WBEZ | Politics http://www.wbez.org/news/politics Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 2014 Election Coverage: Citizens, here's your homework! http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/vote.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>We&rsquo;re trying to make it a little easier for you to stay up-to-speed this election season. This is a hub for Illinois voters to study up on the issues and candidates before voting on (<a href="http://www.elections.state.il.us/votinginformation/earlyvotinglocations.aspx" target="_blank">or before</a>) Nov. 4.</p><p>On election night, we&#39;re hosting a live watch party in Chicago with hosts Niala Boodhoo and Melba Lara. If you can&#39;t make it to the party, join us that night <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZPolitics">@WBEZPolitics</a>&nbsp;to get the latest updates. And here&#39;s <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZ/lists/election-2014" target="_blank">a list</a> of who we&#39;ve got covering the races and issues.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size:18px;"><strong>Election Coverage<a name="elections"></a></strong> | <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#heygov" target="_self">Hey Gov</a> | <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#debates" target="_self">Full Debate Audio</a> | <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#links" target="_self">Links You Need</a></span></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="350" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/55986159&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size:18px;"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#elections" target="_self">Election Coverage</a> |<strong> </strong><strong>Hey Gov<a name="heygov"></a> </strong>|<strong> </strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#debates" target="_self">Full Debate Audio</a> | <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#links" target="_self">Links You Need</a></span></p><p>WBEZ reporters Al Keefe, Tony Arnold and Patrick Smith traveled <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/hey-gov-illinois-politics-road-trip-110657">around the state of Illinois</a> to understand <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/hey-gov">what&#39;s on the minds of voters</a> this November.&nbsp;</p><ul><li><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959">The health problems facing Illinois&#39; urban and rural poor</a></li><li><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/state-government-could-take-over-school-district-near-you-110943">How state government could take over your school</a></li><li><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/battle-over-state-facility-personal-political-110925">Picking up the pieces after budget cuts shut down a center for people with disabilities</a></li></ul><p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size:18px;"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#elections" target="_self">Election Coverage</a> |<strong> </strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#heygov" target="_self">Hey Gov</a><strong> </strong>|<strong> Full Debate Audio<a name="debates"></a></strong> | <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#links" target="_self">Links You Need</a></span></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="350" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/55878303&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><span style="font-size:18px;"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#elections" target="_self">Election Coverage</a> | <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#heygov" target="_self">Hey Gov</a> | <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973#debates" target="_self">Full Debate Audio</a> | <strong>Links You Need<a name="links"></a></strong></span></p><ul><li><a href="http://www.elections.il.gov/votinginformation/RegistrationLookup.aspx" target="_blank">How to vote</a></li><li><a href="http://www.elections.state.il.us/votinginformation/earlyvotinglocations.aspx" target="_blank">Early Voting Locations </a></li><li><a href="http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/elections/2014elections/Pages/110414Candidates.aspx" target="_blank">Nov 4, 2014 Candidates (Suburban Cook County)</a></li><li><a href="http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/elections/2014elections/Pages/AllReferenda.aspx" target="_blank">Nov 4, 2014 Ballot referenda </a></li><li><a href="http://www.elections.il.gov/infoforvoters.aspx" target="_blank">Other voter information</a><br />&nbsp;</li></ul></p> Tue, 21 Oct 2014 14:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973 The health problems facing rural and urban poor in Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/chinese.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Each year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin&rsquo;s Population Health Institute put out the County Health Rankings. The rankings show how counties across the country match up on things like life expectancy and residents&rsquo; health.</p><p>Julie Willems Van Dijk is one of the directors.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason we do it is to raise awareness about how healthy our communities are, and how healthy they&rsquo;re not. To do so in a way that piques people&rsquo;s interest by comparing them to other counties in their community. And ultimately in a way that helps everybody see &hellip; that health in your community is not just about what the doctors and nurses do. But it really is about decisions that are made by businesses, by government,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>Most of the counties around Chicago do really well,&nbsp; but Cook County is way down near the bottom - 75 out of 102 Illinois counties in health outcomes.</p><p>Twenty spots down the list from Cook is Edwards County. Edwards County ranks 96th of all Illinois counties for health outcomes. It&rsquo;s worth looking at because unlike most of the sickest counties, it isn&rsquo;t particularly poor. Edwards County&rsquo;s poverty level is better than the state average.</p><p>&ldquo;Income, and especially poverty are definitely drivers of health,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not what&rsquo;s happening in Edwards County.</p><p>Edwards is due south from Chicago, down near where Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana meet. It&rsquo;s incredibly sparse with just 30 people per square mile. The Illinois average is almost eight times as much.</p><p>Misty Pearson is the administrator of the Edwards County Health Office.</p><p>Edwards is one of only two counties in Illinois without an official health department. That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s called a health office, instead of a department of health like in almost every other county.</p><p>&ldquo;We are not certified by the state of Illinois, by choice, I guess. Not my choice, I would change that if I could,&rdquo; Pearson says.</p><p>The health office isn&rsquo;t certified because Edwards County leaders are so against the state being involved in their county they refuse to take health funding from Illinois because it comes with strings attached - like state oversight.</p><p>&ldquo;Food sanitation, we don&rsquo;t have that. None of our restaurants are inspected. It does [make me nervous]. There are certain restaurants I won&rsquo;t eat at,&rdquo; Pearson says. &ldquo;The only thing we can do that a health department does is vaccines for children.&rdquo;</p><p>So Edwards County - despite its low health ranking and relative economic strength - isn&rsquo;t the best indicator of the state&rsquo;s health needs overall.</p><p>The state government can&rsquo;t force people to vaccinate their kids or make counties take its money.</p><p>Still, experts say Illinois needs to come up with policies that work for Edwards County with 30-people per square mile, and Cook County with 5,500-people per square mile.</p><p>They say it can be done. Because despite their differences in population and demographics the two counties face similar health challenges.</p><p>At the top of the list is access to doctors.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Public Health has a map of areas with a dearth of primary care providers.</p><p>There are a lot of downstate counties shaded in - but there&rsquo;s also a bunch of Chicago neighborhoods -- from Rogers Park up north to Austin on the West Side and Chicago Heights down south.