family leave time from the agency in January 2012 ostensibly to care for his terminally ill father in Alabama, Meza alleged.

But instead, the report said, Thompson did political work for parts of three months, leading up to the March 20, 2012 Democratic primary where Harris prevailed in a three-way race in the 15th Senate District.

Meza's report does not explicitly name Harris as the legislative candidate for whom Thompson worked while on family leave from the state, and an aide to Meza would neither confirm nor deny Harris was the candidate.

But the report outlines four dates on which Thompson received a combined $9,500 for his political work. State campaign records show that Harris paid Thompson that amount on the same four dates identified in Meza's report.

Thompson told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday that he engaged in no wrongdoing and that he had resigned his state job before doing political work.

"The report is not accurate. I didn't leave the state in order to work on a campaign, nor did I work on a campaign on state time," he said.

Thompson would not divulge anything about his campaign work for Harris, other than to describe the senator as a "great guy."

The unnamed candidate believed to be Harris told investigators that Thompson "was retained to assist with campaign activities such as gathering voter data. [The candidate] also told investigators that Mr. Thompson told him that he would need to take leave time from his job in order to start working for his campaign," Meza's report said.

"[The candidate] also told investigators that Mr. Thompson made one trip to Alabama to visit his sick father," the report said.

Messages left for Harris at his state Senate office and his congressional campaign office weren't returned. On Wednesday, Harris ended his bid for the congressional seat once held by former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago).

Harris was not accused of any wrongdoing by Meza.

Investigators, who'd been tipped about Thompson's possible misuse of leave time from his state job, determined through surveillance of the candidate's campaign office and through telephone calls that Thompson had worked there.

Investigators contacted Thompson on the date of the primary to lay out the allegations against him. He maintained he'd resigned from CMS in February and produced a handwritten resignation letter dated Feb. 1, 2012. His boss at CMS contended he never received that document from Thompson, Meza's report said.

State payroll records show Thompson left the state payroll on March 21, 2012, one day after the Illinois primary election. Meza's report states that Thompson was fired by CMS on that date because his "stated reasons for seeking leave were false."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday urged the Cubs and the owners of rooftop clubs to get back to the table and stay there until they nail down a compromise that would generate the $300 million needed to renovate Wrigley Field.

harris_jan30.JPG Napoleon Harris in May 2012 // Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

State Sen. Napoleon Harris has dropped out of the race to fill the seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr. and will back former state Rep. Robin Kelly.

"Even though I am ending my bid for Congress today, I am still committed to fighting for the same causes that led me to enter this race," Harris said.

Harris announced his decision to enter the special election in December.

Kelly said her campaign continues to build momentum because of her pledge to stop gun violence and get dangerous weapons off our streets.

"The voters of the second district deserve someone in Congress who they can trust to stand with President Obama to take on the NRA," Kelly said. "While some of my opponents have A ratings with the NRA, I couldn't be proud of my F rating and it's a record that I will take to Congress to fight for the families across Chicago and the Southland."

Robin Kelly was appointed chief administrative officer for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in 2011. She is a former state representative from Matteson, which is in the 2nd District.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn's administration abruptly put the brakes on a $500 million bond issue scheduled Wednesday because of an "unsettled" market it attributed to last week's bond-rating downgrade for the state.

"Our conversations with potential bidders lead us to believe the market is unsettled because of recent actions and comments by the bond rating agencies," Abdon Pallasch, Quinn's assistant budget director, said in a prepared statement.

"We plan to schedule a new bond sale after the markets have had time to digest the news," he said.

The move comes after Standard & Poor's rated Illinois' bonds at A- with a negative outlook, a standing that propelled Illinois below California as the least credit-worthy state in the country.

The money was to have been used for state road, school and other construction projects.

Standard & Poors justified its action because of inertia on pension reform during the lame-duck legislative session earlier this month and pessimism that nothing will happen on the issue in the foreseeable future.

Standard & Poor's action followed a similar negative move by Fitch three days after lawmakers concluded their lame-duck session without a pension deal. Fitch placed its "A" rating on $26.2 billion in outstanding state debt on a "negative" outlook.

"The administration's decision to pull the $500 million bond sale today is a clear indication that officials were concerned that we might pay too much in interest, in large part due to our awful credit rating," House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said in a prepared statement.

"Our failure to pass meaningful pension reform, to pay down our large backlog of bills and to live within our means is contributing to this uncertainty in the markets for us," Cross said.


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XX by

By Natasha Korecki
Political Reporter

U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) proposed the first bipartisan gun safety legislation of the new Congress on Wednesday taking aim at traffickers and the flow of illegal weapons.

The proposal would for the first time make gun trafficking a federal crime, which would presumably carry higher penalties consistent with federal convictions. As part of the new bill, it would be a federal crime for someone to "sell or otherwise transfer" weapons to another person knowing "or have reasonable cause to believe" that the person they're buying it for cannot legally own it. It also bans someone from the "purchase or otherwise acquire" two or more firearms knowing that just by receiving it they are breaking the law. The bill also makes it a federal crime to provide false information on an ATF firearms transaction form, which targets straw purchasers.
The new bill comes as a major gun safety hearing is to take place before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, with expected testimony from former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt, and National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre.
Kirk, who returned to work in the Senate earlier this month after having a stroke a year ago, is also working on legislation with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) to expand background checks, according to a Kirk staffer.
Kirk is a long-time backer of a ban on assault weapons, the most controversial of gun control proposals, but his current legislative efforts are focused elsewhere.
Law enforcement sources told the Sun-Times earlier this month that an assault weapons ban would do little for Chicago, where such a ban has been on the books for decades yet murders topped 500 last year and violence continues to rage through the City.
More important, law enforcement says, is to focus on a large number of firearms that land in the hands of criminals through straw purchasing in the suburbs and other states.

Currently, no federal laws specifically outlaw straw purchasing, in which people with clean backgrounds buy guns for crooks.

Straw purchasers typically face probation for paperwork violations. A real threat of prison could put a chokehold on the practice, the sources said.

Even gang bangers are aware that federal charges routinely bring lengthy, serious sentences.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) video about their gun trafficking bill, introduced on Wednesday, aimed at reducing straw purchasers--a proposal that could impact gang violence in Chicago, Kirk said in the video. As Congress takes up the debate over measures to curb gun violence, the Kirk-Gillibrand measure is the first bi-partisan bill.

Kirk is also part of a bi-partisan group, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), drafting a measure to expand gun background checks.

below, Kirk release...

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) will introduce their bipartisan gun trafficking legislation later this morning to crack down on the daily flow of illegal guns on our nation's streets. The Gillibrand-Kirk Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 will for the first time make gun trafficking a federal crime to provide tools to law enforcement to get illegal guns off the streets and away from criminal networks and street gangs. This is the first bipartisan gun safety measure introduced this Congress. Senator Gillibrand has been working on gun trafficking legislation since 2009. Currently, there is no federal law that defines gun trafficking as a crime.

"I am proud to work with Senator Kirk who shares my commitment to cracking down on gun trafficking to keep illegal guns off our streets. Our bipartisan bill will save lives, it is not a Republican or Democratic idea, it is just the right idea," said Senator Gillibrand. "The absence of any federal law defining gun trafficking in this country is shocking. It is time to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of dangerous people. By cracking down on illegal gun traffickers and their vast criminal networks, we can stop the flow of illegal guns and reduce gun violence. I look forward to working with all of our colleagues on both side of the aisle to pass this important piece of legislation."

"Gun trafficking is allowing gangs and violence to flourish in Chicago," said Senator Kirk. "The Chicago Crime Commission reported that Chicago Police confiscate an average of 13,000 illegal weapons each year. Last summer, gang violence killed 500 men, women and children in Chicago. We must put a stop to this cycle, which is why I have joined with Senator Gillibrand to take serious action to prevent straw purchases and ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to crack down on illegal weapons trafficking."

Every day, illegal guns are flowing into cities around the country and used by gangs and other criminal organizations to terrorize our communities. In New York City, 85% of the guns used in gun crimes come from out of state, and 90% of these guns are estimated to be illegal. Yet while law enforcement agencies work overtime to track down these weapons, there is no federal law that enables law enforcement to investigate and prosecute those who traffic these firearms. None of our laws are directly focused on preventing someone from one state to drive to another state with stricter gun laws, park their car in a parking lot, and sell hundreds of firearms out of the back of their trunk to criminals.

In 2009, just ten states supplied nearly half - 49% - of the guns that crossed state lines before being recovered in crimes. Together, these states accounted for nearly 21,000 interstate crime guns recovered.

Over the past three fiscal years, more than 330,000 guns used in violent gun crimes showed telltale signs of black market trafficking; 420,000 firearms were stolen; and thousands of guns with obliterated serial numbers were recovered by law enforcement. The horrific shooting of first responders in Webster, New York last month involved the use of a straw purchaser.

The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 would empower local, state, and federal law enforcement to investigate and prosecute gun traffickers and their entire criminal networks, including gangs, cartels and organized crime rings. Specifically the bill will make it illegal to:
Sell or otherwise transfer 2 or more firearms to someone whom the seller knows, or has reasonable cause to know, is prohibited by Federal, State or local laws from owning a firearm (e.g. felon, convicted domestic abuser).
Purchase or otherwise acquire 2 or more firearms if the recipient knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that such receipt would be in violation of any Federal, State, or local law (e.g. if the recipient is a prohibited owner).
Provide false information on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives firearms transaction record form (e.g. straw purchasing).
Knowingly facilitate the above actions.
Exceptions are made for gifts and inheritances, so long as the giver and recipient are not prohibited by federal, state or local law from owning a firearm.
The bill establishes harsh penalties, including a maximum prison penalty of 20 years for the above infractions. The penalty is further increased by 5 years for the organizer(s) of the trafficking ring and conspirators face a maximum penalty of 20 years. The legislation also calls upon the Sentencing Commission to substantially increase the penalties for trafficking when committed by or in concert with members of gangs, cartels, organized crime rings or other criminal enterprises.

WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in an interview Tuesday, defended his handling of the battery failures leading to the grounding of the new Boeing Dreamliner 787 fleet.

LaHood said he made no mistakes -- including on Jan. 11 vouching for the safety of Dreamliners after a fire broke out Jan. 7 in a lithium-ion battery in a JAL 787 parked at Boston's Logan Airport.

On Jan. 16, a 787 made an emergency landing in Japan after a similar battery was smoking, leading to the FAA grounding order the same day.

"People know that I get up every day and think about safety and I think my record over four years shows that," he told me.

LaHood on Tuesday announced his departure, saying he will serve until his successor is confirmed.

The former Peoria lawmaker, a buddy of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was the only Republican in President Barack Obama's Cabinet. Emanuel cleared the way for the appointment when he was Obama's chief of staff. LaHood and Emanuel talk two or three times a week, LaHood told me.

The Dreamliner battery failure is one of the most serious safety issues occurring on LaHood's watch.

Last week, Deborah Hersman, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said "the expectation in aviation is to never experience a fire on board an aircraft. In two weeks' time, we saw two cases of battery failures on the 787 and the grounding of the entire fleet by the FAA. The significance of these events cannot be understated."

I asked LaHood why he vouched for the Dreamliners on Jan. 11 and he said that on that day, "it was safe to fly." After the second battery failed, "it was time for us to say to Boeing, 'Ground those planes, let's do a top to bottom review,' so look it, I have no regrets about any of that."

LaHood said he's had no pressure from Boeing -- headquartered in Chicago -- to try to speed up the various investigations.

"They got to get this right and we want them to get it right," he said.

Would Boeing be crippled if the groundings went on for some time? "No, not at all," LaHood said. "Boeing is a great company. They know how to make airplanes. They will fix this."

I asked LaHood about Hersman's strong remarks.

"It's a completely new plane," LaHood said, commenting on the Dreamliner design. "It's an electronic plane using lithium batteries.

"So the idea that when you develop new technology and you develop a new product, you're not going to have bugs, it's just the way things work."

The prospect of having a battery on fire or smoking on an airplane was horrifying, I said to LaHood.
"That's why we grounded them. . . . All the smartest people in the world are trying to figure out what the fix is here and what went wrong and eventually they will."

On his departure, LaHood told me he met with President Barack Obama about 10 days after the election and told him he was "really conflicted" over whether he wanted to stay for a second term because he loved the job.
Obama "asked me to think about it for a while, which I did," but his wife of 45 years, Kathy, was "ready for me to move on," so LaHood, 67, will soon start the next chapter of his life.

LaHood will still call Peoria home, but will be anchored in D.C. as he scouts out business opportunities, perhaps serving on corporate boards. One of his sons, Darin, is a GOP state senator from a central Illinois district.

Through his tenure, LaHood has done very well for Illinois, sending federal dollars home for high-speed rail, O'Hare Airport modernization, Emanuel's river walk and last week granting final federal approval of the Elgin-O'Hare toll road.

And if you are wondering: Last March, LaHood pulled a GOP Illinois primary ballot -- voting for his son, but not a GOP presidential candidate. In November, LaHood voted for Obama.

WASHINGTON--Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle hits Washington on Wednesday for a Governing Magazine panel on "How to Build the Good Life - A conversation with local government leaders on how to fashion livable, viable communities."

Others on the panel:
Bob Buckhorn, Mayor, Tampa, Florida
Lisa Wong, Mayor, Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Mark Funkhouser, Ph.D., Director, The Governing Institute, former mayor, Kansas City, Missouri

The event is being held at the National Press Club.

Presckwinkle was in Washington over for the Jan. 21 inauguration of President Barack Obama and associated events.

TERRE HAUTE, IND. -- On Wednesday, Illinois is expected to have a new distinction: Just one former governor will be serving time in federal prison.

George H. Ryan is expected to be released from the federal prison camp here and moved to a halfway house on Chicago's West Side. His family and close friends made clear on Tuesday that an effort was afoot to avoid memorializing his departure from prison, where by midday, a horde of media already were staged.

Rod Blagojevich, the other governor behind bars, is serving out a far lengthier sentence -- 14 years, which he began less than a year ago.

Read more: George Ryan to leave prison for halfway house

Illinois 2nd Congressional District candidate Debbie Halvorson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that she is open to a discussion on some kind of ban on high-capacity clips as she denounced a new ad funded by Independence USA PAC, a Bloomberg SuperPAC, attacking her on her gun safety stance. She called the ad an "act of desperation," by opponents who want to knock her down from her front-runner status in the race for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat.
Beyond that, she says the ad isn't accurate.
Halvorson said on Tuesday that the Bloomberg ad, which knocks her for having an A rating from the NRA and for opposing a ban on high capacity clips, is basing its opinion on an old questionnaire that she filled out years ago.
Would she be open to a discussion on some kind of ban on high-capacity clips?
"Absolutely. Because that's I think where our problem lies," Halvorson told the Sun-Times. "You better believe it. We need all parties at the table. And that's why I'm the best person to send to Congress -- because I'm the only one who can talk to both sides. I'm the only one who can go back to Congress and have a talk with all parties and have a common sense conversation with how we can fix this. I take this as a sign of desperation."
While Halvorson has recently said she would not support a ban on assault weapons, she said she would be open to toughening laws against straw purchasers, changes in background checks as well as boosting accuracy of weapon-owner databases.
Cook County has had a longtime ban on assault weapons and Chicago had more than 500 murders last year, including one in which an assault weapon was used.
Polls have repeatedly put Halvorson in the lead against other top-tiered candidates in the 2nd congressional race.
Halvorson, of Crete, had a leg up on name recognition as a one-term congresswoman who made a failed run against Jackson in last year's primary as well as the benefit of having an organization in place when Jackson resigned from his job last November.

Former State Rep. Robin Kelly, State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, Ald. Anthony Beale and State. Sen. Napoleon Harris are among the top tier of candidates amid the 17 Democrats running in the Feb. 26th special primary. Kelly has tried to capitalize on her lifetime F rating with the NRA in the race, by calling on her opponents to release their NRA questionnaires. Hutchinson also notched an A rating from the NRA, but has not been the target of Bloomberg's ads -- as of yet. Hutchinson recently signed on to failed state legislation that would ban assault rifles.

"It was my NRA rating when I represented a rural district, with no Cook County, representing all rural, no Cook County," she said of her district before a congressional remap changed boundaries. The Second Congressional district stretches into Cook, Will and Kankakee counties. "I did have an A rating, as did Toi Hutchinson. Since then, I haven't even filled out an NRA questionnaire, I didn't now."

Halvorson said the ad was an effort to change the subject from the fact that she's leading in the polls.

"This is more going after the front-runner and trying to change the subject and the fact that
Cook County already has an assault weapons ban. If I were Toni Preckwinkle, I would be embarrassed, too. If I were Toni Preckwinkle, I would try to change the subject also. It's a shame she's trying to change the subject. I don't think it's her fault, but I do think it's hypocritical of her to try to blame me, she's the Cook County Board PResident, why aren't they talking about what they can do to reduce crime instead of saying we need a national ban on assault weapons and Debbie Halvorson isn't doing enough about it."

Preckwinkle on Monday endorsed Hutchinson in the race.

Today, President Obama is in Las Vegas, Nevada where he will deliver remarks regarding his new pitch for new immigration reform. Just yesterday a bipartisan group of senators announced they had reached an agreement on a new proposal for immigration reform. Follow along above with Obama's speech and below with updates from Sun-Times D.C. correspondent Lynn Sweet.

WASHINGTON--A group of Chicagoans who are protesting closings of Chicago Public Schools are trying to prod Education Secretary Arne Duncan to intervene, appearing Tuesday at a meeting at the department here. Duncan is the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

The Chicagoans making the trip were organized by the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), a South Side group and Action Now, a community organization based on the near West Side. Activists from 18 cities in all are expected to be at the afternoon meeting.

The Chicago group is using several strategies to address the closings, including raising questions over whether shuttering neighborhood schools violate the civil rights of the minority communities impacted.

"It is crucial that policymakers hear the issues, recognize the discriminatory and destabilizing impact these closings and turnarounds have brought about and take immediate steps to put a moratorium on school closings to stop the divestment in our youth," the Rev. Krista Alston, a KOCO leader said in a statement.

An Education Department spokesman told me Monday Duncan is expected to stop by the meeting and that federal options to prevent local school closings were limited.


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XIX by

WASHINGTON--Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told his staff Tuesday that he was stepping down, staying until his President Barack Obama's replacement is confirmed. LaHood, from Peoria, is a former Illinois lawmaker--who grew close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel when they both served in the House. LaHood was a champion of high-speed rail and led a campaign against Distracted Driving.

Obama, who got to know LaHood when he was an Illinois senator, said in a statement, "I want to thank Secretary LaHood for his dedication, his hard work, and his years of service to the American people - including the outstanding work he's done over the last four years as Secretary of Transportation. I also want to thank Ray for his friendship.

"Years ago, we were drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent. And Ray has never wavered in that belief. As Secretary of Transportation, he has fought to create jobs and grow our economy by rebuilding our roads, bridges and transit systems. Under his leadership, we have made significant investments in our passenger rail system and laid the groundwork for the high-speed rail network of the future.

"And every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger. I am grateful to Ray for everything he's done, and I wish him only the best going forward.

Obama tapped another Republican, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be his Defense Secretary in his second term; his confirmation hearing is Thursday.

One of LaHood's sons, Darin, is a state senator, representing a Central Illinois district.

Below, the e-mail LaHood sent Tuesday morning, announcing his departure:

From: Message From The Secretary (OST)
Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 9:36 AM
Subject: Second Term Announcement - Thank You for Four Extraordinary Years

TO: All DOT Employees and Contractors

FROM: Ray LaHood

I have let President Obama know that I will not serve a second term as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the Department, and I am grateful to President Obama for giving me such an extraordinary opportunity. I plan to stay on until my successor is confirmed to ensure a smooth transition for the Department and all the important work we still have to do.

As I look back on the past four years, I am proud of what we have accomplished together in so many important areas. But what I am most proud of is the DOT team. You exemplify the best of public service, and I truly appreciate all that you have done to make America better, to make your communities better, and to make DOT better.

Our achievements are significant. We have put safety front and center with the Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue that was decades in the making. We have made great progress in improving the safety of our transit systems, pipelines, and highways, and in reducing roadway fatalities to historic lows. We have strengthened consumer protections with new regulations on buses, trucks, and airlines.

We helped jumpstart the economy and put our fellow Americans back to work with $48 billion in transportation funding from the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and awarded over $2.7 billion in TIGER grants to 130 transportation projects across the Nation. We have made unprecedented investments in our nation's ports. And we have put aviation on a sounder footing with the FAA reauthorization, and secured funding in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act to help States build and repair their roads, bridges and transit systems.

And to further secure our future, we have taken transportation into the 21st century with CAFE Standards, NextGen, and our investments in passenger and High-Speed Rail. What's more, we have provided the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with the funding and leadership it needs to prepare a new generation of midshipmen to meet our country's rapidly-evolving defense and maritime transportation needs.

Closer to home, we also have made great strides. In December, the DOT was recognized as the most improved agency in the entire Federal government in the 2012 "Best Places to Work" rankings published by the Partnership of Public Service. Even more impressive, DOT was ranked 9th out of the 19 largest agencies in the government.

Each of these remarkable accomplishments is a tribute your hard work, creativity, commitment to excellence, and most of all, your dedication to our country. DOT is fortunate to have such an extraordinary group of public servants. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as the selection and confirmation process of the next transportation secretary moves forward. Now is not the time to let up - we still have a number of critical safety goals to accomplish and still more work to do on the implementation of MAP-21.

I've told President Obama, and I've told many of you, that this is the best job I've ever had. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to work with all of you and I'm confident that DOT will continue to achieve great things in the future.

Thank you, and God bless you.

Durbin et al immigration reform press conference .JPG
Senators at Immigration Press Conference, Jan. 28, 2013, from left: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); Sen. John McCain (R-Az.); Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.)
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

Durbin et al immigration reform press conference .JPG
Senators at Immigration Press Conference in the Capitol, Jan. 28, 2013, from left: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); Sen. John McCain (R-Az.); Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Sen. Dick Durbin, on the bi-partisan immigration proposals. (video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--A bi-partisan group of Senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform plan on Monday, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) optimistic that "this will be the year Congress finally gets it done."

"We've been down this road before, but I feel very good about our chances this time," Durbin said at a press conference in the Capitol.

After years of false starts, the 2012 election results--where Hispanics overwhelming voted for President Barack Obama--are bringing Republicans to the bargaining table. Obama delivers a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas outlining his comprehensive immigration plan--which is expected to be close to what the senators are proposing.

"We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough. It's our hope that these principles can be turned into legislation by March and have a markup by Chairman Leahy's committee with the goal of passage out of the Senate by late spring or summer,'" Schumer said.

"Senator Durbin and I spoke to the president yesterday to update him on this group's progress, and he couldn't be more pleased. He strongly supports this effort. The key to our compromise is to recognize that Americans overwhelmingly oppose illegal immigration and support legal immigration.

"...Other bipartisan groups of senators have stood in the same spot before, trumpeting similar proposals. But we believe this will be the year Congress finally gets it done," Schumer said.

McCain, who in 2006 worked with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) to pass a bi-partisan plan which had the support of former President George W. Bush--called the plan "a first step in what will continue to be difficult but achievable. And I don't think I have to remind anyone the last major attempt was over six years ago. Now we will again attempt to commit the remaining resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current immigration system and create a tough but fair path to citizenship for those here illegally."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hit the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Friday and stayed for part of the weekend. City Hall spokesman Sarah Hamilton told me it was a "personal trip with friends" and without wife Amy Rule.

"Just had one of my stranger experiences at ‪@sundancefest: seeing Rahm Emanuel," Jeremy Scahill wrote Friday on his Twitter feed.

Just shook the mighty hand of RAHM EMANUEL," Holly Vandervoorde wrote on her Twitter feed.

WASHINGTON--A bi-partisan group of senators, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) unveil their comprehensive immigration reform plan at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Click below for the details.

My Monday column on challenges the group faces to getting this passed is HERE.


WASHINGTON -- Prospects for immigration reform are improving: A bipartisan group of senators -- including Illinois' Dick Durbin -- will announce the broad outlines of a deal Monday as President Barack Obama on Tuesday kicks off his push for a comprehensive plan.


"We are committed to a comprehensive approach to finally, in this country, have an immigration law we can live with," Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday."

"We've still got a lot of hard work ahead, but I'm very pleased with the progress," Sen. John McCain said on ABC's "This Week." An agreement could be announced this week, he said.

After the November election three Democrats -- Durbin, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bob Menendez -- teamed up with three Republicans -- McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Marco Rubio -- to try to fashion legislation that could pass the GOP-run House and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Col.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) are also part of the group.

McCain tried to forge immigration reform deals in 2005 and 2006, working with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, only to have hardline activists block any potential of compromise. In 2007, Obama, then an Illinois senator, and McCain backed a measure that failed. Against that dismal history is a major reason for optimism this time around: The November election results, where Obama won in part because of the growing Hispanic vote.

"What's changed is, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle -- including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle -- that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill," McCain said.

Both Durbin and McCain said their package would include a path to citizenship for the more than 10 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally -- one of the most contentious issues for Republicans.

"That has to be, also, part of it," McCain said.

"Well, I'll give you a little straight talk," McCain said after being asked how Republicans could be sold on the citizenship plank of the plan. "Look at the last election. We are losing dramatically the Hispanic vote which we think should be ours for a variety of reasons. And we've got to understand that.

"Second of all, this -- we can't go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status. We cannot forever have children who were born here -- who were brought here by their parents when they were small children to live in the shadows as well.

"So I think the time is right."

Durbin said the proposal would have as a "high priority the unification of families" and DREAM Act language -- to allow youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own a change to legally stay. Durbin first proposed a DREAM Act more than a dozen years ago.

Since the election Rep. Paul Ryan -- Mitt Romney' running mate -- has also been working on bipartisan deals. I reported last month how Ryan, Rubio and Rep. Luis Gutierrez -- a House leader on immigration issues -- had been meeting to determine where they could forge agreements.

"I think that there are Republicans and Democrats, many of us are talking to each other, that can come together with a good solution to make sure that this problem is fixed once and for all," Ryan said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Obama on Friday met with Gutierrez and other leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus at the White House to discuss immigration. Gutierrez -- who has been concerned about the growing number of deportations -- told me Sunday that Obama told the group that immigration reform "was his number one priority."

President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, complete CBS "60 Minutes" interview

Obama a skeet shooter

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is a skeet shooter, he discloses in an interview The New Republic, commenting as he is pressing Congress to pass a variety of measures to curb gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre and other shootings.

Asked if he ever fired a gun, Obama said "Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," but not with his daughters.

"Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there. And I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.

"Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas. And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were ten, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that.

"So it's trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes."

WASHINGTON--If he had a son, President Barack Obama would not allow him to play football--the sport is too violent and need to change to protect the players, even if it makes the game "less exciting," he told The New Republic.

He said the NCAA needs to "think about" college players who suffer from concussions with the president less worried about NFL players because they are "grown men" who can make decisions about what they want to do.

Obama was asked about watching football, "knowing the impact that the game takes on its players."

Responded Obama, "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much.

"I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they're grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies. You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about."


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XVIII by

This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

As the Illinois pension crisis hit home again Friday with another Wall Street credit downgrade, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford predicted $95 million in taxpayer costs and further inaction from state lawmakers to solve the problem.

"I don't think that these negative notices - watches, warnings and downgrades - is what's gonna cause [action on pension reform]" Rutherford said Friday.

"I think the action is gonna come when these numbers are gonna start to hit home, when it has become realistic that only $600 million - and that's a lot of money - in additional revenue is coming in and $940 million more in pension payments."

