Chicago Sun-Times
Staff reports on all things politics - from City Hall to Springfield to Washington, D.C.

April 2013 Archives

SPRINGFIELD-The coalition of labor unions fighting to preserve cost-of-living increases for retired state workers and teachers condemned a new pension-reform package pushed Tuesday by House Speaker Michael Madigan as "illegal" and threatened a legal challenge if it passes.

Madigan's bill overhauls Senate-passed legislation favored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and significantly reels in the size of cost-of-living increases by as much as one-third over 20 years of retirement, according to the "We Are One Illinois" coalition.

Here's the statement from the coalition, which comprises the AFL/CIO of Illinois, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFSCME Council 31, SEIU and Illinois Nurses Association:

"Our coalition has said time and again that we oppose unfair, unconstitutional pension cuts. Public workers and retirees should not be punished for a problem politicians created.

"While we want to work together to solve the pension problem, the amendment filed today by the House Speaker represents the same illegal approach to slashing hard-earned life savings protected by the Illinois Constitution. Should it become law, we believe a successful legal challenge is all but certain, with the bill saving nothing and the state's budget problems made worse."

CLOSER_LOOK_ILLINOIS_HOUSE_PIECEMEAL_VOTES_38630361.JPGHouse Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), pictured here from earlier this month, proposed new pension-reform legislation Tuesday that appears to keep the House and Senate at loggerheads on fixing the state's pension crisis. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-A new pension package pushed by House Speaker Michael Madigan surfaced Tuesday that scraps a framework favored by Senate President John Cullerton, while downsizing annual pension increases for retired state workers and teachers and dumping a pension-funding hit on suburban and downstate school systems.

Madigan's revisions to the Senate-passed bill originally backed by Cullerton could be voted on by a House committee Wednesday and leave the House and Senate at odds over how to solve the state's $96 billion pension crisis while living within the constraints of Illinois' Constitution.

House Democrats and Republicans went into closed-door session Tuesday afternoon to go over details of Madigan's retooling of Senate Bill 1, which was described as a "bi-partisan effort" that could be voted on by the full House later this week, a House Democratic source said.

The Madigan plan resembles an earlier package backed by state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) and House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) but changes how annual cost-of-living increases would be calculated for retired state workers and teachers.

Now, in retirement, they automatically get 3-percent, compounding increases. Nekritz and Cross had proposed allowing that COLA to apply to no more than $25,000 of a retiree's annuity.

But Madigan is proposing a slightly more generous approach that would give retirees the lesser of either 3 percent of their annual annuity or a total equal to their numbers of years of service, multiplied by $1,000.

Madigan's plan also would reduce the ceiling on the maximum amount of pensionable salary at $109,000, down from the $113,700 proposed by Nekritz and Cross.

Madigan left out a plan to make suburban and downstate school districts pick up the state's tab for paying the pensions of retired teachers and school administrators, which he had identified as a top priority.

But more significantly, the speaker avoided including language favored by Cullerton and the Senate that would make retirees choose between continuing to get state-subsidized health care or the annual, compounding 3-percent COLA, but not both.

Cullerton and his legal staff have maintained that choice is essential for a pension package to withstand a certain legal challenge from public-employee unions. The Illinois Constitution holds that pension benefits for government workers can't be "diminished or impaired."

A longtime prosecutor from the Central District of Illinois, a top lawyer within Schiff Hardin law firm and an attorney from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have all been nominated to the federal bench in Chicago.

President Obama announced his intent to nominate the three today after having the recommendation from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

Thomas Bruton, the U.S. District Clerk of Court in Chicago, said there are three current vacancies at the federal courthouse. For sometime, the courthouse had been operating with numerous vacancies. The recommendations would fill two of the three in the Chicago courthouse and one in Central Illinois, leaving one remaining vacancy in Chicago -- or the Northern District of Illinois. In Chicago, Sara Lee Ellis and Andrea Wood were tapped. In Central Illinois Colin Bruce was nominated.

"I am honored to put forward these highly qualified candidates for the federal bench," President Obama said. "They will be distinguished public servants and valuable additions to the United States District Court.

Sara Lee Ellis: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Sara Lee Ellis is counsel at the law firm of Schiff Hardin LLP in Chicago, where she is a member of the Litigation and White Collar Crime practice groups. Prior to joining Schiff Hardin LLP, Ellis was Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago Department of Law from 2004 to 2007 and handled class claims for injunctive relief and civil rights lawsuits. From 2000 to 2004, she worked at Stetler, Duffy & Rotert, Ltd., a white-collar criminal defense law firm. Upon graduating from law school, Ellis worked as a staff attorney at the Federal Defender Program in Chicago from 1994 to 1999. She received her J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1994 and her B.A. from Indiana University in 1991.

Andrea R. Wood: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
Andrea R. Wood has served as Senior Trial Counsel in the Division of Enforcement of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission since 2007. She joined the Commission as a Senior Attorney in 2004, and since that time has managed complex investigations and litigation matters involving a variety of securities law violations. From 1999 to 2004, Wood was an associate at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where she handled an active litigation practice primarily in federal court. She began her legal career by serving as a law clerk to Judge Diane Wood of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 1998 to 1999. Wood received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1998 and her B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1995.

Colin Stirling Bruce currently serves as the First Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of Illinois, a position he has held since 2010. In that position, Bruce oversees the day-to-day operations of the office and helps supervise all federal criminal investigations, prosecutions, and appeals taking place within the Central District. Bruce joined the United States Attorney's Office in 1989 and has spent his entire 24-year legal career serving as an Assistant United States Attorney. During that time, Bruce has prosecuted a broad range of federal criminal cases, including large drug conspiracies, complex frauds, and computer-related investigations, and has also handled civil matters on behalf of the United States. He received his J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1989 and his B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1986.

In the backdrop of calls for the elimination of her position, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon may face a tough crowd when she talks to the City Club of Chicago on Wednesday.

According to Simon's office, she plans to talk about "three initiatives" to make government more transparent "and accountable to taxpayers."

Simon, the daughter of the late Illinois political icon Paul Simon, has already announced she would not seek reelection to her current post. A lawyer, Simon is eyeing another statewide office, possibly Illinois Attorney General should Lisa Madigan vacate and run for governor.

Earlier this month the Illinois House advanced a bill to eliminate the Lt. Governor position and offer a cost-savings to the state.

Simon's talk is to begin at around noon Maggiano's Banquets 111 W. Grand.

President Obama is holding a press conference this morning starting at 9:30 a.m. Chicago time to mark the first 100-days of his second term. Watch live video below.

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court for more time to decide if she wants to appeal a lower court's ruling to end the state's concealed-carry ban.

Madigan would have until June 24 to file a petition for appeal with the high court if it grants her office the 30-day extension. The request comes after the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals last December mandated Illinois lawmakers to put a concealed-carry law on the books by June 9 and denied a petition for a rehearing of its decision in February.

Two different types of concealed-carry legislation were shot down in the House earlier this month, and a comprehensive proposal has yet to emerge in the Senate. But Madigan has said she would wait to see if legislators pass a bill before deciding to officially appeal to the high court.

Beside Madigan's name on the petition are Gov. Pat Quinn - who has publically urged Madigan to appeal the lower court's ruling - along with State Police Director Hiram Grau and Union County State's Attorney Tyler Edmonds.

CLOSER_LOOK_CONCEALED_CARRY_38807911.JPGSen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), pictured on the right earlier this month on the House floor with Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), outlined new plans Monday for "reasonable middle ground" in Springfield's stalemated concealed-carry debate. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

SPRINGFIELD-Seeking "reasonable middle ground," the Senate's Democratic point man on guns moved Monday to break the concealed-carry stalemate by proposing to streamline the licensing process and letting home-rule governments decide where guns can be carried openly.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) said that he is prepared to scale back the authority of Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to block the granting of concealed-carry permits to gun owners they deem unfit.

The senator from Hyde Park/Kenwood, who is considering a 2014 run for attorney general, also wants to give home-rule communities across the state more power to determine where those carrying concealed weapons could legally go.

"What I'm trying to do this week is to create a set of options to try to create some compromise options for legislators to evaluate and for the city and county to evaluate," Raoul told the Chicago Sun-Times.



In a recent phone interview, Bruce Rauner was dismissive of a [recent Crain's report ]( that said Rauner had clouted his daughter into the top-tiered magnet, Walter Payton High School but conceded it may have "partial truths" in it.

"It's all baloney," Rauner told the Sun-Times but did not elaborate. "It's just minor. It's stuff that doesn't matter, it may have partial truths in it. It's all part of the process of slinging mud early against someone who's doing really strong."

Last week, Greg Hinz reported: *According to multiple sources at Chicago Public Schools, Mr. Rauner in 2008 picked up the phone and called Mr. Duncan on behalf of his daughter, who was trying to get into Payton. Since this story is about the old man and not the kid, I'm not going to give her name.*

Rauner's $1.3 million in his campaign bank -- and ties to a group that launched scathing attack ads against U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) may have been enough to scare off Schock from pursuing a run for Illinois' Chief Executive spot. Schock, 31, formally announced his retreat last week, saying he instead wanted to pursue his career in the U.S. House. The two had publicly aired their differences in the past.

"Frankly, I scare politicians in both parties," Rauner told the Sun-Times. "Our state is controlled by special interests that - they've taken over pieces of the Republican party. If I run, I'm going to be out to transform our state government."

In an email sent out to supporters today, Rauner makes an apparent reference to the stories questioning school clout.

"Also, thanks to those of you who sent encouraging notes to Diana and/or me over the past week. Unfortunately, we know the political attacks are just beginning -- but they won't deter me from offering up major reforms for the state I love."

[Courtesy of WBEZ, here is a CPS Secret Clout list]
This is the first time the actual log has been made public. WBEZ obtained the redacted log through an open records request, with assistance from the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor. It took nearly a year to obtain.Names of parents requesting admission for their children are redacted. The only names not redacted are those of elected officials, high-level school or city officials, or other individuals who forwarded requests to Arne Duncan. Requests coming directly from Duncan appear as "AD" on the log. Petitions from Duncan's wife appear as "KD" on the log.*

CPS secret clout list by Chicago Public Media


If WLS radio host Dan Proft wants to run for governor, he'll have to give up his day job.

Proft, along with Bruce Wolf, hosts a morning commute show on 890-WLS from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.

But if he runs for governor, an equal-time rule -- an FCC provision -- would kick-in, he says. That was the same reason that former SuperBowl XX Bear Steve "Mongo" McMichael faced when he wanted to run for Bolingbrook Mayor. And he was just discussing Bears strategy in a pre-game show.

"That's a soul-searching question - I understand I cannot be on the air if I were a candidate for office," said Proft, who has run as a Republican. "That's a large part of the decision. I love my job at WLS, it's a great gig. I really enjoy it. I'm not cavalier about the great opportunity I've been able to enjoy with WLS. That requires some deep thinking and it requires that the ground is fertile for what I'm offering."

Proft, 40, of Wheaton, started working weekends at the station three years ago. He's now turned that into a regular gig with Wolf.

"People who are a state treasurer or state legislator don't have to give up their jobs to run for office. People in the private sector have to essentially," which is why few from the private sector make a run for office, Proft argues.

Proft ran for governor in 2009 and still has a healthy campaign fund. The Proft for Governor committee reported having a $459,020 in the last quarterly report. Under Illinois campaign fund rules, Proft can tap that money for campaign expenses. He cannot use it for personal reasons. But he can transfer contributions to other committees or donate it to charity, says David Morrison, Acting Director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Proft, a conservative, has done PR for Cicero Town President Larry Dominick and his firm had received no-bid contracts to do PR for the town and school districts.

"Proft raised a ton of money: took in huge checks before 2010 before limits took effect (in 2011)," Morrison said. "He built that up intentionally before limits took effect so it can be there long after they took effects." That was a widespread practice, Morrison said: "Oh sure, they all could (do it). But the point is, when he saw limit's were coming in 2011, he took huge checks, bigger than he had before --simply because he could."

Still, Proft's numbers are a drop in the bucket when compared to Bruce Rauner, the Republican venture capitalist who has more than $1.3 million in the bank even as he's on a "listening tour" of Illinois to determine if he wants to run.


Along with Free Sundays for residents and other changes, Rahm Emanuel is looking to be viewed as the Mayor who saved that miserable parking meter deal left by his predecessor.

There's no question that Chicagoans have long memories when it comes to traversing the city streets -- and parking on them.

The 75-year parking meter deal that former Mayor Daley brokered is largely seen as one of his biggest public failures. In a 1979 snow storm, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic's failure to clear City streets cleared him out of office.

Today, as part of the announcement of a new parking meter deal that would help reduce the City of Chicago's debt to the outside firm, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a new "pay-by-cell" option that eliminates that annoying system underway now. That is: walk to the inconveniently located pay box, pay, then walk back to the car to place it on the windshield.

The big snag though: It won't be available until a year from now. Metra has beaten the City to the punch on this one with its easy parkmobile app, which allows you to quickly and easily pay for parking over the phone. The gain for consumers on this: it cuts down on ticketing, especially for those rushing for trains.

For a City where ticketing is bread and butter revenue, many questions remain. That includes: will the online app block drivers from re-upping another two hours if they're in a two-hour parking zone -- the most common downtown.

Here's how the City describes it:

Convenient Pay-By-Cell Option
CPM will introduce a new pay-by-cell convenience option. This new feature will eliminate the need for parkers to visit the pay box, print a parking receipt and then place the receipt in their windshields. Instead, parkers will be able to simply enter a pay box number visibly posted on street signage into a cellular phone application without the need for a receipt. Parkers choosing to pay-by-cell will see a convenience charge of .35 cents applied to purchases of less than two hours at one time. Their phones will operate as their payment method and individuals can create an account with an initial balance of $20. The pay-by-cell option will be available by the summer of 2014.

Rev. James Meeks. | Sun-Times file

Fearing the same sex marriage bill could be called for a vote in the Illinois House soon, African-American Clergy Coalition (AACC) today launched another round of Robo Calls featuring a 40-second message from the Pastor James Meeks.


Meeks urges constituents to call members of the black caucus in the Illinois House and urge a vote against the bill, which redefines marriage in Illinois to between two people instead of a man and a woman.

"The AACC has begun distributing fliers to Cook County African American Churches," a release from the AACC said today. "African American Clergymen have now taken the AACC flier and began instructing their Congregations to call their legislators."

The fliers contain a list of African American House members with their phone numbers.


Behind Aaron Schock's gubernatorial dropout.

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U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock's decision to bow out of the Illinois gubernatorial race was a close call, according to his staffers. At age 31, Schock, an aggressive, successful fund-raiser is on track to achieve seniority on the powerful U.S. Ways & Means Committee.

Those close to him say Schock has some powerful ties for someone just in his third term. That includes having "the ear of the Speaker." U.S. House Speaker John Boehner visited Peoria for a Schock fundraiser in 2011. So there's considerable potential for him to amass more power in Congress, they say.

But those within Illinois political circles say take your pick at the possible reasons he shied away from the spotlight this round.

There's Bruce Rauner's formidable potential candidacy and a group with whom Rauner had made considerable contributions was running aggressive TV ads against the congressman from Peoria. (A Rauner spokesman says Rauner was not behind the campaign and that Rauner has donated to Schock in the past, too.)

There's the possibility of running against Lisa Madigan -- and the powerful political force her father wields -- in a general election.

There's the ongoing congressional ethics probe:
"In March 2012, Representative Aaron Schock may have solicited contributions for an independent expenditure-only political committee in excess of $5,000 per donor, in violation of federal law, House rules, and standards of conduct."

There's that shirtless cover photo on Men's Health and the pool snapshot TMZ has published that doesn't look so gubernatorial.

And as Dave McKinney reported in his story today:
"Aaron realized he is only 31 and is not willing to risk everything against Rauner's millions and probably Lisa Madigan," said one state House Republican familiar with Schock's thinking.

The official word from Schock is this:

"Last fall Congressman Aaron Schock said he was considering whether he could do the most good by running for re-election to Congress or by running for Governor of Illinois," the statement from Schock's office says. "After carefully considering both options, today he is announcing that he has chosen to run for Congress again in 2014."

ILLINOIS_ETHICS_30957461.JPGState Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), pictured in this February photo, pushed legislation through the Senate Thursday that would grant psychologists authority to prescribe mental-illness medications to patients, who now can only get those drugs through their physicians or psychiatrists. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-A plan to enable psychologists to prescribe anti-depressants and other psychotropic drugs moved out of the Illinois Senate Thursday over objections from groups representing physicians and psychiatrists.

The proposal sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) passed the Senate 37-10, with four members voting present. The legislation, Senate Bill 2187, now moves to the House.

"I used to oppose this bill. I am now the sponsor and am a firm believer this is a sensible way to provide access to mental health care to countless constituents who don't have it today," Harmon said.

Harmon said his legislation would address the "critical shortage of mental health professionals" that now exists in Illinois, giving patients in need of mental-health medication more avenues to safely acquire their drugs.

Under Harmon's plan, psychologists seeking to dispense mental-health prescriptions would have to be licensed to practice psychology by the state and hold a doctorate in psychology.

They also would need a master's degree in psychopharmacology, have five years experience treating patients and consult with patients' primary-care physicians.

If the plan were to pass the House and be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois would join Louisiana and New Mexico as the only states that now permit psychologists to prescribe mental-illness medications. The military also permits its psychologists to dispense psychotropic drugs, Harmon said.

"For all of this time, there has not been one single complaint or incident of which we've been aware where there's been a failure in the system, where a psychologist has prescribed a medicine that has compromised a patient's safety," Harmon said, referring to the track record in states that now allow the practice.

Among those opposing the legislation was Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), who worried psychologists wouldn't necessarily have the medical training to understand the side effects of mental-illness medication or how the drugs interact with other medications that a patient might be taking.

"My main that the core nature of the training of psychologists is not in the physical sciences," Radogno said.

The Illinois State Medical Society urged lawmakers to reject the legislation, warning earlier this month that empowering psychologists with prescription-writing authority would "put patients at risk." The group remains opposed to the legislation.

"Simply requiring minimal instruction in pharmacology, neuroscience and physiology independent of a professional's overall education and training is far from adequate and does not prepare a person to treat a patient as a medical doctor would," the group said in a statement

Rhode Island state Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket, center, reacts seconds after the state senate passed a same-sex marriage bill at the Statehouse, in Providence, R.I., Wednesday, April 24, 2013. Nesselbush was the main sponsor of the bill. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Same sex marriage advocates had been pushing for Illinois to be the 10th state to legalize same sex marriage.