</p><p>Harold Pollack with the University of Chicago says the state could help poor people in urban and rural areas by raising Medicaid rates, or just paying its bills on time.</p><p>&ldquo;I can tell you that as someone who takes care of an adult on Medicaid that there are services that we can&rsquo;t use because the providers that we&rsquo;d like to use don&rsquo;t accept Medicaid,&rdquo; Pollack says.</p><p>So physician shortages might not be the happiest point of unity, but Misty Pearson in Edwards County and Harold Pollack in Chicago say they - and others - will be thinking of it when they go into the voting booth.</p><p>In a little more than a week there will be millions of people at the polls. They&rsquo;ll each have different experiences and different expectations, but they&rsquo;ll all be voting on the future of one state.</p><p>&ldquo;How are we going to make these budget numbers work &hellip; and also pay for the services that people in the state actually want and will continue to demand,&rdquo; says Pollack..</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ Reporter/Producer. Follow him on twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/pksmid" target="_blank">@pksmid</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 12:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 Are Chicago's shorter yellow lights unsafe, or just unfair? http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 <p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s red light cameras are under increased scrutiny, after a <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/redlight/"><em>Chicago Tribune</em> investigation</a> found glitchy cameras may have issued thousands of tickets in error. The report also found many yellow lights are slightly short of the city standard of three seconds.</p><p>WBEZ has been looking into yellow lights too &mdash; and we&rsquo;ve found something else. Many traffic experts say Chicago flouts industry best practices with how it programs its traffic control devices &mdash; and one engineer says it may be &ldquo;entrapping&rdquo; drivers into running red lights.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Should I run? Should I stop?</span></p><p>Our inquiry started with Pavel Gigov, a North Side resident who, incidentally, is not a transportation engineer. Gigov drives a car, and like many of us, he&rsquo;s gotten a red light camera ticket or two. He got one in April at an intersection he normally drove through on his way home from work, and thought something was strange.</p><p>&ldquo;The light turned yellow and my immediate reaction was, OK, let me figure out what to do,&rdquo; Gigov recounted. &ldquo;And before I could actually even put my mind around what the decent thing to do is &mdash; should I run? should I stop? &mdash; it was already red and I was in the middle of the intersection.&rdquo;</p><p>The intersection was at W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave., in Chicago&rsquo;s West Ridge neighborhood. The streets are pretty wide: each has six or seven lanes across, and like many Chicago roads, the speed limit is 30 miles an hour.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="450" src="https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m16!1m12!1m3!1d209.6174687124326!2d-87.69939310755217!3d41.99043739075356!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!2m1!1scalifornia+ave+peterson+ave!5e1!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1409930061367" style="border:0" width="600"></iframe></p><p><em>Gigov received his red light camera ticket at the intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Like many Chicago intersections, the streets have a speed limit of 30mph.</em></p><p>Gigov said the moment he crossed into the intersection, he saw the flash of the red light camera going off.</p><p>&ldquo;And I knew that there was something that was going to be in the mail pretty soon,&rdquo; he laughed.</p><p>Sure, enough, Gigov got a $100 ticket in the mail. He paid it, but still, he wondered: wasn&rsquo;t that yellow light kind of short?</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Is it safe? Is it fair?</span></p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation says</a> the city&rsquo;s yellow light intervals &ldquo;fall within the guidelines of the Federal Highway Administration&rsquo;s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and adheres to recommendations by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s half-true.</p><p>First, the true part: <a href="http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009r1r2/html_index.htm">the MUTCD does, indeed, recommend</a> that yellow lights fall between 3 and 6 seconds. At the intersection where Gigov got his ticket, a frame-by-frame video analysis of the traffic signal showed that the yellow light lasts exactly three seconds &mdash; the minimum recommended under the MUTCD guidelines.</p><p>But three seconds falls short of what the yellow light interval should be, if the city were to follow ITE recommendations as it claims. Gigov said he worries that in flouting best engineering practices, Chicago may put drivers at risk. Particularly at red light camera intersections, where each traffic violation could bring dollars into the city&rsquo;s coffers.</p><p>&ldquo;Are we trading in accidents for revenue?&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Unfortunately in the City of Chicago, that&rsquo;s a legitimate question.&rdquo;</p><p>The city claims it implements a blanket policy on yellow light intervals, regardless of whether there&rsquo;s a red light camera: three seconds when the speed limit is 30mph or lower, and four seconds when it&rsquo;s 35mph or higher. &ldquo;Chicago&rsquo;s yellow times are more than adequate for a driver traveling the speed limit to react and stop safely,&rdquo; it states on the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html">CDOT website</a>. The policy bucks a growing trend among transportation agencies nationwide.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of a constant time is not typical,&rdquo; said James Taylor, a retired traffic engineer in Indiana.</p><p>While there&rsquo;s no federal mandate that requires transportation agencies to follow a method in determining yellow light intervals, Taylor said more places are adopting a <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">mathematical equation</a> that has been developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</p><p>&ldquo;It keeps getting more and more widely accepted,&rdquo; said Taylor, &ldquo;as opposed to the system you&rsquo;re talking about where we just say let&rsquo;s just make all of them three (seconds), or three-and-a-half, or something like that.&rdquo;</p><p>A 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">survey</a> of more than 200 transportation agencies in the U.S., Canada and Germany, found only 6 percent timed their yellow light intervals the way Chicago does. By contrast, the largest chunk &mdash; almost 40 percent &mdash; used the ITE equation.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Using the ITE formula</span></p><p>The ITE formula for the length of yellow lights factors in the specific conditions of an individual intersection, such as speed limit and the grade of the road. It also uses numerical assumptions based on extensive field studies.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="Y=t+(1.47V/2a+64.4g)" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-1.png" style="height: 64px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">Where:</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Y = total clearance period (in seconds)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>t = perception-reaction time (usually 1 second)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>a = deceleration rate (ft/sec&sup2;)</em></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>g = percent of grade divided by 100</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The equation assumes a perception-reaction time, <em>t</em>, of one second for the average driver, based on field measurements. In other words, it takes about that long for a typical driver to see that the light has changed to yellow, and to decide what to do.