The gap between those projected numbers along with the state's $97 billion unfunded pension liability also struck fear into the Standard & Poor's credit agency, which downgraded Illinois bonds to an A- rating with a negative outlook Friday, giving the state the worst credit rating in the nation.

"If less action is taken, one of three things has to occur," Rutherford said. "Either [lawmakers] go out and borrow the spread - the $340 million dollars - which is very bad. Two, they raise more revenue - taxes or fees - which is very bad. Or three, cut the budget by $340 million."

As Illinois surpasses California as the country's worst credit risk and is set to issue $500 million in bonds Wednesday, Rutherford fears the costs to taxpayers could be substantial.

"This downgrade just occurred today, but prior to this our estimate is - compared to where we are today, compared with a AAA rating - it will cost the taxpayers about $95 million more in interest than if we had a better bond rating," he said.

The downgrade on Wall Street follows a largely lethargic lame-duck session earlier this month that passed no pension reform, despite a deadline set by Gov. Pat Quinn.

"That was on Jan. 9 - inaction," Rutherford said Friday of the deadline. "Two days later, Fitch put us on a negative watch. Moody's had us as 50th of the worst states in the nation. Today, Standard & Poor's has moved us from 49 to 50."

The treasurer also said that "the problem with Illinois is the leadership we have in Illinois today." So what would Rutherford - who is considering a 2014 run for governor - have done differently?

"I would have not given the income tax increase two years ago without forcing the issue of resolving the problem," he said. "You don't agree to one piece and hope the rest of it comes along. I would've suggested put revenue on the table, have it as part of the negotiation. But you don't give this thing more money until you solve the problem."

And what are the treasurer's thoughts on Senate Bill 1, the current proposition in the Legislature to solve the pension crisis?

"I'm very open to discussing that," he said. "I think the idea of having those kind of substantive, and appear to be fair [discussions]...I'm very open to that. But we can't set dates and not meet them."

Gov. Pat Quinn believes families shouldn't fight, especially in Illinois.

That's what Quinn had to say Friday about a potential clash arising between Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Bill Daley - brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley - if the two were to battle in the 2014 primary bid for governor.

"I really don't believe in family feuds. I'd like to see families come together this year and every year."

The two potential gubernatorial candidates' families have a tangled history stretching back decades, building from the relationship between the most recent Mayor Daley and Madigan's father, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

What began as a congenial bond between the two, evolved into an ongoing feud starting in 1979 when Madigan, against Daley's bidding, backed Jane Byrne for mayor of Chicago. The tension has been wrought with back-and-forth political jabs since.

While the possible Daley-Madigan scenario has yet to play out, Quinn has shied from commenting on the upcoming election, as he did again Friday.

"I think family is very, very important in Illinois," he said. "We're the family of Illinois - 13 million people. We just had an election. I went to the inauguration of President Obama this past week. I don't think the voters and the families of Illinois want elected officials and those who aspire to elected office to be constantly campaigning. They want real action and outcome for them, the people, the taxpayers."

When asked of a potential conflict of interest between Speaker Madigan and his daughter if she were to run for governor, Quinn anecdotally danced around the question.

"Well, my dad told me quite awhile ago, 'Don't take an aspirin until you get a headache,' and that's what my philosophy would be."


WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will speak on the need for comprehensive immigration reform in Nevada next week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Friday. Obama will urge "working with Republicans and Democrats to get it done." Earlier Friday, Obama met with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and other Hispanic lawmakers to discuss immigration reform in a meeting that was not on Obama's public schedule.

Besides Gutierrez, the Caucus Immigration Task Force chair, attendees included CHC Chairman Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX); Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA).

Gutierrez has also been meeting with Republicans, including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) to try to build bi-partisan support for immigration reform. My column on those meetings is HERE.

After the Obama meeting Gutierrez said in a statement, "The President is the quarterback and he will direct the team, call the play, and be pivotal if we succeed. I am very optimistic based on conversations with Republicans in the House and Senate that we will do more than just talk about the immigration issue this year. The President putting his full weight and attention behind getting a bill signed into law is tremendously helpful. We need the President and the American people all putting pressure on the Congress to act because nothing happens in the Capitol without people pushing from the outside.

"For my community in Chicago, the biggest issue is the deportations and keeping families together, not putting kids in foster care or uprooting them when parents are deported. Family unity is the urgency behind reforming our immigration system. Every day that passes, another 1,000 people are deported and hundreds of kids, U.S. citizen kids, lose a parent to deportation. We have got to act and act quickly."


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton do their first joint interview on Friday for CBS' "60 Minutes." The interview will be broadcast on Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. Chicago time.

CBS said Friday this is the first joint interview Obama has done with anyone--except First Lady Michelle.

The joint interview, the first the president has ever done with anyone other than First Lady Michelle Obama.

denis .JPG
Denis McDonough during the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON-President Barack Obama will tap long-time advisor Denis McDonough as the new White House chief of staff on Friday, a White House official said.

McDonough will become Obama's fifth top chief of staff, following Rahm Emanuel, interim chief of staff Pete Rouse, Bill Daley and Jack Lew.

David Simas is returning to the White House after departing for the Obama campaign in Chicago. Simas, who had worked closely with Obama top strategist David Axelrod, returns as the Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy.

The official said, "Denis has been one of the President's closest and most trusted advisors for nearly a decade, dating back to when he helped set up then Senator's Barack Obama's Senator office. He has relied on his intellect and good judgment ever since-- most recently as a member of the President's national security team. In that capacity, Denis has played a key role in all of the major national security decisions -- from ending the war in Iraq to winding down the war in Afghanistan; from our response to natural disasters in Haiti and Japan; to the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

"As a veteran of Capitol Hill, Denis understands the importance of reaching across the aisle to make progress for the American people --whether it's on jobs and economy, health care or education, reducing the deficit or addressing climate change."

White House top staffers are also being reshuffled:

Rob Nabors - Assistant to the President and Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy
Tony Blinken - Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor
Danielle Gray - Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary
Katy Kale - Assistant to the President for Management and Administration
Lisa Monaco - Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (upon confirmation of John Brennan as DCIA)
Jennifer Palmieri - Assistant to the President and Communications Director
Dan Pfeiffer - Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor
Miguel Rodriguez -Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs
David Simas - Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy

WASHINGTON--Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are joining forces to sponsor a gun-trafficking bill, Gillibrand announced Thursday during an interview with Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show.

"So Senator Mark Kirk and I sat down yesterday, talked about our bill. And we decided we're going to introduce this bipartisan bill next week. And I think it's something that can really make a difference because we have to stop the flow of illegal guns going straight to the hands of the criminals," Gillibrand said.

"And that will be a great complement to what Senator Feinstein and Senator Schumer and others are working on because it's the complement of these types of changes to be able to keep these guns out of the hands of the gravely mentally ill and the criminal minds."

One of the biggest loopholes in the background check system is that there is no penalty for being a "straw purchasers," people with clean backgrounds who resell the guns they legally buy. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposed a ban on some assault weapons. She was the chief sponsor of the assault weapon ban in place between 1994 and 2004.

Kirk could well end up the lead Republican on gun control issues.

Mitchell asked how the Gillibrand/Kirk proposals "work to prevent people who should not have guns from getting guns?"

Gillibrand said, "Well, one of the things is there's no federal law that makes gun trafficking illegal. There's no crime to be a straw purchaser and to take weapons from a state like -- a Southern state and bring it straight up to New York and sell it out of the back of your truck directly to criminals. There's no law that says you can't do that.

"And so, now, we're giving law enforcement the tools they need to actually go after these criminals and these criminal networks to make sure they can't be just selling the guns right out of the back of a truck.

".....Today, about 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check. So that means, if you've been convicted of domestic violence or are gravely mentally ill or have a criminal record of violence, you could buy a gun off the Internet. You can buy a gun at a gun show.

"It's a vast loophole that needs to be closed, and I know that that's something we're going to work on very hard and try to get passed as well.

"And I think the two bills -- having the anti-trafficking and closing the background check loopholes is going to make a huge difference because, once everyone has to get a background check, you want to make sure it then just doesn't start to have an underground market. You don't want to -- you don't want to increase the amount of trafficking."

Rahm Emanuel's office says applicants who want to apply for Sandi Jackson's old post must turn in their applications by 5 p.m. Jan. 25.

Applicants can apply online at

"This is the first step in identifying a candidate with a strong record of community engagement and involvement throughout the 7th ward who is ready to work on day one," a release from the mayor said. "A commission with community representation will review the applications and submit a list of finalists to Mayor Emanuel for the appointment of his choice. We expect to have the new alderman in place by February's city council."

Or, if you believe Sandi Jackson, she's going to name her replacement.

Sun-Times columnist reported last week that Sandi told her supporters:

"From an insider's point of view, Mayor Rahm may say he wants to have interviews. The people he will interview will be the people I am suggesting," Jackson told the gathering made up mostly of precinct workers. "They are interviewing people in the community, but they do that to calm people down. People want to have their input. But for the most part, they turn that matter over to the alderman."

Sandi Jackson resigned last month after both she and her husband, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, face scrutiny of their finances by federal authorities.

Emanuel has said Sandi Jackson would not dictate her replacement.

Vice President Joe Biden is hosting a Google+ hangout roundtable on gun violence. Watch below.

lisa_madigan_jan_25.JPGWhether Lisa Madigan is in or out, Bill Daley is still considering a run for governor in 2014, he told the Chicago Sun-Times today.

"If I get in the race, I'm in the race. I'm not going to worry about who I'm running against," Daley said. "That's not an issue for me."

Neither Daley nor Madigan though are definitely in -- both have been known to explore runs for higher office but ultimately not follow through.

bill_daley_jan_25.JPGLast week, Lisa Madigan told ABC 7's Charles Thomas she was interested in higher office. And on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told Lynn Sweet that Lisa Madigan was "seriously thinking" about running for governor.

That raises the question about Madigan's father, the powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and potential conflicts of having a father in the legislative branch and daughter in the executive branch.

Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown said: "We'll address that when and if it becomes appropriate, period."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a Secretary of State confirmation hearing for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) on Thursday. When Kerry ran for president in 2003, I wrote a story about the Chicago roots of Kerry's Jewish paternal grandfather--born Fritz Kohn. Here is the report:

February 10, 2003 Monday

Kerry's Jewish grandfather found success here

By Lynn Sweet

The maternal roots of presidential hopeful Sen. John Forbes Kerry (D-Mass.) go back to colonial Massachusetts.

What Kerry did not know was that his paternal grandfather, born Fritz Kohn, came to Chicago from Europe and quickly became a successful businessman.

The story of Frederick Kerry intersects with that of prominent Chicago merchant prince George Lytton, son of Henry C. Lytton, a famed State Street retailer.

More details about Kerry's roots are coming to light and are of interest because Kerry is most often taken as a Boston Brahmin. People who are close to him have assumed--in error--that Kerry, a Catholic, is Irish-American.

The Chicago chapter was uncovered by the Sun-Times with the assistance of Charles B. Bernstein, a lawyer and well-known genealogist of the Chicago Jewish community, who searched naturalization records at the Daley Center and old Chicago directories.

Kerry only learned last month from a Boston Globe reporter that his grandfather was Jewish and that he committed suicide in 1921 in a Boston hotel washroom.

Kerry learned about 15 years ago that his paternal grandmother, Ida Lowe, a Catholic convert, was born Jewish. Kerry did not know that his grandfather, from an Austrian town now in the Czech Republic, started his U.S. life in Chicago, spokesman David Wade said Sunday.

Frederick Kerry--who changed his name from Kohn while in Europe-- probably came to Chicago shortly after landing in the United States on Dec. 21, 1905. The two witnesses on his naturalization petition, George Lytton, who said he was a merchant, and Frank Case, listed as a manager, swore he lived in Illinois since January 1906.

Lytton lived on Prairie Avenue, then the home of the city's elites. Records show that Case worked at Sears and was socially prominent. The senator knew that his granfather had some connection with Sears, Wade said.
Kerry's emigrant saga is unusual because "he immediately is residing in a middle-class neighborhood and has a white-collar occupation," said Bernstein.

Kerry filed his initial citizenship papers in Cook County Circuit Court on June 21, 1907. At the time Lytton and Case witnessed Kerry's naturalization petition, on Feb. 6, 1911, he was living at 4868 Sheridan, then part of upscale Uptown.

Frederick Kerry was listed in a 1908 directory with an office on Dearborn in the Loop, and by 1912, he even ran an ad in a directory billing his firm as "Fred A. Kerry & Staff" under the heading "Business counsellors." By 1910, Kerry was listed in the Chicago Blue Book, a listing of prominent Chicagoans.

The Chicago paper trail ends in 1912. The senator's father, Richard, was born in Brookline, Mass., in 1915.
Bernstein said Kerry and the Lyttons had something in common. According to research by Norman Schwartz of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society, Henry Lytton was originally Henry Levi.

Copyright 2003 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

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Illinois Supreme Court hears E2 club case

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Did two South Side Chicago businessmen violate a court order when they continued inviting patrons into their nightclub, where 21 people were trampled to death trying to escape a brawl in 2003?

Or were errors made in the court order itself, making it ambiguous as to which parts of the club the owners actually needed to close?

Lawyers representing the E2 club owners - Dwain Kyles and Calvin Hollins - and a lawyer representing Chicago argued answers to those questions and their implications before the Illinois Supreme Court Wednesday.

Both the respondents' lawyers claimed the 2002 housing court order to close part of their clients' second-floor club at 2347 S. Michigan Ave. for structural reasons was too vague. However, Kerrie Laytin representing the city argued Kyles and Hollins at least partly understood the court order and willfully violated it anyway.

"Any confusion about the language there may have been should not excuse their noncompliance with that order," Laytin said.

Both Kyles and Hollins were acquitted of two-year prison sentences in 2011 when the 1st District Appellate Court reversed a lower court's decision, ruling the original court order was not clear when the two were convicted at the trial court level and that the building code violations had nothing to do with the tragedy the following year.

"Simply, under the facts of this case, we disagree that the formal order was as clear and unambiguous as the city maintains the law requires," Justice Michael J. Murphy wrote in the unanimous appellate court ruling.

The uncertainty was over whether the court order mandated the entire second floor of the building be closed or just the mezzanine level with VIP skyboxes suspended over the dance floor below. Both areas were open when the tragedy occurred.

Cook County public defender Vicki Rogers, representing Hollins, said there were conflicting versions of the court order.

"When you have two interpretations, it is unclear," she said. "The city never said this was a problem until after the tragic accident in 2003."

On the other hand, Laytin argued that regardless of the interpretation adopted by the club owners, they were aware of some restriction and violated it anyway.

"In this case, under both versions of the order, including respondents' own version, they understood that the order was not to occupy the mezzanine at the very least, they admit," she said. "Under their own reading of the order they violated the court's order."

Laytin also argued whether or not the club owners understood the order correctly is a matter of fact best decided by a jury and not by the appellate court.

"There was ample evidence before the jury, and there was ample evidence from which an appellate court could conclude from that particular evidence that respondents willfully violated a building court order and therefore the jury's verdict should have been upheld," she said.

Christopher Carmichael, representing Kyles, thought the appellate court's involvement was appropriate.

"It's not a rubber stamp," he said of the trial court's ruling. "The evidence has to be reviewed and the appellate court does have to conduct some sort of review to look at the overall sufficiency of the evidence. Otherwise the appellate court would just simply affirm any jury verdict."

The case is People ex rel. City of Chicago v. Le Mirage Inc., et al. No. 113482.

Below find Lynn Sweet's coverage of today's Clinton testimony on Benghazi.

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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Today was a big day on Capitol Hill as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally appeared before both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the deadly attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi last September. Our own Lynn Sweet followed the testimony and you can read her coverage here. The testimony has been heated and passionate, even emotional at times as when Clinton described seeing the caskets of the dead Americans arrive at Andrews Air Force Base. Said Clinton, "I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters."

Perhaps one of the most fiery moments came in an exchange between Clinton and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, the video and transcript of which are below.

Johnson : But Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn't have ascertained immediately that there was no protest? That was a piece of information that could've been easily, easily obtained?

Clinton : But Senator again--

Johnson : Within hours, if not days?

Clinton : Senator, you know, when you're in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on, number one--

Johnson : I realize that a good excuse.

Clinton : Well no it's the fact. Number two, I would recommend highly you read both what the ARB said about it and the classified ARB because even today, there are questions being raised. Now, we have no doubt they were terrorist, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people. But what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still unknown--

Johnson : No, again, we were misled that there were supposedly protests and that something sprang out of that - an assault sprang out of that - and that was easily ascertained that was not the fact, and the American people could have known that within days and they didn't know that.

Clinton : With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they'd they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again Senator. Now honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process I understand going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear it is from my perspective less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we'll figure out what was going on the meantime.

Later, Rand Paul called the Benghazi attacks, "the worst tragedy since 9/11."

Check out full video of Clinton's testimony in front of the Senate Panel below. Full video of her appearance in front of the House panel will be added at its conclusion.

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, who lost her legs in combat when she was piloting a Black Hawk helicopter, not surprisingly is fully behind Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to lift a ban on combat restrictions on women in the military.

Duckworth was shot down in Iraq in 2004 and lost both her legs.

"Throughout American history and in the last decade in particular women have served in combat zones with distinction and honor," Duckworth said. "In fact, the Army has adopted the Combat Action Badge to all troops who engage in combat, including women. This decision to allow women to serve in combat will allow the best man or woman on the frontline to keep America safe.

"There has always been some level of opposition to increasing the diversity in our military whether it has been minorities or women. It is clear that the inclusion of groups like African Americans and Asians has made our military stronger. As a combat Veteran I know the inclusion of women in combat roles will make America safer and provide inspiration to women throughout our country."

WASHINGTON--The House voted Wednesday to lift the debt-ceiling to pay federal government bills until May 19 on a 285-144 mainly party line roll call. All six Illinois freshmen--five Democrats and one Republican--voted for the deal. President Barack Obama had wanted a long term extension of the ceiling.

After the vote, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) said, "With the passage of this bill today it's pretty clear that we're sending a message to the Democrat-controlled Senate: It's time to do your job. The simple -- the principle, I think, is pretty simple -- no budget, no pay. American families have to do a budget. They understand you can't continue to spend money that you don't have. We're committed to doing a budget on the House side, a budget that'll balance over the next 10 years. It's time for the Senate and the president to show the American people how they're willing to balance the budget over the next 10 years."

All the Illinois GOP House members voted for the measure, to be expected, since it was a Republican leadership bill that gives the GOP leverage over the White House in kicking the debt ceiling can down the road for the short-term.

Some of most progressive members from Illinois, Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Danny Davis and Luis Gutierrez voted against the bill.

Another Democrat, Rep. Mike Quigley who comes from the progress wing, voted yes, as did one of the most conservative Democrats from Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski.

The five Democratic freshmen--who all survived tough races in November--voted yes: That's Reps. Tammy Duckworth, Cheri Bustos, Bill Enyart, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster.

Voting yes were all Illinois GOP members: freshman Rep. Rodney Davis and Reps. Randy Hultgren, Adam Kinzinger, Aaron Schock and John Shimkus.

Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush did not vote.

My Sunday column on the debt-ceiling debate and kicking budget and spending plans down the road is HERE.

Boxes moving into Jesse Jackson Jr.'s home

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Could Jesse Jackson Jr. be moving back to Chicago?
Don't jump to any conclusions.
A large moving truck parked in front of the former congressman's South Side home Wednesday morning, and movers could be seen brining boxes into the house. At least one of the boxes was one clearly marked: "Jesse Jackson Jr. Clothes."
Asked about the boxes, former Ald. Sandi Jackson emailed: "It's stuff from Rayburn," a reference to the House Office Building where her husband, the former representative from the 2nd Congressional District, had his office. "17 years of stuff. Time to get it all home."
Jesse Jackson Jr. is under federal investigation for alleged financial improprieties. Sandi Jackson has also been under federal scrutiny.
The couple has a residence in Washington D.C. as well and their children attend school there.


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dick Durbin told me Tuesday that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is "seriously thinking" about running for governor.

I talked to Madigan about a gubernatorial bid on Saturday night -- she was here for President Barack Obama's Inauguration festivities -- and my takeaway from the conversation is she wants to run whether or not Bill Daley also gets in a Democratic primary to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn.

The main consequence of Madigan, 46, inching toward a bid is this: We now know the politically vulnerable Quinn is heading toward a colossal primary fight because he is going to be facing strong opponents, either Madigan, Daley or both in the March 18, 2014, balloting.

"She had made special outreach to labor and they know it, they've noticed in terms of her showing up at events and the like," Durbin told me. "I don't think she has made a final decision. I know she is in the process of making a decision."

When Madigan mulled a Senate run in 2009, she mustered little enthusiasm when we talked about the prospect of what would have been a Democratic primary contest and taking a job where she would have to commute between Chicago and Washington.

That was not the case when we chatted about a 2014 Democratic primary for governor at the Illinois Inaugural Gala. This time, she's hungry.

As we talked, with her husband, Pat Byrnes by her side, Madigan, was the one who reminded me that her kids were older now and more independent: Rebecca is 8 and Lucy turns 5 next month.

Durbin told me he assumes Quinn is running for re-election. As for getting involved in a primary, Durbin, who is up for re-election in 2014, said, "My plan is to stay out."

When Daley was considering running for governor in August, 2001, I asked him if he had "the fire in his belly" to make the race. Turned out back then, he did not. When I've talked to Daley, 64, about running this time, well, I sense he's fired up.

Conventional wisdom has it that Madigan, attorney general since 2003, and Daley, a former Commerce secretary, business executive and Obama's former chief of staff, should not run against each other because it would make it easier for Quinn to win.

After all, the reason Madigan and Daley have for running is the same: They have the experience to run the state better than Quinn, 64.

There is another conventional wisdom at work here: Having Quinn and Daley in the contest gives Madigan an advantage in a three-way battle because she is the only woman.

So where do things stand?

♦ Quinn has $1.06 million in his political warchest to Madigan's $3.6 million. Daley hasn't opened a campaign fund yet, but with his extensive national network, he could pump out millions in contributions within a short time.

♦ Daley can't slow down his planning to wait for Madigan. Why should he? He can always reassess if she jumps in.

♦ How big a problem would Madigan's father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, be for her? The senior Madigan, who is also the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, was the target of a "Fire Madigan" campaign Illinois Republicans cranked up against him in advance of the November elections.

All that did for the Republicans was nothing; Democrats won veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly. But that doesn't mean Michael Madigan could not surface again as an issue in a primary where more skilled political operatives take him on.

How can Lisa Madigan be governor if her dad is the speaker?

♦ How big a problem is it that Daley is the son and brother of Chicago mayors? Downstate reaction to a Daley is not as big a problem in a primary -- where most Democratic votes are in Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties.

♦ It's premature for either Daley or Madigan to concede anything. This drama will play out in several acts.

And I don't know the ending.

Quinn remains quiet as interest grows in replacing him

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Gov. Pat Quinn sidestepped whether he is concerned about possibly the strongest indicator yet that three-term Attorney General Lisa Madigan is considering running against him for governor in 2014.

"I'm not really doing politics right now," Quinn said Tuesday following a school safety summit in Springfield. "I think it's better to do policy...there will be plenty of time to focus on politics later on."

Prompted the day before about the growing number of people thinking about a run for governor, Madigan told ABC 7 News she is "among those people" who are mulling how to "be of greater service to the people of the state"

Also considering a run in 2014 is Bill Daley, brother of the former Chicago Mayor and former chief of staff to President Obama, though he has not begun any fund-raising.

Whatever the list of challengers facing Quinn looks like come primary election time, the governor's campaign fund of just $1.06 million as of the end of the year is a meager fraction of the $3.6 million on hand reported in Madigan's account.

Quinn on school safety: 'A lot of work to do'

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Gov. Pat Quinn headed a school safety summit with more than 50 state representatives in education, mental health and public safety Tuesday afternoon in Springfield to discuss ways to prevent violence in Illinois schools.

"I really feel this is just the beginning," Quinn said after the meeting. "We have a lot of work to do."

The summit - following an initial conference call on school safety on Dec. 21, one week after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. that claimed 26 lives, including 20 children - included representatives from the Illinois State Police, Illinois Board of Education, Illinois Department of Public Health, Chicago Teachers Union, and the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.

While the governor did not detail any specific plans for taking on violence in schools, he mentioned providing enough resources for adequate mental health - something he called a "very, very important issue."

"We must identitfy causes of violence and make sure we address and do something about it and work together on it," he said. "And that oftentimes can involve situations where we use our school psychologists and those who are trained in the field of mental health to make sure we deal with any issue that might crop up."

Quinn also mentioned schools working closely with police as a step in the right direction. But he did not provide details, even as a school superintendent in Washington, Ill. near Peoria teamed up with the city's police chief earlier this month to look at arming high school administrators.

"The major focus today was safety within the school, preventing violence in the first place, protecting students and teachers," Quinn said. "We know how, I think, to work together for community and safety, particularly in our schools, and that's what we're going to be working on all year."

But Quinn made it clear he believes there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making schools safe and suggested that action may best be taken at the local level.

"I believe in local option," he said. "Everyday people of our state have common sense and they understand what's necessary for their town or their school districts. They'll take action where appropriate.

"We have 870 school districts in Illinois, public school districts. Folks are in different parts of Illinois. They're not all in the city or the suburb or a smaller town. So there are different approaches in different schools."

LaMar Hasbrouck, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, agreed there is no single solution.

"I think it's kind of a multi-tiered approach," he said. "I think every locality is going to have to decide what's the proper mix for them in terms of decreasing violence in their context."

Road Trip to History: The Day After

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the inauguration journey of the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

Morning. Grrrrrrr. So it's 6 a.m., and we're loading up the bus. Exhaustion has set in for this road warrior.
Can anyone say "flight ticket?" Oh.....wait a minute. A last-minute ticket would cost my left arm. Hmmmm......wonder if they'd accept my left foot. It aches, along with it's friend on the right......
Back to reality. These inauguration-goers aren't done yet. Suitcases packed, hotel rooms evacuated, they're off for one last mission in D.C. before Chicago beckons. The U.S. Capitol and a tour of Congress, here we come.....
We arrive at Capitol at 10 a.m. D.C. still wearing its inauguration clothing.
Chainlink fencing used to barricade miles of streets lay on curbs. "No parking" signs and trash blanket the federal neighborhood.
It's even colder today than on Inauguration day, if that's possible. Single digits. We may as well be in Chi-Town, which we hear is even colder.
The west end of the Capitol, where the inauguration ceremony took place, is still draped with the flags under which Obama took his oath. Walking the periphery of the Capitol, you can't help but think, "What a magnificent structure!"
I'd thought everyone in the world had gone from D.C. by now but us, but we encounter busloads of high-school students -- still wearing their inauguration badges -- and other stragglers.
Seems we're in school today, the Fraziers and I. First stop in the Capitol tour. We're herded into a theater to watch a movie on the history of the building, of Congress and the tenet principles of this Democracy led by a black man for the first time since its founding.
This building is where our Commander-in-Chief is sworn in, where we've bid farewell to several in death, as well. The Fraziers are moved by the black history represented here. It was built by the sweat of slave labor, their emancipation -- human and civil rights -- amongst greatest battles ever fought here. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks was the first woman ever to lay in state in its rotunda.
The Fraziers are glad we made this last stop. The Capitol is hopping, congested with tourists. Lunch in its cafeteria is pricey!
We're done. All the magnificent art, sculptures and historical artifacts have been perused, all the pictures taken. We watch workers taking down the draped flags on the building's west end. The lawn where dignitaries and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey sat on Monday is still fenced off -- ice and other VIP amenities left in their wake.
Reporter with British SKY-TV approaches as we await bus, interviews the Fraziers about Beyonce-gate, the lip-synching controversy. The Frazier grandkids are shocked, not their girl Beyonce! Pamela, however: Whatever!
Homeward bound from this "Road Trip to History." Thank God! .....Er, I mean, it's been fun. 14 hours on a bus ahead of us: Oh joy.........

