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Dec. 16 2009 — 7:44 pm | 143 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

If a Chicago Wal-Mart is the lesser of two evils…

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 08:  The Wal-Mart logo i...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

… then how abysmal must the other be? That’s the question City Hall and citizens alike find themselves facing after Mayor Daley re-opened a bitter debate today over whether mega-chain Wal-Mart can expand its presence in Chicago–a highly controversial issue, given the city’s historic roots as a union stronghold.

Citing the need for job creation, Daley  “called on aldermen, union leaders and Wal-Mart to broker an agreement that would pave the way for a major Chicago expansion by the world’s largest retailer,” according to an article in today’s Sun-Times:

“I understand that, by discussing the issue, I’m raising a political hot potato,” Daley said, recalling the millions spent by organized labor in 2007 to elect aldermen opposed to Wal-Mart expansion.

But the mayor said today’s economic climate is “completely different” from three or four years ago.

“People are getting laid off,” Daley said. “There’s no future jobs. People can’t get jobs. They’re not only being laid off, they’re being eliminated out of their companies. So I’m calling upon everyone — both the aldermen, the community, all the unions involved and Wal-Mart — to sit down and come up with some common ground as quickly as possible.”

via Mayor Daley reopens debate on Wal-Mart :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Metro & Tri-State.

No crap, this is a “hot potato,” and one to watch at that–who knows if a successful Chicago expansion could give steam to Wal-Mart’s campaign to build stores in big cities like New York and Boston that don’t currently have them.  To catch you up to speed on Chicago’s apparent mayoral flip-flop on the Wal-Mart issue (Daley sidelined the issue while Chicago was running for host-city designation for the 2016 Olympics, when labor unions were a much-needed ally) here’s a snapshot of the debate when it was raging here this summer:

Make no mistake:  At least in Chicago, the driving issue isn’t mere queasiness at Wal-Mart’s reputation (which let’s admit, isn’t so stellar anyway thanks to documentaries like this). Instead, the battle for a Chicago Wal-Mart is a clash of titans, pitting organized labor in this vehemently pro-union town against  South Siders (many of whom flee to nearby suburban Wal-Marts anyway) desperate for jobs and economic development in their own community. And let’s not forget about the politicians looking to swell city tax coffers by placing a mega-store within city limits.

Now, I’ve got my fair share of biases when it comes to Wal-Mart–after all, I grew up in one of those Western locales where the word “Wal-Mart” is more often than not prefaced with an honorary “the,” and bored teenagers spend as much time there hanging out with friends and playing free demos of Guitar Hero as they do shopping.

So T/S readers, I want your take. In Wal-Mart’s Chicago showdown, what should prevail? Should unemployment and economic development in an area infamous for its “grocery deserts” take precedence over the right to organize? Would allowing Wal-Mart in Chicago set the city’s workers down a slippery slope towards below-living wages, or is a sub-par wage better than none at all?

If there’s one thing I know I can rely on T/S readers for, it’s smart viewpoints and productive conversation. Message me in the comments section, and let’s get one going.

Dec. 11 2009 — 1:53 pm | 12 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

My interview with a Senate candidate

Alexi Giannoulias

Alexi Giannoulias (Image via Wikipedia)

Despite its all-night study sessions and coffee/power bar diets during finals week, I’ll admit that college life has its perks. And for a political junkie like me, foremost among these perks is the parade of politicians and candidates who visit colleges every year, looking to entice that ever-elusive holy grail: the youth vote.

This year didn’t disappoint. Tom Daschle stopped by my campus mid-semester for a little chat about  health care, and just last month, the much-buzzed about Alexi Giannoulias, a Democratic candidate to running fill the senate seat once filled by Barack Obama and soon to be vacated by controversial appointee Roland Burris, did the same.

Mind you, “much-buzzed about” doesn’t imply that coverage has always been positive. Giannoulias does enjoy widespread support from Chicago’s Greek community, and gained a crucial endorsement from Barack Obama (his former hoops partner) in his campaign for State Treasurer in 2006 that was credited with helping him clinch the office. However, as a must-read article in this week’s Chicago Reader explains, his current Senate campaign has “inspired little excitement in the White House” from whom he has yet to gain an endorsement, and Giannoulias’ campaign continues to be weighed down by allegations that his family’s Broadway Bank lent money to people linked to organized crime. (And I bet the campaign was none too pleased at this “special investigation” from Fox News’ Sean Hannity).

Linked here is what Giannoulias told me in an interview after his speech to my peers, including his view of Illinois politics in the wake of Blagojevich’s indictment, and what Illinois politicians–Democrats in particular–need to do to regain the public’s trust. Here’s a snippet:

Pay-to-play politics and scandal and corruption have been a bipartisan disgrace here in Illinois. But when you look at what’s taken place over the past few years, people are disgusted, disheartened or less inclined to vote. … I think it’s a concern regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. It’s something you should be concerned about if you’re running for office.

via The Phoenix – Senate candidate Giannoulias speaks on post-Blago politics .

Check out the full article for this candidate’s opinion on Senate Republicans, and what he would put on his agenda if elected. (And as a tip to my fellow political junkies out there, yearning for speeches and close-up Q&A sessions with pols and candidates, try crashing your local college. I swear, it totally works.)

Nov. 11 2009 — 1:32 pm | 6 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Poll: Would you read a Chicago edition of the Wall Street Journal?

CHICAGO - JULY 17:  The Wall Street Journal ne...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

If the rumors are to be believed, the New York Times won’t be the only East Coast paper setting up a local edition in Chicago in the near future. An article from Bloomberg News reports that the News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal is “considering adding local metro-area coverage” in Chicago as well as in Los Angeles, along with a “planned reporting section on New York.”

Les Hinton, chief executive officer of Dow Jones & Co., told employees in a meeting yesterday that the newspaper was contemplating additional coverage in the California and Illinois cities, according to [two people familiar with the company’s thinking].

The newspaper, bought as part of New York-based News Corp.’s acquisition of Dow Jones in December 2007, debuted a once-weekly San Francisco Bay-area edition last week.

Hinton didn’t discuss further details of the possible sections, said the people.

via Wall Street Journal Studies Added L.A., Chicago News (Update1) – Bloomberg.com.

(Interesting side note: As any Sun-Times devotee knows, News Corp. Emperor Rupert Murdoch’s last venture into Chicago wasn’t without its troubles — when he bought the paper in 1984, superstar columnist Mike Royko quit in protest because he refused to work for the “alien” as he called him. Murdoch eventually sold the paper, but I wonder if the present deal means Murdoch’s gotten over the insult?)

With the New York Times likewise setting up local coverage through the forthcoming Chicago News Cooperative set to launch Nov. 20, and both papers now invested in local San Francisco editions, do we have a full-on cross-country paper race on our hands? And, more importantly, would you read it?

Nov. 10 2009 — 3:00 pm | 9 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments

The Olympics dumped us because we’re BORING?

Yoshinori Sakai lights the Olympic cauldron

Turns out the IOC dumped Chicago because we were boring. I hate to say we're holding a torch, but ...

When it comes to Chicago’s brief love affair with the Olympic Dream, believe me when I say that we in the Windy City are so totally over it.

At first it was, admittedly, a little rough. I mean, we had sunk years of time and effort into this relationship, only to be ditched for someone prettier. WTF?! And yes, the day after we got the boot, we all stayed in watching You’ve Got Mail and drowning our sorrows in Häagen-Dazs , but then we rallied all of our BFFs for support, vowing that we’re, like, so totally ready to move on with our lives and never make the same stupid mistake again.

But according to an insider perspective published today, turns out the whole messy breakup wasn’t them. It was us.

The firsthand perspective from a 2016 insider (published in, of all places, a Lexington, KY business journal) describes exactly how we blew the Big Bid: We were boring. We had the buzz, the excitement, the anticipation, but we fell flat on our faces with an “uninspiring” and “mundane” performance when it was our turn to make our big pitch to the International Olympic Committee. It was like someone took us out to a nice dinner in Copenhagen, and then we rattled on too much about our cat:

Going to both my hotel and the media center, the conversation was all about Chicago, with little about Tokyo and Madrid. For Rio, there was some sentiment that the time for having a South American Games may be arriving, but likely not yet.

There was a great deal of anticipation prior to Chicago’s presentation that disappeared almost immediately. The first two presenters (of nine) were uninspiring and focused on how Chicago could run a great Games. It has been widely said that this Chicago bid was the “best-ever” United States bid, but all of the focus was on mundane technical preparations. The third U.S. presenter, a veteran of many such events, did a great job on the sports and athlete area, speaking engagingly in both English and French. He was followed by other perfunctory speeches, and we all began to look at each other with concern. The Obamas followed with enthusiasm and with strong messages, but the overall impression was not strong and the aftermath commentary criticized the president as being “too cerebral and self-satisfied.” His late arrival with a large entourage also was widely criticized.

via A Kentuckian on the inside of how the US lost the 2016 Olympics.

Of all the reasons I thought Chicago would (should?) lose the Olympic bid, being too boring wasn’t one of them. And who knew Obama would hinder more than help? How will we ever learn to trust another bid committee ever again? Ugh, somebody get me another pint of Häagen-Dazs …

Nov. 7 2009 — 7:49 pm | 13 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Why you should care about veto override thresholds (even though they don’t sound very sexy)

Stacks of money

Hint: This has a lot to do with it.

Compared with all the issues to get worked up about in Illinois politics — often sexy lil’ buzzwords like “Blagogate,” “clout,” or “parking meter scandal” — the concept of the “veto override threshold”  seems a little … well, boring. And dry and dusty and technical. But trust me, the truth is that if you’ve purchased ANYTHING in Cook County, Illinois in the past 400 or so days (or even lived in Cook County after the year1870), the seriously important issue of the veto override threshold has intimately affected both you and your pocketbook virtually every day. Here’s how:

Before Gov. Quinn signed a bill this afternoon overhauling the veto system (more on that in a bit), the Cook County Board had been operating under a real headache of a requirement since 1870: a virtually impossible four-fifths majority of county commissioners were required in over to overturn the veto of the board president. To give some perspective, requiring a four-fifths majority to override anything is among the highest anywhere in democratic systems today. Even President Obama himself can see his veto overturned if two-thirds of Congress vote to do so (and for you non-math kids, that’s a lot less than four-fifths).

According to the Chicago Civic Federation, the four-fifths law in Cook County made sense waaaay back, once upon a time in 1870, when the procedures for electing the commissioners led to imbalances between suburban and city pols. But since the board restructured in the 1970’s in a way that negated this imbalance, the four-fifths rule has become “meaningless.” Critics have even called it a threat to democracy as we know it, since 13 out of 17 commissioners on the board (a full 76%) could vote one together and still get smacked down. Yet, the pesky law stayed on the books. In my view, it’s probably stayed because, as Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin points out, it’s the perfect prop for the Machine, and “the time-honored Chicago tradition of one-man rule.”

Flash forward to 2008, and County Board President Todd Stroger has managed to pass a very unpopular penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase. (Because God forbid we save a little money by slashing bloated government and patronage hires instead.) As a result, Chicago is crowned with the inglorious title of the metropolitan area with the highest sales tax (10.25%) in the entire country. Not such a great title, huh? And like many city-dwellers, I start to save up my shopping trips for when I’m in the ‘burbs. Opponents launch efforts over the next year to repeal the increase, but with Stroger’s certain veto and a daunting four-fifths override threshold set against them, the tax stays in place to many peoples’ dismay. Like these legislators, who launched an effort to change it this past September:

Today, these legislators won their battle today when Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill requiring that the veto override threshold be lowered to a much more reasonable three-fifths. In other words: the Cook County Board just got way more democratic, and far less susceptible to one-man rule.

The Clout St. article says that “commissioners have vowed to move quickly under the law to roll back the tax increase,” and I challenge them to keep that promise. Yes, taxes support a whole host of vital services to society, but we all know that there’s more than a little room in Chicago government to trim some fat (patronage hires, anyone?) without making hospitals, schools, etc. burden the cuts. Because when it comes to the subject of veto overrides, it’s all about making government more accountable to its citizens and more representative of their votes – in a word, more democratic.

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    About Me

    When I moved from my hometown of Monument, Colo. to study journalism at Loyola University Chicago, I found myself forsaking my Rockies for a city in which political scandal is about as routine as eating half-foot-thick pizza with sauce on the top. Weird. Three years later, I'm finishing my degree and addicted to unearthing how political wheeling and dealings at the top impact the daily lives of me and my fellow Chicagoans.

    When I'm not writing about Chicago politics for True/Slant, you can find me at Loyola's award-winning student newspaper, The Phoenix, where I am Editor-in-Chief. I have also held internships with the Chicago Sun-Times and MediaBurn.org, and worked as an intern for a Chicago Tribune writer.

    But I'm still not entirely used to the pizza.

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