Monday, April 30, 2007

Rezko's trail

My hat is off to Toni Preckwinkle. Since I saw her speak at a CTA public hearing a few years ago, I've been impressed with much of what she's said. Carol Marin had a good article in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times about another good action on Preckwinkle's part.

Preckwinkle speaks, others hide

April 29, 2007

It's time to create a special award for public officials who do the right thing. We can call it the "Accountability 101 Award." Let's give the first one to 4th Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle.

Last week Preckwinkle was the only official -- elected or appointed -- willing to publicly talk about Antoin "Tony" Rezko. It's not that she enjoyed it. She didn't. But unlike senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, Mayor Daley or city Housing Commissioner Jack Markowski, Preckwinkle demonstrated that now-quaint virtue of public accountability. And did so in full public view.

In case you missed it, a recap:

Last week, Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak filled eight pages of this newspaper with an investigation of political powerbroker Rezko.

We already knew that Rezko was a major campaign donor to a host of politicians, including Obama and Daley. And we already knew that Rezko was under federal investigation in 2005 when he assisted Obama in acquiring a bigger yard for his South Side mansion. And we knew that last October, Rezko was federally indicted in an alleged state pension kickback scheme.

What we didn't know was that Rezko had for years been one of the city's biggest slumlords. That within days of Mayor Daley's first election in 1989, this Park District hot dog vendor who had no construction experience would begin getting $100 million in city, state and federal tax dollars and bank loans to provide affordable housing for Chicago's needy citizens.

While some residents of Rezko's buildings were shivering without heat because he wasn't paying the utility bills, Rezko still managed somehow to write checks to politicians.

Did I mention that Rezko's company made $7 million on those housing deals? Or that all 30 of his buildings were troubled, a number went into foreclosure or otherwise crumbled into vacant, boarded-up drug dens and eyesores? Or that we taxpayers are now stuck with the tab?

So it was only logical to go to public officials and ask how in the world this could have happened.

Daley, after all, is this city's boss of bosses. Obama had 11 of Rezko's buildings in his then-state Senate district. Markowski had been in the Housing Department for years overseeing Rezko's deals. And Preckwinkle had six of Rezko's buildings in her ward.

In behalf of the Sun-Times and NBC5 News, Novak and I requested interviews with all four of them.

To say we were shut down is an understatement.

The mayor's press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, in a voice mail, dismissed our request out of hand, saying, ''What is the city's dealing with Tony Rezko? The answer is simple. None. During the time he did work with us . . . there was nothing to indicate a problem. . . . That's my answer . . . that's my response.''

Strike One.

Meanwhile, Markowski's press secretary Molly Sullivan gave us such a runaround, my head is still spinning. Finally, in an e-mail, she declared: ''Jack is not available to do this . . . '' In other words, no interview in person, on camera, never, ever. Markowski remains in hiding.

Strike Two.

And then there was Obama.

For five weeks, we tried and tried to get the Obama campaign to tell us anything, anything at all, about what the senator might know about Rezko's dilapidated, defaulted projects. No response for five weeks. Finally, at the 11th hour, some written answers arrived saying the senator was unaware of any Rezko problems even though Obama was a legal associate of the law firm that did a number of Rezko's deals.

But an interview? Not until after we physically chased after Obama last Monday.

Strike Three.

But, thanks to Preckwinkle, we weren't completely out.

Preckwinkle, like Daley and Obama, got tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Rezko. He was a supporter and friend, though not anymore.

Preckwinkle said she began to learn of problems with Rezko's buildings a few years ago from police who reported gang activity there. By that time, however, Rezko had already taken the money and run.

"I think, from a city perspective," said the alderman, "this is your worst nightmare."