The Sun-Times followed the Frazier family on its first Road Trip to History on Jan. 20, 2009. Revisit the series here:


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XIII by

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

President Obama took a moment to soak the scene in yesterday as he left the Capitol steps following his address to hundreds of thousands on the National Mall. Obama is only one of a few dozen men who have held that commanding view during an Inauguration Day and it's surely a site and feeling to store away in the memory as one of the warmest moments in a presidency.

Just how many people witnessed this very human moment? According to an AP report, somewhere north of 800,000:

Chris Geldart, who directs the District of Columbia's homeland security and emergency management agency, says early and unofficial estimates of the number of people on the National Mall indicate a turnout higher than 800,000. That's based on aerial views of how the crowd filled sections of the mall.


WASHINGTON -- Feathers and false eyelashes, tuxedos and tiaras. The throngs of people who streamed into the Washington Convention Center for one of three Inaugural galas on Monday pulled out all the stops and were rewarded with some of the top entertainment around. Jennifer Hudson sang the "Let's Stay Together," for the First Couple's first dance. The popular pop group, FUN. performed two of their hits -- "Some Nights and "We are Young." Stevie Wonder,

Alicia Keys and Brad Paisley were among the others to perform.

Women gathered up their long dresses to step onto the escalators that brought them from one giant hall to the next.

The Washington Convention Center is a cavernous space that spans at least two football fields in length. The entire space holds about 42,000 people.

The hall wasn't completely filled but pretty jammed at the most crowded point of the night -- when the President and First Lady made an appearance.

Tickets went for $500 each, a recently reduced price after some who bought theirs early on paid $1,000.

More on the fashion of the day, with photos.

Inaugural ball photos and more.

Road Trip to History: Inauguration Aftermath

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Somewhere out there, the Frazier family strains to see there president take the oath of office on the Capitol steps. Again. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

Mckinley Wright, 14, for whom this is the first time seeing the nation's 44th president inaugurated, is mesmerized, glued to the ceremony, straining intermittently to see the dots in the distance of the Capitol steps where this is all happening, then the jumbotron, where it's all very near.

Creative, he finds that if he watches through the zoom of Pamela's camera, he can bring this historic event closer.

Asia Wright, 16, in her own world, has processing of this second inauguration she has attended for this president, apparent in her distant gaze. She walks away from her family to find a clear opening in the crowd. There, she watches, but even more importantly, tilts her head down and listens, to President Obama's "We are made for this moment" speech.

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Countless digital memory cards were filled with images from the Inauguration Day coverage of Barack Obama for his second term.

Two of the cooler pieces of photographic coverage came from The New York Times and the Washington Post. The Post used a photo technology called Gigapan, which we've gushed over before from the 2009 inaugural, to allow viewers to burrow in to the inaugural crowd face-by-face - tagging along the way. The Post has optimized versions of the Gigapan image for you to check out on desktop computers as well as a mobile experience.

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The Times chose to focus on the viewing gallery over the entire crowd with a graphic build to tag the famous names and faces behind and beside the president during his speech. Click through to find the Chicago and Illinois contingent, including Rahm Emanuel and wife Amy Rule.

Road Trip to History: An Inauguration

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

At 11 a.m., sadness sets in, then anger. A rumble moves through the crowd. Just who was responsible for organizing this anyway? In their wisdom, they've placed only three stations at the general admission checkpoint. Three people entering at a time and being searched? What were they thinking?

Pamela keeps her chin up for the grandkids, as she tries to wrap her mind around the fact that this inauguration journey is about to end in disaster. How did this happen? The organizers had predicted the crowds would be significantly smaller this second time around, that the novelty factor had faded. It sure didn't look like it as you pushed through the crowds and scanned the same multitudes here today on the National Mall.

"Did they do this on purpose?" Pamela wonders, as she looks behind her at the folks who clearly will not witness this inauguration, despite traveling from far and wide. "Did they not want so many people out here?"

"This isn't right," another woman nearby complains, co-signed by a growing chorus of the frustrated.

Inaugural Parade: The float lineup

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The Hawaii State Float - Hawaii is the birthplace of President Obama. The float features a large volcano modeled after the famous Diamond Head Volcano and a tribute to the late Senator Daniel Inouye.

The Illinois State Float - Illinois is the birthplace of First Lady Michelle Obama. The float features American flags, the state flag and a panorama of the Capitol.

The Pennsylvania State Float - Pennsylvania is the birthplace of Vice President Joe Biden. The float includes a replica of the Liberty Bell and the Pennsylvania State Seal.

The Delaware State Float - Delaware is the home state of Vice President Joe Biden and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden. The float includes a replica of State Capitol Bell Tower.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Float - The float's design features an image of Dr. King and a representation of his quote "out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope."

The Civil Rights Movements Float - The Civil Rights float features images representing historic struggles of many of the civil rights movements in our country. The images represented include Immigration, Women's, LGBT, Civil and Labor Rights. The float also includes Martin Luther King's quote "The Arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

The Tuskegee Airmen Float - The float is a tribute to the brave young men who were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. The float features a model North American P-51 Mustang.

The Inaugural Theme, "Our People. Our Future." Float - The American people are the focus of this float. Riding on the float are the citizen co-chairs for the National Day of Service.

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President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, during the Inaugural Parade after his ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Doug Mills, Pool)

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama wore a striking outfit to Monday's Inaugural ceremonies, with her ensemble the work of several designers.

Mrs Obama is wearing a navy Thom Browne coat and dress, her spokesman Semonti Stephens said.

"The fabric was developed based on the style of a man's silk tie. The belt and gloves she is wearing are from J.Crew and her earrings are designed by Cathy Waterman. She is also wearing Reed Krakoff boots and cardigan," At the end of the Inaugural festivities, the outfit and accompanying accessories will go to the National Archives," she said.

More coverage on the fashion of the day here and 50 years of First Lady dresses from Meg Moore here.

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The South Shore Drill Team of Chicago perform during President Barack Obama's inaugural parade in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, following the president's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The "President's Own" Marine band, directed by Col. Michael Colburn plays a march at President Barack Obama's second Inaugural on Monday. (video by Lynn Sweet)

VIDEO: Inaugural Salute

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Military salutes the President as he takes the platform for his swearing in ceremony.

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President Obama gives his inauguration address at his ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington. Click to enlarge. (AP Photo/Rob Carr, Pool)

A sea of people flooded the National Mall - from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument, visible in the distance - to watch President Obama inauguration for his second term.

More photos from the day here. And even from space, here.

Because Inauguration Day is about style and substance and even a little bipartisanship, here's Beyonce singing the National Anthem. Because she's definitely stylish, has a substantive voice and, for the most part, both sides of the aisle would vote for her.

President Obama greets singer Beyonce after she performed the National Anthem during the public ceremonial inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Or did Beyonce nail her performance? Not so fast on the kudos, says The Washingtonian.

Reporter Sophie Gilbert has a piece today calling out Beyonce - and the Marines! - for lip-synching and faking the performance. Gilbert points to a collection of proof - including Instagrammed photos from Beyonce herself - that indicate Mrs. Jay-Z was paying lip service:

But to close observers, it appeared the performer was not singing live. To press seated just below the podium, in front of the "President's Own" Marine Corps Band, it was evident that the band wasn't actually playing during the song--even though band director Colonel Michael J. Colburn was conducting energetically and the band members mimicked blowing into their instruments. Separately, at one point during her performance, Beyoncé removed her earpiece.

As if the Obama call-to-action speech wasn't controversial enough, now let the National Anthem arguments ensue.

Hat tip to Dylan Byers.

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests and fellow citizens, each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.

What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal" -- (cheers, applause) -- "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

Part12 Jan21.png



WASHINGTON -- On the day of President Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing in, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sacrifice that made the day possible. "It's a huge source of pride and accomplishment," Jackson said from
the platform of the U.S. Capitol of Obama's second term in office.

Jackson said Obama --and the nation-- owed it to King for breaking "down walls." "Dr. King's sacrifice made today's ceremony possible," Jackson said.

"He was stabbed, hit in the head with a brick, jailed and killed."

"Dr. King died a very hated man. Barack is a very beloved man. (king) was hated because he fought segregation."

The National Mall was filling up with what was expected to be a crowd of 500,000 to 700,000 -- down from 2009's record-breaking 1.8 million. Obama intends to take today's oath swearing in two Bibles -- one that belonged yo King, the other that belonged up Abraham Lincoln.


The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

By Maudlyne Ihejirika

Along the three-mile odyssey from RFK, we saa vendors selling everything Obama, from buttons and t-shirts to I-Phone covers and my favorite, a limited edition Obama dancing bear, grooving to James Brown's "I Feel Good."
We finally arrive at 7th Street, the designated general admission entrance for ordinary people without tickets.
In 2009, matriarch Pamela Frazier, an ordinary middle-class American, didn't worry about not being "connected" when she took nine members of her brood to witness the inauguration of the nation's first black president. And she didn't worry about it this time either, when she brought her four grandkids.
The Fraziers squeeze into a line hundreds deep. The waiting in the cold begins, and this is just to get into the gate onto the National Mall. We begin moving an inch at a time.
Ninety minutes later, the diverse crowd is getting antsy, nervous they won't be anywhere near enough to see Obama sworn in at 11:30. The grandkids are trying to entertain themselves in line, but as the wait drags on - it's now 10:30- bickering has begun. Pamela quashes it, masking her own disappointment in this slow process.
It wasn't like this last time.



WASHINGTON -- The musical lineup for today's Inauguration ceremony includes what's become a more typical star-studded lineup.
Pop sensations Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson as well as James Taylor are expected to belt out "The Star-Spangled Banner," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and "America the Beautiful" as part of the ceremony.

Here's today's schedule of events for the Inauguration.


Ceremonial Swearing-In Ceremony
Location: Capitol Hill
Start Time: 11:30 AM ET
On Monday, the President and Vice President will be sworn in the traditional ceremonial swearing in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol that is open to the public.

Inaugural Parade
Location: Viewing stands and bleachers are lined along Pennsylvania Avenue
Estimated Start Time: 2:35 PM ET
President Obama, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden will participate in the Inaugural Parade.

The Commander in Chief's Inaugural Ball
Location: Washington Convention Center
Doors open: 6:00 PM

The Inaugural Ball
Location: Washington Convention Center
Time: 6:30 PM

The view of the National Mall from orbit. | NASA Image

From images from orbit to the Curiosity rover in a parade, NASA has a busy day today during the second Obama inauguration.

The space administration has been taking part in activities all weekend. According to a NASA page set up for the inauguration - - they have a few more things to offer:

NASA will participate in Monday's Inaugural Parade with full-size models of two spacecraft that are boosting America to new heights -- the Curiosity Mars rover and Orion, the multi-purpose capsule that will take our astronauts farther into space than ever.

Walking beside the two spacecraft and greeting spectators along the parade route will be members of the Curiosity team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several current and former astronauts. The participating astronauts are Alvin Drew, Serena Aunon, Kate Rubins, Mike Massimino, Lee Morin and Kjell Lindgren, as well as Leland Melvin, NASA's associate administrator for Education, and John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for Science.

The West Lobby of NASA Headquarters also will be available as a warming center during daylight hours Monday.

NASA got in on the act in 2009 as well. Below is a satellite photo of the Mall when more than 1 million people jammed the Mall. Click to enlarge - all the dark clumps extending from the U.S. Capitol step back through the mall are actually people.


Road Trip to History: Inauguration Day is Here!

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

All roads this weekend have led to this day -- a 4 a.m. wake-up call.
We're in the lobby now. I feel like a zombie, many of the 98 bus travelers look like one. It's 4:45 We board the bus heading into D.C., leaving in plenty of time for the 3-hr. ride and the massive roadblocks and traffic gridlock expected.
Alright, we've ust arrived at RFK Parking Lot, three miles away from the National Mall. Passengers from a zillion (it seems) buses chartered by people across the nation are parked here. They spill out , dressed like eskimos, recalling last year's bitter cold.
The march begins! Instructions: Follow the crowd, stay together, be back here at 5 p.m. or you find your own way back to Pennsylvania. Major walking odyssey begins.
Ok President Obama, I think to myself. I'm too old for this. This better be good.....
Signals may be nonexistent with a million people phoning, tweeting, blogging. Next post may not be till it's all over. Stay tuned!

WASHINGTON -- When President Obama takes his symbolic oath of office today, the 57th presidential inauguration, he'll do so on two bibles, each of historical significance.

One belongs to Martin Luther King Jr., the other to Abraham Lincoln, a symbolic testament to the struggles for equality in the nation honoring the emancipation of slaves and King's fight for equal rights for African Americans.

On March 4, 1865, African Americans took part in the Inaugural parade for the first time in history. That was as part of Abraham Lincoln's Twentieth Inaugural Ceremonies.

It was 50 years ago that King delivered his historic "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Today is also the federal holiday honoring the assassinated civil rights leader.


Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco is not President Obama's biggest fan. He's rapped about his disdain for Obama and has gone so far as to call the president a terrorist in 2011 in a CBS News segment:

"To me, the biggest terrorist is Obama in the United States of America," Fiasco was quoted saying on video - apparently not available for streaming anymore.

He went on in a followup interview with to stand by his harsh assessment:

"I've got nothing to clarify. It's Obama and the U.S. government. [It's] every president that came before him and every president that comes after him."

Earlier this year, Fiasco went further - accusing Obama of killing children through use of drone attacks in foreign policy:

"One hand, you have someone who is a great speaker, but kills little children--our president. I'm talking about ordering a drone attack. Ordering drone attacks that go and kill mothers, innocent bystanders, children. Militants, too, but the collateral damage. You're responsible for that, too."

So, it's somewhat surprising that Fiasco, who contributes an occasional column to the Sun-Times Splash section, was tapped to headline an inauguration weekend concert. What's perhaps not surprising is what ensued.

Fiasco was, according to accounts on Twitter from attendees, eventually escorted from stage by concert handlers after a 30-minute protest screed, which included harsh words for President Obama. The show, StartUp RockOn, wasn't an official part of the inauguration festivities and isn't affiliated with the president. But it still left people stunned:


WASHINGTON -- As teenagers, a group of Illinois high schoolers logged hundreds of hours of volunteering in last year's election.
This weekend, 14 of them were rewarded with an all-expenses paid trip to the U.S. Capitol where they will watch President Obama's ceremonial swearing in.
They are part of Mikva Challenge, a not for profit group that aims to get kids involved in civics.
"I think it's a validation that being involved in their communities and politics and government ha s a real significance," said Cristina Perez, who directs the elections program at Mikva Challenge. "They were rewarded for this trip also able to meet with some powerful people but were also able to ask some questions. (It is) also a validation that their involvement is worth it and it's going to pay off for them."
Among the schools represented: Chicago Military Academy, North Side College Prep, Gage Park High school, Social Justice and World Language, Maine West High School and West Chicago Community High School.
Carlos Mata, a Maine West High School senior who lives in Des Plaines said seeing Obama get sworn-in was just part of the reward for him.
"I'm very excited to be here," Mata said. "The most exciting part of this trip was visiting all the monuments, it was a lifetime dream of mine to visit the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial and the JFK memorial. Mikva actually made it possible for me."
Besides visiting the monuments, the students met with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) on Sunday. The Mikva Challenge carries the namesake of Judge Abner Mikva, who, like Schneider, once represented the 10th congressional district in Illinois.

Road Trip to History: MLK Memorial

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The Fraziers at the Martin Luther King Memorial, L-R, Semaja (in purple), Asia, Brian, McKinley, and Pamela (in orange).

The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

We're now at Martin Luther King Memorial. OMG! It may as well be the inauguration, it's that many people out here! America's first black president is being inaugurated at the same time America is celebrating the MLK Holiday.
The American people have clearly turned out in D.C. to pay both men.
Somewhere in the crowd, "We Shall Overcome," is being sung.......One gets it.
National Park Services Ranger Kawther Elmi, explained about the inordinate crowds at the MLK Memorial: "It's only a year old, so it is already very well-visited, but the intersection of the inauguration & the holiday creates a lot of energy."
Pamela gets a call from her son Marquis Wright, 32, who flew into D.C. with friends on Friday. He's looking for them at the MLK Memorial. The search is on. Finally, he is spotted in the crowd. A needle in the haystack! Hugs and glee from the Frazier grandkids who clearly adore their youngest uncle! the
Grandkids are wide-eyed and awestruck by its massiveness, and by the lifelike nature of MLK statue. Lots and lots of photos are taken here.
It's dusk now. We reboard the bus, but five folks who had ventured to the Capitol to secure inauguration tickets from their Congressmen, are missing, having encountered massive traffic gridlock and roadblocks. Some 90 minutes later!!! we're finally headed back to Harrisburg.

Pamela's son Marquis, who flew in separately, surprisingly finds Pamela and the grandkids in the immense crowds

WASHINGTON--After President Barack Obama took his second oath of office on Sunday, youngest daughter Sasha said"Good job dad."

"I did it," he said.

"You didn't mess up," she said.

This perhaps a reference to how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts botched administering the oath in 2009. On Sunday, Roberts read from a card.

obama_dress_jan20.jpg AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool

WASHINGTON -- The public ceremony happens tomorrow. Today's private oath was attended by just a handful of people close to the president and First Lady.
And for those who curious to know:
Michelle Obama was in a dark blue dress by Reed Krakoff.
Here's a list of family members who were there, according to the White House:

1. Mrs. Marian Robinson
2. Craig Robinson
3. Leslie Robinson
4. Avery Robinson
5. Auma Obama
6. Akinyi Manners
7. Maya Soetoro-Ng
8. Konrad Ng
9. Savita Ng
10. Suhaila Ng
11. Kaye Wilson
12. Wellington Wilson

Road Trip to History: Arlington National Cemetery

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

Arrived at Arlington National Cemetery. The bus lot is full this inauguration weekend. We're dropped off at a distance. The walking odyssey begins. It's a beautiful day! Balmy, 40 to 50 degrees, and it seeps into your spirit, even as you traverse miles and miles of tombstones. You're quiet here, even the rambunctious Frazier grandkids.

On the bus was Carolyn Sue Smith, 59, of Chatham, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel with 32 years of service. She served in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne, 2008-2009, her last tour of duty. This visit to Arlington is important to her, as will be the visit to the Vietnam Memorial. "I'm looking forward to saluting my fellow veterans."
First stop for Pamela is the Women Veterans memorial. Asia, 16, and Semaja, 12, particularly enjoy it.

Next, we follow the masses filing toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. Lionel Jackson, who's worked as a public safety aide here for seven years, says President Obama and Vice President Biden's motorcade visited the tomb this morning. "They don't tell us when they're coming," he says.

No sign of them now. We catch the poignant wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb at noon. Uniforms. A rifle. Taps playing. Hands over hearts. Wreaths laid. Salutes. Then the ever-constant guard begins marching back and forth in front. Beautiful!

The Fraziers take lots of pictures. Grandkids ask lots of questions. "Who's buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers? How do you qualify to be buried here?" Michael Naylon of Reston, Virginia, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel who is at the cemetery visiting friends' graves, helps provide some of the answers. He too will be buried here, he shares.

"At church this morning, the pastor preached about the peaceful transition of power the inauguration represents, and I guess most of the people who are buried here subscribe to that," Naylon notes. "Everyone here died in allegiance to our Constitution, and in that vein, the inauguration of the president is a continuation of that."

The Sun-Times followed the Frazier family on its first Road Trip to History on Jan. 20, 2009. Revisit the series here:

(video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON-- When President Barack Obama took the oath for his second term in office today, it was in the backdrop of a dim reality.
Millions of Americans are still out of work. Gridlock in Washington almost had the nation go off a so-called 'fiscal cliff" as the nation's debt soars.
The housing market is inching ever so slowly out of a slump but Americans are still struggling to keep their homes from going into foreclosure.
U.S. Rep Tammy Duckworth, who was in Washington for Obama's first inauguration in 2009 as well as this weekend, said one could feel the difference.
"I think that there was a euphoria then, and I think now there is more of a level of determination, like we gotta get some work done," she said. "I really think there's a sense of determined action. There's a sense of things to be done and this is our shot to do and we gotta do it in the next four years."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin readily acknowledged the change of tenor from 2009 to this weekend. "Of course it's different," Durbin said.
But that didn't take away from Obama's reelection, he said.
"It's a special moment in history," said Durbin. "My great friend and former colleague has run an extraordinary campaign. I think the message in his campaign is what we need to America and hope that's what his inaugural address will do... But it is still one of the few events in history that you can really witness and be part of, it makes such a dramatic difference, not only for the United States but for the world."


WASHINGTON--In a ceremony lasting about a minute, President Barack Obama on Sunday was sworn into a second term by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

"Thank you everybody," Obama said after making a quick exit from the White House Blue room with First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia.

Obama took the oath on a family bible held that belonged to Mrs. Obama's grandmother, who worked for Chicago's Moody Bible Institute. Mrs. Obama, wearing a dress by Reed Krakoff, held the bible while Obama took the oath as their daughters watched.

Roberts read from a card in order to not repeat his 2009 glitch when he bungled the oath.

Vice President Joe Biden earlier took an oath for a second term administered by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at his Naval Observatory residence.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution starts presidential terms at noon on Jan. 20.

By tradition, public inaugurations are not held when Jan. 20 falls on a Sunday. The massive public ceremony on the West Steps of the Capitol takes place Monday.

The Sunday ceremony included a dozen of Obama family members and two close friends from Chicago, Kaye and Wellington Wilson. Mrs. Wilson is godmother to the Obama daughters. Also included, Marian Robinson, Mrs. Obama's mother; her brother, Craig Robinson, his wife, Leslie and son Avery; Obama half-sister Auma Obama; Obama half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, her husband Konrad Ng and their children.

Before the swearing-in Obama and Biden traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony.

After that, the First Family attended church services at Metropolitan African Methodist Church to celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday, when Obama takes the oath again in a public ceremony, is also the national King Day holiday.

On the bible: Mrs. Obama's father, Fraser Robinson III, gave a bible to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson in 1958, on Mother's Day; on Sunday, in the Blue Room, the bible becomes part of national--as well as Robinson family--presidential history.

During her time at Moody Bible Institute Mrs. Robinson held several positions at the school, where the main campus is at 820 N. LaSalle.

A Moody spokesman told the Sun-Times her last position was as the store manager for one of Moody's book stores on the South Side. She was promoted to that job in 1976. Mrs. Robinson retired from Moody in 1980; she died in 2002.

WASHINGTON--Chicagoan Harold Irving is here for President Barack Obama's inauguration and he talks about the experience with Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.
(video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Chicagoan Quention Curtis is attending his second inauguration of President Barack Obama and the public ceremony on Monday falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Curtis reflects on King Day and the Obama inauguration with Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.
(video by Lynn Sweet)


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XII by

Road Trip to History: A Day in D.C.

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

Morning. Woke up late. Worried. Hit lobby by 8:15 a.m. No worries. Many stragglers. Bus finally pulls off at 8:45.
First stop, Virginia. Arlington Cemetery. The 2nd stop, Martin Luther King Memorial. A mutiny is brewing. The passengers question the order of the day. They're more interested in the King Memorial. Why not a visit to King Memorial 1st? Answer: Geography. From our location in Pennsylvania, Virginia is before DC. Mutiny is squashed. Now, a bit of church. It IS Sunday. Claudia Bolton leads bus in a hymm, the Lord's Prayer. O.k. where's that laptop cord....

Illinois State Society.jpeg
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--In this Inaugural weekend where Democrats are celebrating President Barack Obama's second term and Republicans are nearly invisible, a bi-partisan exception was the Saturday night Illinois Inaugural Gala sponsored by the Illinois State Society.

Seen on the scene:

Gov. Pat Quinn and two potential rivals if, as expected, he runs for re-election: Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Bill Daley.

Cabinet: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Chicago City Hall: Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Ed Burke and Will Burns.

Senator, Democratic: Dick Durbin

House members, Republican: Rodney Davis, Aaron Schock

House members, Democrats: Jan Schakowsky, Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider, Bill Enyart, Cherri Bustos, Danny Davis, Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush, Bill Foster

House candidate, Democratic primary 2nd congressional district, Robin Kelly

Former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias

Illinois State Senate: John Cullerton, Kwame Raoul

Illinois State House: Barbara Flynn Currie, Lou Lang.

A variety of Illinois companies helped underwrite the event with the top giver Motorola Solutions followed by Archer Daniels Midland, Caterpillar and Health Care Services Corp. Photo below, with names of all sponsors:

Ill. gala.jpeg
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

Road Trip to History: We Arrive!

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

Stopped for dinner in Somerset, Pennsylvania, destination still 3 hours away, in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Every hotel anywhere in or near the D.C. border is booked, so event organizer has group staying 3 hours outside of D.C. You know what that means: A 4 a.m. wake-up call on Monday to get into D.C, which will be a madhouse!
WE'VE ARRIVED! 14 hrs on a bus!!!!! 98 tired inauguration goers - including 4 Frazier grandkids, the only youth among them, and 1 cranky reporter - pull up to Sheraton in Harrisburg, Penn.! Alleluia!
Lobby suddenly fills with diversity. Despite the deluge, event organizer Angel LaCruise, the front desk staff and its general manager do a wonderful job of assembly-lining everyone's keys.
Due back in the lobby at 8 a.m. But not before a civilized meal and cold one at the hotel's Dog & Pony Cafe.... yeah, that's the name.
See everyone in the morning for a day in inauguration-consumed D.C.!

The Sun-Times followed the Frazier family on its first Road Trip to History on Jan. 20, 2009. Revisit the series here:

By Mary Mitchell
Chicago Sun-Times Columnist

WASHINGTON--Went to the Kid's Inaugural at Washington Convention Center on Sunday night and I hate to say this, but I didn't get it.

There were a lot of young kids who were still riding on their father's shoulders, but the music was way over their heads.

After all, Usher, in his black leather jacket and pants, not to mention the bright red athletic shoes, isn't "Gabba Gabba."

He's the kind of performer who can make young teens like Malia swoon, but young kids are likely want to check out the restrooms.

Also on the bill: Katy Perry, Glee Cast Members and the Walt Whitman Soul Children of Chicago.


WASHINGTON-- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Saturday night of the troubled Dreamliner aircraft: "we're doing a top to bottom review of them."
LaHood, who was on hand for an Illinois State Society Ball in the run-up to the Presidential Inauguration, was asked by the Chicago Sun-Times if he regretted vouching for the Boeing 787 Dreamliners just five days before they were ordered grounded. Days earlier, in the face of questions about the aircraft, he said he had "absolutely no reservations" about boarding them, declaring them safe.
"The day that I said that they were (safe)" LaHood said. "And when they weren't safe I said that, and we grounded them. ... We had another incident and we knew we really had to look at them."
The Dreamliner was designed to be a leap forward, a high-tech design aimed at operating with 20 percent more efficiency. But they were hampered with issues, most recetly in Japan where batteries were melting.
LaHood, who is said to be leaving his post, was asked about the timing of his last day.
"I...I don't have anything on that."

Road Trip to History: The Mountains

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

Darkness sets in as we approach the turnpike, leaving Ohio and crossing into Pennsylvania. We're up in the mountains now, and it's too dark to see the most beautiful part of the journey, the spiraling, upward climb through wooded peaks. The Frazier family has broken out the sandwiches, bread, cold cuts, mayo.....Pamela was prepared. But OK, so if I have to watch Hunger Games again, I may have to jump off this bus. It was just a bit too much the first time I saw it. Cell battery officially dead. What, they don't last 12 hours when you're phoning, tweeting, blogging....Who knew?