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">The fraction shown in the equation calculates how long it should take to decelerate to a stop, based on a typical driver&rsquo;s approach speed (<em>V</em>), a comfortable deceleration rate (<em>a</em>), and the grade of the intersection. Traffic engineers recommend using the 85th percentile of approaching traffic to determine a typical approach speed. If that hasn&rsquo;t, or cannot, be measured, a commonly accepted approximation is to add 7mph to the speed limit. &nbsp;Field studies have also found that a comfortable deceleration rate, <em>a</em>, for drivers is 10 ft/sec&sup2;. In Chicago, the grade of the street, <em>g</em>, is negligible, so we assume it to be zero.</div><p>Plug the numbers in for the intersection where Gigov received his yellow ticket, and it yields a yellow light interval, <em>Y</em>, of 3.7 seconds &mdash; that is, 0.7 seconds longer than it actually lasts. Studies show that could significantly change outcomes at an intersection.</p><p>&ldquo;Increasing the yellow by one second would decrease violations by 50-60 percent, and reduce crashes by 35-40 percent,&rdquo; said Davey Warren, a transportation engineer who spent most of his career with the Federal Highway Administration.</p><p>That agency has been pushing transportation departments nationwide to adopt the kinematic equation. In fact, in 2012 it made a change to the MUTCD that would require agencies to switch to engineering practices to determine yellow light intervals by mid-June of 2017.</p><p>Many traffic engineers were surprised to hear that Chicago does not already use widely-accepted engineering practices to calculate its yellow light intervals.</p><p>&ldquo;There is a general rule with engineers, you should be following the best accepted practice unless they can document valid reasons for not doing so,&rdquo; said Warren.</p><p>WBEZ requested multiple times to interview someone at Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Transportation. The department didn&rsquo;t respond. The department also failed to respond to a request under the Freedom of Information Act for its programming instructions for traffic control devices.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">After the yellow, comes the all-red</span></p><p>But before you worry that the city&rsquo;s putting drivers at risk by skimping on yellow light times, there&rsquo;s a twist. In addition to recommending a mathematically-derived yellow light interval, transportation engineers also recommend something called an <em>all-red interval</em>. That&rsquo;s a brief moment after the yellow light, where the lights are red in <em>all directions</em>. It gives a chance for cars still caught in the intersection to finish crossing before the opposing traffic gets a green.</p><p>The ITE recommendation for the all-red interval has changed over time. However,a 2012 <a href="http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/nchrp_rpt_731.pdf">study</a> by the National Cooperative Highway Research Board proposed the following guideline for the calculation:&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="R=(W+L/1.47V)-1" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-light-fomula-2.png" style="height: 59px; width: 200px;" title="" /></div><p>Where:</p><p><em>R = all-red clearance interval (seconds)</em><br /><em>W = intersection width (ft)</em><br /><em>L = length of vehicle (ft)</em><br /><em>V = 85th percentile approach speed (mph)</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s worth noting that there&rsquo;s some debate over subtracting the number 1 on the right side of this equation. The &nbsp;ITE contemplates both possibilities. The NCHRP study found in field studies that it typically takes one second for drivers to perceive and react to a change to green after the all-red interval. So in its conclusions, it recommends subtracting that reaction time, to keep traffic flow more efficient.</p><p>Across transportation engineering literature, the standard length of a vehicle, <em>L</em>, is 20 feet, and again, the approach speed is approximated by adding 7mph to the speed limit.</p><p>At Gigov&rsquo;s intersection, where the streets were approximately 60 feet wide, the formula above yields an all-red clearance interval of 0.47 seconds. That means a vehicle that was caught in the intersection when the light turned red, would still have about half-a-second to finish its transition before opposing traffic gets a green light.</p><p>It turns out, the actual all-red clearance interval at the intersection of W Peterson Ave and N California Ave alternates between one and two seconds. Both of these are much longer than the formula recommends.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/yellow-lights-2.png" title="" /></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>At a typical intersection in Chicago, where speed limits are 30mph, the city sets yellow lights at three seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of at least one second. By comparison, best engineering practices recommends a yellow light of 3.7 seconds, followed by an all-red clearance interval of .47 seconds. Experts say that while the total clearance times are close (4 seconds and 4.17 seconds, respectively), the misallocation of time between the yellow and all-red intervals may entrap drivers into more violations.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Data on actual yellow lights from CDOT&rsquo;s website and field measurements at intersection of W Peterson Ave. and N California Ave. Recommended calculations based on the<a href="http://www.ite.org/bookstore/IR-113.pdf"> kinematic equation</a> developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><span style="font-size: 22px;">&lsquo;Entrapping drivers into running red lights&rsquo;</span></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Together, the yellow light and the all-red interval add up to what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;change period.&rdquo; That &ldquo;change period&rdquo; at the intersection where Gigov got his ticket equals the three-second yellow light, plus one or two seconds for the all-red interval -- a total of four or five seconds. Engineering practices would yield a nearly similar result: a 3.7 second yellow light, followed by 0.47 second all-red interval, totaling 4.17 seconds.</div><p>The difference is, Chicago shortens the yellow portion of the change interval, and lengthens the all-red portion.</p><p>&ldquo;So from a safety standpoint, it&rsquo;s probably OK, but the thing is they&rsquo;re misallocating the times,&rdquo; said Warren, &ldquo;and so they&rsquo;re basically entrapping drivers into running red lights.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, Chicago&rsquo;s yellow light intervals may not be unsafe, but they may be unfair.</p><p>Gigov said if the city wants to win back public trust when it comes to its use of red light cameras, it should use to the most up-to-date engineering guidelines when it programs its traffic control devices.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re the city of Chicago, and your fiduciary duty is to serve residents of the city, and not to increase the revenue in such a borderline shady way,&rdquo; said Gigov.</p><p>Last year, anger over red light camera tickets in Florida prompted a reexamination of yellow lights. It turned out, yellow lights in that state were also timed contrary to engineering formulas. So Florida&rsquo;s Department of Transportation mandated the lights be lengthened.</p><p>Gigov said he hopes Chicago will do the same.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 08:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/are-chicagos-shorter-yellow-lights-unsafe-or-just-unfair-110955 Emanuel budget avoids pension woes http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-budget-avoids-pension-woes-110944 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP580286472422.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-f04d8a28-15c2-c46d-badf-148104888658">Just months before facing voters at the polls, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday unveiled a 2015 budget plan that boosts popular city services and closes an estimated $297 million spending gap with a menu of revenue increases.</p><p>But the $8.9 billion spending blueprint does not address what is arguably the city&rsquo;s most pressing financial challenge: a $550 million balloon payment to the city&rsquo;s drastically underfunded police and fire pension funds, due in 2016.