Controversy and Reactions: Obama, Gates, U of I, Pat Quinn
The President is having Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., generally
known as ‘Skip’, and the policeman who arrested him over for a beer
tomorrow at the White House in an appropriate attempt to reconcile the
unfortunate incident that occurred last week at Dr. Gate’s home.
I have only met Skip Gates once. It was in either 1996 or 1997 at a
previous home he owned. I was the guest of my friend Tom Ashbrook, at
the time a Neiman fellow. Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune was also
there. In fact Skip was hosting all the Neiman Fellows and I can tell
you in addition to all his academic credentials, he is a first class
barman, and proud of it. He’s also a brilliant conversationalist and
not excessively politically correct. He is a fun guy (and I don’t mean
a mushroom) as well as being a brilliant scholar. What happened at his
house when he returned from an exhausting trip to China was
unfortunate. But it certainly demonstrates the ying and yang of being
policed and being protected. If he hadn’t been there and it had been
somebody else actually breaking in, even in broad daylight, he would
have been grateful that the police arrived.
In all of this discussion one person has been left out and should also
be invited to the party and that is Lucia Whalen, the lady who called in
the complaint at the request of another observer. If she hasn’t been,
it would be worthwhile to have another party, as these problems are not
going to be resolved in just an hour or two. An idea is germinating in
my mind that portends a new career for Professor Gates, one which would
put him in the path of Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, and perhaps
replace a man now entitled to a full pension. Enough clues. More later.
The U of I Trustees and Governor Quinn
The present controversy over favoritism at the University of Illinois
has virtually scratched the surface. I am sure that the commission
investigating these issues, Abner Mikva, will not allow it to turn into
either a whitewash or a witchhunt. If Walter Cronkite was the most
trusted man in America, Abner Mikva might well be among the most
trusted citizens in Illinois, along with people of the caliber of Lois
Wille, Judge George Leighton and Dawn Clark Netsch.
In achieving his goal of straightening out the admission system at our
great land grant university, one of the finest in the nation, it might
well call for new leadership. I happen to know several of the
trustees. One who is taking inordinate heat is the new Chair, Niranjan
Shah. He has never been a client of mine, but I have known him since
1992. There is no doubt that he has had tens of millions in government
contracts for his engineering firm, but I’ve never heard that his
firm has charged for work not done, or ever performed in a shoddy
manner. Public records show that he has been a very generous
contributor, but there is no correlation between the size of his
contracts and the size of his contributions, especially when spread out
over a period of twenty years. And he does it openly. I’ve never heard
that he has put pressure to get contracts. He just doesn’t want to be
discriminated against which should be entirely understandable. He
doesn’t pay to play. He contributes so that he’ll be able to have a
chance to play fairly.
I am sure that being Chairman of the U of Trustees has been his proudest
achievement and I fell badly that he, in his own words, used poor
judgment, albeit in literally a handful of cases, including once for his
future son in law, who thank goodness was first in his class at Oxford
(the university in the United Kingdom, not the institution in Wisconsin).
It may be necessary, not just for public relations, but because of his
own personal health for him to resign, but he should be respected for
his many contributions to promoting excellence at the U of I.
Like Senator Burris, Governor Quinn is serving in his office because of
the Blagojevich (mainly self inflicted) tragedy. Like Burris, who
incidentally was a prominent state wide elected official more than ten
years before Blagojevich was elected to any office, Quinn now has the
opportunity to dedicate the rest of this term, seventeen full months,
to dealing with extremely critical state problems. I hope he does not
seek election, not just because I intend to support another person, but
because he should attempt to leave a legacy of trust and
accomplishment unburdened by the need to campaign and raise funds
risking defeat both in the primary and the general election; and more
importantly wasting the opportunity he has to make a lasting
contribution to the betterment of our state.
Dealing with the University of Illinois and the state budget are
tremendous tasks. The latter will not be solved in the next seventeen
months, but Quinn’s lasting achievement in addition to his conscientious
and apolitical, albeit symbolic, commitment to literally attending the
funeral of every Illinoisan killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan,
will be reforming the governance of the University of Illinois.
Senator Burris should have announced he wasn’t running for election (not
re-election) to the U.S. Senate when he accepted the tainted
appointment. Governor Quinn should have done the same and he still has
time — maybe at ‘Governors’ Day at the State Fair later in August.
For Quinn, not running would not be a sign of weakness, but a sign of
strength. I’ve known him since 1973 and I sincerely hope he doesn’t not
squander this limited accidental opportunity to make an enormous
contribution to our state by devoting the next seventeen months to
public service free from the need of campaigning for election.
Phil Krone is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer
Image Alma Mater, Lorado Taft, Altgeld Hall, University of Illinois