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are hosting a concert for America's military children and families as part of their ongoing commitment to our servicemembers. The concert will be held at the Walter E. Washington Center and will include performances by Katy Perry, the cast of Glee, John Legend, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder. Watch live below.


The National Weather Service has compiled the noontime temperature for every Inauguration Day since 1937 - when the date was moved to January. Before that, ceremonies were held in March.
2009 (Barack Obama): 28 degrees, filtered sun with wind chill in the mid-teens
2005 (George W. Bush): 35 degrees, mostly cloudy with some sunny breaks
2001 (George W. Bush): 36 degrees, a cool dreary day, with rain and fog
1997 (Bill Clinton): 34 degrees, partly sunny with a high overcast
1993 (Bill Clinton): 40 degrees, sunny and pleasant
1989 (George Bush): 51 degrees, mostly cloudy and breezy
1985 (Ronald Reagan): 7 degrees with a -20 wind chill, sunny and bitter cold
1981 (Ronald Reagan): 55 degrees and mostly cloudy
1977 (Jimmy Carter): 28 degrees, sunny with a wind chill in the teens
1973 (Richard Nixon): 42 degrees, cloudy and windy
1969 (Richard Nixon): 35 degrees, cloudy and some rain and sleet later in the day
1965 (Lyndon B. Johnson): 38 degrees, cloudy and one inch of snow on the ground
1961 (John F. Kennedy): 22 degrees, sunny and windy, snow on the ground
1957 (Dwight D. Eisenhower): 44 degrees and cloudy
1953 (Dwight D. Eisenhower): 49 degrees and cloudy
1949 (Harry S Truman): 38 degrees, mostly sunny and windy.
1945 (Franklin D. Roosevelt): 35 degrees, cloudy and light snow ended at 9:00 AM
1941 (Franklin D. Roosevelt): 29 degrees, clear and windy, wind chill of 10 degrees
1937 (Franklin D. Roosevelt): 33 degrees, heavy rain, some sleet and freezing rain
High Low
Normal 43°F 28°F
Record for January 21 70°F (1959) -4°F (1985)

Source: 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee

Road Trip to History: Somewhere Over Ohio

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

One of the women on the bus has led us in prayer, asking blessings for we travelers, for the journey, for Obama.

Six hours, one bootleg video and a Tyler Perry marathon later, we're stopping for lunch somewhere in Ohio. Burger King & Sbarro are the order of the day. Not good. No reception through the cornfields. Tweeting and blogging getting difficult! My legs are cramping. O.k. So who was it that said road trips are fun?!? Liars! But the Frazier family is happy, the four grandchildren happily munching on junk food, and Pamela working her I-Pad in between snoozing.


Road Trip to History: Ready to Roll

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The Chicago Sun-Times is chronicling the journey to Monday's inauguration with the Frazier Family of Marquette Park, and blogging about it. Catch our first story in the series here.

We all arrive at Christ Universal Temple's parking lot between 8-8:30 a.m., where two buses awaited. We load up. I brought too much stuff, I think to myself. Pamela Frazier, 62, has saved me a seat. Semaja Frazier and Brian Jackson, both 12, settle into the Beltway Charter bus as it prepared to leave from 119th & Loomis. Asia Wright, 15, and McKinley Wright, 14, are tired but excited. Pamela is just ready to roll. Whereever there's a bus and money to be made, the vendors are there. Awaiting us in the parking lot: $5 inauguration t-shirts out of the trunk of a car. We pull off at 9:15 a.m. for the 12-hour ride.


WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, spoke Saturday at the U.S. Conference of Mayors and--is also scheduled to meet with Denis McDonough, who Obama is most likely to tap as his new chief of staff. City Hall confirmed that Emanuel had a meeting set up with McDonough.

At the mayoral conference, Emanuel asked the mayors to scrub their pension funds to divest any investments from gun manufacturers.

duckworth_korecki_jan19.jpgWASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraqi war veteran, told a cheering crowd on the National Mall this afternoon there were more ways to serve the country than just joining the military.

Duckworth, who lost her legs in battle, urged people to volunteer at food pantries, or donate.

"Hunger is a very big issue for me," Duckworth told the Sun-Times later. She said for a period when her father was laid off from his job her family struggled for food. Duckworth said she and her brother would eat half of their lunch at school and save the other half for dinner.

"Only 1 percent of Americans choose to wear the uniform but there are so many other ways to serve your country," Duckworth said. "Whether it's volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home, tutoring at a school, or helping to build affordable housing."

Duckworth's remarks today were part of National Day of Service, an event organized by Chelsea Clinton that honors Martin Luther King Jr. and urges Americans to give back to their communities. The Obamas started the tradition four years ago to kick off inauguration weekend with a national day of servce.

Many Illinois reps were out doing service projects in Washington D.C. today. That included U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill) who brought books to a children's hospital. Duckworth helped paint classrooms.


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage, Part XI by

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama officially gets sworn into a second term at 11:55 a.m. ET on Sunday at the White House, using a bible belonging to First Lady Michelle Obama's grandmother--the first female manager of a Moody Bible Institute bookstore.

Fraser Robinson III gave a bible to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson in 1958, on Mother's Day; on Sunday, in the Blue Room, the bible becomes part of national--as well as Robinson family--presidential history.

I asked the Moody Bible Institute for some background on Mrs. Robinson and this is what I was told: During her time at Moody Bible Institute Mrs. Robinson held several positions at the school, where the main campus is at 820 N. LaSalle.

Her last position was as the store manager for one of Moody's book stores on the South Side. She was promoted to that job in 1976. Mrs. Robinson retired from Moody in 1980; she died in 2002.

Moody Bible Institute sold its retail stores in 2003.

WASHINGTON--Inauguration festivities started Friday here with President Barack Obama Chicago inner circle pals Eric and Cheryl Whitaker holding forth with a gang at the W Hotel, just down the street from the White House.

Spotted in that crowd: Kurt Summers Jr., former chief of staff to Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, now an executive at Grosvenor Capital Management.

Departing White House Senior Staffer David Plouffe was being feted by friends at the same hotel, including David Axelrod, Stephanie Cutter and Robert Gibbs.

Bill Daley, mulling a run for governor is back in Washington for Inauguration events.

Obama's very top donors, members of the National Finance Committee, were hosted at White House receptions and Thursday and Friday and have access to a variety of other VIP Inauguration events.

Attendees included Obama 2012 campaign Illinois Finance co-chairs John Rogers and Vicki Heyman, with her husband, Bruce.

WASHINGTON--Chicago donors to the Presidential Inaugural Committee include Penny Pritzker, Fred Eychaner, Michael Sacks and John Rogers' Ariel Investments.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's fund-raiser, Anne Olaimey, helped raise corporate money for the PIC; longtime Obama fund-raiser Jordan Kaplan handled the Chicago-area contributors.

The 2013 PIC only provided the names of donors, with no other information--hardly a high standard of transparency. For the 2009 inaugural, the PIC released information so a contributor would be identified because employer and city and state were disclosed as well as the amount.

The Center for Responsive Politics researched the donor list to add cities and states saying they are "reasonably sure" their matches are right.

According to the Center, here are some Chicago and suburban donors: Jeffrey Kang, Susan Canter, Evanston; Susan Berghoef, Stephen Ondra, Wilmette; Charles Smith and Dania Leemputte, Winnetka; Pamela Buffett, Highland Park; Azieb Gebrehiiwet, Lincolnwood.

From Chicago: Tracey Patterson, Barbara Manilow, Fernando Rajiv, Twana Edwards, Christopher Kriva, Gail Morse, Julie Smolyansky, David Cihla and Young-Kee Kim.

Obama Inauguration Store, Washington Convention Center. (Video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--There are a lot of stores selling Obama Inauguration souvenirs; the merchandise being sold by the Presidential Inaugural Committee are really premiums offered in return for donations. That's right--the prices for buttons, sweatshirts, pins, etc. you see in the video I shot at the Washington Convention Center "store" are really donations to PIC.

ronald_reagan_riding_a_velociraptor_by_sharpwriter-d55rsh7.jpg Image by SharpWriter

God means for us to do a lot of things, including the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. For instance, if what Republican California legislator Tom Donnelly says is true, God always intended for Americans to have guns. Donnelly called into a Christian-themed radio talk show on AM740 KBRITE to express his opposition to Pres. Obama's recent gun control proposals and said:

"Guns are used an average of 3 million times a year according to the Clinton Justice Department," Assemblyman Tim Donnelly told the Christian talk radio show The Bottom Line on Wednesday. "That's like 6,900 times a day. That's the high end of the statistics, other people say it's only 200 times a day."

"Whatever that number is, they are used to defend human life," he explained. "They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom, and they are absolutely essential to living the way God intended for us to live."[..]

"All [Obama's] plan will do is make it more costly and more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Constitutional right," the assemblyman said. "We must hold criminals, not inanimate steel objects, accountable for their actions.

As The Huffington Post points out, this isn't the first time gun advocates have used scripture in the gun control argument in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings:

An ordained Episcopal priest, Hall presides over an institution that Congress has designated as the National House of Prayer. But in Sunday's sermon, [Rev. Gary] Hall placed the Cathedral in a rare position at the center of a contentious political debate. "If we are truly America's 'National' Cathedral, as we say we are, then we must become the focal point of faithful advocacy of gun control, calling our leaders to courageous action and supporting them as they take it," Hall said.

Donnelly made no mention of Jesus ever using an automatic weapon nor did he say God created guns as a means by which Adam and Eve defended themselves against fascist dinosaurs but who are we to question a man who once tried to take a gun and bullets on an airplane? He's just trying to keep us safe.


It can't be said Vice President Joe Biden doesn't have a sense of humor. So it goes to follow that VP Biden would, of course, give much love to "Diamond" Joe Biden, the parody version of him that the funny people over at The Onion created. (Full disclosure: I used to work for The A.V. Club, the sister publication of The Onion.) The satirical news source has put out an ebook about "Diamond" Joe and is promoting the release by taking part in one of Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" sessions. This didn't escape the actual VEEP who, via his Twitter account, shot The Onion version of him a question about cars, playing off the above image that The Onion used for the cover of the ebook. "Diamond" Joe didn't overlook the shout out either and played back in only the way he would.

Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 2.29.08 PM (2).png

obama_portrait_jan18.jpg Presidential portraits via The White House and The Atlantic

Forget the First Lady's bangs; the new presidential portrait reveals that President Obama now actually looks his age (51 years old, if you actually believe that birth certificate, hippie). No word as to why Obama is so gray now though some sources have noted that Congress has apparently been less than stellar over the past few years.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced the appointment of former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees Friday, calling Fitzgerald "an excellent public servant."

"Patrick Fitzgerald is a friend of mine, and I think a friend of anyone who's looking for education in Illinois that's open to everyone...that gives us the opportunity to make our society better," Quinn told reporters Friday morning after attending an annual interfaith breakfast in Chicago in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fitzgerald replaced Lawrence Oliver II, whose term expired this year, on the board that includes nine members appointed by the governor for six-year terms and three student-members elected from the universities at Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.

"I hope (Oliver) can stay with us in another area of service, and I look forward to working with him," Quinn said.

Fitzgerald was Chicago's longest-serving U.S. attorney, and he led the investigations and prosecutions of former convicted Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. He served from the time President George W. Bush appointed him in 2001 up until joining Skadden law firm last year.

Prior to working in Chicago, Fitzgerald was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York for more than a decade. He has a bachelor's degree from Amherst College and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Quinn called his decision "a very important appointment" and praised Fitzgerald for his commitment to education.

"I want to personally thank Patrick Fitzgerald for his outstanding service as U.S. attorney in this region, and I think his commitment to integrity, education and to service, all of those we can all take to heart. We have to be honest, we have to understand how important education is to making our society better, and we have to understand we have a duty of service to others. That's the rent we pay for our place on God's earth."

Quinn also named board member Chris Kennedy chair of the board and reappointed Timothy Koritz and James Montgomery.

WASHINGTON--What is the future of the Democratic party? Towards Mayor Rahm Emanuel's centrist moves or the populism of freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) That's the question Politico addresses in a Friday story pitting two of the nation's highest profile Democrats against each other.

"Will Democrats "become a center-left, DLC-by-a-different-name party or return to a populist, left-leaning approach that mirrors their electoral coalition," writes Politico's Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman.

"...As 2016 grows nearer, and their presidential hopefuls begin openly maneuvering, Democrats must decide whether they want to be principally known as the party of Rahm Emanuel or the party of Elizabeth Warren," they conclude.

Read the story HERE.


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XI by

WASHINGTON--Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a contingent from the Illinois General Assembly are expected here this weekend for President Barack Obama's second inauguration. That's in addition to the Illinois congressional delegation.

Quinn on Saturday will attend the Illinois State Society Inaugural gala--he is an honorary chair of the event--and then moves on to the "Hard Hat Inaugural Ball."

On Monday, he attends a National Governors' Association breakfast before the inauguration, which he gets to watch with other governors from a spot on the platform in front of the Capitol. On Monday evening, Quinn will attend an Inaugural Ball.

Emanuel is hosting an after-party on Monday night at a downtown club; see details HERE.

WASHINGTON--The Chicago-based Obama campaign will transform into a permanent non-profit political organization with offices in Chicago and Washington.

In an e-mail sent Friday to supporters, Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager--who will chair the new group, to be named "Organizing for Action" said the organization is "the next phase of this movement.

"It will be a supporter-driven organization, as we've always been, staying true to our core principles: "respect, empower, include." We'll work on the key battles of our generation, train the next generation of grassroots organizers and leaders, and organize around local issues in our own communities. We'll continue to support the President in creating jobs and growing the economy from the middle out, and in fighting for issues like immigration reform, climate change, balanced deficit reduction, and reducing gun violence.

"We have a remarkable opportunity right now to change our country, and if we can take the enthusiasm and passion that people showed throughout the campaign and channel it into the work ahead of us, we will be unstoppable.

"As the chair of Organizing for Action, I will be deeply involved in this new organization, but it will be organizers like you who will determine where it goes. I have no doubt we can take this grassroots movement to new and extraordinary heights."

Messina will discuss the new group at a meeting called The Legacy Conference--Sunday at the Washington Hilton and on-line for broader participation--consisting mainly of Obama campaign staffers and volunteers.

The new group is the result of a desire by the Obama team to create a group separate from the Democratic National Committee--one devoted to Obama's second term goals.

The group will be organized as a 501 (c4) under the IRS code which covers advocacy group.

Obama's biggest donors--his National Finance Committee--will be briefed on the new group during a day long "Going Forward" conference at the Newseum on Saturday, which is to include conversations on "what to do next next," a source told the Sun-Times.

Looking ahead, it is not a leap to see that this group becomes through the years the backbone of Obama's post-presidency--including his presidential library.

The Los Angeles Times first reported that the new group will be led by Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager and Chicago political veteran Jon Carson, who currently runs the White House Office of Public Engagement.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn has more than $1 million in his political fund, but it's not the convincing statement a sitting governor might want to make to potential rivals heading into a re-election bid.

The $1.06 million the governor this week reported in his Taxpayers for Quinn campaign fund at the end of 2012 is a third of what one of his potential Democratic opponents has in her political fund.

It's also less than half of what any of his three predecessors - Jim Edgar, George Ryan or Rod Blagojevich -- had in their campaign warchests at similar points in their political trajectories.

The governor's camp attributed the sparsity of available campaign funds to contribution limits the governor helped impose and his preoccupation with a litany of serious state issues, starting with finding a solution to Illinois $95 billion pension crisis.

"With two prior governors in prison for fundraising abuses, the people of Illinois want their governor focused on cleaning up state government-- not 'cleaning up' on campaign contributions," the Quinn campaign said in a prepared statement to the Chicago Sun-Times.

"Gov. Quinn's top priority is restoring integrity to government after years of corruption. He is spending his time governing and getting things done for the people of Illinois," his campaign said.

The campaign also noted Quinn has a history of being a respectable fundraiser, having raised $25 million in the 2010 campaign cycle when he narrowly defeated Republican Bill Brady.

Yet, his $1.06 million puts him far behind at least one potential Democratic rival in 2014, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who with $3.6 million on hand hasn't said if she intends to run for governor after four terms as the state's chief law enforcement officeholder.

Another possible Democratic rival, former U.S. Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff William Daley, hasn't raised any campaign cash yet, though he reiterated interest this week in possibly challenging Quinn in 2014.

Despite Quinn's explanations, one long-time campaign-finance researcher said the governor's modest campaign kitty demonstrates his unpopularity and makes him vulnerable to challenges from within his own party's ranks.

"It's a chicken-and-egg sort of thing. He's not popular. He's not perceived as being powerful. So he's not raising as much money," said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois at Springfield political scientist and director of the Sunshine Project.

"When you have trouble raising money, people view that as an indication of weakness and vulnerability. If you can't raise money, it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy," Redfield said. "The fact there aren't people tripping over each other to give him money is an indication of weakness, that he may be vulnerable in the primary."

Admittedly, Quinn is hamstrung by contribution caps that limit his ability to harvest big checks from donors to $5,300 per individual, $10,500 for corporations or labor unions and $52,600 for political action committees and candidate committees. Those caps, which have applied to him since January 1, 2011, remain in place until March of next year.

By contrast, much of Madigan's political wealth was amassed pre-contribution limits.

Yet, part of the governor's struggles raising campaign funds since 2010 is the result of
self-inflicted wounds from his battles with labor unions that helped elect him.

AFSCME Council 31, for example, last contributed to Quinn in October 2010 as part of $575,000 it contributed to his first governor's election. The union hasn't donated a dime since and is fighting Quinn on his efforts to reel in pensions and negate pay raises he promised. The union lost in its bid to block Quinn from closing dozens of state facilities.

The Illinois Education Association gave Quinn more than $743,000 in the run-up to his 2010 election but only $1,000 since then. It too is battling with Quinn over pension reform that threatens current and retired downstate and suburban teachers.

While no earlier governors have operated under the restrictions of contribution caps, none of his predecessors dating back to Edgar had as little as Quinn in their political funds at mid-term.

Edgar at the end of 1992, two years into his first term, had $2.37 million in cash on hand. Today, adjusted for inflation, that would amount to nearly $3.9 million. In December 1996, Edgar reported having $2.5 million in campaign cash, the equivalent today of almost $3.7 million.

Ryan's campaign fund had $2.24 million in cash in December 2000 during the mid-point of his one term, a time when he still hadn't ruled out possibly seeking re-election despite the clouds of a looming federal indictment in his not-so-distant future.

Even Blagojevich, after his arrest and shortly before being impeached and driven out of office by state lawmakers, reported having $2.24 million in cash on hand in his campaign fund at the end of 2008.

Four years earlier, mid-way into his first term, Blagojevich's campaign fund reported having a staggering $10.39 million in the bank. That didn't completely scare away a challenge, but it helped enable him to amass 71 percent of the primary vote in 2010 and obliterate former Chicago Ald. Edwin Eisendrath.

Michelle Obama gets another Twitter account

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Michelle Obama's office got her a unique birthday gift today. The Office of First Lady Michelle Obama started up a @FLOTUS Twitter account.

Although the account will be run by her office, the Twitter bio promises that "Tweets from the First Lady are signed -mo."

Michelle already has a @MichelleObama Twitter account that was operated by the Obama 2012 campaign staff.

Here's @FLOTUS' first tweet:

Here's how U.S. lawmakers from Illinois stand on gun control

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The Sun-Times reached out to numerous congressional lawmakers after President Obama's far-reaching proposal to overhaul gun laws. Here's what some of them had to say and how the NRA has rated them.
The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbies in the nation, pouring some $68 million in contributions and lobbying efforts onto Congress since 1990.

Here's what some Illinois congresspeople had to say:

Brad Schneider (D-IL):
NRA Rating: F
Schneider supports assault weapons ban, ban on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks. Schneider said of Obama's proposals: " I encourage all of my fellow Members of Congress to act immediately to help turn these recommendations into law."

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL): supports assault weapons ban and ban on high-capacity magazines. The veteran who enjoys target practice owns a FOID card but ont a weapon. She hopes to be a "calm voice" on gun reform.
NRA Rating: F

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)
NRA Rating: F
Supports assault weapons ban, ban on high capacity magazines and universal background checks. Believes the country should "seize the moment" on gun reform.

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock: (R-IL)
NRA Rating: 92 Percent
"Congressman Schock has been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. Most gun control efforts end up penalizing law abiding citizens, while some of the areas with the strongest gun control laws have the highest crime such as Washington, DC and Chicago," a statement from his office said. "The White House Task Force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, just announced their new proposals on gun laws for Congress to consider. If the Senate passes a bill, Congressman Schock will review it with an open mind."

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam: (R-IL)
NRA Rating: 92 Percent
"The tragedy in Newtown has brought into sharp focus the need for action to prevent future atrocities. Improvements need to be made to prevent criminals and unstable individuals from obtaining weapons in the first place--that is why I have previously supported improvements to the National Instant Background Check System, and voted to increase the program's funding," Roskam said in a statement. "It is also vital that any action must be holistic, taking into account improvements in mental health, school safety, and discussing violence in our culture."

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
NRA Rating: 0
Told the Sun-Times in an interview he supports an assault weapons ban.
"Senator Kirk believes we need to take a sensible and comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence in our society," said his spokesman, Lance Trover. "He looks forward to working with his Senate colleagues and other stakeholders to have a thoughtful and open dialogue about all the systematic problems that lead to violence."

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
NRA Rating: 0 percent
Comment: "I strongly support the President's comprehensive proposal, which also includes important school safety, law enforcement, and mental health resources. The President has done his part. Now it is time for Congress to do our part. As the President urged today, we must reinstate a Federal Assault Weapons Ban, in order to protect our children. We must pass laws to ban assault magazines."

U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)
NRA Rating: 0
"The President's proposals represent the type of commonsense gun control policies that most Americans want, including gun owners. When you put a 30 round clip in an assault weapon, you're not hunting deer, you are hunting people."


This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part IX by

WASHINGTON-- President Barack Obama is likely to tap deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough his next chief of staff, a source told the Sun-Times and multiple outlets are reporting.

McDonough and Obama have a strong personal relationship with ties going back to the 2008 presidential campaign where McDonough was a foreign policy advisor.

The new chief of staff follows Jack Lew, who Obama has nominated to be Treasury Secretary. Lew replaced Bill Daley; before Daley advisor Pete Rouse was interim chief of staff, taking over after first chief of staff Rahm Emanuel departed to run for mayor of Chicago.

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden rallies support for curbs on gun violence during a speech on Thursday at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors here. Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the groups on Saturday.

From the U.S. Conference of Mayors: Other confirmed speakers include:

Thursday, Jan 17: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, MA Congressman James McGovern, John Zogby of Zogby Analytics, Rapper "MC Hammer"

Friday, Jan 18: Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk, CA Senator Diane Feinstein AK Senator Mark Begich, CDF Founder and Pres. Marian Wright Edelman, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch, Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, R&B singer "MARIO," Music group "The Roots"

Saturday, Jan 19: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, CT Gov. Dannel Malloy, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Export-Import Bank President and Chairman Fred Hochberg, Army Corps of Engineers Dir. Steven Stockton, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, USICH Ex. Dir. Barbara Poppe, Soul singer John Legend

Video: 2nd Congressional candidate Toi Hutchinson on guns

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One of Toi Hutchinson's opponents, Robin Kelly, called out Hutchinson for having a high rating with the NRA. Hutchinson says she supports a ban on assault weapons and recently signed on to gun control legislation in the Illinois Senate. They are just two of 22 candidates who have filed to run in the Feb. 26 special election primary for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat.

Federal regulators have grounded all Dreamliners just five days after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called them "safe" and said he had "absolutely no reservations" about their safety.

The Federal Aviation Administration had started a top-down review of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner after a fire broke out in a Japan Airlines Co. On Tuesday, Japan announced it would ground all the aircraft. Initially, the flights were to continue in the states.

Then that changed, amid FAA concerns.

Here's what outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said just a few days ago.

"I believe this plane is safe and I would have absolutely no reservations of boarding one of these planes and taking a flight," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at the press conference.

below, release from Quinn...

Statement from Governor Quinn Regarding President Obama's Strong Action to Protect Our Children

CHICAGO - January 16, 2013. After participating in a call with the White House, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and governors across the nation, Governor Pat Quinn today issued a statement regarding President Barack Obama's public safety plan:

"I stand with President Obama in calling on Congress to adopt strong policies that will reduce gun violence. We must act now to protect the children and people of America.

"The President's action today is the first step of a comprehensive public safety plan that Congress must act upon. We all have a responsibility to ensure that military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines do not fall into the wrong hands.

"The American people should not have to go about their lives in fear of the kind of mass violence that can be inflicted by an assault weapon.

"The horrific tragedies that occurred in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut have cost our nation too many precious lives. While gun violence cannot be completely eliminated, we should not wait one more day to enact common sense measures that will save lives and help prevent these violent massacres."


Hours after congressional candidate Robin Kelly launched a salvo at her opponents in the debate over gun control, one of her opponents -- and onetime good friends -- fired back.

Candidate Toi Hutchinson took Kelly to task for "attacks" on Hutchinson's record. Kelly needled Hutchinson for having a 92 percent rating from the NRA then celebrated her own "F" grade.

"Robin Kelly's attacks are disappointing attempts to score political points," said Hutchinson. "Robin not only endorsed me in my re-election last year but even contributed money to my campaign. I have had hundreds of conversations with her and not once has she told me that she disagrees with my position on gun safety. She knows that as a mother of three teenagers I am deeply committed to keeping them and their peers safe."

Hutchinson, Kelly and Debbie Halvorson are unique in that they are all friends but are competing together for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s vacated seat.

On the day she publicly announced, Halvorson said there was going to be a "family fight" but that they would all make up in the end.


WASHINGTON--In the wake of unending gun violence, from massacres to murders in the Chicago streets, President Barack Obama unveiled sweeping plans Wednesday to curb gun violence, including actions he is taking right away and others that need Congressional approval.

"A majority of Americans agree with us on this," Obama said in urging Congress to act and anticipating opposition from the gun lobby. "And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994 urging them -- this is Ronald Reagan speaking -- urging them to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of military-style assault weapons."

"And finally, Congress needs to help rather than hinder law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this," Obama said.

Obama's proposals--from legislative to executive orders to long term research--mark the first time Obama has tackled gun control, one of the most polarizing issues in U.S. politics. His hand was finally forced after the shootings in Newtown, Mass. last month which 20 students, six educators and the gunman's mother.

The Sandy Hook school tragedy was only the latest massacre on Obama's watch, coming after shootings in Oak Creek Wisc., Aurora, Col. and Tucson, Ariz. and other places.

After Newtown, Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to address gun violence after Sandy Hook with orders to come up with proposals by the end of January. The Biden group held 22 meetings with 220 organizations in the past month.

"The world has changed and demanded action," Biden said at the White House announcement of the recommendations.

The most controversial elements for Congress will likely be banning military-style assault weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to ten bullets. A area where gun rights advocates and anti-gun activists may find agreement is in requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales--including weapons sold at gun shows.

The push for tougher gun curbs will start in the Democratic-controlled Senate with any measure that passes meeting an uncertain fate in the House. Senate Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the panel will hold its first hearing on gun control measures on Jan. 30.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a very cool reception to the Obama package through a spokesman, Michael Steel who said in a statement, "House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at it."

The National Rifle Association, the major gun lobby in the U.S. found nothing in the Obama package to support outright, even his call to increase access to mental health services. The NRA said in a statement, "Throughout its history, the National Rifle Association has led efforts to promote safety and responsible gun ownership. Keeping our children and society safe remains our top priority.