But as Illinois Republican in-fighting and consternation within the black caucus put the brakes on -- at least temporarily -- same sex marriage legislation in the Illinois Legislature, Rhode Island came up with a surprise this week.

The New England state is likely to snag the recognition as being the 10th state to pass the measure after a bill legalizing same sex marriage advanced out of both houses. On Wednesday, the Rhode Island senate passed the measure with each of its Republican members voting in favor of it. It goes back to the house because of some changes, but ultimately a vote on May 2 is anticipated to send the bill to the governor, who said he would sign it.

"We celebrate this victory and applaud the state of Rhode Island for taking this step toward treating all families equally under the law," said Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said in a statement. Harris is the chief House sponsor of the Illinois marriage bill, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.

Same sex marriage advocates say they believe they are closer to getting the 60 necessary votes to pass the matter out of the Illinois House. The senate approved the measure on Valentine's Day.

Those in opposition, however, continue to push back.

Robert Gilligan, Executive Director for the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said that Rhode Island's legislation used much clearer language that would protect religious institutions from having to conform with the law. Gilligan said he wasn't confident that current Illinois language would protect Catholic schools, for instance, from having to conform with the proposed law.

"Let's make it clear, let's not use descriptors," Gilligan told the Sun-Times. "If you really, really want to protect us on these issues, let's just make it clear."

President Obama applauds as former president George W. Bush arrives for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center Thursday, April 25, 2013, in Dallas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Please be seated. To President Bush and Mrs. Bush; to President Clinton and now-former Secretary Clinton; to President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Bush; to President and Mrs. Carter; to current and former world leaders and all the distinguished guests here today -- Michelle and I are honored to be with you to mark this historic occasion.

This is a Texas-sized party. And that's worthy of what we're here to do today: honor the life and legacy of the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush.

When all the living former Presidents are together, it's also a special day for our democracy. We've been called "the world's most exclusive club" -- and we do have a pretty nice clubhouse. But the truth is, our club is more like a support group. The last time we all got together was just before I took office. And I needed that. Because as each of these leaders will tell you, no matter how much you may think you're ready to assume the office of the presidency, it's impossible to truly understand the nature of the job until it's yours, until you're sitting at that desk.

And that's why every President gains a greater appreciation for all those who served before him; for the leaders from both parties who have taken on the momentous challenges and felt the enormous weight of a nation on their shoulders. And for me, that appreciation very much extends to President Bush.

The first thing I found in that desk the day I took office was a letter from George, and one that demonstrated his compassion and generosity. For he knew that I would come to learn what he had learned -- that being President, above all, is a humbling job. There are moments where you make mistakes. There are times where you wish you could turn back the clock. And what I know is true about President Bush, and I hope my successor will say about me, is that we love this country and we do our best.

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File

The United States spends more to enforce immigration laws than it does on running the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service, the ATF and the U.S. Secret Service -- combined.

In fact, according to a new report on immigration enforcement released today, the U.S. spends $18 billion on immigration enforcement, $4 billion more -- or 24 percent -- than the $14.4 billion spent on the other agencies.

The report from the Migration Policy Institute came out with 52 findings -- and at the top of its list was the dollars spent on enforcement: "The U.S. government spends more on its immigration agencies than on all of its principal federal law enforcement agencies combined."

The report was released amid discussions of an overhaul to immigration laws in Washington D.C. On Monday, immigration reform leader U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) was in Chicago with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Gutierrez repeatedly cited that the United States has spent $18 billion on enforcement. Both Gutierrez and Ryan argued that it makes economic sense to revise its rules on enforcement.

Read the full report below.

ISRA.jpg The Illinois State Rifle Association issued an "urgent alert" to its members this week, telling them to take action against a state Senate bill that may be in the works by calling state lawmakers and "politely" voice opposition to any bill

In part of the notice, members were told: "Rahm Emanuel does not have the right to condemn your family members to rape, robbery and murder."

The developing legislation is said to carve out Cook County and have special standards there for issuing permits to within that count. State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) is heading up the concealed carry negotiations in the senate.

"Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart does not have the right to decide if you are worth defending or not," the notice implored. "Chicago Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy does not have the right to decide whether you will live or die."

The Illinois House last week failed to find a compromise on a concealed carry bill --including one endorsed by the NRA --even though a federal court decision has dictated that the state Legislature must do so by June.

President Barack Obama stands with former presidents, from second from left, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Thursday, April 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama stands with, from second from left, former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Thursday, April 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

All the living American presidents past and present are gathering in Dallas, a rare reunion to salute one of their own at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Watch it happen live, here:

CHAMBER-STS-021213-4_31060735.JPGState Sen. Napoleon Harris III, pictured on the left in this February photo, pushed through legislation in the Senate Wednesday requiring school districts to cover medical insurance for catastrophic injuries to their athletes. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

SPRINGFIELD-A former NFL player now in the Illinois Senate led the effort Wednesday to ensure high-school athletes who suffer catastrophic injuries will have a way to pay soaring medical bills.

By a 47-7 vote, the Senate approved and sent to the House legislation pushed by state Sen. Napoleon Harris III (D-Flossmoor) that would require school districts for the first time to carry medical insurance for their athletes.

Harris' legislation was inspired by the devastating injury that left Blue Island High School running back Rasul "Rocky" Clark paralyzed and a quadriplegic after having his neck broken in two places. Clark's insurance lapsed in 2012, and he died a short time later.

Harris worked with Clark's mother in pushing for the extended-coverage mandate laid out in his legislation.

"We're happy we were able to come to an agreement so student athletes are covered and so no family, no mother, no parent has to endure the things Ms. Annette Clark has had to," Harris told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Under Harris' plan, schools would have to cover the costs of a policy that would provide a minimum of $3 million in benefits or five years of coverage, whichever comes first, for catastrophic athletic injuries that run up medical costs beyond $50,000.

The Illinois High School Association provides comparable medical insurance for athletes during state tournaments, but no such requirement exists for school districts during the regular season. Harris estimates his plan would cost school districts less than $5 per athlete.

Harris, who played college football at Northwestern University, was a linebacker first drafted by the Oakland Raiders and went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs. He was elected last fall to represent the 15th Senate District, which covers a swath of the south suburbs.

SPRINGFIELD-Anyone caught using social media to trigger a flash-mob attack would face a lengthier prison term under bi-partisan legislation that passed the Illinois Senate Wednesday.

The proposal, whose chief Senate sponsor was Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), cleared the legislative chamber by a 52-0 vote, with one member voting present. The measure now moves to the House.

"I represent North Michigan Avenue and lot of tourist areas heavily impacted by this, but I also represent other areas of the city impacted by this," Raoul said. "In fact blocks away from my home, there was an incident where a young lady was shot when gang members were brought together" through social media.

For the past two years, North Michigan Avenue and sections of River North have been hit by mob attacks, including a late March outbreak of wildings on North Michigan Avenue orchestrated on Facebook and Twitter that involved 400 young people and led to the arrests of 25 juveniles and three adults.

Under Raoul's legislation, Senate Bill 1005, anyone using social media or text-messaging and convicted of engaging in mob action, a class 4 felony, could see their prison sentences extended from one to three years to three to six years.

"If we have a perception it's unsafe to walk on the Magnificent Mile or anywhere else in the state of Illinois without being accosted by teenagers who know how to use social media to gather groups of people together....just to have fun, we have a problem," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), a co-sponsor of the bill. "I think it's important to send a message you cannot use social media to incite, for lack of a better term, mob action."

Raoul said his legislation does not target non-violent social protests.

"That's certainly not the intent," he said.

GANGS-CST-061212_8_27138789.JPGState Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago), pictured in this June 2012 file photo, passed legislation Wednesday that would allow school buses to be equipped with cameras to photograph motorists who drive around stopped buses when students are boarding. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD-Igniting hostile sniping on the Senate floor, a bid to outfit school buses with a similar type of camera that captures red-light scofflaws in some of Chicago's busiest intersections advanced at the Statehouse Wednesday in a controversial safety push to protect students as they board buses.

Despite questions about high fines and constitutionality, the plan sponsored by Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) cleared the state Senate on a 36-12 roll call, with two members voting present, and now moves to the Illinois House.

"This is a safety mechanism," Munoz told colleagues. "This would hopefully be a deterrent for someone going around the school bus."

Under his plan, school districts would be given the authority to partner with cities and counties in equipping school buses with the cameras, which would photograph vehicles and their license plate numbers if they go around a bus with its "stop" arm deployed as students are boarding.

Motorists would face a fine of $150 for a first-time offense and fines of $500 for any subsequent violations. Any motorists ensnared by the bus cameras wouldn't face moving violations as they would if a police officer witnessed them going around a stopped bus.

The plan was pushed by lobbyist Al Ronan, who represents Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 and was a fundraiser for impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Another Ronan client is RedSpeed Illinois, an Illinois-based seller of red-light cameras that has pushed legislation that allowed communities to use its product.

A Republican critic of Munoz' plan, state Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), complained about the cameras' unpopularity in Chicago and Ronan's involvement in pushing the legislation.

Duffy also alluded to a Chicago Tribune report on a federal bribery investigation into Chicago's red-light camera program and a rival purveyor of red-light cameras, Redflex Traffic Systems - a probe Duffy bombastically characterized Wednesday as the "largest scandal in Illinois history."

"It's the same camera company and the same camera lobbyists associated with Gov. Blagojevich and other scandals who's promoting this bill," said state Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), who has been a frequent critic of red-light cameras.

Neither RedSpeed nor Redflex testified in favor of Munoz' bill in Senate committee, legislative records show.

The issue is a personal one for Duffy. In 2010, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) used red light-camera video of Duffy making an illegal turn at a Schaumburg intersection to dramatize the need for allowing red-light camera enforcement in Illinois.

Duffy's statements Wednesday drew a fiery reaction from Munoz, who has accepted $4,500 in contributions from RedSpeed Illinois since 2009.

"Here he stands now, saying there's corruption about cameras, the worse there has ever been and bringing up Blagojevich. We took that matter up, and we know where he is," Munoz said, referring at first to Duffy and then the imprisoned governor.

"You like to go around cameras," Munoz snapped, his voice rising in a direct verbal hit on Duffy. "You drive right through them, you in your fancy car, your fancy suit. You want to bring it up? I can do it too."

Munoz later apologized to the chamber for his outburst.

Friday court hearing set in Jesse Jackson Jr. case

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7-15-05 Jesse L. Jackson Jr. 2120 East 71 St Street. Chicago, Illinois. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr outside his office in 2005. Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times (Ditigal Image)

A status hearing in the Jesse Jackson Jr. criminal case is scheduled for Friday -- days after the Jacksons were assigned a new judge as they face sentencing in the Washington D.C. federal courthouse.

According to court records, a status conference is set for 10 a.m. on Friday before the new judge in the case -- U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

A notation in the court docket says that lawyers can attend by phone and that Jackson's presence, as well as his wife's, is waived. It's typical in federal court that after pleading guilty a defendant doesn't have to show up again until sentencing.

Jesse Jackson Jr., the former South Shore congressman, pleaded guilty to looting his campaign fund with his wife, Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago alderman.

In just a week, a fund set up for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing has exceeded $20 million. The One Fund Boston was set up by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Menino to give financial relief to the more than 200 people injured by the criminal blasts that shook the city as it hosted its renown marathon.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.) sent out an email asking for more support. Here's a copy:

042313br0220.JPGJabari Parker, the Duke-bound forward of Chicago Simeon Career Academy's high-school basketball championship team, addresses the Illinois Senate Tuesday with his coaches and teammates. (Photo/Illinois Senate Democrats)

SPRINGFIELD-Some basketball royalty stood tall in the state Senate Tuesday.

All-American Jabari Parker and his teammates from Chicago Simeon's championship basketball team visited Springfield, drawing praise from state lawmakers five weeks after wrapping up a fourth-straight state title.

"I just want to say to them publicly, 'Thank you, young men, for standing strong for all the young people who look to you as an example of what an athlete can be, an academic and an athlete," said state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), who hosted the team in Springfield.

Parker, a Duke-bound 6-foot-8 forward chosen last month as the Morgan Wootten McDonald's All American national player of the year, was the only member of the team to speak to the Senate.

"Good afternoon everybody. I want to say thanks for letting us join you guys," he said.

"Thank you for the support for our season. We couldn't make it without our friends," Parker said.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday signed into law a measure to save Cook County seniors up to $240 on their next property tax bills, with more modest savings built in for younger homeowners.

The legislation will raise exemptions this year from $4,000 to $5,000 annually for Cook County seniors 65 years and older who pay real estate taxes. The so-called senior homestead exemption will rise by the same amount next year for seniors in other parts of the state.

The increased exemptions are estimated to create annual savings for seniors of $110 in Chicago, $150 in the north suburbs and $240 in the south suburbs, the Cook County Assessor's office said.

"When you're a homeowner you have a stake in the neighborhood," Quinn said Tuesday at the signing ceremony on Chicago's southwest side. "For most of us, the biggest investment we're ever going to make in our whole life is buying a house or buying a condo. It's very, very important that we make sure our property tax system doesn't get out of control and end up taxing people out of their homes."

The first of its kind since 2007, the increased exemption intends to ease the blow of a 7-percent homeowner exemption cap aimed at providing assistance from rising home values that is set to expire in Chicago on the second installment of bills this summer.

"This legislation will offset this loss by increasing the savings currently received from the homeowner and senior exemptions," Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios said Tuesday.

The new law - which cleared the House on April 11 by a 109-2 vote after passing unanimously in the Senate - will also save younger taxpayers money. The exemption for non-senior Cook County residents will rise from $6,000 to $7,000 annually and is estimated to save homeowners $55 in Chicago, $75 in the north suburbs and $120 in the south suburbs per year, the assessor's office said.

Chicago homeowners will start to see savings on their second-installment bills this summer when the 7-percent savings expire. And suburban homeowners on the north and south sides will see similar savings in 2014 and 2015, respectively, when the 7-percent exemption sunsets for them.

"This new legislation is a significant achievement, but there is still much work to be done," Berrios said.

amazon_apr23.jpgThose bundle of Alf DVDs or Choose Your Adventure books you love to buy from Amazon in bulk may soon cost you more thanks to a new bill in the U.S. Senate. The bill would empower states' abilities to force Internet retailers to collect state and local taxes on purchases made via the web. Right now, states can only do such a thing if that retailer has a physical presence in that state. But the bill has a majority support in the Senate - which voted by a 3-to-1 ratio to take up the bill - and from the White House who sees those tax dollars as money that can be spent towards things like education and police funding.

Opponents of the bill insist there are enough guidelines to protect small businesses (businesses that bring in less than $1 million in revenue in less than a year are exempt) and the bill faces stiffer competition in the House where some Republicans see this as yet another dreaded tax increase. It's also pitting online entities against each other, with eBay opposing the bill but Amazon in full support of it.

Our own Sen. Durbin points out the ease with which businesses would be able to comply.

From the AP:

States must provide free computer software to help retailers calculate sales taxes, based on where shoppers live. States must also establish a single entity to receive Internet sales tax revenue, so retailers don't have to send them to individual counties or cities.

"We're way beyond the quill pen and ledger days," Durbin said. "Thanks to computers and thanks to software it is not that complex."

Start setting aside extra cash, though, just in case the bill passes. This is Illinois, after all.

AP Photo/Reno Gazette-Journal, Andy Barron

While in Chicago on Monday, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) was asked if the
bombings in Boston were a deterrent to the issue he was here to push: immigration reform.

Ryan said it was the opposite.

"I would say for the sake of our national security, we want to modernize our immigration laws. We do not even know how to track people who overstay their visas. We need a modern immigration system that helps us not only protect our border but protects national security in all of its aspects," Ryan said in a Q & A session with reporters. "So if anything, I would say this is an argument for modernizing our immigration laws. We need it for national security, we need it for our economy."

Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) said the federal government spends $18 billion a year enforcing immigration laws -- more than it spends on the FBI.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday he felt comfortable being in Washington D.C. during last week's flood disaster because he has a team in place that handled the emergency just fine.

If there's a lesson to be learned from the Boston Marathon bombing, it's the value of having a "well-rehearsed, well-conceived" emergency medical plan to deal with mass casualties, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday.

Tenets of immigration reform under Ryan/Gutierrez

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Employees would have to go through a verification system that's put in place to make sure they're legal. Gutierrez says it will be enforced like the IRS enforces filing tax returns.


Granting a legal way for seasonal workers to temporarily work in country.


Those who want a path to citizenship would have to pay back taxes for the years they lived in the country illegally.


A system would be put in place that tracks down port of entry -- and date of exit manifests. This would keep tabs on those who overstay their Visas.

While in Chicago today, onetime Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) declared that fixing a broken immigration system was key to safeguarding the country's economy and security.

Ryan and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) paired up to promote Congress' next big battle, with Ryan predicting it would take the bulk of the summer to hammer out an agreement suitable to both sides of the aisle.

When asked about the Boston Marathon bombings, Ryan again pointed to a need for reforming the system, saying it is a national security matter.

Ryan's argument: new legislation he and Gutierrez back would keep track of immigrant Visas and when they expire.

Ryan and Gutierrez appeared together at two events on Monday; the Erie Neighborhood House, followed by a talk at the City Club of Chicago.

This morning, a Mariachi band guided the two -- an unlikely political pair -- into the Erie Neighborhood House, where immigration rights groups, clergy, and others convened to rally behind substantial changes in the law that would give more immigrants a path to citizenship.

Gutierrez, a known national leader on immigration rights, said he and Ryan struck up a connection over their shared Catholic faith.

"Right now, we all must acknowledge that we have an immigration system that's broken," Ryan said. "It is not serving our interests as a nation. Our broken immigration system does not serve our national security interests. Our broken immigration system does not serve our economic security interests. Our broken immigration system does not serve our family interests ..."We need to fix it."

Gutierrez said though he campaigned hard against the Ryan/Romney ticket, Ryan held no hard feelings when last year's presidential election. When the two saw one another again afterward: "The first words out of his mouth were: 'It's good to see you again, Luis," according to Gutierrez.

When Ryan's remarks came to a close, the crowd began chanting "Si, se puede!" as the Mariachi band played "Cielito Lindo." One person waved a banner that read "Gracias Ryan," with Paul Ryan's photo in the middle.

This morning immigration rights activist and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) will share the microphone with an unlikely collaborator -- Tea Party darling Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The two are joining up to call on an immigration reform package to advance in Washington.