</p><p>Instead, Emanuel spent much of his election season budget address to the City Council highlighting his past accomplishments, rather than getting into the details of his spending proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;We are making real progress, but we still have a long way to go,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;For the fourth year in a row, we will balance our budget and hold the line on property, sales and gas taxes.&rdquo;</p><p>But Emanuel&rsquo;s proposal does close the projected deficit, in part, with $54.4 million from what his administration calls &ldquo;closing tax loopholes and revenue enhancements.&rdquo;</p><p>That includes $10 million in new money from an increase of the tax levied on paid parking garages; $4.4 million by cutting a tax exemption for people who who rent skyboxes at Chicago sports venues; $12 million by eliminating a tax break for cable TV companies, effectively raising their tax burden; $15 million by increasing the lease tax on cars and office equipment; and $17 million by cracking down on companies who rent office space in other towns to avoid paying city sales and use taxes.</p><p>The mayor&rsquo;s bean counters are also relying heavily on an improving economy to help balance the books. They&rsquo;re estimating a $75.4 million take from growth in the number of building permits and inspections as the construction industry improves, and from a big boost in revenues tied to consumer behavior, such as the sales tax.</p><p>City Hall is also expecting to find nearly $81 million next year through various cuts and belt-tightening measures, but an Emanuel spokeswoman says there will be no city worker layoffs. Another $60.5 million comes from &ldquo;improved fiscal management,&rdquo; including declaring a surplus in some of the city&rsquo;s tax increment financing districts, and $26.1 million comes from cracking down on people who owe back city fines and fees.</p><p>But ahead of the Feb. 24 city elections, Emanuel&rsquo;s spending proposal does not neglect the city services that have long been the currency of Chicago politics. The mayor wants to double the number of pothole crews that repair pock-marked city streets, and boost spending for graffiti blasting, tree-trimming and rat-baiting. He also wants to increase funding for youth summer jobs, early education and after school programs.</p><p>Emanuel made only passing mention of the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/experts-say-chicago-has-public-pension-system-set-fail-109329" target="_blank">city&rsquo;s $20 billion public worker pension crisis</a>, leaving open the possibility that voters won&rsquo;t know the mayor&rsquo;s plan until after the Feb. 24 city elections.</p><p>After decades of shorting its pensions, City Hall will finally have to bring its pension payments up to speed in 2016 with an estimated $550 million spike in its state-mandated contributions for police and firefighters&rsquo; retirement funds. Emanuel has already <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-signs-chicago-pension-bill-emanuel-backs-property-tax-hike-110306" target="_blank">brokered an overhaul</a> of the pensions for city laborers and municipal workers, but he still hasn&rsquo;t revealed how he plans to deal with the public safety pension problem.</p><p>&ldquo;Unfortunately, due to difficult economic times and decades of deferral, we still have a lot of work to do,&rdquo; Emanuel said Wednesday. &ldquo;But by everyone giving a little, no one has to give everything.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel initially proposed a property tax hike to pay for the higher contributions to the laborers&rsquo; and municipal workers&rsquo; pensions. But facing political pushback, he struck a deal with Gov. Pat Quinn to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/chicagoans-could-help-close-city-pension-deficit-through-increased-phone-tax-110407" target="_blank">raise the city&rsquo;s telephone taxes</a>, buying him a year before he&rsquo;d have to turn to even more unpopular tax hikes.</p><p>City Council budget hearings are set to begin Monday, and aldermen must approve a 2015 budget by the end of the year.</p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-budget-avoids-pension-woes-110944 State government could take over a school district near you http://www.wbez.org/news/state-government-could-take-over-school-district-near-you-110943 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/artworks-000080958261-4swa0x-original.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Ask Illinois residents what&rsquo;s most important to them and their families, and education is likely to be right up there&mdash;often at the top of the list.</p><p>So it&rsquo;s no surprise that citizens expect high educational standards from government (and solid financing). But most prefer their state involvement at arms length.</p><p>But the fact is Illinois, has the power to take over local schools. They can fire elected school board members and put a new superintendent in place.</p><p>Two years ago, it did just that. The state took over two school districts, one in East Saint Louis and the other in North Chicago, a low income and racially mixed suburb wedged between more the tony North Shore and Waukegan.</p><p>Chris Koch is the superintendent of all Illinois schools, and he explains it this way:&nbsp; &ldquo;You have to take actions when kids aren&rsquo;t getting the basics. And that&rsquo;s certainly what&rsquo;s happening here.&rdquo;</p><p>The school district in North Chicago had problems that read like a Dickens novel: 80 percent of kids not meeting state learning standards, burdensome debt, and school board meetings that sometimes collapsed into chaotic screaming matches.</p><p>State intervention has helped North Chicago reduce its debt. But the district is still operating on a deficit. The district superintendent there says he expects to run out of cash in four years.</p><p>But overall, education policy watchers say the takeover has been a win so far, with some private money is coming in and state superintendent Koch taking a personal interest in the people there.</p><p>But even with those positives, there is no endgame in sight.</p><p>That&rsquo;s something that worries Kenneth Wong, a professor at Brown University who&rsquo;s been watching school takeovers across the country. He says North Chicago is typical of school takeovers by state government.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;m seeing also is the absence of an exit strategy,&rdquo; Wong says. &ldquo;That is, they rush into direct intervention, but then oftentimes there is a lack of details.&rdquo;</p><p>For his part, Koch doesn&rsquo;t seem worried about an exit strategy in North Chicago just yet. The finances and academics are still too bad.</p><p>&ldquo;We really have to be there, I think, for the longer duration,&rdquo; Koch says. &ldquo;Because you don&rsquo;t want it to go back into its prior state and that could easily happen particularly with the precarious financial situation they&rsquo;re currently in.&rdquo;</p><p>Koch is also turning his attention to other failing districts around the state.</p><p>He&rsquo;s pushing legislation that would make similar state intervention easier in failing districts.</p><p>House Bill 5537 singles out 23 schools on state academic watch, which means they have to show better test scores, and higher attendance and graduation rates.</p><p>All of them are in Chicago&rsquo;s south suburbs. Nobody from those districts returned WBEZ&rsquo;s calls, but Ben Schwarm did. He lobbies in Springfield on behalf of school boards and he&rsquo;s going up against Koch when it comes to state takeovers.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of anyone, especially an appointed body, having the authority to remove from office elected officials based on the decisions they made certainly isn&rsquo;t generally the way democracy works in Illinois or in our country,&rdquo; Schwarm says.</p><p>Koch&rsquo;s bill is moving in an election year in which the candidates for governor have been campaigning mostly about how best to finance education instead of education policy.<br /><br />Koch&rsquo;s actions in North Chicago provide a window into incumbent Democratic Gov. Quinn&rsquo;s strategy for failing schools.<br /><br />Republican candidate Bruce Rauner hasn&rsquo;t talked specifically about state takeovers. But he advocates for more charter schools statewide, especially for failing districts.<br /><br />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not fair for parents to be stuck in a school that is failing and not fitting their kids&rsquo; needs,&quot; Rauner says. &quot;We need to create options and choice, especially for lower income families that can&rsquo;t afford to move.