"The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America's most valuable asset - our children.

"Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation. Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."

A senior administration official, in a briefing call with reporters on Wednesday morning said the broad intent of the gun package is to provide a comprehensive approach to deal with everything "from massacres to everyday gun violence."

Since passing significant gun measures in Congress will pose a challenge, especially in the GOP-controlled House, the Obama package includes 23 actions Obama is taking on his own, including a new nominee for the director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms administration, a post left unfilled for years as Obama's original nominee was stalled in Congress and never confirmed.

Highlights of the proposals include:

*Reinstating the assault weapons ban; the nation had one in place between 1994 and 2004.
*Mandating background checks on all gun sales.
*Limiting high capacity magazines to 10 bullets.
*Banning armor-piercing bullets.
*Ending the freeze on gun violence research.
*Bolstering mental health coverage for youths.

Annette Nance-Holt talks about President Barack Obama's proposals to curb gun violence outside the White House West Wing. (video by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Victims of gun violence and family members touched by it, including Chicago's Annette Nance-Holt, were in the audience on Wednesday when President Barack Obama unveiled his comprehensive package of proposals to curb gun violence.

Blair Holt was 16 and a student at Julian High School in Chicago when he was gunned down by a reputed gang member while on his way home from school in 2007.

The tragedy transformed Nance-Holt, a captain in the Chicago Fire Department--assigned to Engine Company 120 in Morgan Park--to an activist trying to curb gun violence.

I caught up with Nance-Hold outside the West Wing of the White House after Obama announced his plans and asked her what could help the most in Chicago. The universal background checks, she said, would help "tremendously" because of the number of illegal guns in the city as well as funding for more police.

barack_live_jan16.jpgAP Photo

President Barack Obama addressed the nation and unveiled his new plans for gun control. Below, find links to our stories on the new executive orders and after the jump watch video of the President's speech.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee are holding a hearing titled "Gun Violence Prevention: A Call to Action."

Live broadcasting by Ustream

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel embraced President Barack Obama's gun proposals on Wednesday--even though, as chief of staff to the president early in the first term he urged putting the contentious matter on a back burner. Emanuel will be in Washington on Saturday for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting--where curbing gun violence is a top issue. On Monday, Emanuel was here for a gun panel at the Center for American Progress where he said Chicago pension funds should divest from any gun-related assets.

On the Obama package Emanuel said in a statement, "The President has proposed a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to gun-safety rules, and these are exactly the common sense laws that we need as a city and a nation to help prevent the gun violence that too often plagues our communities. People throughout the country are supportive of common sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and give law enforcement officials the tools they need to protect our children, our families and our neighborhoods."

Robin Kelly needles opponents on NRA support

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Trying to seize the moment after President Obama's unveiling of new gun control initiatives, candidate for 2nd congressional district, Robin Kelly, drew attention to her opponents' previous support from the NRA.

"Unlike my opponents Debbie Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson, who both received support from the NRA, I got an F rating and frankly, I could not be more proud," Kelly said in a statement.

The Sun-Times previously looked at the candidates' views on gun issues.

The special primary to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. will be held on Feb. 26.

A new scathing ad released by the NRA calls President Obama "an elitist hypocrite" because he has armed guards protecting his daughters at their school, but balked at the NRA's proposal to arm schools nationally.

"Why is President Obama so skeptical about putting armed security in our schools? It's okay for his kids, but not ours?"
The ad, released today, indicated.

The ad is a clear sign that any kind of gun legislation will mean a fierce battle on Capitol Hill.

The White House responded calling it "repugnant and cowardly."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), a long-time champion of more curbs on guns to reduce violence, was invited to the White House on Wednesday for the unveiling of President Barack Obama's gun package.

On Tuesday, Quigley co-sponsored a bill to bolster gun buy-back programs.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama on Wednesday is signing 23 directives to reduce gun violence right away--ordering his administration to act even as he is requesting Congress to ban military-style assault weapons, install a 10-round limit for high-capacity magazine checks and require background checks for all gun purchasers.

The 23 orders are in "no way for substitute for action from members of Congress," Obama said. They are, according to the White House:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.


This is the eight part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

Part8 Jan16 by Marcus Gilmer

WASHINGTON--Hours before President Barack Obama unveils his plans to curb gun violence, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that a National Rifle Association ad noting that the Obama daughters have security protecting them is unduly provocative with a goal only to "ratchet up the rhetoric."

The freshman lawmaker, a wounded Iraq war vet, said she was not ready to sign on to ban Obama will proposal on assault weapons until she sees the details such as how an assault weapon is defined.

The NRA spot calls Obama a hypocrite as the association, in response to the Sandy Hook school massacre last month, had as its main response the creation of a program to put more armed guards in schools.

"Are the president's kids more important than yours?" the voiceover states. "Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he's just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security."

Duckworth said, "Well, I think that, you know, we need to remind people that the majority of Americans are not on those extreme ends. And let's start off by saying that we all want our children protected. You know, those NRA ads saying that, you know, the president's children, his daughters are protected, don't you want yours protected -- really, you know, their main -- their whole goal is to ratchet up the rhetoric.

"Let's stay calm. Let's look at the function of these weapons, make sure that we -- you know, marksmen can continue to have their weapons that they use for marksmanship. But we need to ban those weapons that have the functionality that can kill a whole bunch of folks in just a few seconds, and be very careful about how we go about this."

Asked about an assault weapon ban, Duckworth said "Well, you know, I'm going to look and see what the proposal is. I'm interested in the definition of what an assault weapon is more than I am interested in what it looks like.

"We also need to take a look at the things that we should pass right away -- the background checks. You know, people should not be able to buy weapons at gun shows without background checks. We need to do a much better job of that. Nobody needs a 30-round magazine to go hunting, because if you're using a 30-round magazine to go hunting, you are a very bad shot, and your fellow hunters..."

Duckworth later added, "I like target practice as well. You don't need to rely on an AR-15 for target practice. And isn't the protection of our most vulnerable the most important priority here, you know, to make sure that our kids are protected, to make sure that masses of people are not easily killed, but also maintaining the right of people to go to target practice? You don't need an AR-15 to go to target practice. And if you enjoy firing an AR-15 for target practice, you're going to enjoy learning to fire some other weapon as well."

Duckworth bottom line: "So let's bring down the rhetoric, talk about it. And I'm going to be very -- you know, looking very carefully at what the president presents. I may not agree with him on everything, but we're going to take a look and make sure that those things that we can pass, let's pass first."

gun1.JPGRich Hein/Sun-Times

Until December 14, 2012, any debates over assault weapons and gun rights had been drowned out by other issues, a heated election and a slow economic recovery reducing the gun issue to background noise. Even when Mitt Romney and President Obama debated in Denver, Colorado, just nine miles from Aurora, Colorado where, earlier in the year a gunman opened fire on a movie theater full of people, neither candidate brought up gun control. But that changed that cold December Friday when a gunman allegedly killed his mother and then fought his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where he shot and killed 26 more people, 20 of them children. Since that, gun control has been - with the exception of the "fiscal cliff" crisis - at the forefront of political discourse.

But this latest incarnation of the gun debate is happening on multiple levels. Chicago is coming off of particularly bloody year, topping 500 total murders for only the second time in 10 years. And just days before the Newtown shooting, an appeals court over-turned the state of Illinois' concealed carry ban.

As President Obama prepares to unveil his new plan for curbing gun violence later today, we take a look back at the story of this latest surge in gun control over the last month. (For more info, check out Max Rust's graphs.)

The City of Chicago
Dec. 18, 2012: Mayor Rahm Emanuel defends Pres. Obama's stance on guns.
Dec. 20, 2012: Mayor Emanuel and a host of other local mayors call for action to curb gun violence.
Dec. 27, 2012: Chicago records its 500th murder of the year
Dec. 31, 2012: Parents join call for tougher gun control laws
Jan.1, 2013: As violent 2012 comes to a close, CPD reports 506 murders for the year
Jan. 9, 2013: A student at Marsh Elementary School is charged after bring a .22 revolver, 33 bullets, and a 3-inch knife to school.
Jan. 10, 2013: Mayor Emanuel promises to pursue new gun control for city
Jan 11, 2013: Durbin, McCarthy meet to work on gun violence solution
Jan. 12, 2013: Cook Co. Board President Toni Preckwinkle joins forces with Mayor Emanuel
Jan. 14, 2013: Mayor Emanuel says he wants Chicago pension funds to divest if own gun investments
Jan. 15, 2013: 2013 opens on bloody note, recording at least 24 homicides in the first 15 days, 21 of those shootings.


The State of Illinois
Dec. 5, 2012: State Sen. Donne Trotter is charged for trying to carry a concealed weapon through a checkpoint at O'Hare.
Dec. 11, 2012: A federal appeals court overturns Illinois' concealed weapons ban
Dec. 29, 2012: State Sen. Trotter, previously a candidate for the Congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson, Jr., drops out of the race but declines to blame his gun arrest.
Jan. 6, 2013: State legislature ends lame-duck session without voting on new gun control measures.
Jan. 8, 2013: Gun violence becomes a key issue in the race for the Congressional seat vacated by Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Across The Nation
Dec. 14, 2012: 27 people - 20 of them young schoolchildren - are killed during a mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The alleged gunman also dies when he kills himself.
Dec. 16, 2012: A man is arrested after allegedly firing off 20 rounds in a California mall parking lot.
Dec. 19, 2012: Pres. Obama appoints Vice President Joe Biden to head task force that will propose new gun control legislation
Dec. 21, 2012: NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre gives a disjointed, heavily pro-gun press conference
Dec. 21, 2012: The newest gun control debate picks up steam
Dec. 22, 2012: One New York newspaper caused an outcry when it published a map showing the addresses of all registered gun permit holders. (It's been blamed for at least one burglary.) On January 8, 2013, popular news and gossip blog Gawker published a similar list for gun owners in New York City to great controversy.
January 2013: Towns across the nation, including in Pennsylvania, Alabama, and New Jersey, put armed guards in schools as a result of the Newtown shootings.
Jan. 9, 2013: VP Biden meets with the NRA to discuss new gun law proposals
Jan. 10, 2013: One student is injured in a shooting at a California High School.
Jan. 11, 2013: Members of the far right stoke hysteria over gun rights
Jan. 11, 2013: A judge rules James Holmes, the suspect in the July 2012 Aurora, CO mass shooting, will stand trial on all counts against him.
Jan. 14. 2013: Where each state stands on gun control
Jan. 14, 2013: Pres. Obama endorses bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines
Jan. 14, 2013: Delaware begins looking into new gun control laws.
Jan. 15, 2013: New York becomes the first state to approve new gun control legislation, the first state to do so since the Newtown shootings
Jan. 15, 2013: Pres. Obama prepares to present his new package of gun laws
Jan. 15, 2013: On the eve of Pres. Obama's announcement, there are at least two shootings at university locations.
Jan. 15, 2013: The NRA releases an ad calling Pres. Obama an "elitist hypocrite" due to the armed protection for his daughters.

Politico is reporting that President Barack Obama's wide-ranging gun control proposal, expected to be announced Wednesday, will include a new federal gun trafficking law "long sought by big-city mayors as a way to keep out-of-state guns off their streets." The reported proposal goes beyond the expected call for universal background checks and bans on military-style weapons and high capacity ammunition.

Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, said earlier on Tuesday he believes Congress will act on at least some of the measures even in the face of a "tremendously powerful" gun lobby.

U.S. guns: A recent history

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With nearly 1 firearm per person existing in the U.S. -- a higher rate than any other country -- guns are a defining, and controversial, component of American culture. The recent killing of 20 children in a Connecticut elementary has re-energized the debate about gun laws in the U.S., raising questions as to what powers the government has to control firearms. Here is a numerical look at guns and views on guns in America since 1999.


A commonly way to measure the demand of guns, trends in the number of criminal background checks can indicate how many Americans are seeking to legally possess firearms. Although the numbers are seasonal, there has been a significant overall increase in background checks in recent years, despite this period being marked by some of the most notorious mass shootings in U.S. history:


Despite what appears to be a recent increase in the demand for guns, the percentage of Americans who keep guns in their homes has remained relatively the same over this period, according to Gallup polling data:


The primary opposition to guns is, needless to say, their use in murder. However as the demand for guns has increased, the overall number of murders in the U.S., including those involving handguns, has gradually declined:


This trend has corresponded with an increase in the number of Americans who, according to Gallup, believe that handguns -- which make up the biggest percentage of all murder weapons -- should not be banned:


However, the most recent Gallup poll involving Americans' views on gun laws, taken after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, shows a dramatic uptick in the percentage of people who want gun laws to be more strict. This recent shift could potentially affect lawmakers' decision to support or oppose new gun control legislation:


WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday morning will unveil a "package of concrete proposals" to curb gun violence, with the proposals coming in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Mass. a month ago.

Obama and Biden, who led a task force this past month, will announce a combination of proposed changes in laws and actions Obama could take on his own through executive orders at an event set for 11:45 a.m. ET (10:45 a.m. Chicago time.

In order to head off anticipated opposition and to build public support, Obama and Biden at the morning event will be flanked "by children from around the country who wrote the President letters in the wake of that tragedy expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.

The package, described by Carney as "comprehensive," includes, he said:

*Asking Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban.

*Asking Congress to ban high-capacity magazine clips.

*Asking Congress to close loopholes in the background check system in our country.

Carney was asked to address "some fears among gun owners that the President might unilaterally try to restrict their right to bear arms or access to weapons" and if Obama will use "his executive powers give him the authority to restrict someone's right to access certain weapons or ammunition."

Carney replied, "Well, let's be clear. The President, as he has said often and said yesterday, believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. He believes and knows that most all gun owners are highly responsible; they buy their guns legally and they use them safely. He also has seen and believes that most gun owners support the idea of common-sense measures to prevent people who shouldn't have guns from getting them. And that includes closing loopholes in our background check system, for example.

"But when it comes to -- the President will take a comprehensive approach. But it is a simple fact that there are limits on what can be done within existing law. And Congress has to act on the kinds of measures that we've already mentioned because the power to do that is reserved by Congress and to Congress."

If he tries hard enough, Rahm Emanuel may just come in third place when it comes to leading the Windy City.

At least that's according to William Daley.

Put on the spot in a media scrum today, Daley was asked to name the best mayor Chicago has seen.
He didn't hesitate.

"My father was the best mayor in the history of Chicago," he said without pause. "My brother is
the second and Rahm is trying to be the third."

Daley made the remarks on his way out of an event at Misericordia this morning where he once again teased about a possible gubernatorial run.


By Miriam Di Nunzio

The Chicago Public Library today unveiled artist Steve Musgrave's new portrait of President Obama to celebrate the upcoming inauguration. The event took place at the West Pullman Branch on West 119th Street.

According to a statement, the portrait reflects Obama's efforts as a community organizer in the South Side Chicago neighborhood prior to seeking public office.

In addition to the likeness of Obama, who is depicted holding a copy of his memoir, "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," the portrait features images of people who have influenced the president's life including his First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia, his mother and grandmother, Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Harold Washington, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, among others.

durbin_jan15.JPGPhoto by Michael Smart/Sun-Times

Here are the seven names U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) forwarded to President Obama to fill vacancies in the Northern District of Illinois. There are three federal judge vacancies, according to Durbin's office.

Since Durbin is the senior senator from Illinois he has the lead role in sending the president recommendations for federal judicial posts. Durbin made the list after the candidates went through a screening committee.

"One of the most important jobs I have as a U.S. Senator is recommending candidates to fill federal judicial vacancies in Illinois," Durbin said in a statement. "The screening committee I set up last year worked diligently to evaluate each application and recommend applicants they thought were particularly noteworthy. After meeting personally with the recommended applicants, I am honored to forward the names of seven well-qualified individuals with proven track records to President Obama. Each of them would make an outstanding nominee for federal district court judge if selected."

Durbin, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996, is the senior senator from Illinois. The senior senator from the President's political party has traditionally had the lead role in making recommendations to the President for the positions of Federal District Court Judge, U.S. Attorney, and U.S. Marshal in the senator's home state. There are currently three judicial vacancies on the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Here are the names and bios:

Jorge Alonso - Judge Alonso has served as an Associate Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County since 2003. He currently serves in the Criminal Division and also presides over a specialty court program for women with mental illness in the criminal justice system. He previously worked for over eleven years as an Assistant Public Defender in the Office of the Cook County Public Defender. He is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School. Judge Alonso lives in Park Ridge.

Michael Brody - Mr. Brody is a partner in the Chicago office of Jenner & Block, where he has worked since 1984. He currently serves as the Secretary of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, where he served on the law review and where he has taught a seminar on class action litigation for the past decade. He served as a judicial law clerk to then-Judge Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Mr. Brody lives in Evanston.

Sara Ellis - Ms. Ellis has worked as a counsel at Schiff Hardin in Chicago since 2008. Previously she served for six years as a staff attorney for the Federal Defender Program in Chicago, for three years as an Assistant Corporation Counsel in the City of Chicago Department of Law, and in private practice at Stetler & Duffy in Chicago. She graduated from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she has taught as an adjunct professor. Ms. Ellis lives in Chicago.

Caryn Jacobs - Ms. Jacobs is currently a partner in the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn, where she has worked since 2010. Previously she served for over five years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and worked for about seventeen years at Mayer Brown in Chicago, having become a partner there in 1994. She served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Susan Getzendanner of the Northern District of Illinois. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School. Ms. Jacobs lives in Evanston.

Patricia Martin - Judge Martin has served as a judge in Circuit Court of Cook County since 1996. Since 2000, she has been the Presiding Judge in the Child Protection Division, and she previously served as a judge in the Law Division and in the Child Protection Division. She worked in the Office of the Cook County Public Defender from 1986-1996, ultimately serving as Deputy Chief of the Fifth Municipal District. She is a graduate of the Northern Illinois University College of Law. Judge Martin lives in Chicago.

Mary Smith - Ms. Smith is currently the General Counsel of the Illinois Department of Insurance, where she has served since 2012. She worked as a Counselor in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from 2010-2012, where she had also previously served as a trial attorney. She served on the White House Domestic Policy Council from 1997-1999 and as an Associate Counsel in the White House Counsel's Office in 2000. She has also worked as a senior litigation counsel at Tyco International and in private practice. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago School of Law, and served as a judicial law clerk for Judge R. Lanier Anderson III of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Ms. Smith lives in Lansing.

Andrea Wood - Ms. Wood has served as a Senior Trial Counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Chicago since 2007. Previously she worked as an attorney in the SEC Division of Enforcement and in private practice at Kirkland & Ellis. She served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Diane Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School, where she served on the law review. Ms. Wood lives in Chicago.

Two candidates are already facing petition challenges in the race for 2nd Congressional District -- Anthony Beale and Joyce Washington, according to the state board of elections.
Beale filed his candidacy on Jan. 3 and Washington filed on Jan. 7 -- the deadline. They are two of 17 Democrats who are vying for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat.

Jackson resigned in November amid a federal investigation and health issues. His wife, Sandi, resigned her aldermanic post last week.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn may be the most unpopular chief executive of any state in the country and staring down a potential primary challenge from William Daley, but the governor doesn't believe his dismal poll numbers necessarily spell political doom in 2014.

Quinn told Chicago Sun-TImes political columnist Carol Marin on WTTW-TV's "Chicago Tonight" that he's running for re-election and isn't discouraged by polling that shows him well below the 50-percent threshold where incumbents must be to be safe politically.

"Of course I am," the governor told Marin when she asked if he was running for a second term. "I believe I"m doing the right thing."

In late November, however, Illinois voters didn't seem to agree.

The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm found that just 25 percent of those it surveyed approved of Quinn's job performance while 64 percent disapproved. The pollster said those results made Quinn "the most unpopular governor [it] has polled on anywhere in the country this year."

But in his interview that aired Monday, the governor belittled those results and prognostications from elsewhere about his unpopularity.

"The New York Times in the last election, Nate Silver, he's a rather famous guy now, he predicted I'd lose the election. He said I had an 8-percent chance of winning," Quinn said. "Well, he was wrong, OK? The voters spoke."

Silver, the statistician who correctly picked the winner in all 50 states in November's presidential elections, predicted in October 2010 that Republican Bill Brady had a 91-percent chance of swamping Quinn at the polls a month later.

Silver, in fact, did get that pick wrong as Quinn eked out a narrow win over the state senator from Bloomington. Brady lost the November 2010 governor's race to Quinn by nearly 32,000 votes out of 3.4 million cast.

SPRINGFIELD-In the end, the cartoon depiction of an orange python squeezing the life out of the Capitol dome failed to convince Illinois lawmakers to solve the state's $95 billion pension crisis, but Gov. Pat Quinn said that inaction wasn't Squeezy's fault.

In November, his administration trotted out a low-budget YouTube and Facebook campaign featuring an animated snake called Squeezy atop the statehouse to dramatize how pension obligations are strangling spending on other vital areas of state government.

The effort was quickly derided as amateurish and trivial by some critics and didn't move the needle on pension reform, but don't count Quinn among the naysayers.

In an interview with Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Carol Marin on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight," the governor said he has no regrets about introducing the cartoon snake to Illinois voters.

"Not at all. As a matter of fact, every time I talk to people like yourself in the media or politicians, they refer to the pension squeeze. You have to be creative in communicating with the public," Quinn said in an interview that aired Monday.

"The bottom line is the pension squeeze is squeezing out our investment in schools. Our prescious children don't get the education they deserve because we're putting too much money into a pension account. We really have to be vivid in connecting to the 13 million people in Illinois, and I think we've been successful because people over and over keep referring to the pension squeeze," the governor said.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn signaled his displeasure with a casino expansion bill sent to him last week, saying it "doesn't measure up" but stopping short of explicitly stating that he intends to veto it.

"The bill's that's headed our way doesn't measure up, and we'll act appropriately," the governor said in an interview with Chicago Sun-Times political columnist Carol Marin on WTTW-TV's "Chicago Tonight."

Asked specifically if that means he intends to veto the measure that includes a casino for Chicago, Quinn answered, "Wait and see. You'll see. It'll be a bill that I don't think that measures up, and if it doesn't measure up, then it can't be passed."

The plan before him would authorize five casinos, including one in the city, Park City, the south suburbs and two downstate. It also would permit slot machines at racetracks and give Chicago the authority to allow slots at the city's airports.

State lawmakers passed this package in May 2011. But fearing Quinn's intentions with the bill, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) used a parliamentary maneuver to put the plan in a legislative deep freeze and avoid sending it the governor despite it having passed the House and Senate.

Cullerton removed the hold last week on the final day of the lame-duck legislative session, when the two-year term of the 97th General Assembly was coming to a close.

Quinn, whose comments aired Monday night, said one deficiency with the package was that it did not include a prohibition on gambling contributions to state officeholders. In the past, the governor characterized this specific package as "top heavy" and "excessive," while his appointed top gambling regulator called it a "pile of garbage."

walsh_jan15.JPGPhoto: Richard Chapman/Sun-Times

Former Tea Party congressman Joe Walsh, fresh off a defeat at the hands of Tammy Duckworth, may be taking his bluster to the airwaves soon. Chicago Media Baron™ Robert Feder reported this morning that local conservative talk radio station 560 WIND-AM is honing in on Walsh as a possible host for a weeknight show and think highly enough of Walsh's abilities that they're already seeing bigger things. Reports Feder, "If it's a hit, insiders said, national distribution could follow."

If WIND does end up hiring Walsh, it will go a long way to filling a hole in talk radio, which is currently devoid of conservative firebrand hosts who rile up listeners with race-baiting and fear-mongering.

Assuming this doesn't interfere with Walsh's possible run for Senate in 2014, Walsh's show could become the Midwest political equivalent of The Paul Finebaum Show, sports radio's premiere three-ring circus.

Bill Daley giving "a lot of thought" to running for governor

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Bill Daley told a crowd of more than 200 this morning that he's still considering a run for governor.

"I am giving it a lot of thought," he said.

Daley, the brother of the former Chicago Mayor and former chief of staff to President Obama, told reporters after a benefit breakfast at Misericordia he hadn't done any fund-raising and hasn't had any discussions with powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Daley and David Axelrod talked in a panel discussion this morning that was moderated by longtime political writer Jim Warren.

"I think people have great interest in the state of the state.
Many people have said they would be supportive if I decided to do
this. I'm giving it serious thought," Daley said after the event.
"Most of it is personal right now, whether this is what I want to do at
this stage in my life. I've been fortunate to be around politics and
government my whole life. I understand... how difficult it is for
families and this is a difficult time."

Asked how he was spending his days now after stepping down last year as Obama's chief of staff, Daley said he's studying up on whether he should make a run.

"I'm doing a lot of things that go into making a decision. ... I'm talking to a lot of
friends and elected officials and people who are involved in community
activities and getting their sense of what is needed and whether or
not in the end I think I can add something to the debate. As I've said
repeatedly, Pat Quinn is a very decent, honest guy who came in at a
tough time but who has been there for 12 years as the number one or
number two elected official in the state."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was at the event, too, giving opening remarks, razzing Axelrod for looking "naked" without a mustache and continuing in an ongoing back and forth with Sister Rosemary of Misericordia over taking away the not-for-profit's free water. Sister Rosemary roasted Emanuel a year earlier over the issue and toasted to him with a water-filled cup today.

Emanuel handed her a gallon of water.

WASHINGTON--Chelsea Clinton continues to step up to the spotlight--for what purpose is not yet clear--accepting the appointment of being "honorary chair" of the Obama inauguration-related Day of Service on Saturday. Freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is also one of the Saturday speakers.

Other big names to be part of the program on the National Mall:

From the Presidential Inaugural Committee: "Speaking and performing at the Service Summit will be National Day of Service Honorary Chair Chelsea Clinton, PIC Co-Chair Eva Longoria, singer-songwriter Ben Folds, Iraq war veteran and Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, American Heart Association spokesperson and television personality Star Jones, actress Angela Bassett, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, U.S. Rep and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and the Washington Children's Choir. The event will be emceed by 94.7 Fresh FM host Tommy McFly."

WASHINGTON--The National Park Service on Monday asked for public comment on adding to the National Register of Historic Places three Chicago landmarks:

* The 42nd Precinct Police Station, 3600 N. Halsted St., known as the Town Hall Station.

*The Strand Hotel, 6315-6323 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

*The West Loop--LaSalle Street Historic District, Roughly bounded by Wacker Dr., Wells, Van Buren & Clark Sts.

Link for comments is HERE.


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WASHINGTON--Democratic House hopeful Robin Kelly picked up the support Monday of Obama pal Cheryl Whitaker, who will chair her primary bid for the House seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)

Whitaker, a doctor, has also been a health care executive. Whitaker and her husband, Eric, an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center, are close personal friends of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle.

Kelly, a south suburban Matteson resident, is one of 17 Democrats running in the Feb. 26 primary. Winning the primary in the heavily Democratic second congressional district is tantamount to winning the April election.

With the field so crowded, a contender can be a victor with a plurality win, so any kind of base-building advantage is a boost.

"There is no better candidate in the race to stand with President Obama, Mayor Emanuel and Chairman Preckwinkle to get dangerous weapons off the streets of Chicago and the Southland," Whitaker said in a statement.

"I have known Robin for years and I know there is no better candidate to stand up for the families of the Second District than her."

SPRINGFIELD-Maybe Gov. Pat Quinn's virtual pension python - 'Squeezy'
- was right all along.

In a newly released report, Quinn's budget office showed that rising
pension costs and the 2015 expiration of a temporary 2-percent income
tax hike translate to $3.4 billion in cuts to education, health care
and public safety between now and mid-2017.