First, they'll appear at the Erie House at 10 a.m. Gutierrez and Ryan -- Mitt Romney's pick as his vice president candidate in the 2012 election -- will talk with an anticipated group of more than 200 about what's needed to change immigration.

They'll later join up for a talk in front of the City Club of Chicago this afternoon.

Having Ryan join up with Gutierrez is another clear sign that Republicans are increasingly realizing they must move away from a reputation as a party of exclusion.

"Congressmen Gutierrez and Ryan may come from different states, political parties, and points of view on many issues, but they are working together to make sure the House of Representatives moves forward towards reform to strengthen the American economy, and live up to our values as a nation of immigrants, a nation of laws, and a nation that honors families," said a statement on the event.

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House on Friday voted to give employers more authority over employees' online activity by allowing employers to request access to personal Internet accounts.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), passed by a 68-36 margin, with two voting present, and now moves to the Senate.

Durkin's measure would allow employees to request - but not require - employees and prospective employees to disclose usernames and passwords used to access accounts either provided by the employer or used for business purposes, including information for social networking websites like Facebook.

The measure aims to protect businesses' trade secrets and intellectual property and maintain safe work environments, Durkin said.

"It states that an employer who is provided with specific information - perhaps which could cause a disturbance or even some type of active workplace violence - it gives them the ability to perform their due diligence to try to identify the source of some potential outbreak of harm," Durkin said.

The proposal amends more stringent, previously passed legislation sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) that bars employers from requesting the information.

"I think that when you open this up to an employer - that's already at a level above the employee - I think that it broods fear to the employee that if they refuse to give the password to the employer that there could be repercussions," Ford contested.

However, Durkin's bill would forbid employers from penalizing or firing an employee or refusing to hire a prospective employee for refusing to give up his or her online account information.

"This bill merely allows [employers] to ask the question without any fear of retribution or any type of punishment," Durkin said.

GUNS-CST-022313-15_31900479.JPGTodd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association pictured here during a February hearing on concealed-carry legislation, is unclear what happens now that the House rejected an NRA-backed bill that would let Illinoisans carry their guns in public. | John H. White~Sun-Times

With reporting by Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-Here's a transcript of the question-and-answer session National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde had late Thursday with the Statehouse press corps after the defeat of an NRA-backed concealed-carry bill in the House:

Q: What's the next step?
A: "I don't know. Right now, we're going to have to step back and see what the roll call looked like. We had more people telling us that they were inclined to vote for this version with some changes that there were. Obviously, we made movements, and I don't know what else to say."

Q: What else can you give?
A: "We're going to stick to 'shall issue.' We're going to stick to the preemption clause. Chicago's not going to get their own permitting system. You know, I don't know. I guess there are enough people that think they're not going to vote for anything and that the best thing to do is to go over the cliff."

"A lot of us were drug kicking and screaming to some of the changes, but the object was to pass a bill. And it was to pass a good bill. And so we made an end run at it, but it seems no matter how far we negotiate and we move, it never seems to be enough for certain people. So I'm not sure if there's much left for us to talk about. We've proved that we can kill a bad bill, and if the Senate offers up bad language, we'll do the same thing we did here in the House. We'll kill it because I don't think it does Rep. Phelps or any other hardcore supporter to go back home saying that they got a quarter of a loaf instead of a whole loaf."

Q: What happens on June 9?
A: "If nothing happens, the likelihood is that we're going to have a court injunction. And if you've got a valid FOID card, you're going to be able to carry a firearm in this state. The court won't write a carry law. They have a very specific purpose, and that is to find the UUW statute in the state of Illinois unconstitutional and issue an injunction against the state's enforcement of that law. That's the court's role in this. Then you might see some municipalities try to do their own thing but they are likely to face the same hurdles that the state has."

A group called Organizing For Action-Illinois plans a Saturday demonstration in Federal Plaza that's not the usual protest held at Adams and Dearborn.
It's a thank you, the group says, to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), one of only four Republicans to vote for background checks legislation that ultimately failed.

"The group intends to let the Senator know that his constituents support him in standing up to powerful special interests and that they appreciate his strong stance in favor of universal background checks," a statement from the group reads. "This event is just one of dozens occurring nationally, specifically targeting Senators who crossed partisan lines to do the right thing. State groups from all across the country are thanking or shaming their Senators on this day."

GUNS_CONCEALED_CARRY_38610519.JPGIllinois Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), lead sponsor of concealed-carry legislation that failed Thursday, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

With reporting by Natasha Korecki and Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-Legislation backed by gun-rights advocates that would allow Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons went down Thursday in the House, leaving the spring legislative debate over concealed-carry at a stalemate.

Legislation backed by the National Rifle Association and pushed by Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) failed on a 64-45 roll call, with four voting present. The bill needed 71 votes to pass the House.

"This could be our last chance to pass something by June 9th," Phelps said, referring to the federal appeals court deadline imposed on Illinois to pass a concealed-carry law.

Coming up with a concealed-carry law has been one of this spring's dominant legislative issues after the appeals court last December tossed Illinois' outright prohibition on gun owners carrying their weapons in public. Illinois and the District of Columbia are the only places in America without a concealed-carry law.

Phelps, who kept the failed legislation alive through a parliamentary maneuver, and other supporters described his legislation as the strictest concealed-carry rules in the country, where 49 other states already permit their residents to carry guns outside their homes.

"The bad guys already have the guns," Phelps argued. "We're setting up the make sure the good guys have the guns."

RELATED: Appeals court overturns Illinois concealed carry ban

SPRINGFIELD-With almost no debate, the Illinois Senate Thursday passed the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, which would prohibit law enforcement from using unmanned aircrafts to gather information with a few exceptions.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), rolled out of the Senate by a 52-1 vote and now moves to the House.

"I think this is a common-sense regulation," Biss said. "I think the people of Illinois have a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Police could use drones in certain cases such as to counter a terrorist attack, locate a missing person or gather information specifically for crime scenes and traffic crash scene photography. Police would have to demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant first and would be required to disclose how many drones they own.

"The technology available to law enforcement agencies is evolving rapidly," Biss said in a prepared statement. "I want Illinois to take a proactive approach -- recognizing that drones can make police work more efficient and keep officers out of harm's way, but also acknowledging the potential threat they pose to individual liberties."

Video: Dick Durbin on gun reform: 'This is not the end.'

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At a news appearance on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said "this is not the end" and called on members to find "political courage" to pass sensible gun safety legislation.
The news conference was held after the U.S. Senate defeated a bipartisan measure that aimed to strengthen background checks. It was designed after the tragic December school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
"We have to do what we can to spare another family from this grief," Durbin said.

"To the families and victims of the shootings in Newtown, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, and the victims of gun violence in cities and towns like Chicago and East St. Louis across America - You deserved better than what you got today," Durbin said on Wednesday. "But we're not done fighting. We didn't have the votes we needed to overcome a filibuster today, but America, with your help we will get this common sense reform done."

SPRINGFIELD-Even while the two were once roommates, Gov. Pat Quinn was anything but chummy Wednesday toward Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his media campaign to lure Illinois businesses to the Lone Star State.

"I know him. I can give you three reasons why he's wrong - one, two and three," Quinn told reporters Wednesday after announcing a transportation improvement plan. "I was his roommate, and we went to Iraq and Afghanistan. He's a big talker, and I think people saw that in the presidential campaign."

Perry has launched ads on multiple Chicago radio stations and has bought ads in Crain's Chicago Business this week to "help businesses learn more about the Lone Star State's low taxes, predictable regulations, fair courts and skilled workforce," a statement from Perry's office said.

A marketing firm called TexasOne paid for Perry's ads, which Perry's office said cost more than $80,000 in total. The Texan governor plans to travel to Chicago on Monday to meet with business leaders in the biotechnology and financial industries.

"This is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and I have a word of advice for employers frustrated by Illinois' short-sighted approach to business: you need to get out while there's still time," Perry said in a prepared statement. "The escape route leads straight to Texas, where limited government, low taxes and a pro-business environment are creating more jobs than any other state."

On Wednesday, Quinn begged to differ.

"Companies are coming to Illinois...because of our highly skilled, educated workforce, because of our excellent transportation, because of a government that works with companies," he said. "Those are all good things, and we know how to do it in Illinois. We don't need any advice from Gov. Perry."

But after taking a couple of political jabs at Perry, Quinn refused to answer an equally, if not less, political question regarding potential Democratic primary challenger Attorney General Lisa Madigan's substantial funding lead over him.

"I'm not going to get into political things," Quinn said. "I said that the other day."

Instead, Quinn took the opportunity to remark on Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon, saying "public safety is really what we should focus on."

"...I think all of Illinois, all of America, we're with the people of Boston and the people who were at that race. So I think that's the important thing to keep in mind right now."

Following a vote devastating to gun reform advocates, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk - one of the few Republican Senators who crossed over to support the initiative -- called Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy as well as Gabby Giffords' husband Mark Kelly.

According to a Kirk staffer, the senator expressed to them, essentially: 'Hey we tried, we'll keep fighting."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to tip his hand Wednesday on whether he wants to build a new basketball arena for the DePaul Blue Demons near McCormick Place or whether he favors an arena closer to the school's Lincoln Park campus.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday dismissed as a political "cop-out" claims that Congress must choose between expanding federal background checks and passing immigration reform.

Rahm: Of course my brother is helping me raise money

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday dismissed as no big deal, the Hollywood fundraising pipeline laid by his super-agent brother that has turned into gold for the mayor once again.

SPRINGFIELD-A bid to legalize marijuana for a litany of serious ailments and diseases narrowly passed the House Wednesday in a major move that could make Illinois the 19th state to permit the plant's medical use.

"I know every single one of you has compassion in your heart. This is the day to show it," said Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill's chief House sponsor. "This is a day to get beyond politics. This is the day to get beyond elections. This is a day to talk about your constituents."

As wheelchair-bound advocates and others watched from the crowded House gallery, the chamber voted 61-57 to send the plan to the Illinois Senate, which approved a similar version in 2009.

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn signaled he was "open-minded" about the plan, suggesting a willingness to sign the legislation if it gets to his desk later this year.

Opponents lined up against Lang's legislation, saying that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes would pave the way to broader legalization of pot in Illinois and steer young people into a life of drug addiction.

"I really believe we're making a mistake if we pass this legislation," said Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica), a former FBI agent who said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should sign off on pot's medical use if it truly is a legitimate healthcare option.

The FDA has not so, though President Barack Obama's administration has urged federal prosecutors not to go after legal users in states that allow medicinal marijuana.

Under Lang's plan, users would have to suffer from one of 33 ailments or diseases, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and ALS, and have a doctor's prescription before they would be allowed to purchase and possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana during a 14-day period.

His legislation would authorize 22 growers across Illinois and permit 60 dispensaries where users could purchase the plant.

"Our goal is simple, to provide a quality of life for people with a product that can't hurt them," Lang said after more than 75 minutes of debate.


SPRINGFIELD-After extensive debate, Illinois House members Wednesday voted to include abstinence-based sexual education in the state's public schools that teach the subject for grades six through 12.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago), emphasizes "that abstinence from sexual intercourse is a responsible and positive decision and is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against unwanted teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and [AIDS] when transmitted sexually."

Despite Republican concerns that the measure goes too far in taking local control away from schools and that some children may be too young to be taught sex education, the bill passed by a 66-52 margin and now moves to the Senate.

"Where do we stop with this? Where on earth do we stop with this?" Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill) implored.

"This bill goes too far. We're teaching too young of kids too much."

But Lilly said local school districts would determine their own curricula using guidelines set by the Illinois State Board of Education that are "developmentally and age-appropriate, medically accurate and complete." She said sixth graders, for instance, could learn to identify reproductive parts, while students couldn't learn about contraceptives until high school.

"We do not want sex education to be taught to children at an inappropriate age," Lilly said. "This legislation brings standards to what is going to be taught and approved by each of the individual educational boards."

Lilly's bill would also allow parents to remove their children from the class for any reason with a written objection.

"The school and the school officials approve every curriculum here in their particular school system," Lilly said. "And also the parents have the ability to opt out of whatever was approved by the school officials."

But at least one House member thought the bill lacked any real teeth because of the opt-out provision.

"What this seeks to do is always provide more, always expand everything," Rep Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) said. "I'm not exactly sure what problems this will solve if people can opt out."

Meanwhile, the legislation received high praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Planned Parenthood of Illinois and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

"This is a good day for young people in the state," said Khadine Bennett, legislative counsel for ACLU-IL, in a prepared statement. "Thanks to Rep. Lilly's leadership, public school students in grades six to 12 are one step closer to receiving age-appropriate sexual health education."

Mark Kirk sits down with Newtown families

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U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) met today with parents of children killed in the Newtown school shooting massacre this afternoon in Washington as the Senate is poised to vote on a series of gun bills.

"He believes it is essential to know the stories of victim's families and learn about the victims themselves," Trover said of Kirk.

Newtown parents have been meeting with a series of Senators over the last several weeks.

In another victim visit aimed at having an impact on the direction of gun legislation, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly met with Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a moderate Democrat with whom Kirk is close and who led the effort to strike a gun deal compromise.

Kirk has taken an aggressive approach on curbing gun violence, including helping craft legislation that would take aim at gun traffickers and voicing support for background check expansion. He has also long supported an assault weapon ban.

"Sen. Kirk has been a major proponent of fighting dangerous drug gangs who are terrorizing our neighborhoods - and fighting for universal background checks and tougher penalties for straw purchasing is a part of that fight. Beyond his work to fight these gangs, he was greatly troubled by the Newtown tragedy," Trover said. "He looks forward to meeting with the families affected by this horrible event and hearing ways he can help to curb violence in our country."

Last month, Kirk told the Sun-Times he named a section of new legislation after Chicago victim Hadiya Pendleton in the hope it would give the measure, which aimed to curb trafficking, a greater chance of passage.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with Newtown families last Thursday morning. The families have been lobbying on Capitol Hill in advance of the Senate votes.

A series of votes are expected at 4 p.m. ET today.


Here's a photo of Sen. Mark Kirk meeting with families of victims from the Newton shooting.

MEDICAL_MARIJUANA_QUINN_38586807.JPGGov. Pat Quinn answers reporters' questions Wednesday, April 17, 2013 in his office in Springfield, Ill.

SPRINGFIELD-After declining to take a public stance on the issue, Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday he is "open-minded" to legalizing medical marijuana in Illinois.

"I'm open-minded on that," Quinn told reporters in his office. "In this very room I had a veteran come in and several of his friends a while back. He was suffering from war wounds and found definite help by medical use of marijuana. And so I was quite impressed by his heartfelt feeling. You know, the Legislature has to vote on the bill, but I'm certainly open-minded to it."

The Illinois House is expected to vote on legalizing pot for the chronically or terminally ill Wednesday, said its lead sponsor, state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie).

"I am hopeful of passage," Lang told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday morning.

Lang also told the Sun-Times last week he is "quite certain" Quinn would sign the bill if it reaches his desk. Yet, Quinn insists he will need to see a final product before he can endorse the legislation.

"I think we'll watch what the Legislature does today," Quinn said Wednesday. "Lou Lang is a very good friend. He's a very good sponsor. I've talked to Lou along the way about many bills. He's a fellow who understands how to pass laws, and I think if he needs help he'll let me know."

Meanwhile, Quinn also said a decision on gambling expansion in Illinois shouldn't be made until the state's pension crisis is solved.

"Pension reform is paramount," he said. "This is the issue that we must address and resolve between now and May 31, and we can. The bipartisan bill that passed the House, we need to keep moving on that one."

While the House has yet to actually pass a comprehensive pension reform bill, it has passed piecemeal measures last month to cap the salaries at which pensions can be calculated, increase retirement ages for employees under age 45, and limit compounding annual cost-of-living increases for all state retirees except judges.

Even with just more than a month and a half for the Legislature to act on pensions before the session ends, Quinn is optimistic.

"I think watching events here in Springfield over many years that lots can be done in six weeks," he said. "We want to have six weeks to change the world for Illinois."

MEDICAL_MARIJUANA_QUINN_38586805.JPGGov. Pat Quinn announces a $12.62 billion statewide transportation construction program at his office in Springfield, Ill. on Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday announced a six-year, multi-billion transportation project with nearly $500 million to upgrade Chicago's Circle Interchange, though the project's fate remains uncertain as lawmakers still need to approve $2.7 billion of the funds.

Accompanied by Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider at the Capitol, Quinn proposed $1.12 billion for high-speed rail from Joliet to St. Louis, nearly $700 million in upgrades to the CTA Red Line, more than $600 million for METRA and nearly $50 million to connect I-57 and I-294 in the South suburbs.

All told, Quinn estimates the plan will cost $12.62 billion and create roughly 140,000 jobs across the state through 2019.

"Our economy depends on our location and our transportation, and over the last five years since I've been governor, we've invested more money in transportation than in any five-year period in Illinois history," Quinn told reporters.

The plan calls for improvements to 2,142 miles of highway and to 517 bridges across the state with funding coming from $7.2 billion in anticipated federal funds and $1.9 billion from the state treasury. However, additional bond authorization will need to make up much of the difference, and the Legislature will need to authorize $2.7 billion in funds by May 31.

But Quinn's call to issue additional bonds isn't expected to be easy considering the state's rocky financial status since Illinois became the nation's least credit-worthy state in January.

Following that credit downgrade, the state was forced to delay a $500 million bond issue to be used for state road, school and construction projects. In order for the Legislature to pass a new bond issuance, 60 percent of members in both the House and the Senate will need to approve the idea.

"I've talked to our legislative leaders," Quinn said. "I think they understand how important it is to pass that."

As lawmakers continue to craft a 2014 budget, Quinn's plan would allocate for next year roughly $2.24 billion for road projects, $128 million for public transit, $224 million for rail and $68 million for airports in Peoria, Rockford and Springfield.

On the top of Quinn's list seemed to be making the improvements at the I-90/94 and I-290 Circle Interchange in downtown Chicago.

"It's a spaghetti bowl that's been around now for 50 or 60 years. It's reached its life expectancy and it really needs to be brought up to 21st century standards," Quinn said.

Jesse Jackson Jr. gets new sentencing judge

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Disgraced former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. now has a new judge who will handle his sentencing in late June.

Court records show that the case has been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

The previous judge, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, earlier raised the issue that he had known the Jackson family and even had done some work on the Rev. Jesse Jackson's campaign for president.
Jackson resigned last year amid a federal investigation and pleaded guilty to bribery charges in February.

Jackson's sentencing is set for June 28.