Made worse, I would argue, by any public official who doesn't think he should be required to answer questions about it.


related articles
a recent blog posting
Sun-Times article 1 - Obama and Rezko
Sun-Times article 2 - Rezko questions
Sun-Times article 3 - Rezko's city deals
Sun-Times article 4 - Obama and Rezko

3rd Congressional District race

I got this news from a Rogers Park blog:

Andrew Sharp and Paul Vallas: 3rd Congressional District Challenge Chicago (RPB News) - Andrew Sharp ("The Irishman") is still in Chicago and working on very big things, sources tell RPB, in addition to damage control for Alderman Joe Moore.

A reader sent this tip to RPB:

Andy is still in town, and he is setting the stage for Paul Vallas' return to Illinois and immediate run for Congress. Paul Vallas is not going to run against Schakowsky (I wish!). Paul is going to run against [Congressman Dan] Lipinski. Paul grew up in the 3rd Congressional District and is setting up shop ASAP. If you saw Andy up north it is because he is tapping Lakefront and North Shore donors for early $. Please keep my name out of this and I will update as new info comes in. Paul Vallas, you may recall, was the Chicago school czar until Mayor Daley canned him. In 2002 Vallas became the CEO of schools in Philadelphia, PA. He leaves a mixed legacy in Philly.

Also this:

The budget crisis hanging over the Philadelphia School District is threatening to claim 100 teaching positions next year, officials said yesterday.

The revelation, which came during a School Reform Commission hearing on the district's proposed $2.18 billion operating budget for 2007-08, drew an angry response from the president of the city teachers' union, who accused schools chief Paul Vallas of mismanagement. Full Article...

Now, apparently, Vallas wants to run for Congress in Illinois' 3rd Congressional District. Mr. Vallas is definitely leaving Philadelphia, and it caught that city by surprise recently:

Thursday, April 12, 2007 - Philadelphia - SCHOOL DISTRICT chief executive Paul Vallas last night confirmed to the Daily News that he will leave Philadelphia at the end of this school year, despite having a contract extension that could have kept him here until 2009. Vallas' decision stunned parents and district insiders alike, coming on a day in which speculation mounted by the hour that he had been tapped to become the next leader of the Hurricane Katrina-devastated New Orleans school district..... Instead, he said last night only that five years at the helm of the nation's eighth-largest school district was plenty, and that he, wife Sharon and their three sons would return to the family's Chicago hometown this summer. Full Article...

Retired Congressman William Lipinski of Illinois' 3rd Congressional District retired in 2004. It is often said that he enabled his son Daniel to take the seat, but nobody crowned him. He was elected, after all. It is said that you really don't need to be pro-life to win in the 3rd District, but Dan Lipinksi has voted pro-life including against embryonic stem cell research. He voted "no" on allowing human embryonic stem cell research (May 2005) and "yes" on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions. (Apr 2005)

No wonder, then, that Andrew Sharp and the DNC is involved in a campaign against fellow Democrat, Congressman Lipinski.

More background here...

What's your $0.02 on this?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Star Trek meets Monty Python

Somebody obviously had a LOT of fun editing this one.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

new cars can be hazardous to your health

Jim Mateja writes in today's Chicago Tribune about the toxic chemicals that create "new car smell" and some of the harmful effects they can have on your health.

green choices - recycling

Seattle has set an ambitious new goal for municipal recycling: 72% of all waste. 44% of Seattle's waste is currently recycled, which is a lot more than most municipalities. Part of the plan is to ban or tax some plastic products, such as styrofoam food containers and plastic bags, to create an incentive for the use of alternative products that are more envirronmentally friendly.

I'd like to see Chicago take more steps in this direction. Expanding curbside recycling to the entire city would be a good start. With all the construction happening, it would be good to see incentives for recycling of construction and demolition waste. We're making some progress. Let's keep it going!

bringing jobs back home

The Boston Globe recently ran an op-ed piece about U.S. companies that are bringing home jobs that had previously been outsourced to other countries. Some are referring to the trend as "backsourcing." I hope that it is a trend, and that we'll be hearing about many more companies doing the same in the coming months.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

yin and yang

There is always a balance to things. It's been one of the first beautiful summery days of the day, but the idiot count on the streets is high. *sigh*