"I think (the report) speaks for itself," said Abdon Pallasch, Quinn's
assistant budget director. "It's the first time you've
seen how deep the cuts really are."

By far, education and health care face the bleakest outlook from the
state's fiscal freefall. By the administration's estimate, state
spending on schools will drop $1.8 billion during the next three years
while health care spending will face $1.1 billion in cuts.

In that same three-year window, those big spending drops are joined by
nearly 13-percent less for human services; almost 36 percent less for
government services not including state pension or health costs; $268
million (18.7 percent) less to public safety; $24 million (30.8
percent) less to economic development; and $12 million (19.4 percent)
less to natural resources.

The grim assessment, laid out in a report released by the
administration late Friday, offers a likely glimpse of what next
year's budget may look like under Quinn. The governor is scheduled to
lay out his Fiscal 2014 budget plan to state lawmakers on March 6.

Despite a last-minute effort last week in the waning hours of the 97th
General Assembly, Quinn was not able to bring sides together on
reaching any agreement to reign in state pension benefits, instead
allowing the debate to spill into the new legislative session.

"If the economy picks up, that helps," Pallasch said. "Pension reform
helps, which is one of the main issues we're focusing on."

By 2016, without bridling in state pension costs, the report said the
state will pay $1.1 billion more to K-12 and university teachers'
pensions and $322 million more to state employees' pensions than it
will pay this year, increases of 27.7 percent and 28.1 percent,

A spokesman for the union representing the largest bloc of state
employees said the new estimates demonstrate Springfield's urgent need
for more money.

"It shows that the state's real challenge is the loss of revenue with
a scheduled expiration of the income tax," Anders Lindall, a spokesman
for AFSCME Council 31, said Monday.

Lindall, side-stepping the organization's stance on extending the tax
hike, said AFSCME Council 31 still supports a proposal from the We Are
One Illinois coalition that he said will raise $2 billion per year
from closing corporate tax breaks and $350 million in higher employee
pension contributions.

"The only alternative from Gov. Quinn to the unacceptable cuts to
public services, is to welsh on pension promises made to retired
teachers, caregivers and other public employees," Lindall said.

Payments to the state's pension systems become harder with the state
expecting nearly $4 billion less in personal and corporate income tax
revenue over the next three years because of the phasing out of the
temporary income tax increase imposed in 2011.

President Obama is giving his final press conference of his first term today at 10:30 a.m. Chicago time. Follow live video below.


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In case you didn't know, there's a section on the White House website where people can set up electronic petitions and if they cross a certain threshold of "signatures," the White House has to respond, no matter how absurd they are. Which is why their recent gentle denial of a petition to "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016," one of the less ridiculous petitions submitted thus far, is pretty great.

Besides responding to serious issues, like equal rights for LGBT citizens and gun violence, the White House has cracked back at those for calling for Obama's impeachment, acknowledged the issue of potential aliens among us, and, yes, turned down a request to build this galaxy's ultimate weapon. And Paul Shawcross - Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget - did it in magnificent, corny-dad-like style, which is still pretty awesome.

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

• The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
• The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
• Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Of course, there will be those that view this decision as just another offense against them, and infringement on their second amendment right that will mean they won't be able to take up arms against Emperor Palpatine's troops and something that will leave us vulnerable to attacks from Siths and Hutts.

rahm after party.jpeg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be hosting the late-night post-inagural party on Jan. 21 in one of Washington's newest venues, the Hamilton, just down the block from the White House. How late? Runs from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. in an event billed as a "Chicago-Style after hours."

The invite is from Emanuel and the Presidential Inaugural Committee co-chairs, Matthew Barzun, Eva Longoria, Jane Stetson, Frank White, Stephanie Cutter, Jen O'Malley Dixon, Patrick Gaspard, Rufus Gifford, Jim Messina and Julianna Smoot.

Emanuel's late-night party at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. was a sought-after ticket and jammed.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn warned that Wall Street bond-rating firms wouldn't take kindly to the Legislature's inaction this week on pensions.

He was right.

FitchRatings Friday placed its "A" rating on $26.2 billion in outstanding state general obligation bonds on "rating watch negative."

While not considered a rating downgrade, it is a "warning of potential, future rating action," Fitch analyst Karen Krup told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The move may not have a direct impact on the state's finances and posts "very minimal risk" to existing state bond holders, but it ultimately foreshadows a downgrade that would lead to higher borrowing costs the next time Illinois goes to market for long-term loans unless lawmakers deal with pensions, she said.

"The immediate result, to be honest, is probably nothing. It doesn't affect what they're doing on a day-to-day basis," Krup said. "But for direct impact on the state, when they try to go to market the next time, there could be implications on borrowing costs."

Further explaining its move, the company said the new status "reflects the ongoing inability of the state to address its large and growing unfunded pension liability, most recently through the failure to pass pension reform in the 'lame duck' portion of the 97th General Assembly legislature that ended on [Tuesday].

"Fitch believes that the burden of large unfunded pension liabilities and growing annual pension expenses is unsustainable," the company said in a prepared statement that gave the state six months to pass a solution to the pension crisis or risk a downgrade.

A Quinn administration official said lawmakers should take notice of FitchRatings' move.

"The Fitch report speaks for itself," said Abdon Pallasch, assistant budget director. "This should be required reading for every member of the new General Assembly. We have an emergency, and it's not going away."

House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said the warning from Fitch amounts to a call for action.

The move "is embarrassing and may cost the state more money--money that we clearly do not have. How many more times do we have to be downgraded to prompt action in the General Assembly?" he said in a prepared statement. "I have worked and will continue to work with other members in the House and Senate to pass meaningful pension reform."

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said the Fitch announcement could be a prelude to a ratings downgrade and should prod lawmakers into action on pension reform.

"Failure to enact pension reforms will eventually bring Illinois to its financial breaking point, and it will be worse than any fiscal calamity we have seen thus far in this state," the GOP treasurer said. "Our state's credit rating cannot afford to take another hit."

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), the two architects of a pension-reform package that stalled in the House, said Fitch's move underscores the looming financial calamity that awaits the state without reeling in pension costs.

"This announcement just confirms what we have feared and warned about: our state finances are in real trouble," the pair said in a joint statement. "We must act quickly and decisively to address the pension problem and send a strong message that Illinois is serious about getting its fiscal house in order for the long term."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday appointed a committee--with an independent adviser and representatives from labor, business and the City Council--to advise the city on whether or not to privatize Midway Airport.


This if the fourth part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part 4

SPRINGFIELD-Remember all of those annoying political television advertisements taking Chicago's airwaves by storm in the months leading up to November's elections?

Well, let's just say that if the success rate of those ads were put before a baseball Hall of Fame panel, the SuperPACs behind them would be joining the ranks of Sosa and Bonds.

The general election batting average of the SuperPACs in last fall's 31 targeted Illinois state legislative races they supplied with $1.6 million was just under .250.

While Illinois largely escaped the barrage of presidential ads last fall, several of the local legislative races and the outside money moving them along shoved their way into the state's households through phone calls, direct mailers and dreaded TV ads.

Candidates in those Senate and House races saw unprecedented amounts of spending on their behalf due to a change in the state's election code signed into law last July by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Stemming from changes at the federal level due to two 2010 Supreme Court decisions - Citizens United v. FEC ¬and SpeechNow v. FEC, the law gave rise to a class of campaign donors called SuperPACs that can spend unlimited amounts of "independent" expenditures on candidates of their choice.

These independent expenditures are not subject to contribution limits so long as they are not used in ways that expressly advocate for the election of a candidate or against the election of another.

Last fall's general election in Illinois saw $1.6 million in independent expenditures in targeted races for 15 House and 16 Senate seats, more than $900,000 of which was used negatively to oppose candidates, according to a January report by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

The top five committees reporting the most independent expenditures, according to the report, were: JOBS PAC ($412,932), Personal PAC ($334,392), National Association of Realtors ($232,500), Liberty Principles PAC ($215,168), and GOPAC Illinois Legislative Fund ($186,524).

All told, those five committees spent the bulk of all independent expenditures while achieving success in only 12 of the 31 races they targeted. Out of all independent expenditures, the SuperPACs only had success in 19 of 77 races.

While independent expenditures only made up about 5.5% of the $29.4 million that candidates reported raising in the fall's targeted legislative races, David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, predicted a larger SuperPAC role in 2014 statewide elections.

"We have some experience with these but not at the state and local level," Morrison said at an Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force hearing Thursday. "We expect to see significant SuperPAC involvement in the governor's race."

Along with Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project, Morrison called for a more transparent system of reporting campaign contributions and a better way to test for the appearance of corruption in those contributions.

Aside from expecting large inflows of cash from these huge political organizations, Morrison expressed concerns over the ability of voters to identify the real source of these contributions while also worrying that many SuperPACS are hardly truly independent from the candidates they supply with money.

Several of the political donation powerhouses in the state, Morrison said, have federal affiliates giving them money for state and local elections where the sources of those funds are not fully disclosed until weeks after the election.

"There is a risk of corruption or a risk of confusion for voters," he said.

Redfield reverberated that concern and said he believes the issue is "much more likely to be the case when we get to statewide elections."

As far as being independent from the candidates they support, the SuperPACs that exploded onto the political scene last year appear to really only be uncoordinated in their activities with some SuperPACs even sharing offices with candidates, Morrison said.

"Some of it is very basic stuff--sharing employees, sharing office space, sharing vendors," he said.

Redfield echoed his sentiments:

"It's almost reverse coordination," he said. "There's still a risk of corruption there."

The task force plans to meet again next week in Chicago and will issue recommendations and a report to the State Board of Elections by Feb. 1.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin hosts a listening session with local law enforcement officials and experts to discuss ways to combat gun violence in the area, with Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, Illinois State Police Director Hiram Grau, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Aurora Police Chief Gregory Thomas // Photo by Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

At a Chicago meeting on gun violence today, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin predicted a "close vote" in the U.S. Senate when it came to changing gun laws.

"It's going to be a much more difficult task in the House of Representatives," Durbin said. "It's going to take some extraordinary courage for some members of Congress to step forward."

Durbin said there was undoubted political risk in going against the powerful National Rifle Association.

" It certainly is. I can tell you that. I've had their wrath. As a Downstate Congressman I was one of the few who opposed them and they came out to get me and they almost got it done one year," Durbin said. "They're pretty tough, they're pretty organized. They've got a lot of money and a lot of emotion in terms of their cause."

After sitting with top law enforcement leaders in Illinois, Durbin said he believed that politically "we can seize a moment here," and make streets and schools more safe with a serious discussion about gun laws.

Though the national debate has centered on banning military-style type weapons, Chicago top cops made it clear that there are myriad issues locally. That ranged from strict reporting laws to help track a gun's ownership to upping minimum sentences for illegal gun possession to boosting state databases to better identify those with mental health issues.

President Barack Obama will use bibles with links to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. and First Lady Michelle's grandmother--who was the first African-American manager at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute bookstore.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be sworn-in twice because the Jan. 20 official date falls on a Sunday. At the official swearing-in at the White House, Obama will use a bible that has been in Mrs. Robinson's family for decades.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee said in a statement, "the Robinson Family Bible was selected specifically for the occasion. The bible was a gift from the First Lady's father, Fraser Robinson III, to his mother, LaVaughn Delores Robinson on Mother's Day in 1958. Mrs. Robinson was the first African-American woman manager of a Moody Bible Institute's bookstore and she used the Bible regularly."

At the ceremonial swearing-in on Jan. 21, on the West Steps of the Capitol, Obama will use two bibles: "the Bible used by President Lincoln at his first Inauguration, which the President used in 2009, and a Bible used by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Jan. 21 is the national King Day holiday.

"President Obama is honored to use these Bibles at the swearing-in ceremonies," said Steve Kerrigan, President and CEO of the PIC. "On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, this historic moment is a reflection of the extraordinary progress we've made as a nation."

The Rev. Louis Gigilio, who was to deliver the benediction at President Barack Obama's inauguration, pulled out Thursday after an anti-gay sermon created a firestorm the Presidential Inaugural Committee wanted to swiftly extinguish.

"We were not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural," said Addie Whisenant, a spokesperson for the committee.

"Pastor Giglio was asked to deliver the benediction in large part for his leadership in combating human trafficking around the world. As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration's vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans," she said.

Giglio withdrew a day after his name was announced as part of the inauguration ceremonies, telling the White House and the Presidential Inaugural Committee in a statement released Thursday morning that whatever message he offered would be drowned out by his remarks from the 1990s.

"I am honored to be invited by the President to give the benediction at the upcoming inaugural on January 21. Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms," Giglio said in his statement.

"Due to a message of mine that has surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration. Clearly, speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.

"Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President's invitation. I will continue to pray regularly for the President, and urge the nation to do so. I will most certainly pray for him on Inauguration Day.

"Our nation is deeply divided and hurting, and more than ever need God's grace and mercy in our time of need."


This if the third part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part 3

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama taps White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew as Treasury Secretary on Thursday with the announcement planned for 1:30 p.m. in the East Room. Lew will replace Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who has been anxious to step down.

Lew was Obama's third chief of staff, following Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley.

Emanuel, who has worked closely with Lew told the Sun-Times, "Jack Lew is the right choice for Treasury Secretary. Whether negotiating a bipartisan solution to reform Social Security as liaison to House Speaker Tip O'Neill, producing a budget with a surplus for three consecutive years in the Clinton Administration, or helping President Obama reach agreements to reduce our deficit and extend middle class tax cuts, Jack has the experience and judgment to lead the Treasury during this critical time for our nation's economy."

In anticipation of the appointment a White House official said in a statement:

"Jack Lew will bring an impressive record of service in both the public and private sectors for over three decades and economic expertise to this important role, and his deep knowledge of domestic and international economic issues will enable him to take on the challenges facing our economy at home and abroad on day one. Throughout his career, Jack Lew has proven a successful and effective advocate for middle class families who can build bipartisan consensus to implement proven economic policies.

"As White House Chief of Staff, Jack Lew led the President's team in tackling some of the toughest domestic and international economic challenges facing our nation in decades. That included strengthening our nation's recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression to dealing with serious fiscal matters and challenges in the global economy. He also led the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton and President Obama, negotiating a historic agreement with Congress during the Clinton administration to balance the federal budget and leading the negotiations of the bipartisan Budget Control Act in 2011, which brought discretionary spending to historically low levels."

"As Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, in addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the Department, Jack Lew managed the State Department's international economic policy portfolio and traveled the world to advance our nation's interest. He also has a distinguished record leading private and public sector institutions and will bring strong relationships in the business community to his new role. At Citi, he was part of the senior internal management team of this global financial institution, serving as Managing Director and COO of Citi Global Wealth Management and then as Managing Director and COO of Citi Alternative Investments. As Chief Operating Officer at New York University, he was responsible for budget, finance, and operations, and was a professor of public administration."


SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday tiptoed around his intentions for legislation now headed unexpectedly his way that would authorize a Chicago casino and potentially slot machines at the city airports, refusing to say if he'd outright veto it.

In one of the last acts of the now-finished lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) quietly lifted a parliamentary obstacle to a casino-expansion package that passed in 2011 but that never was sent to the governor amid fears he'd kill it.

The until-now dormant measure would grant Mayor Rahm Emanuel a city casino, permit casinos in the south suburbs, Park City, Rockford and Danville, allow slot machines at racetracks and could open Midway and O'Hare airports to those slot machines if the city wants that.

In the days after the May 2011 passage of the package, Quinn belittled the package as "top heavy" and "excessive," and the state Gaming Board chairman he appointed derided it as a "pile of garbage." Last year, Quinn rewrote and killed another gambling expansion package.

But on Wednesday, the strident tone the governor once had toward the measure was nowhere to be found as he avoided repeated questions about his intentions with the bill.

"Today's the day for the Senate and House. The members are sworn in. It's a day of ceremony and family and democracy," Quinn said after presiding over the swearing-in ceremony in the Senate at the state Capitol.

"I think it's important to kind of give the House and Senate their day. There will be plenty of time for us to work on bills," he said.

Quinn was asked if he still held the same hawkish views against the package.

"I've already opined on that in the past, but today is really a day for the new members and re-elected members to come together in bipartisan opportunity to celebrate the fact we have a democracy and we're always going to keep one," the governor said.

Pressed on why then he wouldn't just say he'd veto it, the governor continued to weave.

"There's plenty of time for that. But today, I think it's to honor the election of new members and re-elected members of the House and Senate. I'm going to do that. I think that's a good way for all of us to celebrate the fact the election is over, and now is the time for bipartisan work on important issues like pension reform," Quinn said.

By releasing the hold, Cullerton now puts Quinn in a position where he could, should he choose to, use the legislation as a bargaining chip in his stalled pursuit of cuts to state pension benefits.

The Senate president has been an active supporter of gambling expansion, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed hard for a city casino.

The state Constitution gives the Legislature 30 calendar days to send the bill to Quinn and 60 calendar days for him to act on it - deep into the heart of the spring legislative session when presumably finding a way to solve the state's $95 billion pension crisis will remain on the frontburner after lawmakers whiffed at efforts to pass a pension bill this week.

Until the end of the lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Cullerton had pressed for passage of a pension-cut package he helped craft that would have affected current and retired state workers and members of the General Assembly in only two of the state's five retirement systems.

The governor wasn't on the same page with Cullerton on that pension plan, saying Tuesday it wasn't "comprehensive" enough and that changes need to be made on four of the five pension funds. Emanuel didn't help muster votes for a state pension plan Quinn liked this week in the House.


WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday said when it comes to curbing gun violence, "this is a moral issue" and President Barack Obama may consider issuing executive orders.

It is not all-or-nothing when it comes to action, Biden said. He rejected getting "caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything we're going to do nothing."

Biden spoke at the beginning of one of a series of meetings he is holding as the chief of President Barack Obama's gun task force, created in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre.

Biden said Obama is mulling issuing executive orders--taking actions that do not require Congressional approvals.

On Wednesday, Biden is meeting with victim's groups and gun safety organizations including the Illinois Coalition Against Handgun Violence. Attorney General Eric Holder is also at the meeting.

On Thursday, Biden's meetings will include one with a representative of the National Rifle Association in a day that will take in "advocates for sportsmen and women" as well as gun ownership groups.

The NRA in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings created a program to put armed guards in the nation's schools. NRA chief Wayne LaPierre said in December, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

The Biden group will also meet this week with representatives of the entertainment and video game industries.

From White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: " Secretary Duncan will meet with representatives from parent, teacher, and education groups. Secretary Sebelius will meet with mental health and disability advocates. And senior White House staff have also held and will continue to hold meetings with a variety of stakeholders, including medical groups, community organizations, child and family advocates, business owners, faith leaders, and others."


This if the second part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part II

WASHINGTON--Performers at President Barack Obama's second inauguration: "Beyoncé will sing the National Anthem, Kelly Clarkson will perform "My Country Tis of Thee," and James Taylor will sing "America the Beautiful," according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday created a new advisory panel to encourage minorities to consider careers in Chicago's growing technology industry.

Below, the appointees.....

Josh Hernandez,
Eddie Lou, Shiftgig
David Zapata, Zapwater
Roger Martinez, Quantum Crossings
Ian Hood, CGN Blackwell Global Consulting
Neal Sales-Griffin, Starter League
Emile Cambry, Cibola
Talia Mashiach, Eved
Darrell Higueros, Next Generation
Seyi Fabode, Power2Switch
Nancy Joseph-Ridge, Takeda
Daniel Salcedo, Mobcart

WASHINGTON--U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor hits Chicago on Jan. 30 for a stop on her book tour for her new memoir, "My Beloved World." The book records her youth in the Bronx up to President Barack Obama appointing her to the nation's highest court.

Sotomayor will talk about her book 6 p.m. Jan. 30 in the 9th Floor Winter Garden at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St.

She is the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's inauguration committee in naming Richard Blanco the "Inaugural Poet," is highlighting that he is Latino, gay and younger than the other poets who have served in that role.

Blanco will write a poem for the Jan. 21 public inauguration ceremony at the West Steps of the Capitol. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will sworn-in on Jan. 20 at the White House.

From the Presidential Inaugural Committee "Blanco will be the youngest-ever Inaugural poet and the first Hispanic or LGBT person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony.

...Born in Spain to Cuban exiles, Blanco's parents emigrated to New York City days after his birth and eventually settled in Miami. Blanco began his career as a consultant engineer. Writing about abstract concepts and preparing arguments on behalf of his clients helped Blanco think about the "engineering" of language, and he left his job in 1999 for the creative writing faculty at Central Connecticut State University until 2001. Thereafter he served as instructor at various universities throughout the country, including American and Georgetown universities, all the while maintaining his career in consulting engineer.

...As a writer, Blanco explores the collective American experience of cultural negotiation through the lens of family and love, particularly his mother's life shaped by exile, his relationship with his father, and the passing of a generation of relatives. His work also explores the intersection of his cultural identities as a Cuban-American gay man.

...The first inaugural poet was Robert Frost at President Kennedy's 1961 inauguration. In 1993, at the inauguration of President Clinton, Maya Angelou became the second inaugural poet and the first to read an original poem at an inauguration. She was followed by Miller Williams in 1997 and Elizabeth Alexander in 2009.

uciop guns.jpg

WASHINGTON--As Vice President Joe Biden leads the White House task force to curb gun violence, created in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics kicks off the winter quarter hosting a Jan. 15 discussion on "The Politics of Guns in America."

The panel will be moderated by former NBC anchor and author Tom Brokaw with Mayor Rahm Emanuel; former Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Oh.); his last day in Congress was last week; Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman and the University of Chicago Crime Lab Director Jens Ludwig.

The U. of Chicago IOP, founded by David Axelrod, President Barack Obama's senior strategist, is kicking into higher gear this month. With the Obama re-election campaign over, Axelrod is now the executive director of the IOP.

The session next Tuesday takes place runs from 7:00 p.m. through 8:30 p.m. at the University's Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

SPRINGFIELD-A dormant gambling expansion bill that would bring a casino to Chicago moved to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk Tuesday after the state Senate's top Democrat quietly lifted a parliamentary paperweight that he'd placed on the plan nearly two years ago.

The likelihood that the governor would affix his signature to the package seemed remote since Quinn once belittled the effort as "top heavy" and "excessive," and the top state gambling regulator whom the governor appointed called it a "pile of garbage."

Before the close of the lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) removed a parliamentary hold he'd put on the bill immediately after it passed the Senate in May 2011.

By releasing the hold, Cullerton now puts Quinn in a position where he could, should he choose to, use the legislation as a bargaining chip in his stalled pursuit of cuts to state pension benefits. The Senate president has been an active supporter of gambling expansion, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed hard for a city casino.

The state Constitution gives Quinn 60 calendar days to act on the gambling bill - two months into the spring legislative session when presumably finding a way to solve the state's $95 billion pension crisis will remain on the frontburner after lawmakers whiffed at efforts to pass a pension bill this week.

Until the end of the lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Cullerton had pressed for passage of a pension-cut package he helped craft that would have affected current and retired state workers and members of the General Assembly.

The governor wasn't on the same page with Cullerton on that pension plan, saying Tuesday it wasn't "comprehensive" enough. Meanwhile, Emanuel didn't help muster votes for a state pension plan Quinn liked this week in the House.

Cullerton's 2011 parliamentary maneuver on the gambling bill, referred to in the legislative vernacular as a motion to reconsider, had the effect of putting the measure into a deep freeze by preventing it from going to the governor even though it had passed the House and Senate.

"It's appropriate to lift all motions to reconsider at the close of the General Assembly," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon told the Chicago Sun-Times late Tuesday. "The bills passed both chambers, and the governor is free to act as he chooses."

The plan, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills) and Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would lead to casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs, Lake County and downstate plus permit slot machines at racetracks and, possibly, the city's two airports.

Even before its passage, Quinn had communicated his displeasure toward the bill and later demanded a series of changes to it in order for him to consider accepting it, including prohibitions on gambling contributions.

Shortly after its passage, Quinn characterized the gambling legislation as "top heavy" and "excessive" and last August vetoed similar casino expansion legislation. Lawmakers did not mount an override of that veto last fall.

Late Tuesday, an aide to Quinn gave a murky answer when asked about the governor's intentions with the older gambling bill now bound for his desk. She referred a reporter to previous statements the governor had made about the bill but did not say outright if Quinn would veto the package.

"You know where he stands," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in an email response.

Because the 97th General Assembly is now in the history books, Quinn can sign or veto legislation that lawmakers sent him before Tuesday. But there is no way for the Legislature to override anything he rewrites or vetoes, meaning Quinn can outright kill legislation with the stroke of his pen.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) released a video on Tuesday highlighting his return to the Senate last Thursday, after his nearly year-long absence following his stroke.

Congressman Brad Schneider assists Tammy Duckworth down the Capitol steps last week after an event for Mark Kirk. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley looks on.
Photo by Natasha Korecki

Congresswoman and Iraqi war veteran Tammy Duckworth announced today she will serve on the House Committees on Armed Services.
Duckworth, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, was sworn into Congress last week and elected Democratic Whip for the "Freshman class."
"I am honored to have been selected to serve on the House Committees of Armed Services; Oversight and Government Reform; and Steering and Policy Committee," Duckworth said in a release. "America faces serious national security challenges and I look forward to working with my colleagues on Armed Services to keep America safe by continuing to have the strongest military in the world. As a combat Veteran, I will also be a voice for the members of our military and their families."

Nickelback, more popular than Congress

The United States Congress has had a rough go of it lately. Adding to the historic amount of bickering and gridlock that has paralyzed the legislative body, Congress took a huge PR hit with the near-disastrous handling of the fiscal cliff debacle (and will revisit it in a few weeks when they have to take up the debt ceiling). And just moments after finally approving a lackluster fiscal cliff deal, House Republicans refused to take up a vote on Hurricane Sandy relief funds (though they later took it up after being bullied into it by people with common sense). Not that Republicans have been alone in facing the ire of angry constituents; Dems are still smarting from the recent scandal-ridden resignation of Illinois' Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Given all of the above, it's no surprise to find that Congress's approval rating is very, very low.

So low that responders to poll questions by (the admittedly Democratic-leaning) Public Policy Polling preferred cockroaches, lice, colonoscopies, and Canadian meh-rock band Nickelback to Congress.

It's gross to have lice but at least they can be removed in a way that given the recent reelection rates members of Congress evidently can't: Lice 67 percent, Congress 19 percent

Colonoscopies are not a terribly pleasant experience but at least they have some redeeming value that most voters aren't seeing in Congress: Colonoscopies 58 percent, Congress 31 percent

It may be true that everyone hates Nickelback, but apparently everyone hates Congress even more: Nickelback 39 percent, Congress 32 percent.

Other items more popular than Congress, according to PPP: Carnies (39 percent to 31 percent), root canals (56 percent to 32 percent) and those much-maligned enemies of freedom circa the Second Iraq War, the French, had a higher rating as well (46 percent to 37 percent).

But it wasn't all bad news for Congress:

By relatively close margins it beats out Lindsey Lohan (45/41), playground bullies (43/38), and telemarketers (45/35). And it posts wider margins over the Kardashians (49/36), John Edwards (45/29), lobbyists (48/30), Fidel Castro (54/32), Gonorrhea (53/28), Ebola (53/25), Communism (57/23), North Korea (61/26), and meth labs (60/21)

While this may seem like the nadir for Congress, they just swore in a new class last week, meaning they may be able to turn their image around. But given the need to revisit more debt talks in the coming weeks, there's still a possibility this new class could dig the hole even deeper.

[h/t The Hill]

SPRINGFIELD-A House panel gave reluctant sign-off Tuesday to a last-ditch plan by Gov. Pat Quinn to salvage some semblance of pension reform by advancing legislation setting up a super-committee to sort out the state's $95 billion pension crisis.