Wilkins issued this statement in the court record in February to flag his ties to the Jackson family. He said though he did work for the Rev. Jackson, he could remain impartial. "The Court does not have any bias or personal interest in this case based on these circumstances,
and one could certainly argue, based on the precedent cited above, that these circumstances do
not fall into the category in which a reasonable, well-informed person "might reasonably
question" the Court's impartiality," Wilkins wrote then.

However, the court docket entry on Tuesday noted that the case had been "randomly" reassigned.

Here is how Wilkins described his ties to the Jackson family.
"In 1988, while a law student, Judge Wilkins served as a co-chair of
Harvard Law School students supporting the presidential campaign of Rev. Jesse
L. Jackson, Sr., and on October 24, 1988, Judge Wilkins introduced Rev. Jackson
when he came to speak at a campus event supporting the presidential candidacy of
Governor Michael Dukakis. On March 21, 1999, while an attorney, Judge
Wilkins appeared as a guest on a show hosted by Rev. Jackson on the CNN
network entitled "Both Sides with Jesse Jackson" to discuss a civil rights lawsuit
in which Judge Wilkins was a plaintiff. Judge Wilkins believes that he has
spoken to Rev. Jackson only on these two occasions, and he does not believe that
he has ever met or spoken to the two defendants in these cases."

Here's the Docket entry reassigning the judge:
Case as to JESSE L. JACKSON, JR randomly reassigned to Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Judge Robert L. Wilkins no longer assigned to the case. (gt, ) (Entered: 04/16/2013)

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to cut short a GOP attempt to filibuster the current gun bill on the floor. Debate on the bill is underway and a vote is expected this afternoon at 2pm (Chicago time) though proponents of the bill are worried there aren't enough votes to get it passed.

Find live video below of events on the Senate floor.


Sen. Mark Kirk will talk with Newtown families Wednesday. | AP file

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is to meet with parents of children killed in the Newtown school shooting massacre this afternoon in Washington as the Senate is poised to vote on a series of gun bills, his spokesman Lance Trover confirmed.

"He believes it is essential to know the stories of victim's families and learn about the victims themselves," Trover said of Kirk.

Newtown parents have been meeting with a series of Senators over the last several weeks.

In another victim visit aimed at having an impact on the direction of gun legislation, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly met with Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) a moderate Democrat with whom Kirk is close and who led the effort to strike a gun deal compromise.

Kirk has taken an aggressive approach on curbing gun violence, including helping craft legislation that would take aim at gun traffickers and voicing support for background check expansion. He has also long supported an assault weapon ban.

"Sen. Kirk has been a major proponent of fighting dangerous drug gangs who are terrorizing our neighborhoods - and fighting for universal background checks and tougher penalties for straw purchasing is a part of that fight. Beyond his work to fight these gangs, he was greatly troubled by the Newtown tragedy," Trover said. "He looks forward to meeting with the families affected by this horrible event and hearing ways he can help to curb violence in our country."

Last month, Kirk told the Sun-Times he named a section of new legislation after Chicago victim Hadiya Pendleton in the hope it would give the measure, which aimed to curb trafficking, a greater chance of passage.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with Newtown families last Thursday morning. The families have been lobbying on Capitol Hill in advance of the Senate votes.

A series of votes are expected at 4 p.m. ET today.

DART-CST-010113-2_30830637.JPGLegislation pushed by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to reform and strengthen the enforcement provisions of the state's Firearm Owner's Identification Card (FOID) system appears to be building steam in Springfield. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD-Both sides of the gun-control debate could be headed for a rare agreement at the Statehouse on a push by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to get guns out of the hands of felons and the seriously mentally ill.

His plan would require gun owners to surrender their state-issued Firearm Owners Identification Cards within 48 hours of being notified they were ineligible to possess a gun because of being convicted of a felony or domestic violence or being judged mentally ill.

A top gun-rights advocate told the Chicago Sun-Times late Tuesday that his "intuition" was an agreement could be reached on the issue with gun-control supporters.

In Cook County, about 5,000 people have had their state gun permits revoked by the Illinois State Police, making them ineligible to buy weapons. But only about 1,000 have actually turned in the cards, leaving them able to buy ammunition at will, Dart's office said.

Under the sheriff's measure, those who had their permits taken away also would have to account for where their weapons would be maintained during the period of time their FOID cards were revoked.

Additionally, the legislation would empower police for the first time to obtain search warrants against anyone suspected of not surrendering their FOID cards or accounting for their weapons if their cards were revoked.

"We spend so much time talking about the gun issue on a lot of different levels, but here you have something where there should be no debate on anyone's part," Dart told the Chicago Sun-Times during an interview in Springfield, where he hosted a fundraiser Tuesday evening.

"People clearly aren't supposed to have a gun because they've been criminally convicted or have a serious mental illness. But our system, if it were to work perfectly, just prohibits them from buying new guns. It does nothing about their old guns -- literally nothing. And that is one of the most absurd things I've ever seen," Dart said.

The plan is not drawing outright opposition from gun-rights advocates, who said a deal could be within sight in the state Senate, where state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) is overseeing gun legislation this spring.

Both Raoul and Dart are mulling potential runs next year for attorney general if Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan challenges Gov. Pat Quinn. Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon also has been mentioned as a possibility for the state's top law-enforcment post.

"I've had a couple of conversations with the sponsor, and we're trying to work through the issues. I think we agree that picking up revoked FOID cards is something that needs to be addressed. We're just trying to figure out the mechanisms and protections," said Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

"My intuition at this point, based on a conversation I've had with the sponsor, is I think we'll be able to reach an agreement on stuff. At least I'm hopeful," Vandermyde said late Tuesday.

Rahm Avoids Round 3 with Karen Lewis

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already gone toe-to-toe with Chicago Teachers Union Karen Lewis on the seven-day teachers strike and on the mayor's plan to close 53 elementary schools. He's not eager for Round 3.

From January 1 through Tuesday Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised more money from California donations than from supporters in Chicago. Here are his total amounts raised by ZIP code in the Chicago area:

SPRINGFIELD-Amid concerns the idea could strengthen gangs, the Illinois House passed legislation Tuesday to increase the age at which minors charged with low-level felonies could be kept separate from adults in jail and be tried in juvenile court.

The proposal passed the House by an 89-26 vote and would change the definition of a delinquent minor to include people who were under 18 - instead of 17 - at the time the person committed a felony.

"What it would do for a low-level felon is give them an opportunity to be treated in juvenile court where there are services available and to encourage those kids to move beyond a life of crime," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), the bill's chief sponsor.

However, under-18 felons who commit more serious felonies such as first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault or armed robbery with a firearm among others would still be tried in adult court.

According to Currie, similar measures exist in 38 other states, and her bill has support from the Illinois state's attorneys, the Illinois State Bar Association, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

At least one suburban Republican thought the measure would place a new advantage in the hands of gang members.

"As soon as this bill passes gangs will now use 17 year-olds to do more of the dirty work they couldn't do before...And they will know that their punishment is they will go to a juvenile detention home," Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) said.

"They aren't children. As a matter of fact they are quite intuitive. They are very genius. The gangs know this."

But some Downstate Republicans came to the measure's support.

"This is in my opinion a common sense piece of legislation...The fact remains that not all of Illinois is dealing with significant gang problems," Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica) said. "There are many rural areas across the state of Illinois where many young people have an opportunity to be rehabbed."

The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.


Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release April 15, 2013


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

6:11 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Earlier today, I was briefed by my homeland security team on the events in Boston. We're continuing to monitor and respond to the situation as it unfolds. And I've directed the full resources of the federal government to help state and local authorities protect our people, increase security around the United States as necessary, and investigate what happened.

The American people will say a prayer for Boston tonight. And Michelle and I send our deepest thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims in the wake of this senseless loss.

We don't yet have all the answers. But we do know that multiple people have been wounded, some gravely, in explosions at the Boston Marathon.

I've spoken to FBI Director Mueller and Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano, and they're mobilizing the appropriate resources to investigate and to respond.

I've updated leaders of Congress in both parties, and we reaffirmed that on days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats -- we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens.

I've also spoken with Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino, and made it clear that they have every single federal resource necessary to care for the victims and counsel the families. And above all, I made clear to them that all Americans stand with the people of Boston.

Boston police, firefighters, and first responders as well as the National Guard responded heroically, and continue to do so as we speak. It's a reminder that so many Americans serve and sacrifice on our behalf every single day, without regard to their own safety, in dangerous and difficult circumstances. And we salute all those who assisted in responding so quickly and professionally to this tragedy.

We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn't jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But make no mistake -- we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this; we'll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.

Today is a holiday in Massachusetts -- Patriots' Day. It's a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation. And it's a day that draws the world to Boston's streets in a spirit of friendly competition. Boston is a tough and resilient town. So are its people. I'm supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together, take care of each other, and move forward as one proud city. And as they do, the American people will be with them every single step of the way.

You should anticipate that as we get more information, our teams will provide you briefings. We're still in the investigation stage at this point. But I just want to reiterate we will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable.

Thank you very much.

END 6:14 P.M. EDT


Illinois House approves fine for tossing cigarettes

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SPRINGFIELD-Illinois smokers will be charged $50 every time they're caught tossing out their cigarette butts in public if legislation that passed the Illinois House Monday becomes law.

The idea, sponsored by Rep. Deb Mell (D-Chicago), passed the House by a 71-45 roll call, and now moves to be weighed in the Senate.

The relatively short debate mostly focused on what exactly constitutes a cigarette and whether smokers would still be allowed to ash their cigarettes in public. Mell conceded that her bill would still allow people to smoke and ash their cigarettes, but they would have to put them out at designated places.

"I think we all know what a cigarette is," Mell said. "There's far too many on our streets and our roads, and this just tries to clean that up."

But at least one opponent of the bill thought the regulation much too Orwellian.

"This is almost unbelievable. A $50 fine for throwing your cigarette on the ground," Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill) said. "I think it's distasteful. I don't smoke, but where are we going to stop with that. We've got a lot more important things to talk about here than fines for a cigarette toss."

Federal source: Most bomb-makers stick to one design

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Federal law enforcement sources say as authorities investigate, they take into account the possibility that it's a terrorist attack -- that includes possibly domestic -- until the Joint Terrorism Task Force can rule that out.
Earlier today, investigators worked to simultaneously look for other devices designed to hurt first responders or others.

They also were working to collect videos from every possible location -- that's an effort that will likely go on for several days. They also are working to identify witnesses.

Some law enforcement believe the key behind finding those responsible is collecting pieces of the detonated devices and matching those up with those law enforcement recovered before they went off. The bomb remnants could have ended up in a variety of places, like rooftops, so the combing could take some time.

"They will look for the pieces," said one law enforcement source who asked not to be named. "Then when they reconstruct the device they will try to match it up to other, known, signatures of bomb makers to see if there is a link to anyone under investigation or other bombs that have been examined. Most bomb makers stick with a single design and use it repeatedly."

In a brief statement, President Obama vowed to find the person or people responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing and urged Americans not to "jump to conclusions before we have all the facts."

"We still do not know who did this or why," Obama said in a White House press briefing.

Obama said "every federal resource necessary" will be used to find those behind the attack and to help those who were injured. Three were killed and more than 90 injured after two explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line.

"Make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this and we will find out who did this and we will find out why they did this," the president said. "Any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice."

From the White House:

The President will deliver a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room. The President's remarks will be open press.

6:10PM (ET) THE PRESIDENT delivers a statement

Brady Press Briefing Room

Open Press

Rahm Emanuel personally called the Mayor of Boston to offer support after the deadly explosions in Boston.

"I called Mayor Thomas Menino this afternoon to convey support from the people of Chicago. During this time of tragedy and uncertainty, the people of Boston are in our thoughts and prayers."

"The running of the Boston Marathon and Patriots Day are time-honored traditions. While the details of today's tragedy are still unclear, one thing was immediately known: the patriotism and professionalism of public servants and first responders. Our hearts go out the first responders, runners, volunteers and spectators in Boston today."

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn, already vowing to seek re-election next year, said Monday his possible 2014 primary opponent, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, should appeal a federal ruling that struck down Illinois' prohibition on carrying concealed weapons.

Quinn's comments came after he took the stage before a group of Illinois Realtors, following an earlier speech by the three-term attorney general.

The governor's focus on guns while speaking with reporters afterwards ramped up pressure on the attorney general to appeal December's federal appeals court ruling mandating concealed carry in Illinois to the U.S. Supreme Court. To date, Madigan hasn't made her intentions known.

"I think the case was wrongly decided by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and I would like to see that reversed, and the only way to do that is with an appeal," Quinn said. "I hope the attorney general reconsiders that."

Earlier, Madigan said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday not to overturn New York's highly restrictive concealed-carry law would "obviously influence our continuing review of the situation here in Illinois." But she wouldn't divulge whether she intends to appeal the federal appeals ruling mandating state lawmakers to craft a concealed-carry law in Illinois by early June.

Encouraging Madigan to appeal that decision was as far into the still murky waters of the 2014 gubernatorial campaign Quinn would wade Monday, refusing to acknowledge their appearance one after the other before one of Illinois' most clout-heavy interest groups could be an early look at the next year's primary.

Quinn dodged questions about Madigan's brisk fundraising, which has her on a pace well ahead of him going into next year's campaigns, and on whether it would be bad for the state Democratic Party for anyone to challenge the incumbent governor.

"I really don't really think partisan politics is appropriate, especially on this day where we still have facts to be known, something very serious in the state of Massachusetts that harmed the people of our country," the governor told reporters. "We should take that very seriously."

The White House says President Barack Obama has called Boston's mayor and the Massachusetts governor to express his concern for those injured in the Boston Marathon explosions.

Obama is quoted as telling Mayor Tom Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick that his administration would provide whatever support was needed in responding to the incident.

The president was briefed on the explosions by Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco shortly after 3 p.m., Eastern time.

Shortly after the explosions, Secret Service shut down Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House, cordoning off the area with yellow police tape. Several Secret Service patrol cars also blocked off the entry points to the road.

The White House was not on lockdown and tourists and other onlookers were still able to be in the park across the street from the executive mansion.

From the Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD-Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan continued to show the steeliness of a world-class poker player Monday by refusing to show her hand on whether she intends to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn next year.

Madigan said she still hasn't made up her mind about her up-in-the-air gubernatorial ambitions in 2014 but refused to take the bait about whether she thinks the unpopular incumbent has done a good job.

"I think I'm going to continue focusing on my job performance and making sure I'm the best attorney general in the country," Madigan said when asked to comment on Quinn's standing in polls that show him as one of the second-least popular governor in the country.

Pressed on why she thought voters had such a sour view on Quinn as he heads into a certain re-election bid, Madigan answered tartly, "You should ask the voters that."

Madigan has been on a major fund-raising kick and holds a commanding lead over Quinn in terms of the size of their respective campaign warchests. Earlier this month, she reported raising $751,815 during the first quarter of this year, giving her potentially $3.6 million in her campaign fund.

Quinn raised about $550,000 during the same period, adding to the $1.06 million he had on hand at the end of last year.

Madigan wouldn't say whether that infusion of new money would be devoted to running for a fourth term as attorney general.

"Right now, all of that is in my campaign account and gives me the opportunity to make a decision about what I want to do," she said after speaking to a group of Illinois Realtors in Springfield.

On that question, she refused to hint at a timetable for a decision on the 2014 governor's race.

"I am enjoying my job as attorney general right now, and when I'm ready to make a decision, I'll let all of you be among the first people to know," she said.

SPRINGFIELD-State lawmakers can pass a more restrictive law enabling Illinois gun owners to carry concealed weapons after Monday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to overturn New York's concealed-carry law, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Monday.

New York law requires gun owners to demonstrate they have a special need to carry their weapons outside their homes and says that state "may issue" a permit, rather than requiring an automatic process favoring gun owners. Gun-rights advocates challenged that law, saying it amounted to a virtual ban on concealed carry.

The court's major decision on the reach of the 2nd Amendment comes as Illinois faces a court-imposed 180-day deadline to craft a state law allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons after a federal appeals panel rejected an outright state ban on it.

"The new thing that happened today is the U.S. Supreme Court did not take the case out of New York, which was brought by gun-rights individuals who are interested in a more expansive law in New York," Madigan told reporters.

"So New York currently has a 'may issue' statute, and in New York, you have to show you have a special need in order to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

"Really what that means in terms of what's going on in Illinois with the Legislature is the Legislature can now look up and say a 'may issue' [statute] is something that at this point is constitutional. So that should have an impact obviously on the discussions and debates going on under the dome," she said.

Late last year, a federal appeals court rejected an Illinois law that barred most gun owners from carrying their weapons outside their homes and gave the state until June 9th to structure a statute permitting that.

But there has been little consensus mid-way through the spring legislative session in Springfield, leaving the framework of a concealed-carry law very much up in the air.

With reporting by Dave McKinney

SPRINGFIELD-The state's top ethics watchdog Monday accused a former state lawmaker and congressman from Downstate of circumventing hiring rules and other ethical breaches while serving as a top administrator at the Illinois Department of Transportation through early 2011.

The Executive Ethics Commission released results of a probe by the executive inspector general's office that singled out former U.S. Rep. David Phelps (D-Ill.) and another former IDOT administrator, Danny Clayton, for breaking a series of agency rules that the commission said warranted their firings.

Phelps, an assistant secretary at IDOT appointed in 2003 by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, tendered his resignation to Gov. Pat Quinn in February 2011.

A Democrat from far downstate Harrisburg, Phelps was a two-term congressman from 1999 to 2003 after serving for 14 years in the Illinois House. Phelps' nephew is state Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg).

According to Monday's report, investigators for the executive inspector general's office interviewed two IDOT employees involved in hiring who indicated that Phelps continually hinted at who he wanted for certain positions -- even those not allowed to be political hires -- and had previous relationships with several individuals hired in 2009.

Investigators also accused both Clayton and Phelps of wrongly favoring southern Illinois consulting firm GeoTech Engineering & Testing, Inc. for certain projects over other firms from the central and northern parts of the state. Since 2006, GeoTech has won contracts in five of IDOT's nine districts.

After telling investigators in a 2010 interview that his daily duties consist mostly of meeting with "lots of people," Phelps admitted he always communicates with IDOT employees in charge of ranking prospective consulting firms after Phelps meets with the consultants, the report said.

David Phelps' lawyer, Robert Uhe, said that Phelps cooperated fully with the investigation, was not accused of breaking any state ethics laws nor did he try to profit from his alleged actions.