Earth Day - Green Festival

There's a Green Festival at McCormick Place today and tomorrow. Not a terribly green location, but the fact that they're having it is a good start.

home tour

The home tour is coming up soon.  It's happening on Sunday, 5/20.  Homes are open from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., and tours depart from the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St.  For more info, click here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

a silly moment

Yes, it's a very silly video. Note the amusing cameo by a recognizable funny guy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

back yard moment

I sat in the back yard, taking a break from garden chores. Birds came in a nearly continuous stream of fluttering wings, landing on the fence or the feeder, stopping for a minute, then flying off again. Sparrows, chickadees, cardinals and a downy woodpecker all bellied up to the bird buffet. Mourning doves and squirrels got what the others left behind. The feeder empties quickly.

get funked up

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sunday, April 15, 2007

better late than never

After last week's snow, I was a bit worried. These tulips came through in spite of the heavy, wet snow. Yeah!!!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sunday, April 8, 2007

mother nature at work

Just now I heard a thump and a few squawks outside my kitchen windows. I looked outside to see a red shouldered hawk struggling with its breakfast, then flying off across the street. I didn't even see what was in its talons. It may have been a sparrow. A few minutes later, the only evidence of the struggle was small gray feathers swirling in the wind.

First time I've ever seen a hawk in my yard. I've occasionally seen peregrines in the Loop and in other cities, or seen red tailed hawks out in the country. Mother nature is all around us.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

my ears are grateful

...for the FCC's decision not to allow cell phone usage on commercial flights.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

War? What war?

Is American society too wrapped up in giant SUVs, McMansions and other trappings of conspicuous consumption (or fantasies about that kind of life) to realize that lots of other Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq and elsewhere?

Some folks are paying attention. Someone started putting Iraq war fatality lists up on light poles at the 99th St. Metra station months ago. Someone else has chosen to vandalize that homemade memorial on a few occasions.

A few weeks ago, there was a large and vocal anti-war demonstration downtown.

Derrick Jackson's op-ed piece in today's Boston Globe raises issues worth considering.

Can our society afford to keep its collective head in the sand, as so many seem to be doing? Or will more people wake up and simplify back their energy-hungry lives? My optimistic side hopes for the latter. My cynical side sees many greedy heads remaining firmly planted up Lexus-craving a$$es, never seeing daylight or the writing on the wall.

clever bit of political satire

New from Apple - the iRack

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

hidden Picasso

Here's a bit of cool news from San Francisco. When an early Picasso painting (ca. 1900) arrived at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, x-ray analysis revealed a complete painting hidden underneath the surface painting. Click here to read more.

Monday, April 2, 2007

blue lawns

Spring is getting beautiful here in Beverly.  I was able to get out and take some pictures on Friday night.  Some of the most gorgeous displays along Longwood are right around 99th, especially the house on the NW corner of the intersection.  The forsythias have just started blooming in the last few days and lots of daffodils have popped up too, adding splashes of yellow to the mix.  Bonus - some of the small flowering trees (dogwood and cherry, I think) started blooming a few days ago and got a lot better with the weekend’s rain.  Here's a sampling of what's there. These don't do justice to how pretty it really is.  

Get out and enjoy it!  The beautiful lawns and gardens aren't limited to Longwood.  Do you have any favorites you'd like to share?  Please post them here under Comments.

15 minutes at North & Wolcott

Yesterday I got to Rapid Transit a little early when I was dropping my folding bike off for service.

I spent a little while hanging out and waiting, being entertained by watching people. Among the parade...young guy jogging and juggling at the same time...guy in his car creeping in slow traffic on North, headbanging to some raucous thrash metal and screaming along...another guy waiting for Rapid Transit to open starts playing air guitar to accompany metal guy...girl walks by with a hairdo that I can't even describe, except that it reminded me a bit of early '80s haircut bands and obviously involved lots of heavy duty hair gel.

North Avenue is the best for fascinating people watching.