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Sweet Column: Blagojevich D.C. Debacle.


Gov. Blagojevich was in Washington on Tuesday. Let me first summarize the developments or rather, the debacle.

*Blagojevich stiffed Mayor Daley and Sen. Dick Durbin by originally skipping a joint press conference with the two other top Illinois Democrats, only to scamper to it in retreat after his chief of staff, John Harris, and an aide could not shake reporters who had questions for the governor.

*The governor said the proposed Prairie Parkway was not a priority for him even though it was listed as a transportation priority in the official joint city-state federal initiative document being handed out Tuesday signed by Daley and Blagojevich. The document was released at the news conference at the exact time Blagojevich, a few dozen yards away, was downplaying his interest in the road.

The parkway is a pet project of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who inserted the project into a bill last year through an increasingly controversial process called earmarking.

Earlier this month, digging journalists and a watchdog group investigating the role of money in politics and policy, revealed Hastert made about $2 million by selling land adjacent to his Plano home in Kendall County, a few miles from the proposed parkway.

*The governor, when he decided to rejoin Daley, Durbin and other members of the delegation, let slip a secret -- that he was in Boston on Monday afternoon for a fund-raising lunch hosted by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). The governor entertained donors at another fund-raiser in Washington on Monday night; I showed up and covered. Where Blagojevich goes to raise or prospect for money is, with few exceptions, a closely guarded Blagojevich secret.

Most in delegation take a pass

Here's how the afternoon unfolded:

Blagojevich and Daley threw a lunch Tuesday (in Durbin's offices) for the 21-member Illinois delegation -- only 10 lawmakers bothered to show -- to review the joint city-state agenda.

The lunchers, in no particular order: Democrats Durbin, fellow senator Barack Obama, Danny Davis. Melissa Bean, Jan Schakowsky, Rahm Emanuel, Dan Lipinski. Republicans Judy Biggert, Ray LaHood, Don Manzullo.

No shows: Hastert, though there was a place set for him and Republicans Mark Steven Kirk; Henry Hyde; Jerry Weller; Tim Johnson, and John Shimkus. Democrats Luis Gutierrez, Jesse Jackson Jr., Jerry Costello; Bobby Rush and Lane Evans, who is ill.

It was mainly a Blagojevich-Daley symbolic show since Congress has long been at work on items related to fiscal 2007. In reality, the city and the state have professional lobbying offices in Washington that stay on top of federal legislation. The Chicago and Illinois shops work closely with Durbin's operation. The list of major projects and goals for this year has not changed much since last year.

Joint city-state priorities either are in the pipeline by now, are not to be or will spring to life at the behest of the powerful Hastert, who will throw them in a bill at the last minute as an earmark. Durbin also has juice as a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Since there was no strategic reason for the joint lunch (sandwiches and chips) -- it had been postponed because of Daley and Blagojevich scheduling issues -- the only reason then would be to draw public attention to some policy goals.

But Blagojevich was set to leave through a rear door of Durbin's suite of offices in the Capitol. However, he was sidelined as reporters started asking him questions. Daley and Durbin were left to start their news conference, flanked with several members of the delegation, with most of the reporters not even there.

Honda plant may be lost cause

I asked Blagojevich about his commitment to the Prairie Parkway because I have been writing about Hastert's windfall and because Hastert complained a few weeks ago about Blagojevich not delivering on needed state funds for the roadway. Hastert blistered Blagojevich on this point while keynoting a Washington fund-raiser for GOP gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka.

"I don't have a strong opinion about it one way or the other,'' Blagojevich said. With a wicked grin he queried me, "Why do you ask?''

And what was Blagojevich's hurry? He said he had to get back to Illinois in order to meet with executives from Honda, the automaker. He was trying to woo them to build a major plant in Illinois. He also said, when I asked, that he had a fund-raiser in Chicago on Tuesday night.

And that Honda plant? Indiana officials are expected to announce today that it is going to be in their state.

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Where do I go to get a sweet political job? It's kind of like fraud isn't it? Doing one thing while getting paid to be doing something else.

BLAGO, what an honorable man, undeniable ties with slime like Dominic Longo, yet he denies it, Puts his name on every sign at our expense even though he is a one term gov ( not that topinka is anything special, shes not, she is the lesser of two idiots) ,he hires non union workers to work on his home, when the unions endorse him,and give him their money, what a stand up guy! Just look at what he did to his inlaws family, what kind of person is this?

Lynn Sweet's column today discloses that Governor Blagojevich does not consider the proposed Prairie Parkway as a priority project. The Parkway would be a brand new freeway between I-80 and I-88, serving the development interests in Yorkville and northern Kendall County.

Speaker Hastert attempted to jump start the highway with a last minute $207 million earmark in the federal highway bill in 2005. That's just the down payment on the $1 billion plus project -- and the state would have to pony up at least 20 percent of the cost.

With so many other competing transportation projects, state and local leaders must realize what must be sacrificed if the Prairie Parkway is to be built. Governor Blagojevich even suggested a year ago that the Prairie Parkway earmark might better be spent on project with current and real needs -- like adding capacity to I-55.

Rather than build an entire new highway, improvements to Illinois 47, roughly paralleling the Prairie Parkway, would be a smarter investment. The state could even tap that Prairie Parkway money for the Illinois 47 improvements, since the federal highway bill provides funds for a "I-80 to I-88 north-south connector." Sounds like a perfect description of Illinois 47.

Other north-south routes could benefit, too, including the Wikaduke Trail connecting I-80 to I-88 further east and the proposed Eldamain Road extension across the Fox River west of Yorkville.

Focusing on these projects would save the billion dollar price tag of the Prairie Parkway, spare the thousands of acres of prime farmland that the Prairie Parkway would destroy, and avoid another path to accelerating sprawl through Kane and Kendall counties.

See additional details on the Prairie Parkway and better options at:

Yet Governor Blagojevich's Secretary of Transportation Tim Martin is driving the project full speed ahead. Do you believe the governor's off-hand words on a few occasions which may have a political motive, or his staff's consistent actions over the last few years?

With several thousand acres being consumed by new housing and commercial development in the western exurbs each year, the argument about how much land this parkway would consume is a moot one. And expanding highways like IL 47 is at least as likely, if not more, to generate the kind of development that anti-sprawl advocates disdain. Look at US 34 through Oswego. 5 years ago there was a lot of vacant land next to the 2-lane US 34, now try to find a parcel anywhere along it that hasn't been developed.

The boom in the western exurbs is one of the few bright spots in IL's otherwise dismal economic performance. I'm not saying the parkway should or shouldn't be built, but with the Honda plant slipping away from IL (if it was ever within grasp), the governor would be wise to get maximum benefit to the state's citizens from the momentum that is occurring in the western exurbs. Maybe some industry to follow all those roof tops that are popping up out west.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on June 28, 2006 8:35 AM.

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