"The investigation resulted in no formal complaints being filed by the OEIG against Mr. Pehlps, and therefore there has been no evidentiary hearing on the allegations described in the final report against Mr. Phelps," Uhe said in a letter that accompanied the report. "Accordingly, Mr. Phelps has not had the opportunity to challenge or rebut the allegations that were made against him by anonymous employees and the OEIG.

"The investigation in this case is indicated to be 'closed,' and it is our understanding that no additional actions are contemplated to be taken by the OEIG with respect to Mr. Phelps," Uhe said.

The investigation also shows Clayton may have overstated the number of days he worked in 2008 and 2009 that resulted in more than $10,000 of wages. And after several interviews with IDOT employees, investigators discovered Clayton had been allegedly trying to have his son hired for many years and had been removing requirements from IDOT job postings to improve his son's prospects.

Finally, Clayton's supervisor, Mary Lamie, along with IDOT employee Carrie Nelsen - who both work in IDOT's Carbondale offices - are accused of intentionally soliciting and accepting prohibited gifts including a number of gift cards and St. Louis Cardinals baseball tickets from GeoTech vice president Mark Workman.

senger.jpeg State Rep. Darlene Senger

*** Updated ***

Some hard-core recruiting efforts have been underway to entice state Rep. Darlene Senger to make a run against recently sworn-in Bill Foster (D-Ill) of the 11th congressional district.

National Republican Campaign Committee Chair Greg Walden and Senger had dinner in Chicago on Friday, according to a knowledgeable Republican source.

That followed a week of meeting with some top Republicans in Washington last week.

Foster beat out longtime congresswoman Judy Biggert, a Republican, in a divisive contest last fall. Having the benefit of a newly redrawn district to benefit Democrats, Foster won big over Biggert. This is Foster's second term in Congress -- he served one term before he was defeated, then ran again last year to win Biggert's seat.

Senger, a Republican from Naperville, is serving her third term in the Illinois General Assembly.

And...she may already have a primary challenger: Grundy County Board member Chris Balkema has filed a statement of candidacy for the district.

Big-time Cubs fan U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill), who lived in the Wrigley neighborhood for 32 years, said the $500 million Wrigley Field renovation deal would Wrigley Field around for another lifetime. He also thinks it could lay "the foundation" to do what the Northwest Side ball club hasn't done since 1908.

"I believe this deal provides the framework to keep Wrigley Field around for another hundred years as the most beautiful ballpark in baseball, while laying the foundation for a World Series win," said the hopeful Quigley. "The framework will have a lasting positive effect in the Lakeview community, promoting economic growth and creating jobs both in the short and long term, while addressing neighborhood concerns of public safety and traffic."

Quigley tipped his Cubs hat to Ald. Tom Tunney and Mayor Rahm Emanuel for cutting the deal. He was also sure to thank the Ricketts family for investing in the Cubs.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) rounded out the first quarter of the year with $3.23 million in his campaign fund, placing him in a strong position for a reelection run.

Last month, U.S. Durbin told other Democrats he intended on running for reelection.

The official announcement is expected in coming weeks.

Durbin, 68, raised more than $736,00 in the first quarter of 2013.

According a source close to Durbin's campaign fund, the senior senator from Illinois held about a dozen fund-raising events over the first quarter.

"Durbin's haul is impressive and shows he has continued to be a strong fundraiser even without a formal campaign announcement," said the source.

For more details, click here: Durbincampaign

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House unanimously passed legislation Friday to eliminate pension and health insurance benefits for members of four Chicago-area public transit boards.

Passing by a 106-0 margin and now moving to the Senate, the measure seeks to eliminate benefits that House sponsor Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) calls a "state corruption tax" that board members receive for "very, very, very part-time service."

"It's a lucrative sweetheart deal that connected insiders," Franks said. "It's not what you know. It's who you know, and it's not merit based. This [bill] is making it more reflective of the real world."

Under Franks' bill, all new appointments and reappointments to the boards governing RTA, CTA, METRA and PACE would no longer receive pensions or health and life insurance packages for their time on the board. An earlier version of the proposal called for a reduced, stipend-based compensation as well, but the current bill allows board members to keep their salaries.

Some board members take in as much as $25,000 annually for their service and receive a pension and up to $20,000 in health insurance coverage for working as little as four hours per month, Franks said.

"You see them raising their fares, cutting their service. It's scandal after scandal after scandal, and there's no accountability ever. I could fill up those boards with people with real experience who'd gladly do it for free."

Spokespersons from the CTA and RTA were not immediately available for comment.


When Kathy Betts sent an email to her state representative asking him to support gay marriage, she said she was floored by his response.
"I was offended. I was speechless. I felt belittled," Betts, 38, told the Sun-Times. "It was the slippery slope argument."

The slippery slope argument it was, a contrite-sounding state Rep. Tom Morrison told the Sun-Times. Morrison, a conservative from Palatine who has been open about his opposition to gay marriage, said he should have been more careful in responding. But he didn't mean what she thought he did.

What he wrote, what she was so offended by, was this: "Could a man marry a consenting 9-year old girl? Why not? To refuse them would be discrimination. Again, where would you draw the line?"

Was he equating same-sex marriage with statuatory rape? "No, no, not at all," Morrison told the Sun-Times in an interview. "Am I imperfect in my wording? Yeah, if I could rewrite an email, if I knew that it would be offensive, yeah. I'm opposed to the redefinition of marriage."

Betts, who lives in Palatine, and is gay, said she reached out to Morrison in an email to ask him why he was opposed to same sex marriage.

"I was asking him to vote on the side of equality and not continue discrimination against gay marriage. I shared a story of one of my friends who talked about her caretaker for her daughter, standing up in her church and speaking up," Betts told the Sun-Times.

When she read the part about a man marrying a 9-year-old girl she said she found it offensive.
"That's not what straight couples have right now, I just want what straight couples have now."
Betts and her girlfriend have been together for nine years, she said.

As of Thursday night, she was still thinking about how to respond to Morrison, she said. She said she was thinking of writing up something comparing "the fight that African Americans had with interracial relationships or any race for that matter."

After the Sun-Times brought the issue to Morrison's attention, he sent Betts a follow-up email apologizing to her and offering to sit down and discuss the issue.

Morrison said he gets thousands of emails and he tries his best to reply to them and when he does, he tries to be respectful and make clear that he's a person, just like the person with whom he's speaking.

"We happen to live three blocks apart, I just try to establish that look: I'm a real person, and I know you're a real person. We can have a real discussion without blasting each other. I do whatever I can to say, look, we may disagree but we can respect each other," Morrison said.

Here's a copy of the email that both Betts and Morrison confirmed was exchanged.

Dear Kathleen,
Thank you for writing to me. We're fairly close neighbors, and I pass your home frequently on the way to mine. Anyway, I apologize for the slow response to your note.
I would simply ask you this: if you are for the re-definition of marriage to remove the gender distinction of one male and one female, then where would you draw the line? If one male and one female is discriminatory, then isn't limitation of marriage to just two people discriminatory, too? There are men who would like to marry two or more consenting females. Would you define their relationship as marriage, too? Could a man marry a consenting 9-year old girl? Why not? To refuse them would be discrimination. Again, where would you draw the line?
If you say a man and a 9-year old girl in marriage is absurd, then I would point out that only 20 years ago or so it would have been considered absurd that two men or two women could marry.

Tom Morrison
State Representative - District 54

New congresswoman: 'It's Robin Kelly's district now.'

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In an interview today, newly-minted U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) explained what she meant yesterday when she said it was a new era for the 2nd congressional district.

"That it's Robin Kelly's district now and we're going to move forward, it's a new person in office and we're going to move forward with my it's not about me, it's about the people I serve," she told the Sun-Times.

Kelly officially takes over for Jesse Jackson Jr. who resigned in disgrace last November. Jackson though held the post for 17 years, amassing clout and seniority, ostensibly to benefit the 2nd district.

"The congressman was here for 17 years and this is my first day, I think realistically do people expect me to be at that level? I don't think so," she said.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Eric Brown of Richmond, Va., described as a "career criminal," was sentenced to seven years for a 2011 incident in which he stole a truck full of audio equipment that was sitting around for a scheduled appearance by president Barack Obama. Brown didn't know the truck was full of Obama's beloved teleprompters but he just went ahead and stole the truck anyway. From NBC Chicago:

The truck had no White House markings on the exterior, but inside it was loaded with speakers, microphones, a teleprompter, a laptop computer, podiums and other items used in presidential appearances. The van was empty when it was recovered on the other side of town the next day, and some of the items were later recovered at Maryland pawn shops.

An FBI agent said in court papers that an informant told investigators that Brown had sold a Department of Defense laptop to another person, and that he saw in Brown's possession several storage tubs containing audio equipment -- some of it bearing the presidential seal. When the source confronted Brown about the theft, Brown said: "Man, I got that truck. I don't do no playing."

No playing, indeed, because it takes some might big nerves to pawn off equipment with the presidential seal on it. Anyway, the stiff sentence for this one incident was to help Brown avoid further trials for several similar incidences in which he made off with trucks full of expensive electronics (though none of those were connected to Obama).

Yesterday, we posted the new song from Jay-Z, "Open Letter," a diss track aimed at critics of his recent trip to Cuba. In the song, the rapper claimed the song was okay'd by the White House but White House spokesperson Jay Carney took umbrage with that statement since, technically, the Department of the Treasury approved the trip, not the White House. When asked about the song, Carney quipped, "I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury." He added, "I am absolutely saying that the White House and the president on down had nothing to do with anybody's personal, anybody's travel to Cuba."

Meanwhile, North Korea is still threatening to nuke the world and the sequester cuts are still harming the nation.

When Michelle Obama said in Chicago Wednesday afternoon that "Hadiya Pendleton was me," saying that she could empathize with the slain teen because of their similar backgrounds, Rush Limbaugh got his hackles up.

Specifically, he took the first lady's statements to the obvious next step, saying that her emotional and powerful speaking out against the violence epidemic in Chicago and the broader U.S. was actually a broadside against democracy, capitalism and the American way of life.

Here's Michelle Obama's full speech:

For the first time in 10 months, the residents of the 2nd Congressional District has representation in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill) officially claimed her House seat this afternoon in Washington D.C. after winning a commanding victory in Tuesday's special election.

The 56-year-old of Matteson fills the vacancy left by the disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned last November amid a federal probe into his congressional finances. Before resigning though, Jackson was absent from Congress beginning June of 2012. He later said his absence was due to
The Sun-Times has previously reported that federal authorities believed Jackson was tipped off to the investigation into his congressional fund. That probe also ensnared his wife, ex-Ald. Sandi Jackson, who also resigned. The two pleaded guilty to federal charges in February.

Kelly, who ran on a platform to fight the NRA and curb violence in the district, called Thursday "a new beginning" for the beleaguered, scandal-ridden district.

"I ran for Congress so that I could work to bring about a safer, less violent and more prosperous future, one in which our children can grow up without the fear of gun violence," Kelly said in her swearing-in remarks. "Today is an important day in that fight. I look forward to working with you to protect our children from criminals and protect our 2nd Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens. Because we should - and can - do both."


It is truly an honor to be standing here and humbling to have been chosen to represent the families of the 2nd Congressional District. I thank the entire Illinois delegation for their support and advice.

I would also like to thank my family, friends and staff who are here in the gallery.

As I look around this hallowed chamber, I know this is a place where so much history has been made. But today, I stand before you to talk about our present. I ran for Congress so that I could work to bring about a safer, less violent and more prosperous future, one in which our children can grow up without the fear of gun violence. Today is an important day in that fight. I look forward to working with you to protect our children from criminals and protect our 2nd Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens. Because we should - and can - do both.

I also look forward to working on the many other issues we face, such as creating jobs, passing immigration reform and continuing the hard work in improving our healthcare system.

But today is about a new beginning for the people of 2nd Congressional District, who I am so proud and honored to represent. I look forward to being their advocate and their champion and to working with you to create a brighter future for all of our constituents.

Thank you and God Bless.


The NAACP came out today in support of gay marriage in Illinois with the Illinois State Conference President George P. Mitchell noting: "The NAACP was founded 104 years ago in response to the continuing horrific practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield."

The national organization came out in favor of gay marriage about a year ago. Since then, the NAACP has worked in Maryland, Florida and North Carolina as well as Delaware.

"We think there is a state component to all of this," spokesman Derek Turner said.

In Illinois, the black caucus could be influential on the direction of the issue still before the Illinois General Assembly.
"We work with legislators in the black caucus generally on issues," Turner said.

Mitchell noted in a prepared release today that the group's "bedrock commitment" to civil rights, includes marriage equality.
"The fight for freedom and equality encompasses all mankind," he said.

Obama's approval drops after his reelection

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President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows President Obama's approval rating dropping 6 points since his election.

The survey, which had a margin of error of +/- 3 points, showed 48 percent of Americans disapproved of the job the president is doing.

His approval rating, which is at 47 percent, illustrates a six-point drop since December.

Read more here and here

Use this map to see how the NRA has graded Illinois' Congressional Representatives and Senators and how each has weighed in on the gun control debate:

SPRINGFIELD--The Illinois House voted Thursday to do away with the state's second fiddle.

A push to change the state Constitution by eliminating the lieutenant governor's office passed the legislative chamber by an 83-28 vote, with two members voting "present." It needed 71 votes.

State Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills), the constitutional amendment's lead House sponsor, described the office as a nearly $2 million per year drain on the state budget.

"This is a luxury we can't afford," McSweeney said, citing the state's $9 billion backlog of unpaid bills, its underfunding of social services and its budget-driven borrowing difficulties.

"I strongly believe this is a symbol to the people of Illinois...that we're serious about cutting spending," McSweeney said.

Under his plan, voters would be asked next year to sign off on the elimination of the office in 2019. If the governor died or become otherwise incapacitated, the attorney general would take over for him or her.

If the Senate approves the plan and it goes before voters, the state Constitution would be changed if either three-fifths of those voting on the question in November 2014 or a majority of those voting in that election approve it.

Critics defended the office now occupied by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, noting how its existence ensured a smooth transition in power to Gov. Pat Quinn when Rod Blagojevich was impeached and ousted as governor in 2009.

"We've just gone through a time in Illinois history where it was important to have a lieutenant governor," said state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who voted against the amendment.

Simon has signaled her intent to leave the lieutenant governor's office after this term and run for a different statewide office, including possibly comptroller or attorney general.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Brad Schneider shakes the president's hand the night of the State of the Union speech.

In the first quarter that he's served in Congress, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill) says he will report raising more than $390,000.

Schneider's crew notes that the fund-raising effort is key in "setting him up for a strong reelection. This total is more than his former opponent, Congressman Bob Dold, raised in his first quarter in 2011," the campaign said.

Though he was just sworn-in in January, Schneider is well aware that the man he beat -- Dold, a one-term congressman, is likely gearing up for another challenge. Democrats swept in most congressional races last year, a presidential election year when Democrats came out in force across the state. Republicans are already eyeing those same seats, hoping to wrestle them back in the next cycle.

"Representing the Tenth has been such an incredible responsibility and honor, and I am thrilled to see so many people are joining us in our fight to strengthen our local businesses, expand the middle class, pass sensible new gun measures and ensure marriage equality for all Americans," Schneider said in a prepared release.

harold_apr11.JPGFormer Mayor Harold Washington's birthday--April 15--was declared Harold Washington Day in Chicago to honor Chicago's first African-American mayor and his impact on city government.

The City Council made that happen Wednesday by approving a resolution that recognized Washington's role in, among other things, "reducing the widespread practice of political patronage and establishing a functioning affirmative action program for minority businesses."

Under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, former patronage chief Robert Sorich, former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez and others were accused of rigging city hiring to benefit the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization and other pro-Daley armies of political workers.

And the minority set-aside program was manipulated to benefit clout-heavy whites, including the mob-connected Duff family that claimed $100 million in contract that were supposed to go to minorities.

Ald. Will Burns (4th), who introduced the Harold Washington Day resolution, said he's concerned that an entire generation of Chicagoans is growing up without a clue about the impact that Washington had on city government.

"What I'm worried about is if people lose cite of what he did and the movement and the effort to get him elected and what he did to fundamentally transform the city," said Burns, who participated in a panel discussion on the issue this week at former presidential and Harold Washington adviser David Axelrod's new Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago.

"The importance of Harold is not just his election, but the fact that the city of Chicago will never be governed the way it was before he was mayor. Everyone's gonna have a seat at the table. And we're gonna have a more raucous and small-D democratic government."

The pol report. Chicago politics in review: Thursday

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Up today: Robin Kelly is to be sworn in to replace the disgraced Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress.
It will be the first time in nine months that residents of the 2nd congressional district will have representation in Washington. Read more

Slating today for Cook County committeemen to pick William Beavers replacement.
Despite his own troubles, Stanley Moore appears to be the front-runner to replace the recently convicted Cook County Commissioner William Beavers. Read more

This week:

Michelle Obama speaks out on gun control. She chokes up as she does it.
Read more.
Transcript here.
President Obama applauded Capitol Hill compromise on reform measures. Read more

The daughter of President Barack Obama's former pastor was indicted
on charges of money laundering and lying to federal investigators in an expanding 2009 state grant-fraud case.
Jeri L. Wright, daughter of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was accused of participating in a fraud scheme allegedly orchestrated by former Country Club Hills Police Chief Regina Evans and her husband involving a $1.25 million state job-training grant geared toward minorities. Read more

Blago cases that just won't go away
One of the last loose ends in Operation Board Games -- the federal probe that led to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's incarceration -- was tied up Wednesday when crooked construction boss agreed to a final plea deal. Read more

City Council comes up with a new tax
Warning of a "chilling" impact on tourism, downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Tuesday broke with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over the mayor's plan to shift Chicago's parking tax from a sliding scale to a fixed percentage.
Budget Director Alex Holt has argued that the switch -- from a sliding scale that tops out at $5 for a parking tab of $12 or more to a flat tax of 20 percent on weekdays and 18 percent on weekends -- would be "revenue-neutral." Read more

Gun control: A majority of Illinois residents have a certain view on gun control. Read more

SPRINGFIELD-The lead legislative architect behind bringing new casinos to Chicago and the suburbs and Illinois' top gaming regulator repeatedly hissed at one another Wednesday during a heated Senate hearing that did nothing to move the ball forward on gambling expansion.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) invited Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe, a frequent outspoken critic of earlier gambling expansion bills, and the head of the Chicago Crime Commission to Springfield to lay out their concerns so Senate Democrats could address them in their push to get a plan to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk this spring.

