The Long Weekender: A January 10th-17th political roundup

January 17, 2011

Who knew Fridays could be so short? Better late than never, we’re here on a holiday with your weekly digest of the best game in town.

Mayoral race shapes up

We start, as usual, at the top of the ticket: Early on last week, the race for Chicago mayor was whittled down to six candidates as James Meeks and Danny Davis were officially dropped from the Board of Election Commissioners list (pdf) and a few lesser-known candidates were knocked off. A new poll, conducted January 4-6 and released last week, shows Rahm Emanuel’s lead growing to 42 percent. Carol Moseley Braun is coming in second at 26 percent, followed by Gery Chico at 10 percent and Miguel del Valle at 7 percent, with a margin of error of 4 points. Despite their trailing positions, Chico and del Valle remained adamant that neither plans to drop out for the purposes of presenting a Latino consensus candidate. Chico may have gained an extra edge with an endorsement early in the week from Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and then there’s the matter of campaign cash—Chico flexed his money muscle with his first television ad buy.

Now, if polls and TV ads don’t satisfy your desire for information on the candidates, never fear! We learned more on the issues last week as well. The Chicago News Cooperative got a scoop, finding out that Emanuel, unlike the other major candidates in the race, favors a reduction in pension benefits for existing city employees. In contrast, del Valle, Braun, and Chico all say they would go for a two-tiered pension system, with existing employees keeping their full benefits and new employees starting with reduced retirement plans.

Emanuel also let us in on his anti-crime plans: he says he’d add 1000 new police officers, for starters. He wasn’t the only one talking crime—Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins promised a 20 percent drop in shootings if elected mayor. 

Editorial board season

Braun, meanwhile, got down to business with the Crain’s editorial board. She told them she’s more interested in a third airport than O’Hare expansion, and suggested she might re-do the city parking meter lease deal once she un-does the current one. Braun also visited the Sun-Times editorial board, telling them it’s not so important to elect a black mayor as it is to elect the best mayor.

And then there was the Tribune editorial board meeting Friday (video here) with not just Braun, but Chico, del Valle and Emanuel as well. The headline from the unofficial debate held there was “Emanuel’s rivals gang up on him.” The quote of the day came from Braun, who at one point insisted, “Let’s talk about tampons” in reference to a comment Emanuel allegedly made while working in the White House as President Obama’s Chief of Staff. Also Friday, Emanuel was a hot topic at a forum held by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee rights, where panelists questioned his commitment to immigrants. The Christian Science Monitor explored both sides of that debate.

PAC-ing City Council

Another question for Emanuel last week: how connected is he to a new political action committee that claims to have $1 million in the bank? Not very, says an aide, though Emanuel’s former congressional campaign manager is leading the group, called For a Better Chicago. According to the Chicago News Cooperative, the business-backed group seems poised to counter an upcoming union push for aldermanic votes. The brewing battle should be interesting to watch in the weeks ahead.

Regardless of who is backed by either camp, two candidates scored some political points last week when Mayor Daley appointed them to occupy vacant seats in the council. Timothy Cullerton is in the 38th ward; Jason Ervin in the 28th. Shirley Newsome was appointed to the 4th but she’s not running for election. The new appointees are subject to Council approval.

Also in City Council business last week, a proposed ordinance to use TIF funds for affordable housing was delayed; the measure has been in play for over a year. Meanwhile, Alderman Joe Moreno (1st) introduced a new ordinance to prevent city employees who are convicted of corruption from receiving a paycheck while awaiting sentencing. Earlier in the week, the Sun-Times reported that nine former city employees had been paid even after being convicted of corruption.

In other city news, Mayor Daley announced that Chicago Police chief Jody Weis would stay on the job after his contract expires in March, at least until Daley’s term ends in May. No longer overseeing the City Council Police Committee is Alderman Anthony Beale (9th)—word is that he angered rank-and-file police officers with a number of measures, including a plan to reallocate police resources. Alderman Michelle Harris (8th) is the new Police Committee chairman; Ald. Beale now heads the powerful Transportation Committee.

Lame duck business

Easily rivaling the mayoral race beat this week was news from Springfield. Governor Pat Quinn was sworn in to a full 4-year term and not long after, he signed a bill to raise the state's personal income tax rate by 67 percent. The problem is, it’s not enough—both outside analysts and the governor’s budget director warn that a pretty substantial hole remains. At least for now, an expansion of gambling won’t help to fill it.  That proposal never made it to the House floor. The tax hike has some folks upset enough to try for a recall of the governor. Most of the mayoral candidates, by the way, are also not too happy about the hike.

Whether Quinn signs or vetoes a bill repealing the death penalty, he’ll be sure to ignite passions on one side of the controversial issue. The Senate passed that legislation early last week. The lame-duck legislature also sent the governor a bill to scale back the program that provides free transit rides to seniors—if Quinn signs it, only lower-income riders will now get that perk.

Look ahead

That’s the past week in political news—let us know if you think we missed something. And get ready for another week full of action: tonight’s the first televised mayoral debate—on WTTW Channel 11—and the first debate where Emanuel will participate. Tomorrow, Bill Clinton is in town to campaign for Emanuel. And later in the week, Chinese President Hu Jintao will be in Chicago.