&rdquo;</p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-government-could-take-over-school-district-near-you-110943 Rauner, Quinn battle for African-American votes http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-quinn-battle-african-american-votes-110940 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP911111007939.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6f97a6f2-1582-0782-483a-897455cafe20">As the clock ticks down to election night, Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner continue to battle over what&rsquo;s best for Illinois&rsquo; future. The top candidates have now faced off in two televised debates.</p><p>The focus of Tuesday&rsquo;s debate, three weeks ahead of the election, was mostly African-American voters, and issues they&rsquo;ll be thinking about in the polling booth. The panel of journalists posing questions to the candidates focused on jobs, the economy, the minimum wage, public safety and the state&rsquo;s finances.</p><p>And it was obvious by their responses that both candidates on stage at the DuSable Museum of African American History realized the importance of getting those votes.</p><p>&ldquo;My investments and my donations to the African-American community have totaled tens of millions of dollars,&rdquo; Rauner said, when asked about his recent <a href="http://abc7chicago.com/politics/rauner-promises-$1m-to-south-side-credit-union-/231631/">million dollar donation</a> to a South Side credit union.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve opened up the doors to many more contracts&mdash;I think it&rsquo;s up to a thousand contracts&mdash;for African-American owned businesses,&rdquo; Quinn said, to a question about government hiring.</p><p>The two also wasted no time trying to cut their opponent down to size&mdash;a recurring theme in both televised debates and on the campaign trail. Quinn accused Rauner of not hiring any African Americans in his company.</p><p>&ldquo;My opponent had 51 executives in his company, no African Americans, not one,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>Rauner shot back that Quinn was &ldquo;taking the African-American vote for granted. He&rsquo;s talking but not delivering results.&rdquo;</p><p>Rauner also accused Quinn of kicking Stephanie Neely, Chicago&rsquo;s city treasurer who is black, off the list of running mates. Neely was rumored to be on the short list of Quinn&rsquo;s choices for lieutenant governor. Quinn later countered that his choice of Paul Vallas was due to Vallas&rsquo; experience with schools and budgeting.</p><p>&ldquo;African-American families are suffering in Illinois: brutally high unemployment, deteriorating schools, lack of proper social services and rampant cronyism and corruption that&rsquo;s taking away job opportunities from African Americans,&rdquo; Rauner said.</p><p>The candidates spent a lot of time in this debate talking about public safety and gun control. Rauner wouldn&rsquo;t say if he supported a ban on assault weapons. He said he believed the conversation about gun control should instead be on getting guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and creating jobs. Rauner said it was the lack of opportunity that has lead to the state&rsquo;s issue with crime.</p><p>Quinn came out in support of banning assault weapons and called for a limit on high capacity ammunition magazines.</p><p>The ongoing conversation about the minimum wage also surfaced in this debate. Rauner was pressed by the panel to explain his position, as there has been much back and forth about whether he wants to <a href="http://politics.suntimes.com/article/springfield/rauner-admits-he-once-favored-eliminating-minimum-wage/thu-09042014-113am" target="_blank">ditch</a> the minimum wage all together, or raise it.</p><p>Rauner reiterated he wanted to see a national hike to the minimum wage, so Illinois could remain competitive, but he would support raising Illinois&rsquo; minimum wage (currently at $8.25) if it came with &ldquo;tort reform, tax reduction [and] workers comp reform.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn said he&rsquo;d work to raise the minimum wage to $10 by the end of this year, though he faced questions from both Rauner and the debate panel about why he hadn&rsquo;t boosted it in his six years in office. Quinn responded that &ldquo;you have to build a majority for anything in life&rdquo; and brought up President Barack Obama&rsquo;s tactics with passing the Affordable Care Act as an example.</p><p>The end of the debate featured a special opportunity for the candidates: Rauner and Quinn were able to ask one question of their opponent. You can listen to that exchange here:</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172278238&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_user=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>The candidates are scheduled to face off in at least one more debate before the election on November 4.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian.</a></em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 15:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-quinn-battle-african-american-votes-110940 Karen Lewis not running for mayor http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-not-running-mayor-110932 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/620-lewis_1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, seen as Mayor Rahm Emanuel&#39;s most high-profile re-election challenger, won&#39;t run in 2015, a spokeswoman announced Monday.</p><p>Lewis, who often tussled with the mayor during the 2012 Chicago Public Schools teachers&#39; strike, didn&#39;t specify her reasons and a statement released on behalf of her exploratory committee made no mention of a recent illness she disclosed publicly.</p><p>&quot;Karen Lewis has decided to not pursue a mayoral bid,&quot; said a statement from committee spokeswoman Jhatayn Travis. &quot;Yet she charges us to continue fighting for strong neighborhood schools, safe communities and good jobs for everyone.&quot;</p><p>Lewis had been seen as the best shot so far to unseat Emanuel, who won his first term in 2011. For months, she had been circulating petitions and raising her profile at parades and political events, often harshly criticizing Emanuel and his policies. She even dubbed him the &quot;murder mayor&quot; because of the city&#39;s violence problem.</p><p>Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-hands-over-leadership-chicago-teachers-union-110919" target="_blank">last week</a> said that Lewis has a &quot;serious illness&quot; and underwent successful surgery. Sharkey also said he had taken over Lewis&#39; tasks as president, but did not provide additional details on her illness.</p><p>Emanuel issued a statement after Lewis&#39; announcement Monday wishing her a quick recovery.</p><p>&quot;I have always respected and admired Karen&#39;s willingness to step up and be part of the conversation about our city&#39;s future,&quot; said Emanuel, a former congressman and White House chief of staff.</p><p>Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti, who announced his bid to run last month, said he was praying for Lewis&#39; health.</p><p>&quot;For Chicago&#39;s sake, I hope this is not the last we see of Karen Lewis,&quot; he said in a statement. &quot;I can understand the battle with illness, and how it can change the best thought out plans. But I also know that Karen is resilient and strong and will be back advocating for educators, students and Chicagoans in no time.&quot;</p><p>Political experts said only a handful of credible candidates would be able to mount a serious challenge at this point ahead of the Feb. 24 contest. Names floated in Chicago political circles included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has already said she planned to keep her current job and faces re-election, and Cook County Clerk David Orr.</p><p>Any candidate would have to be able to raise big funds and already have name recognition. Emanuel has banked more than $8 million, while campaign finance filings show Fioretti had about $325,000 as of June. Also, Emanuel&#39;s implied support from President Barack Obama as a former aide would be hard to counter in Obama&#39;s hometown.</p><p>However, political watchers said Emanuel&#39;s approval ratings have been low.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s a mixed bag,&quot; said Chicago political consultant Don Rose. &quot;Many people feel he&#39;s ripe for the picking.&quot;</p><p>The February election is nonpartisan. If no candidate receives more than half of the ballots cast, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held in April.</p></p> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 17:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-not-running-mayor-110932 Battle over state facility is personal, political http://www.wbez.org/news/battle-over-state-facility-personal-political-110925 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/mdc.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Kathryn Groner, 26, has lived at the <a href="https://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=58719">Murray Developmental Center </a>for eight years.</p><p>The Murray Center is a state-run institution for people with developmental disabilities - things like cerebral palsy and autism. It&rsquo;s a circle of single-story residential cottages on a grassy campus in Centralia, Illinois, about an hour east of St. Louis.</p><p>Groner lives in a big room with one other woman. The area around her bed is filled with firefighter memorabilia and dolls. She&rsquo;s obsessed with firemen and calls people &ldquo;butthead&rdquo;--affectionately.</p><p>Groner is friendly and funny and completely there.</p><p>But she also has what her mom calls &ldquo;meltdowns,&rdquo; times when she tries to hurt herself, badly.</p><p>&ldquo;I hardly ever show these to people,&rdquo; her mom Judy Groner says as she presents a picture of Kathryn with a bruised and battered face. &ldquo;Broken nose, day after day.&rdquo;</p><p>When she has a &ldquo;meltdown&rdquo; Kathryn bashes her head against the wall as hard as she can, or slams her knees up into her face or bites her forearms.</p><p>&ldquo;And afterward she would say to me &lsquo;Mom, you better go and grab the frozen vegetables,&rsquo; because that&rsquo;s what I would put on her bruises afterward. And that was our life. She was going to kill herself by hitting her head so much if I didn&rsquo;t have a place like [Murray].&rdquo;</p><p>Judy Groner says the decision to place her daughter in Murray was the hardest - and best- &nbsp;decision she and her husband had ever made.</p><p>Before that they had struggled for years to keep Kathryn happy and safe at home, putting a helmet on her and lining her bedroom walls with corrugated cardboard. But eventually it became impossible.</p><p>She says Murray is a Godsend, and Kathryn is thriving. She&rsquo;s down from multiple &ldquo;meltdowns&rdquo; a day to about one a week.</p><p>That&rsquo;s why Groner was devastated when, two years ago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced he would be closing Murray and moving its 250 residents out to group homes in the community.</p><p>&ldquo;We will provide individualized care, and achieve savings for the people of Illinois,&rdquo; Quinn said in his 2012 budget address.</p><p>The announcement was horrible news to Murray residents and their guardians, and they immediately mobilized to fight the closing. But other disability advocates were ecstatic.</p><p>The decision was part of the &ldquo;Rebalancing Initiative,&rdquo; which also included plans to close the Jacksonville Developmental Center --that center has already been shuttered--and two other unnamed developmental centers. The initiative earned Quinn the President&rsquo;s Award from an advocacy group called the ARC of Illinois.</p><p>Tony Paulauski, the executive director of the ARC of Illinois, says institutions like Murray are outdated and bad for residents. They warehouse people with developmental disabilities, while group homes in the community give people a chance for fuller, normal lives, he says.</p><p>In Paulauski&rsquo;s ideal world, every one of the state&rsquo;s institutions would close and all of the residents would settle into smaller homes.</p><p>&ldquo;Community living is much more individualized, and presents a much higher quality of life. A much healthier, safer life,&rdquo; Paulauski says.</p><p>And he says it helps the bottom line.</p><p>&ldquo;You can serve three people in the community for the cost of one person in the institution,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Depending on who you talk to, that would either mean a savings for the state or it would allow the state to help more people. More than 20,000 people are on the state&rsquo;s waiting list for some kind of developmental disability service. Advocates say moving people out of expensive institutions will allow people to come off that list.</p><p><span style="font-size:18px;"><strong>A room of his own</strong></span></p><p>Eddie Fleming lived in the Jacksonville Developmental Center until it was closed in 2012.</p><p>Now he lives in a gracious four-bedroom home in Springfield. He has two roommates, both former Jacksonville residents, but he has his own room.</p><p>He clearly loves his new home. He has control over the money he makes at a part time job picking up trash and has used that money to fill his bedroom with electronics - two stereos, a TV and a karaoke machine.</p><p>Fleming and his roommates get along famously, they smoke cigars on the porch and help cook delicious dinners.</p><p>Their services are provided by the Individual Advocacy Group, which manages the property and provides workers. But the lease is in Fleming and his roommates&rsquo; names. This is their home.</p><p>The people from IAG who work with Fleming say he has flourished since the move from Jacksonville, and they paint a grim picture of the services or lack of them he got from the state-run institution. Fleming, they say, is a testament to the benefits of community living.</p><p>One of the bedrooms in Fleming&rsquo;s house is an office. But when they first moved in, in 2012, there was a fourth roommate. Early on he and Fleming got in a fight over the TV. It got smashed and the cops were called. That fourth roommate was taken away by police and moved somewhere else.</p><p>That sort of volatility - and response - is what terrifies Murray parents like Judy Groner. They say that kind of police contact is traumatic, and what if, they fret, the police who come don&rsquo;t know how to deal with a person with developmental disabilities and hurt their loved ones?</p><p>The state only requires one worker in each four-person group home at one time, although IAG leaders say they usually have at least two workers.</p><p>Judy Groner says there is no way one or two workers could safely help Kathryn if she started having a meltdown. Especially if they were also responsible for three other people at the same time.</p><p>&ldquo;I always kid, I say she&rsquo;s like the incredible hulk and it takes five people to try and hold her, she&rsquo;s that strong and powerful,&rdquo; Groner says. &ldquo;The community just isn&rsquo;t set up for someone like her yet. And I just feel so bad because I want her to be able to leave Murray someday but it has to be on her terms, when she&rsquo;s ready.&rdquo;</p><p>But many researchers say the evidence doesn&rsquo;t support this fear. Instead, they say people with the highest needs, people like Kathryn, are the ones who benefit the most from a move to the community.</p><p><span style="font-size:18px;"><strong>&lsquo;Down here he just doesn&rsquo;t seem to care about that&rsquo;</strong></span></p><p>Beyond the struggle over care, the fight ito keep Murray open is political and geographical.</p><p>The fight over Murray pits those of us upstate against everyone down there - at least that&rsquo;s how the people in Southern Illinois see it.</p><p>And it has a lot of Democrats and Republicans reversing their typical battle lines.</p><p>The strongest political ally of the Murray center is State Rep. Charlie Meier, 108th.</p><p>He&rsquo;s a farmer by birth, and a small government Republican.</p><p>And yet he&rsquo;s dedicated his life to keeping this big, government run institution open.</p><p>Then there&rsquo;s the governor. A Democrat elected with the support of unions. And here he is pushing to eliminate 550 union jobs.</p><p>Paulauski of the ARC sees that as a sign of Quinn&rsquo;s political bravery.</p><p>&ldquo;Here you have a Democratic governor, strong support from these state unions. And then on the other side you have Republicans all of a sudden saying we need to keep these facilities open. This is where waste is in the Illinois disability system,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>But Meier says it&rsquo;s not about politics, it&rsquo;s about geography.</p><p>&ldquo;Centralia, most of it sits in Marion county and that is typically one of the five highest unemployment areas in the state. Those 541 jobs are the equivalent of 80- to 100,000 jobs in Chicago. Can you imagine if he tried to eliminate 80,000 jobs in the Chicago area? But down here he just doesn&rsquo;t seem to care about that,&rdquo; Meier says.</p><p>One thing people on both sides of the Murray fight agree on is that state government is there to help its most vulnerable citizens.</p><p>It may be the only thing they agree on.</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer/reporter. Follow him on twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/pksmid">@pksmid</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 06:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/battle-over-state-facility-personal-political-110925 Chicago quietly phasing out red 'X' program http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-quietly-phasing-out-red-x-program-110924 <p><p>Earlier this year, Curious City reported on a small symbol with a big impact on Chicago&rsquo;s built environment. Now we&rsquo;ve got an update.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">In June we brought you the story of Chicago&#39;s red &quot;X&quot;</a> &mdash; sturdy, metal signs that the Chicago Fire Department affixed to 1,804 vacant properties between June 2012 and July 2013. Not every vacant building received a sign, just those that could pose a hazard to firefighters and other first responders in the event of an emergency there.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/010%20%283%29.JPG" style="float: right; height: 206px; width: 275px; margin: 5px;" title="Chicago firefighter Edward Stringer lost his life when a vacant laundromat collapsed during a fire. Mother Joyce Lopez, right, asked what's to happen to a signage program meant to warn first responders about structurally unsound buildings. (Photo courtesy of Michael Torres) " />We <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">reported on the confusion those signs sometimes create</a> in neighborhoods where the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; is a common sight. We also found out the grant money that funded the program had quietly expired. That last part inspired a follow-up question from Joyce Lopez, a reader with a deep personal interest in this story:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>In reference to the red &quot;X&#39;s&quot; on abandoned/vacant, structurally unsound buildings, what can I do to see to it that additional funding is secured?</em></p><p>Lopez is the mother of Edward Stringer, one of two firefighters who died on Dec. 22, 2010 when an abandoned laundromat collapsed on him and dozens more while they swept the burning building for people trapped inside. That incident spurred the creation of the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program in the first place.</p><p>Lopez, who retired to Lavaca, Arkansas, after working in personnel for the Chicago Fire Department, declined to comment for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">our original story</a>. But she is troubled to learn that the program established to prevent tragedies like the one that befell her son appears to have fizzled out.</p><p>So too is Michael Torres, Lopez&rsquo;s other son and Edward Stringer&rsquo;s stepbrother.</p><p>&ldquo;I hope and pray that they have a system in place that would prevent unnecessary deaths of our first responders, like the death of my brother. We feel it was preventable. And the city will always bear a little bit of the blame for that,&rdquo; says Torres. &ldquo;The red &#39;X&#39; program was initiated to prevent that from happening in the future, and I think that pacified us a little bit &hellip; But when we&#39;d been told that the funding dried up, I think that the city&#39;s priorities are mislaid. I&rsquo;m skeptical.&rdquo;</p><p><a>Lopez&nbsp;</a>is in touch with many other &ldquo;survivors&rdquo; who have lost friends and family in the line of duty. She says many of them want to see the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program continue.</p><p>&ldquo;Put me up in front of a building with a can of spray paint,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I&rsquo;ll put the &#39;X&#39;s up there!&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">From red &ldquo;X&rdquo; to red text</span></p><p>Since <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">our story</a> ran in June, several city officials have said they wanted to see the program continue. Ald. Debra Silverstein, who sponsored the original red &ldquo;X&rdquo; ordinance, told us she wanted to find more money for the program. At least since WBEZ first reported that the program had run out of money, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford says they&rsquo;ve been hunting &ldquo;anywhere [they] can&rdquo; for more grant funding.</p><p>But now the department talks about the program in the past tense. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;We have not seen where any such money is readily available,&rdquo; says Langford. &ldquo;We did not get new funding and expanded the electronic side of the system to continue the awareness for first responders.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RedX%20Follow-1.jpg" style="margin: 5px; height: 407px; width: 610px;" title="The city affixed 1,804 red X signs to buildings deemed structurally unsound. (WBEZ/Shawn Allee)" /></div><p>The fire department won&rsquo;t put up any new red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs for now, Langford says, but it will continue to register dangerous and structurally unsound buildings in an electronic database called the CAD, or Computer Aided Dispatch system, administered by the city&rsquo;s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC).</p><p>In addition to spearheading the ordinance that created the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program, Ald. Silverstein also led the charge on requiring more regular data updates for OEMC&rsquo;s CAD system and other databases.</p><p>&ldquo;I think the [red &ldquo;X&rdquo;] program worked well, but there&#39;s no money to fund it,&rdquo; says Silverstein. &ldquo;I trust the Fire Department to take the best course of action to keep firefighters safe, because safety is the most important thing.&rdquo;</p><p>Langford says the electronic system works like this: When dispatch is alerted of a fire at a specific address, they pull up information on that location using the OEMC database. Firefighters print out that information before they leave the firehouse, but it will also appear on firefighters&rsquo; mobile terminals on site &mdash; in red letters.</p><p>So from the firefighter&rsquo;s perspective, Langford says, the electronic information communicates the same information as the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; was designed to provide. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If the [red &ldquo;X&rdquo;] program can be reestablished ... we will see under what conditions,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;As it stands now the electronic system will provide redundant and new data.&rdquo;</p><p>The electronic alert system is not dependent on grants, unlike the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program, which was funded through a $675,000 award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.</p><p>Why not just apply for that money again? That initial funding was provided through the <a href="http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program" target="_blank">Assistance to Firefighters Grant program</a>, which requires applicants to compete each year for a limited number of awards. Don Mobley, a local fire program specialist for FEMA, said that in 2011 the agency received more than 2,400 applications and gave out grants to just 201.</p><p>We asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office several times about City Hall&rsquo;s opinion on the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; program, and whether any money could be found in state or local budgets to fund the initiative in the future. The office did not return our requests for comment.</p><p>At any rate, Langford says, the electronic database is enough.</p><p>&ldquo;The OEMC system allows us to achieve the goal of protecting firefighters,&rdquo; Langford says, &ldquo;without having to mark buildings.