Hoisting what one critic called a "desperate Hail Mary," Quinn took the highly unusual step of personally going in front of the House Personnel & Pension Committee Tuesday afternoon to push a new idea of his to create an eight-member panel of legislative appointees to fix Illinois' pensions.

"We still are searching for the solution," Quinn told the panel. "And it's time, I think, to realize under this emergency -- where we have a situation where our credit rating is in dire jeopardy, it's already been downgraded on numerous occasions, we're looking at unfortunately perhaps another downgrade -- we have to take an extraordinary action to help break the gridlock."

The panel Quinn proposes would be like the federal military base closure commission and stocked by appointees made by the four legislative leaders. It would make recommendations on pension changes that could only be disapproved by majorities in the House and Senate and signed into law by the governor.

Under Quinn's plan, the panel would have to make a report to the General Assembly by April 30.

"It's something we need to use to move forward in Illinois," Quinn told the committee.

The House panel approved sending it to the floor by a 7-2 vote but not before House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) politely sliced the governor's plans to pieces on constitutional grounds.

"When the governor of this state has had the good grace to present a propsal to this committee, we have a certain responsibility to take his ideas and him quite seriously," Currie said in explaining why she would vote to send his proposal to the House floor.

But then came this from the No. 2 House Democrat: "I have serious reservations ... as to the constitutionality of the program."

Public-employee unions lined up against the governor's plan, saying, like Currie, it was an unconstitutional abrogation of the Legislature's authority.

"I'd characterize this as a desperate Hail Mary pass," said Michael Carrigan, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday signaled his intent to sign legislation that would grant undocumented immigrants three-year state driver's licenses, saying the measure that passed the House would wind up saving lives on Illinois roads.

"More than 250,000 immigrant motorists on our roads today have not passed a driving test, which presents a dangerous risk to other drivers," Quinn said in a prepared statement that announced his plans to sign the bill. "Illinois roads will be safer if we ensure every driver learns the rules of the road and is trained to drive safely."

After a highly charged debate, the Illinois House passed the measure by a 65-46 margin, a vote that lit up the chamber with celebratory shouts and applause and grants as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants new legal recognition by the state.

"Under the eyes of God, we're all human beings," said Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor. "We come to this country - people come to this country - to fulfill the American dream. We can offer them that today."

Debate in the House lasted nearly 90 minutes, with critics arguing the new immigrant drivers licenses put the state on record as condoning illegal entry into the country, set up a system that can be exploited by fraud and ignore the fact immigration policy is a federal responsibility, not a state one.

"There will be fraud, abuse. All I have to say is people have called me a hater, a racist," said Rep. Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream), who voted against the plan. "All I'm doing is standing by what the Constitution of the United States of America says. If the fed government wants to change the rules, I'd stand by that."

Further, some GOP critics insisted there should be requirements immigrant license applicants be fingerprinted and show federal tax identification numbers to verify their identities. But their position was at odds with their leader, House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), who voted for the plan.

"At the end of the day, forgetting just nuances of this particular bill, I'd like to think we'd continue to be a country and a state...that remains open to the idea of people coming to our country, who want to do better, who want to have better lives, who want to work, who want to be part of our communties," Cross said. "We should work with them, not fight with them, as we move ahead as a state and a country."

Nine other House Republicans joined Cross as "yes" votes in Tuesday's roll call.

Other opponents, including several South Side Democrats, pointed out the unfairness of how someone in the U.S. legally can be deprived of driving privileges for not paying child support when those here illegally now would have a pathway to a drivers license.

"I believe that all of these provisions in the state of Illinois denying an Illinois citizen from a drivers license should darn well be considered, whose background we know, before we give a drivers license to those we don't know," said Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago), who voted against the bill.

Under the plan, which already passed the Senate, undocumented immigrants who have lived in Illinois for one year would be eligible to receive a temporary visitors drivers license that would last for three years.

In exchange, those motorists would have to undergo rules-of-the-road training, take a vision test and show proof of auto insurance. The licenses couldn't be used to purchase firearms, to board aircraft or register to vote nor could applicants be licensed to drive semi-trailer trucks or school buses.

Supporters said the legislation is highway-safety measure because it will ensure that tens of thousands of immigrant drivers now on the state's roads illegally will undergo training and buy insurance, which they don't have now.

"Why on earth would we allow a situation where people are driving on our roads without insurance if we could avoid it?" asked Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who voted for the plan. "This is about road safety, pure and simple."

State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) said it goes beyond simply road safety and touches on a fundamental fairness - so that if an immigrant parent taking a sick child to the doctor, they can't be humiliated and sanctioned by the state for not being a licensed driver.

"When you have children with Down Syndrome left at the curb witnessing their parents being arrested, handcuffed and their car being impounded...that's disgusting," she said. "That's distrurbing. This cannot continue."

After the vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who made the measure one of his top priorities in Springfield, saluted the House for its action that he said showcases Chicago's "values" as a mixing pot of cultural diversity.

"I applaud legislators from both sides of the aisle for doing what is right by acting on this critical legislation to make our city and state more welcoming to immigrants while also making our roads safer by requiring all drivers to be trained, tested and insured," he said in a prepared statement. "This legislation is true to our values as a city and will create value for our city."

SPRINGFIELD-Legislation that would give undocumented immigrants temporary state drivers licenses is expected to be called for a vote Tuesday in the Illinois House, and its sponsor said he believes he has enough votes to pass it to Gov. Pat Quinn.

State Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), chief House sponsor of the immigrant driving bill, told the Chicago Sun-Times this morning he aims to seek a floor vote on his proposal Tuesday.

"I'm very optimistic the legislation will pass. Up until this morning, I had individuals asking me they want to get on as a cosponsor. We're there. Sometimes, things happen at the end that are out of my control, but I feel optimistic we'll make it," Acevedo said.

Asked if he has 60 votes, Acevedo said, "I believe so."

SPRINGFIELD-A top aide to Senate President John Cullerton said Tuesday pension reform appears dead for the lame-duck legislative session that is scheduled to end today.

"The House has given us no indication that pension reform is alive in the 97th General Assembly," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon told the Chicago Sun-Times shortly after 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

"I'm not seeing any signs of life for pension reform in the 97th," she said.

The Senate has scheduled session for 3 p.m. Tuesday, but it likely will only deal with resolutions, she said.

Meanwhile, Cullerton (D-Chicacgo) has scheduled a 1 p.m. press conference to talk about failed efforts to pass a plan to solve the state's $95 billion pension crisis.

SPRINGFIELD-With his political back to the wall and time running out, Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday demanded that state lawmakers take a vote on stalled legislation designed to solve the state's $95 billion pension crisis.

"I really feel it's important to have a vote on some sort of structure that moves us forward. I think that's very, very important," Quinn told reporters at a press conference in his Statehouse office.

The governor laid down the gauntlet as Tuesday marked the last scheduled day of the General Assembly's lame-duck session and no single pathway toward a pension solution in anyone's sights.

Sponsors of legislation in the House didn't call a vote on their plan Monday when it became apparent they didn't have the 60 votes needed to pass a bill.

Quinn delivered what amounted to a lecture to inert lawmakers who were unmoved by his calls for action on pensions at first last May, then again in a special session last August, then during the fall veto session and now in the closing hours of the 97th General Assembly, whose two-year term ends at noon Wednesday.

"What I've heard from employers, families and businesses all across our state is we can't allow our state economy, the Illinois economy, to be held hostage by political timidity. We have to be bold. We have to do things that are difficult. We have to take on the challenge of our times and meet that challenge. That really is what democracy is all about," he said.

"I think it's important to get this job done. That's what the people want. They want the Legislature, the General Assembly, to make sure it meets the challenge of our time," Quinn said.

The governor appeared to back stalled legislation in the House being drafted by Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) while criticizing the legislative centerpiece of Senate President John Cullerton's efforts at pension reform.

"I believe the Senate has had a point of view that got bipartisan support. But it was not comprehensive. It only covered two systems of the four major pension systems. So the Senate has to have a comprehensive plan, just like the House," Quinn said.

The governor also didn't single out any legislative leader by name for criticism, including House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), whose power running his legislative chamber has been unmatched in Illinois history yet, for whatever reason, hasn't been enough to round up the votes on a pension deal.

"I think everybody has to redouble their efforts, whether it's the speaker of the House, the minority leader in the House, the president of the Senate, the minority leader in the Senate," he said when asked specifically about whether he was satisfied at Madigan's role in rounding up votes.

"I think all of us have to redouble our efforts," Quinn said.

The Nekritz-Biss plan passed out of a House committee Monday despite claims from government employee unions it was an "illegal" breach of the state Constitution, a stance that Cullerton (D-Chicago) appeared to share.

Under the 175-page Nekritz-Biss bill, known as Senate Bill 1673, cost-of-living increases would be frozen for six years and disallowed for retirees until they reach 67. Those retirement cost-of-living increases would be based on only the first $25,000 of a retiree's pension; pensions would be capped at the Social Security wage base or an employee's current salary, whichever is higher; employee pension contributions would jump by 1 percent of their wages for two years.

The House plan, which would fully fund the pension systems in 30 years, would apply to four of the state's five pension systems and, most significantly, would not give existing workers or retirees a choice of accepting reduced pension benefits.

Piers Morgan interviews Alex Jones on gun control

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CNN's Piers Morgan sat down to a fiery interview last night with the radio host calling for Morgan to be deported over his support of gun control.

Alex Jones backed a petition on the White House website advocating that Morgan to be deported "for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens."

After the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, Morgan has been vocal about a nationwide ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

During the interview, Jones loudly argued, "I'm here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms," said Jones. "It doesn't matter how many lemmings you get out there on the street begging for them to have their guns taken! We will not relinquish them! Do you understand? And that's why you're going to fail!"

Morgan later tried to ask Jones how many gun murders were in Britain last year and Jones retorted,
"England has a lot lower gun crime rate, because you took all the guns. But you've got hordes of people burning down cities and beating old ladies' brains out every day."

"Let's try again. How many gun murders were there in Britain last year?" Morgan again asked.

"How many chimpanzees can dance on the head of a pin?" Jones replied.


This if the first part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part I

WASHINGTON--The Illinois Board of Elections holds a lottery on Tuesday to determine ballot positions for the Feb. 26 primaries to fill the seat left vacant with the resignation of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)

The filing period with the Illinois Board of Elections closed Tuesday and the field is big: 17 Democrats and 5 Republicans. The district is so heavily Democratic that the winner of the Feb. 26 primary has little to worry about in the general. Early voting starts Feb. 11, so the campaign time is short.

Web video from Democratic candidate Robin Kelly

WASHINGTON--Whoever replaces former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) takes office at a time when proposals to curb gun violence are expected to land in Congress. Democrat Robin Kelly's campaign on Tuesday released a web video that ties together the national gun massacres with the ongoing gun violence in Chicago, violence that touches lives in the Second Congressional District.

The filing period with the Illinois Board of Elections closed Tuesday and the field is big: 17 Democrats and 5 Republicans. The district is so heavily Democratic that the winner of the Feb. 26 primary has little to worry about in the general. Early voting starts Feb. 11, so the campaign time is short.

WASHINGTON--Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers will deliver the invocation at President Barack Obama's Jan. 21 inaugural swearing in ceremony. Megar Evers was shot to death in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963.

The Rev. Louie Giglio, the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and the founder of Passion Conferences, has been tapped to deliver the benediction.

President Barack Obama had a hand in both selections, according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be officially sworn-in on Sunday, Jan. 20 at the White House. As has been tradition, when the Constitution-mandated Jan. 20 swearing-in date falls on a Sunday, the public ceremonies take place on Jan. 21 with the President and Vice President taking a second, symbolic oath at the West Front of the Capitol. Workers have been at work constructing the stage and the viewing stands.

"Vice President Biden and I are honored that Myrlie Evers-Williams and Rev. Louie Giglio will participate in the Inaugural ceremony," Obama said in a statement. "Their voices have inspired many people across this great nation within the faith community and beyond. Their careers reflect the ideals that the Vice President and I continue to pursue for all Americans - justice, equality, and opportunity."

"I am humbled to have been asked to deliver the invocation for the 57th inauguration of the President of the United States--especially in light of this historical time in America when we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement," Myrlie Evers-Williams said in a statement. "It is indeed an exhilarating experience to have the distinct honor of representing that era."

$7,500 gold, bronze, silver medallions
$165 cotton throw blanket
$15 pin
$5 button

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's inauguration committee opened a store to sell all kinds of merchandise, including a medallion set for $7,500 in order to help fund festivities later this month. Tickets for the Jan. 21 inaugural balls already sold out.

The flood gates that opened after U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned from his seat last November closed on Monday with 22 people in all filing to represent the 2nd Congressional District.
The crowded field is made up of 17 Democrats and five Republicans.
Click below to see the final list.
The special primary is set for Feb. 26.

SPRINGFIELD-The House sponsor of pension legislation being pushed by Senate President John Cullerton said Monday she has no plans to call it for a vote before the lame-duck legislative session ends on Wednesday.

"I'm not going to do anything on it," said State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park), who is the chief House sponsor of the bill containing Cullerton's pension plan.

That legislation, House Bill 1447, passed the Senate last May, and Cullerton - as recently as Saturday - demanded that the House allow a floor vote on it.

It applies to only two of the state's five retirement systems: those affecting current or retired workers in agencies under the governor's control and current or retired legislators.

It also contains language that makes retirees choose between getting either a 3-percent compounded annual cost-of-living increase or maintaining state-subsidized health insurance, but no longer both.

That choice, Cullerton has reasoned, makes it constitutional because lawmakers aren't voting to cut retirement benefits; pension system members are.

"I think it's incomplete because it only addresses [the General Assembly Retirement System] and [the State Employees Retirement System]," Burke said, adding that she hasn't been trying to put together a roll call on the legislation nor has she "talked to anybody" about it.

Burke called it "dormant."

A call to Cullerton's office was not immediately returned Monday afternoon.

The afternoon update on the 2nd Congressional District:
As of about 2 p.m. 17 people had filed petitions to run for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat. That so far does not include Debbie Halvorson, who said today that she would file something within the last hour -- 4 to 5 p.m.

Click below for the latest rundown:

SPRINGFIELD-A bipartisan plan to solve the state's $95 billion pension crisis creaked forward Monday, advancing out of a House panel amid union claims the plan is "illegal" but appearing to be well short of the votes necessary to pass the full chamber.

The House Personnel and Pensions Committee approved the package by a 6-3 vote Monday. That outcome positioned the legislation for a full House vote, but the House adjourned abruptly and the measure's lead sponsor made clear the plan wasn't legislative soup yet.

"Roll calls tend to be a little bit squishy, but we still have quite a ways, quite a bit of work to do," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), the bill's chief House sponsor.

The inertia places Nekritz and her backers at the brink with the lame-duck legislative session winding down to a close most likely Tuesday though possibly as late as noon Wednesday.

And any hope that Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) had of getting pension legislation he favors called in the House appeared to evaporate, with the chief sponsor there -- state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Chicago) -- telling the Chicago Sun-Times she is "not going to do anything on it" before adjournment.

With the wheels seeming all but off hopes for a pension deal, the day started Monday with a bit of momentum as a plan put together by Nekritz and state Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) passed out of committee.

"To me, the choice is clear," Nekritz told the committee. "The time is now to end the excuses and say yes to reform for our pension systems and to long overdue relief for our great state."

Under the 175-page House bill, known as Senate Bill 1673, cost-of-living increases would be frozen for six years and disallowed for retirees until they reach 67.

Those retirement pension increases would be based on only the first $25,000 of a retiree's pension; pensions would be capped at the Social Security wage base or an employee's current salary, whichever is higher; employee pension contributions would jump by 1 percent of their wages for two years.

The House plan, which would fully fund the pension systems in 30 years, would apply to four of the state's five pension systems and, most significantly, would not give existing workers or retirees a choice of accepting reduced pension benefits.

Unions lined up to fight the package, arguing it would not stand up in court because of constitutional protections against the impairment or diminishment of government pensions. But their criticism didn't stop it from reaching the floor.

"While there's truth to the statement the Constitution is not a suicide pact, what we have here is an all-out assault on employees," said John Stevens, a lawyer for the We Are One Illinois labor coalition opposed to the pension deal.

The head of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Dan Montgomery, called the language in the pension bill "illegal."

"You're considering plunging ahead with an illegal plan from our point of view that we would propose violates your oath of office, does not solve state's fiscal or pension crisis and disrespects hundreds and thousands of public servants," Montgomery told the panel.

"Passing this law will only make matters worse. We will be caught up in court, expensive, with no solutuion for at least a year or more. In the meantime, the pension mess stands to get worse," he said, calling along with other labor unions for a "summit" to hash out an acceptable pension package.

But the top House Republican leader said the time has come to act, given that various versions of pension-cut legislation have been stymied in the House for the past two years while the state's pension hole kept growing deeper.

"The pointing of fingers of whose fault it is has got to stop," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego). "We've all said there's a problem. We all acknowledge there's the Constitution. But 720 days, we've done nothing, and it's just going on and on and on. And now we're talking about a summt. We've got to quit talking and have to pass something."

After the committee vote Monday, Nekritz would not say when she intended to seek a vote by the full House, demonstrating the steep climb in lining up the necessary 60 votes to pass a bill.

"When we have the votes, we'll call it," she said.

One top Illinois business wasted no time lavishing praise on the progress made in the House Monday despite the uncertainty over whether the package will get out of the legislative chamber or, more significantly, can be reconciled with a Senate package being pushed by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).

"Caterpillar is pleased to see that the Illinois House is taking a step today on legislation that could be part of comprehensive pension reform that is critical for Illinois' long-term fiscal health. We are encouraged by this activity and we hope that there can be bipartisan agreement on legislation that will fundamentally reform the system and make it sustainable for generations to come. We recognize this is a complex issue but believe that addressing it now will position Illinois to move toward fiscal stability," Caterpillar Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman said in a prepared statement.

Contributing: Zach Buchheit

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is juggling his senior staff to make way for a new addition from the Obama campaign.


Lenny McAllister, a TV and radio commentator and rare conservative African American, has filed for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat.

McAllister is one of 13 candidates who have filed so far for the 2nd Congressional District Feb. 26 Special Election.

There's still hours to go before today's deadline for candidates to file but so far of the 13 candidates to file -- there are two Republicans in the race.

You know a district held by a Democrat for more than 20 years has changed dramatically when there's actually more than one Republican running.

Besides McAllister, who lives in Maywood, Beverly E. Reid of Chicago filed as Republicans.

That means there will be contested primaries for Democrats and Republicans.

Also today, candidates were attempting to position themselves as frontrunners by lauding their fund-raising prowess: Read: Candidates announce fund-raising cred

Here's the latest list of candidates

Illinois Legislature.jpg
Illinois Rep. Edward J. Acevedo, D-Chicago, argues legislation while on the House floor at the Illinois State Capitol during a session on Nov. 9, 2011 in Springfield. | Seth Perlman~AP

SPRINGFIELD-A bill granting undocumented immigrants temporary state driver's licenses cleared its first Illinois House hurdle Monday despite homeland security questions.

The House Transportation Vehicles & Safety Committee voted 6-3 to position the legislation favored by immigrant rights organizations for a full House vote later today, though its lead legislative advocate wouldn't commit to a roll call this afternoon.

The legislation "seeks to improve safety of our roads and make sure our motorists are trained, tested and insured," said Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor who estimates that 250,000 undocumented immigrants now drive on Illinois roads.

"Our entire state would benefit from Senate Bill 957. If only half the 250,000 get [temporary licenses] and get insured, Illinois insurance policy holders would save $46 million per year," Acevedo said. "Police officers would be able to know who they're stopping."

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has spearheaded passage of the new licensing system for immigrants.

Under the plan, which has already passed the Senate, undocumented immigrants who have lived in Illinois for one year would be eligible to receive a temporary visitors drivers license that would last for three years.

In exchange, those motorists would have to undergo rules-of-the-road training, take a vision test and show proof of auto insurance. The licenses couldn't be used to purchase firearms, to board aircraft or register to vote nor could applicants be licensed to drive semi-trailer trucks or school buses.

But in committee Monday, the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police protested the legislation, saying it lacked the proper homeland security safeguards of requiring applicants to undergo fingerprinting and provide federal tax identification numbers.

Robin Kelly announced December 12 that she is running for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s 2nd Congressional District seat in a special election. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

*** Updated ***

With an increasingly crowded field of candidates vying for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old 2nd Congressional District seat, candidates are betting fund-raising will set them apart.

Robin Kelly announced today that she raised $200,209 from 514 individuals in the month of December alone.
So far, she is the only candidate to report fund-raising totals. Kelly of Matteson, resigned from Cook County Commissioner Toni Preckwinkle's staff last month.
Last week, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson announced raising more than $130,000
"While December is traditionally the most difficult fundraising month of the year, I'm so humbled by the outpouring of support I've received in the last four weeks," Hutchinson said in a statement.

Today is the deadline for candidates to file for the open seat. The special election is scheduled for Feb. 26, after Jackson resigned in November amid a federal inquiry and health issues. At least a dozen candidates are expected to file in all.

"I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from my neighbors across Chicago and the Southland," Kelly said in a statement today.


Even now, 35 years later, it still seems improbable, almost impossible. That a newspaper and a watchdog organization could team up on an undercover operation that was so deep and so thorough is still mind-blowing three-and-a-half decades later. So is the audacity of what was done, a form of undercover reporting that was awarded a Pulitzer and then had that award taken away after colleagues questioned the ethics of such an investigation. But it all happened and what transpired at the Mirage Tavern, a bar that for a short time was used by the Sun-Times and the BGA to out graft and shakedowns by city officials, still resonates to this day.

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 1.26.48 PM (2).png

The actual undercover part of the reporting took place at the Mirage Tavern, 731 N. Wells St. (now Brehon's Pub), during 1977. But it was on January 8, 1978 that the first reports from Pamela Zekman and Zay N. Smith hit the front pages of the Sun-Times: payoffs, shakedowns, kickbacks, and tax fraud galore, all by city officials under the hidden eye of a team of reporters. The corruption that the investigation exposed has become the stuff of legend, both in Chicago and the world of journalism.

So, starting tomorrow and continuing for the next month, we'll repost each original story as it first appeared in the Sun-Times on its corresponding date 35 years ago. Along the way, we'll share other photos, stories and tidbits from the archives of both the Sun-Times and the BGA. Due to time and the quality of microfilm, some of the stories won't be in the best of shape, but they're still readable and worth the effort.

Bookmark this page to follow all the stories.

Special thanks is due to NYU who has a thorough archive of the original articles.

hagel and obama  in .JPG
July 22, 2008: Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) at a press conference in Amman, Jordan with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Despite an almost certain confirmation battle, President Barack Obama taps a friend, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), to be Defense Secretary on Monday.

Hagel gave Obama a boost--helping him burnish his foreign relations and defense credentials-- when he was running for his first term in 2008. Hagel, along with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) accompanied Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan, kicking off the first leg--the official government part--of Obama's Mideast and European campaign swing.

After landing in Amman, Jordan after the Iraq and Afghanistan visits, Hagel stuck around for a press conference at the Temple of Hercules in Amman, letting Obama start the next phase of his trip--a pure campaign swing--with an "official" bi-partisan report on the two wars.

Read my report on Hagel and Obama at the Temple of Hercules HERE.

Former State Rep. David Miller announced Monday that is not running in the special election to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

As of Monday morning, 10 Democrats have filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections with more expected to jump in the primary.

Click below for his statement....

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel is beefing up his communications team, adding Obama campaign veteran Clo Ewing to work on "strategic planning" to further bolster his public relations initiatives.

Ewing was director of constituency press for the Obama campaign, handling media reporting on Jews, gays, women and other niche groups. She is a former producer at Harpo Productions.

Emanuel appears to be taking an organization cue from the White House, where the strategic planning operation works on longer term message management and story placement, not involved so much in dealing with daily press issues.

Sarah Hamilton is City Hall's Director of Communications.


"She is joining the Emanuel Administration as Chief of Strategic Planning on the policy team (not the communications team)."

SPRINGFIELD-Add gun-control legislation to the growing legislative scrap heap for what thus far has been a lame lame-duck session.

Citing a lack of support, the House sponsor of bans on military-style weapons -- dubbed "assault weapons" by critics -- and the high-powered ammunition that feeds them decided Sunday not to call either measure for a vote in his chamber.

Those same bills stalled last week in the Senate.

"Since we felt we didn't have enough overwhelming support in the Senate, we were worried about having the support in the House," state Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), chief House sponsor of both bills, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The House convened for its part of the lame-duck session Sunday and is scheduled to remain until Tuesday, the final full day of this General Assembly's two-year term. The bills were scheduled to be heard in committee Sunday until the plug was pulled on both.

The Senate has scheduled a return to Springfield on Tuesday to deal with anything the House might pass, but it's an open question of whether there will be anything of substance for the Senate to act upon.

"We didn't want to call it if we didn't think we had the votes, and we really don't know today if the Senate is coming back Tuesday," Acevedo said. "Time is so limited, I didn't want to lay any of my colleagues out."

State Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), one of the House's leading gun-rights advocates, said he was surprised the gun bills weren't called even though he thinks a majority of House members were spooked by the expansive nature of the legislation, which he said could affect as many as 85 percent of all guns.

"It's just too broad and covers way too many guns," Phelps said. "The way I've heard from other people, they're not sitting down negotiating this bill. They're just throwing something out there to see if this sticks."

Beyond guns, sponsors of legislation to legalize gay marriage folded up shop last week after being unable to put together a 30-vote roll call in the Senate. A push to legalize medicinal use of marijuana also has been scrapped.

The major items still on the House agenda are a package to cut pension benefits for government workers and legislation to grant undocumented immigrants state driving permits.

Contributing: Zach Buchheit

WASHINGTON--Neither Illinois Senator, Democrat Dick Durbin nor Republican Mark Kirk are enthused about President Barack Obama nominating former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary.

Durbin on Sunday told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" Hagel was a "serious candidate" and little more about the man who is expected to face GOP and Democratic resistance in the Senate. Kirk on Saturday said he was "concerned."

My post on what Durbin said about Hagel is HERE.

My post on what Kirk said about Hagel is HERE.

WASHINGTON--So far, nine candidates--all Democratic--have filed with Illinois State Board of Elections for the seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.). The special primary in Feb. 26, and the winner in the heavily Democratic district essentially clinches the seat.




formerly known as
VICTOR ONAFUYE until name changed on Oct 18, 2010







House Speaker John Boehner greets Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) prior to the start of a Joint Session of Congress. January 4, 2013. (Official Photo by Bryant Avondoglio)

WASHINGTON-- Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) was greeted by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) near the House chamber on Friday, before Congress met in a joint session to officially count the electoral votes. Kirk returned to the Senate on Thursday following nearly a year absence due to his stroke.

I watched some of the joint session from the House Gallery on Friday and was struck that in this era of e-mail, the official proclamations from each state were printed certificates of electoral votes on legal blue backs. It took only about 30 minutes for the tally, with 270 to win.

President Barack Obama of the State of Illinois and Vice President Joe Biden 332 electoral votes.

Republicans Mitt Romney of the State of Massachusett and his running mate Paul Ryan 206 votes.

Spotted on the House floor: Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), sworn-in on Thursday.

WASHINGTON-- Two Chicago Democrats landed on House committees Friday dealing with federal funding and immigration and gun control legislation.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez switches to the Judiciary Committee to push immigration reform while Rep. Mike Quigley snags Appropriations Committee seat.

For more details on the Gutierrez appointment click HERE.

For more details on the Quigley appointment click HERE.