But the effort quickly unraveled into an acrimonious showcase of statehouse politics at its worst with Jaffe and state Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan), the casino plan's lead Senate sponsor, heatedly berating one another in a rare breach of decorum within the staid Senate.

Jesse Jackson Jr.'s successor, Robin Kelly, is to be sworn into Congress 1 p.m. Thursday giving the people of the 2nd congressional district its first public presence in Washington in about nine months.

Kelly, 56, of Matteson, a onetime state lawmaker, sailed to victory in Tuesday night's special election. By Wednesday morning, she was in Washington D.C. where a measure to expand background checks for gun purchases was being considered in the U.S. Senate. Kelly had run on a platform of curbing gun violence, touting her F rating with the NRA. In her victory speech on Tuesday she vowed to "take on" the NRA in Congress.

Her swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the U.S. Capitol Building in the House chambers, according to her campaign manager, Jonathan Blair.

It was June of 2012 when Jackson mysteriously disappeared from his post in D.C. eventually saying he suffered from bipolar depression.

SPRINGFIELD-An Illinois House committee Thursday will hear testimony on 'tobacco harm-reduction,' a concept R.J. Reynolds Tobacco says will help smokers reduce health risks from cigarettes without actually quitting tobacco products.

Without pushing any actual legislation, R.J. Reynolds claims the purpose of the hearing is "for legislators to gather information to consider in further action - specifically, to study opportunities to reduce the risk of death and disease among Illinois smokers who will not quit smoking."

Richard Smith, an R.J. Reynolds spokesperson, said the tobacco company is not looking to benefit from the idea but rather to disperse accurate information and encourage state legislatures to consider promoting alternative, less harmful forms of tobacco.

"R.J. Reynolds is in favor of [the idea] not as a marketing perspective at all, but rather we believe in it as a concept," Smith said. "We're not talking about any brand here. We do not need anyone to do our marketing for us, especially not a government.

"Nicotine is addictive. That's no secret. The combustion form of cigarette smoke is addictive. That's no secret. But what many are unaware of is that noncombustible tobacco products generally present less risk."

But the American Cancer Society, which will also testify at Thursday's hearing, claims the tobacco company's harm-reduction message was false in the past and remains false today.

"This is the latest effort by the tobacco industry to confuse and mislead the public about the dangers and addictive nature of tobacco products," the group said in a prepared statement. "This is a new twist on the old tobacco marketing campaigns of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that falsely promised health benefits to be derived from filtered, "light", and "less tar" tobacco product alternatives."

Smith admitted there is no safe form of tobacco but said R.J. Reynolds - which manufactures Camel 'Snus' smokeless tobacco - is committed to the concept because "it's the right thing to do."

"The bottom line is, we believe that adult smokers have a right to information about different tobacco products," Smith said. "That information should be based on sound science. That's really what this is about."

The American Cancer Society isn't convinced.

"So long as tobacco products continue to be responsible for nearly one out of every five deaths in America today, tobacco product manufacturers cannot pose as being the solution," it said in a prepared statement. "The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] - not tobacco companies - should remain the final arbiter of what tobacco cessation therapies are proven to be truly safe and effective."


Hilton Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

1:54 P.M. CDT

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. It's good to be home. It is. (Applause.) Even though it's freezing cold in April, it's good to be home. (Applause.)

It is certainly a pleasure to be here with all of you today. I want to start by thanking Rahm for that very kind introduction and that very powerful statement of what our kids in this city need, and also for his outstanding leadership here in this city.

I also want to acknowledge Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Thank you all for being here. It's good to see you. You're all looking good. It's very good. (Applause.)

And of course, I want to recognize Jim Reynolds as well as Tom Wilson for taking the lead as co-chairs of the Public Safety Action Committee. Thank you both for your leadership, for your words, for your service. We are so very proud of you.

And most of all, I want to thank all of you for coming here today on behalf of this city's young people. I want to thank you for your commitment to their safety, their wellbeing, and their God-given potential. And I know that many of you aren't new to this work. For years, you have been sponsoring sports leagues, afterschool programs, summer jobs and more.

So you in this room know firsthand the impact that we can have when this city truly invests in our children. And that's something I know from my own experience, which is why it was so important for me to be here today.

I'm here today because Chicago is my home. I was born and raised here. I built my career here. Several of my bosses are here -- former bosses are here. (Laughter.) I met and married the love of my life here. I raised my children here, who, by the way, still refer to Chicago as home. They believe it gives them a little more credibility. (Applause.)

President Obama today said he recognized that a new background checks bill isn't everything he wanted -- but its a welcome step in the right direction, he said.

Obama said: "I applaud Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey for their leadership on forging a bipartisan agreement around commonsense background checks that will make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun.

This is not my bill, and there are aspects of the agreement that I might prefer to be stronger. But the agreement does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress. It recognizes that there are good people on both sides of this issue, and we don't have to agree on everything to know that we've got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence.

Of course, a lot of work remains. Congress needs to finish the job. The Senate must overcome obstruction by defeating a threatened filibuster, and allow a vote on this and other commonsense reforms to protect our kids and our communities. Any bill still has to clear the House. So I'm going to keep asking the American people to stand up and raise their voices, because these measures deserve a vote - and so do the families and communities they're designed to protect."

Michelle Obama Gun Co_Barr.jpgMichelle Obama in Chicago on Wednesday. | AP

In a Wednesday Chicago visit, First Lady Michelle Obama grew emotional, choking on her words as she retold a story how she struggled to bring comfort to the friends of Hadiya Pendleton the day they were to bury their friend.

"I urged them to dream as big as she did," Michelle Obama said.

"For me, this is personal. For me, my story would not be possible without this city," Michelle Obama told the crowd that packed into the banquet hall at the Hilton Chicago. The business people heard a pitch to invest into intervention programs in the most at-risk communities.

Michelle Obama talked about spending time with Hadiya Pendleton's parents. She said she related to the parents of the slain 15 year old who was killed just a mile from the Obamas' Kenwood home. She said she saw so much of herself in Hadiya, whose parents gave her everything they could. They put her in every activity and saw her perform for the president's inauguration

"Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her," Mrs. Obama said. "But I got to grow up and go to Princeton."

Earlier in the program, a mother's grief was visible through the giant screen shown to a group of about 650 people who packed into the Chicago Hilton to see Mayor Rahm Emanuel and First Lady Michelle Obama.

In the video, shown before either of the politicians began their remarks, a mother describes sitting on her front steps in Chicago and suddenly throwing her arms around her 6-year-old daughter, hoping that bullets from a drive-by shooting would pierce her instead of her child.

"My daughter was not a gang banger, she was only six years old, she didn't even graduate from Kindergarten," the mother said.
"I just remember wrapping my arms around her hoping the bullets would hit me, but that wasn't the case."

The powerful testimonial was a pretext to remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama who said it was her passion to create better opportunities in the city she loves. She returned home to boost Mayor Rahm Emanuel's initiative to call on corporate and philanthropic donors to invest in youth programs.

She later added: "This is the point I want to make - that resources matter."

Michelle Obama at one point also called on Congress to act on gun violence, urging lawmakers to call initiatives for a vote.

"These reforms deserve a vote in Congress," she said to applause.

Earlier, Emanuel addressed the crowd.
"We have great kids in the city of Chicago," Emanuel told the crowd, after telling a story about meeting 16-year-old Martel with superb manners and a bright personality who was just looking for something to do on a Friday night. Emanuel met him at a night hoops basketball program.
"They're all throughout the city," Emanuel said of good kids. "All Martel needed was a place to go on Friday night."

Mrs. Obama was then to head to West Englewood's Harper High School -- where 29 present or former students were shot in the last year, leaving eight dead.

Emanuel challenged a business community that bankrolled Millennium Park, the NATO Summit and Chicago's failed Olympic bid to raise $50 million over five years for a higher moral purpose: saving the lives of thousands of at-risk kids.

"Less than 66 days later, we've raised $33 million," said Allstate Insurance CEO Tom Wilson to a round of applause. Wilson co-chairs the campaign which committed the first $5 million. "Everyone that dies is a piece of our future. We all know money alone is not going to fix this problem, but it's a start."

Jim Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital Markets, who chaired the Chicago Housing Authority board before shifting to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, also leads the effort.

Reynolds said the effort isn't about throwing money at a problem.

"This is about getting in at a ground level and building communities that we can be proud of in 10, 20, 30 years," Reynolds said.

Emanuel, a formidable fund-raiser himself, asked big business to invest in early intervention programs for younger kids and provide jobs, mentoring, recreation and conflict-resolution programs to give troubled teens an alternative to the gang violence that claimed the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. Pendleton went on to become a national symbol in the gun debate and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk named a portion of a compromise gun bill after Pendleton, hoping it would bring support.

The group that packed in watched an emotionally compelling video
"Every morning when I wake up I wonder if it's going to be my last day," said a boy named "Miles" in the video.
The father of Chicago honor student Blair Holt who was shot to death after boarding a bus after school also gave a testimonial.

Michelle Obama's appearance comes as Congress edges toward a possible compromise on gun legislation.

Chicago's murder numbers have drawn national attention over the last year, as authorities struggle to get a handle on gang violence. Last month, Emanuel received good news that murders dropped over the previous year.

Fresh from a campaign win, Democrat Robin Kelly is already in Washington and could be sworn in this week, her campaign chief Jonathan Blair said today. Could it be in time to take a critical vote on gun control compromise?

"Nothing is official yet," Blair said Wednesday morning. "Like the special election itself, things moved very quickly."

Kelly, a former state lawmaker, onetime chief of staff to former Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, swept up the vote on Tuesday in the special election for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat.

Kelly, 56, of Matteson beat out Republican Paul McKinley after winning a more contentious primary battle in February.

With a $2.2 million boost from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Super Pac Independence USA, Kelly's candidacy -- and anti-gun rhetoric -- has drawn national attention.

She heads to Washington as Congress edges toward a compromise gun control bill that would call for expanded background checks.

ILLINOIS_BUDGET_34886687.JPGGov. Pat Quinn, in this March 6 file photo, sidestepped questions Wednesday regarding his stance on legalizing medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD-With a 2014 gubernatorial bid in his sights, Gov. Pat Quinn dodged questions Wednesday about medical marijuana even while he took concrete positions on other controversial issues like concealed carry and casino expansion.

Following a Springfield rally supporting community care facilities, Quinn fielded reporters' questions on pensions, gambling and concealed carry but declined to take a specific stance on a bill legalizing medical marijuana that could see a House vote as early as next week.

"I just haven't seen that bill. I'm going to watch that debate. I have had folks visit me including veterans who have advocated for a particular bill in the past. I don't know what this particular bill says now, but like anything you want to follow the debate, and if it does pass then we'll analyze it, review it and make a decision," Quinn told reporters.

However, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill's chief House sponsor, told the Sun-Times he was "quite certain" the governor would sign his bill and that Quinn's office was involved in the drafting process of many portions of the legislation.

But Quinn neither confirmed nor denied his office's involvement and reasserted his desire to see a final version of the bill before taking a position.

"Well, we'll take a look at the final product," Quinn said. "Sometimes, uh - we'll see what happens."

Quinn was more clear on other issues, saying he thought local communities including Chicago should be able to make their own rules regarding concealed carry and that a recently introduced online gambling provision in the Senate needs further review.

But legalizing marijuana, even if only for the chronically or terminally ill, carries political risk for Quinn and other lawmakers who might support it. While the bill includes more safeguards than previous versions, opponents in next year's campaigns could portray proponents as being soft on drug use.

Lang, meanwhile, claims his bill is "very close" to having enough votes to pass the House but called the roll call a "moving target."

"I frankly think it's mostly politics," Lang told the Sun-Times. "Virtually, every member of the House is for and against having nothing to do with what's in the bill. They hear the words 'medical marijuana' and they have a reaction to it - for or against. And that reaction is pretty much always political."

Lang said many House members are debating the current measure but are referencing previous legislation that passed the Senate in 2009 and fell four votes short of passage in the House in 2011.

"I'm close enough to see the finish line," Lang said about his bill's prospects in the House. "My hard roll call is very close to the number I need to pass the bill. I need a very small number of additional votes to close the deal."

Aldermen Jason Irving and Howard Brookins Jr. before the Chicago City Council voted on ordinances addressing security and protest permits for the upcoming NATO/G8 summits in Chicago at McCormick Place. Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

The Democratic ward boss with the most to say about who will replace convicted County Board member William Beavers on Wednesday dismissed as a "minor infraction" charges that the leading candidate for that vacancy campaigned on state time.

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) unwavering endorsement of Stanley Moore--and Brookins' decisions to dismiss the ethics controversy surrounding Moore--leaves Moore as the odds-on favorite to replace Beavers.

While serving as an $86,388-a-year deputy director of the Il. Department of Transportation, Moore was accused of fundraising for his failed 2008 legislative campaign on state time. After a state ethics investigation, he paid a $3,000 fine.

Controversy of anay kind is a sensitive subject considering Beavers conviction last month of converting campaign money and county expense account funds to personal use without paying taxes on that money.


Jesse White's chief of staff, Tom Benigno, lost his bid for Norridge Village President Tuesday night.

With all 10 precincts reporting, James Chmura of the Norridge Improvement Party had 53 percent of the vote to Benigno's 39 percent. A third candidate, Riccardo Mora had about 7 percent of vote. In all, 3,603 votes were cast in the Cook County suburb.

Angelo ''Skip'' Saviano, a former state house member for nearly 20 years, appears the newly-elected president of Elmwood Park with 2,531 votes - or 55 percent - with all 15 precincts reporting.

The two sports-related politicos are duking it out until the end in their respective races for Mayor.

In the tiny northern suburb of Mettawa, Casey Urlacher is up by 10 votes. Of course, just 130 people have voted so far.

Jeffrey V. Clark (IND) 46.15% 60
Casey Urlacher (IND) 53.85% 70

In Romeoville, ex-Bear Steve McMichael is trailing his opponent John Noak, who has 61 percent of the vote.

Here are Robin Kelly's prepared remarks. Kelly just clinched the 2nd congressional district election to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

[Begin Kelly Remarks]

When I first announced for Congress in December, I asked you to stand by me in a fight that was bigger than any one person.

I told you then--and throughout this campaign--that our fight wasn't about me--it was about you.

about your dreams. Your hopes. your families.

You lent us your hearts, your time and your support. And look at where we are now.

I'm sure that you remember that---when we began this campaign-- there were a whole lot of people who counted us out, naysayers who said we couldn't win.

Well, we not only won an election

we took on the NRA

we gave a voice to the voiceless,

and we put our communities on a brand new path to a brighter day.

Yes, we've seen some tough times and some setbacks. I know for some of you, your faith in your leaders is a little shaken.

Dr. King once said that "Only in the darkness, can we see the stars." Well, you all, you are the stars.

Throughout it all, you stayed committed to our communities and to helping usher in the change necessary to move us forward.

Through your support, you put your trust in me. I thank you for that and I promise that I'll never let you down.

Now, make no mistake, the road ahead will be bumpy.

Making our families safe from gun violence is going to be a challenge.

Putting people back to work is a tough task.

But, to those who say that we won't be able to make Congress do anything on gun control, who think this Tea Party Congress can't be beaten---

I've got two words:

Watch us.

Watch us beat the odds again.

Watch us take on the NRA, the Tea Party and anyone else standing in the way of our safety.

Watch us mobilize families and turn grief into action--just like the families of victims of gun violence have done in powering this campaign each and every day.

Watch us tell the Tea Party Republicans that we aren't going to let them gut vital promises to seniors like Medicare and Social Security.

Watch us work with President Obama to continue to put people back to work, to fix our broken immigration system and to keep us on the path to recovery.

And watch me work hard, day in and day out, to be your voice and your champion.

Because that's what this campaign was all about.

Giving voice to the voiceless and making the powerless powerful.

Along the way, we lost some battles and mourned some losses, like the tragic killing of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton.

I am honored to be joined on stage tonight by Hadiya's parents, Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendleton.

Nathaniel and Cleopatra, thank you for standing with me as I will stand with you in our fight to end gun violence.

I am awed and inspired by the strength of families like the Pendletons and, unfortunately, far too many others, who are working to turn tragedy into triumph.

Together, we grieved but we never gave up.

We never lost hope and we never stopped fighting.

And we never will.

Because, after all, you don't overcome challenges by seeing them as too great to conquer.

You overcome them by always reaching a little higher, by dreaming a little bigger, and by believing that the stars above us ARE WITHIN our grasp when we reach for them together.

Thank you and God Bless.

This is for City of Chicago only -- suburban Cook, Will and Kankakee are also part of the 2nd congressional district. But this is a snapshot.

U.S. Representative, 2nd District
80 out of 170 precincts (47.06 %)

DEM - Robin Kelly 5,543 90.60 %
REP - Paul McKinley 342 5.59 %
GRN - LeAlan M. Jones 92 1.50 %
IND - Curtiss Llong Bey 32 0.52 %
IND - Marcus Lewis 44 0.72 %
IND - Elizabeth ''Liz'' Pahlke 65 1.06 %

Minutes before the polls closed on Tuesday, ex-con and GOP contender for the 2nd congressional district, Paul McKinley, 54, declared that he was likely to win the race.

"We're expecting to win this election, yes mam," said McKinley, dismissing the notion that Robin Kelly was heavily favored in a district that's largely Democratic. "I have a 51 percent chance to win this election." He said he knows this "From my studies and talking to different people."

McKinley squeaked through the 2nd congressional district primary, winning over several other Republicans. He ran on a platform of redemption, having served time in prison for robbery and assault.

"I certainly believe in the redemption story, because if ever there was a story of redemption, it's me. You can only redeem yourself through Christ Jesus," McKinley said. "Somewhere between the devil and God -- is me."

McKinley went on to call Jesse Jackson Jr. "insane" because of his bipolar diagnosis.

"They said Jesse Jr. was bipolar, that's considered crazy then," McKinley said. "Is it considered sane? When was Jesse Jr. insane? Was he insane the first year he ran? Or was he insane the 16th year he was in office? My only question was the Democrats putting a man in office that is insane. How long have the people been living under a mental ill person that was a Democrat?"

SPRINGFIELD-The Illinois House passed legislation Tuesday to explore the possibility of building offshore wind turbines along Lake Michigan's Illinois shoreline.

"There's offshore wind all over Europe. There's offshore wind all over the East coast," said Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), the bill's sponsor. "So, this is a way to set the parameters in our state to begin to look at the possibility of putting wind farms in the lake."

The measure passed by a 90-21 vote and now moves to the Senate. Originally touted by the non-profit Citizens' Greener Evanston, the idea would require the Department of Natural Resources to do a four-year analysis of the lake's shoreline to find suitable areas for turbines.