&rdquo;</p><p>If owners of red &ldquo;X&rdquo; buildings bring their property up to code, the Fire Department will still remove the metal signs, Langford says. But no new red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs will go up unless they find new funding, which has proved elusive for 15 months.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Communication and clarity</span></p><p>Meanwhile, in neighborhoods where red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs are common, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">so is confusion over their meaning</a>. We <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicagos-red-x-meaning-myths-and-limitations-110315" target="_blank">reported earlier this year on myths and misconceptions surrounding the symbol</a>, as well as the impact of this scarlet letter on redevelopment efforts in areas of the city already troubled by disinvestment and foreclosure.</p><p>&ldquo;I can certainly understand how someone would think it means the building&#39;s being demolished or something else,&rdquo; says Ald. Nick Sposato, a former firefighter. While Sposato says he supports the program, he&rsquo;s not sure a red &ldquo;X&rdquo; would keep firefighters out of dangerous situations &mdash; sometimes, he says, that&rsquo;s part of the job. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I know how aggressive Chicago firefighters are,&rdquo; Sposato says. &ldquo;A red &lsquo;X&rsquo; won&#39;t keep them from trying to help someone who might be inside.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="620" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/curiouscity/redx/embed.html" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em>(Data obtained from the Chicago Fire Department list the 1,804 locations where the city affixed red &quot;X&quot; signs. The last sign was placed in the summer of 2013. Map: <a href="http://wbez.is/1hMvplH" target="_blank">See the signs across the city and search by address</a>)</em></p><p>Originally the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; was also designed to inform the community of dangerous conditions in abandoned structures. Now that no new signs will be put up, that communication aspect is lost. But the Fire Department&rsquo;s Larry Langford said back in May that boarded-up and condemned buildings do a good enough job of making that clear without a red &ldquo;X.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;If someone sees a red &#39;X&#39; building they should stay out of it, because legally they&#39;re not allowed to enter it,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;But it&#39;s private property anyway, so even if it didn&#39;t have a red &#39;X&#39; you&#39;re not supposed to enter it.&rdquo;</p><p>And just like the red &ldquo;X&rdquo; signs, the information communicated by the OEMC system isn&rsquo;t meant to rule out entry for first responders, just to advise caution in certain circumstances.</p><p>For our question asker, Joyce Lopez, providing that information to firefighters is the important part, no matter how it reaches them.</p><p>&ldquo;To know they are aware before they get to a structure, that eases my heart at least. Unfortunately they don&#39;t really know what they&#39;re going to encounter when they get to a fire, but if they&#39;re given a little warning, I hope that could help prevent what happened to my son and Corey [Ankum] from happening to someone else,&rdquo; she says. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to see another family, and especially another mother, suffer the loss of her son or daughter,&rdquo; Lopez says, &ldquo;because of something that possibly could have been prevented.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/" target="_blank">Chris Bentley is a freelance reporter</a> and regular contributor to WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow him at cabentley.com and on Twitter at<a href="http://twitter.com/cementley" target="_blank"> @Cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Sun, 12 Oct 2014 17:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-quietly-phasing-out-red-x-program-110924 Karen Lewis hands over leadership of Chicago Teachers Union http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-hands-over-leadership-chicago-teachers-union-110919 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/620-lewis_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is suffering from an undisclosed &ldquo;serious illness&rdquo; and will step aside as head of the organization, the union&rsquo;s vice president announced Thursday.</p><p>But there&rsquo;s still no word on how that might affect a possible mayoral run against Rahm Emanuel.</p><p>At a press conference late Thursday afternoon, Vice President Jesse Sharkey announced that Lewis underwent a successful surgery on Wednesday, but declined to name Lewis&rsquo; condition, citing her family&rsquo;s privacy.</p><p>Lewis, 61, has been seriously considering a run for mayor. Sharkey said he will take over Lewis&rsquo; duties at the CTU, but wouldn&rsquo;t get into the possible political impact of Lewis&rsquo; health.</p><p>&ldquo;I understand that many people in this room and many people in the city want to know about Karen Lewis&rsquo;s health status because they care about the mayoral election in this city,&rdquo; Sharkey told reporters. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a question that I can&rsquo;t answer.&rdquo;</p><p>Lewis was hospitalized Sunday night after experiencing discomfort, but the union and representatives with her exploratory campaign refused to say why or give any details on the status of her condition.<br /><br />On Monday, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a statement that she was &ldquo;in good spirits--and still thinking of creative ways to secure the future and city our students and their families deserve.&rdquo;<br /><br />On Wednesday night, a spokeswoman for Lewis&rsquo; mayoral exploratory committee declined to comment on the details of Lewis&rsquo;condition, but said the &ldquo;exploratory process is moving forward.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite contentious relations in the past, Emanuel praised Lewis late Thursday afternoon in an emailed statement, though he steered clear of mentioning politics.</p><p>&ldquo;Karen Lewis is a passionate advocate for her beliefs and has always been willing to speak up for her view of what&#39;s best -- not only for the teachers that she represents, but also for issues critical to the future of our city,&quot; Emanuel was quoted as saying. &quot;Along with all Chicagoans, we will keep Karen and her family in our thoughts and prayers, and we hope to see her on her feet very soon.&rdquo;</p><p>Lewis has not officially announced whether she plans to challenge Emanuel in February&rsquo;s city election. But there has been widespread speculation and encouragement from some progressives for her to run.</p><p>In recent weeks, the once-fiery critic of Emanuel who led Chicago teachers on their first strike in 25 years has sought to rebrand herself as a consensus-builder, holding several community events around the city dubbed &ldquo;Conversations with Karen.&rdquo; Lewis has also started fundraising for a possible campaign, though she has conceded it will be difficult to top Emanuel&rsquo;s political machine, which has already netted him at least $8.3 million for his re-election bid.</p><p>Mayoral candidates have until Nov. 24 to file their nominating papers in order to get on the ballot for the Feb. 24 election. Emanuel already faces several declared challengers, including his vocal critic in the City Council, Ald. Bob Fioretti; Dr. Amara Enyia, an urban development consultant; former Chicago Ald. Robert Shaw; Chicago police officer Frederick Collins; and conservative activist William J. Kelly.</p><p>&quot;She is a fighter and I know that she will bounce back, stronger than ever,&quot; Fioretti said of Lewis in an emailed statement. &quot;Her voice adds to the debate in Chicago and we all get better results when there is a full and spirited dialogue.&nbsp; But right now, we should all respect Karen&rsquo;s privacy and give her the space she needs to get better.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p><em>WBEZ political reporter Alex Keefe contributed to this story.</em></p><p><o:p></o:p></p></p> Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-hands-over-leadership-chicago-teachers-union-110919