[From left to right: Mel Reynolds, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Gus Savage]

Last Friday, State Sen. Donne Trotter formally withdrew from the Second Congressional District special election to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. The announcement came three weeks after he was arrested at O'Hare for trying to pass through security with a concealed gun. At the time of his arrest, Trotter was considered the front-runner to win the special election. Of course, the special election had only come about because the avalanching shenanigans of Jesse Jackson, Jr. forced his resignation.

The incidents involving Trotter and Jackson are just the latest examples that show how the constituents of the second congressional district are cursed. Because there's no other way to explain the misfortune that has plagued the district's constituents over the last 30 years.

It wasn't always this way, though. For the first 150 years or so of the district's existence, it hosted a colorful collection of Congressmen.

James Woodworth, who held the seat from 1855 to 1857, also served several terms as Chicago mayor, was a founding trustee of both the "old" University of Chicago and the Chicago Astronomical Society, and helped make Chicago an economic center by guiding the Midwest's railways and water traffic through the city.

From 1903 to 1922, the congressman of the 2nd district was James Robert Mann, author of the Mann Act of 1910 (aka the White Slave Traffic Act) which prohibited the interstate transportation of women for prostitution.

Abner Mikva served as the district's representative from 1969 until 1973. In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals where he served until 1994 when he retired to serve as White House counsel for then-President Bill Clinton.

And from 1853 to 1855, just before Woodworth, there was John Wentworth whose two-year stint as the second district's rep was part of a long political career that culminated in his service as Chicago's mayor. Wentworth also served in Congress as a representative of Illinoi's first and fourth districts and during his Congressional tenure, he was offered a deal by Wisconsin that would have extended that state's border to the southern tip of Lake Michigan. His reward had he allowed the Badger state to expand? A seat in the U.S. Senate. Wentworth said no.

So, then, it's easy to understand why I can't help but view the district as anything but cursed. How else to explain that the last three representatives have been, in succession, a virulent racist, a statutory rapist, and a scandal-laden charlatan? How else to explain the ascension of Gus Savage, who held the seat from 1981 until 1993? Somehow, Savage held on to his seat for 12 years despite numerous challengers, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and accusations of verbally and physical sexual harassment of a Peace Corp. volunteer during a press junket tour of Ethiopia in 1989. He also had a habit of using homophobic slurs towards reporters whose questions he didn't like.

Finally ousting Savage in 1992 was an upstart reformer named Mel Reynolds. A graduate of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, an MPA from Harvard, and a Rhodes Scholar, hopes were high for Reynolds. Instead, in August 1994, less than 2 years after his election, he was indicted on a host of charges stemming from a sexual relationship he carried on with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer. In 1995, Reynolds was forced to resign his seat.

Winning the seat after Reynolds' exit was a charismatic up-and-comer, Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of the famed Rev. Jesse Jackson. For years, Jackson served without controversy, happy to build a reputation that helped him escape his father's shadow. Then, in 2008, he was connected to the pay-for-play scandal that ensnared then-governor Rod Blagojevich. Jackson allegedly offered up fundraising to Blago in exchange for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he won the 2008 Presidential election.

In early June of this year, Jesse Jackson, Jr. made his last public appearance before disappearing into the ether. In the interim, he's been in and out of the Mayo Clinic for treatment of bipolar disorder, become the target of a federal investigation into misuse of campaign funds, and, jus weeks after winning re-election in November, resigned his seat in disgrace.

The curse's source remains unknown, the misery of the second district voters still intact as they prepare for yet another special election. Even Reynolds has risen from the political graveyard to run for his old seat, a specter of the past that continues to haunt the district. This, even after Savage, despite his morally repugnant behavior, managed to keep his seat for 12 years, never receiving less than 82 percent of the vote in a general election until 1990, the year after he was accused of sexual harassment, when he received "only" 78 percent of the vote.

Those dark cosmic forces maintained their veil over the electorate in November 1994 when Reynolds, just months after his statutory rape indictment, Reynolds, unopposed from any major party challenger, received 98 percent of the vote over several independent candidates in his re-election bid.

The curse's iron grip held fast when in November when Jackson, sight unseen, was never seriously challenged on his way to a startling victory in which he garnered 63 percent of the vote.

And so this curse of mysterious origins remains unabated, its cause still a mind-bending unknown, holding hostage the tortured souls of our state's Second Congressional District. No amount of voodoo seems to have reversed the cloud of calamity that has swallowed the area whole, keeping fraudulent abusers of power in place. There seems to be no magic remedy that can save them from this string of awful leaders who somehow, some way, manage to maintain their terrible cycle of darkness and dismay.

Even the once-mighty Cook County Democratic Party has been stymied, endorsing no one for the upcoming special election primary, handing over its faith to the fates and hoping for the best. And, that's all the district's voters can do: hope and pray that somehow this evil spell is broken, that, somehow, salvation will arrive and free the them from the malicious cycle that's held them captive for so long.

Step by Step. Mark Kirk's climb

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Mark Kirk climb video -- by Sun-Times' Jon Sall

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Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) returned to the Senate on Friday following a year away because of his stroke. I write about the next chapter of his Senate career--and where he can make a difference--HERE.

SPRINGFIELD-Senate Democrats appeared to wave the white flag Thursday on gay marriage and guns with Senate President John Cullerton conceding there "may be even more support" for the hot-button issues next spring.
That stony assessment came on a frenzied legislative day when the Senate advanced legislation out of committee to legalize gay marriage but stood silent on bids to ban military-style guns and the ammunition that feeds them.
With the lame-duck General Assembly poised to finish its two-year term next Wednesday, the failure to pass gay-marriage or gun-control packages to the House demonstrated that math wasn't on the side of supporters of the high-profile legislation and enhanced the likelihood of a slew of unfinished business spilling into the spring, including pension reform, Gov. Pat Quinn's highest priority for the lame-duck session.
"We start up again next Wednesday, and I think that on these issues there may be even more support for them in the next General Assembly," Cullerton (D-Chicago) said, speaking of guns and gay marriage.
The potential demise of gay-marriage leaves President Barack Obama and state GOP chairman Pat Brady with a degree of egg on their faces.
By wading back into the chaotic affairs of the Illinois Legislature and urging passage of the bill last weekend, the president invested his prestige in the debate's outcome while Brady faces certain backlash from his party's conservative flank for urging Republicans to back gay marriage when a final vote wasn't even taken.
Cullerton was non-committal about having the Senate come back next Tuesday, saying that would depend on whether the House managed to legalize gay marriage, enact stiff gun-control measures on its own or move packages cutting state pensions - possibilities widely regarded as a steeper legislative climb than in the Senate.
The House comes to Springfield late Sunday and is scheduled to be in session through next Tuesday.
In the Senate, the wheels came off the gay-marriage wagon Thursday after three key supporters wound up being absent, leaving the roll call being assembled by the bill's backers below the 30 votes needed for passage by the full Senate.
The absent senators included retiring Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), who was in Israel; Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville), who had a family health crisis emerge involving his son; and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa), whose mother died.
At one point during the day, backers of the gay-marriage bill went so far as to try persuading Schoenberg to tender his resignation from the Senate and allow his successor, Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), to be seated, meaning a pick-up of a gay-marriage vote. But that plan fizzled.
So instead, the legislation got a lengthy hearing in the Senate Executive Committee, which voted 8-5 to move the bill to the Senate floor.
Republicans were against the measure. But Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) left open the possibility of "bi-partisan support" if changes were made to appease worries of religious leaders, who testified Thursday about their concerns over how the legislation would impact churches opposed to gay marriage.
State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the marriage bill's chief Senate sponsor, held out hope for a Tuesday vote but also acknowledged her issue might have to wait until after a new, more Democratic-version of the Legislature is seated Wednesday
"This is totally a question of when we're going to do it, not if we're going to do it," she said. "If for some reason we don't have all our members here and can't do it next week, I've been assured we'll do it very early on in the next session."
On guns, the Senate Wednesday advanced out of committee two bills that would ban an array of automatic and semi-automatic weapons plus the ammunition they need to operate.
But the measures withered under a furious pushback from the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates, who told the Sun-Times Thursday that neither measure had more than 27 or 28 votes in the Senate, shy of the 30 needed for passage.
Cullerton acknowledged the votes weren't there for either gun bill but said "we learned about potential ways to enhance those bills. Those bills, of course, will be taken up in the next General Assembly."

SPRINGFIELD-In a day of fits and starts, a Senate panel approved a bid Thursday to make Illinois the 10th state to legalize gay marriage, paving the way for a possible floor vote next Tuesday.
Gay and lesbian couples and their supporters, many of whom wore bow ties in an act of unity, burst into applause and hugs when the Senate Executive Committee voted 8-5 to send the legislation to the Senate floor.
It was a party-line vote, with Republicans voting en masse against the plan and Democrats backing the concept of the new legal recognition sought by gay and lesbian and other civil rights advocates.
"Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons we all do," said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), chief Senate sponsor of the gay-marriage legislation.
The measure hit a series of snags this week, starting with a procedural misstep that kept it from being heard by the Senate panel as planned on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, three key supporters were absent, leaving Steans without the necessary 30 votes to send the legislation to the House.
While Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) remained mum early Thursday evening about scheduling, Steans said her intention is to seek a full floor vote in the Senate next Tuesday, a day before this version of the General Assembly ends its two-year run and new group of legislators is seated.
"This is totally a question of when we're going to do it, not if we're going to do it," she said. "If for some reason we don't have all our members here and can't do it next week, I've been assured we'll do it very early on in the next session."
In a statement issued shortly after 6 p.m., Cullerton said he is "confident" the measure can pass but stopped short of saying when.
"Today, a few key senators could not be here for family reasons. What's important when we reconvene is that we work to protect and strengthen all Illinois families, and that's what this legislation does," Cullerton said. "I'm confident we can advance this bill in the coming weeks."
Earlier in the day, Steans identified the missing supporters as Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), who is on a trip to Israel; Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville), whose son had a medical emergency; and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa), whose mother died.
At the committee, where more than 150 people packed into an ornate Senate chamber, Republicans hammered away at the bill, saying it would force churches opposed to gay marriages to permit gay and lesbian couples to use their facilities despite possible objections.
But a group of religious leaders was even more forceful, saying changing state law to give gay and lesbian couples the same legal recognition as heterosexual couples when it comes to marriage would represent a distortion of natural law.
"Neither two men nor two women can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be wrong if it said they could," said Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, who heads the Roman Catholic diocese in Springfield.
"As Cardinal George has stated, when ways of nature and nature's God conflict with civil law, society is in danger," Paprocki told the panel.

WASHINGTON--A year after a stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made a triumphant return to the Senate on Thursday, climbing the stairs to the chamber with Vice President Joe Biden and others as his colleagues applauded his come back. Sun-Times photographer Jon Sall captured the climb.

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WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday urged members of the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage in Illinois as the measure faced an unexpected roadblock in the Illinois State Senate on Wednesday.

In a letter to state lawmakers sent Thursday Durbin said he rarely intervenes in measures pending in Springfield "But as a citizen of this Land of Lincoln I want to be clearly on record in regard to an issue of historic importance.

"I believe those whom God has brought to this Earth with a different sexual orientation and who seek a loving relationship in the eyes of the law should be given that opportunity.

"I urge you to vote for Marriage Equality in Illinois so that our state can be part of the emerging national consensus on this issue of justice.

(Complete text of the letter is below.)

Chicago Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney is reporting the measure "suffered an unexpected setback Wednesday when supporters fell two votes shy of getting the legislative hearing they wanted, meaning no Senate vote on the measure until Thursday at the earliest.The 28-24 procedural vote showed the razor-thin margins surrounding the contentious issue and clearly caught backers off-guard, thwarting their plan to advance the measure to the Senate floor Wednesday night."

Durbin's letter is the latest push from key Democratic elected officials urging the state legislature to pass the gay marriage bill. Earlier, President Barack Obama also issued a state urging his former colleagues to vote yes.


January 3, 2013

Dear Friend,

I don't often write to express my position on issues before the General Assembly.

But as a citizen of this Land of Lincoln I want to be clearly on record in regard to an issue of historic importance.

I believe those whom God has brought to this Earth with a different sexual orientation and who seek a loving relationship in the eyes of the law should be given that opportunity.

I urge you to vote for Marriage Equality in Illinois so that our state can be part of the emerging national consensus on this issue of justice.

In America every religion has a right to establish standards for its members and to express its position on moral issues for consideration by its faithful and others.

This law would not change that and no religion, including my own Catholic faith, would be mandated to bless same-sex marriages.

Two years ago at the ceremony when President Obama signed the law repealing "Don't ask, don't tell", a Jewish Rabbi gave a memorable invocation.

He said when you look into the eyes of another if you don't see the face of God at least see the face of another human being.

Every generation is given a chance to put an end to some form of discrimination in America. As you consider this historic vote, I hope you will reflect on those you will meet after it is cast.

An affirmative vote will give you a chance to look into the eyes of those who have faced discrimination throughout their lives and tell them that you voted to affirm their rights under the law.

My own views on this issue have evolved over the years and as I reflect on my support for marriage equality, I have concluded that ending this discrimination is consistent with the evolution of civil rights in our democracy - a process served so nobly by a former member of the Illinois General Assembly, Abraham Lincoln.

Thank you for your service to our state.

- United States Senator Dick Durbin

SPRINGFIELD-Short of votes, supporters of gay-marriage and bans on military-style weapons and high-powered ammunition won't see their initiatives voted on Thursday in the Illinois Senate, leaving open the question of whether either issue will get a full Senate look next week.

Senate President John Cullerton's office issued a statement, saying that bi-partisan support was necessary for either issue to advance out of the legislative chamber and that more time was needed to round up votes.

"It is clear that we will need bipartisan support in order to take floor votes on gun safety and marriage equality this week," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said in a prepared statement. "We will take some time to work on these important issues to advance them in the near future."

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the chief Senate sponsor of the gay-marriage legislation, told the Chicago Sun-Times that three key absences have hurt efforts Thursday to pass legislation legalizing gay marriage in Illinois.

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) is in Israel. State Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa) is missing because of her mother's death, and Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville) had a health issue arise involving a family member, Steans said.

Those absences, coupled with heavy lobbying against the bill from the Archdiocese of Chicago, leave her short of the necessary 30 votes she would need to get her bill out of the Senate before the chamber adjourns for the weekend.

A vote in the Senate Executive Committee on gay marriage was still expected Thursday, even though supporters expecting an 11 a.m. hearing waited more than two hours while the Senate occupied itself with a string of rambling farewell resolutions to departing members.

"The Executive Committee has been delayed," Phelon continued in her statement, "but we still intend to hold a hearing on marriage equality shortly."

Robert Gilligan, director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said Catholic leaders had discussed the possibility of Cardinal Francis George making direct appeals to legislators with personal phone calls, but Gilligan said it wasn't clear whether that had happened Thursday.

On Sunday, George urged Catholic parishoners throughout Chicago to reach out to legislators to pressure them not to vote for the gay-marriage bill.

Meanwhile, on guns, a floor vote was stymied for the same reason as gay-marriage: key absences.

Gun-rights supporters estimated that the legislation banning military-style guns and the ammunition that feeds them is perhaps three or four votes shy of the necessary 30-vote threshold to pass either one, despite a heavy lobbying push from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn.

No Republicans are for the gun measures, the gun-rights sources said.

But state Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), chief Senate sponsor of the ammunition bill, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Schoenberg's absence, as well as the absence of state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), left him short of the support he needed to pass the ammunition bill on the Senate floor.

"Modern Family" star and gay-marriage advocate explains to Chicago Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney why he came to Springfield Thursday with his fiance, Justin Mikita, to lobby the Senate to pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.


Cullerton's office: no senate floor votes today on gun ban or gay marriage

Here are ongoing updates from McKinney (@davemckinney123) via Twitter.

Mark Kirk's triumphant U.S. Capitol step climb

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Using a cane for balance as well as the helpful arm of the U.S. Vice President, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk walked up the U.S. Capitol steps on Thursday, one year after suffering a stroke.
He carefully climbed, stopping several times to turn and thank colleagues.
"It's the culmination of a dream that I've had since I was in the hospital," Kirk said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the Illinois delegation - Democrats and Republicans - as well as high-ranking U.S. Senate leaders lined the Capitol steps watching his colleague take one step at a time up the 45 steps.
Joe Biden's motorcade arrived minutes before the climb. Biden walked over to Kirk and hugged him.
"I'm happy as can be to be here, man," Biden told Kirk.
Kirk had to learn how to walk again after suffering a debilitating stroke in January of 2012.

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Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) escorted up Senate steps Thursday with Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va. and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) (photo by Jon Sall)

WASHINGTON--After climbing the steps to the Senate, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), arms held by Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W-Va.) entered the chamber Tuesday morning to a burst of applause, returning a year after he suffered a stroke.

Once in, Biden--a former Senator-- lingered by Kirk's desk as did Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). As Sen. John McCain (R-Az.)approached, the two men hugged and Kirk snapped off a salute.

A few minutes earlier, Kirk climbed up the Senate steps to mark his return, using a leg brace and a cane with four prongs--and mainly with the help of Biden and Manchin, his closest friend in the Senate.

Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv.) and many lawmakers-including may from the Illinois House delegation--turned out to pay tribute to Kirk, lining the steps at the Capitol leading to the Senate chamber.

The lawmakers applauded as Kirk counted off the steps.

Reid shared what he told Kirk: "I just told him he looks so good and it is an act of courage I admire so very, very much.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said "It's a great personal triumph. It's very moving. It is great to see a courageous guy fight back and come back."

Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) who has known Kirk since he first ran for an Illinois House seat said, "we are all very happy and we are joyful that he is doing so well. It is a wonderful thing to have him back."

"Nice to see you guys," Kirk said to the press waiting outside the Senate chamber doors.

What is is like to be back?

"Feels great," Kirk said.

What does he return represent"

Quipped Kirk, "for Joe and I to be a dynamic duo."

Kirk's comeback almost a year after his Jan. 21 stroke, followed by three brain surgeries and months of intensive rehabilitation.

As the Senate launched a new session near noon, the chaplain took note of Kirk's return in his opening prayer, thanking God for bringing "Our Mark Kirk back to work in these hallowed halls."

McConnell applauded Kirk from the Senate floor.

"The fact that Mark's here today says a lot about his tenacity, his dedication, and his commitment to the people of Illinois. I'm told that about two-thirds of the patients in the facility where he's been recovering over the past year don't return to work; but true to form, Mark opted for an experimental rehabilitation program so grueling it's been compared to military boot camp," McConnell said, referring to Kirk's treatment at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Continued McConnell, "His staff counted 45 steps from the parking lot to the front door of the Senate, and during his treatment, he made walking those steps his goal. Today, he did it. So we admire him for his spirit, and we applaud his achievement. It's wonderful to have him back, ready to work."

Sen. Mark Kirk climbed up the steps of the Capitol today, one year after suffering a major stroke. Vice President Joe Biden, Tammy Duckworth, and more of his colleagues were there to greet him. Sun-Times reporters Natasha Korecki and Lynn Sweet live-tweeted the event.

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) (photo by Jon Sall)

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Rep.-elect William Enyart, (D-Ill.), Rep.-elect Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) (photo by Jon Sall)

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) (Photo by Jon Sall)

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Rep.-elect Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), rock singer Joe Walsh, Rep.-elect Cheri Bustros (Photo by Jon Sall)

WASHINGTON--The new Congress gets sworn in at noon Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ill.) is expected to be re-elected Speaker. When the new House members take their oath of office, Illinois will have six freshmen, a Republican, Rodney Davis and five Democrats, Tammy Duckworth, Cheri Bustros, Brad Schneider, Bill Foster and William Enyart.

On Wednesday evening, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) hosted a reception attended by the new members.

My post on the new committee assignments for the freshmen is HERE.

An AR-15 with an extended capacity ammunition magazine. | File

SPRINGFIELD - Driven by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, gun-control legislation designed to ban assault weapons and the ammunition that feeds them passed a Senate panel late Wednesday, setting the stage for likely floor votes on Thursday.

The Democratic measures advanced out of the Senate Public Health Committee, which historically has been dominated by gun-control advocates, on party-line votes.

"The goal is to reduce the amount of incidents that occur where there are a significant amount of people shot in a short period of time," said Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), the chief Senate sponsor of legislation banning the sale and possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines that allow shooters to fire at high speeds without reloading.

His proposal, which passed by a 6-3 vote, accompanied a measure sponsored by Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago) that would impose similar restrictions on military-style weapons, like the ones used in last month's murders of 26 people in Connecticut, 20 of whom were children.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon adjusts the bow tie on Jesse Tyler Ferguson at a press conference with marriage equality advocates who urged supporters across the state today to make their voices heard on Illinois' marriage equality bill. Ferguson is in ABC's hit comedy "Modern Family". The press conference was at the Thompson Center on Wednesday, January 2, 2013. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD - A bid to legalize gay marriage in Illinois suffered an unexpected setback Wednesday when supporters fell two votes shy of getting the legislative hearing they wanted, meaning no Senate vote on the measure until Thursday at the earliest.

The 28-24 procedural vote showed the razor-thin margins surrounding the contentious issue and clearly caught backers off-guard, thwarting their plan to advance the measure to the Senate floor Wednesday night.

"It's a little bit too soon to conclude it was a fatal blow," said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago).

Late Wednesday, Phelon said the measure would be voted on by the Senate Executive Committee early Thursday.

Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady // AP Photo

The momentum continues to build for same sex marriage in Illinois.

On Wednesday, Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said he was putting his "full support" behind marriage equality legislation pending in Springfield.

"More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way," Brady said. "Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value - that the law should treat all citizens equally."

"Importantly, the pending legislation would protect the freedom of religion," Brady added. "No church or religious organization would ever be required to perform a union with which it disagrees."

Republican Congressman Peter King of New York and other lawmakers speak to reporters after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, over the delayed vote on aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. // AP Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Last night, it appeared as if the GOP-led House would duck out of voting on a bill that would deliver $60 billion in aid to areas most hard-hit by last October's Hurricane Sandy. But, even as jeers rained down from members of the House regarding the decision, the session was adjourned without a vote. While the ducking of a vote on the aid is bad enough, it came after a bad PR day for House Republicans who initially looked like they would derail the "fiscal cliff" deal. And so the backlash was loud and clear today, government leaders on both sides of the aisle lashing out at GOP leadership and, essentially, bullying them into calling for a vote. Among those was New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R), someone who made no bones about praising President Obama's response to the disaster; today, had similarly no issue ripping his own party for trying to back out of the aid vote.

Earlier this afternoon, though, it was announced that Speaker of the House John Boehner will call for a vote this week on an initial $9 billion in aid and another vote on an additional $51 billion in aid no later than January 15. And so the GOP's backtracking continues on yet another topic on which their should have never been a debate in the first place.

Cardinal George, speaking in his Chicago home, December 2012 // Richard A. Chapman, Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD-A coalition of religious leaders led by Cardinal Francis George urged Illinois lawmakers Wednesday to reject a push that aims to legalize marriage between gay and lesbian couples, arguing that redefining marriage poses "serious danger" to society.

"The ongoing attempts to alter the definition of marriage in civil law are full of serious danger, primarily by degrading the cultural understanding of marriage to an emotional bond between any two adults and by giving rise to a profound interference with the exercise of religious freedom for those persons and religious institutions whose faith and doctrine recognize the spiritual foundation of marriage as an authorized union between a man and a woman," George and other religious leaders wrote in a letter to lawmakers (embedded below). It comes a day after Cardinal George released a similar letters to Illinois members of the Catholic church.

The lobbying drive by the head of Chicago's Roman Catholic community and leaders of the Council of Islamic Organization of Greater Chicago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Lutheran Church MIssouri Synod and the Anglican Church in North America comes as supporters were thwarted in their bid to move gay-marriage legislation out of the Senate Executive Committee Wednesday.

Supporters had sought to waive a Senate rule that required a six-day waiting period for the legislation but fell two votes shy in their effort. They vowed to find a parliamentary way around that requirement and possibly seek a committee vote Thursday.

Despite the setback, state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the lead Senate sponsor of the measure, predicted she has enough votes to pass the legalization out of her legislative chamber by a thin majority.

Asked if she has 30 votes lined up for the measure, Steans told the Sun-Times, "I do."

Pressed on how close the vote would be, she quipped, "It's not going to be unanimous."

President Barack Obama entered the fray with a weekend pronouncement from the White House that he is supportive of Illinois' effort to legalize gay marriages, but Steans said she is not aware that the president is personally making phone calls to any wavering senators.

Interfaith Letter to Illinois legislators

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is back in Washington D.C. after suffering a stroke a year ago. On Thursday, he plans to walk up the Capitol steps. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin will be among those who will climb with him.
After his step climb, Kirk's medical team will talk to the media.
Here's the details:

WHO: Elliot Roth, MD -- Medical Director of RIC's Ability Lab Recovery Unit;
George Hornby, PhD -- RIC Research Scientist, lead researcher on the gait trial in which Senator Kirk participated;
Michael Klonowski - Physical Therapist, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago;
Richard Fessler, MD -- Neurological Surgery, Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Thursday, January 3rd 2013
12:30 P.M. EST or immediately following stair climb

United States Capitol
Room SC-4

Senator Mark Kirk suffered a stroke in January 2012. Following his participation in an experimental clinical trial, his comeback one year later to the United States Senate is proving an inspiration to stroke and brain injury patients nationally and internationally.

Physicians and researchers from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Northwestern Memorial Hospital who assisted with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk's recovery will be available to discuss the Senator's recovery and take questions following his climb up the Capitol steps.

How the new tax package will affect you

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The 1 percent isn't the only group facing a tax increase -- according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, the tax package passed by Congress will raise taxes on 77% of households.

The average tax increase for U.S. households paying higher taxes would be about $1,635.

But what about the 1 percent? Under the new budget deal, the top 1 percent of taxpayers will have to pay an average tax increase of $73,633.

The very wealthy top 0.1 percent would see an average tax increase of $446,323.

Bloomberg reports that those with incomes over $2.7 million would pay 26 percent of the additional taxes, leaving their after-tax income reduced by 8.4 percent.

The Associated Press breaks it down by income level:

Annual income: $20,000 to $30,000

Average tax increase: $297


Annual income: $30,000 to $40,000

Average tax increase: $445


Annual income: $40,000 to $50,000

Average tax increase: $579


Annual income: $50,000 to $75,000

Average tax increase: $822


Annual income: $75,000 to $100,000

Average tax increase: $1,206


Annual income: $100,000 to $200,000

Average tax increase: $1,784


Annual income: $200,000 to $500,000

Average tax increase: $2,711


Annual income: $500,000 to $1 million

Average tax increase: $14,812


Annual income: More than $1 million

Average tax increase: $170,341

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President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden arrive to make a statement regarding the passage of the fiscal cliff bill in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Following are President Obama's remarks Tuesday night following the House vote to pass the Senate tax compromise on the "fiscal cliff" bill:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Happy new year, everybody.

A central premise of my campaign for president was to change the tax code that was too skewed towards the wealthy at the expense of working, middle class Americans. Tonight we've done that.

Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into a recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America.

I want to thank all the leaders of the House and Senate. In particular, I want to thank the work that was done by my extraordinary vice president, Joe Biden, as well as Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell.

Everybody worked very hard and I appreciate it. And Joe, once again, I want to thank you for your great work.

Fiscal Cliff_Newm.jpg
AP photo
The 257-167 roll call Tuesday by which the House passed the agreement that avoided the so-called fiscal cliff of middle-class tax increases and spending cuts and sent the measure to President Barack Obama.

Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet has the news and analysis on the measure. Below is how the House voted on the compromise legislation.

A "yes" vote is a vote to pass the bill.

Voting yes were 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans.

Voting no were 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans.

X denotes those not voting.

There are 3 vacancies in the 435-member House.

How they voted: