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[15 Mar 2018 | No Comment | ]

With American Airlines now safely aboard, the Chicago City Council today took the first formal step toward enacting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s huge $8.5 billion plan to expand and modernize O’Hare International Airport’s gate area.

The action came when, after a lengthy but fairly routine hearing, the council’s Aviation Committee voted unanimously to approve the proposed new airport use agreement and master lease.

Another panel, the Finance Committee, is to consider an initial bond issue to fund portions of the project at its March 19 meeting. The entire package then will go to the full council on March 21, with approval likely of a plan that’s crucial to the future of both the city’s economy and Emanuel as he prepares to formally seek a third term.

City officials, who finally sealed a deal with holdout American Airlines in negotiations last night, predicted great things from expanding and remaking terminals that are at least 22 and as much as 50 years old.

“This is not just a structure for O’Hare but a major step that will propel Chicago into the first ranks of global cities,” Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin told aldermen. City studies indicate the expansion will allow the airport to support 460,000 jobs, 50,000 of them new, and create 60,000 construction jobs over 15 years. The project also will have a $50 billion-a-year annual impact on the Chicago area’s economy by 2026, Rivkin said.

African-American and Latino aldermen were particularly interested in guaranteeing that a healthy slice of that economic benefit goes to their constituents.

For O’Hare deal to work, results have to match rhetoric
American, Emanuel strike 11th-hour deal on O’Hare expansion
A total transformation at O’Hare

For instance, Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, was skeptical, saying city officials had fallen short on previous promises to spread the wealth. “I’m just not seeing the (minority) participation we could get,” Beale said.

Ald. Pat Dowell termed what she’s seen so far “inadequate.”

Administration officials countered that they will begin briefing aldermen quarterly on progress, have set a goal of funneling 25 percent of projects to minority business enterprises and 5 percent to women-owned firms, and are taking steps to divide bid packages into smaller pieces to encourage diversity. “Everyone in Chicago deserves a piece of this construction,” said city Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee.

Still, committee Chairman Mike Zalewski, 23rd, said the council may add an amendment to create a monitoring commission to keep a close eye on who gets what.

Another objection came from Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, who asked why some airline leases in future years will not have to come before the council for approval. What if, say, the Russian airline Aeroflot wanted to fly to Chicago but the Russian government was engaged in anti-American activity. “Why shouldn’t the City Council have a say?” Burke asked.

Officials replied that U.S. law requires O’Hare to take all comers, but took the question under advisement.

American Airlines Vice President Mike Minerva said he feels “a huge sense of relief” over last minute changes to the proposed pact. “It was the mayor’s office working with American to preserve competition at O’Hare,” Minerva said in describing the 11th hour negotiations.

What American got was a city commitment to try to expedite construction of three new gates off of Concourse L in Terminal 3. These gates technically will be available to all airlines, but are located at the end of a long stretch of terminal wholly occupied by American.

American says that construction will allow it to keep pace with United, which is getting five new gates around 2020 elsewhere at O’Hare. The new deal, the airline notes, will put it on an equal footing when all gates are distributed based on usage after 2021.

What’s not clear is whether telecom cables in Concourse L can be relocated that quickly. American says at least two of the three gates should be able to come online by 2021. City officials said they’d try to “expedite” matters, but made no firm time commitment.

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[7 Mar 2018 | No Comment | ]

Radical leftist Michael Pfleger welcomes anti-Semite Minister Farrakhan to St. Sabinas.

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[17 Jan 2018 | No Comment | ]

Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have finally picked up an A-list re-election foe, one who’s as well known in local politics as him: former gubernatorial hopeful and Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas.

In a phone interview, Vallas said he’s “seriously considering” running for mayor in 2019.

No decision has been made, and he has not yet taken preliminary steps such as initial fundraising or forming an exploratory committee, Vallas said. But he said: “Am I considering it, yes.” Later in our conversation, he upgraded that to “seriously.”

He added: “I’m talking to friends and family about whether this is something we want to do and can do. . . .I was born in Chicago. Two of my three children were born in Chicago.”

I called Vallas after he told Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass yesterday that he could not comment now on rumors that he’s getting ready to run. Initially, Vallas would not elaborate. But in our chat tonight, he went much further.

Vallas confirmed he and his wife have leased a condominium at the east end of the Lincoln Park neighborhood—–”We’re empty-nesters now”—and may soon be in the market for larger place. He wouldn’t talk about timing or other details, but he did say his decision would “absolutely not” depend on the decisions of others considering a race, such as ex-police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

Nor would Vallas, 64, talk about what kind of job he thinks Emanuel is doing.

But he underlined that in recent years he has worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to come up with programs to help ex-convicts re-enter society, and said he’s dedicated his professional career to “offering solutions.”

In a later text, Vallas added: “I’ve always sought public service challenges. And there’s no greater challenge, I believe, than those that Chicago faces today with jobs, schools, public safety. That said, there’s a lot to think about before making the decision.”

Asked for a response to the news, Emanuel campaign spokesman Pete Giangreco said, “We already have one Republican exploring a mayoral run, do we really need another one?”

Though he’s made some enemies through the years and has a sometimes overpowering personality, Vallas has a very deep resume. He served as city revenue director and budget director, then became schools CEO under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Vallas moved on to head public schools in Philadelphia, New Orleans after Katrina, and Bridgeport, Conn. After a stint in Haiti following that nation’s earthquake, he moved back to the state and ran for lieutenant governor with then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014. The ticket lost to a Republican, current Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Vallas most recently has been working an exec at Chicago State University, which has suffered enrollment and funding woes in the past several years.

Vallas would bring a household name to the table. He can cite years of work on behalf of mostly minority schools and has a reputation as a competent and capable official who has honed his political skills since the days when Daley and others provided him cover.

But Vallas is somewhat more conservative than Emanuel, something that could hurt in a city that has moved to the political left in recent decades. He never has been a particularly strong fundraiser, and he’s been away from city politics long enough that someone with a deep war chest such as Emanuel could define him to younger voters.

Still, a Vallas candidacy could open up wide the next mayoral election.

The only candidate who has all but declared, so far, is former CPS principal Troy LaRaviere.





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[5 Dec 2017 | No Comment | ]

A pair of new polls taken for candidates in the upcoming Democratic primary suggest Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made progress toward rebuilding his standing with voters after the meltdown following the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The surveys, taken for U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and a statewide candidate who asked not to be named, indicate that Emanuel’s personal popularity now is back above 50 percent. That’s by no means high enough to guarantee him re-election if, as expected, he runs for a third term a year from now, but overall it’s not bad.

There are some asterisks in the numbers that I’ll explain in a minute. But they may help explain why Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who had been pondering another race against Emanuel, instead leapt at a chance to succeed the retiring Luis Gutierrez in Congress.

Here are the numbers. All are for likely voters in the March Democratic primary, a group that represents the single largest chunk of a likely mayoral electorate.

The survey in Quigley’s district, which once was represented in Congress by Emanuel and which covers most of the North and Northwest sides, found Emanuel’s personal popularity 57 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable—overall positive, or “above water,” as pollsters say. Emanuel’s job performance also was a net positive, though by a smaller margin of 52 percent to 46 percent.

Quigley’s numbers were considerably higher, 71 percent to 10 percent in personal popularity, 68 percent to 16 percent on job performance. But even if he’s not doing as well as the congressman, the figures, if accurate, indicate that Emanuel is viewed favorably at least among an area of the city that represents his political base.

The survey was conducted by pollster Brian Stryker of ALG Research of 500 likely voters and has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

The other survey—actually, results of two polls of 584 likely voters conducted in late October and then late November—was conducted by a national firm that has done work in Illinois. The pollster involved asked questions about Emanuel as part of his survey for a statewide candidate, and while neither will allow their names to be used, I spoke with the pollster directly.

In this survey, Emanuel got a citywide personal favorable rating of 50 percent positive and 40 percent negative. His rating from African-Americans was slightly better than among whites, 51/37 vs. 51/42, due mostly to a strong 56/32 rating from black women.

Emanuel’s rating on the North Side was 53 percent favorable to 38 percent unfavorable, fairly close to the results in Quigley’s district. The split was narrower on the South Side, 49 percent to 40 percent, and almost even on the West Side, 47 percent to 44 percent.

Those numbers collectively “look like the coalition that elected him last time,” said the pollster, asserting that Emanuel’s public efforts to get more state school aid for Chicago Public Schools, hire more police and help immigrants are having an impact. And overall, Emanuel’s numbers probably are stronger than they appear because the survey excludes Republicans, who likely would lean toward the mayor in a challenge from a progressive on the political left such as Garcia, the pollster said.

Emanuel spokesman Pete Giangreco said the mayor’s political operation would not comment on whether it’s done its own polling. But he hailed the figures as a sign that the mayor “has reconnected with his base.”

This survey has an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

It’s hard to say anything for sure in politics these days. But these numbers, if accurate, at a minimum are not bad news for Emanuel, and may be considerably better than that.

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[5 Dec 2017 | No Comment | ]

The federal government has put at least a temporary brick on plans for the first major new housing development in many decades in the historic Pullman area on the Southeast Side.

Developers say they believe the setback is temporary, and they hope to break ground this spring.

At issue are plans by local developer David Doig and Minnesota-based Artspace to build 38 units of affordable housing for artists at 111th Street and Langley Avenue in the new Pullman National Monument. Twenty-six units would go on vacant space that once was the location of a large tenement building used as dormitory space for workers at George Pullman’s railroad car factory. The other 12 would be in two existing buildings that would be rehabbed.

Though the city backs the proposal, it has drawn a series of objections from a local civic group, the Pullman National Monument Preservation Society, which hired activist lawyer Tom Ramsdell to plead its case. The group has raised a series of objections about whether the project is compatible with the historic nature of the area, most recently suggesting that the tenement be rebuilt on foundations that in some stretches still are visible.

The group recently found success when the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development informed state and other local officials that the project needed a new, fuller review by the state of Illinois’ historic preservation officials and that no work could occur without it.

Doig, in a phone interview, said his group believed it had done due diligence, but the feds concluded otherwise. So the group will engage in further review, including a public hearing, in an effort to be “more conclusive and deliberate.”

Doig’s firm, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, a not-for-profit, is the developer of the proposed project, along with Artspace and a local firm, Pullman Arts. Doig said his financing has held together and “I’m not anticipating any problems.” If all goes as expected, “our plan is to start (construction) in the spring.”

Meanwhile, though, pending changes in tax law in Washington could eliminate the historic tax credits the development group has been counting on. Doig said his group hopes to avoid that problem by submitting needed paperwork before Dec. 31, when current tax laws will prevail.

Still, the preservation society sounds like it thinks it’s winning.

“We have long asserted that the historic reviews . . . were seriously flawed and potentially unlawful,” President Mark Cassello said. “It was approved with a wink and a nod.”

In view of the federal action, locals really ought to give more thought to rebuilding the original structure, Cassello added.

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[29 Nov 2017 | No Comment | ]

You might think that police automatically are notified when a convicted felon or domestic abuser—or someone who is not legally permitted to purchase a gun—tries to do so but is stopped.

You’d be wrong. Sometimes law enforcement hears about it, sometimes not. But that would change if a Chicago Democrat and a Pennsylvania Republican get their way.

Under legislation being sponsored by local U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and colleague Patrick Meehan, the federal government would set up a system in which authorities would be told when someone trying to purchase a firearm flunks their background check, which outlaws purchases by felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill.

Since 1998, at least 72 percent of those flagged by the National Instant Criminal Background Check fell into those categories, but such “lie and try” offenses rarely are prosecuted, the two said. Changing the law would make such offenses more prominent, and at least warn authorities to keep an eye on someone because of potential criminal activity.

“We can create an additional layer of protection to ensure weapons stay out of the hands of the wrong people,” said Quigley in a statement, describing the bill as “a common-sense step to mitigate the gun violence epidemic.”

A similar bill sponsored by the two failed to gain even a hearing in the last Congress, which shelved all gun control bills. But this time, the two seem more optimistic. They’ve lined up eight bipartisan sponsors, received an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police and are trying to add the bill as an amendment to other legislation that seems to be moving faster.

For what it’s worth, according to Quigley’s office, the National Rifle Association appears open to the bill, with its spokesman saying the group “has always supported prosecuting dangerous people who illegally attempt to purchase a firearm.”

Hope so. We’ll see.

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[14 Nov 2017 | No Comment | ]

Do charter schools really perform better than regular, non-selective public schools, particularly in the crucial high school years?

Researchers have been battling over that for years, and now a new report from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research comes down solidly in the middle of that debate, appearing to give charters an edge, but one that doesn’t always hold up and one that strongly varies with the quality of the charter involved.

The consortium took a look at Chicago charters and how they performed compared to regular Chicago Public Schools high schools, using data from 2008 to 2013. What was particularly interesting is that they went beyond the usual––and usually inconclusive––comparison of test-score data and examined factors such as class attendance, grades and college enrollment and college completion rates.

The first finding deals with the quality of the “raw material.” In other words, did charters get the cream of the crop, as it were?

The answer: Not really.

In grade school, test scores were “similar or lower” than in regular schools, but the charter students tended to attend class more often in grade school, suggesting they on balance were better motivated than their peers.

Once in high school, the students had teachers who, on balance, had more trust in each other than those in non-charter, non-selective high CPS high schools. The schools typically had more requirements for grade-level promotion and graduation, teachers were more willing to try innovative approaches, and students found classes more academically challenging, the study found.

On the other hand, students were more likely to transfer out of a charter than a regular school, with 24.2 percent of charter kids transferring during high school, compared with 17.2 percent of those in non-charters.

Back on the plus side, charter students had better attendance and test scores in high school, on balance, adjusting for background differences, the study found. But when it came to acquiring good study habits, the charter students were at “comparable” levels to their peers. And their graduation rate was 2 percentage points lower, perhaps because promotion requirements were higher.

Charters clearly seem to do a better job getting young people to college. Adjusting for background and incoming-skill differences, the four-year college enrollment rate was significantly higher high among charter grads, 45.1 percent versus 26.2 percent. The margin was even higher relative to admission in top selective colleges and universities: 7.2 percent compared to 2.2 percent.

However, the report underlines, “Not all charter schools are the same. There was considerable variation among these schools on key student outcomes, including test scores, college enrollment, and college selectivity.”

In other words, parents beware. Good advice in a city in which 22 percent of high school students now are in charter schools.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Charter School Network, says the report is proof that his members are doing the right thing.

“The charter school movement’s focus on college placement and college persistence is paying off,” he emailed me. “These data indicate that charter schools are proving what is possible when high schools focus on college success. We are equally pleased to see that the district has adopted similar tactics that are yielding improvements broadly across the city. That is in fact what the charter movement is about.”

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey sees it differently.

“Since the start of the Emanuel administration, resources have flooded into charter networks at the expense of traditional, neighborhood schools,” he said in a statement. “Charter administrators also cherry-pick the students they see as the most promising and discard those they deem as ‘problems,’ so comparing achievement in charter high schools to achievement in traditional high schools is a non-starter because the playing field is far from uneven. It’s definitely not an apples-to-apples comparison, and not even apples-to-oranges at this point.”

No formal reaction from CPS yet, but I’ll add one if I get it

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[13 Nov 2017 | No Comment | ]

It looks like U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam doesn’t think much of Alabama U.S. Senate hopeful Judge Roy Moore after all.

A few hours after refusing all comment on Moore and his alleged sexual misconduct toward teenage girls, Roskam is calling on Moore to step aside and let someone else fill the Senate seat that was vacated by fellow Republican Jeff Sessions when he became U.S. attorney general.

“The allegations leveled against Roy Moore are disturbing,” Roskam said, according to an NBC News tweet sent after Roskam refused to talk about Moore in a meeting with Crain’s editorial board.

“My office takes allegations of sexual assault and harassment very seriously, and I call on Moore to step aside (as GOP nominee) as a distraction to Senate and House members so they may continue focusing on serving the people,” the statement added.

Roskam’s office confirmed that it issued the statement, but said it was doing so only for media outlets that separately asked about his views. Roskam had told Crain’s that he was meeting with the edit board to talk about tax policy, and not other matters.In between the meeting and the new statement, The New York Times reported that a fifth woman now has come forward with allegations against Moore, this time involving forced physical contact. Also this afternoon, two of the Democrats competing to run against Roskam next year issued statements slamming him for ducking the issue, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked Moore to step down.

.@DCCC circulating @PeterRoskam interview with Crains today. In case it’s unclear, he doesn’t want to talk about Roy Moore:

“I’m here to talk about taxes. … I asked for this meeting to talk about taxes … I want you to write about taxes” https://t.co/UW8vrcSnhd

— Scott Wong (@scottwongDC) November 13, 2017

GOP Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) releases stmt calling for Roy Moore to step aside after mtg w/ the Crain’s Editorial Board on taxes & refusing to comment on Moore or DACA pic.twitter.com/8C22oRnIwa

— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) November 13, 2017

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[1 Nov 2017 | No Comment | ]

Outrage over reported sexual harassment in Springfield claimed its first victim late today as Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago—who was named in graphic testimony a day earlier—lost his slot as Senate majority caucus chair.

In a statement, Senate President John Cullerton said Silverstein “no longer will serve on the Senate Democratic leadership team. Sen. Silverstein resigned from the majority caucus chair post, effective immediately.”

The post came with a $20,649 annual stipend, and will remain vacant for the immediate future.

Cullerton also announced that a professionally-led sexual harassment awareness training for all senators will be scheduled next week. And he said that an interim legislative inspector general will be named as soon as next week.

The failure to fill that spot, which has been vacant since 2015, came up in a House hearing on pending anti-harassment legislation earlier this week. Cullerton said three candidates had turned down the job in the past year.

Silverstein’s name came up prominently in the hearing, in which a victim rights activist accused him of making inappropriate remarks and contacting her hundreds of times via Facebook and phone, sometimes late at night. Silverstein was sponsoring her legislation, and she said she felt she had no choice but to go along.

Silverstein yesterday apologized “if I made her uncomfortable.” The activist, Denise Rotheimer, later released copies of the Facebook posts in which the two discussed a variety of personal subjects and appear to flirt, but did not overtly discuss sex.

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[21 Aug 2017 | No Comment | ]

As Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle defends her controversial soda-pop tax as a vital prop for key county programs, one of the county’s top unions is bragging about all the good things Preckwinkle is giving its members in a new contract. In…