"The [department] would do a full analysis of the lake, the shoreline around Illinois, to determine if there are any areas that are the right depth," Gabel said. "We have to look at the marine life. We have to look at the bird life. We have to look at shipping lanes. We have to look at boating lanes."

After convening a task force last June to assess the idea's feasibility and address conservation groups' concerns, DNR's next step is to actually assess the lake, an action Gabel said the department is willing to perform at no cost to the state. Gabel said other groups' analyses have already found suitable areas roughly six miles off the coastline.

Following the analysis, DNR would work with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and other groups to promulgate rules governing the wind farms and to award companies assessment permits. Gabel said she thinks the proposal would benefit Chicagoans and add to an industry she said has already created more than 200,000 jobs.

"If you believe that we need to have more renewable energy, we need to look at all sources," Gabel said. "And this is one source of renewable energy that we should look at."

After joining Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to talk about youth violence, First Lady Michelle Obama will head to Harper High School on Chicago's South Side.

The First Lady is scheduled to meet with a small group of students and counselors at Harper High School in West Englewood "to hear firsthand about their experiences," since the public school has been "profoundly affected by violence."
In the past year, 29 current or former students have been shot and eight of them died.

Michelle Obama's visit comes as rhetoric over how to curb gun violence ramps up across the nation with Washington still working on a variety of possible new measures.

Michelle Obama's earlier remarks at Emanuel's event -- the "Joint Luncheon Meeting: Working Together to Address Youth Violence in Chicago" -- will be livestreamed at

quinn_apr9.jpgWhile Nate Silver proved to have the powers of a mathematical superhero when he absolutely nailed his predictions for the 2012 presidential elections, a post yesterday on the blog showed that his powers don't spill over to others and other races. Writing on the popular fivethirtyeight blog that Silver heads up, Micah Cohen put the supposed poll-reader magic to 2014 gubernatorial races, showing approval ratings and which governors are most vulnerable.

As Cohen notes, Illinois governor Pat Quinn has the second-lowest net job approval rating at -24 (approval rating minus disapproval rating). But the limits of fivethirtyeight's powers show mightily when they breezily mention Quinn and the likelihood that he'll win solely because he's a Democrat.

Although Mr. Quinn is the second most unpopular governor up for re-election in 2014, he is a Democrat in deep blue Illinois. If he runs, he is still considered a favorite to win re-election: the Cook Political Report, Sabato's Crystal Ball and The Rothenberg Political Report rate the Illinois governor's race, respectively, as leaning Democratic, likely Democratic and likely Democratic.

In other words, being unpopular does not necessarily make an incumbent vulnerable to defeat.

This, of course, is conventional wisdom as is the idea that Illinois would lean slightly towards the left in terms of a governor. But, for once, fivethirtyeight's crystal ball is too cloudy to take in the context of the Democratic primary and the odds Quinn doesn't even win his own party. This may be splitting hairs a bit, but with a potential run from Lisa Madigan casting an even longer shadow over Quinn than at any point before, and public sentiment already against Quinn, the chances of fivethirtyeight's projection coming to fruition are low. Of course, we can't expect national media to be following the ins-and-outs of day-to-day movement in a state race where potential opponents haven't even announced their candidacy so they're (mostly) off the hook for this pick.

But the odds remain against Quinn - for now, anyway - as recent polling by Public Policy Polling shows, with Quinn trailing two of the top three potential GOP opponents.

The state's democratic primary is still 11 months away.

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the City Council Meeting. Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | Brian Jackson~ Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some big shoes to fill when he took over for Mayor Richard M. Daley when he was inaugurated as mayor in May 2011. But according to a study released by the University of Illinois-Chicago, the City Council has been more compliant with Rahm in his first two years than they were with Richard J. Daley during his first two years in office and more than Richard M. Daley had in his final two years in office. Dick Simpson, a political science professor at UIC and a former alderman (44th ward, 1971-1979), headed the study which looked at "30 divided roll call votes since the current City Council began in May, 2011." (Grain of salt #1: even just one alderman dissenting is enough to categorize a vote as a "divided roll call.")

Per a press release on the study: "According to the study, 21 aldermen voted to support Mayor Emanuel's position 100% of the time and 18 aldermen voted with him over 90% of the time. Only seven of the 30 issues drew six or more dissenting votes." The study follows up that the issue with the most dissent was Mayor Emanuel's proposal to put cameras in "Children Safety Zones" around schools. That vote had 33 vote in favor and 14 dissent (three voted absent).

The study continues: "The average level of support for Mayor Emanuel was 93% on all divided roll call votes, an increase from the overwhelming 88% Richard M. Daley enjoyed in his last term. It was also greater than the 83% achieved by Richard J. Daley in his first two years in office, 1955-56, or the 85% support the 'Boss' received in 1971-72. Emanuel even topped Mayor Edward J. Kelly's 88% support earned in 1939-40."

Of course, Grain of Salt #2: the study doesn't include results from every term for both Daleys, thus not showing a large portion of years in which they had particular sway over the City Council. It's unfair to match Rahm's first two years against Daley's final few years as support for Daley had begun to wane a bit - at least in the context of Daley's support - in his final term. And every Chicagoan knows the power with which the "Boss" and the Machine ruled the Council in the 50s and 60s.

The underlying fact that's not quite teased out by the study but is there for all to see? The City Council is pretty much a legislative body in name only, rarely making any difference in the laws the mayor of Chicago - whomever it may be - has passed, with at least 80-85 percent of aldermen voting with the mayor no matter who's in office. Lest we forget, only five aldermen voted against the horrendous parking meter lease in 2008.

And the only vote Mayor Emanuel has lost in his first two years was an attempt at ethics reform that would have empowered the City Council's Inspector General to investigate anonymous complaints against aldermen and their employees. And the rejected bill had been watered down from its original proposal. It took a measure that would have put a dent in their own insulation to get aldermen to actually say no to the mayor.

So, if anything is to be concluded from the study, it's simply that history will continue to repeat in Chicago, a city that never met reform it didn't love to kill.

AP Photo/Seth Perlman

State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) confirmed Tuesday that he is setting his sights on a run for higher office, possibly for Lieutenant Governor.

"I'm certainly looking at statewide opportunities," Franks told the Chicago Sun-Times today. "I certainly am not interested in running for Lt. Governor with our current governor, I can tell you that."

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon announced in February that she would not run with Pat Quinn in 2014 because she had her eye on another statewide office.

Franks said he hadn't had discussions with any other gubernatorial candidates to join up as a running mate, which now is necessary under law, and noted the shuffling of posts would only happen if Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan runs for governor.

Franks, who has been outspoken on reforming pensions, said he has not yet decided whether he will vote yay or nay on same sex marriage. Franks acknowledged he's feeling pressure from both sides of the issue.

As advocates work to persuade Republicans on the issue to get the 60 needed votes, Franks' decision carries more weight.

"It's an important issue, it ought to be addressed. But before we do anything else we need to fix this pension issue," Franks said.

As for his position on Lisa Madigan running for governor while her father is House Speaker, Franks said it was a non-issue.

"The Republicans ran their entire campaign on firing (Michael) Madigan and all it gave them was a (Democratic) super majority. So, I'm not sure it's an issue. It's certainly not illegal," Franks said. "I've known Lisa to be independent. I don't think she's beholden to her father at all. I don't really see it as an issue. I think the Republicans will try to make it an issue and I think it will fall flat like it did in the last election."

WA25HEALTH07_17685245.JPGState Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein), pictured on the right in this 2010 file photo, says he'll vote for same-sex marriage legislation and frames the issue as one of "equality, fairness and dignity." (Sun-Times Media Group Photo by Thomas Delany Jr./

SPRINGFIELD-State Rep. Ed Sullivan is Roman Catholic and voted against legalizing civil unions for gays and lesbians in 2010, yet he declared himself a "yes" vote Monday for same-sex marriage in Illinois.

Sullivan (R-Mundelein), a six-term member of House Minority Leader Tom Cross' leadership team, chalked up his vote on the issue to an "evolution of thought" driven by having a lesbian mother-in-law in a committed relationship of 20 years with her partner.

"I have a four- and five-year-old who don't understand the issue. They understatnd their grandmother is someone who loves them, buys them things for Christmas, and they understand her partner, Pat, is there at Christmas time," Sullivan said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

"As a parent, it's my job to teach my children right and wrong. How do I vote against this bill and go back to my children and say, 'I think there is something wrong about their grandmother'?" Sullivan said.

His mother in law is Maryanne O'Keeffe, who resides in the southwest suburbs.

"I think, as Americans, we believe in equality. We believe in equality, fairness and dignity. And how can you say you believe in those things and deny the same fundamental right to someone else that you have as a married couple?" Sullivan said.

His stance runs counter with Cardinal Francis George, who last Friday urged state lawmakers to reject the same-sex marriage when it comes to a vote. Allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, George said, "would destabilize the meaning of marriage" in Illinois.

Sullivan said he does not worry about the possibility of backlash from George or others within the church.

"The church I believe in is a church of love, and a church of understanding, and a church that respects of all points of views. That's the church I belong to," Sullivan said.

The battle for votes on the same-sex marriage legislation is focused on black and Republican House members. Last week, the Sun-Times reported the likelihood of between three and five House Republicans voting for bill, which is sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).

Sullivan becomes the second House Republican to openly support the bill. His backing was announced Monday morning by Equality Illinois, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians pushing for Harris' legislation.

"Rep Sullivan's support for marriage honors the founding Republican principles of individual freedoms and the government not limiting private lives," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a prepared statement. "I know that his constituents and fair-minded Illinoisans everywhere are very proud of him."

A Tea Party group threw a few crumbs at Republican candidate Paul McKinley in the waning days of the race to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

The Washington D.C.-based Tea Party Leadership Fund, spent about $18,000 on McKinley for online ads and calls, according to FEC reports.

The contributions are a pittance when put up against the more than $2.2 million that the Independence USA political action committee spent in the primary to boost Robin Kelly, a Democrat.

The election for Jesse Jackson's old seat is Tuesday.

Since a heated Democratic primary race -- believed to be the biggest hurdle for the candidate -- Kelly has kept a low profile. Though the race was intense, Kelly won decisively.

The 2nd congressional district, which stretches from Chicago's South Shore to Kankakee, is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PAC backed Kelly after she emerged as the leading candidate for gun-control.
McKinley has a different view on the matter.
"We are kidding ourselves if we think disarming law-abiding citizens will prevent the urban slaughter that is happening on our streets," McKinley says in a campaign message on his web site.

New name emerges in Illinois Treasurer race

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It's still a year away but with the expected reshuffling of statewide seats, newcomers are already throwing in their hats.

That includes Chicago native Michael Scott Carter who is scheduling a news conference for next week to announce his run for Illinois State Treasurer. Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Republican, has expressed an interest in running for governor, which would create a vacancy.

Carter describes himself as a "conservative media pundit and entrepreneur" who was raised in Chicago, went abroad and returned.

Here's details for his announcing
"Meet & Greet" Michael Scott Carter: The Announcement details
When: Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Where: The Wit Hotel 201 N. State
Time: 10am/ct

ILLINOIS_CONCEALED_CARRY_APPEAL_34110469.JPGAttorney General Lisa Madigan raised more than $750,000 to widen her fundrasing edge over incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in a possible 2014 gubernatorial primary. (AP Photo)


SPRINGFIELD-Attorney General Lisa Madigan's huge fundraising lead over her potential 2014 gubernatorial rival, Gov. Pat Quinn, grew even bigger after she reported raising more than $750,000 in new campaign contributions.

The newly disclosed, massive influx of $751,815 adds to the $3.6 million Madigan reported having in the bank at the end of 2012 and widens her fundraising edge over the incumbent Democratic governor.

"I set a goal for my campaign to raise the same amount this quarter as we did for the whole of last year," the attorney general said in a prepared statement. "We met that goal with room to spare."

Quinn ended last year with $1.06 million in his political fund and last week reported raising more than $550,000 since then -- not enough, as it turns out, to keep pace with the attorney general's fundraising juggernaut.

The three-term attorney general, first elected in 2002, has not shown her hand on her 2014 intentions.

But her silence about running for governor has kept alive the possibility she may challenge Quinn, who suffers from job-approval ratings in which roughly only one in four Illinois voters back his performance in office.

"I'm still in the process of considering how best I can continue to serve the public. In the meantime, I'm taking steps to ensure that I have the financial and political resources for another campaign," Madigan said. "I'm grateful for the support and encouragement I've received this past quarter."

Madigan's showing was buoyed by big money from trade unions, including $52,600 contributions each from the Engineers Political Education Committee and the United Association Political Action Fund, state campaign records showed.

The Laborers' Political League Education Fund chipped in another $50,000 in cash to Madigan.

Missing from her campaign ledger in the latest filings, which she reported to the State Board of Elections last Friday with no notice, was money from a key public-sector union waging battle with her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), and Quinn on pension reform.

AFSCME Council 31 didn't contribute to her in the latest batch of filings.

However, she did report getting $25,000 in contributions from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and $10,600 from the Illinois Education Association, teachers unions whose members also have a direct stake in the outcome of legislative efforts to reel in retirement benefits to solve the state's $96 billion pension crisis.


SPRINGFIELD-Four plaintiffs brought a $182 million class-action lawsuit Thursday against Commonwealth Edison for allegedly violating an order to begin installing the utility's energy-saving 'smart meters' by fall 2012 on Chicago's South and West sides.

The lawsuit is in response to 2011 legislation that included rate increases to bankroll a $2.6 billion initiative to upgrade ComEd's electrical "smart-grid," improve system reliability and install smart meters at all consumers' homes and businesses.

As part of that original plan, the Illinois Commerce Commission instructed ComEd to begin installation of the new smart meters in the Chicago area by fall 2012 and finish by the end of the next year. But following the ICC's more than $100 million cut to ComEd's proposed rate increases, the utility claimed the upgrade would be stalled for at least two years.

Last December, ComEd won a battle with the ICC when the commission agreed to the utility's request to delay rollout of the smart-meter program until 2015. But Paul Neilan, the Chicago energy attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Sun-Times that the ICC only agreed because ComEd's violation of the original order left it no choice. Neilan called ComEd's delay the "biggest bait-and-switch in Illinois history."

"Well, that's fine," Neilan said Friday of the most recent ICC order. "But that order did not go back and excuse the violation of the previous order. [ComEd] can't profit from its own wrongdoing."

But ComEd claims it is in compliance with the ICC ruling.

"The lawsuit is baseless and completely without merit," a ComEd spokesperson said. "ComEd remains committed to completing the 10-year smart-grid program, including the installation of nearly 4 million smart meters throughout our service territory."

In ComEd's most recent report to the ICC, the utility claimed that even if it were required to begin installation, it would at most only be able to install 60,000 meters by the end of the year- about 15 percent of the 385,000 that would have been installed in 2013 under the original order, Neilan said. Neilan claims a ComEd expert witness testified that customers would have saved $182 million if the utility had followed the ICC's original schedule.

"ComEd sold this legislation on the benefits of smart meters, and customers have already started paying for them," Neilan said in a prepared statement. "But then ComEd took the law into its own hands and willfully defied an order of the ICC."

Meanwhile, the Illinois Legislature recently sent a bill to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk that would boost ComEd's rates by $70 million annually to restore some of the $100 million in rate cuts imposed by the ICC last year. The plan would give the utility 10 years to complete modernization of its smart-grid, and customers would not see rates increase until 2014 when their monthly bills would jump initially by 40 cents.

"[The bill] is a stealth statute because buried deep in the bill is language that attempts to re-write history and erase ComEd's violation of the ICC's order," Neilan said. "That provision is invalid on its face. It's also equivalent to a signed confession."

Still, ComEd contends it remains aligned with the ICC's guidelines for smart meter deployment.

"Senate Bill 9 provides the path to accelerated deployment of smart meters. We continue to work with the [ICC] to ensure transparency as we modernize the electric system and give customers more control over energy consumption and costs," the ComEd spokesperson said.

While Quinn has openly opposed the legislation, it received enough support in both chambers of the Legislature to override a potential veto from the governor. Quinn has 60 days from the time the bill passed on March 21 to make changes or else the bill becomes law. General Lisa Madigan also opposes the measure.

NAACP_BOND_11187945.JPGFormer NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, shown in this July 8, 2007 file photo, encouraged Illinois House members Friday to legalize gay marriage, calling it "a universal right." (AP Photo)

SPRINGFIELD-Advocates for same-sex marriage in Illinois scored an important endorsement Friday in their bid to win over black Illinois House members, who may hold the key in determining whether legislation legalizing gay marriage passes.

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2009, signed a letter of support that went out to the Illinois House, which could take up the legislation when lawmakers return from their two-week spring break next week.

"I've experienced the joys of marriage for more than 20 years. My wife, Pamela, and I stood before our friends and family and made a lifelong commitment to one another. We've taken care of each other ever since," the civil rights leader and longstanding backer of gay marriage said in his letter.

"My gay and lesbian brothers and sisters simply want the freedom to make that same commitment. And they deserve the same protection that my wife and I have. It's just that simple," Bond said.

Bond's entry into Illinois' gay-marriage debate came the same day that Cardinal Francis George joined a group of African-American pastors in denouncing the legislative push and insisting marriage should only exist between a woman and a man.

Supporters of the legislation, Senate Bill 10, need 60 votes to pass the Illinois House, and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said last month the measure was about a dozen votes shy of meeting that threshold.

Since then, both sides of the contentious debate have been working the legislation. Between three and five House Republicans are expected to be on board, leaving supporters having to nail down backing from 55 to 57 out of a total of 71 House Democrats.

Black lawmakers have been the focus of much of the lobbying by both sides. Former state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), pastor of Salem Baptist Church, has gone to work for opponents of gay marriage, agreeing to record an automated phone message aimed at voters in predominantly black legislative districts.

QUINN_MEXICO_36901163.JPGWhile Gov. Pat Quinn makes a point during an appearance Friday on his Mexican trade mission, the governor's campaign fund grew fatter back at home thanks to fundraising successes in late March. (AP Photo)

SPRINGFIELD-With a late-March surge of fund-raising, Gov. Pat Quinn's campaign chest amassed more than $550,000 in the first three months of 2013, narrowing the substantial lead in funds of potential 2014 Democratic gubernatorial challenger Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Quinn, who had just more than $1 million in campaign funds - a relatively scant sum for a mid-term governor - by the end of 2012, received more than $490,000 in contributions on three consecutive days in the last week of March, according to Illinois State Board of Elections data.

"It shows that Gov. Pat Quinn has a lot of support and will continue to have a lot of support as he gears up for re-election," a Quinn campaign spokesperson said. "The governor will continue to raise money as needed."

The outpouring of cash for Quinn arrives on the heels of a similar surge in fund-raising by venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, who is eyeing the Republican nomination for governor and claims to have raised $1.3 million since starting raising money on March 5.

Meanwhile, data shows Madigan has raised a meager $30,000 since the start of the year. However, the potential primary candidate began the year with more than $3.6 million, which is more than triple what Quinn began with.

Quinn spent a day in Los Angeles on March 22 for a funding event at Hollywood producer Bob Teitel's home, where hosts included Chicagoans such as Jim Belushi, Jeff Garlin and Chaz Ebert, a Quinn spokesperson said. Quinn's 2013 campaign contributions include more than $30,000 from a dozen different Californian donors, more than half of which came after Quinn's visit there.

Quinn also attended a fund-raiser in Chicago at Loft 644 on March 28. Most of the 134 contributions to Quinn in 2013 came from Illinois donors, including $25,000 from the Service Employees International Union of Illinois; $20,000 from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association; and $10,000 from Wirtz Beverage Illinois, LLC, which is co-owned by Rocky Wirtz, Chicago Blackhawks owner and investor in Sun-Times parent company Wrapports, LLC.

The grief over Roger Ebert's passing reached even the White House today, with President Obama reflecting on the life of the icon, who died on Thursday. "Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive - capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient - continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won't be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family." U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said this today: "I am deeply saddened to learn of legendary film critic Roger Ebert's passing. As a movie fan, no person appreciated his extraordinary talent as a film critic more than me. Few reach the status of a true Chicago icon. He will be missed."

Anti-drone protests to target Chicago-based Boeing Co.

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The electrified controversy over the use of drones has come to Chicago with a protest planned in front of Boeing Co. headquarters on Saturday.

Anti-war activists are targeting the government contract-rich Boeing, complaining that its CEO just notched a sizable raise as the company is refining drone its technology. The protest is just one planned in an anti-drone campaign launched by the Anti-War Committee.

This month, a coalition of anti-war groups across the US is holding actions against drone war. Drones became highly controversial because the Obama administration has used them to assassinate American citizens in Yemen, and because their use is officially a secret kept from Congress and the people of the U.S.
"In Pakistan, where they have been most heavily used, the majority of their victims are not combatants on the U.S. 'kill list,' but civilians, including many children," Kait McIntyre of the Anti-War Committee said in a statement.
"We need to cut the Pentagon and the war budget in order to have money for schools, jobs and healthcare. " She added that "Boeing is our poster child for military spending."

While the well-followed and highly-influential Rev. James Meeks has voiced opposition to gay marriage, a group of African American clergy today urged the State Legislature to pass legislation legalizing same sex marriage.
On Thursday, 15 African American clergy members revealed they supported gay marriage.

Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois said their support signified: "What I believe is the whole community coming together."

Cherkasov said while the Rev. Meeks was behind robo-calls earlier this year denouncing gay marriage, that 60 percent
of African American voters support same sex marriage.
"The support in the African American community is clear," Cherkasov said.

The endorsement comes as the Illinois Legislature is expected to return next week from a two-week break.
While the Illinois Senate passed the measure in the state Senate, it still awaits passage in the Illinois House, where advocates are working to push it over the goal line.

"I do believe we are extraordinarily close," Cherkasov said. "I do think we are within striking distance."


SPRINGFIELD-The state's highest court Thursday reversed a lower court's ruling that would have cleared two owners of the South Side's former E2 nightclub of indirect criminal contempt charges brought on by a 2003 stampede to exit the club that injured 50 and left 21 dead.

In a 7-0 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court overruled a 2011 state appellate court's ruling that resulted in the acquittal of club owners Calvin Hollins and Dwain Kyles and their two-year prison sentences. The appellate court had reversed a Cook County Housing Court's ruling, arguing the lower court's order to close the club's second floor in 2002 had been ambiguous.

In the Supreme Court's opinion written by Justice Lloyd Karmeier, the court disagreed with the appellate court's ruling and found that the original court order to forbid occupancy of the second floor club at 2347 S. Michigan Ave. was clear. "Even if the orders could be viewed as forbidding only use of the mezzanine, the defendants had not complied even with this requirement," the opinion stated.

"Had the appellate court considered the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, it would have concluded that [Hollins and Kyles] were proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of indirect criminal contempt because a rational jury could have found that they were fully aware of what the building court's orders prohibited and willfully disobeyed the orders," the opinion concluded.

The court sent the case back to the 1st District Appellate Court for further consideration. The Supreme Court said the appellate court failed to address issues raised by Hollins and Kyles -- that the trial court had incorrectly instructed the jury and misapplied certain evidence -- and instead focused on willful violation of the order to close the club. The appellate court was instructed to consider the issues raised in the original appeal, leaving the question of the housing court order's ambiguity out of its decision.

"We were optimistic with all the previous grounds that we raised. The fact that there are various issues that still need to be considered means that we will move forward on those," said Victor Henderson, Kyles' lawyer.

Henderson said his client, who has been trying to settle the matter for more than a decade, has remained committed to clearing the air.

"He's been steadfast. He's been patient. He's been prayerful all the way through," Henderson said. "His primary concern has always been for the families who lost people that they care about and love. He's never wavered from that."

Lester Finkle, acting chief public defender for Cook County, represents Hollins and said Thursday's ruling will not change his office's approach to the case.

"I still have confidence in the case," Finkle said. "The issues are technical. I think that there are definitely valid issues for the appellate court to look at. I'm quite optimistic."

Meanwhile, city prosecutors are satisfied with the ruling.

"We are pleased with the Illinois Supreme Court's decision," said Roderick Drew, spokesperson for the city's law department. "This case was fairly tried to a jury, which agreed that the club's owners were fully aware that the building court's orders prohibited operating the club, and that they willfully disobeyed those orders. But for those violations, this tragedy would not have occurred."

Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel | Sun-Times file

As the battle over school closings continues to rage, the Chicago Teachers Union is one of the loudest voices opposing the city plan to shutter 54 schools.

But according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's brother, Ezekiel, in a Huffington Post Chicago interview, it's all wasted effort. What Rahm wants, brother Zeke says, Rahm gets:

"Give in now. Give in now. Rahm will win. Rahm always does win," Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel told The Huffington Post, when asked what advice he'd give the teachers union.

Emanuel said his brother's policies are intended to decrease neighborhood crime and improve how the city educates its students. He offered little hope to those who want to fight the mayor's administration.

"Like I said, you're not going to beat him. ... You can bang your head against the wall, but he's pretty tough," Zeke Emanuel said.

Meanwhile, the CTU apparently hasn't gotten the message. The union is hosting a bus tour for media and elected officials of school communities being "destabilized" by school closings starting at 10 a.m. 940 W. Adams. This will be their second major public display after the protest in Downtown Chicago that snarled streets last week - and led to even more controversy over just how many people turned out.

The Emanuel brothers, Lynn Sweet reports, are teamed up on the Chicago leg of Ezekiel's tour for his book, "Brothers Emanuel, A Memoir of an American Family," starting today with a Winnetka book signing and an interview on CBS at 10 p.m.

Conservative Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) -- who was a chief critic of Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady's embrace of gay marriage -- had a different take on U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's surprise backing of same sex marriage on Tuesday.

Oberweis said there's enough room in the Republican tent to embrace differing beliefs.

Oberweis, who raised objections to Brady, said that was not due to the underlying issue, but because Brady on his own took a position against the party platform.

As for Kirk's future in the party, Oberweis' response: "Mark Kirk is a smart guy. I assume he made some political calculation that this was OK or would help him. I have no idea, I didn't talk to him," Oberweis said. "Mark is usually pretty careful, and pretty political. I assume that he made a calculation that he believes it helps him not hurts him."

Oberweis characterized the issue as a distraction to the financial mess that's ahead of lawmakers in Springfield.

"We have a serious pension problem that has got to be resolved," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, things like this are just a distraction for us."

NBC 5 brings us the above video of movers hauling away boxes and other items from Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s house. There are no other details available - such as whether or not those fur coats and capes are in those wardrobe boxes - but Sun-Times reporters are following through on the story and will have an update shortly.

Audio courtesy of Illinois Radio Network

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said on Tuesday that the movie "Lincoln" helped persuade him to support gay marriage but he still believes it should remain a state issue.

In an interview with Illinois Radio Network, the Republican who made national headlines today by becoming the second U.S. Senate Republican to change his stance and support same sex marriage, explained that he saw parallels between freedoms that Abraham Lincoln fought for and gay rights issues.

"I must say I was pretty influenced by the latest movie by Steven Spielberg about Abraham Lincoln. You just think as a Republican leader, my job is to make sure that each generation is more free and has more dignity as an individual which is a unique gift of the United states to the world. The thought of treating a whole bunch of people just because of who they love differently is in my view against that Lincoln tradition, which was brought so well to life by the movie," Kirk said, according to audio of the interview IRN provided to the Sun-Times.

"I thought the country was ready for it," Kirk said. "The gay community is larger than it ever has been before. And it's not in the 1950s closet, so most of of us have gay acquaintances at work or at church and we know them. And the thought of discriminating against our own friends and coworkers is an anathema to me."

As for whether same sex marriage could become legal in Illinois, Kirk gave a yes.
"I think from what I've seen in my talks with Chris Radogno, it would appear that it's coming soon," he said in the radio interview. "I do prefer states doing this. I would hope we would restrain our appetite for power in Washington and not take over marriage law for the whole country."

MAP: 2015 Chicago Wards

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These ward boundaries are set to take effect in 2015:

SPRINGFIELD-After making 20 fundraising stops in the last month, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner announced Tuesday that his gubernatorial campaign committee has raised $1.3 million during his 60-day "listening tour" across Illinois.

Since his campaign's inception on March 5, the prospective 2014 Republican nominee for governor claimed he is moving into this year's second quarter with more than $1.2 million cash on hand, $249,000 of which came from Rauner's own pockets.

"The folks I'm meeting as I travel the state understand Illinois needs a political outsider willing to take on the failed status quo in Springfield, and I'm excited by their response to my exploratory committee," Rauner said in a prepared statement. "The amount of support we've received in less than a month exceeds expectations and underscores the fact that Illinoisans are looking for someone to bring a fresh perspective to solving the challenges facing our state."

Campaign contribution records show most support for Rauner's prospective bid flows from business interests, both inside and outside Illinois' borders. At least $265,000 donated to Rauner's exploratory committee by the end of March came from out of state - stretching from Los Angeles to New York City - according to Illinois State Board of Elections data.

The state board's database also shows that Rauner's three largest single contributions were each for $10,500 from Carstin Brands, Inc. in Arthur, Ill., Open Prairie Ventures, Inc. in Effingham, Ill. and United Shore Financial Services, LLC in Troy, Mich.

Rauner is an investor in Chicago Sun-Times parent company, Wrapports, LLC, and first publically stated interest in a 2014 run for governor three years ago. His potential Republican competitors include state Treasurer Dan Rutherford; state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), the 2010 GOP nominee for governor; state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale); U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.); and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

Rauner was positioned at the bottom of that list of potential nominees, getting only 7 percent of support from respondents in a November poll commissioned last November by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm.

"The more time I spend discussing both the hopes and the concerns of people who want to see a better Illinois, the more convinced I am that our state's future is bright," Rauner said in a prepared statement. "The fact is Illinois' greatest resource is her people. Unfortunately, they have been let down time and again by the politicians in Springfield. It's time for an outsider."

Rauner has already stopped in at least 10 mostly Downstate counties and plans to make stops in Monroe, Rockford and Rosemont counties this week.

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk on Tuesday announced via his website that he would support same-sex marriage - the second Senate Republican to do so. From Kirk's statement:

When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.

Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back-- government has no place in the middle.

Kirk's endorsement comes at a critical time in both the national debate as well as in Illinois. While the Illinois Senate passed a measure supporting same sex marriage on Valentine's Day, the Illinois House went on spring break before calling it for a vote.

Last week, sources told the Sun-Times that several state House Republicans were poised to support the measure, hoping in part, not to make the issue define the state Republican party. A blow-up over the issue happened earlier this year when state Sen. Jim Oberweis attempted to oust the state party chairman, Pat Brady, since he backed gay marriage.

Kirk, a moderate Republican, came to Brady's defense, as did other GOP stalwarts.

In his Senate campaign against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, however, Kirk opposed gay marriage. At a debate Oct. 19, 2010, Kirk said: "I -- I oppose gay marriage, and -- I support civil unions. But I also don't think we should have a federal takeover of all marriage law in the United States. I think the federal government is already trying to take over too much." Full transcript of the Senate debate.

Kirk previously voted to end the policy barring gays from openly serving in the military, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He's a lead co-sponsor of a bill to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and has opposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Kirk is Illinois' ranking Republican lawmaker.

Natasha Korecki, AP contributing

A member of the U.S. Ways and Means Committee, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) will have a stern message about the economy when he addresses the City Club of Chicago today.

If the U.S. doesn't get its fiscal house in order, Roskam argues, the federal government could be headed for a nasty mess only matched by what's happening in Springfield.

Roskam, once a state lawmaker himself, is expected to use Illinois as a precise example of how not to manage government finances. He began serving in the U.S. House in 2007 and now ranks fourth among house Republican leaders.

Here's a peek at some of his remarks expected later today:
"Without a real solution to our structural debt problems--namely, reforming a Medicare system that will go bankrupt in little over a decade--President Obama's second term will see the country's future look like Illinois' present, with families feeling the ripple effect of bad budgeting decisions."

State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) — the man who replaced Barack Obama in the state senate — tells the Chicago Sun-Times today he has his eye on the Illinois Attorney General post should Lisa Madigan make a move for governor. And once the session is over, he will ramp up fund-raising.

Raoul, citing the Sunday report in the paper that he, like many in state politicians, are waiting to see what Lisa Madigan will do. If she does indeed run for governor, it would set off a chain reaction with various office holders hoping to make a move up the ladder.

“If it were to become vacant as a result of Lisa Madigan electing to do something else, it would have to be something that I look at,” said Raoul, a lawyer and former state prosecutor with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. “The attorney general’s office … is an advocacy office and it’s the state’s main attorney. So my legal perspective, my broad legal experience is important … I like that aspect of it. I think that’s what I’ve done well in my role as a state legislator.”

Raoul, an advocate for same sex marriage and a ban on the death penalty, was originally appointed to the state senate in Nov. 2004 - when Barack Obama was elected to U.S. Senate. He says he is fully engrossed in the legislative session, including being put in charge of negotiating gun safety legislation in his chamber.

When session is out, he plans to beef up fund-raising for statewide office.

“I’m going to turn my attention to that as we conclude our legislative session. Fund-raising is the arduous but necessary task you have to tackle, when considering running for any office,” Raoul said.

Other possible contenders for the seat are Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Every Monday, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy pushes his proposal for truth-in-sentencing and mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes by talking about the weekend victims and perpetrators who wouldn't have been on the streets if not for lenient sentencing.


Late last week, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Ray LaHood and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the City of Chicago was accepting a $100 million federal loan to fund completion of the city's river walk, a plan that would make a six-block stretch into a Millennium Park-like experience. It's certainly an opportunity to beautify some prime downtown real estate, investing in local money as well as tourism and small businesses. And Millennium Park - though it came in well over budget - has still proven to be everything planners hoped, a very positive footprint for downtown. But after the initial announcement, there are still lingering questions to the deal that the city should answer before construction on the project begins. [PDF of the press release]

1. The terms of paying back the loan.

As Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Speilman reported last week, the city is being hazy on plans for revenue to repay the 35-year loan.

Emanuel and his Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein were somewhat sketchy on where the revenues will come from to repay a 35-year loan with no payment schedule until construction that is scheduled to start in 2014 is completed two years later.
"A little over 70 percent of the revenues will come from ... the existing tour boat fees, which were re-bid last year. Right there, we've got the bulk of it covered," Klein said.
"We've got retail leasing. We've got various other advertising and sponsorship opportunities, which we're not even heavily counting on. And we've been extremely conservative in our estimates on revenues purposely because we knew we'd have to go through a very rigorous process, which we have, with" the U.S. Transportation Department."

Seventy percent is a good chunk of money and would certainly be a positive for taking care of any lingering debt. But as the economy has been slow to rebound - particularly in Illinois - that's banking on the revenue coming in at expectations. Where will the remaining 30 percent - $30 million - and additional revenue come from? Ads? Taxes on businesses? It's admittedly not a huge chunk of money but more transparency would be nice in lieu of the disaster that is the parking meter lease.

2. Is there allowance in case this project goes over budget and over schedule?
Anyone who has ever watched home renovation shows on HGTV or elsewhere knows that nothing ever comes in on-time and on-budget. The best example? The project's comparison, Millennium Park, which was four years late and $325 million over-budget. Granted, the River Walk doesn't affect as large a foot print as Millennium Park, but the likelihood is still there for the unforeseen. Will the city be able to provide overage costs? Will the city have the ability to increase the loan and how long it has to pay back the loan?

3. Why a loan and, therefore, more debt?
The city is in enough debt as it is right now, especially given the parking meter deal and the gobs of money the city actually owes as a result of that - a deal Emanuel vowed to fight, to a degree, because of the financial burden and structure of the 75-year arrangement. The CTA has been able to secure plenty of federal funding for renovations and projects to rebuild its infrastructure. Were there better avenues to pursue to secure the money to pay for the river walk like federal funding? Why was the decision made to accept the loan and add to the money the city owes to various entities? $100 million over 35 years may not seem like a lot, but with the city still fighting steep debt, are the long-term revenue projections that good?

4. The big question: Why use a loan for this project?
To ignore the long-term benefits of the river walk project would be fool-hardy; using Millennium Park example as a comparison, there are certainly benefits for the city to reap here, including more beautified green space downtown. But the question at this moment in time for the city is one of priorities. With the largest single closing of public schools in the nation looming and a police department in need of more cops to continue holding back the city's murder rate, is this the best use of a loan? True, the loan and development can exist independently from those items but again the concern is that the project stay within budget and not cause more debt than is intended. And if the city is willing to incur temporary debt for this loan, have they spent the same amount of time researching similar loans to help cushion the number of school closings or to help pay for additional police? If the effort and risk is being taken on something of this nature - something more superficial - than isn't the effort and risk worth taking on more important endeavors to the city's infrastructure?